Δευτέρα, 18 Μαρτίου 2013

The Apparition of Dante

"Musa profonda dei Toscani, il Dante,
II nobil cittadin, nostro Alighieri,
Alia filosofia ricco e brillante
Purgò il linguaggio e corredò i pensieri ;
E nell' opera sua fatto gigante
A Campaldino nei primi guerrieri ;
Lui il Purgatorio, Paradise e Inferno
Fenomeno terren, poeta eterno!"
-I.e Statue disotto gli Ufizi in Firemzc. Ottave
improvisate da Giuseppe Moroni detto Il
Nicchieri (Illiterato)
, Florence, 1892.

IT has been boldly asserted by writers who should know better, that there are no ghosts in Italy, possibly because the two only words in the language for such beings are the equivocal ones of spirito or spirit, and spettro or spectre-or specter, as the Websterians write it-which is of itself appalling as a terrific spell. But the truth is that there is no kind of spuk, goblin, elf, fairy, gnome, or ouphe known to all the North of Europe which was not at home in Italy since old Etruscan days, and ghosts, though they do not make themselves common, are by no means as rare as eclipses. For, as may be read in my "Etruscan Roman Legends," people who will look through a stone with a hole in it can behold no end of revenants, or returners, in any churchyard, and on fine nights the seer can see them swarming in the streets of Florence. Giotto is in the campanile as a gentle ghost with the fairy lamb, and Dante, ever benevolent, is all about town, as appears from the following, which was unexpectedly bestowed on me :

"When any one is passionately fond of poetry, he should sit by night on the panchina1 in the piazza or square of Santa Croce or in other places (i.e., those haunted by Dante), and having read his poetry, pronounce the following :

1 Raised footway, high curbstone, causeway, bench.
"'Dante, che eri
La gran poeta,
Siei morto, ma vero,
II tuo spirito
E sempre rimasto,
Sempre per nostro
Nostro aiuto.
"'Ti chiamo, ti prego !
E ti scongiuro !
A voler aiutarmi.
Questa poesia
Voglio imparare ;
Di più ancora,
Non voglio soltanto
Imparar la a cantare,
Ma voglio imparare
Di mia testa
Foter le scrivere,
E cosi venire
Un bravo poeta !'
"'Thou Dante, who wert
Such a great poet,
Art dead, but thy spirit
Is truly yet with us,
Here and to aid us.
"'I call thee, I pray thee,
And I conjure thee !
Give me assistance !
I would learn perfectly
All of this poetry.
And yet, moreover,
I would not only
Learn it to sing it,
But I would learn too
How I may truly
From my head write it,
And become really
An excellent poet !'

"And then a form of a man will approach from around the statue (da canto), advancing gently-piano-piano-to the causeway, and will sit on it like any ordinary person, and begin to read the book, and the young man who has invoked the poet will not fail to obtain his wish. And the one who has come from the statue is no other indeed than Dante himself.
"And it is said that if in any public place of resort or inn (bettola) any poet sings the poems of Dante, he is always present among those who listen, appearing as a gentleman or poor man-secondo il locale-according to the place.

"Thus the spirit of Dante enters everywhere without being seen.
"If his poems be in the house of any person who takes no pleasure in them, the spirit of the poet torments him in his bed (in dreams) until the works are taken away."
There is a simplicity and directness in this tradition, as here told, which proves the faith of the narrator. Washington Irving found that the good people of East Cheap had become so familiar with Shakespearian comedy as to verily believe that Falstaff and Prince Hal and Dame Quickly had all lived, and still haunted the scenes of their former revels ; and in like manner the Florentine has followed the traditions of olden time so closely and lovingly, that all the magnates of the olden time live for him literally at the present day. This is in a great measure due to the fact that statues of all the celebrities of the past are in the most public places, and that there are many common traditions to the effect that all statues at certain times walk about or are animated.

One of the commonest halfpenny or soldo pamphlets to be found on the stand of all open-air dealers in ballads-as, for instance, in the Uffizzi-is a collection of poems on the statues around that building, which of itself indicates the interest in the past, and the knowledge of poets and artists possessed by the common people. For the poorest of them are not only familiar with the names, and more or less with the works, of Orcagna, Buonarotti, Dante, Giotto, Da Vinci, Raffaelle, Galileo, Machiavelli, and many more, but these by their counterfeit presentments have entered into their lives and live. Men who are so impressioned make but one bold step over the border into the fairyland of faith while the more cultured are discussing it.
I do not, with some writers, believe that a familiarity with a few names of men whose statues are always before them, and from whose works the town half lives, indicates an indescribably high culture or more refined nature in a man, but I think it is very natural for him to make legends on them. There are three other incantations given in another chapter, the object of which, like this to Dante, is to become a poet.
"From which we learn that in the fairy faith," writes Flaxius, with ever-ready pen, "that poets risen to spirits still inspire, even in person, neophytes to song.
"'Life is a state of action, and the store
Of all events is aggregated there
That variegate the eternal universe ;
Death is a gate of dreariness and gloom,
That leads to azure isles and beaming skies . . .
Therefore, O spirit, fearlessly bear on.'"