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Title: Dante: His Times and His Work
Author: Butler, Arthur John, 1844-1910
Language: English
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    THE PURGATORY OF DANTE. Edited, with Translation and Notes, by
        A. J. BUTLER, M.A. Crown 8vo. 12_s._ 6_d._

    THE PARADISE OF DANTE. By the same. Crown 8vo. 12_s._ 6_d._

    THE HELL OF DANTE. By the same. Crown 8vo. 12_s._ 6_d._

    A COMPANION TO DANTE. By Professor SCARTAZZINI. Translated by A.
        J. BUTLER, M.A. Crown 8vo. 10_s._ 6_d._

        Crown 8vo. 10_s._ net.

    THE EARTHLY PARADISE OF DANTE. Translated by the same. Crown
        8vo. 5_s._ net.


    THE PURGATORIO. With Introduction by Dean CHURCH. 2 vols. Crown
        8vo. 24_s._

    THE INFERNO. With Introduction by Rev. E. MOORE, D.D. 2 vols.
        Crown 8vo. 30_s._

    THE PARADISO. With Introduction by the Bishop of RIPON. 2 vols.
        Crown 8vo. 21_s._

    DANTE, AND OTHER ESSAYS. By R. W. CHURCH. Globe 8vo. 5_s._







    _All rights reserved_



This little book is mainly compounded of papers which appeared, part in
the _Monthly Packet_, and part in the Magazine of the Home Reading
Union. It will be seen, therefore, that it is not intended for those
whom Italians call “Dantists,” but for students at an early stage of
their studies. To the former class there will be nothing in the book
that is not already familiar--except where they happen to find mistakes,
from which, in so extensive a field for blundering as Dante affords, I
cannot hope to have kept it free. In the domain of history alone fresh
facts are constantly rewarding the indefatigable research of German and
Italian scholars--a research of which only the most highly specialised
specialist can possibly keep abreast. Even since the following pages
were for the most part in print, we have had Professor Villari’s _Two
Centuries of Florentine History_, correcting in many particulars the
chroniclers on whom the Dante student has been wont to rely. This book
should most emphatically be added to those named in the appendix as
essential to the study of our author.

In connection with some of the remarks in the opening chapter, Professor
Butcher’s Essay on _The Dawn of Romanticism in Greek Poetry_ should be
noticed. I do not think that the accomplished author’s view is
incompatible with mine; though I admit that I had not taken much account
of the Greek writers whom we call “post-classical.” But it is to be
noted, as bearing on the question raised in the second footnote on p. 9,
that most or all of the writers whom he cites were either Asiatics or
nearly touched by Asiatic influences.

I have made some attempt to deal in a concise way with two subjects
which have not, I think, hitherto been handled in English books on
Dante, other than translations. One of these is the development of the
Guelf and Ghibeline struggle from a rivalry between two German houses to
a partisan warfare which rent Italy for generations. I am quite aware
that I have merely touched the surface of the subject, which seems to
me to contain in it the essence of all political philosophy, with
special features such as could only exist in a country which, like
Italy, had, after giving the law to the civilised world, been unable to
consolidate itself into a nation like the other nations of Europe. I
have, I find, even omitted to notice what seem to have been the ruling
aims of at any rate the honest partisans on either side: unity, that of
the Ghibelines; independence, that of the Guelfs. Nor have I drawn
attention to a remarkable trait in Dante’s own character, which, so far
as I know, has never been discussed--I mean his apparent disregard of
the “lower classes.” Except for one or two similes drawn from the
“villano” and his habits, and one or two contemptuous allusions to
“Monna Berta e Ser Martino” and their like, it would seem as if for him
the world consisted of what now would be called “the upper ten
thousand.” In an ordinary politician or partisan, or even in a mere man
of letters this would not be strange; but when we reflect that Dante was
a man who went deeply into social and religious questions, that he was
born less than forty years after the death of St. Francis, and was at
least closely enough associated with Franciscans for legend to make him
a member of the order, and that most of the so-called heretical sects of
the time--Paterines, Cathari, Poor Men--started really more from social
than from religious discontent, it is certainly surprising that his
interest in the “dim, common populations” should have been so slight.

The other object at which I have aimed is the introduction of English
students to the theories which seem to have taken possession of the most
eminent Continental Dante scholars, and of which some certainly seem to
be quite as much opposed to common sense and knowledge of human nature
as the conjectures of Troya and Balbo, for instance, were to sound
historical criticism. Here, again, I have but touched on the more
salient points; feeling sure that before long some of the scholarship in
our Universities and elsewhere, which at present devotes itself to Greek
and Latin, having reached the point of realizing that Greek and Latin
texts may be worth studying though written outside of so-called
classical periods, will presently extend the principle to the further
point of applying to mediæval literature, which hitherto has been too
much the sport of _dilettanti_, the methods that have till now been
reserved for the two favoured (and rightly favoured) languages. Unless I
am much mistaken, the finest Latin scholar will find that a close study
of early Italian will teach him “a thing or two” that he did not know
before in his own special subject; so that his labour will not be lost,
even from that point of view. Then we shall get the authoritative
edition of Dante, which I am insular enough to believe will never come
from either Germany or Italy, or from any intervening country.

    _February_, 1895.


    CHAPTER                                                PAGE

      I. THE THIRTEENTH CENTURY                               1

     II. GUELFS AND GHIBELINES                               16

    III. DANTE’S EARLY DAYS                                  38


      V. DANTE’S EXILE                                       69

     VI. THE “COMMEDIA”                                      89

    VII. THE MINOR WORKS                                    171

    APPENDIX  I.--SOME HINTS TO BEGINNERS                   189





The person who sets to work to write about Dante at the present day has
two great difficulties to reckon with: the quantity which has already
been written on the subject, and the quantity which remains to be
written. The first involves the reading of an enormous mass of
literature in several languages, and very various in quality; but for
the comfort of the young student, it may at once, and once for all, be
stated that he can pretty safely ignore everything written between 1400
and 1800. The subject of commentaries, biographies, and other helps, or
would-be helps, will be treated of later on. Here we need only say that
the Renaissance practically stifled anything like an intelligent study
of Dante for those four centuries; and it was not until a new critical
spirit began to apply to it the methods which had hitherto been reserved
for the Greek and Latin classics, that the study got any chance of
development. How enormously it has developed during the present century
needs not to be said. It may suffice to point out that the British
Museum Catalogue shows editions of the _Commedia_ at the rate of one for
every year since 1800, and other works on Dante in probably five times
that proportion.

Now, it has been said of the _Commedia_, and the remark is equally true
of Dante’s other works, that it is like the Bible in this respect: every
man finds in it what he himself brings to it. The poet finds poetry, the
philosopher philosophy; the scientific man science as it was known in
1300; the politician politics; heretics have even found heresy. Nor is
this very surprising when we consider what were the author’s
surroundings. Naturally, no doubt, a man of study and contemplation, his
lot was cast in the midst of a stirring, even a turbulent, society,
where it was hardly possible for any individual to escape his share of
the public burdens. Ablebodied men could not be spared when, as was
usually the case, fighting was toward; all men of mental capacity were
needed in council or in administration. And, after all, the area to be
administered, the ground to be fought over, were so small, that the man
of letters might do his duty by the community and yet have plenty of
time to spare for his studies. He might handle his pike at Caprona or
Campaldino one day, and be at home among his books the next. Then,
again, the society was a cultivated and quick-witted one, with many
interests. Arts and letters were in high esteem, and eminence in them as
sure a road to fame as warlike prowess or political distinction. From
all this it is clear that the Florentine of the thirteenth century had
points of contact with life on every side; every gate of knowledge lay
open to him, and he could explore, if he pleased, every one of its
paths. They have now been carried further, and a lifetime is too short
for one man to investigate thoroughly more than one or two; but in those
days it was still possible for a man of keen intelligence, added to the
almost incredible diligence, as it appears to us, of the Middle Ages, to
make himself acquainted with all the best that had been done and said
in the world.

This it is which forms at once the fascination and the difficulty of
Dante’s great work. Of course, if we content ourselves with reading it
merely for its “beauties,” for the æsthetic enjoyment of an image here
and an allusion there, for the trenchant expression of some thought or
feeling at the roots of human nature, there will be no need of any
harder study than is involved in going through it with a translation.
Indeed, it will hardly be worth while to go to the original at all. The
pleasure, one might almost say the physical pleasure, derived from
sonorous juxtaposition of words, such as we obtain from Milton or from
Shelley, is scarcely to be genuinely felt in the case of a foreign
language; and the beauties of matter, as distinguished from those of
form, are faithfully enough rendered by Cary or Longfellow.

It may, however, be safely assumed that few intelligent students will
rest content with this amount of study. They will find at every turn
allusions calling for explanation, philosophical doctrines to be traced
to their sources, judgements on contemporary persons and events to be
verified. On every page they will meet with problems the solution of
which has not yet been attempted, or attempted only in the most
perfunctory way. For generation after generation readers have gone on
accepting received interpretations which only tell them what their own
wits could divine without any other assistance than the text itself
gives. No commentator seems yet to have realised that, in order to
understand Dante thoroughly, he must put himself on Dante’s level so far
as regards a knowledge of all the available literature. The more obvious
quarries from which Dante obtained the materials for his mighty
structure--the Bible, Virgil, Augustine, Aquinas, Aristotle--have no
doubt been pretty thoroughly examined, and many obscurities which the
comments of Landino and others only left more obscure have thus been
cleared up; but a great deal remains to be done. Look where one may in
the literature which was open to Dante, one finds evidence of his
universal reading. We take up such a book as Otto of Freising’s _Annals_
(to which, with his _Acts of Frederick I._, we shall have to refer
again), and find the good bishop moralising thus on the mutability of
human affairs, with especial reference to the break-up of the Empire in
the middle of the ninth century:--

    “Does not worldly honour seem to turn round and round after the
    fashion of one stricken with fever? For such place their hope of
    rest in a change of posture, and so, when they are in pain,
    throw themselves from side to side, turning over

It is hard not to suppose that Dante had this passage in his mind when
he wrote that bitter apostrophe to his own city with which the sixth
canto of the _Purgatory_ ends:--

    “E se ben ti ricorda, e vedi lume,
       Vedrai te somigliante a quella inferma,
       Che non può trovar posa in su le piume,
     Ma con dar volta suo dolore scherma.”

It is hardly too much to say that one cannot turn over a couple of pages
of any book which Dante may conceivably have read without coming on some
passage which one feels certain he had read, or at the very least
containing some information which one feels certain he possessed. A real
“Dante’s library”[2] would comprise pretty well every book in Latin,
Italian, French, or Provençal, “published,” if we may use the term, up
to the year 1300. Of course a good many Latin books were (may one say
fortunately?) in temporary retirement at that time; but even of these,
whether, as has been suggested, through volumes, now lost, of “Elegant
Extracts,” or by whatever other means, more was evidently known than is
always realised.

We must, however, beware of treating Dante merely as a repertory of
curious lore or museum of literary _bric-à-brac_--a danger almost as
great as that of looking at him from a purely æsthetic point of view. He
had no doubt read more widely than any man of his age, and he is one of
the half-dozen greatest poets of all time. But his claim on our
attention rests on even a wider basis than these two qualities would
afford. He represents as it were the re-opening of the lips of the human
race: “While I was musing, the fire kindled, and at last I spake with my
tongue.” The old classical literature had said its last word when
Claudian died; and though men continued to compose, often with ability
and intelligence, the histories and chronicles which practically formed
the only non-theological writings of the so-called “Dark Ages,” letters
in the full sense of the term lay dormant for centuries. Not till the
twelfth century was far advanced did any signs of a re-awakening appear.
Then, to use a phrase of Dante’s, the dead poetry arose, and a burst of
song came almost simultaneously from all Western Europe. To this period
belong the Minnesingers of Germany, the Troubadours of Provence, the
unknown authors of the lovely romance--poetical in feeling, though cast
chiefly in a prose form--_Aucassin et Nicolete_, and of several not less
lovely English ballads and lyrics. Even the heavy rhymed chronicles
begin to be replaced by romances in which the true poetic fire breaks
out, such as the _Nibelungen Lied_ (in its definitive form) and the
_Chronicle of the Cid_.

In the new poetry two features strike us at once. The sentiment of love
between man and woman, which with the ancients and even with early
Christian writers scarcely ever rises beyond the level of a sensual
passion,[3] becomes transfigured into a profound emotion touching the
deepest roots of a man’s nature, and acting as an incentive to noble
conduct; and, closely connected with this, the influence of external
nature upon the observer begins for the first time to be recognised and
to form a subject for poetical treatment.[4] Horace has several charming
descriptions of the sights and sounds of spring; but they suggest to him
merely that life is short, or that he is thirsty, and in either case he
cannot do better than have another drink in company with a friend. So
with Homer and Virgil. External nature and its beauty are often touched
off in two or three lines which, once read, are never forgotten; but it
is always as ornament to a picture, not auxiliary to the expression of a
mood. You may search classical literature in vain for such passages as
Walther von der Vogelweide’s:--

    “Dô der sumer komen was
     Und die bluomen durch daz gras
     Wünneclîche ensprungen,
     Aldā die vogele sungen,
     Dâr kom ich gegangen
     An einer anger langen,
     Dâ ein lûter brunne entspranc;
     Vor dem walde was sī ganc,
     Dâ diu nahtegale sanc;”[5]

or the unknown Frenchman’s:--

    “Ce fu el tans d’esté, el mois de mai, que li jor sont caut,
    lonc, et cler, et les nuits coies et series. Nicolete jut une
    nuit en son lit, et vit la lune cler par une fenestre, et si oi
    le lorseilnol center en garding, se li sovint d’Aucassin sen ami
    qu’ele tant aimoit;”[6]

or the equally unknown Englishman’s:--

    “Bytuene Mershe and Averil,
       When spray biginneth to springe,
     The lutel foul hath hire wyl
       On hyre lud to synge;
     Ich libbe in love-longinge
     For semlokest of alle thinge,
     He may me blisse bringe,
       Icham in hire baundoun.”[7]

But it is hardly necessary to multiply instances. By the middle of the
thirteenth century the spring, and the nightingales, and the flowering
meadows had become a commonplace of amatory and emotional poetry.

So far, however, poetry was exclusively lyrical. The average standard of
versifying was higher, perhaps, than it has ever been before or since.
Every man of education seems to have been able to turn a sonnet or ode.
Men of religion, like St. Francis or Brother Jacopone of Todi;
statesmen, like Frederick II. and his confidant, Peter de Vineis;
professional or official persons, like Jacopo the notary of Lentino, or
Guido dalle Colonne the judge of Messina; fighting men, like several of
the Troubadours; political intriguers, like Bertrand del Born--all have
left verses which, for beauty of thought and melody of rhythm, have
seldom been matched. But the great poem was yet to come, which was to
give to the age a voice worthy of its brilliant performance. It is not
only in literature that it displays renewed vitality. Turn where we
will, in every department of human energy it must have been brilliant
beyond any that the world has ever seen. It stood between two worlds,
but we cannot say of them that they were

                         “One dead,
    The other powerless to be born.”

The old monarchy was dying, had indeed, as Dante regretfully perceived,
died before he was born, and the trumpet-call of the _De Monarchia_,
wherewith he sought to revive it, was addressed to a generation which
had other ideals of government; but it had set in a blaze of splendour,
and its last wielder, Frederick II., was, not unfitly, known as the
Wonder of the World. The mediæval Papacy, though about to undergo a loss
of prestige which it never retrieved, outlived its rival, and had
seldom been a greater force in the political world than it was in the
hands of the ambitious and capable Boniface VIII. The scholastic
philosophy, which had directed the minds of men for many generations,
was soon to make way for other forms of reasoning and other modes of
thought; but its greatest exponent, St. Thomas Aquinas, was Dante’s
contemporary for nine years. These examples will serve to show that the
old systems were capable to the very last of producing and influencing
great men.

Meantime the new order was showing no lack of power to be born. Two of
our countrymen, Roger Bacon and, somewhat later, William of Ockham,
sowed, each in his own way, the seeds which were to bear fruit in the
science and speculation of far distant ages. In the arts, architecture
reached its highest pitch of splendour; and painting was at the outset
of the course which was to culminate, more than two hundred years later,
in Titian and Raffaelle. But in no field did the energy of the
thirteenth century manifest itself as in that of politics. With the
collapse of the Empire came the first birth of the “nationalities” of
modern Europe. The process indeed went on at very different rates. The
representative constitution of England, the centralised government of
France were by the end of the century fairly started on the lines which
they have followed ever since. But England had never owned allegiance to
the Emperor, while France had pretty well forgotten whence it had got
the name which had replaced that of Gaul. In the countries where the
Empire had till recently been an ever-present power, Germany and Italy,
the work of consolidation went on far less rapidly; indeed, it has been
reserved for our own age to see it completed. With Germany we have here
nothing directly to do; but it is all-important to the right
understanding of Dante’s position that we should glance briefly at the
political state of Italy and especially of Tuscany during the latter
half of the thirteenth century. By good fortune we have very copious
information on this matter. A contemporary and neighbour of Dante’s, by
name John Villani, happened to be at Rome during the great Jubilee of
1300. The sight of the imperial city and all its ancient glories set him
meditating on its history, written, as he says (in a collocation of
names which looks odd to us, but was usual enough then), “by Virgil, by
Sallust and Lucan, by Titus Livius, Valerius, and Paulus Orosius,” and
moved him, as an unworthy disciple, to do for his native city what they
had done for Rome. The result was the most genial and generally
delightful work of history that has been written since Herodotus.
Villani, who lived till 1348, when the plague carried him off, seems to
have been a man of an equable disposition and sober judgement. Like
Dante and all the Florentines of that day, he belonged to the Guelf
party; and, unlike his great fellow-citizen, he adhered to it
throughout, though by no means approving all the actions of its leaders.
After the fashion of the time, he begins his chronicle with the Tower of
Babel; touches on Dardanus, Priam, and the Trojan war; records the
origin of the Tuscan cities; and so by easy stages comes down towards
the age in which he lived. The earlier portions, of course, are more
entertaining and suggestive than trustworthy in detail; but as he
approaches a time for which he had access to living memory, and still
more when he records the events of which he was himself a witness, he is
our best authority.


    [1] Otho Fris., _Annales_, v. 36.

    [2] A useful list, with some account of the authors cited by
    Dante, is given by Mr. J. S. Black, in a volume entitled
    _Dante_; _Illustrations and Notes_, privately printed by Messrs.
    T. & A. Constable, at Edinburgh, 1890. He does not, however,
    include (save in one or two cases, and those rather doubtful)
    authors of whom Dante’s knowledge rests on inference only.

    [3] I do not forget Ulysses and Penelope, Hector and Andromache,
    or Ovid’s _Heroïdes_; but the love of husband and wife is
    another matter altogether. The only instance in classical
    literature that I can recall of what may be termed the modern
    view of the subject is that of Hæmon and Antigone. See, on this
    subject, and in connection with these paragraphs generally,
    Symonds, _Introduction to the Study of Dante_, ch. viii.

    [4] This must be taken as referring only to European literature.
    Such a passage as Canticles ii. 10-14 shows that Oriental poets
    felt the sentiment from very early times. Is it possible that
    contact with the East evoked it in Europeans?

    [5] “When the summer was come, and the flowers sprang joyously
    up through the grass, right there the birds were singing;
    thither came I, on my way over a long meadow where a clear well
    gushed forth; its course was by the wood where the nightingale

    [6] “It was summer time, the month of May, when the days are
    warm, and long, and clear, and the nights still and serene.
    Nicolete lay one night on her bed, and saw the moon shine clear
    through a window, yea, and heard the nightingale sing in the
    garden, so she minded her of Aucassin, her lover, whom she loved
    so well” (Lang’s translation).

    [7] Lud = song; semlokest = seemliest; he = she; in hire
    baundoun = at her command.



Mention was made, in the last chapter, of the “Guelf” party, and this,
with its opposite, the party of the “Ghibelines,” fills the entire field
of Italian politics during Dante’s life, and indeed for long afterwards.
It would be impossible in the space of these pages to follow up all the
tangled threads which have attached themselves to those famous names;
but since we may be, to use a picturesque phrase of Carlyle’s, “thankful
for any hook whatever on which to hang half-an-acre of thrums in fixed
position,” a few of the more prominent points in the early history of
the great conflict shall be noted here.

As every one knows, the names originally came from Germany, and to that
country we must turn for a short time to know their import.

About seven miles to the north-east of Stuttgart, in what is now the
kingdom of Wurtemberg, is a small town called Waiblingen, where was once
a stronghold, near the borders of Franconia and Suabia (or Alemannia),
belonging to the Franconian dukes. Conrad, often called “the Salic,”
head of that house, was raised to the throne of Germany and the Empire
in 1024. His line held the imperial crown for just a century, in the
persons of himself and three Henries, who are known as the second,
third, and fourth, or third, fourth, and fifth, according as we reckon
their places among Roman Emperors or German Kings; Henry III. (or IV.)
being famous as the great opponent of Pope Gregory VII.; Henry IV. (or
V.) interesting to us as the first husband of the daughter of Henry I.
of England, renowned in English history as the Empress Maud. The last
Henry died childless in 1125. But the Franconian line was not extinct.
Half a century or so before, Bishop Otto of Freising tells us “a certain
count, by name Frederick, sprung from one of the noblest families of
Suabia, had founded a colony in a stronghold called Staufen.” Staufen,
better known as Hohenstaufen, is a lofty hill about twenty miles from
Waiblingen, and within the Suabian frontier. Frederick had been staunch
to Henry IV. in his time of greatest difficulty, and received as his
reward, together with the dukedom of Suabia, which the house of
Zähringen had forfeited through disloyalty, the hand of the Emperor’s
daughter Agnes. By her he had two sons, Frederick, who succeeded to his
own duchy of Suabia, and Conrad, who received from his uncle Henry V.
that of Franconia, including no doubt the lordship of Waiblingen. At
Henry’s death Frederick and Conrad, being then thirty-five and
thirty-three years old respectively, were the most powerful princes of
the Empire. Henry had designated Frederick as his successor; but the
electors thought otherwise. At the instance of the Archbishop of Mainz,
between whom and the Hohenstaufen there was no love lost, and, as it
would seem, not without pressure from Lewis VI. of France, whom Henry’s
death had just saved from having to face an alliance between England
and Germany, they chose Lothar, Duke of Saxony.

We will now quote Otto of Freising once more. “Up to the present time,”
he says, writing of the year 1152, “two families have been famous in the
Roman Empire, about the parts where Gaul and Germany meet, the Henries
of Waiblingen, and the Welfs of Altdorf.” The Welfs go back to by far
the greater antiquity. They probably did not originally belong to the
Bajovarian stock, for we read elsewhere that they had “large possessions
in the parts where Alemannia meets the Pyrenæan Mountains,” as Otto
usually designates the Alps west of the Brenner. This Altdorf is a
village near Ravensburg in Wurtemberg, between Ulm and Friedrichshafen.
We first meet with the name in history about the year 820, when the
Emperor Lewis I., “the Pious,” married as his second wife Judith,
“daughter of the most noble Count Welf.” Somewhere about the middle of
the tenth century, a Rudolf of the race was Count of Bozen. His son Welf
took part in the insurrection of the Dukes of Worms and Suabia against
their step-father Conrad II., “the Salic,” and lost some of his
territories in consequence, Bozen passing to Etiko, an illegitimate
member of the same house. The family must have soon been restored to the
imperial favour, for before 1050 Welf III. appears as Duke of Bavaria.

