Alberto Cavallari, commenting on a famous reflection by Elias Canetti, argued that we take refuge in the calendar to relive the present through its anniversaries and to seek a guarantee towards what will happen. Dates and recurrences of certain days are of paramount importance in general paranoia and also serve to absorb fear.
Who knows if those who today celebrate the seventh centenary of Dante Alighieri’s death(anniversary if only for these reasons to be honored) are fully aware of the value that his work still holds. We are all indebted to what his genius has transmitted to us, and the initiatives underway all over the world prove it. We Italians in particular, given that he was the creator of our language and that he transmitted an idea of a nation to us, when ours was not yet a nation.
Among those who have loved Dante since high school, there is Sergio Mattarella. Who, by intellectual training, is a humanist. He approached the Divine Comedy since adolescence, and has never stopped cultivating the reading. It is therefore fatal to propose to him the theme of a work which, as was said of the work of the French historian Fernand Braudel, comparable to the famous magic hole of Borges … In fact, through it we see the smallest grain of sand together with all the deserts, the past together with the future, spring together with winter.
Mr. President, a year ago, announcing this anniversary, you said that figures like Dante’s must be examined in the light of universality rather than actuality. But even today it would seem inevitable to mention the invective that arises after the meeting with Sordello: Ouch serva Italia, hostel of pain…. the apex of the poet’s descriptions of a country shaken by infighting and particularism, crushed by intermittent decadence. Looking back at our chronic lack of self-esteem and the rhetoric of decline that haunts us, little seems to have changed since the 1300s.
I must tell you that the attempt to update different characters and historical periods has never convinced me. I would therefore avoid analogies between Dante’s Italy, a man of the Middle Ages, and Italy today. Seven hundred years separate us, an immeasurable time. Moreover, some of the difficulties and critical points, which you identify in our character as Italians, have their roots in times that are much closer to us: in a national unit which was formed late compared to other European states and which proceeded – inevitably – for tears and progressive accelerations and which has seen the popular consciousness assimilate the unitary experience with more slowness and effort than the project that animated the protagonists of the unitary movement.
In short, we must remember that, beyond suggestions and infinite levels of reading, the author of the Comedy speaks to every age and anyone can find keys to reflect himself in his poem.
cos. Also for this reason, in the speech last October, I spoke of Dante’s universality. This is his ability to transcend his time and to deliver directions, messages and teachings that are valid forever. Dante was a point of reference and inspiration for generations of Italians regardless of the specific situations of different centuries and eras. Think, for example, of the rediscovery by the romantics, of the real civil “cult” of which it was the object during the Risorgimento or the rhetorical exaltation that fascism made of it. It is precisely his fortune over the course of time that should lead us to reflect more on the legacy – artistic, cultural, moral, therefore unifying – of the great poet.
And what is the heart of this legacy, in your opinion?
I believe that the universality and, at the same time, the beauty of Dante must be sought precisely in the particular aptitude of penetrating deeply into the human soul, describing its motions, feelings and emotions in an engaging way. The vices that Dante describes – the tendency to sin, according to his philosophical and religious conception – are the same since the beginning of human history: greed, craving for power, violence, greed … Comedy it attracts us, fascinates us, still questions us today because it speaks to us about us. Of the deepest essence of man, made up of weaknesses, falls, nobility and generosity. Just think of the many steps of the Divine Comedy entered into the daily lexicon and that we use without knowing, often, that they come from his verses …
Dante has very firm religious convictions that oblige him to conform completely to God’s plan and justice. Nevertheless, during that extraordinary journey that Divine Comedy, in the face of the souls of the damned or the blessed, the author never strips himself of the – very human – feeling of compassion. I believe that in this extraordinarily demanding dilemma between justice and compassion, one of the most important legacies of Dante’s lesson should perhaps be sought today.
However, swinging between despair and hope, Dante does not neglect the virtues of the Italians. For example, great humanity is the ability to do good even in conditions of adversity. And this inherent social capital recalls many chronicles of solidarity in this harsh year of pandemic … A year that some have compared to Dante’s Hell.
The bitter civil contrasts that marked Dante’s troubled path propose the value of the person, the value of the woman, central to all his poetics, recall the yearning and the sense of the homeland, gradually widening its borders, affirming its being also stepmother with reference to the sentence of exile. Dante does not consider the mere common belonging by birth to a State, to a Lord, to be a binding element. Its horizons, despite the bitterness of the obligatory distance from the place of birth, reside rather in the awareness of belonging to a culture in the making that transcends those boundaries and will express itself, over the centuries, in the aspiration to the recognition of a common identity. Hence his emphasis on the virtues of the Italians, the recognition of their unavoidable vocation to build a shared destiny.
