inferno canto xii professor andrea mazzucchi università di napoli ‘federico ii’

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Inferno Canto XII Professor Andrea Mazzucchi Universit di Napoli Federico II Slide 2 Critical treatments of Inferno Canto 12 have expressed serious reservations, and even quite negative assessments, that it is discordant in tone and lacks organic structure. Although there are more balanced evaluations of the canto, especially in the last decade, the traditional assessment of it is still to be found in some more recent authoritative commentaries. Slide 3 Therefore before proceeding to a new reading of the canto, which, - I clarify now in no way shares such reservations, it is apt that we ask about the reasons behind so widespread and reductive an evaluation. Slide 4 The poor critical fortune of this canto must be attributed above all to a narrative structure which is articulated in a variety of ways, and has given rise to the erroneous impression of a certain dissipation of themes and motifs not entirely coherently resolved around a central focal point. Slide 5 This multiplicity of narrative sequences must have been obvious to those responsible for the illustrations of early manuscripts of the Commedia, such as ms33 of the Library of the University of Budapest, or the Codice Filippino of the Oratoriana in Naples. Slide 6 In them, the miniatures which depict the fundamental stages of the iter per mortuos, the journey through the dead, of Dante and Virgil and which, have on average two or, at most, three vignettes per canto. However they reach a total respectively of 4 and 6 for canto XII. Slide 7 One may add that the traditional tendency to condense the material of the Dantean cantos in an eponymous formula, generally that of the most prominent character, has heavily conditioned many readers of this canto, including recent ones, so that it has become the canto of the centaurs. Slide 8 This has led to an undeserved and in many aspects misleading and arbitrary interpretation of the episode carried out in an excessively aestheticising and emotive key, linking it to the maladetti / nei nuvoli formati, damned formed in the clouds of Purg. XXIV 121-22, in an attempt to soften or completely erase its savagery and monstrousness. Slide 9 The episode, held to be empty of any intrinsic connection with the rest of the text has been judged to be as single poetic nucleus of the canto. Slide 10 The author has chosen an expressive narrative strategy which strongly reduces the role of the agens, whose function is limited exclusively to the narrative slant and whose role is exhausted in the meticulous recording of visual experience alone, conceding nothing to sentimental suggestions: not one word is uttered by Dante the character. Slide 11 This choice has certainly contributed, I believe in decisive measure, to rendering the enjoyment and estimation of this canto problematic for a critical approach which is particularly sensitive to the lyrical effects and emotional seductions of the poem. Slide 12 This difficulty of reducing an articulated narrative score to a single motif, with the consequent expansion of the importance and functions of a single episode, that of the centaurs, and a strategy of exposition which privileges, at least in the relationship of the agens with the other actors/agents the descriptive register over the dramatic, Slide 13 are thus the elements which have conditioned, albeit with some notable exceptions, the interpretation of readers and commentators of this canto XII of the Inferno. Slide 14 It will be fitting therefore to start again from just these elements in order to attempt a different evaluation of them, less conditioned by anachronistic aesthetic prejudices, except then to test them in a comprehensive explication du texte. Slide 15 2. First of all, the narrative splintering is more apparent than real and is rather the result of a skilful expositional strategy which aims to reproduce, articulating the stages and ably varying the perspectives, the progress of Dante and Virgil through the first subcircle of the seventh circle, almost a mise en abme, a portrayal in a minor key, of the full journey. Slide 16 The whole structure has movement as its foundation with verbs of motion recurring in verses 1-2; 28; 58; 76; 100; 113; 115; 126; and 139. Narrative suspense and tension is produced by the appearance before the two viatores of ever new, unexpected, unusual, and astonishing objects: Slide 17 the ruin; the unnaturally produced landslide a unique historical event in the immobile infernal world; the Minotaur; the centaurs; the river of boiling blood - the name of which will only be revealed later - and in which the damned are immersed to be boiled. The centaur Nessus will then list them, attractive to mediaeval tastes, as he points them out to Dante with a wide-ranging use of deictics. Slide 18 But it is not only the representation of movement. Underlying the poetic-narrative composition of the canto, its syntagmatic structure, is