At his death, without issue, in 1055, he was succeeded by the son of his
sister, who had married Azzo II. of Este. This Welf IV. fought on the
side of Henry IV., against the revolted Saxons at the Unstrut, but soon
rebelled himself. He became for a time the husband of the “great
Countess” Matilda of Tuscany. Through him and his son Henry, “the
Black,” the line was maintained; and though during the period at which
we have arrived the head of the family for several generations bore the
name of Henry, it is usually spoken of as “the house of the Welfs,”[9]
and the name is borne by some member of the family at most times. At the
accession of Lothar II. the head of the house was Henry, surnamed “the
Proud.” With him the new emperor at once made close alliance, giving him
his daughter Gertrude in marriage. Henry’s sister Judith was already
married to Frederick of Suabia, but he sided with his father-in-law, and
a struggle began which lasted for ten years, and in which the
Hohenstaufen brothers had not entirely the worst of it. Conrad was
actually anointed at Monza as King of Italy; but in the end, through the
intervention of St. Bernard, peace was made, and lasted during the few
remaining months of Lothar’s life. At his death in 1137 Conrad was
elected. His first act was to take the duchy of Bavaria from Henry, and
bestow it on Leopold, the Marquis of Austria, his own half-brother, and
whole brother to Bishop Otto, the historian. Henry died very soon,
leaving a young son, afterwards known as Henry “the lion,” and a
brother, Welf, who at once took up the quarrel on behalf of his nephew.
He beat Leopold; but when, emboldened by this success, he proceeded to
attack the Emperor, who was besieging the castle of Weinsberg, in
Franconia, he suffered a severe defeat. At this battle we are told the
cries of the contending sides were “Welf!” and “Waiblingen!” Why the
name of an obscure fortress should have been used as a battle-cry for
the mighty house of Hohenstaufen, we shall probably never know; it may
be that it was a chance selection as the password for the day. However
that may be, the battle-cries of Weinsberg were destined to resound far
into future ages. Modified to suit non-Teutonic lips, they became famous
throughout the civilised world as the designations of the two parties in
a struggle which divided Italy for centuries, and of which the last
vibrations only died down, if indeed they have died down, in our own

Of all faction-wars which history records, this is the most complicated,
the most difficult to analyse into distinct issues. The Guelfs have been
considered the Church or Papal party; and no doubt there is some truth
in this view. Indeed, there seems to have been some hereditary tradition
of the kind dating from a much earlier generation; long, in fact, before
the Ghibeline name had been heard of. When, as we have seen, Countess
Matilda of Tuscany, the champion of Gregory VII., was looking out for a
second husband, she fixed upon Welf of Bavaria, presumably the “dux
Noricorum,” who, as Bishop Otto tells us, “in the war with the Emperor,
destroyed the cities of Freising and Augsburg.” Their union did not last
long, for Matilda seems to have been hard to please in the matter of
husbands; but the fact of his selection looks as if he had been a
_persona grata_ with the Papal See. It is somewhat significant, too,
that Machiavelli regards the contest between Henry IV. and the Papacy as
having been “the seed of the Guelf and Ghibeline races, whereby when the
inundation of foreigners ceased, Italy was torn with intestine wars.”
Yet we may shrewdly suspect that it was not so much any special devotion
to the Church, as the thwarted ambition of a powerful house, which made
the Welfs to be a thorn in the side first of the Franconian, then of the
Suabian Emperors.[10] At any rate, when a representative of the family,
in the person of Otto IV., at last reached “the dread summit of Cæsarean
power,” the very Pope, whose support had placed him on the throne, found
himself within little more than a year under the familiar necessity of
excommunicating the temporal head of Christendom. Still, in Italy no
doubt the Guelfs, politically at any rate, held by the Church, while the
Ghibelines had the reputation of being, as a party, at least tainted
with what we should now call materialism. It will be remembered that
among the sinners in this kind, who occupy the burning tombs within the
walls of the city of Dis, Dante places both the Emperor Frederick II.,
the head of Ghibelinism, and Farinata degli Uberti, the vigorous leader
of the party in Tuscany, while the only Guelf who appears there is one
who probably was a very loose adherent to his own faction.

Less justified, it would seem, is the idea that the Guelfs were
specially the patriotic party in Italy. No doubt the Popes at one time
tried to pose as the defenders of Italian liberties against German
tyrants, and some modern historians, forgetting the mediæval conception
of the Empire, have been inclined to accept this view. But when it
suited his purpose, the Pope was ready enough to support an “anti-Cæsar”
who was no less a German, or even to call in a French invader. The truth
is that at that time (and for many centuries afterwards), no conception
of “Italy” as a nation had entered into men’s minds. We do not always
realise that until the year 1870, the territory, well enough defined by
Nature, which forms the modern kingdom of Italy, had never, except
indeed as part of a far wider Empire, owned the rule of a single
sovereign. Patriotism hardly extended beyond the walls of a man’s own
city. Even Dante feels that residence in Lucca, Bologna, or Verona is an
exile as complete as any, and that his only _patria_ is Florence, though
it may be safely said that to him, if to any living man, the idea of an
Italian nation had presented itself.

The one argument which we can find to support this view lies in the fact
that while the chief Guelf names are those of burgher families, many of
the leading Ghibeline houses were undoubtedly of German origin. At
Florence the Uberti, at Bologna the Lamberti, show their descent in
their names. Villani tells us that the Emperor Otto I. delighted in
Florence, “and when he returned to Germany certain of his barons
remained there and became citizens.” The two families just mentioned
are specified. So far, then, the Guelfs may be regarded as representing
native civic liberties against an alien feudal nobility, and the
struggle between the two factions will fall into line with that which at
a somewhat later date went on in Germany between the traders of the
cities and the “robber-barons” of the country. In this aspect we may see
the full meaning of Dante’s continual allusion to the sin of avarice,
under the image of the “wolf;” an allusion, again, which the original
name whence the Guelf party took its appellation would specially point.

How and when the names first appeared in Italy we do not know. The first
manifestation of resistance on the part of the cities to the Imperial
control was given when Milan withstood Frederick Barbarossa--in defence,
it may be noted, of its own right to oppress its weaker neighbours; but
during the war which followed, and which was terminated by Frederick’s
defeat at Legnano, the head of the Welfs, Henry the Lion, was for most
of the time fighting on the Imperial side, and though he deserted
Frederick at the last, he does not seem to have given any active help to
the Lombard League. Yet it may well be that in his defection we have to
see a stage in the transition from Welf to Guelf. It is, however, not in
Lombardy, but in Tuscany, that the names of Guelf and Ghibeline, as
recognised party designations, first appear. Machiavelli says--perhaps
by a confusion with the Black and White factions, of whom we shall hear
later--that they were first heard in Pistoia; but however this may be,
they would seem to have been definitely accepted by 1215, to which year
Villani assigns their introduction into Florence.

We have now reached the first date, it may be said, which students of
Dante will have to remember; a date which to him, and equally to the
sober chronicler Villani, marked the beginning of troubles for the city
which both loved as a mother, though to the greater son she was “a
mother of small love.” The occasion is so important that it ought to be
related in the historian’s own words:--

    “In the year of Christ 1215, one Messer Bondelmonte, of the
    Bondelmonti, a noble citizen of Florence, having promised to
    take to wife a damsel of the house of the Amidei, honourable and
    noble citizens; as this Messer Bondelmonte, who was a gay and
    handsome cavalier, was riding through the city, a lady of the
    Donati family called to him, speaking evil of the lady who had
    been promised to him, how that she was not fair nor fitting for
    him, and saying: ‘I have kept my daughter here for you,’ showed
    him the maiden; and she was very fair. And straightway falling
    enamoured of her, he gave her his troth, and espoused her to
    wife; for which cause the kinsfolk of the first promised lady
    gathered together, and being grieved for the shame that Messer
    Bondelmonte had wrought them, they took on them the accursed
    quarrel whereby the city of Florence was laid waste and broken
    up. For many houses of the nobles[11] bound themselves together
    by an oath to do a shame to the aforesaid Bondelmonte in
    vengeance for those injuries. And as they were in council among
    themselves in what fashion they should bring him down, Mosca of
    the Lamberti said the ill word: “A thing done hath an end,”
    meaning that he should be slain.[12] And so it came to pass; for
    on the morning of Easter Day they assembled in the house of the
    Amidei by St. Stephen’s, and the said Messer Bondelmonte, coming
    from beyond Arno, nobly clad in new white clothes, and riding on
    a white palfrey, when he reached the hither end of the Old
    Bridge, just by the pillar where was the image of Mars, was
    thrown from his horse by Schiatta of the Uberti,[13] and by
    Mosca Lamberti and Lambertuccio of the Amidei assailed and
    wounded, and his throat was cut and an end made of him by
    Oderigo Fifanti; and one of the counts from Gangalandi was with
    them. For the which thing’s sake the city flew to arms and
    uproar, and this death of Messer Bondelmonte was the cause and
    beginning of the accursed Guelf and Ghibeline parties in
    Florence, albeit that before this the factions among the nobles
    of the city had been plenty, and there had been the parties I
    have said, by reason of the conflicts and questions between the
    Church and the Empire; but through the death of Messer
    Bondelmonte all the families of the nobles and other citizens of
    Florence took sides with them, and some held with the
    Bondelmonti, who took the Guelf side and were its leaders, and
    others with the Uberti, who were head of the Ghibelines. Whence
    followed much havoc and ruin to our city, and one may think that
    it will never have an end if God put not a term to it.”[14]

The historian proceeds to enumerate the noble families who joined either
side. Curiously enough, they were at first evenly divided--thirty-eight
to thirty-eight. Not much is to be inferred from the names, though it is
somewhat significant that of those, some half a dozen families in all,
whom Villani, himself a Guelf, notes as having only recently attained to
nobility, all joined the Guelf party. There seems also to have been a
tendency for Ghibeline houses to become Guelf, which is not balanced by
any defections in the opposite sense, so that the balance of parties was
soon disturbed in favour of the Guelfs. At first, however, though

“there was a division among the nobles of the city in that one loved the
lordship of the Church, and the other that of the Empire, yet in regard
to the state and welfare of the commonwealth all were in concord.”

This state of things did not last long. In 1220 Frederick II. was
crowned Emperor at Rome. Up till that time he had been more or less a
_protégé_ of the Popes. First Innocent III., then Honorius III., had
kept a fatherly eye upon his youth and early manhood, and for a time
Church and Empire seemed to pull together. Honorius had, indeed,
occasion to write severely to him more than once, but there was no
breach of the peace. The accession of Gregory IX., in 1227, changed the
aspect of affairs. Before the year was out, Frederick, like most of his
predecessors for 200 years past, was under the ban of the Church: and
from this time forward there was an end of peace and quiet government in
Northern Italy. “Before Frederick met with opposition,” Dante makes a
Lombard gentleman of the last generation say, “valour and courtesy were
wont to be found in the land which Adige and Po water; now may any man
safely go that way, who through shame has left off to converse with
good men or approach them.”[15]

Florence seems to have remained longer than most of the chief cities
aloof from the main contest. She had her own wars with Pisa, beginning
with a private quarrel at the Emperor’s coronation (in which we are
expressly told that both parties united), and afterwards with Siena; and
the great houses did a certain amount of private fighting; “but still
the people and commonwealth of Florence continued in unity, to the
welfare and honour and stability of the republic.” In 1248, however,
Frederick turned his attention in that direction, moved, it may be, by
the growing strength of the Guelfs. His natural son, Frederick of
Antioch, was sent with a force of German men-at-arms, and after some
fierce street fighting, the Guelfs were driven out.

The Ghibeline supremacy was short-lived. Their nobles, especially the
great house of the Uberti, became unpopular by reason of the exactions
which they enforced; they got beaten in a fight with some of the
banished Guelfs at no great distance from the city; and before the end
of 1250 a meeting of “the good men,” as Villani calls them, or, as we
should say, the middle class, limited the power of the Podestà,[16] and
appointed a Captain of the People to manage the internal affairs of the
city, with a council of twelve Elders. Other important changes were made
at the same time, and the new constitution--the third recorded in
Florentine history--was known as the “Primo Popolo.” The death of
Frederick in the same year still further weakened the Ghibelines. Some
of them were banished, and the exiled Guelfs were recalled. Peace,
however, seems to have been kept between the parties for some time, and
when in 1255 Count Guido Guerra on his own account expelled the
Ghibelines from Arezzo, the Florentines restored them, and lent the
Aretines money to pay a fine which the Guelf chief had inflicted; “but I
know not if they ever got it back,” says Villani.

Again the compromise proved unstable. Manfred, Frederick’s natural son,
to whom, during the childhood of his young nephew, Conradin, the
championship of the Hohenstaufen cause had fallen, was daily increasing
in strength. His orders came to the Ghibelines of Florence to crush the
popular party; and the latter, being warned in time, drove out all the
great Ghibeline families. Two years later these had their revenge. On
September 4, 1260, a date much to be remembered in the history of these
times, the banished Ghibelines, aided by eight hundred of Manfred’s
German horse, seized the opportunity of hostilities between the
Florentines and the Sienese to meet their opponents in a pitched battle.
This took place on the Arbia, near the fortress of Montaperti, to the
east of Siena.[17] The Guelfs were utterly routed, partly, it would
seem, through the incompetence of some of the Elders who accompanied the
army, and who, civilians though they were, overruled the judgement of
the military leaders, and accepted battle under unfavourable
conditions; and partly through the treachery of some Ghibelines who, not
having been exiled, were serving in the Florentine host. Readers of the
_Commedia_ will remember the name of Bocca degli Abati, placed by Dante
in the lowest pit of hell.[18]

Sixty-five of the leading Guelf families fled to Lucca, while the
Ghibelines entered Florence, and appointed Guido Novello, of the great
house of the Conti Guidi, Imperial Podestà. A meeting of the leaders of
the party from Pisa, Siena, and Arezzo was held at Empoli, and a
proposal was made on behalf of the rival cities, to raze Florence to the
ground as a fortified city, and so preclude her revival as a Guelf
stronghold. For once, however, a man was found to set patriotism above
party. The great Farinata degli Uberti, whose wise counsel and warlike
skill had mainly contributed to the victory, rose, with the same
magnificent scorn, we may suppose, that Dante afterwards saw him display
for the torments of Hell,[19] and let it be known that, so long as he
had life in him, he would resist any such measure at the sword’s point.
Count Giordano, the commander of the Germans, who had convened the
meeting, gave in, and Florence was saved.

This was the last gleam of success which the Imperial cause was to
enjoy in Tuscany for nearly half a century. Soon after the battle of
Montaperti, Urban IV. was elected to the Papal See. He was a Frenchman
by birth, “son of a shoemaker, but a valiant man and wise,” says
Villani. In view of the growing power of Manfred, vigorous steps had to
be taken. The exiled Florentine Guelfs had made a fruitless attempt to
effect a diversion in Germany, by inciting the young Conradin to oppose
the acting head of his house. This old expedient having failed, Urban
turned his eyes towards his own country. Charles of Anjou, brother of
Saint Lewis, was at that time, next to the reigning sovereigns, the most
powerful prince in Christendom, and to his aid the Pope appealed.
Himself a man of Puritanical strictness in his life, and devoted to the
Church, Charles was ready enough to accept the call, which appealed
alike to his principles and to his ambition, and to act as the champion
of the Holy See against the dissolute and freethinking Manfred; and the
influence of his wife, the only one of Raymond Berenger’s four daughters
who was not actually or in prospect a queen,[20] was thrown on the same
side. After keeping Easter 1265 at Paris, Charles set out, and landed at
the mouth of the Tiber in May. In December he was crowned at Rome King
of Naples, Sicily, and Apulia. Two months later, at the end of February
1266, Charles and Manfred met near Benevento. After some hard fighting,
of which the German troops seem to have borne the brunt, the battle was
decided against Manfred by the desertion of his Apulian barons, and he
himself was slain. His defeat gave the final blow to the Ghibeline cause
in Tuscany. Only Pisa and Siena remained faithful. In Florence an
attempt was made to avoid civil strife by the device of doubling the
office of Podestà. Two gentlemen from Bologna, Catalano de’ Malavolti
and Loderingo de’ Landolò, a Guelf and a Ghibeline,[21] were appointed,
and they nominated a council of thirty-six, chosen from both sides. But
this plan did not work well. Party spirit had grown too violent to allow
of half measures, and before the year was out the people rose again, and
the Ghibelines were banished for good and all.


    [8] It seems proper to say that this chapter was written, and at
    least some of it printed, before Mr. Oscar Browning’s
    interesting volume, _Guelphs and Ghibellines_ (Methuen),

    [9] It may not be out of place here to correct the vulgar error
    that “Guelf” is in any sense the surname of our Royal family.
    The house of Brunswick is no doubt lineally descended from these
    Welfs of Bavaria; but it has been a reigning house since a
    period long antecedent to the existence (among Teutonic peoples)
    of family or surnames, and there is no reason for assigning to
    the Queen the Christian name of one of her ancestors more than
    another--“Guelf” more than “George.”

    [10] Hallam considers that hostility to the Empire was the
    motive principle of the Guelf party in Lombardy; attachment to
    the Church in Tuscany.

    [11] Observe that the Bondelmonti were comparatively newcomers.
    They had originally belonged to Valdigreve, and had only lived
    in Florence for some eighty years at the date of this event.
    Hence they were looked upon as upstarts, and not properly
    speaking, nobles at all. See _Paradise_, xvi. 133-147.

    [12] _Hell_, xxviii. 106.

    [13] Possibly “by the Uberti lot.”

    [14] Villani, _Croniche_, v. 37.

    [15] _Purgatory_, xvi. 115.

    [16] The name _Podestà_ originally denoted the chief authority
    of a city or county, whether vested in one person or several.
    Frederick I. established Imperial officers under this title
    throughout Tuscany near the end of his reign, and for some time
    the Podestà was regarded as the Emperor’s delegate. Before the
    end of the century, however, they had become municipal officers,
    gradually displacing the former consuls from the chief position.
    About 1200 the custom of choosing them from the citizens of some
    other town than that in which they officiated, seems to have
    become established; the native consuls being their councillors.

    [17] _Hell_, x. 96.

    [18] _Hell_, xxxii. 81, 106.

    [19] _Ibid._, x. 36.

    [20] _Paradise_, vi. 133.

    [21] They seem to have acted on the principle of filling their
    own pockets, rather than of maintaining order; and are placed by
    Dante among the hypocrites, in the sixth pit of Malebolge
    (_Hell_, xxiii. 103). They belonged to the order of Knights of
    St. Mary, popularly called Jovial Friars.



In the month when Charles of Anjou sailed up the Tiber to Rome, a child
was born at Florence to a citizen named Alighiero, son of Bellincione.
We do not know for certain his _casato_, or family name. Bellincione’s
father was another Alighiero, or, as it was originally written,
Aldighiero. His father was Cacciaguida, who had a brother named Eliseo;
from which it has been conjectured that he may have belonged to the
prominent house of the Elisei, which is known to have existed as far
back as the beginning of the eleventh century, since it was not uncommon
for members of a family to bear the founder’s name. We know, further,
that the name of Alighiero came into the family with Cacciaguida’s wife,
who belonged to some city near the Po, probably Ferrara, where a family
of Aldighieri is known to have existed.[22] In any case, it was
originally no Florentine name, and it may be doubted if it ever was
recognised as the appellation of a family. True, Dante is once or twice
referred to as “Dantes de Alegheriis,” but this may be due to the fact
that he was known to have had recently two ancestors of the name. He
himself, if we may trust the evidence of letters ascribed to him, seems
to have written “Dantes Alligherius,” while his son calls him Dantes
Aligherii, and himself Petrus Dantis Aligherii, “Peter, son of Dante,
son of Alighiero.” In the official Florentine documents, where his name
occurs, it is “Dantes Allegherii” or “Dante d’Alighiero,” “Dante the son
of Alighiero,” and no more. The form “degli Alighieri,” which would
indicate a true family name, we find in no undoubtedly contemporary

In view of this initial uncertainty, the discussion whether the poet was
of “noble” family or not seems a trifle superfluous. His
great-great-grand-father, Cacciaguida, is made to say (_Par._, xv. 140)
that he himself received knighthood from the Emperor Conrad III. (of
Hohenstaufen). This would confer nobility; but it would appear that it
would be possible for later generations to lose that status, and there
are some indications that Dante was sensitive on this point. At any
rate, it is pretty clear that his immediate ancestors were not in any
way distinguished. The very fact that he was born in Florence during a
period when all the leading Guelfs were in exile shows that Alighiero
was not considered by the dominant Ghibelines a person of too great
importance to be allowed to remain undisturbed in the city.

Of Dante’s boyhood and early youth we have only stray indications, and
those mainly gathered from his own writings. We can, indeed, form a
pretty clear notion of what he _was_, but we know little enough about
what he _did_. From a very early period he was made a hero of romance.
Without going so far as some recent writers, both German and Italian,
who seem to look upon every statement of early biographers with
suspicion, while regarding their silence as good evidence that what
they do not mention cannot have happened, we must admit that we cannot
with certainty date any event in the first thirty years of Dante’s life.
Still, we can infer a good deal. He must unquestionably, during this
time, have read a great deal, for it would have been impossible for a
man wandering about from place to place, and intermittently busied in
political affairs, to have amassed in seven or eight years the amount of
learning which the _Commedia_ by itself shows him to have possessed. He
must have been recognised at an early age as a young man of marked
ability. His intimacy with the old statesman Brunetto Latini, who died
in 1294, and his friendship with Charles of Anjou’s grandson, Carlo
Martello,[23] the young King of Hungary, who was at Florence in the same
year and the following, are sufficient to prove this. Neither Brunetto,
the most learned man of his age in Florence, and, as we should say, a
man of “society” as well, nor a prince who, had he lived, would have
been one of the most important personages in Europe, was likely to have
distinguished with his friendship a young man of twenty-nine, not of the
highest birth, unless he had already made himself notable for
intellectual eminence.

One event occurred during Dante’s youth, in which he is so generally
believed to have borne a part, that it will probably come as a shock to
many people to learn that this belief rests only on the statement of a
writer who was not born till nearly fifty years after Dante’s death. On
St. Barnabas’s day, June 11, 1289, the Florentine Guelfs met the
Ghibelines of Arezzo, in whose ranks many of their own exiles were
fighting, in a plain called Campaldino, belonging to the district of
Certomondo, which lies in the Casentino, or upper part of the Arno
valley. The Florentines gained a complete victory, though only after a
hard fight, in which many of the chief Ghibeline leaders lost their
lives. The event was one of great importance, and Villani recounts it in
very full detail.[24] Dante also refers to it in one of the best-known
passages of the _Purgatory_ (v. 92). It is quite possible that he
himself may have taken part in the battle; but if he did so, it is
somewhat strange that none of the earlier commentators, including his
own son, nor any biographer of the fourteenth century, should have known
of it, or, knowing of it, should have thought it worth recording; and
that it should have been left to Leonardo Bruni of Arezzo, writing after
the year 1400, to make the first reference to so noteworthy an incident
in Dante’s early career. Leonardo (whose “Life” will be found in
Bianchi’s edition of the _Commedia_) quotes, indeed, a letter, said to
have been written many years afterwards by Dante, in which reference is
made to his presence in the battle; but this letter has long
disappeared, and it is to be noted that the biographer does not even
profess to have seen it himself. There is, it must be said, in the
_Hell_ (xxii. _init._) one allusion to warlike operations in the
Aretine territory of which Dante claims to have been an eye-witness; but
as none of the early commentators seems to refer to Campaldino in
connection with this passage, it tells, if anything, against the
received story.

Another event, sometimes assigned to the period of Dante’s life before
his banishment, has somewhat more evidence in its favour. That he
visited Paris at least once in the course of his life, the early
authorities are agreed; but Villani, Boccaccio, and Benvenuto of Imola,
all writing in the fourteenth century, make the visit to have taken
place during his exile. It is not until we come to John of Serravalle,
Lord of Fermo, who as Bishop of Rimini attended the Council of
Constance, and there, at the request of the Bishops of Bath and Wells
and Salisbury, prepared a Latin version of the _Commedia_ with
commentary, that we find mention of an earlier visit. His testimony is a
little suspicious, because in the same sentence he also asserts that
Dante studied at Oxford, a statement which, without strong confirmation,
it would be very hard to accept. On the other side, it may be said that
the silence of the older biographers is not conclusive evidence against
the early study at Paris. Dante also went to Bologna, as it would
appear, both before and after his banishment; yet while Villani and
Boccaccio only name the latter visit, Benvenuto speaks only of the
former. It is therefore quite possible that all three may have ignored
the first period of study at Paris, or, if there was but one such
period, may have assigned it to the wrong part of Dante’s life. _Primâ
facie_ it is more probable that he would have undertaken both the long
journey and the course of study in his days of “greater freedom and less
responsibility,” than when he was not only engaged upon the composition
both of his great poem and of several prose treatises, but was taking an
active share in political work.

Again, the allusion in the _Paradise_ to the lectures of Sigier bears
all the stamp of a personal reminiscence; just as the allusion to the
dykes along the coast of Flanders to illustrate those which form the
banks of the river Phlegethon, could hardly have occurred to one who had
not seen them with his own eyes, though the biographers mention no
journey to Flanders. But Sigier’s lectures and his life too were over by

Another little bit of evidence may be given for what it is worth. Any
one who has read the discourses of Meister Eckhart, the founder of the
school of German mystics, will be struck by the frequent and close
resemblances, not of thought only, but of expression and illustration,
which exist between him and Dante. So frequent and so close are these,
that the reader can hardly conceive the possibility of their being due
to mere coincidence.[25] But Eckhart preached and wrote (if he wrote) in
German, a language which we have no reason to think that Dante knew; so
that the exchange of ideas between them, if any, must have taken place
by word of mouth, and in French or Latin. Now, Eckhart was for a long
time in Paris--so long that he seems to have been known as “Master
Eckhart of Paris”--and left that city in 1302. If he and Dante ever met,
it must have been in Paris (for though Eckhart went to Italy in 1302, it
appears to have been only on a journey to Rome, the last place save
Florence where Dante would then have cared to show himself), and that at
some time before 1300.

Lastly, we may question if Dante would have chosen Paris as a place of
residence while Philip the Fair was on the throne of France.

If, then, he did visit France before his exile, we can date the visit
with some certainty. It can hardly have been before 1290, the year of
Beatrice’s death, nor after 1294, the year in which Carlo Martello came
to Florence. Dante’s marriage, again, in all probability took place
somewhere about the latter year. We know nothing directly of Dante’s
doings in this interval; nothing, at any rate, inconsistent with his
having been for some considerable period away from Florence.

