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Saturday, May 12, 2007

In Purgatorio

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?

  • At 5/12/2007 04:13:00 PM, Blogger Piers wrote…

    Donne, for one, had read his Dante, though not always with complete equanimity. There is a passage I rather like in one of his letters (I don't have it on hand, so this is from memory), in which he describes having thrown his copy of Dante across the room on encountering a passage, in the Inferno, describing him as "a man pert enough to be beloved and too much to be believed." He is objecting to Dante's consignment of one of the pope's to hell for resigning his position.

    Make of that what you will.


  • At 5/13/2007 05:13:00 AM, Blogger Rachel Roberts wrote…

    Sir Thomas Browne quotes a fair bit of Dante, amongst various others, in A Letter to a Friend (written 1656, pub 1690).

    What the interwebs tell me is that there are various books: P Tonybee's Dante in English Literature from Chaucer to Cary; W P Friederich Dante's Fame Abroad 1350-1850 (1955) and so on.


  • At 5/13/2007 04:25:00 PM, Blogger Inkhorn wrote…

    Piers -- Thanks! That's a great reference.

    And Adam Roberts: I guess I was just lazily hoping that some BtR reader would do my work for me and tell me what it all means ... Oh well. I'll have to read.


  • At 5/14/2007 03:57:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous wrote…

    Well, the BL catalogue gives 110 hist for an author search on "Dante Alighieri" for books printed prior to 1601, and at least part of them should have reached british soil prior tp let's say ca. 1650.

    COPAC gives 525 hits for the same query are hist from BL and quite a number of other libraries. Information on proveniences is however extremeloy scarce (and not searchable via the search interface). Ach!
    Nevertheless: Same assumption as above.

    Now to language barriers: I found (to my own surprise) that I could not find any indication that for the material I'm mostly interested in (peripatetic philosophy, sensu largo) in Germany there was a higher language barrier for Italian than for Latin. And I once did a study on the diffusion of prints of works by Francesco Patritzi (Frane Petrić) which included UK libraries, and if interpret this material correctly there is no serious reason to assume that the situation was drastically different for what now is the UK.

    But/and: there is of course the usual caveat: "a philosopher might have available a text and not read it , · a philosopher might read another philosopher's text and understand it and use it and quote it, · he might read the text and not understand and not use and not quote it, · he might quote the text and not read it, he might use it and not understand it, etc. "


  • At 5/14/2007 07:52:00 AM, Blogger Simplicius wrote…

    The only STC entry for Dante is [Francois Perrot,] Auiso piaceuole dato alla bella Italia, sopra la mentita data dal re di Nauarra a papa Sisto V (Monaco, G. Swartz [London, J. Wolfe,] 1586) (STC 19769.7), which contains "extensive quotations in Italian from Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio."


  • At 5/15/2007 12:32:00 AM, Blogger Inkhorn wrote…

    Heinrich: interesting. I assume the situation in Germany was like that in England, that Latin education was pretty widespread at an early age via various institutions, but everyone had to pick up modern languages on their own.

    Continental books are a perennial issue. I guess I could look at library catalogues and see who owned copies ... But that's a long process. I'm all about the laziness, suddenly.

    I am psyched, however, that if an undergrad in a Milton class asks me about Dante, I can now at least say, yes Milton read him, and in fact by the 1630s Dante had already been politicized in England in XYZ ways. Good old Birckbek.

    Speaking of Birckbek: Hieronimo: doesn't Birckbek get me an in to the EEBOnics list?


  • At 5/15/2007 12:36:00 AM, Blogger Hieronimo wrote…

    Why, yes he does. As you can now see.


 Scribble some marginalia

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