a hypodiscourse based on the recurrence of lexemes and images which refer back to the common denominator of the bestialisation of the human and degradation towards the feral : Slide 19 Thus the infamy of Crete conceived in the false cow (vv. 12-13), the Minotaur (v. 25), beast (v. 19), which is prey to an bestial anger and leaps in a grotesque fashion to the slaughter; and the cenataurs armed with arrows (v. 56), the great Chiron, the impetuous and vengeful Nessus, the irascible Pholus, (v. 76), Slide 20 Pholus, whose double-nature, human and equine the narrator insistently underlines (v. 84; 94; 96); and again the images and lexemes referring back to the horrific perverting of the human form, With a strong realistic flavour the parts of the body are revealed, discordantly and deceptively isolated: Slide 21 il ciglio the brow (v. 103), the fronte forehead (v. 109), l pel skin (v. 109), la gola throat (v. 116), lo corheart (v. 120), la testa head (v. 122), l casso chest (v. 122), li piedi feet (v. 125), dominated by four (or maybe five, as we will see) appearances of the motif of blood. (vv. 47, 75, 101, 105; 120). Slide 22 Man thus reduced to his physical materiality and having become violent, has lost his rational faculties and so, as Dante says in Convivio II 7. 4 non vive uomo, ma vive bestia: he lives not as a man but as a beast: in an emblematic overturning of roles, the bestial centaurs shoot the damned who are reduced to being the animal prey of ranks of sadistic hunters. (v. 74). Slide 23 In this way the canto translates the notion of matta bestialitate (mad bestialit), introduced in an expository and didactic mode in Inferno XI into efficacious images (the mountainous and horrifying infernal topography, the zoomorphic monsters, the damned immersed in the river Phlegethon and hunted by the centaurs). Slide 24 Violence corrupts the original profile of human nature, introducing into man a bestial trait and thus reducing the individual from the condition of humanitas to that of feritas. Feritas does not affect him however only as an individual, but, insofar as it is an obstacle to civil life, it extends to the collective/community: rather it is an eminently political sin. Slide 25 The tyrants, not by chance immersed up to their brows in the Phlegethon, are therefore, like the Minotaur and centaurs, monstrous at the level of community, insofar as they destroy the harmony between the parts and deform the social order, removing themselves, through their evil (malvagit) from the natural political structure. Slide 26 They are, as St Thomas writes in his commentary on Aristotles Politics, more like beasts than men. In the connection in Dantes imaginary between bestiality and those who dier nel sangue e nellaver di pigliotook to blood and plunder (v. 105) the etymology of beasts cannot have been extraneous. Slide 27 The 14 th century commentator Guido da Pisa makes the connection in his Expositiones: Bestie quasi vastie dicuntur et signant divites et potentes qui terram devastant. Beasts sounds like waste (vastie) and signifies the rich and powerful who devastate the earth. Slide 28 3. Having restored then to the narrative fabric of the canto a certain ideological density and a certain imaginative uniformity, I believe that the episode of the centaurs must also be removed from the splendid isolation to which it had been condemned by a strong cohort of commentators.. Slide 29 Instead we must recover its intimate coherence with the general picture traced by Dante in this canto of tragic monstrous demonic bestiality, which carries out the double function of rhetorically symbolising the sin, and providing an exemplary warning to the reader Slide 30 The sentiment of aesthetic admiration seems to me difficult to sustain, and above all divergent from the aim of a correct reconstruction of the intentio auctoris. Even less admissible is the slide into moral admiration which many commentators and readers of this canto have and do believe they see in the description of the centaurs. Slide 31 In order to capture the authentic aesthetic dimension of Dantes centaurs we must ignore the equilibrium and harmony of the marbles of Phidias on the Parthenon, or the anachronistic group sculptures of humanism and the renaissance, evoked respectively by Ernesto Parodi or Guido Mazzoni. Slide 32 Instead, we must turn to mediaeval sculpture and engraving, the grammar and logic of the Roman and Gothic tetramorph, in which, as the studies of Baltruaitis have shown, the monstrous is founded upon the addition of parts, on combination and encrustation of heterogeneous material, on mixture, distension and emphasis Slide 33 We may recall here the insistence on the adjective grande used of the centaurs by Dante, of living forms belonging to diverse species. Slide 34 The mediaeval monster must then suggest, through the association of incompatible elements, of antimonies (such as that of humanitas and feritas) a discord in which the hybrid marrying of


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