But we have kept till the last the subject which to many is the only one
associated with Dante’s younger life. What, it will be said, about
Beatrice? The fashionable theory nowadays seems to be that there
undoubtedly was a lady at Florence of that name, the daughter of Folco
Portinari, that she was married to Simone de’ Bardi, a member of that
great family who were Edward III.’s bankers, and that she died in the
flower of her youth. But, say the modern Italian and German writers,
this lady--Frau Bardi-Portinari, the latter call her--had no more to do
with Dante than any other Beatrice in history. This will seem to many
who do not realise on how slight a basis the identification of her
rests, to be the very wantonness of paradox. These may be startled to
learn that the whole story depends upon the veracity of one man, and
that a professed writer of romantic fiction. It is from Boccaccio, and
from him alone, that we have learnt to see in Dante’s mystical guide and
guardian, in the lost love of his early years, only the idealised and
allegorised figure of Folco Portinari’s daughter. What, then, is his
evidence worth? To this we can only reply, that Boccaccio was born eight
years before Dante’s death; that he lived in Florence from his
childhood; that he must have spoken with scores of people to whom the
social and literary history of the years preceding 1290 was perfectly
familiar; that both Dante and the husband of Beatrice were prominent
men; and that Boccaccio can have had no motive for making a statement
which, if untrue, he must have known to be so. Further, if the statement
had been untrue, it would surely have been contradicted, and some trace
of the contradiction would have been found. But, on the contrary, it
seems to have been accepted from the first. It is repeated by
Boccaccio’s younger contemporary and disciple Benvenuto of Imola, who
himself lived for some time in Florence, before all those who would be
able from their own recollection to confirm or deny it would have passed
away. And Benvenuto, it may be noted, though devoted to Boccaccio, was
no mere student, but a shrewd and critical man of the world. Dante’s son
Pietro, indeed, says no word to show that Beatrice was anything but a
symbol, and in this some of the other early commentators follow him. But
this would prove too much. Whether she be rightly identified with
Beatrice Portinari or not, it is impossible for any reader possessing
the least knowledge of the human heart to see in the Beatrice of the
_Commedia_ a symbol merely. Not to mention that it would be quite
contrary to Dante’s practice thus to _invent_ a personage for the sake
of the symbol, it is absurd to suppose that the “ten years’ thirst”
which the sight of her relieves, “the eyes whence Love once took his
weapons,” and such-like expressions were intended primarily as
references to a neglected study of theology or a previous devotion to a
contemplative life. The omission, therefore, of the commentators who
interested themselves mainly in the allegory to tell us about the real
Beatrice cannot be used as evidence against her existence.

The first supporter of what may be called the “superior” view--namely
that the whole story of Beatrice is purely allegorical--was one Giovanni
Mario Filelfo, a writer of the fifteenth century, born more than a
hundred years after Dante’s death. As a rule, where his statements can
be tested, they are incorrect; and on the whole his work appears to be a
mass of unwarranted inferences from unverified assertions. It was not
till recent times that his theory on the subject found any defenders.

We may, then, pretty safely continue in the old faith. After all, it
explains more difficulties than it raises. No doubt if we cannot free
ourselves from modern conceptions we shall be somewhat startled not only
by the almost deification of Beatrice, but also by the frank revelation
of Dante’s passion, with which neither the fact of her having become
another man’s wife nor his own marriage seems in any way to interfere.
It needs, however, but a very slight knowledge of the conditions of life
in the thirteenth century to understand the position. As has been
already pointed out, the notion of woman’s love as a spur to noble
living, “the maiden passion for a maid,” was quite recent, and at its
first growth was quite distinct from the love which finds its fulfilment
in marriage. Almost every young man of a literary or intellectual turn
seems to have had his Egeria; and when we can identify her she is
usually the wife of some one else.


    [22] It may be noted that the name is undoubtedly Teutonic. The
    suggested derivations from _aliger_, “the wing-bearer,” and the
    like, are purely fanciful. The first part of the word is
    doubtless _alt_, “old,” which we have in our own Aldhelm; the
    termination is the _geirr_, or _gar_, which occurs in all
    Teutonic languages, and means “spear.” Dante (= Durante) was a
    common Christian name.

    [23] Doubts have even been thrown on Dante’s friendship with
    this young King. To these we can only reply that, if it is not
    implied by _Par._, viii. 55, it is impossible to draw any
    inference whatever as to Dante’s life from any line of the poem.

    [24] The conclusion of his account is picturesque enough to
    deserve reproduction. “The news of the said victory came to
    Florence the very day and hour when it took place; for the Lords
    Priors having after dinner gone to sleep and rest, by reason of
    the anxiety and watching of the past night, suddenly came a
    knock at the door of the chamber, with a cry, ‘Rise up, for the
    Aretines are discomfited;’ and when they were risen, and the
    door opened, they found no man, and their servants without had
    heard nothing. Whence it was held a great and notable marvel,
    seeing that before any person came from the host with the news,
    it was towards the hour of vespers.”

    [25] We find close resemblances between Dante and the founder of
    German mysticism. Not only in similes and illustrations, such as
    the tailor and his cloth, the needle and the loadstone, the flow
    of water to the sea, the gravitation of weights to the centre;
    or in such phrases as Eckhart’s “nature possesses nothing
    swifter than the heaven,” or his use of _edilkeit_ “nobility,”
    in reference to freewill, _la nobile virtù_. These may have
    been, in some cases were, borrowed by both from a common source,
    though the fact of their so often borrowing the same things is
    suggestive. So, too, both Dante and Eckhart quote St. John i. 3,
    4, with the punctuation adopted by Aquinas, _quod factum est, in
    ipso vita erat_--“what was made, in Him was life”--though the
    Vulgate and St. Augustine prefer the arrangement of the words
    familiar to us in our own version. But when we find such an
    unusual thought as that in _Par._, viii. 103, 104, of the
    redeemed soul having no more need to repent of its sins,
    expressed in almost similar words by Eckhart, it is hardly
    possible to believe that it occurred to both independently.
    There are many other instances, but it would occupy too much
    space if I were to give them here.



In order to understand the extent to which Dante’s life was influenced
by the political circumstances of his age, it will be well to carry our
survey of events somewhat further, with special reference to the affairs
of Florence.

As we have seen, after frequent alternations of fortune, the city
passed, within two years of Dante’s birth, for good and all to the Guelf
side. On St. Martin’s Day, in November, 1266, Count Guido Novello and
his German horse were driven out of the city by the burghers; and though
in the January following a treaty of peace was made, and cemented by
various marriages between members of the leading families on either
side--an arrangement of which the chief result was to embitter party
spirit among the Guelfs who had taken no share in it--anything like a
lasting reconciliation was soon found to be out of the question. Charles
of Anjou, moreover, fresh from his victory over Manfred, was by no means
disposed to allow the beaten Ghibelines any chance of rallying.
Negotiations were entered into between him and the Florentine Guelfs,
and on Easter Day, 1267, Guy of Montfort (son of Sir Simon) entered the
city at the head of eight hundred French cavalry. The Ghibelines did not
venture to strike a blow, but departed on the day before his arrival. At
Easter, says Villani, the crime was committed which first split the city
into factions; and at Easter the descendants of the men who had
committed the crime went into exile, never to return.

The same year saw a general rally of the north Italian states to the
Guelf side, and before many months were out even Lombardy, where, says
Villani, there was hardly any memory of the Guelfs, followed the stream.
In Tuscany, Pisa and Siena alone held by the tradition--for it was
little more--of allegiance to the Empire. The Florentine exiles betook
themselves to those cities, and before long the spirits of the party had
revived sufficiently to allow them to play what must have been felt to
be their last stroke in the game. Profiting by the disaffection of
certain Apulian and Sicilian barons (whom one may imagine to have found
the gloomy discipline of Charles a poor exchange for the brilliancy and
licence of Frederick’s Court), they cast their eyes towards the last
surviving representative of that Count Frederick who, some two hundred
years before, had fixed his seat in the hill-fortress of Staufen.
Conrad, or Corradino, as the Italians called him, grandson of Frederick
II., was a lad of sixteen, still under the tutelage of his mother, the
widow of Conrad IV. Germany seems to have been loyal to him, and had it
not been for the impatience of the Italian Ghibelines, he might well
have looked forward to regaining, perhaps under more favourable
auspices, the Empire which his predecessors had held. But the Tuscan
nobles, smarting under defeat, could not wait; and in spite of his
mother’s opposition, they carried the boy off. Money was lacking; and of
the ten thousand German horsemen who accompanied him across the Brenner,
only three thousand five hundred went beyond Verona. He passed through
Lombardy, however, without opposition, and with the aid of the Genoese
fleet reached Pisa in May, 1268. The rising of the Apulian barons had
compelled Charles to return hastily to his kingdom, and Conradin found
his way clear to Siena. An action in the district of Arezzo resulted in
the defeat and capture of Charles’s “marshal,” who had come out from
Florence in pursuit, and the German force was able to enter Rome
unmolested. There they received a reinforcement of eight hundred good
Spanish cavalry under Don Henry, brother of the King of Castile, and,
elated with success, pushed on to strike a decisive blow. They marched
eastward to Tagliacozzo, just within the frontier of the Abruzzi, while
Charles reached the same point by forced marches from Nocera. The armies
met on St. Bartholomew’s Eve, and at first everything seemed to go well
for Conradin. The Spanish division defeated the Provençals, and the
Germans crushed the French and Italians. But Charles had with him an
experienced old knight, Alard de St. Valéry, by whose advice he held a
picked force in reserve, concealed behind some rising ground. With this
he now attacked the victorious Germans and Spaniards, who had got out
of hand in the excitement of pursuit and plundering. They made a bold
resistance, but discipline told in the end; they were utterly defeated
and their leaders put to flight. Conradin and his immediate staff,
comprising the Duke of Austria and some German and Italian nobles, made
their way to Astura on the coast of the Campagna, and had succeeded in
embarking when they were recognised by one of the Frangipani, who were
the lords of the territory. Arrested by him and handed over to Charles,
they were subjected to a form of trial, and beheaded in the market-place
of Naples. This act has always been regarded as an indelible blot on
Charles’s record. Dante couples it with the alleged murder, by his
order, of St. Thomas Aquinas; and it seems to have been felt even by
members of the Guelf party as something, if one may so say, beyond the
rules of the game. Pope Clement, according to Villani, blamed Charles
severely; and the pious historian, for his own part, sees in the King’s
subsequent misfortunes the judgment of God upon his cruelty towards an
innocent boy. The judge who pronounced the sentence was slain before
Charles’s very eyes by his son-in-law, Robert, son to the Count of
Flanders, “and not a word was said, for Robert was great with the King,
and it appeared to the King and to all the barons that he had acted like
a valiant gentleman.” In Conradin the Hohenstaufen line came to an end,
and therewith all _raison d’être_ for the Ghibeline party. After this it
became merely a turbulent faction, until the accession of Henry of
Luxemburg; when Cæsar once more began to take interest in his Italian

It may be conceded that party rancour had much more to do with the
bringing of Conradin into Italy than any conscientious adhesion to views
such as those to which Dante afterwards gave utterance in the _De
Monarchia_, or faith in the benefit which would accrue to the world from
the rule of a single sovereign. But it shows the hold which the Empire
still had on men’s minds, that the Ghibeline chiefs should have
preferred to take a boy from Germany as the figure-head of their cause,
rather than seek a leader of more experience from among their
fellow-countrymen. Nor does it seem to have entered any one’s mind to
look out of Germany for an Emperor. There were, indeed, at the very
time, two rival Cæsars-elect in existence--Richard, Earl of Cornwall,
and Alfonso, King of Castile, the former of whom his own countrymen,
more in derision than respect, were wont to call “King of Almayne;” but
clearly no Ghibeline cared to call upon either of them to “heal the
wounds which were killing Italy.” Later, when the long interregnum was
brought to an end by the election of Rudolf of Hapsburg, even the Guelf
Villani holds that if he had been willing to pass into Italy he would
have been lord of it without opposition; but that astute prince no doubt
found himself much better employed in converting a petty baronial line
into one of the great houses of Germany, and ultimately of Europe, than
in acting up to a titular dignity which brought its bearer more
splendour than either wealth or ease. When he did send an Imperial Vicar
into Tuscany in 1281 his chance was gone, and the emissary was glad to
come to terms with the Florentines.

Thus, from the earliest time that Dante could remember, the Guelfs held
an almost undisturbed supremacy throughout Tuscany. There was occasional
fighting between Florence, as the head of the Guelf League, and Siena,
or Pisa, as the case might be. The Sienese, though helped by Guido
Novello and the Florentine exiles, and by some of the Spanish and German
troops who had escaped from Tagliacozzo, were badly beaten at Colle di
Val d’Elsa in 1269, and their commander, Provenzano Salvani (whom Dante
afterwards met in Purgatory), taken and slain. In the following year
this city too was purged of the Ghibeline taint, and a few Florentine
citizens who were caught were, after a reference to Charles, duly
beheaded. Pisa held out somewhat longer, and was able to expel its
Guelfs in 1275, among them the famous Count Ugolino de’ Gherardeschi, a
member of the house of Donoratico, one of whose counts had been captured
and killed with Conradin; but in a year’s time a Florentine success
brought them back. An effort made by Pope Gregory X. to reconcile the
factions, as he passed through Florence on his way to the Council of
Lyons, bore little or no fruit, and, as a pendant to former
excommunications of Emperors, the city was placed under interdict. When,
a year and a half later, Gregory died at Arezzo, “by his death,” says
Villani, “the Guelfs of Florence were greatly cheered, by reason of the
ill will which he had towards them;”--an interesting remark, as showing
that the Guelfs were not prepared to support the Holy See farther than
their own interests as a party demanded.

The condition of Florence at this time cannot be better described than
in Villani’s words. Writing of the year 1278, he says--

    “In these times, the Guelf nobles of Florence, reposing from
    their foreign wars with victory and honour, and fattened upon
    the goods of the exiled Ghibelines, and by reason of their other
    gains, began, through pride and envy, to quarrel among
    themselves; whence came to pass in Florence more feuds and
    enmities between the citizens, with slayings and woundings.
    Among them all the greatest was the quarrel between the house of
    the Adimari of the one part, who were very great and powerful,
    and on the other side were the house of the Donati; in such wise
    that nearly the whole of the city took sides, and some held with
    one party and some with the other, whereby the city and the
    Guelf party were in great danger.”

We shall remember how, in Dante’s judgement also, pride, envy, and
avarice were “the sparks that had set hearts on fire,” in Florence.

Once again the Pope, who was now Nicholas III., interfered; and once
again representatives of the two great factions exchanged the kiss of
peace before a Papal Legate, this time in front of “the Preaching
Friars’ new church of New St. Mary’s, in Florence,” of which the Legate,
Cardinal Latino, had but lately laid the first stone. The Ghibeline
leaders were still kept out, but the rank and file returned. The feud of
the Adimari and Donati was patched up for the time, whereby “the said
Cardinal had much honour, and Florence remained a good time in a
peaceful and good and tranquil state.”

Cardinal Latino had arranged for the government of Florence by a
committee of fourteen “good men,” of whom eight were to be Guelfs and
six Ghibelines. They were to hold office for two months. It marks the
Cardinal as a man of some organizing capacity that his peace continued
for four years, during which time Villani has next to nothing to relate
about the affairs of his city. These were the years in which Dante was
growing up to manhood. As a boy of thirteen he would doubtless have
looked on at the scene in front of Santa Maria Novella; and during the
next four peaceful years we may suppose that he would have begun to sit
at the feet of the old statesman, diplomatist, and scholar Brunetto
Latini, picking up from his lips the lore “how man becomes immortal.”
We can picture him too, where the boys and girls were gathered together,
a silent and reserved lad, probably unpopular unless with one or two
special friends, paying little heed to any of his companions save one
girl of about his own age, whose movements he would follow, and for the
sound of whose words, though never addressed to him, he would listen,
with the speechless devotion which perhaps is only felt at sixteen or
seventeen, and then only by natures which fortunately are exceptional in
this world. “The child is father to the man;” and we can be pretty
certain from what we know of the man Dante what the boy Dante must have

The tranquil period was disturbed in 1282. Pope Nicholas, who, whether
guilty of Simony or not--and one fears that the case against him must
have been strong, since not only Dante, but even Villani charges him
with the offence--at least deserved the blessing pronounced on
peacemakers, had died in the previous year at Viterbo, a town which,
during this period, seems to have suited the Popes better than Rome as a
place of residence. Charles, between whom and Nicholas no love had been
lost, was resolved that the next Pope should not come from the powerful
house of the Orsini, to a branch of which, the Guatani, the late Pontiff
had belonged, and by an arrangement with the people of Viterbo,
succeeded in getting the two most prominent clerical members of that
house imprisoned. Thus he secured the election of a Frenchman, Simon of
Brie, who, being a canon of Tours, took the name of Martin IV. His
Papacy, though it lasted little more than three years, was eventful. He
was elected in January, 1282, and on the following Easter Monday, March
30th, the people of Palermo, furious at the outrages of Charles’s French
troops, rose and massacred every Frenchman upon whom they could lay
hands. Charles’s efforts to recapture the island were baffled, chiefly
owing to the hostility of Manfred’s son-in-law. King Peter of Aragon,
also, with the help of his famous admiral, Roger of Loria, began about
this time to prove a serious thorn in the side of the Angevin King. From
the day of the “Sicilian Vespers,” fortune turned against Charles. His
son was taken prisoner by Loria in 1284, his life being spared only at
the entreaty of Peter’s wife, while he did not recover his liberty till
1289. The King himself died broken down with grief and disappointment,
in the early days of 1285, and was followed a couple of months later by
his creature, Martin IV., and, before the year was out, by his enemy,
King Peter. It will be remembered that Peter and Charles were seen by
Dante in the “Valley of Princes,” awaiting their entry into Purgatory,
and singing their Compline hymn in friendly accord: Martin IV. being
placed higher up the mountain, among the gluttonous.

At Florence the course of affairs was not much affected by the reverses
which befell Charles. At the same time, these, and a success gained by
Guy of Montefeltro over John of Appia, a French officer whom Martin had
appointed Count of Romagna, made the Guelf majority uneasy. Cardinal
Latino’s Constitution was abandoned, and a new form of government
adopted. The trading-class resolved to get rid altogether of the
representatives of feudal authority, weak as they had become,[26] and to
this end the Fourteen were abolished, and the chief power placed in the
hands of the Priors of the Arts, or, as we should say, the Masters of
the great trading guilds. The number of those guilds which contributed
members to the governing body seems to have been gradually increased. At
first only three--the Clothmakers, the Money-changers, and the
Wool-dealers--were thus honoured; but by the end of the century, at
least twelve, seven greater and five lesser arts, were included. The
Priors, as the Fourteen had done, held office for two months only, and
various devices were employed to prevent any house or any person from
becoming dangerously powerful. Nobles, in order to qualify for office,
had to join a guild; and as the nobles, or _grandi_, were more
frequently on the Ghibeline side, this would yet further weaken that

Florence had now fairly entered upon a period of great prosperity. Her
bankers lent money to kings; her trade extended all over Europe. Pisa,
her most dangerous rival, had been utterly crushed by the Genoese in the
great sea-fight off Meloria, with a slaughter which seems to have
struck awe into the hearts even of the victors; and though she expelled
her Guelfs four years later, in 1288, and, in 1291, under the brilliant
leader Guy of Montefeltro, won some successes in the field, she was
never again a power to be feared. Arezzo gave some trouble as a
rendezvous for the banished Ghibelines; but the battle of Campaldino, in
1289, already referred to, broke her strength for a long time. Florence
was thus free to attend to the arts of peace. The city walls were
extended and new gates built; and several of the buildings, which to
this day are among the glories of Florence, date from that period.
Still, however, much of the old class-jealousy smouldered; and, as
Machiavelli points out, all fear of the Ghibelines being removed, the
powerful houses began to oppress the people. Giano della Bella, himself
of noble family, casting in his lot with the commons, succeeded in
carrying what were called the Ordinances of Justice, whereby, among
other things, nobles were absolutely disqualified from taking any part
in the government. A measure so oppressive as this was bound to bring
about its own appeal, and, as a matter of fact, within two years from
its promulgation, Giano was driven into exile, and the nobles were more
turbulent than ever. It is at this time that the name of Corso Donati
first comes into prominence.

Another event, which was to influence the destinies of Florence and of
Dante, occurred shortly before Giano’s overthrow. This was the election
to the Papacy, in 1294, of Benedetto Guatani, known to history as
Boniface VIII. The most vigorous Pope who had held the office for
several generations, he soon let it be known that he intended to revive
all the claims which his predecessors, Gregory VII. and Innocent III.,
had made to temporal as well as spiritual supremacy. His first efforts
were devoted to getting Tuscany into his hands, and to this end he seems
to have intrigued freely with the leaders of both parties in Florence.
In theory, of course, where all were Guelfs, the Pope ought to have had
little trouble; but there were Guelfs and Guelfs, and it was not long
before party differences were emphasised, and, so to say, crystallised,
by party names. Curiously enough, these again appear first at Pistoia. A
family feud there had led to two branches of the Cancellieri being
distinguished as Black and White, and towards 1300 the names appear at
Florence. The Donati headed the Black faction; their rivals, the Cerchi,
the White. The latter represented the more orderly section of the
community; the former reproduced all the worst features of the old
Ghibeline aristocracy, though in the end it was the Whites who had to
coalesce with the Ghibelines. At first, indeed, it would seem as if
Boniface might have been willing to work with the Whites. He sent for
Vieri de’ Cerchi, the leader of that party, and tried to induce him to
live peaceably with the other side. Vieri, for reasons which we can only
conjecture, replied curtly that he had no quarrel with any one; and
Boniface resorted to the old expedient of sending a Cardinal--Matthew of
Acquasparta--to reconcile the factions.

We have now reached the critical year of Dante’s life--that in which he
held the office of Prior. But for the events of this and the next two
years, it may be doubted whether the _Commedia_ would ever have come
into existence, at least in the form in which six centuries have studied
and admired it. Henceforth Dante’s own history, rather than that of his
times, will be our chief subject.


    [26] In 1300, when the Black and White factions arose, we find
    among the twenty-eight houses enumerated by Machiavelli, as the
    chief on either side, only _three_ which in the old days had
    belonged to the Ghibeline party.



Towards the end of the thirteenth century, Dante’s name begins to appear
in public documents as taking a share in the business of the State. Thus
he spoke in the “Council of the Hundred” on December 10, 1296, and in
the following March, in opposition, it would seem, to a proposal of a
grant to King Charles II. of Apulia. In May, 1299, he acted as
ambassador from Florence to the neighbouring city of San Gemignano, the
only one of all the numerous embassies ascribed to him by some
biographers in which modern criticism will still allow us to believe.
Finally, in 1300, probably from June 15th to August 15th, he served his
term as Prior.

The Constitution of Florence at this time was somewhat complicated. It
will be sufficient to say here that the government was carried on by a
committee of six priors, who held office for two months only; and that
in order to be eligible for the offices of State a man had to be
enrolled in one of the twelve trading guilds known as Arts, of which
seven ranked as “greater,” five as “less.” Dante belonged to one of the
“greater arts,” that of the _speziali_, “dealers in spices,” which
included the apothecaries and, as it is believed, the booksellers. The
number of priors was so large, and their tenure of office so short, that
the selection of any particular citizen would hardly imply more than
that he was regarded as a man of good business capacity; but in 1300
public affairs in Florence were in such a critical state, that one may
well suppose the citizens to have been especially careful in their
choice. In the previous April an accusation had been brought by Lapo
Salterelli (afterwards one of Dante’s fellow-exiles, not held by him in
much esteem), who then was Prior, against three citizens of
Florence--Simon Gherardi, Noffo Quintavalle, and Cambio, son of Sesto,
of conspiring against the State. The facts are somewhat obscure, but, as
it appears that they were all connected with the Papal Court, and that
Boniface made strong efforts to get the fine imposed on them remitted,
we may conjecture that they had in some way abetted his scheme of
“getting Tuscany into his hands.” In a remarkable letter addressed to
the Bishop of Florence, in which a good deal of the argument, and even
some of the language, of Dante’s _De Monarchia_ is curiously paralleled,
of course from the opposite point of view, the Pope requires the
attendance before him of Lapo (whom he styles _vere lapis offensionis_)
and the other accusers. As may be supposed, no notice was taken of this
requisition, and the fines were duly enforced.

