There are seven hundred years that separate us from the death of the poet of the Italian language par excellence. But as evidenced by the celebrations that are welcoming him in his year, and in the just passed edition of Dantedì (last March 25), Alighieri is still here, among us. The “Corriere” sends the “Dante” series to newsstands, created in collaboration with Salerno Editrice (the second volume, the Purgatory): an opportunity to reconnect, or do it for the first time, to the father of our language.
The Corriere asked Enrico Malato, professor emeritus of literature Italian at the Federico II University of Naples, who edited the first three volumes of the series and signed another five, a reflection on the current events of Alighieri. And how important is the study and knowledge of the Poet today. «Dante is not only the first great, very great author of Italian literature – says Malato – but the one who gave it an imprint and an address, and above all a language in which to develop. After the long medieval domination of culture and the Latin language throughout the first millennium, the second opens up to a new perspective, diversified in the various regions of Europe, open to the use of local languages, called vulgar because spoken by the common people. In Italy as elsewhere there is a large flowering of vulgar texts, from Lombard to Sicilian, which have more or less local circulation. Until, at the beginning of the fourteenth century, Dante wrote the Divine Comedy in the Florentine vernacular: a work of such height, density, linguistic and stylistic refinement, that it immediately imposes itself as a literary and linguistic model. Success is immediate and overwhelming. Immediately, everywhere, in Italy, anyone who wants to make literature takes as a model and tries to imitate the language of Dante’s poem, so that within a few decades, then centuries, it becomes the common language ».
What do we mean when we talk about the language of literary use?: “Italy is politically divided, and there is no center of power that imposes a shared language for the needs of a centralized administration,” continues the scholar. «Everywhere, except in Tuscany and Rome, the local vernacular continues to be used in daily practice. Until the early sixteenth century, when with the Prose of the vulgar language by Pietro Bembo (1525) it is acknowledged that what is still called “vulgar Tuscan” has now become the “Italian language”. And all those who use it are Italians: not because they reside in the peninsula, but because they communicate in that language. Which over time, especially after the Unification, also becomes the language of spoken use. What is important to note, however, is that this language, molded by Dante in a still raw vulgar like the Tuscan of the thirteenth century, was modeled so well that, removed from the innovative thrusts of spoken use, it resisted for seven hundred years. And today Italian is the only cultural language of Europe that can still be read and understood, while all the others have changed so much in the sixteenth century that they are incomprehensible. Hence, beyond the literary interest, the historical importance of Dante ».
Today, reading Dante’s language requires a commitment important, especially for students who are approaching his studio for the first time. “The divine Comedy it is also a complex work, which requires a reading commitment for which the first approach with a teacher who knows how to guide the young reader is fundamental »continues Malato in his explanation. «It is necessary that first of all he knows Dante well, and loves him, and is able to transmit that love to the pupil. There is therefore a problem of preparation of teachers for Dante’s teaching, which is then a general problem of the first approach to Dante. You can read passages or songs from the Comedy and enjoy that reading; or even “suffer it”, if, imposed by the school programs, it has not been adequately prepared. However it is useful, to understand and love Dante’s poetry, to approach it with the support of a good knowledge at least of his biographical and intellectual profile ».
But in the end, even today, what drives us to quench our thirst with his words, to grasp in his visionary work values that make it still relevant, even for the youngest? «In addition to a great work of poetry, the Divine Comedy it is an extraordinary message of humanity. It is an urgent call to man to remember, always, that he is man, the only animal endowed with reason, which distinguishes him from “brute animals”, and let himself be guided by that. “Men be, and not foolish sheep”, is the last of his warnings. On the basis of the three basic principles of the Christian message, men are born and are free, equal, brothers, Dante affirms corresponding fundamental and inalienable rights of man, which are limited only by the corresponding inviolable rights of all the others. The first, freedom, however, is implemented above all in the exercise of “free will”, the freedom of choice between good and evil, which each one must carry out with full awareness of the responsibility it entails. These are concepts that Dante develops within the framework of his Christian vision of reality, but they have evident universal value. Nor will it be irrelevant that, assumed as the distinctive motto of the French Revolution, “Liberté, egalité, fraternité”, they later entered the Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations. These, in very quick synthesis, are the values that the Comedy transmits, clearly topical. It will be important to extract them from the poetic message and make them evident ».
March 29, 2021 (change March 29, 2021 | 13:02)