To come to the final part of your question, I don’t know how far we can compare the pandemic to Dante’s Hell. Certainly, some dramatic scenes we have seen and experienced, such as the line of trucks with coffins departing from Bergamo, would need his immense descriptive capacity. Exiling for a moment from Dante, I repeat that in this emergency we have all rediscovered, beyond so many and unjust clichés, the great patrimony of civic virtues – solidarity, altruism, self-denial – which has always belonged to our people.
How is an Italian identity born, in a fragmented political and institutional context?
With the birth of a cultural identity, whose main tool is language. Contributing to the greatness of Dante Alighieri is his being able to link together the experiences, the literary “schools” present at the various courts of the rulers and to unite them in an excellent way of expression. Alongside the contents of his civil lesson, a language emerges, rich in its own lexicon that makes modern Italian an idiom which, gradually, with the processes of progressive literacy, would then be transferred to the everyday common language. A non-abstract language of the people – defined as “vulgar” to distinguish it from Latin -, not an artificially created Esperanto, but the fruit of a high reflection of writers matured over the centuries, fruit of the recognition of a real Italic civilization. what Dante himself suggests in his Ordinary speech, recognizing, for example, the previous “Sicilian School” its contribution to that cause: indicating it with the quotation of Jacopo da Lentini in the XXIV canto of the Purgatory “But if I see here he who fore / drew the nine rhymes, beginning/ Women you have intellect love”.
But the cultural evolution that Dante raises does not end there …
Indeed. They are germs of that Humanism that would have blossomed in an explosive way in the following century and which persists in the identity of our country. Humanism that saw Italy contribute decisively to the affirmation of characters and values that still distinguish European civilization.
President, you said at the beginning that you don’t like the game of discounting. Why is there an aspect of the poet’s life that could teach today’s politicians anything?
It applies to those engaged in politics, but it applies to everyone: its consistency. We know how much exile from his Florence and nostalgia for his city weighed on Dante. There is an illuminating episode in his life. A Florentine friend, whose name we do not know, writes to him that he is trying to obtain, after fifteen years, the revocation for his provision of exile and the consequent death sentence. To obtain “forgiveness” from his city Dante would have to pay a fair amount and admit, in a public ceremony, sins not committed. Dante’s negative response, at the same time, indignant and heartfelt: “Can’t I contemplate the hopes of the sun and the stars everywhere? Will I not be able in every place under the vault of heaven to meditate on the sweetest real ones, if I do not first make myself despicable, rather abject to the people and to the whole city of Florence? ….
Conscience cannot be sold off for survival: is this the lesson we should draw from Dante’s choice?
His sense of justice, his moral conception oblige him to refuse. Self-interest, the end of the painful exile, is not bartered with the yielding of one’s ethical convictions. It is not a question of moralism or pride, nor of legitimate pride. Dante moved by the highly moral belief that going against his own conscience would make the result eventually obtained ephemeral.
The first Danted is celebrated on 25 March
The first Danted, which is celebrated on 25 March (date that coincides with the beginning of the otherworldly journey of Alighieri in the afterlife, in 1300) was born from an idea of the journalist Paolo di Stefano on the pages of Corriere in 2017. The name it was coined with Francesco Sabatini, honorary president of the Crusca; the Day was then established in 2020 by the government on the proposal of Minister Dario Franceschini. For the occasion, in the bookshop Danted. Contemporary visions of the poet (pp. 115, euro 15, on sale in Librerie.coop), published by the Corriere Foundation and by la Lettura, and edited by the Cultura del Corriere editorial staff. The volume created with the contribution of visual designers, who have created 25 Postcards for Dante (project conceived by Franco Achilli), and the art director of the Corriere, Bruno Delfino. With texts by Achilli, Alberto Casadei, Paolo Di Stefano and Arturo Carlo Quintavalle. Up time.news the columnist of the Corriere Aldo Cazzullo (in the bookshop with To see the stars again, Mondadori) traces the descent into the Underworld with a sequence of twenty videos (one a day, weekends excluded). The multimedia initiative curated by the weekly 7 and Corriere Tv.
At the Quirinale
On the occasion of the celebrations for the Danted, on 25 March, in the presence of the President of the Republic, Sergio Mattarella, and the Minister of Culture, Dario Franceschini, live on Raiuno, at 19.10, Roberto Benigni reads the XXV canto of the Paradiso in the Salone dei Corazzieri at the Quirinale. Introduces Serena Bortone, the ancient music group Al Qantarah intervenes. Also for the Danted, the Bargello Florence Museums are launching a series of initiatives. Among these, on the site fondazioneilbargello.it the video of the restoration of Dante’s portrait (the oldest surviving to us) and of the frescoes painted by Giotto and his workshop in the Maddalena Chapel will be available, in view of the exhibition Honorable and ancient citizen of Florence. The Bargello for Dante which will be inaugurated on April 21st.
March 25, 2021 (change March 25, 2021 | 07:27)