Boniface’s letter is dated from Anagni, on May 15th. Before it was
written, the first actual bloodshed in the feud between the Black and
White parties had taken place. Some of the young Donati and Cerchi, with
their respective friends, were in the Piazza di Santa Trinità on May
1st, looking on at a dance. Taunts were exchanged, blows followed, and
“Ricoverino, son of Messer Ricovero de’ Cerchi, by misadventure got his
nose cut off his face.” The leading Guelfs, seeing what a chance the
split in their party would offer to the Ghibelines, sought the mediation
of the Pope. Boniface was of course willing enough to interfere, and, as
has been said, sent Matthew of Acquasparta, Cardinal of Ostia, a former
General of the Franciscans, to Florence as peacemaker. He arrived just
about the time when the new Priors, including, as we must suppose,
Dante, were entering on office, and was received with great honour. But
when it came to measures of pacification, he seems to have had nothing
better to suggest than the selection of the Priors by lot, in place of
their nomination (as had hitherto been the custom) by their predecessors
and the chiefs of the guilds. “Those of the White party,” says Villani,
“who controlled the government of the country, through fear of losing
their position, and of being hoodwinked by the Pope and the Legate
through the reform aforesaid, took the worser counsel, and would not
obey.” So the familiar interdict was launched once more, and the Legate

In the city, things went from bad to worse. At the funeral of a lady
belonging to the Frescobaldi, a White family, in the following December,
a bad brawl arose, in which the Cerchi had the worst of it. But when the
Donati, emboldened by this success, attacked their rivals on the
highway, the Commune took notice of it, and the assailants were
imprisoned, in default of paying their fines. Some of the Cerchi were
also fined, and, though able to pay, went to prison, apparently from
motives of economy, contrary to Vieri’s advice. Unluckily for them, the
governor of the prison, one of their own faction, “an accursed Ser Neri
degli Abati,” a scion of a family which seems, if we may trust Dante’s
mention of some of its other members, to have made a “speciality” of
treacherous behaviour, introduced into the prison fare a poisoned
millet-pudding, whereof two of the Cerchi died, and two of the opposite
party as well,[27] “and no blood-feud came about for that”--probably
because it was felt that the score was equal.

The Blacks now made a move. The “captains of the Guelf party,” who,
though holding no official position, seem to have exercised a sort of
_imperium in imperio_, were on their side; and a meeting was held in
Holy Trinity Church, at which it was resolved to send a deputation to
Boniface, requesting him to take once again what seems to us--and indeed
was--the fatal step of calling in French aid. The stern prophecy which
Dante puts into the mouth of Hugh Capet in Purgatory was to be

                  “I see the time at hand
    That forth from France invites another Charles
    To make himself and kindred better known.
    Unarm’d he issues, saving with that lance
    Which the arch-traitor tilted with; and that
    He carries with so home a thrust, as rives
    The bowels of poor Florence.”

We may probably date from this Dante’s final severance from the Guelf
party; and, at any rate, we may judge from it the real value of Guelf

It must be remembered that the Black faction was still but a faction.
The conspiracy leaked out, and popular indignation was aroused. The
_Signoria_ that is, the Priors, took action. Corso Donati and the other
leaders were heavily fined, and this time the fines were paid. Probably
they did not wish to taste Ser Neri degli Abati’s cookery a second time.
A good many of the junior members of the party were banished to Castello
della Pieve; and at the same time, “to remove all jealousy,” several of
the White leaders were sent to Serezzano (which we now call Sarzana)--a
weak and unlucky attempt at compromise. They were, indeed, soon allowed
to return, their place of exile being unhealthy; so much so that one of
them, Dante’s most intimate friend, Guido Cavalcanti, died in the course
of the winter from illness contracted there.

Cardinal Matthew seems not to have actually left Florence till after the
beginning of 1301. We are told that among his other demands (probably
made on this occasion), was one to the effect that Florence should
furnish a hundred men-at-arms for the Pope’s service; and that Dante,
who, after his term of office as Prior, remained a member of the
council, moved that nothing should be done in the matter. Indeed, in the
scanty notices which we have of his doings in this critical period, he
appears as the steady opponent of all outside interference in the
affairs of Florence, whether by Pope or Frenchman. In the face of this
it is hard to understand how the famous story of his having gone on an
embassy to Rome--“If I stay, who goes? If I go, who stays?”--can ever
have obtained credence. Some words like those he may well have used, in
the magnificent self-consciousness which elsewhere made him boast of
having formed a party by himself; but we cannot suppose that he would at
any time in the course of 1301 have thus put his head into the lion’s
mouth. That Boniface was at the time of the supposed mission not at Rome
but at Anagni is a minor detail.

If all the White party had possessed Dante’s energy, Florence might have
been saved. Vieri de’ Cerchi had, indeed, as we have seen, spirit enough
to tell the Pope in effect to mind his own business, and he was not
devoid of shrewdness; but he seems to have been incapable of any
sustained vigour in action. The party as a whole were probably as
corrupt as their rivals, and less astute--“an evil and foolish company,”
as Dante afterwards called them by the mouth of Cacciaguida. Corso
Donati, on the other hand, was a bold and reckless intriguer. He
followed up the conspiracy of the Santa Trinità by hastening to the
Papal Court, and inducing Boniface to send at once for Charles of
Valois, brother of the French king, Philip the Fair. Charles obeyed the
summons readily, in the hope, says Villani, of the Imperial crown. After
a visit to the Pope at Anagni, he entered Florence on All Saints’ Day,
1301. All opposition on the part of the Whites was disarmed by the
assurance that he came only as “peacemaker;” and a meeting, “at which I,
the writer, was present,” was held in the Church of Santa Maria Novella.
Charles, “with his own mouth, undertook and swore, and promised as a
King’s son to maintain the city in peace and good estate; and
incontinently by him and by his people the contrary was done.” Armed men
were introduced; Corso Donati, though under sentence of banishment,
entered with them, Vieri de’ Cerchi, in foolish confidence, forbidding
his arrest. The populace, promptly seeing who were the masters, raised a
shout of “Long live Lord Charles and the Baron” (the name given to
Corso); and the city was given up for a week to burning and pillage. A
second visit from the Cardinal of Acquasparta produced no result, save a
momentary truce and another interdict. Throughout the early months of
1302, killings and slayings went on, Corso’s only son, among others,
being mortally wounded in the act of murdering one of the Cerchi.
Finally, one of the French knights, acting in the capacity which to this
day is regarded as peculiarly suited to the French genius, that of
_agent provocateur_, induced some of the White party, by offers of help,
to form some kind of conspiracy against Charles’s person. This plot
being duly reported, the conspirators fled on April 4th, some to Pisa,
some to Arezzo, some to Pistoia, and joined the already exiled
Ghibelines. They were condemned as rebels, and their houses destroyed.
From this time the Whites and Ghibelines form one party.

Whether Dante actually went with them is a perplexing question which has
never been thoroughly solved, but is of sufficient interest to delay us
for a while. In the short biography of the poet which Villani gives when
recording his death, we read: “This Dante was a citizen of Florence,
honourable and of old family, belonging to the ward of St. Peter’s Gate,
and a neighbour of ours. His exile from Florence was for the reason that
when Lord Charles of Valois, of the house of France, came to Florence in
1301 and drove out the White party, as is mentioned above under the
date, the said Dante was one of the chief governors of our city, and
belonged to that party, Guelf though he was; and therefore, _for no
other fault_, he was driven forth and banished with the said White party
from Florence.” This seems very explicit, but there are difficulties in
the way of taking it quite literally. A document exists, dated January
27, 1302, in which the Podestà, Cante de’ Gabrielli of Gubbio, charges
Dante Alighieri and three others with various offences, the chief being
_baratteria_ (or corrupt jobbery in office), the use of public money to
resist the entrance of Charles of Valois, and interference in the
affairs of Pistoia with the view of securing the expulsion from that
city “of those who are called Blacks, faithful, men devoted to the Holy
Roman Church,” which had taken place in May, 1301. It is stated that,
having been duly summoned, they had contumaciously absented themselves,
which seems to show that they were not in Florence; and they are
sentenced to pay five thousand florins apiece within three days, or, in
default, be banished and have their houses destroyed and their goods
confiscated; and in any case they were banished for two years. A second
decree of March 10th condemns Dante and fourteen others, among them Lapo
Salterelli, if they fall into the power of the Commonwealth, to be burnt
to death.

As has been said, Dante must clearly have been out of Florence when this
document was launched. Leonardi Bruni says he was at Rome on an embassy
when the Whites left Florence, and that he hastened to join his party at
Siena; but for the reasons already given, this story of the embassy
cannot be accepted. Some have suggested that as at Florence the old
style prevailed, under which March 26th was New Year’s Day, the two
sentences really belong to what we should now call 1303, when Dante had
undoubtedly been in exile for some months, and this is corroborated by
Benvenuto’s statement, “bannitus fuit anno MCCCIII.”--“bannitus”
meaning, no doubt, “placed under ban,” as distinct from voluntary exile.
But it appears that Cante de’ Gabrielli went out of office in June,
1302. So, unless we can suppose this last date to be wrong--and there is
some little ground for suspecting it--we must assume that, though a
Florentine official, he did not use Florentine style, and that Dante,
with some few others of the leading White Guelfs, was compelled to fly
sooner than the bulk of his party. He may very well have been regarded
as a specially dangerous opponent.

That there was any foundation for the charge of corruption it is
impossible to believe. Dante’s faults were many, but they did not lie in
that direction; and the honest Villani, though he appears to have sided
with the Black party, and indeed held office himself as Prior only a few
years later, seems to have introduced the words which we have italicised
in the passage given above, with the express intention of indicating
this. On the other hand, it may be noted that the charge was ingeniously
devised. Dante is known to have been in debt, for some of his
notes-of-hand exist, belonging to the years preceding 1300; while in the
course of 1301 he was engaged in superintending the performance of
certain public works in the city. Thus it would be matter of common
knowledge both that he was short of money and that he had recently been
in a position offering good opportunities for peculation, a fact of
which his unscrupulous adversaries would naturally avail themselves. We
may perhaps see, in the large space which he devotes, in the _Hell_, to
the crime of _baratteria_, evidence of a wish to express his especial
detestation of it.

What, however, we know for certain is that, after some date early in the
year 1302, Dante never saw Florence again. Several attempts were made by
the exiles to win their way back, but they were uniformly unsuccessful,
and only led to fresh sentences against those who took part in them.
Whether Dante was among these, at all events during the earlier years of
his exile, seems very doubtful. We know from his own words that he had
no sympathy with the men with whom he was thrown. Indeed, it was a
curious irony of fate which linked in one condemnation his name and that
of Lapo Salterelli, a man whom he selects (_Par._, xv. 128) as an
example of the degradation into which the Florentine character had
fallen. During this first period he was probably eating his heart, and
watching for the coming of the deliverer who, by bringing all the world
under one impartial sway, should put an end to faction and
self-seeking--the _invidia_ and _avarizia_ against which he is for ever
inveighing--and permit every man “to sit at ease and perfect himself in
prudence and wisdom;” thus fulfilling his proper task of “making himself
immortal,” or, as St. Paul phrases it, coming “to the measure of the
stature of the fulness of Christ.” It is a noble conception, though the
six hundred years which have elapsed since Dante looked for its
fulfilment do not seem to have brought us very much more forward in that
direction. Still, we can give him the honour due to a lofty standard of
political and social conduct in a violent and profligate, if brilliant,
age; and we can still read with interest and profit that wonderful
repertory of political wisdom, dialectical argument (after the manner of
the schoolmen), and passionate pleading for good government, which he
calls the _Treatise on Monarchy_.

The date at which the _De Monarchia_ was composed is uncertain, but it
would seem to belong most fitly to the years which immediately succeeded
Dante’s banishment. The Empire was in the hands of the incapable Albert
of Hapsburg while the Pope, from 1305, was the creature of the French
King. Cæsar and Peter seemed both alike to have abdicated, and the world
was going from bad to worse. With the election of Henry of Luxemburg, in
1308, better times may seem to have dawned, when practice might
supersede abstract theories. The letter which Dante actually wrote to
Henry in 1311 is couched in a far less meditative tone.

During Henry’s short reign the Ghibeline cause looked up; nor was his
death in 1313 so fatal a blow to it as might have been expected. Several
powerful leaders arose, one of whom, Uguccione della Faggiuola of Pisa,
won back most of Tuscany for his party. In 1315 he inflicted a severe
defeat on the Florentines and their allies at Montecatini, on the border
of the Florentine and Lucchese territories; but he was unable to follow
up his success so far as to enter the city. Some two months later a
third sentence went forth against Dante, in which his sons were
included, condemning them, as Ghibelines and rebels against the
Commonwealth and people of Florence and the statutes of the Guelf party,
to be beheaded whenever taken. It has been plausibly suggested that the
two events were not unconnected; and as it is hardly likely that at the
age of fifty Dante would have taken a prominent part in the actual
fighting, we must suppose it to have been as a leading adviser of the
enemy that he was specially obnoxious to the ruling powers at Florence.

The chief importance, however, which Dante’s exile has for us, is that
with it his great literary activity began. He had, of course, written
all his life; and it is quite possible even that some portion of the
_Commedia_ had been composed before he left Florence. The story told by
Boccaccio is well known. Commenting upon the opening words of Canto
viii., he tells us that the preceding portion of the poem had been
written before the final catastrophe, and left behind by Dante in his
flight, not being discovered for some years. In any case, the _Vita
Nuova_ was written, as he himself tells us, before he was twenty-five;
and a good deal of the _Convito_, a work which looks very much as if it
had first come into existence as the contents of notebooks, in which
materials to be afterwards worked into the great poem were jotted down,
was no doubt in writing. But it is to Dante’s twenty years of exile
that we owe in their completed form the works which place him not only
among the world’s five or six greatest poets, but in an eminent position
among philosophers, theologians, statesmen, and men of science.

We have but little certain information as to Dante’s life during his
exile. Legends innumerable have sprung up as to his residence here,
there, and elsewhere; but most of these are based on the fancies of
later writers; or in some cases even on local vanity, which was
flattered by the remotest connection with the great name. We can say for
certain that he passed some time at Verona, some at Lucca, some at
Ravenna, where his sepulchre remains to this day; and with some approach
to probability we can place him at Paris, at Bologna, and perhaps at
Milan. He may possibly have spent some time in the Lunigiana, and some
in the Casentino. All we know is that his life was spent in wandering,
that he had no settled home, that he lived on other men’s bread, and
went up and down other men’s stairs. He was honoured, it is true. Great
nobles were glad to employ his services, and, as we have said, the fact
of his being so often selected by the rulers of Florence for
condemnation, shows that at least they regarded him as a man to be
reckoned with. But probably the strongest evidence of the estimation in
which he was held is to be found in Villani’s obituary chapter, wherein
his character and accomplishments are set forth with a fulness which the
historian elsewhere reserves for Popes and sovereigns; a fulness all the
more noteworthy since his name never occurs in the chronicle of events
in which he undoubtedly took a leading part.

Only when Italy and Florence had lost him beyond hope of recovery was it
realised that he was one of his country’s greatest glories. Then chairs
were founded from which the most eminent literary men of the age should
expound his works; and commentator after commentator--nine or ten before
the end of the fourteenth century--cleared up some obscurities and made
others more obscure. Of course, so far as historical allusions go, the
writers who were nearly or quite contemporary with the events are often
of great service; but it is otherwise, as a rule, when a knowledge of
books is wanted. We are never so much impressed with the vastness of
Dante’s reading, as when we see the utter failure of these learned men
even to observe, in many cases, that any explanation or illustration of
an allusion is wanted. This, however, brings us back to the point from
which we started, namely, that much as has been written about Dante, the
possible fields of research are by no means exhausted.

The interest of the events which moulded Dante’s career and influenced
his work has perhaps led to their occupying too large a share of these
pages; but it has been thought best to go into the history at some
length, as being after all the first and most essential step towards a
thorough comprehension of the position which his writings, and
especially the _Commedia_, hold in European literature. This is quite
unique of its kind. Never before or since has a poem of the highest
imagination served--not merely as a political manifesto, but--as a party
pamphlet; and we may safely say that no such poem will in future serve
that purpose, at all events until the conditions under which it was
produced occur. Whether that is ever likely to be the case, those who
have followed the history may judge.


    [27] So I understand an obviously corrupt passage in Villani,
    viii. 41. One of the unlucky Blacks was a Portinari, doubtless a
    kinsman of Beatrice--a fact which curiously seems to have
    escaped the conjectural commentators.



So many good summaries of the _Commedia_ exist that to give another may
appear superfluous. At the same time, experience shows not only that
such a summary is found by most readers to be the best of all helps to
the study of the poem, but also that every fresh summariser treats it
from a somewhat different point of view. It is therefore possible that
in the following pages answers, or at least suggestions of answers, may
be found to some questions which previous writers, in England at all
events, have passed over; and that they may serve in some measure as a
supplement to the works which will be mentioned in the appendix.

§ 1. HELL.

The first eleven cantos of the _Hell_ form a very distinct subdivision
of the poem. They embrace, first, the introduction contained in Canto
i.; secondly, the description of the place of punishment up to a point
at which a marked change in the character of the sins punished is
indicated. In one sense, no doubt, an important stage in the journey is
completed when the City of Dis is reached, in Canto viii.; but it will
be observed, when we reach that point, that the class of sinners who are
met with immediately within the walls of the City, the Epicureans or, as
we should now say, the Materialists, bear really a much stronger
affinity to those who are outside the walls, those whose sin has been
lack of self-restraint in one form or another, than they do to the worse
criminals who have “offended of malicious wickedness,” and who lie at
and below the foot of the steep guarded by the Minotaur. The former
class at all events have been, to use a common phrase, “their own worst
enemies;” their sins have not been, at any rate in their essence, like
those of the latter, of the kind which break up the fabric of society,
and with them the heretics may most naturally be considered. It can
hardly be doubted that some such view as this led Dante to make the
first great break of level in his scheme of the lower world at a point
which would leave the freethinkers and materialists actually nearer to
the sinners of whom he holds that their sin “men Dio offende,” even
though theological exigencies compel him to place them within the walls
of the “red-hot city.” We may thus conveniently take these eleven cantos
for consideration as a group by themselves.

In the earlier cantos, as indeed throughout the poem, the main
difficulties with which we meet depend far more on interpretation than
on the mere “construing” of the words; and even if it were otherwise,
all purely linguistic difficulties have been so fully dealt with over
and over again in commentaries and translations that it would, as has
been said, be quite superfluous to enter here upon any discussion of
them. The opening canto, as every reader will at once perceive, is
symbolism and allegory from beginning to end, from the “dark wood” in
which the action of the poem begins to the “hound” who is to free Italy.
These, more especially the latter, have given as much trouble to the
interpreter as anything in the whole poem; indeed it may be said that in
the matter of the _Veltro_ we have not made much advance on Boccaccio,
who frankly admitted that he could not tell what was meant. But between
these two points we have some hundred lines in nearly every one of
which, beside its obvious and literal interpretation, we must look for
all the others enumerated by Dante in the famous passage of his letter
to Can Grande. The second canto is of much the same character, in some
respects almost in more need of close study. The significance of the
three beasts who hinder Dante is easier to make out than that of the
three heavenly ladies who assist him. Meantime, if we are content to
read the poem as narrative merely, there is no great difficulty to be
overcome. The language is straightforward on the whole, almost the only
_crux_ being ii. 108, which has not yet been satisfactorily explained,
nor is the imagery other than simple.

With Canto iii. and the arrival within the actual portal of Hell (though
hardly in Hell properly so called) we enter upon a fresh subdivision of
the poem; and are very soon brought up by the first, and one of the most
perplexing, of the allusions to contemporary history with which it
abounds. The elucidation of these would constantly offer almost
hopeless difficulties, were it not for the early commentators, who are
often able to explain them from personal knowledge. Now and then,
however, it happens that they differ, and then the modern student is at
a loss. This has been in some measure the case with the famous “gran
rifiuto,” iii. 60; so that while we may with a high degree of
probability accept the more usual view that the allusion is to the
abdication of Celestine V., we cannot without further evidence feel so
certain about it as we could wish. The whole conception of this canto
seems to be due to Dante’s own invention; only to a nature like his,
keenly alive to the eternal distinction between right and wrong, and
burning with zeal in the cause of right, could it have occurred to mark
off for special ignominy people whose sole fault seems to have been that
they “took things too easily.” When, in Canto iv., we pass the river of
Acheron, and find ourselves for the first time actually on the border of
Hell itself, we are conscious at first of an alleviation. Melancholy
there is, but it is a dignified melancholy, as different from the sordid
misery of the wretches we have just left, as the “noble city” and the
green sward enclosed by it are different from the murky air and the
foul mud among which they have to dwell. Both in this and in the second
circle we have punishment indeed but without degradation, even with some
mitigation. Virgil at least enjoys the converse of the sages and great
men of old and, in so far as non-Christians go, of recent times; while
Francesca is solaced by the perpetual companionship of him for whose
sake she has lost her soul. Even the penalty which she suffers, of being
whirled for ever on the storm, is not exactly humiliating. From this
point, however, we are conscious of a change. The gluttons seated or
lying on putrid earth and exposed to lashing rain; the misusers of
wealth, with all human lineaments effaced, and engaged in a foolish and
wearisome scuffle; the ill-tempered, floating on the surface of the foul
marsh of Styx or lying submerged in it according as their disposition
was to fierce wrath or sullen brooding--all these are not merely
tormented but degraded as well.

After crossing the Styx (Canto viii.) we find a further change. Thus far
the sins punished have differed only in degree from those which we shall
find being expiated in Purgatory. They are indeed the simpler forms, so
to speak, of the defects common to all animal nature. They are the same
which, in one of their interpretations, the three symbolical beasts of
Canto i. denote. Henceforth we find sins which are only possible to the
higher intelligence of humanity. It will be observed, too, that at this
point what may be called pictorial description begins. Hitherto we have
had merely a general impression of murky air and miry soil, sloping
perhaps a little toward the centre, and intersected now and again by a
stream. Now the City of Dis with minarets and towers rises in front of
us, and, as we shall see in future cantos, from this time onwards the
character of the scenery is indicated with great preciseness, even to
its smallest details. Here, too, actual devils, beings whose will, as
Aquinas says, is obstinately set upon evil, appear for the first time,
as distinct from the personages of classical mythology, who act as
warders of the various circles. Virgil, or human reason, is no longer
sufficient of himself to secure a passage. Both at the gates of the
fiery city and on subsequent occasions he is as helpless, without
superior aid, as his disciple and follower.

The ninth canto contains a piece of allegory, that involved in the
introduction of Medusa and the Furies, which has earned perhaps a
greater reputation for obscurity than it deserves, from the fact that
Dante himself calls special attention to it.

Cantos x. and xi. are both very important, the former for its bearing on
the history of Florence. Those who have read the sketch of that history
in the preceding chapters will understand the full force of Farinata’s
discourse with Dante. We have had a brief passage of the same kind in
Canto vi., but here the subject is treated at greater length, and with
some marvellous dramatic touches.

Canto xi. must be thoroughly mastered if Dante’s scheme of ethics is to
be understood. It forms, indeed, a summary of and key to the arrangement
of the penalties, and a thorough comprehension and retention of it in
the memory will be found a wonderful help to a recollection of the whole

At the conclusion of the discourse in which Dante, speaking by the mouth
of Virgil, has set forth this ethical system, the poets move forward
along the brink of the pit until they arrive at a spot where they can
reach the lower level. The descent is rendered possible by a steep and
broken slope of loose rock, which Dante compares to the great landslip
between Trent and Verona, known as the Slavino di Marco.[28] Virgil
explains that this was due to the “rending of the rocks” at the time of
the Crucifixion. The descent is guarded by the legendary Minotaur, the
Cretan monster, part bull, part man. In this connection it may be
noticed that the beings suggested by classical mythology, who are met
with in the division of Hell which lies between the wall of the City of
Dis and the brink of Malebolge, the Minotaur, the Centaurs, the Harpies,
and Geryon (as Dante conceives him), all belong to the semi-bestial
class. In spite of the opinion held by some of the most eminent
Dante-scholars, that Dante in his classification of sins does not follow
Aristotle’s grouping of them into incontinent, malicious, and brutal,
but recognises the first two only, it seems difficult not to see in
this, especially when it is taken in connection with expressions
scattered throughout his writings, an indication that in the sins of
the seventh circle he found the equivalent of the Greek philosopher’s
θηριότης--the result of giving a free range to the brutal, as
distinct from the common animal, impulses.

In this seventh circle, too, we first meet with _fire_ as an instrument
of Divine wrath. Indeed, with the single exception of the suicides, for
whom a specially significant chastisement is devised, all the sinners in
this group, from the heretics in their red-hot tombs to the usurers
tormented on one side by the fiery rain, and on the other by the
exhalations from the deeper pit, are punished by means of heat. At the
foot of the slope is a great circular plain, ringed with a river of
boiling blood in which spoilers, robbers, and murderers, some famous,
some obscure, are plunged more or less deeply in proportion to the
heinousness of their crimes; for, like earthly streams, this has its
deep and shallow. At the latter point they cross, on the back of Nessus
the Centaur, and at once enter (Canto xiii.) a wood of gnarled and sere
trees, in which the Harpies have their dwelling. These trees have sprung
from the souls of suicides, and retain the power of speech and
sensation. From one of these, who in life had been the famous statesman
Peter de Vineis, Dante learns that at the judgement they will recover
their bodies, like others, but will not be allowed to reassume them. The
body will be hung on the tree to which it belongs. Here, as in the case
of the avaricious and the wrathful, the spirits of other sinners take a
part in the infliction of the punishment. The wood is inhabited by the
souls of those who had wasted their substance in life, and these are
constantly chased through it by hounds, with much destruction of leaves
and twigs.

