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Monday, May 26, 2014

Dante: The Unauthorized Autobiography

Dante by S. Dalí

Dante's Convivio (i.e. "Food for the Mind," basically) is worth reading because it allows us a more direct insight into his ideas and personality, whereas the Divine Comedy "dazzles" us with its glory. In the Convivio, Dante clearly emerges with his qualities and defects: his genius as well as his pe-Dant-ry, his bold condemnation of social evils, clergy and 'capitalists' included, as well as his snobbishness, . . .  All of Dante's favorite subjects -- philosophy, natural sciences, theology, morals, literature, etc. -- are dealt with in this book, in spite of its having been left interrupted at one fourth of the planned length or so. But the most interesting thing is that the main perspective in the Convivio is what we may term a medical one, in a broad, Medieval sense: biology, anthropology, behavior, education, psychology, health. Not in vain did he join the Corporation of Physicians.

Many themes, doctrines and personages, of course, will surface again in the Divine Comedy, which was probably started in the same period in which he abandoned the Convivio in about the year 1308. With some surprises, e.g. a different "weight" as to their importance, or true revolutions, as in the case of Guido Da Montefeltro, a politician, then a Franciscan friar, who is praised in this prose and damned to hell in the poem.

Another very intriguing feature of the Convivio is that, if it were the only Dantean work left, we could anyway recreate the whole Paradiso in its main structure and even in many details, just without the characters, but we would have no clues as to the structure of Inferno and Purgatorio. That's against the opinion of some funny chaps who think that Dante wrote the Inferno and, since it became a best-seller, he added a couple of (disappointing) sequels.

For the textual reconstruction: Dante Alighieri, Convivio, edited by Giorgio Inglese, Milan: BUR, 1993, 6th ed. 2013, pages 376, euros 9.50