|This is not a post about the papers I should be grading right now.|
Someone I know has done an adaptation of a canto from Dante's Purgatorio, which he sent me to read. I thought that, before I did that, I should actually read the Dante, and since I had just recently finished re-reading the Inferno (as a result of another conversation with the same person), that seemed logical enough anyway. Plus, Anthony Esolen has recently done a verse translation of the Paradiso -- in fact he's done the whole Divine Comedy, which I only just discovered -- and I liked his verse translation of Tasso's Jerusalem Delivered, so I figured I'd read the whole Comedy right through. (The Esolen translation of Dante seems to have been getting mixed reviews, so maybe that was a mistake, particularly since Pinsky has done at least the Inferno, maybe more -- but David Quint gave Esolen's Tasso translation an interesting and substantive review a few years ago, I think in TLS, and you can see part of that review here).
For anyone who's spent any time reading Milton, Dante is of course fascinating -- the theological paradoxes of the Inferno, which I certainly wasn't in any condition to appreciate when I read that book in college; and the Purgatorio seems to be in large measure an extended meditation on the purposes of poetry, which both has interesting connections with Milton and -- obviously -- significant differences.
This leads me to a question. I've been thinking about this mostly as analogy. But to what extent would early modern English poets have known Dante? A quick online search produced the following sentence, from an article in Modern Philology about ten years back: "during the seventeenth century Dante was largely ignored even in Italy and rarely named in England." Milton's translation of Psalm 2 is in terza rima, so clearly he knew Dante, and he apparently read Mazzoni's defenses of Dante versus Aristotelian criticism; I'm sure there's more there than I can remember at the moment. But what about Dante beyond Milton? An EEBO search for "Dante" produced little -- nothing with "Dante" in the author field, and a lot of false hits with the content search. Though I did discover what looks like a great New Weirdist book: Simon Birckbek, The Protestants evidence taken out of good records; shewing that for fifteene hundred yeares next after Christ, divers worthy guides of Gods Church, have in sundry weightie poynts of religion, taught as the Church of England now doth (London, 1634), STC 3082 -- dated on the title page, oddly, to the day as well as the year, and in fact to my father's birthday. This book, in any case, repeatedly cites Dante as a model of proto-Protestant thinking: for instance, of the fourteenth century, Birckbek writes:
This seems interesting, as far as it goes, and Birckbek elsewhere shows that he knows about Dante's treatise on monarchy, and gives some pretty specific citations to the poetry -- including substantial extracts, given both in Italian and in (it seems) his own translations. He prefaces some of these extracts with the following, fairly Miltonic remarks:
Some reader, interestingly, clearly took note of that business about the shepherd become a wolf. But that phrase "written in Italian" seems to presuppose that English readers wouldn't know Dante, maybe wouldn't even have heard of Dante -- as does the provision of the extracts and translations, instead of just citing passages in the margins, say. Clearly, Birckbek doesn't think English readers would readily have been able to get their hands on a copy of the book.
Well, that's what I got with the help of the miracle of the interweb. But I'm sure there are all sorts of resources on this issue out there that I don't know about. Anybody know anything about Dante in England?