On issuing from the wood (Canto xiv.), they find themselves at the edge
of a great circular plain of sand, upon which flakes of fire are
ceaselessly dropping. Skirting the wood for some distance they reach the
bank of the stream of blood which, having circled all round the outer
margin of the wood, now comes flowing through it, and crosses the sandy
plain in a channel carefully built of shaped stone. Virgil takes
occasion to explain the origin of the rivers of Hell. Thick fumes rise
from it which quench the falling flames, so that along its bank, and
there only, can a way be found. As they proceed they find sinners lying
prone or running under the fiery shower. These are they who had done
violence to God, either directly by open blasphemy, or indirectly by
violating the divinely appointed natural order whereby both the race of
mankind and its possessions should increase and multiply. Many famous
Florentines are among these sinners (Cantos xv. and xvi.); and Dante
talks long with the famous statesman and philosopher, Brunetto Latini,
who had been his early friend and adviser, and with sundry great
captains and men of renown. After this they reach the point where the
river falls with a mighty roar down to the next level. There is no
natural means of descent here available; and Dante hands to Virgil a
cord with which he is girt. The meaning of this cord is very obscure. He
says: “I once thought to capture the leopard with it;” and if the
leopard denotes the factions of Florence, the cord may perhaps symbolise
justice or equity. When Virgil has thrown it down they wait a short
time, and presently a monster appears whose name we find to be Geryon,
and who symbolises fraud or treachery. It is perhaps not unnatural that
when the power to enforce justice has been cast away, treachery should
raise its head. This monster draws near the brink (Canto xvii.), but
before they mount on him, Virgil allows Dante to walk a few paces to the
right, in order that he may take note of the last class of “violent”
sinners, namely, the usurers. These hold an intermediate position
between the violent and the treacherous; just as the heretics did
between the incontinent and the violent. Here again are many
Florentines. Like the other misusers of money in Canto vii. their
features are unrecognisable, and they are only to be known by the arms
embroidered on their money bags. After hearing a few words from one of
them, Dante returns to Virgil, and both take their place on the croup of
Geryon, who bears them downwards to the eighth circle. This (Canto
xviii.), from its configuration, is known as Malebolge, or Evilpits. It
is divided into ten concentric rings, or circular trenches, separated by
a tract of rocky ground. From various indications we gather that each
trench is half a mile across, and the intervening ground a mile and a
quarter. The trenches are spanned by rocky ribs, forming bridges by
which the central cavity can be reached. Here we find for the first time
devils, in the ordinary acceptation of the term, employed as tormentors.
The sinners in this circle are those who have been guilty in any way of
leading others into sin, deceiving or cheating them, without any
aggravating circumstances of ingratitude or breach of natural ties. In
the first pit are those who have led women astray; these are scourged by
fiends. In the next lie flatterers immersed in the most loathsome filth.
In each Dante notes two examples: one of recent times--indeed, in both
cases an acquaintance of his own,--and one taken from ancient history or
legend. Jason, for his desertion of Hypsipyle and Medea, is the
classical example of the first offence. Of this use of mythological
persons we have many examples, but the typical flatterer of old time is
a more curious selection, being a character in a play, whom Dante has
borrowed from Cicero.

In the next, or third pit (Canto xix.), we again find fire as the
instrument with which the sinners are punished. Those who have made
money by misuse of sacred offices are buried head downwards in holes
with their feet projecting, and fire plays about their soles. Naturally
an opportunity is here presented for some strong invective against the
recent unworthy occupants of the See of Rome.

Canto xx. brings us to the fourth pit, in which those who have professed
to foretell the future march in a dismal procession with their heads
turned round so that they look down their own backs. The sight of Manto,
daughter of Tiresias, suggests a description of the origin of the city
of Mantua. The last lines of this canto contain one of the most
important indications of time which Dante gives in this part of the

The sinners of the fifth pit correspond in some degree with those of the
third, except that in their case the traffic which is punished has to do
with secular offices. Canto xxi. opens with the famous description of
the work in the arsenal of Venice, which is introduced in order to
afford an image of the boiling pitch in which sinners of this class are
immersed. For some reason, which is not very clear, Dante devotes two
whole cantos to this subdivision of the subject. There is no doubt that
_baratteria_, peculation or jobbery, was rampant throughout Southern
Europe at the time, and, as has been said, it was one of the charges
brought against the poet himself at the time of his banishment.[29] We
find here again one of “the torments of heat;” with one exception, that
of the evil counsellors in Canto xxv., the last instance in which heat
plays a part. It would be interesting, by comparison of the various sins
into the punishment of which it enters, to see if any ground can be
suggested for its employment in their case.

Cantos xxi. and xxii. are also noteworthy as bringing into prominence
the agency of devils, and showing them actually at work. Ten are
introduced and named; and some indication is given of their
organisation. Dante’s skill is perhaps nowhere more apparent than in the
way in which he has surmounted the difficulty of depicting beings in
whom there is no touch of any good quality. They are plausible; and
their leader, Malacoda, appears at first sight almost friendly. It is
not until later that his apparent friendliness turns out to be a
deliberate attempt to mislead.

At the opening of Canto xxiii. we find the poets exactly half-way
through Malebolge, on the rocky table-land, so to call it, which
separates the fifth and sixth pits. They are quite solitary, for the
first time in the course of their journey out of sight and hearing of
any other beings; but still in fear of pursuit from the fiends whom they
have just left. These do not, however, come up until just as the poets
have begun the descent into the sixth pit, and here their power is at an

In this pit are punished the hypocrites, who go in slow procession clad
in cowls of gilded lead. Contrary to the usual practice the poets have
in this case to descend to the bottom of the pit, the bridges being all
broken away. Malacoda, the leader of the fiends in the last _bolgia_,
had mentioned one, but (falsely) assured them that they would find a
sound one further on. He also informed them that the destruction of the
bridges had taken place 1266 years ago on the previous day, but five
hours later than the time of speaking. This gives an important
“time-reference.” There can be no doubt that the allusion is to the
rending of the rocks at the moment of Our Lord’s death (_cf._ xii.
31-45), which took place at 3 P.M., so that we have 10 A.M. on Easter
Eve fixed as the hour at which the poets meet with the devils of the
fifth pit. Among the hypocrites Dante talks with two men who had jointly
held the office of _Podestà_, or chief magistrate, at Florence in the
year after his birth.[30] They belonged to opposite parties, and the
double appointment had been one of the many expedients devised to
restore peace; but it had not answered, and the two were suspected of
having sunk their own differences of opinion, not to conciliate the
factions, but to enrich themselves at the expense of the State. While
talking to them Dante sees a figure fastened to the ground with three
stakes, as though crucified. This, it is explained, is Caiaphas; Annas
being similarly placed at another point of the circle. Dante and Virgil
have to leave this pit as they entered it, by climbing over the rocks
(Canto xxiv.); and from the minuteness with which this process is
described (even to so characteristic a touch as “I talked as I went, to
show that my wind was good,”) it has been thought that Dante was not
without experience in mountain-craft.

The seventh pit is appointed for the punishment of thieves. Serpents and
dragons are here introduced. In some cases the body is reduced to ashes
in consequence of the bite, and presently recovers its shape; in others
man and serpent blend; in others, again, they exchange natures, the
sinners themselves being transmuted into the reptiles, and becoming the
instruments of torment to their fellows. A kind of reckless and brutal
joviality seems to characterise the malefactors whom we meet with in
this region. Among them are many Florentines, a fact which prompts Dante
to an apostrophe full of bitter irony, with which Canto xxvi. opens. In
the following pit a curious change of tone is manifest. The image chosen
to illustrate the scene is an agreeable one--fireflies flitting in
summer about a mountain valley; and the punishment though terrible is in
no way loathsome or degrading, like most of those which have hitherto
been described in the present circle. The sinners, too, who are
mentioned are men who on earth had played heroic parts; the manner of
their speech is dignified, and Dante treats them with respect. They are
those who have sinned by giving wicked counsel to others, and so
leading them to commit sin; and the two who are especially distinguished
and who relate their stories at length are Ulysses (Canto xxvi.) and
Count Guy of Montefeltro, a great Ghibeline leader (xxvii.). The former
probably owes his place here to Virgil’s epithet _scelerum inventor_,
deviser of crimes. In a passage which has deservedly become famous, he
gratifies Dante’s curiosity as to the manner of his end. The passage,
apart from its poetic beauty, is remarkable as being, so far as can be
traced, due entirely to the poet’s own invention. At all events, beyond
two or three words in the _Odyssey_, nothing in either classical or
mediæval legend is known which can have given the suggestion for it. In
the case of the Count of Montefeltro, who is alleged to have given
treacherous counsel to Boniface VIII., it also appears difficult to
understand how the facts, if facts they are, became known to Dante.
Villani no doubt gives the story, but in language so similar to that of
the poem that a suspicion arises whether he may not be relying on it as
his authority.

The next canto (xxviii.) introduces us to one of Dante’s most ghastly
conceptions. The ninth pit is peopled by those who have on earth caused
strife and divisions among mankind. They are not, as often stated,
schismatics in the technical sense of the word. Mahommed and Ali are
there, obviously not on religious grounds however, but as having brought
about a great breach between divisions of the human race; and though Fra
Dolcino, who is introduced as it were by anticipation, was a religious
schismatic, it was no doubt his social heterodoxy which earned him a
commemoration in this place. The punishment of these sinners is
appropriate. They are constantly being slashed to pieces by demons; the
wounds being closed again before they complete the circuit. Curio, who
as Lucan narrates, spoke the words which finally decided Cæsar to enter
upon civil war, Mosca de’ Lamberti, the instigator of the crime which
first imported especial bitterness into the strife of factions at
Florence, and one Peter of Medicina, who seems to have devoted himself
to keeping party-spirit alive in Romagna, are here. Last of all,
carrying his own head like a lantern, is Bertrand of Born, the famous
troubadour, who is charged with having promoted the quarrel between
Henry II. of England and his son. It is worth noting that at this point
we get the first definite indication of the dimensions which Dante
assumes for the present division of Hell. We are told that this ninth
pit of Malebolge has a circumference of twenty-two miles. From the next
canto we learn that the last or innermost pit has half this measure; and
from this basis it has been found possible to draw an accurate plan of
Malebolge, and to conjecture, with an approach to certainty, the
conception formed by Dante of Hell generally.[31]

In the last pit (Cantos xxix. and xxx.) are found those who have been
guilty of personation with criminal intent, or of bearing false witness,
or of debasing the coinage or pretending to transmute metals. These
suffer from leprosy, dropsy, raving madness, and other diseases. Before
leaving the pit, a quarrel between two of the sinners attracts Dante’s
attention more than Virgil thinks seemly; and a sharp reprimand follows.
Dante’s penitence however earns speedy forgiveness.

We are now drawing near the lowest pit; and through the dim air is heard
the sound of a great horn (Canto xxxi.) Going forward, they find that
the final descent, which appears to be a sheer drop of about thirty-five
feet, is guarded by a ring of giants. Those of them who are seen are
Nimrod, and the classical Ephialtes and Antæus; but we learn that others
famous in Greek mythology are there also. Antæus being addressed by
Virgil in courteous words, lifts the poets down the wall and lands them
on the lowest floor of Hell. This (Canto xxxii.) is of ice, and must be
conceived as a circular plain, perhaps about two miles in diameter. In
this are punished all who have been guilty of any treachery towards
those to whom they were bound by special ties of kindred,
fellow-citizenship, friendship, or gratitude. Each of these various
grades of crime has its own division, and these are arranged
concentrically, with no very definite boundaries between the different
classes. At the same time each division has its appropriate name, formed
from some famous malefactor who had specially exemplified that class of
crime. Thus the first ring is Caina; the second, Antenora, from Antenor,
who, according to a late version of the Trojan legend, had betrayed Troy
to the Greeks; the third, Toommea, from that Ptolemy, son of Abubus,
who treacherously slew the Maccabees at a feast; the last, in which
Lucifer himself abides, is Giudecca. No distinction appears to exist
between the penalties inflicted on the two first classes; all are alike
plunged up to the shoulders in the ice, the head being free. Dante
speaks with more than one, most of them persons who had belonged to the
Ghibeline party; though in the case of one, Bocca degli Abati, the
treachery had been committed to the detriment of the Guelfs.[32] The
mention of Bocca and Dante’s behaviour to him, may remind us that the
whole question of Dante’s demeanour towards the persons whom he meets in
the first part of the poem is interesting. For some he is full of pity,
towards some he is even respectful; occasionally he is neutral; while in
some cases he displays anger and scorn, amounting as here to positive
cruelty. The expressions of pity, it will be observed, practically cease
from the moment that Malebolge, the “nethermost Hell,” is reached.
Similarly, after reaching the City of Dis, the tone of Virgil towards
the guardians of the damned, which up to that point has been
peremptory, becomes almost suppliant. The reason for this is indeed
somewhat obscure: one does not at once see why the formula “So it is
willed there, where will is power,” should not be as good for the Furies
or for Malacoda as it has proved for Charon and Minos. Perhaps the clue
is to be found in the fact that the sins punished _inside_ the walls of
the city (sins which, it will be seen, are not represented in Purgatory
at all) are to be regarded as the result of a will obstinately set
against the will of God; while the sins arising from the frailty of
human nature may be checked by the “right judgement” recalling, before
it is too late, what the will of God is. This, however, is a different
question, and we must not here pursue it too far. To revert to that of
Dante’s various demeanour, it will be seen that, with the limitation
indicated above, his sympathy with the sinner does not vary with the
comparative heinousness of the sin. Almost his bitterest scorn, indeed,
is directed towards some whose chief sin is lack of any positive
qualities, good or bad. One infers that he would almost rather wander in
a flame with Ulysses, or lie in the ice with Ugolino, than undergo the
milder punishment of Celestine and his ignoble companions. For the
simply self-indulgent, Francesca or Ciacco, he has pity in abundance;
Farinata, Brunetto, and the other famous men who share the fates of
these, may probably come into the same category. In such cases as these,
while he has not a word to say against the justice of God, he has no
desire to add “the wrath of man” thereto. In the one instance in
Malebolge where he shows any sympathy (and is reproved by Virgil for
doing so) it is for the soothsayers, whose sin would not necessarily
involve the hurt of others. But his conduct is very different to those
whose sin has been primarily against their fellow-man, or against kindly
human intercourse. His first fierce outbreak is against the swaggering
ruffian Filippo Argenti, who seems to have been in Florentine society
the most notable example of a class now happily extinct in civilised
countries, at all events among adults; a kind of bully, or “Mohock,”
fond of rough practical jokes, prompted, not by a misguided sense of
humour, but by an irritable man’s delight in venting his spite. One can
sympathise, even after six hundred years, in Dante’s pious satisfaction
when he saw the man, of whom he may himself have once gone in bodily
fear, become in his turn the object of persecution. It is, however,
after Malebolge is reached, and Dante is among the sinners who have by
dishonest practices weakened the bond of confidence which should bind
human society together, that he lets his wrath and scorn have full play.
His imagery even takes on a grotesque, at times even a foul aspect. He
was not one to mince his words, and if he means to sicken his readers,
he goes straight to his aim.

It is to be noted, too, that the language and demeanour of the sinners
themselves have in many cases changed. Above Malebolge, at all events
till the usurers are reached, a certain dignity of speech and action is
the rule. Now we find flippant expressions and vulgar gestures. Nothing
is omitted which can give a notion, not merely of the sinfulness, but of
the sordidness of dishonesty. Curiously enough, the one denizen of this
region who is thoroughly dignified and even pathetic, is the pagan
Ulysses; and to him Dante does not himself speak, leaving the pagan
Virgil to hold all communication with him. Besides Ulysses, Guy of
Montfeltro and Ugolino are presented in such a way as to enlist, in
some degree, the sympathy of the reader; and it may further be noted
that in each case a representative of the family in the next generation
is placed in Purgatory; as though Dante, while bound to condemn the
elder men, had held the houses in such esteem that he wished to balance
the condemnation by assigning a better fate to their successors.

The opening of Canto xxxiii. brings us to the famous episode of Count
Ugolino, which shares with the earlier one of Francesca da Rimini the
widest renown of any passage in the whole poem. It is curious, by the
way, that the structure of the two shows many marked parallelisms; only
the tender pity which characterises Dante’s treatment of the former is
wholly lacking in the latter. There is no need to dwell on so well-known
a story; but it may be noted that Ugolino, though a Guelf leader, and
condemned here no doubt for his intrigues with the Ghibeline Archbishop
Roger, came of a Ghibeline family, and thus forms only a partial
exception to the rule stated above. The only genuine Guelf who is named
in this division is Tesauro de’ Beccheria, the Abbot of Vallombrosa.

This will perhaps be the best point at which to say a few words on a
subject about which much misconception has prevailed. It has often been
supposed that Dante was just a Ghibeline partisan, and distributed his
characters in the next world according to political sympathies. The
truth is, that under no circumstances, so far as we can see, does he
assign to any one his place on political grounds--that is, merely for
having belonged to one or other of the great parties which then divided
Italy. He himself, as we know, belonged to neither. His political ideal
was a united world submitting to the general direction of the Emperor in
temporal matters, of the Pope in spiritual. On the other hand, he would
have had national forms of government retained. Brought up as he had
been, the citizen and afterwards the official of a Guelf republic, there
is no reason to suppose that a republican form of government was in any
way distasteful to him, provided that it was honestly administered. It
was not until the more powerful faction in the Guelf party called in the
aid of an external power, unconnected with Italy, and hostile, or, as he
would doubtless hold, rebellious, to the Empire, that he, along with the
more “constitutional” branch of the Guelfs, threw in his lot with the
long-banished Ghibelines. But neither then nor at any time did he belong
to the Ghibeline party. So far from it, that he takes that party (in
_Par._, vi. 105) as the example of those who follow the imperial
standard in the wrong way, and make it a symbol of iniquity. The
greatest and most heroic figure in the whole history of the Ghibelines,
the man whose love for the rebellious city was as great as Dante’s own,
who when he had by his prowess in arms recovered it for the Empire,
stood resolutely between it and the destruction which in the opinion of
his comrades it had merited, is condemned to share with a Pope and an
Emperor the penalty of speculative heterodoxy. On the other hand, we
find Charles of Anjou, the foreign intruder, the bitter foe of the
Empire and pitiless exterminator of the imperial race, a man in whom
later historians, free from personal or patriotic bias, have seen hardly
any virtue to redeem the sombre cruelty of his career, placed, not
indeed in Paradise, but in Purgatory, and waiting in sure and certain
hope of ultimate salvation, as one who in spite of many faults had led a
pure and ascetic life in a profligate and self-indulgent age. It would
be interesting to know, if Dante had met Charles somewhat later, in
which of the Purgatorial circles he would have placed him. He seems to
evade the difficulty of classifying him by finding him where he does.

It is necessary to insist rather strongly on this point, since even so
accomplished a scholar as the late Professor Bartoli, when dealing with
Dante’s reference to the Emperor Henry VII. (in _Par._, xxx. 133, sqq.),
forgets that all the saints in Paradise have their allotted seat in the
Rose of the highest heaven, and speaks as though Dante had honoured
Henry above all but the greatest saints and foretold his “direct flight
from the earth to the Empyrean.” Of course there is not a word of this.
All that we are entitled to say is that Dante held Henry to be an
Emperor who was doing his duty, and would earn his reward like any other
Christian and before Dante himself. It will be observed that he sees no
other Emperor in Paradise, save Charlemagne; one, Rudolf of Hapsburg, is
in, or rather just outside of, Purgatory; one, the great Frederick II.,
in Hell. Of the Popes one only, and he a Pope who in his life lay under
grievous suspicion of heterodoxy, and moreover only occupied the Papal
See for a few months, is placed in Heaven. This is “Peter of Spain,”
Pope John XXI. Two are in Purgatory; one of them, Martin IV., being a
man who, as a Frenchman by birth, and a strong partisan of Charles of
Anjou, might be supposed to have been specially obnoxious to Dante. No
doubt Popes appear in what may seem an unfair proportion among the
guilty souls below; but even for this distribution Dante could probably
have pleaded orthodox authority and certainly scriptural support. “To
whom much is given, of the same shall much be required.” It is true, as
Professor Bartoli points out, that Dante’s “reverence for the supreme
keys” was compatible with a very low estimate of their holders; but is
not this exactly what we should expect from a man of high ideals and
intolerant of failure in proportion to the dignity of the aim? His
treatment of Pope Celestine, the one Pope of his time from whom, _prima
facie_, something other than political partisanship might have been
hoped, and who having put his hand to the plough had looked back, is
sufficient to indicate his attitude in this matter.

Once realise that Dante was, like our own Milton, a man with a keen
sense of what ought to be, and an equally keen appreciation of the fact
that things in his time were by no means as they ought to be, that he
was fallen on evil days and evil tongues--an appreciation which
doubtless most great souls, short of the few greatest, have had at most
periods of the world’s history--and you have the key to much that no
ordinary theory of party-spirit will explain. Men of this temper care
little for the party cries of everyday politics; and yet they cannot
quite sit outside the world of affairs and watch the players, as we may
imagine Shakespeare to have done, in calm consciousness that the shaping
of our rough-hewn ends was in other hands than ours. No great historian
of Shakespeare’s time devoted a whole chapter to his memory, as did
Villani to that of Dante; yet we can hardly doubt that in the education
of the world Shakespeare has borne the more important share, and Dante,
with his deep conviction of the higher dignity of the “contemplative
life,” would be the first to own it.

The third subdivision, known as Tolommea, has, as one of its inmates
says, the “privilege” of receiving the souls of sinners while their
bodies are yet alive on earth, animated by demons. With this horrible
conception we seem to have reached the highest mark of Dante’s inventive
power. Only two names are mentioned, but one feels that if the owners of
them ever came across the poem in which they had earned so sinister a
commemoration, their sentiment towards the poet would hardly be one of
gratitude.[33] These are the last of his contemporaries whom Dante
brands, the last, indeed, whom he recognises. In Giudecca (Canto xxxiv.)
the sinners are wholly sunk below the ice, and only show through like
straws or other small impurities in glass. An exception is made in the
case of the three persons whom Dante regards as having carried the sin
of ingratitude to its highest point. Lucifer, who, as has been said, is
fixed at the lowest point, has three faces. In the mouth of the central
one he for ever gnaws Judas Iscariot, while in the others are Brutus and

The journey to the upper world is begun by a climb down the shaggy sides
of the Archfiend himself. On reaching his middle, which is also the
centre of the earth, the position is reversed, and the ascent begins.
For a short distance they climb up by Lucifer’s legs, then through a
chimney in the rock; lastly, it would appear, following the course of a
stream which winds spirally down through the earth, they reach the
surface, and again come in sight of the stars.


After the invocation to the Muses, a curious survival of classical
imagery with which in one form or another each division of the poem
begins, Dante relates how, on emerging from the lower world, as Easter
Day was dawning the poets found themselves on an island with the first
gleam of day just visible on the distant sea. Venus is shining in the
eastern heaven; and four stars, “never seen save by the earliest of
mankind,” are visible to the south. No doubt some tradition or report of
the Southern Cross had reached men’s ears in Europe; but the symbolical
meaning is more important, and there can be no doubt that the stars
denote the four “cardinal” or natural or active virtues of fortitude,
temperance, justice, and prudence. In the evening, as we shall see later
on, their place is taken by three other stars, which symbolise the
theological or Christian or contemplative virtues--faith, hope, charity.

On turning again Dante sees close at hand an old man of venerable
countenance, who questions them by what right they had come. Virgil
recognises him for Cato of Utica, the Roman Republican patriot. His
position here, as warder of the mount of purification, is very curious,
and has never been thoroughly explained. Among other things it is
probable that Dante was influenced by the Virgilian line in which Cato
is introduced as the lawgiver of good men in the after-world. Being
satisfied with the explanation given, Cato directs them to the shore,
where Virgil is to wash the grime of Hell from Dante’s face, and gird
him with a rush, as an emblem of humility. When this has been done and
as the sun is rising (Canto ii.) a light is seen approaching over the
water. As it draws near, it is seen to be an angel. His wings form the
sails to a boat which comes to the shore, freighted with more than a
hundred souls on their way to Purgatory. They are chanting the Easter
Psalm _In exitu Israel_; at the sign of the cross made by the angel they
come ashore, and begin by inquiring the way of Virgil. While he is
explaining that he is no less strange to the country than they are, some
of them perceive that Dante is a living man, and all crowd around him.
Among them he recognises a friend, the musician Casella, who, after some
affectionate words have passed between them, begins at Dante’s request
to sing one of the poet’s own odes; and the crowd listen intently. But
Cato comes up, and bidding them delay no longer, drives them like a
flock of frightened pigeons towards the mountain.

Even Virgil is somewhat abashed on account of his participation in the
delay (Canto iii.); but soon recovers his equanimity, and resumes his
usual dignified pace. Dante for the first time observes that his
companion casts no shadow on the ground, and Virgil explaining that the
spiritual form, while capable of feeling pain, has not the property of
intercepting light, takes occasion to point out that there are mysteries
for which the human reason is unable to account, and that this very
inability forms the chief unhappiness of the great thinkers whom they
saw among the virtuous heathen on the border of Hell. With this they
reach the foot of the mountain of Purgatory. As is explained elsewhere,
this occupies a position exactly opposite to the conical pit of Hell;
being indeed formed of that portion of the earth which fled at the
approach of Satan when he fell from Heaven. Some of its features are no
doubt borrowed from the legendary accounts which Pliny and others have
preserved of a great mountain seen by navigators to the west of the
Straits of Gibraltar; these accounts being probably based on imperfect
descriptions of Atlas or Teneriffe, or both confused together. Its
summit is exactly at the Antipodes of Jerusalem, a point which must be
carefully borne in mind if the various astronomical indications of time
given in the course of the journey are to be rightly understood.

