Inferno Canto XV Professor Corrado Calenda Università di Napoli ‘Federico II’

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<ul><li>Slide 1</li></ul><p>Inferno Canto XV Professor Corrado Calenda Universit di Napoli Federico II Slide 2 The renowned canto of Brunetto shares a key feature with other equally well-known canti in Dantes Inferno. Close examination shows that this feature has defined and justified the centuries of continuous reflection or, rather, the type of reflection, which its readers have so consistently dedicated to it. Slide 3 This feature is the way in which the sin committed by the protagonists in their earthly lives, and which is the basis for their eternal damnation, is not the direct focus of the canto itself. This is also true of Farinata (X), Ulysses (XXVI), and Ugolino (XXXIII). The reason for their presence in Hell is hinted at at most, either indirectly or as a digression, but the canto itself develops along different lines. Slide 4 It is almost as though the aim is to avoid an unnecessary delay on non-essentials, or because it seems expedient, for various reasons, to just skim over the matter, if not to omit it entirely. The anomalous nature of this canto is obvious: even looking just at the best known cases of the first cantica, it is enough to contrast it with Canto V with Francesca and Paolo, which is centred around a detailed description of the event which led the two lovers to perdition. Slide 5 We could also compare it with canto XIII, which sets out starkly the circumstances that led to Pier della Vignas suicide. I would add, however, that Brunetto represents an isolated case, even in comparison to the damned souls that Dante had been told earlier that he would meet. Brunetto is also unusual in comparison to those whose sin is hinted at. Slide 6 In canto X, for example, before meeting Farinata and Cavalcante, Dante is concerned to find out that that Epicurus and his followers have their cemetery in this part, who make the soul die with the body (vv. 13-15). In Canto XXVI, in vv. 59-63, independently preceding the grandiose description of the fatal path to destruction, we find a list of the sins which led Ulysses and Diomedes to destruction. Slide 7 In my opinion, however, this brief preface to an extraordinary canto is not detailed enough to decide for certain what Ulyssess sin was. It is also well-known that Canto XXXIII, too includes a reference to Ugolinos treachery: Dante tells us that Count Ugolino was reported to have betrayed your fortresses (vv. 85-86). There is none of this in Canto XV, nor in the following canto, in which the two travellers meet other famous characters who share in Brunettos sin. Slide 8 Predictably, centuries of debate on Brunettos sin have ensued. With an effort of memory and some reconstruction it is possible to deduce the nature of the sin, based on indications from canto XI where Virgil explains that among them are those that use force against the Deity and therefore the smallest sub-circle stamps with its seal Sodom and Cahors (vv. 46-49). Slide 9 Either that, or one could accept the usual explanation of v. 144, referring to Andrea de Mozzi, where he left his ill-protended muscles, although this has recently been called into question by scholars such as Mario Martelli. Or one may share the early commentatorss opinion of Iacopo Rusticuccis wife (XVI 45), whom they held responsible for the damned mans sinful inclinations towards his own gender. Slide 10 Understandably, this initial and essential information conditions the entire reading of our canto, and above all the relationship that Dante means to imply with Brunetto: therefore, in some ways, a referential reading, or, perhaps, a content-based reading is more justifiable than in other cases. This reading is primarily intended to clarify the significance of Dantes decision to include an encounter with his former Florentine master as an essential element of his narrative. Slide 11 It has not escaped anyones attention that such a course risks obscuring the extraordinary formal and stylistic features of the canto, its more specifically literary worth, among the most skilful in the entire poem. Slide 12 Even focusing solely on the memorable opening, we could note, as an absolute minimum, the rare inclusive proparoxytonic rhyme (margini: argini); the brilliant metaphorical use of a technical botanical vocabulary (aduggia), used to suggest the marvel of a sort of umbrella of vapour which shelters the travellers from the flakes of fire. Slide 13 We should also note, with Ernesto Giacomo Parodi, the cluster of rhymes entirely in double consonants up until v. 13 (argini, uggia, enta, elli, ossi) which prefigure the rime aspre e chiocce which will be widespread in the Malebolge. One also notes that the rhyme in uggia anticipates that in -eggi of vv. 34-39, where the central rhyme greggia is one of two words that are yrsuta propter austeritatem against which the noble poet is advised in the De Vulgari Eloquentia. Slide 14 We should also take note of the remarkable, but certainly not coincidental, lexical choices in a verse like Quali i Fiamminghi tra Guizzante e Bruggia (Like the Flemings, between Wissant and Bruges) (v. 4). In this verse, fixed, neutral lexical items (the name of a people and two toponyms) imply a reference to the fiamme che guizzano e bruciano, directly linked to the scene which we are about to observe. Slide 15 The deliberate use of similes taken either from literature or from personal experience is also important, making the characteristics of the unlikely surroundings clear to the reader. These are, moreover, enriched by touches of absolute realism (vv. 11-12 though not so high nor so thick, whoever he may have been, the master- builder made them) which make the following events more realistic. The margins of Phlegethon on which Dante and Virgil walk, too, must be low enough to permit the close dialogue between Brunetto and the pilgrim. Slide 16 The margins of Phlegethon on which Dante and Virgil walk, too, must be low enough to permit the close dialogue between Brunetto and the pilgrim. But above all, the entire canto is a marvel of representative evidence. Slide 17 However one approaches them, the series of ethical, cultural, political