The mountain-side, which Dante compares to the steepest and most rugged
parts of the Genoese Riviera, appears at first, quite inaccessible; but
before long they meet a company of spirits, who, after recovering from
their first astonishment at seeing from Dante’s shadow that he is not
one of themselves, indicate to them the point at which the cliff may be
attacked. Before they proceed further, one of the shades addressing
Dante makes himself known as Manfred, son to the Emperor Frederick II.,
and gives an account of his end, explaining that excommunication--for he
had died under the ban of the Church--is powerless to do more than
protract the interval between the soul’s admission to Purgatory. After
this (Canto iv.) they enter a steep and narrow cleft in the rock, from
which they emerge upon a ledge on the mountain face, and a further climb
up this lands them about noon on a broader terrace. Hitherto they have
been mounting from the eastward, and on looking back in that direction,
Dante is surprised to find the sun on his left hand. Virgil explains the
topography; and is saying, in order to encourage Dante, that the labour
of climbing will diminish as they get higher, when a bantering voice
interrupts with the assurance that he will need plenty of sitting yet.
The poet recognises in the speaker a Florentine friend. Another playful
sarcasm on his thirst for information makes Dante address the shade and
inquire as to his state. He, like Manfred, is debarred from entering
Purgatory, but on the ground that he had led an easy life, and taken no
thought of serious matters till his end drew near. In the following
cantos (v. and vi.) we meet with many spirits who are from various
causes in a similar position. First come those who have been cut off in
the midst of their sins, but have sought for mercy at the last. The most
noteworthy of these is Buonconte of Montefeltro, son of that Count Guy
whom we met in the eighth pit of Malebolge. He was slain fighting
against the Florentines at the battle of Campaldino (1289), in which
Dante himself may possibly have borne arms.[34] Four lines at the end of
this canto are among the most famous in the poem. In a few words they
commemorate one of the domestic tragedies which were only too familiar
in mediæval Italy. Passing through the crowd, they fall in, as evening
is drawing on, with a solitary shade, who replies to Virgil’s inquiry
for the best road by asking whence they come. At the answer, “Mantua,”
the shade springs up, and reveals himself as the famous warrior-poet of
that city, Sordello. The affectionate greeting which follows between
the fellow-citizens moves Dante to a splendid denunciation of the
internecine quarrels then raging throughout Italy, and of the neglect on
the part of the divinely ordained monarch, the Roman Emperor, which has
allowed matters to come to such a pass. Lastly he directs his invective
especially against his own city, Florence, and in words of bitter
sarcasm upbraids her with the perpetual revolutions which hinder all
good government.

Sordello is an example of those whom constant occupation in affairs of
state had caused to defer any thought for spiritual things, and who are
expiating the delay in the region outside the proper entrance to
Purgatory. In Canto vii., after explaining that they will not be able to
stir a step after sunset (“the night cometh when no man can work”), he
leads the poets to a spot where they may pass the night. This is a
flowery dell on the hillside, occupied by the spirits of those who in
life had been sovereign princes and rulers. There they see the Emperor
Rudolf and his adversary, Ottocar of Bohemia; Charles of Anjou, King of
Naples and Sicily, Philip III. of France, Peter III. of Aragon, Henry
III. of England, and many other famous men of the last generation.
Sordello, in pointing them out, takes occasion to enlarge on the
degeneracy of their sons, making a special exception in favour of
Edward, son of Henry.

The sun sets (Canto viii.) and the shades join in the Compline hymn. At
its conclusion, two angels clad in green robes descend, and take up
their position on either side of the little valley. Dante, with his
companions, goes down to join the “mighty shades,” and is met by one
whom he at once recognises as an old friend, the Pisan noble Giovanni,
or Nino de’ Visconti, “judge” or governor of the Sardinian province
called Gallura, nephew of Count Ugolino. After some talk Dante notices
the three stars spoken of above, and at the same moment Sordello draws
Virgil’s attention to an “adversary.” They see a serpent making its way
through the grass; and immediately the angels start in pursuit, putting
it to flight. After this episode another shade announces himself as
Conrad Malaspina, of the house with whom Dante was to find shelter
during a part of his exile.

The night wears on, and Dante falls asleep (Canto ix.). He dreams that
he is being carried by an eagle up to the empyrean heaven. On awaking
he finds that the sun has risen some time, and learns from Virgil that
at daybreak St. Lucy (who has already come under notice as taking an
interest in his welfare) had appeared and borne him to the place where
they now are, in front of the gate of Purgatory. This is approached by
three steps of variously-coloured stone. The first is white marble, the
second a dark and rough rock, the third blood-red porphyry, indicating
probably the three stages of the soul’s progress to freedom through
confession, contrition, and penance. On the topmost step sits an angel,
who having marked seven P’s (_peccata_ sins) on Dante’s forehead, admits
them within the gate.

Thus far, except in the passage, Canto viii. 19 sqq., to which Dante
himself draws the reader’s attention, the allegorical interpretation has
not afforded any very great difficulty. With this particular passage
readers will do well to compare _Inf._, ix. 37 sqq., where a very
similar indication is given of an underlying allegory, and draw their
own conclusions. But on the whole, the main interest of the first nine
cantos of the _Purgatory_ is more of a personal nature. Sordello alone
may give an excuse for a good deal of historical research. For example,
no one has yet explained Dante’s reasons for so distinguishing a person
who, from all the records that we have, does not seem to have made any
great figure in the eyes of his contemporaries.

It will hardly be necessary to follow Dante step by step through the
stages of the mountain of purification. We shall probably do best to
consider the general plan on which Purgatory is arranged, the nature of
the various penances, with their adaptation to the offences which they
expiate, and the light thrown in this division of the poem on Dante’s
opinions about the elements of political and moral science.

We find, then, seven cornices, or ledges, on the mountain, connected
with each other by stairways cut in the rock. Each stairway is guarded
by an angel, and each, as it would appear, is shorter and less steep
than the previous one. Thus the passage from the first to the second
circle takes a considerable time, enough at all events to allow of some
conversation between Dante and Virgil between the moment of their
passing the angel and that at which they reach the top of the stairway.
On the other hand, when they come to the final ascent, from the seventh
circle to the level of the Earthly Paradise which occupies the summit, a
few steps are sufficient to bring them to their halting-place, which, as
appears afterwards, is practically on the summit level. Each angel, as
Dante passes, erases from his forehead one of the P’s which the warder
of the first gate had inscribed there, and utters one of the Scriptural
Beatitudes appropriate to the circle which they are quitting. Thus,
“Blessed are the peacemakers” accompanies their departure from the
circle of the wrathful; “Blessed are they that hunger after
righteousness” is heard as they leave that where gluttony is expiated.

The ritual, so to speak, is very precise throughout. Besides the
Beatitudes, which are recited by the angel-guards, and in some cases it
would seem repeated by a chorus of voices, we find in each circle
commemoration variously contrived of notable instances, both of the sins
punished and of their “contrary virtues.” These are perhaps worth going
through in detail. In the circle of Pride, where it is necessary to go
in a stooping posture, the pavement is engraved with representations of
humility. The first is the Annunciation, (and here it should be noted
that in every group an event from the life of the Virgin holds the first
place); next comes David dancing before the Ark; and lastly, Trajan
yielding to the widow’s prayer that he would perform an act of justice
before setting out with the pomp of a military expedition. Further on in
the same circle are found examples of the punishment of pride, taken
alternately from Scripture and from classical mythology. The next circle
is that of Envy. Here the penalty consists of the sewing up of the eyes,
so that pictured representations would be of no use; and, accordingly,
the task of calling the examples to mind is discharged by voices flying
through the air. Yet another method is adopted in the third circle,
where the Angry are punished by means of a dense smoke. Here the
pictures are conveyed to Dante’s mind by a kind of trance or vision, in
which he sees the various scenes. We must suppose that the spirits pass
through some similar experience. In the fourth circle, the examples of
activity and warnings against Sloth are delivered by the souls
themselves. As it is night while Dante is in this circle, he is himself
unable to move; but the discipline being to run at speed, the souls pass
him in their course. The fifth circle, of the Avaricious and Prodigal,
follows much the same rule as the fourth, except that here the instances
of virtue are recited in the day, those of sin at night, so that Dante
does not actually hear the latter. In this case the souls lie prostrate.
The Gluttonous, in the sixth circle, are punished by having to pass
under trees laden with fruit, which they cannot reach; and the examples
and warnings are conveyed by voices among the branches of these trees.
The seventh circle follows the fashion of the fourth, except that the
souls (who are punished by fire for having in life failed to hold in due
restraint the flames of passion) seem to address the warning
reminiscences to each other as they meet in the circuit. An instance of
the system on which the examples are introduced has been given from the
first circle. Perhaps that for the sixth is even more typical. On first
entering this they come to a tree, among the branches of which a voice
is heard recording the conduct of the Virgin at the feast in Cana, when
“she thought more of the success of the banquet than of her own mouth;”
the custom of drinking only water prevalent among the Roman women, and
the abstemiousness of Daniel and the Baptist. Then, after passing
through a portion of the circle, and holding converse with its inmates,
they reach another tree, from which a second voice comes to them bidding
them remember the trouble that came from the drunkenness of the Centaur
at the wedding of Pirithous, and the rejection by Gideon of the men who
had drunk immoderately. This coupling of a classical and Scriptural
instance is quite invariable.

To pass on to the subject of the light thrown upon Dante’s speculative
views in the _Purgatory_. It is not too much to say that from that point
of view it is the most important division of the whole poem. This,
perhaps, follows naturally from its subject. The Purgatorial existence
bears more affinity to the life of this world than does that of those
who have reached their eternal abode; and human affections and human
interests still have much of their old power. This, then, would
naturally be the division in which questions arising from the conditions
of man’s life with men would be likely to suggest themselves.

In the _Hell_ we had indeed a statement of Dante’s view of Ethics, so
far as was necessary to explain his attitude towards breaches of the
moral law and their punishment. In the _Purgatory_ he goes more deeply
into the question, and expounds in Cantos xvi., xvii., and xviii., a
theory with regard to the origin of morals and knowledge. According to
this the soul when created is a _tabula rasa_, but having certain
capacities inherent in it in consequence of the nature of its Creator.
The Creator being absolutely veracious, the information imparted by the
senses is infallible. Further, the Creator being absolutely happy, the
soul naturally seeks happiness, and is said to love that in which it
expects to find happiness. So far there is no room for error. Where it
can come in is in the inferences which the mind draws from the
information which the senses give, and in either its choice of an object
to love, or the vigour with which it pursues that object. It must be
further noted that the soul is endowed at the outset with a knowledge
of good and evil, _i.e._ conscience, and with free-will; though this
latter has to struggle with the conditions which the influence of the
heavenly bodies imposes on the individual. With due culture, however, it
can ultimately prevail over these; but it must also be aided in its
struggle by the check of law and the guidance which should be afforded
by spiritual pastors. In order that these may have their full effect, it
is desirable that the secular and spiritual authorities should be in
different hands: and thus we are brought to the same conclusions as in
the treatise _De Monarchia_.

To return, however, to the moral question. All action, as has been said,
is directed to an end, and (in the words of Aquinas, following
Aristotle) the end for each individual is that which he desires and
loves. If the end is rightly selected, and the love duly proportioned,
the action does not incur blame. But it may happen that the end may be
evil; in which case evil becomes the object of the love, or the love is
turned to hatred. Now, no created being can hate its Creator, nor can
any man hate himself; therefore the sins arising from this cause must be
sins against fellow-men. These, so far as Purgatory is concerned, are
pride, envy, anger, which, when carried into action, become the sins
that are punished within the City of Dis, though in Purgatory they would
appear on the whole to be regarded as the less grave offences.

When the object is good, but the love is lacking in due vigour, we have
the sin of sloth, or, as our forefathers called it, “accidie.” This
occupies a somewhat anomalous position. Those who have allowed it to
grow to moodiness and given way to it past hope of repentance, lie in
Hell at the bottom of the Stygian marsh, and nothing is seen of them but
the bubbles which are formed by their sighs; while the wrathful or
ill-tempered lie in the same marsh, but appear above the water. Both
sins alike render the man full of hatred for his fellows, and make him
insensible to the joy of life. In Purgatory, on the other hand, the
anger which is punished seems rather to be the fault of hasty temper;
while in the case of sloth, the souls who expiate it are represented as
running at great speed, and proclaiming instances of conspicuous
alertness. For our present purpose, then, it must be regarded as merely
slothfulness or indolence.

Finally, we have the cases in which the object is natural, or even
laudable. A fair share of this world’s goods, our daily food, the love
between man and woman, all these are objects to which the desires may
lawfully be directed, so long as they are duly restrained. When,
however, they become the main aim, they are sinful, and lead to the sins
for which the discipline of the three upper cornices is required; the
most severe of all that is undergone in Purgatory. Yet these are the
sins which in Hell “incur less blame,” as being sins involving rather
the animal than the spiritual part of man. But there is not space here
to discuss this aspect of the subject. Readers will find much interest
in working it out for themselves.

The physiological sketch given by Statius in the twenty-fifth canto,
introduced to account for the spiritual body, is in logical order an
introduction to Dante’s ethics and psychology; and is remarkable both in
its agreement with Aristotle and its divergence from him. The occasion
for it is found in a question raised by Dante, and suggested to him by
the appearance of the shades in the circle which they have just left:
namely, how beings who have no need to go through the ordinary process
of nutrition, can feel the desire for food (as Forese has explained that
they do) and grow lean through the deprivation of it. In order to solve
this difficulty, Statius sketches briefly the stages of the development
of the human being, from his first conception until he has an
independent existence, showing how the embryo progresses first to
vegetative then to animal life, and how finally, when the brain is
complete (this being the last stage in the organisation), the “First
Mover” breathes the human soul into the frame. The soul, having thus an
independent existence, when the frame decays sets itself loose
therefrom, taking with it the senses and passions, as well as the mental
faculties of memory, understanding, and will. The latter are still in
full activity, but the former have only a potential existence until such
time as the soul has found its place in the other world. Then it takes
to itself a bodily shape, formed out of the surrounding air (as a flame
is formed by the fire), and equips it with organs of sense; and
thenceforward this shape is adapted to express all the natural emotions
and desires, including of course those of hunger and thirst. This
remarkable exposition is based on Aristotle’s theory of the generation
of the body, and the introduction into it of the soul; but there is an
important difference. The Greek philosopher, though his language is not
very explicit, has apparently no idea of any survival of the personal
identity after death. At all events, so he was interpreted by Averroes
and later by Aquinas. With him the source of all movement is the father,
from whom only (though here again Aristotle is not quite clear) comes
the gift of a soul. Dante, on the contrary, refers these back to the
Prime Mover, namely God, and conceives a special creative act as
performed on behalf of every human being that is brought into the world.
As will be easily seen, this conception is the necessary complement to
Dante’s system of ethics, based on individual free-will, and postulating
a newly-created soul, fresh from the Maker’s hand; a _tabula rasa_, with
no attributes save the natural propension towards that which gives it

We may now pass to the six cantos which conclude this division of the
poem, and form a most important stage in the development of the whole
plan. Dante has now proceeded as far as human reason, typified by
Virgil, is able to guide him. He is on the threshold of Heaven; but
before he can be admitted among the blessed, another conductor must be
provided, to whom the way to the Divine Presence shall be freely open.
This, of course, can only be knowledge informed by faith, or, as we may
say for shortness, theology, not in the sense of a formal science, but
in one approaching more nearly to what Aristotle calls _Theoria_, or
contemplation. From certain expressions in the earliest cantos of the
poem, it is clear that Dante looked upon the woman whom in his youth he
had loved, and who had, at the supposed date of these events, been ten
years dead, as symbolising this _Theoria_, and as being in some special
way entrusted with the task of saving him from spiritual ruin. She
accordingly appears, and takes up the duties which Virgil is
surrendering. The manner of her appearance must be noticed--showing as
it does the almost inextricable web in which Dante combines fact and
allegory. That the “Beatrice” who is introduced is primarily none other
than an actual woman of flesh and blood, whom hundreds of then living
people had known, who had gone about Florence for twenty-four years and
married a prominent citizen, and whom Dante had loved with the romantic
passion of the Middle Ages, only the misplaced ingenuity of paradoxical
critics can doubt.[35] Yet at her entry she is escorted by a procession,
the members of which represent the books of the Bible, the seven
virtues, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit; while the car on which she is
borne (which itself denotes the Church) is drawn by a mystical figure,
in which we cannot fail to see a symbol of the second Person of the
Trinity. If it be objected that the salvation of Dante is a small matter
about which to set in motion so stupendous a machinery, we may answer
that, in the first place, his own salvation does not seem unimportant to
the man himself; and further, which is of more weight, that Dante
himself is here no less symbolical than Beatrice, or Virgil, or the
mystic Gryphon. He is the typical human soul; his experiences, his
struggles, his efforts to shake himself free of the trammels of the
world and the flesh, are familiar features in the spiritual history of
the great majority of Christians. Thus the wonderful pageant described
in this canto must be regarded as being displayed, not to him only, but
to all Christendom in his person.

A few words with regard to this pageant may afford a little help to its
comprehension. After the arrival of Beatrice, a scene follows in which
she upbraids Dante for his forgetfulness of her, and receives an avowal
of his fault. He is then bathed in the stream of Lethe--another curious
employment of pagan mythology--and brought back to the presence of
Beatrice. Hitherto she has been veiled; but now, at the special entreaty
of her attendant nymphs (those nymphs who are also the four stars in
heaven, and denote the cardinal virtues), she withdraws the veil, and
discloses again the smile for which her “faithful one” had yearned
during ten years.

Soon, however, his attention is called away to new and strange sights.
The procession, of which Dante and his remaining companion Statius now
form part, moves forward through the wood of the Earthly Paradise; the
car is attached to a tree, identified with the “tree of knowledge,”
which since Adam’s disobedience has been leafless and fruitless. After
this Dante falls into a short sleep, and on waking finds that Beatrice
with her attendants is alone left, as a guardian to the car. Then follow
a series of strange transformations, the general plan of which is
clearly suggested by the Apocalypse; but their interpretation is to be
sought in the relations of the Church to the Empire, down to the time of
the “Babylonish captivity,” or transference of the Papal See to Avignon.
This is symbolised by the departure of the car, drawn this time by a
giant (Philip the Fair of France), and occupied no longer by Beatrice,
but by a harlot, to denote (again with allusion to the Apocalypse) the
corrupt rule under which the Church had fallen.

In the final scene of all, Beatrice, in phrases hardly less obscure than
the vision itself, indicates to Dante the lesson which he is to learn
from it, and repeats in another form Virgil’s prediction of a champion
who is to come and set the world to rights. Much has been written about
the first of these, the _Veltro_; hardly less about the “five hundred,
ten, and five,” or DXV. The usual interpretation takes these letters as
intended merely to suggest _Dux_, a leader; but this seems a little
weak. Elsewhere I have given reasons for thinking that Dante had a
special motive for wrapping up his meaning in this numerical form.

Lastly, in a passage which, though ostensibly only one of Dante’s usual
time-indications, seems intended to suggest repose after the labours
through which he has brought his readers, and the agitation of the last
canto, he tells us that at noon they reached the edge of the forest.
Here he is made to drink of another stream, Eunoe, or “right mind,”
after which he is ready for the upward journey.

It is too much to expect readers to work through the voluminous
interpretations which have been offered of the very difficult and
perplexing mysticism of these cantos. Some points are perhaps plainer to
the student who considers them with a fair knowledge of the Bible and
history, than to the commentator who wishes to establish a new and
original theory. But they are so important (particularly Cantos xxx. and
xxxi.) to any one who wishes to understand Dante’s whole position as
man, poet, scholar, and politician, that they should not be passed over
as mere futile mediæval fancies. It should be said, too, that they
contain some passages which will never be out of date until the poetic
taste of mankind has altogether changed.


The first point which will strike the reader on entering upon the third
division of the poem is the sudden change in the conditions under which
the action is carried on. Hitherto Dante has been moving on solid earth,
subject to the usual limitations which are enforced by physical laws
upon all human action. Henceforth, as he tells us (_Par._, xxx. 123),
God operates directly, and physical laws have no longer any place. “It
is Beatrice,” he elsewhere says, “who leads on so swiftly from one stage
of blessedness to a higher;” and we shall notice that the transference
from sphere to sphere is effected by Dante’s fixing his eyes on hers,
while she gazes upwards.

A word as to the various spheres may not be out of place here. According
to the Ptolemaic system of astronomy, as adapted to the requirements of
mediæval belief, the earth was at the centre, and concentric with it
were ten hollow spheres. In the first eight of these were placed
consecutively the Moon, Mercury, Venus, the Sun, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn,
and the fixed stars. In order to explain the irregular movements of the
planets, “epicycles” or smaller spheres borne by the principal spheres,
and bearing the planets, were devised, but these need not be considered
here. Outside of the fixed stars came the _primum mobile_, which gave
the diurnal revolution of the heavens, and beyond this the Empyrean, or
fixed heaven, in which was the special abode of God, and in which all
the blessed had their places. Between the earth and the innermost
sphere, that of the Moon, lie the regions of water, air, and fire. The
Mountain of Purgatory, on the summit of which Dante at the conclusion of
the second _Cantica_ was standing, lifts its head as far as the third of
these. Through this accordingly, Beatrice and Dante have to rise in
order to reach the first step in the celestial ascent. It must be noted
that there is no reason to suppose that in every case the actual planet
is visited. The “heaven” of the planet embraces the whole “sphere” in
which it is set, and its characteristics may be conceived as extending
to the whole of that sphere.

The fact of rising without apparent motive force through a medium
lighter than his own body, at once forms a subject for enquiry on
Dante’s part; and Beatrice, as she has frequently to do in the course of
their journey, resolves his doubt. Those who are reading the poem for
the first time will probably pass lightly over these difficult
metaphysical passages. They must be read sooner or later by any one who
wishes thoroughly to understand Dante’s place in the history of
speculative thought; but in the first instance it will probably be
better to “take them as read” and endeavour to get a clear notion of the
general arrangement. There are obvious reasons why this portion of the
poem should consist as largely as it does of these subtle disquisitions.
There is far less room, in the first place, for variety of description.
In a region where there are no shadows, it is impossible to give a
detailed picture; and terms indicative of simple brightness are limited.
Nor, again, is it easy where all are perfect to depict individual
character. Consequently two great elements of interest in the first two
parts of the poem are far less available here; and their place must be
filled by other matter. What this matter should be is suggested by the
natural division of speculative science into Ethics, or the study of
man’s conduct as a moral being; Politics, or the science relating to his
behaviour in regard to the social order; and Metaphysics, which for
Dante is synonymous with theology, the investigation of all that
concerns his spiritual part, as well as the Divine order generally. With
the first two we have dealt in the _Hell_ and the _Purgatory_
respectively; the third is reserved for the _Paradise_. Once or twice
indeed Dante touches on matters that would seem more fitly to belong to
the others; as, for instance, the magnificent passage in Canto vi.,
where Justinian, after sketching the triumphant course of the Roman
Eagle, inveighs against the party feuds of the time; or Carlo Martello’s
reference to the Sicilian Vespers, and the misdeeds of his brother
Robert. But of these the first leads up to an elaborate exposition of
the scheme of Redemption, the second seems intended directly to
introduce a dissertation on matters lying at the very root of human

To the same difficulty in varying the methods (to use a phrase of
Ginguéné’s) must be attributed the occurrence of a good many
conceptions which to our taste appear somewhat grotesque. Yet the better
we know the poem the more we shall feel that in this third part the
author’s genius rises to its sublimest efforts, and agree with the late
Dean of St. Paul’s, that it is the true _pierre de touche_ of the
student of Dante.

To go briefly through the various stages. The heaven of the Moon is that
in which appear the spirits of those who having taken vows have under
compulsion or persuasion abandoned them; Mercury contains statesmen and
men of affairs; Venus those who have been over-much swayed by indulgence
in earthly love. It must be observed that, according to the astronomy of
the time, the shadow of the Earth, cast into space by the Sun, extended
as far as the orbit of Venus. The spirits in these three spheres
therefore form a group by themselves: being distinguished by the fact
that they had allowed earthly cares and pleasures to obtain too strong
hold of them, to the injury of their spiritual development. In these
three spheres respectively the representative speakers are Piccarda
Donati, sister of Dante’s friend Forese, and of Corso, the leader of
the “Black Guelfs;” the Emperor Justinian; and Carlo Martello, the
titular king of Hungary, son of Charles II., king of Naples, who is
followed by Cunizza, sister of the Ghibeline chief, Ezzelino da Romano,
and Folco of Marseilles, who began as a troubadour and became bishop of
his native city.

Although in one sense the inhabitants of the three lower spheres may be
said to have attained a less perfect blessedness than those to whom the
rest of heaven is assigned, it must not be supposed that they are
conscious of any lack. All have their places in the highest or Empyrean
heaven, and all sense of sorrow for past imperfections is at an end. We
must indeed suppose that, as with Dante himself, the imperfections have
been effaced by the discipline of Purgatory, and their remembrance
washed away by the water of Lethe.

With the sphere of the Sun, however, we arrive for the first time in the
presence of those who have lived so as to earn the full honour of
sanctity, and find ourselves amongst canonised saints. Even here Dante
has shown himself, as usual, independent of conventional or official
restrictions. In his introduction of St. Thomas Aquinas and St.
Bonaventura he merely anticipates the formal decision of the Church; but
in “Peter of Spain,” that is Pope John XXI. (the only historical Pope
whom he places in Paradise), he selects for special honour a man who was
by no means free from grave suspicion of heresy, and who has never been
canonised. As Dante never did anything without a reason we must suppose
that some now forgotten merit earned for the Spanish logician a place
beside Nathan, Chrysostom, and Anselm. It is by these and such men as
these, great teachers and thinkers, that the heaven of the Sun is
occupied; the reason no doubt being that as the Sun is the source of
light and the promoter of growth in the physical world, so are these in
the spiritual.

The tenth canto is specially notable as bringing Dante into the presence
of the greatest exponent of the Scholastic philosophy, and the master
whom he followed more closely than any other, St. Thomas Aquinas. In the
eleventh, the illustrious Dominican recounts the life of St. Francis of
Assisi, the founder of the rival order. This is one of the most notable
passages in the whole poem, rising as it does to a sustained
magnificence of diction which especially characterises those portions of
the _Paradise_ where the poet allows full play to his genius.
Justinian’s roll-call of the Roman achievements in Canto vi. is another.
Nothing at all like them is found in the two former divisions of the
poem; and it is to them that students who wish to feel the attraction
which the _Paradise_ undoubtedly exercises over those who know it well,
should first turn.

The sphere of the Sun, in which we now are, is, it should be noted, one
of the two regions of Heaven in which Dante makes the longest stay, the
other being that of the Fixed Stars. The passage to it marks a distinct
stage in his progress. Looking back to the end of Canto ix. we see that
it forms a kind of peroration; while the first twenty-seven lines of
Canto x. are, as it were, the introduction to a fresh division of the
poem, and recall certain phrases which occurred in the opening canto. It
is difficult to say why these two spheres should be made of so much more
importance than the rest. Mars is the only one which approaches them;
but this is selected by Dante as the scene of his interview with his
ancestor Cacciaguida, which gives the occasion for the magnificent
contrast between the old days of Florence and its present state, and the
prophecy of his own exile; subjects which might well occupy a
considerable space. On the other hand, the eulogy of St. Francis,
already referred to, which St. Thomas Aquinas delivers, and that of St.
Dominic, with which St. Bonaventura, “vying with the courtesy of so
mighty a paladin,” responds to it, fine as they are, do not appear
indispensable in the scheme of the poem. But the whole plan of the
_Paradise_ is, so far as can be seen, arranged with much less of obvious
symmetry than is to be found in the two former _Cantiche_. No doubt the
plan is there; but just as “time-indications” for the most part fail us,
or can be extracted only by elaborate and somewhat uncertain
calculations, so it would seem as if the poet, no longer hampered by the
necessities of time and space, had wished to show how he could work with
no self-made restrictions.

After his discourse in praise of the founder of the rival order,
immediately followed by its counterpart--an eloquent summary of the
career of St. Dominic, put into the mouth of the Franciscan
Bonaventura--St. Thomas speaks again (Canto xiii.), in order to explain
an apparent over-estimate of Solomon’s greatness among mankind which an
expression used by him in naming the spirits present with him might have
seemed to imply. As happens more than once in this division of the poem,
a piece of what at first sight looks rather like logical quibbling is
made the introduction to some profound teaching in reference to the
workings of the human mind--teaching which is at least as needful in the
present day as it ever was in Dante’s own time. Solomon himself then
speaks, answering a question put by Beatrice on Dante’s behalf as to the
nature of the glorified body; and then Dante, having looked upon the
countenance of Beatrice, and being by this means (as in every other
case) raised “to a higher salvation,” finds by the ruddy light which
surrounds him that he has entered the sphere of Mars.

A new feature appears here. In each of the three planets exterior
(according to the astronomy of that age) to the Sun, we find some
special image displayed. In the case of Mars, it is a vast crucifix,
composed of spirits, who are darting in all directions within the
figure, like motes in a sunbeam. One of them glides from the arm to the
foot of the cross, and makes himself known to Dante as his
great-great-grandfather, Cacciaguida, probably (though this is not
certain) of the family of the Elisei.[36] He had been, like all the
other spirits, as it would seem, of this sphere, a soldier, and had died
in battle as a Crusader. The latter half of this, the fifteenth canto,
together with the two following, form what is probably the best-known
and most frequently quoted portion of the _Paradise_. First we have a
beautiful picture of the simple and kindly life of old Florence, before
party-spirit and luxury had entered and corrupted its citizens. The
picture is, of course, one of those which people in every age have drawn
of earlier times, supposed to have been free from the corruptions which
each man’s experience teaches him are rife in his own day; but none the
less it is of value as showing Dante’s ideal of social life.

The next canto continues to deal with the same topic; but enters more
into detail with regard to the various families, and the vicissitudes
in their fortunes. This leads up to the existing strife of parties, and
this again naturally to Dante’s own share in it, and his exile. It must
be remembered that this did not actually come about till two years after
the date at which the action of the _Commedia_ is supposed to take
place; so that the whole is cast into a prophetic form. The language
used, however, must be taken as expressing the feeling with which Dante
looked back after an interval of nearly twenty years--for the _Paradise_
was probably completed very shortly before the poet’s death--upon the
events in which he had borne a somewhat prominent part. Whether he was
ever a personage of the first importance in Florence we may be allowed
to doubt. No doubt he was a man of some consideration; but still the
office of Prior was one which nearly every eligible citizen must have
held;[37] and Villani, who devotes a chapter to his memory, does not
mention his name among the political leaders of an earlier period.
Probably he occupied among the exiles of 1302 a far less important place
in their own eyes and those of contemporaries than he does in ours; but
if not a leader, he was in the front rank, and must have been aware of
all that went on. The passages relating to his exile, to the
worthlessness of his companions, to his gratitude towards those who
helped him, gain immensely in force and pathos if we regard them as an
aging man’s reminiscences of a long by-gone time.

With the passage to the sphere of Jupiter (Canto xviii.) the imagery
becomes yet more daring. This is the region specially devoted to the
spirits of the righteous; and these as they fly are forming letters,
which ultimately spell out the opening words of the Book of Wisdom:
“Diligite justitiam qui judicatis terram.” When the final M is reached a
further transformation takes place; the letter is gradually modified
into the shape of the imperial eagle. Righteousness, or justice, is, it
should be remembered, in Dante’s view (as indeed in that of most
moralists) the source and foundation of all that goes to establish human
society on a virtuous and duly ordered basis. Thus it is rightly
illustrated by the symbol of the Empire. The Eagle behaves as one single
individual, though composed of countless spirits; speaking with a
single voice, and in the singular number. A discourse on justice leads
up to a sharp rebuke of nearly every prince then ruling, on the score of
misgovernment in one or another form.

After this the Eagle proceeds to indicate whose are the spirits which
compose its eye. These with one exception are all great sovereigns of
ancient and recent times. The exception is remarkable. In Hell we found
several cases in which mythological or fictitious personages were
treated on a footing of absolute equality with those who had a perfect
historical claim to the distinction; but the appearance in the Christian
Heaven of a man whose very name is preserved merely in a single line of
the _Æneid_ strikes us with astonishment. For being recorded by Virgil
as the most righteous man among the Trojans, Rhipeus takes his place
beside David, Hezekiah, Constantine, and the “good king” William II. of

When the time comes for the ascent to be resumed, Dante notices that
Beatrice smiles no longer. On the threshold, as she explains, of the
seventh heaven, the lustre of her smile would be more than his eyes
could endure. Here, in Saturn, a ladder is seen, reaching to the next
sphere. We learn that this is identical with the ladder seen by Jacob in
his vision; and down it are descending the spirits of such as in this
world had lived the contemplative life in full perfection. The chanting
which has been audible in the other spheres is here silent--no doubt in
order to symbolise the insensibility to outward impressions of the soul
rapt in contemplation. The speakers in this group are St. Peter Damian
and St. Benedict; both of whom have severe words to say as to the
corruption of the monastic orders.

The company of saints reascend (Canto xxii.): and Dante and Beatrice
follow them, mounting by the ladder, but, as it would appear, with no
perceptible lapse of time. The eighth heaven, that of the Fixed Stars,
is reached in the sign of the Twins; under which Dante himself had been
born. At this point Beatrice directs him, before entering on the final
blessedness of heaven, and doubtless with the ulterior view of leading
him to a just sense of the insignificance of earthly things, to look
back over the course which he has traversed.

A very distinct stage of the journey is here reached, and, as has been
already noticed, we are entering that one of the celestial spheres in
which Dante makes the longest stay.

He and his guide have now reached the outermost of the heavenly spheres
of whose existence our senses give any evidence--that of the Fixed
Stars. A vision of Christ descending, accompanied by His Mother, and
surrounded with saints, is granted to Dante; after which he is again
able to endure the effulgence of Beatrice’s smile. It is not, however,
until Christ has reascended that he recovers his full power of sight.
Then he perceives that the company of saints has remained; and
presently, at the request of Beatrice, St. Peter comes forward, and
proceeds to examine Dante on the subject of Faith, and the grounds for
his belief in the Christian revelation. The ensuing colloquy is
interesting, as being practically a versified form of the scholastic
method of discussion, such as we find in Aquinas. St. Peter plays the
part of the supposed opponent, and brings forward the standard
objections to Dante’s statements of dogma. For the ordinary reader,
however, this and the next two cantos form, it must be admitted, one of
the less attractive portions of the poem. Yet even here we now and then
come upon a passage of pure poetry, such as the famous lines at the
opening of Canto xxv., in which Dante utters what must have been almost
his last aspiration after a return to “the fair fold in which as a lamb
I slept.”

Following St. Peter, St. James makes his appearance. To him is entrusted
the task of testing Dante’s soundness in the doctrine and definition of
Hope. Lastly, comes St. John, who examines him touching the right object
of Love. In each case, when he has answered to the satisfaction of his
questioner, a chant goes up from the assembled spirits; the words on
every occasion being taken, as it would appear, from the _Te Deum_.
Afterwards the three Apostles are joined by Adam, who takes up the
discourse, and answers two unexpressed questions of Dante’s, as to the
length of his stay in Paradise, and the nature of the primitive language
of mankind.

Canto xxvii. opens with a tremendous invective, put into the mouth of
St. Peter, against the corruption of the Papacy; a passage which
incidentally contains an important piece of evidence with regard to the
date at which the later cantos of the _Paradise_ were written. A bitter
allusion to “men of Cahors” can have been evoked only by the election of
John XXII., who was from that city; and he became Pope in 1316. After
this the whole multitude of Saints ascend to the highest heaven; but
before Dante follows, Beatrice makes him look down once more, and he
perceives that since his entry into this sphere he has moved with the
diurnal rotation through an arc of forty-five degrees. Then they ascend
into the sphere of the First Motion, where place and time no longer
exist. From its movement time is measured; and its place is in the
Divine intelligence only. Here the Empyrean, or highest Heaven, comes
into view; at first as a point of intense brilliancy round which nine
circles are revolving. These represent the Angelic hierarchies, and
their places with regard to the central point are in inverse order to
that of the spheres which they move. Beatrice takes occasion from them
to instruct Dante upon some points relating to the creation and
functions of the angels, and incidentally, upon the creation of form and
matter, and their combination in the visible universe. The passage
(Canto xxix.) is difficult; but is so magnificent in its diction as to
deserve careful study. Dante has nowhere else succeeded so completely in
clothing with poetry the dry bones of scholastic theology. The
discussion, by dealing with several disputed points, gives occasion for
some stringent remarks on the preachers of the time.

They now rise to the highest heaven, outside of all the spheres, in
which all the blessed have their true place. At first Dante is aware of
light only, but gradually a fresh power of sight comes to him, and he
sees a river, from and to which bright sparks are ever issuing and
returning. The banks are brilliant with flowers. At the command of
Beatrice he bows down and drinks, and at once sees the river as a lake
of light, the flowers on the banks as concentric rows of saints seated
on thrones, and the flitting sparks as angels. At this point Beatrice
leaves Dante, after a few scathing words in reference to the
“covetousness”[38] of the Papacy, which has put the world out of
joint--words which may be taken as summing up in brief all the passages
throughout the poem in which political affairs are touched upon. With
this, if we except one bitter jibe at Florence (xxxi. 39) all
controversial matters are dismissed, and the last three cantos of the
poem are devoted to a description, rising ever in sublimity, of the joys
and mysteries of Heaven.

The “soldiery of heaven” appears in the form of a vast white rose, whose
petals are the seats on which the saints sit. On one hand these are
filled, being occupied by holy men and women belonging to the old
dispensation: while on the other the number of the elect has still to be
accomplished. Beatrice having gone back to her place among the blessed
beside Rachel, the task of escorting Dante is entrusted to St. Bernard,
who points out where some of the more eminent have their stations. As
throughout the poem, all is arranged with order and symmetry. The
junction between the Old and New Testaments is indicated by the position
assigned to Our Lady on one side of the circle, and in the highest row,
and St. John the Baptist, who is diametrically opposite to her. Below
her sit in order a series of Christ’s ancestresses Eve, Rachel, Sarah,
Rebekah, Ruth; Adam is on her left, St. Peter on her right, beyond them
Moses and St. John the Evangelist. On either hand of the Baptist sit St.
Anne and St. Lucy, and below him a line of founders of orders and other
teachers; the lower circles are filled with the spirits of children.

At the close of his enumeration of these chief personages, St. Bernard
observes that the time of Dante’s slumber is nearly at an end, and that
they must, “like a good tailor, cut the coat according to the cloth.” In
these three lines are two very noticeable points. First, the word
“slumber,” implying that the whole journey through the other world has
been performed in a dream; and secondly, the bold use, at perhaps the
most exalted moment of the whole poem, of a trivial, almost vulgar,
figure of speech. We meet with other instances of this in the
_Paradise_, and they are eminently characteristic of the mediæval mind.
The subject is too wide to be discussed here; but readers may be
reminded of the numerous examples which the architecture of the period
shows, in which grotesque or even indecent figures are introduced among
the ornamental work of sacred buildings.

At the beginning of the last canto, St. Bernard, in an address of
exquisite beauty (of which Chaucer, in the Second Nun’s Tale has given
an almost equally exquisite rendering), appeals to the Virgin--who, it
will be remembered, is throughout represented as taking a special
interest in Dante--for her aid to him in his last and crowning
experience. Thus succoured, he is able to gaze upon the Supreme Light;
and in a flash there is revealed to him a full comprehension of all
fundamental truths, first those of metaphysics, then those of faith. He
understands for a moment the whole composition of the universe, and then
the mysteries of the Incarnation and the Trinity. The intuition is
momentary, and leaves merely the memory of a memory. But the lasting
effect is the entire union of his will with the Divine will, and herein,
we must understand him to imply, is found the salvation the attainment
of which has been the ultimate aim and object of his whole journey.

Many touches in this concluding passage bear a strong resemblance to
what seems to have been the teaching of the contemporary German mystics.
It would be interesting to inquire how far Dante can have been
acquainted with any of the writings of that school. If any connection
can be traced, it may throw light on several obscure points.[39]

It remains to be added that the _Commedia_ was first printed at Foligno
in 1472. Editions followed in quick succession from Jesi, Mantua, and
Naples. The first Venetian edition is that of Vindelin of Spires, in
1477; the first Florentine, that with Landino’s commentary, in 1481. It
was printed several times more before 1500, and constantly in the
sixteenth century. We have several commentaries dating from a period
only later by a few years than Dante’s death.


    [28] Not only this allusion, but the occurrence, in this and
    other parts of the poem, of several words used in that district
    makes it almost certain that Dante was very familiar with the
    country round about Trent. Doubtless he would visit it from

    [29] See p. 79.

    [30] See p. 36.

    [31] It seems never to have been noticed that, as every line
    from the surface to the centre is perpendicular, a descent by
    _slopes_, such as is represented, would really be impossible.

    [32] See p. 34.

    [33] A late legend, to which some eminent writers have given too
    easy credence, does actually assert that Dante did go to Genoa,
    in the suite of Henry VII., about the end of 1311, and there was
    ill-used by some of Branca d’Oria’s friends or domestics. But
    none of the early commentators knows anything of this tale.

    [34] But see p. 42.

    [35] See pp. 48-51.

    [36] See p. 38.

    [37] See p. 70.

    [38] Note that _cupidigia_ is, in Dante’s scheme, the vice
    opposed to _giustizia_, that which debases nations as
    righteousness exalts them.

    [39] See also p. 46.



The _Commedia_ is, for many readers perhaps, the only book distinctly
identified with Dante’s name. Yet it must be remembered that, as a
matter of fact, it represents less than half of the total bulk of his
writings; and, further, that the remainder comprises several works
which, though not attaining to the pre-eminent position which all the
world now recognises the great poem as occupying, are very remarkable
monuments of mediæval literature.

Of the youthful work, the _Vita Nuova_, we have already spoken. It may
be sufficient here to add that--though there is some controversy on the
point--the name probably means only “Early” or “Fresh Life.” The book
was pretty certainly written not much after 1290, though the last
chapter, in which the author’s design to compose a greater work is
alluded to, may have been added when the scheme of the _Commedia_ was
more developed. The _Vita Nuova_ was not printed till 1578.

With regard to the date at which the most important of the prose works,
known as the _Convito_, or “Banquet,” was composed, considerable
uncertainty exists. Villani says that the odes to which it is ostensibly
a commentary were written in exile. Some critics hold that it belongs,
at all events in great part, to the “pre-exilian” period of Dante’s
life; while others place it as late as 1310. The late Dr. Witte regarded
it as the middle division of what he called “Dante’s Trilogy”--the
drama, that is, of the development of Dante’s soul. In this view, the
early love portrayed in the _Vita Nuova_ marks an age of simple faith,
undisturbed by any doubt. The _Convito_ (so far as it was completed)
records a period of philosophical speculation--not actually adverse to
the truths of religion, but seeking to establish these rather on the
basis of human reason than on revelation. Lastly, the _Commedia_ shows
us the soul, convinced that salvation and enlightenment are not to be
found on this road, returning again to child-like submission. There is
no doubt an attractive symmetry about this arrangement, but it is open
to some objections, one of them being, as a French critic said, that
part at least of the _Convito_ must almost certainly have been written
after the date in which Dante’s conversion is represented as having
taken place. Nor is it an answer to say that, the action of the
_Commedia_ being purely imaginary, we need pay no attention to dates.
For one thing, Dante is extremely careful, and with more success than
any one without his marvellous “visualising” power could hope for, to
avoid anything like an anachronism in the _Commedia_. If he allows no
event, which, in the history of the world, was still future in 1300, to
be referred to as past, why should he have allowed this in regard to
events in the history of his own spiritual development?

The truth is, that all these elaborate and symmetrical theories prove
too much; and what is worse, they all spring from an ignorance, or a
neglect, of the great facts of human nature. The _Commedia_ is, of
course, full of expressions of contrition for former error; of frank
recognition that the writer has gone astray in the past, and hopes to
keep straight in the future. But might not any man, any thoughtful man
at all events, of thirty-five years old and upwards, take Dante’s words
with perfect sincerity, as the expression of his own deepest thoughts?
Why assume that the faults of which Dante repented with tears in the
presence of Beatrice, were limited to a too great reliance on human
reason, or to a secret leaning to the philosophy of Averroes? Were they
not moral as well as intellectual? Whether the year 1300 really marked
an epoch at which anything of the nature of what is now called
“conversion” took place in Dante’s mind, we cannot say. It pretty
certainly corresponded with a decided revulsion in his political views.
It cannot have been without a pang that he found himself obliged
formally to break with the Guelf party, of which he had hitherto been a
faithful member, and to cast in his lot with men whom he, doubtless,
like those with whom he had all his life associated, regarded as a set
of turbulent, over-bearing swashbucklers, trying with the help of
foreign men and money to reimpose a feudal tyranny on a prosperous and
free commonwealth. For this is the aspect in which the Ghibelines must
have presented themselves to a Florentine burgher of the year 1300. No
doubt the doings of the Black party would have taught him that
overbearing and tyrannical ways, turbulence and swagger were not the
monopoly of one side, and that the freedom and peace of Florence must,
in any case, soon be things of the past. All the foundations of the
earth must have seemed to him to be out of course, and we can well
imagine that his thought may have been driven inward, and he may thus
have come to recognise how far the school which he had followed, and the
path upon which he had walked--not in philosophy only, but in all
matters of conduct--had led him from the ideals of his early manhood and
from the way of God. Thus he would naturally refer the vision, which, of
course, contains an allegorical account of all this change or
“conversion,” if we may call it so, to that year the events of which had
given the first impulse to it.

It is not, however, necessary to suppose that with Dante, any more than
with most men of a similar age, a conviction that he had hitherto been
on the wrong track involved an entire break with former habits, at all
events of mind and thought. He may very well have gone on stringing
together the curious medley of learning which he had not unfitly called
a “Banquet.”[40] As we have said already, it looks very like the
contents of a commonplace book, in which materials for other
works--notably for the _Commedia_--were collected. Many of the views
enunciated in it may well be those held by Dante long before, and
subsequently changed, though he might not have taken the trouble to
expunge them, even when stating a maturer opinion in a later work.

A good many of the difficulties which arise in the consideration of the
dates of Dante’s works, probably arise from oblivion of the fact that
“publication” in our modern sense did not exist in those days. An author
would no doubt give his manuscript to friends to read, as he went along;
and, if they liked it, they would probably take a copy of so much as
they had. Thus portions of a book would get about long before the whole
was finished; and in this way the views which Dante expresses in the
_Convito_ upon the cause of the markings in the moon, the order of the
angelic hierarchies, the nature of the Milky Way, and similar matters,
may well have been known to many as held by him, and he may have known
that this was the case. Subsequently, having changed his mind--it may
be, even before 1300--he would take the opportunity of a part of the
_Commedia_ having got into circulation, to recant; and even so the
original view might stand in the _Convito_, and appear in that work when
finally produced. When we further remember that Dante left the
_Convito_ little more than begun, and consequently, no doubt, unrevised,
it will be clear that very little inference can be drawn as to its date,
from the fact that certain opinions expressed in it are retracted in the
_Commedia_. It would be truer to say that it had no date. It was first
printed in 1490.

The _De Monarchia_ is a complete treatise, in fact, probably the only
work besides the _Commedia_ which we can feel sure that we have in a
form which it would have retained however long Dante might have lived.
Enough has been already said as to its scope; it may suffice to add that
the Church has never looked upon it with favour, which was probably the
reason of its not being printed till 1559, and then in Germany.

The unfinished treatise known as _De Vulgari Eloquentia_ had the curious
fortune to appear in an Italian translation (1529) some fifty years
before it was printed in its original Latin. It is a most interesting
little work, showing considerable acuteness of perception in regard to
peculiarities of local vernacular, and a general “feeling” for
linguistic matters.

How do we know that all these works are Dante’s? it will be asked. Here
we rest on unusually sure ground, for which once more we have to thank

In the Chapter to which we have already more than once referred,
containing the notice of Dante’s death, that historian gives a list of
his works. “In his youth,” we read--

    “he made the book called _The New Life of Love_; and afterwards,
    when he was in exile, he made some twenty moral and amatory
    odes, very excellent; and, among others, he wrote three notable
    letters, one to the Government of Florence, lamenting his own
    exile without any fault; the second he sent to the Emperor
    Henry; the third to the Italian cardinals, when the vacancy
    occurred after the death of Pope Clement.... And he made the
    _Comedy_, wherein, in polished rhyme, and with great and subtle
    questions of morals, nature, and astrology, philosophy and
    theology ... he composed and treated in one hundred chapters, or
    chants, concerning the being and condition of Hell, Purgatory,
    and Paradise.... He also made the _Monarchy_, in which he
    treated of the duty of the Pope and of the Emperor. And he began
    a commentary on fourteen of the above-mentioned moral odes, in
    the vulgar tongue, which, through his death supervening, is only
    completed for three.... Also he made a little work which he
    calls _De Vulgari Eloquentia_, whereof he promises to make four
    books, but only two are extant, perhaps by reason of his speedy
    end; in which, in powerful and elegant style, and with fine
    arguments, he examines all the vernaculars of Italy.”

The last two paragraphs, it should be said, do not occur in all
manuscripts. But, assuming them to be genuine, it will be seen that we
have here an almost contemporary notice, with one or two exceptions, of
all the main works now contained in the editions of Dante. The chief
exception is the curious little treatise on physical geography, called
_De aqua et terra_, which purports to be a lecture delivered by Dante at
Verona, in the last year of his life; but this is of very questionable
genuineness. It was first printed, indeed, in 1508, but no manuscript of
it is now known to exist.

Of the other works, Villani’s notice may be regarded as clear proof that
they are what they profess to be; and incidentally it may be said that
his mention of them has probably been of great service. Literary
morality was sufficiently lax in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries,
and people’s ideas as to the use that might legitimately be made of
famous names differed considerably from those now in force. As it is, a
good many compositions have passed under Dante’s name, from an early
date, which scarcely pretend to be genuine works of his. We can imagine
what a temptation it would have been for some enterprising man of
letters to complete the _Convito_ or the _De Vulgari Eloquentia_, or
even to add a canto or two to the _Commedia_, if there had been no
record in existence to let the world know where the genuine ended and
the spurious began.[41] Even this security, however, is not quite
sufficient to set us at our ease in the case of the letters. True, we
have three letters purporting to be the three which Villani mentions, as
well as several others passing under Dante’s name; but it is, of course,
possible that the very fact of his mentioning them may have sufficed to
set ingenious scribes at work to produce them. Manuscripts of them are
very few, and they occur in company with other works which are undoubted
exercises of fancy.

On the other hand, more than one writer of the fifteenth century
professes to have seen letters of Dante’s, of which no trace can now be
found. That referring to the battle of Campaldino, for which Leonardo
Bruni vouches, has already been mentioned; and Flavius Blondus of Forlì,
a historian about contemporary with Leonardo, speaks of others as extant
in his time. These, if they could now be recovered, would be of the
greatest interest, since they related to the obscure period immediately
following the exile of the White party. Meanwhile the genuineness of the
more important letters which we possess is perhaps the most interesting
question which remains to be settled in connection with Dante’s works.

Besides the prose letters, two poetical epistles are still extant, and
these, strange to say, the most sceptical critics have so far allowed to
pass unquestioned. There is something a little pathetic about their
history. Two or three years before Dante’s death, a young scholar of
Bologna, known from his devotion to the great Latin bard, as Joannes de
Virgilio, addressed an extremely prosaic, but highly complimentary,
epistle to the old poet, urging him to write something in the more
dignified language of antiquity. Dante replied in an “Eclogue,” wherein,
under Virgilian pastoral imagery, he playfully banters his
correspondent, and says that he had better finish first the work he has
in hand, namely the _Commedia_. One more communication on either side
followed, and then Dante’s death brought the verse-making to a close. In
his own pieces one is struck rather by the melody of the rhythm and
occasional dignity of the thought, than by the classical quality of the
Latinity. But they are unquestionably remarkable specimens of Latin
verse for an age previous to the revival of classical study, and, we
should say, far more genial and more truly Virgilian in spirit than the
most polished composition of the Humanists.

It is not intended here to enter into any analysis or estimate of
Dante’s prose works. The former task is one which readers should perform
for themselves. Nor need they find it too much for their powers. With
all his obscurity of allusion, and occasionally of phrase, Dante is not
really a difficult author. From his teachers, the schoolmen, he had
learnt to arrange his matter with due, perhaps more than due, regard to
order and symmetry; and consequently the attentive reader is seldom at a
loss to know what part of the subject is, at any given place, under

Of the obscurity which results from over-elaboration of the thought, or
from an attempt at originality of expression, Dante is, in his maturer
works, singularly free.[42] It must be remembered, too, that very often
phrases which look to us like “conceits” are merely instances of the
employment of scientific and technical terms now obsolete, but then
familiar to every cultivated reader.

For æsthetic, or, as it has been unkindly called, “sign-post”
criticism--that which, under the guise of directing the reader’s taste,
often seems intended to call attention mainly to the acuteness of the
critic’s own perception or his delicacy of phrase--the study of Dante
would seem to be a very unpromising field. The sentimentalist and the
elegant craftsman in words seem out of place in the company of this
uncompromising seeker after realities, this relentless exposer of shams.

It is much better that the student should begin by understanding his
author. When he has mastered the meaning, it will be time enough to
begin to admire, whether it be the thought or the words, or the
expression of the one through the other. For this reason we should
strongly counsel beginners to read Dante himself first, and books about
Dante afterwards. We would go so far as to say: at the first reading,
dispense even with notes, and be content to look out the words in a
dictionary. It is far better practice to find out for yourself where the
difficulties lie, than to be told where to expect them. Similarly with
the “beauties.” These will reveal themselves _a ciascun’ alma presa e
gentil cuore_, and every reader will find them in such measure as he
deserves. Then will be the time to use the commentaries to solve, so far
as may be, the problems which have been discovered, and then to take up
such works as Mr. Symonds’s _Study of Dante_, Miss Rossetti’s _Shadow of
Dante_, and Dean Church’s _Essay_. The student who, to a thorough
knowledge of the poem, joins a careful perusal of these three works will
find his knowledge co-ordinated, his grasp of Dante’s whole system
strengthened, his perception of Dante’s greatness marvellously
quickened. If he afterwards cares to pursue the subject further into the
thickets of modern Italian and German criticism, he will find plenty of
entertainment. Only let him remember that most of the minute details
with which the excellent critics deal are not really of the very
slightest importance.

As has been said above, there is ample reason for believing that the
person to whom Dante refers under the name of Beatrice was a young lady
of that name, daughter of one Folco Portinari, and wife to Simone de’
Bardi. But suppose that irresistible evidence to the contrary could be
found? Suppose that documents should come to light showing that no
Beatrice Portinari ever lived--even that there was no woman, young or
old, in Florence, who bore the Christian name of Beatrice between 1200
and 1300, what would it matter? Do we read Andromache’s

    “Hector, but thou to me art father and mother and brother, and
    thou my gallant husband too;”

or Helen’s

    “Hector, dearest to me by far of all my brothers-in-law, it is
    now twenty years since I left my native land, but never yet have
    I heard from thee an ill or insulting word,”

with any the less emotion because we do not feel sure that Hector, or
Andromache, or Helen ever lived on this earth? Some would add, or Homer;
but so far, happily, no “separatist” has taken Dante in hand. But again,
suppose he did, and with better success than has on the whole attended
those who would have us believe that half a dozen or more men
contributed to the _Iliad_, any one book of which would entitle its
author to rank among the great poets of all time? The world would prove
to be richer by as many great poets as could be shown to have
collaborated in the writing of the _Commedia_; and how should we be the
poorer? The poem would still be there, with all its power to soothe, to
stimulate, to throw light upon the most hidden corners of the human
soul, to reveal our own motives to us. It is, of course, only human
nature to feel a personal interest in the man who has taught us so much;
but we must not allow this natural sentiment to make us forget that the
man is only interesting because of his work. After all, when the most
destructive criticism has done its worst, we know much more about Dante
than we know about the still greater Shakespeare; and let us be thankful
for what knowledge we have.


    [40] This may be a good point at which to say that we need not
    suppose because Dante employed the Canzoni as pegs upon which to
    hang the philosophical, astronomical, and other lucubrations of
    the _Convito_, that when originally written they were anything
    but exercises in the amatory style of composition usual in that
    age, whether inspired or not by any serious passion. He would
    have found no more difficulty in attaching subsequently a
    mystical and moral interpretation to them than divines had found
    in doing the same for the Canticles.

    [41] In the case of the _Commedia_, it would seem that Dante
    himself took measures to guard against interpolations. As is
    well known, he never uses any one series of rhymes more than
    once in the same canto; and, from the structure of the _terza
    rima_, it is impossible to introduce any fresh matter when the
    canto is once completed without violating this rule. This fact
    alone serves to convict of forgery the unknown person who
    inserted eighteen lines after _Hell_, xxxiii. 90, in one of the
    Bodleian manuscripts; as to which, see Dr. Moore’s _Textual

    [42] It is, perhaps, worth noting that as the tendency to
    _concetti_ increased in Italian literature, Dante was more and
    more neglected. Only three editions appeared from 1596 to 1716.
    Curiously enough, there are two treatises extant which just
    correspond with the beginning and end of this period of eclipse.
    One of them is called _A Brief and Ingenious Discourse against
    the Work of Dante_. It was written by Monsignor Alessandro
    Cariero, and published at Padua in 1582. The arguments are of
    the feeblest and most pedantic kind; but it marks a stage in
    taste. The recovery is indicated by a _Defence of Dante
    Alighieri_, a lecture given by Dr. Giuseppe Bianchini to the
    Florentine Academy in 1715, and published three years later.



Something has already been said as to the way in which the student of
Dante should set to work in the way both of putting himself so far as
possible at Dante’s point of view with regard to earlier literature, and
of availing himself of the various commentaries and treatises which
subsequent writers have produced in such abundance; but it may be
convenient to enter into this matter somewhat more in detail. It would
obviously be too much to expect of every beginner that he should prepare
himself for the study of Dante by a preliminary perusal of all the books
which Dante may have read. But if he is to read with any profit, or
indeed with any real enjoyment, some preliminary study is almost
indispensable. Take, for instance, the historical standpoint. Some of
Dante’s grandest apostrophes fall flat to one who has not grasped the
mediæval theory of the Roman Empire, as set forth in Mr. Bryce’s
well-known book or elsewhere. Much of his imagery, especially in the
first Cantica, seems fantastic and arbitrary to one who is not familiar
with Virgil’s sixth _Æneid_, and does not realise that nearly every
feature in the Dantesque Hell is developed, with assistance no doubt
from mediæval legend, out of some hint of the Virgilian nether world. Of
allusions to contemporaries it is hardly necessary to speak; and in many
cases we must fall back on the commentators, who for their part have
often nothing to tell us but what we have already gathered for
ourselves. Cacciaguida’s statement that no souls had been shown to Dante
save those of people known to fame, may not be always true so far as any
but the most strictly contemporary fame is concerned, but it is true in
a great many cases. Few indeed there are whose names have not gained
additional celebrity from Dante’s mention of them; but, on the other
hand, there are very few whose memory but for it would have perished
altogether; and the thrill with which the reader comes across an old
acquaintance, marked by the unfaltering hand for renown or infamy, as
long as men shall read books on this earth, is far more satisfying than
the process of looking a person up because he is some one in Dante. It
is therefore at least worth while, if not essential, to know something
of the minuter contemporary history, and those who can read the seventh,
eighth, and ninth books of Villani’s _Florentine History_--not yet,
unfortunately, translated into English--will find their reward.

Those, again, who wish to place themselves as nearly as may be at the
point from which Dante looked at ethical and metaphysical problems, will
hardly be satisfied with an occasional quotation from Aristotle or
Aquinas. If, as may well be the case, they cannot spare the time for
systematic reading of those somewhat exacting authors, they should at
least be at the trouble of acquiring such a knowledge of their systems,
and of the place which they hold in the widening of men’s thoughts, as
may be obtained from Ueberweg or some other approved history of
philosophy. So for physical science and natural history, those who have
not the leisure to read Aristotle (again), or Pliny, or Brunetto’s
_Trésor_, may get from the fourth book of Whewell’s _History of the
Inductive Sciences_, and from parts of Humboldt’s _Cosmos_, some idea of
the way in which Dante would regard the external world.

But one book, among all others, was undoubtedly the main instrument in
the formation of Dante’s mind and character. Few professed Churchmen
have ever been so saturated with the language and the spirit of the
Bible as this lay theologian. It was this, indeed, which seems to have
specially impressed his contemporaries. “Theologus Dantes nullius
dogmatis expers” is the title which the epitaph of his friend Joannes de
Virgilio confers upon him in its opening line. And among all the books
of the “Sacred Library,” as an earlier age called it, we can see that
two had a predominant place in his memory--the prophecy of Jeremiah and
the Book of Psalms. In these two we may find the solution of some of his
most obscure symbolism, and careful study of these will do perhaps more
than anything to help the student to read with understanding. Of course
those who read Latin should use the Vulgate rather than the English
version, for the key to an allusion sometimes lies in a word or a
phrase, the identity of which is lost in an alien language.

It is with the study of such books as these, carried as far as the
student’s opportunities will allow, that he will best prepare himself
for that of the _Commedia_. The next thing will be to read it, either in
a translation, or better, in the original, working rapidly through the
poem, and noting difficulties which occur, but leaving them for the
present. He will thus get a comprehensive view of its general structure
and scope, and probably find himself enthralled by the spell; after
which, to put it on the lowest ground, he will have a subject of
interest to investigate which will last him his lifetime. At any rate he
will pretty certainly resolve to go over the ground again, this time
more deliberately. Now will come the turn of the commentators, including
under this term not only the actual annotators of the text, but those
who have in any way discussed, explained, or interpreted the whole poem
or its parts, either from a general literary point of view, or in the
attempt to clear up special points. Of these there is no lack. Probably
no great writer has given occasion for so much writing on the part of
lesser men. The French critic Sainte-Beuve remarked that “to read Dante
was almost inevitably to want to translate him;” it certainly seems as
if to read Dante made the desire to write about him almost irresistible.
Many of these books the world has pretty willingly let die; but a few
will be read as long as Dante is studied in England. Foremost among
these is the _Essay_ by the late Dean of St. Paul’s, Dr. Church. This is
printed in a volume with an excellent translation of the _De Monarchia_.
As an introduction to Dante from every point of view, whether in
connection with the history of his time or in regard to his place in
literature, it remains unrivalled, and is likely to remain so until a
writer on Dante arises equal to Dean Church in acuteness of historical
insight, delicacy of literary taste, and a power of expression capable
of translating those gifts into words. No student should fail to read
it; and those who can buy a copy will not be likely to regret the
outlay. Another instructive book is the late Miss Rossetti’s _Shadow of
Dante_. It treats the poem rather in its religious than in its
historical or philosophical aspect; and it is of especial value as an
aid to understanding the often very perplexing symbolism. Long extracts
are given from the versions by Mr. W. M. Rossetti (for the _Inferno_)
and Mr. Longfellow (for the other parts); and these are linked together
by a connecting summary. Mr. Symonds’s _Introduction to the Study of
Dante_ is also useful, especially from the literary point of view, but
it is occasionally inaccurate. Of actual translations none is better
than Cary’s, and this has most valuable notes.

These are some of the books from which a student, who did not feel equal
to a preliminary study of Italian, might get information about Dante. It
is to be hoped that there are not many who will stop here. When the
genius of a poet is so closely involved as it is in Dante’s case with
the genius of the language, it cannot be too strongly impressed upon the
student’s mind that he ought to be read in his own words. Italian is the
easiest to learn of all European languages, and the one in which the
preliminary labour of learning grammatical rules is least required. Its
grammar is very straightforward; its construction, in the best writers,
is seldom involved; its words will in most cases be intelligible to
people who know any Latin or French. The prepositions and their uses
offer almost the only stumbling-block which cannot be surmounted by the
aid of a pocket-dictionary; and even here the difficulty is more likely
to be apparent in writing Italian. In reading, the context will usually
be a guide to the meaning when the words are known.

The first thing will be to get a text. There are several modern texts
published in Italy; but none of them are very correct. Giuliani’s is an
attractive little book; but the Abate was a somewhat reckless emendator,
and some of his readings are very untrustworthy. The little pocket
edition published by Barbèra contains Fraticelli’s text, which suffers
rather from lack of correction. Messrs. Longmans publish one based on
Witte, but embodying the results of later inquiry. A complete text of
Dante’s entire works has lately been issued by the Clarendon Press, for
the accuracy of which the name of its editor, Dr. Moore, is a sufficient
guarantee. The “student’s” editions with notes are those of Bianchi and
Fraticelli, both in Italian. The latter is for some reason more popular
in England, but the notes seem to me decidedly less helpful than those
of Bianchi based on Costa’s. Better than either is the _Vocabolario
Dantesco_ of Blanc. The original work was written in German, and no
doubt is to be obtained in that language. It is really a very useful
commentary, and has the additional advantage that it forms a pretty
copious Concordance, and enables the student to compare the various uses
of a word.

The student may now be supposed to be ready to set to work. How is he to
proceed? This is a question very difficult to answer. Probably no two
grown-up people will attack a new author, or a new language, in quite
the same way. The present writer began Dante with very little knowledge
of Italian; but knowing French and Latin pretty well. Being in Florence
one day, he went to a bookstall and bought for one _lira_ a secondhand
copy of a little text published in 1811; and began to puzzle out bits
here and there with the help of a small dictionary. In the following
winter he went through the whole poem in Bianchi’s edition with a
friend, aided by various of the older commentaries. Then he took to
reading the poem by a canto or two at a time, in bed, without notes or
dictionary, and went through it two or three times in this way, at last
beginning to feel that he would like to know something about it.
Probably a course of this kind, spread in a rather desultory fashion
over several years, would hardly suit every student. Nevertheless it has
in its general features some merits. In the first place, the only way to
learn is to find for yourself where the difficulties are; and this can
be done most effectually by beginning with the minimum of help. With
notes, there is always the temptation to look at the note first and the
text afterwards: a process sure to result in slipshod and inaccurate
knowledge. Take a canto at a time, and read it through. Go over the
ground again with a commentary and perhaps a translation. Before long
the difficulties arising merely from the language will be pretty well
mastered, and progress will be more rapid. Above all, avoid in the
first instance anything of the nature of æsthetic criticism. Be content
to treat the poem, if it be not profane to say so, as a “grind.”
Translate into the plainest English, so only that you take pains to
render every word. It is a very good exercise to keep to the same
English word for the same Italian word. This will not be quite always
possible; but on the whole it is wonderful how many words in Italian (or
any other language) have passed through the same change of signification
as some one of their English equivalents. (Thus “sorry” in English means
both “sad” and “contemptible.” You will find that Italian “_tristo_”
bears both senses equally well.) Try to “explain Dante by Dante,” that
is, look out for peculiar phrases and constructions which may occur more
than once, and get at their meaning by comparison of contexts. One great
advantage possessed by the student of Dante is that his author is
practically the first in the language in point of time; and though later
Italian poets used Dante freely as a quarry, they did not do it
intelligently. It may safely be said that, with the occasional exception
of Petrarch, no subsequent Italian poet threw the least light on the
interpretation of a single word in Dante. Indeed our own Chaucer seems
to have understood and appreciated Dante far better than did Dante’s
countryman Ariosto. It is thus possible to read Dante without a very
wide acquaintance with Italian literature in general.

Then, again, beginners need not be at too much pains to follow out the
often very elaborate symbolism. On a first reading take the story as it
stands. Let the dark wood and the three beasts, and the hill
illuminated by the rising sun, remain what they profess to be, until you
see the broad outlines of the poem. There are quite enough passages of
purely human interest to occupy you at first. Francesca, Farinata, the
Counts of Montefeltro, father and son, Ugolino, the assembled princes
awaiting their time to enter Purgatory, the great panegyrics of St.
Francis and St. Dominic, these and the like are the “purple patches” on
which the beginner’s attention should be fixed.

The student who has gone through the poem on these lines will by the end
of it be ripe for a more thorough reading and a fuller commentary. Among
modern commentaries the fullest is that of Dr. Scartazzini. He is a
guide whose judgement is perhaps not always quite equal to his
erudition; but his Commentary (in four volumes, including the
_Prolegomeni_) is almost indispensable to the advanced student. He has
also published an abridgement in one volume. Those who read German
should make acquaintance with the translation and notes of the late King
John of Saxony, who wrote under the name of Philalethes, as well as with
those of Dr. Witte. Both these deal fully with historical matters,
“Philalethes” also going very fully into the theology. In the present
writer’s edition some attempt is made to clear up obscure points of
allegory, and to show the extent of Dante’s debt to Greek philosophy.
Attention is also called to questions of grammar and philology, which
have been somewhat neglected by the Italian and German commentators.



A few words on the mythological and classical allusions in the
_Commedia_ may be useful to those who are not familiar with Greek and
Latin literature. The subject is a very wide one, and Dante’s treatment
of heathen mythology is very curious. It is especially noticeable in the
_Purgatory_, where every sin and its contrary virtue are illustrated by
a pair of examples from Scripture history on the one hand, and Greek or
Roman history or legend (for both seem alike to him) on the other.
Sloth, for instance, is exemplified by the Israelites who “thought
scorn” of the promised land, and the slothful followers of Æneas, who
hung back from the conquest of Italy; while Mary going into the hill
country with haste, and Cæsar dashing into Spain are the chosen models
of prompt response to the call of duty. So, again, at the very outset of
the poem, we find St. Paul and Æneas quoted as the two instances of
living men who have been permitted to see the future world; and Dante
professes his own unworthiness to be put on a level with them,
apparently without a hint that he holds the _Æneid_ any lower as an
authority than the Epistle to the Corinthians. In a practically pagan
humanist of the days of Leo X. this would hardly surprise us; but it
is, at first sight, not a little astonishing in the case of a poet to
whom the Christian Church and Christian revelation were vital truths. It
is, however, clear that to the mediæval mind the Bible, though no doubt
the highest authority, was in matters of morality, and to some extent
even of theology, only “first among its peers.” Aquinas quotes
Aristotle, the Scriptures, and the Fathers almost indiscriminately in
support of his positions. Dante, approaching the subject from a
political as well as a moral point, takes for his guide and philosopher
the poet Virgil, who, as the Middle Ages deemed, had both foretold the
glories of the Church, and sung of the first origin of the Empire. It
must never be forgotten that, to Dante, Church and Empire were merely
two aspects of one Divine institution. Brutus and Cassius are hardly
less guilty than Judas; and that simply from the official point of view,
for there is no attempt to sanctify, much less to deify, Cæsar as an
individual. None the less is the work that he did holy, and this
holiness communicates itself, as readers of the _De Monarchia_ will
remember, to the whole of the long course of workings by which Divine
Providence prepared the way for it. The finger of God is no less plainly
to be seen in the victory of Æneas over Turnus or of the Romans over the
Samnites than in the passage of the Israelites across the Red Sea, or
the repulse of the Assyrians. Roman history is no less sacred than
Hebrew. This being so, we shall not be surprised to find that a certain
authority attaches to the literature of either one of the chosen
peoples. Did they conflict, doubtless the poet, as an orthodox
Catholic, would admit that Virgil must give way to Isaiah; but he would
in all probability decline to allow that they could conflict, at all
events within the region common to them both. No doubt, just as Cæsar
and Peter have, besides their common domain, functions peculiar to each,
wherein Cæsar may not interfere with Peter, or as Aristotle may err when
he trespasses on ground that the Church has made her province (for I
interpret _Purg._ xxv. 63 as an allusion to Aristotle), so might Virgil
or Lucan become a teacher of false doctrine if he ventured to teach
theology. (Statius, who does teach theology, as in the passage just
referred to, is, it must be remembered, a Christian.) But Virgil at all
events holds scrupulously aloof from any over-stepping of his functions;
and within his own limits his authority is infallible. Why, then, should
we not accept his account of the infernal regions as trustworthy? He
tells us that Charon is the ferryman who carries the souls across to the
nether world; Minos the judge who sentences them; Pluto (whom we confuse
perhaps a little with Plutus) a great personage in those regions. Furies
sit over the inner gate; Gorgons and Harpies play their parts. Holy
Scripture has nothing to say against these conceptions; so there is
nothing to prevent our accepting Virgil’s account, and expanding it into
mediæval precision and symmetry. Thus we have all the official hierarchy
of hell ready provided. As has already been observed, it is not until
Dante reaches a point very far down that anything like what we may call
the Christian devil appears.[43] Throughout the upper circles the work,
whether of tormenting or merely of guarding, is performed exclusively by
beings taken from classic mythology. If we except the Giants, who seem
to occupy a kind of intermediate position between prisoner and gaoler,
Geryon is the last of these whom we meet; and him Dante has practically
transformed into a being of his own invention: for there is little in
common between the personage slain by Hercules and the strange monster
with the face of a just man and the tail of a venomous scorpion. As
might perhaps be expected when there was plenty of material to hand in
Tuscany, less use is made of the persons of classical mythology in
finding subjects for punishment. Among the virtuous heathen several find
their place; but it may be doubted whether Electra or Orpheus were to
Dante any less historical than Plato or Seneca. Semiramis, Dido,
Achilles, again, would all be recorded in the histories of Orosius and
others whom Dante read, with dates and possibly portraits. Capaneus, one
of the “Seven against Thebes,” is more nearly mythological; but as the
utterer of the earliest profession of reasoned atheism[44] he could
hardly be omitted as the typical blasphemer. The most curious example of
all is the Thais whom we find among the flatterers. She does not attain
even to the dignity of a myth, being only a character in a play of
Terence, and borrowed by Dante from Cicero; probably the strangest
instance on record of the “realization” of a dramatic personage.


    [43] See p. 102.

    [44] “Primus in orbe Deos fecit timor” (Statius, _Thebaid_, iii.





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    Transcriber’s Note:

    Variations in spelling, hyphenation and use of accents have
    been retained as they appear in the original publication.

    Changes to the original publication have been made as follows:

        Page  11 Bytuene Mershe and Averil,
                 “Bytuene Mershe and Averil,

        Page 112 to positive cruelty,
                 to positive cruelty.

        Page 113 becomes almost suppliant
                 becomes almost suppliant.

        Page 128 eighth pit o
                 eighth pit of

        Page 128 evening is drawng
                 evening is drawing

        Page 133 In the circle o
                 In the circle of

        Page 149 Sun, Mars, Jupiter
                 Sun, Mars, Jupiter,

        Page 150 by other matter,
                 by other matter.

        Page 166 Note that capidigia
                 Note that cupidigia

        Page 178 It is a mos
                 It is a most

        Page 178 peculiarities of locat
                 peculiarities of local

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