and personal questions which are posed are as subtle and nuanced as they are worrying and problematic. First comes the very long opening discussed above which sets up a familiar tone and the close proximity of the two people in dialogue. Slide 18 This is followed by two concrete images, that of those who gaze at one another under the new moon (v. 19) and that of the old tailor who has difficulty threading a needle (v. 21). These are not abstract descriptive formulae, but are the actions and attitudes of men in specific situations. We could continue at length in this vein in a close reading of Dantes masterly methods in setting up his peculiar, otherworldly scene. Slide 19 But it is now time to reflect on the central scene and the essential themes of our canto, sticking as closely as possible to the letter of the text. After the meeting with Capaneo, Dante and Virgil move further still from the wood of the suicides and profit from the protection offered by Phlegethon to walk unscathed across the barren land of the sinners against God, who are tormented by an incessant rain of fire which burns and disfigures them as it strikes. Slide 20 Low down, under the margin, they see a crowd of souls coming to greet them, who seem to examine them with painstaking attention. One of them is startled to recognise Dante, and in his turn, Dante recognises him as Brunetto Latini showing a similar, if not greater, surprise. Slide 21 He should, perhaps, be referred to more correctly as Burnetto, according to the variant on the Florentine codices mentioned by Francesco Mazzoni, which has recently been emphasised by Luciano Rossis ingenious etymological hypothesis. Slide 22 An intense dialogue begins between the two, which first requires a series of explanations of their respective current situations. This is followed by Brunettos flattering recognition of the pilgrims gifts and a prophecy of the terrible destiny which awaits Dante in the plots of the corrupt and enraged Florentines. Slide 23 Dante reciprocates this acknowledgement of esteem, albeit in the respectful tones of the disciple, then declares himself ready to challenge the blows of fate that Brunetto has prophesied. After Virgils very quick interjection of agreement, Brunetto replies to the pilgrims question, informing him that Priscian, Francesco dOccorso and Andrea de Mozzi share his fate. Slide 24 Then, preoccupied by the arrival of another crowd of sinners, he hurries to run after and rejoin his flock who had wandered off meanwhile. This is a summary of the canto on very general lines, in which I have consciously set out to outline its fundamental structure, the pure narrative schema. This is precisely my point. Slide 25 The interpretation of more specific points, and above all, the cantos important role in the overall plot of the Inferno, depend, as we know, on certain preliminary decisions, on certain exegetical presuppositions, which can profoundly alter the underlying significance of the scene depicted here. Slide 26 We are faced, then, with a potentially ambivalent text. It is difficult to establish whether this is a primary ambivalence, intentionally included and developed by the author, or whether it is through a layered exegetic tradition. Slide 27 This is a tradition which has grown up around this canto, like a few others in the Commedia, to create a broad spectrum of interpretative hypotheses, which in some cases differ widely where they are not in direct opposition to each other. Slide 28 To me, it seems most likely that at least the two things are not interwoven in time: the complexity and perhaps subtle ambiguity or evasive vagueness of Dantes original intention has combined with the survival of historically determined readings. This has led to a sort of hermeneutic derivative, which has opened up further possible readings of a canto that was already strikingly plurisemic, as well as the originally intended ones. Slide 29 If this is the case, the first task of each interpreter is to attempt to reduce or define, as far as it is possible, the contribution made by each of the successive overlapping layers, which are, nevertheless, a sign of the endless vitality of the text. Slide 30 The two knots which need to be dealt with first and, if possible, unravelled, relate to the Brunettos sin and the type of relationship that Dante-author intends to establish between the protagonist (Dante agens) and his interlocutor. Slide 31 As we will see these questions are connected, but not, I think, to the point, that the potential solution of the one requires complete clarity on the other. Let us take as our starting point, then, Brunettos sin: it is certainly a sin against nature and therefore, indirectly, against God. Slide 32 The interpretative key that has dominated the reading of the canto, largely unquestioned, is sexual, with Brunetto as a practicing sodomite, explicitly, a homosexual and paedophile. Slide 33 This, as is well known, was brought into doubt in an important work by Andre Pezard (although his hypothesis was recently re-proposed, with certain additions, by Selene Sarteschi) and by the studies of Richard Kay, which were subsequently borne out by the investigations of Sally Mussetter. Slide 34 For the former, the sin against nature would have been Brunettos decision to adopt the langue doil rather than his own native vernacular when writing his best known work, the encyclopaedia of the Trsor. This practice had already been hotly contested by Dante on many well known occasions, albeit with no particular hostility, of course, towards Old French; merely an opposition to the abandonment of ones natural speech. Slide 35 This would have been a blow to his linguistic and ethical roots, as Eugene Vance and Peter Armour would assert from various perspectives. For Kay, however, Brunetto would have been placed among the sinners against nature because he would have subverted the natural order by placing philosophy not only at the service of the emperor, but also the unnatural, insubordinate and autonomous communal structures (E. Esposito) Slide 36 That said, it is necessary to add that even staying close to the traditional (and, frankly, less adventurous) reading of sexual sin, there is no lack of variation in the stances taken up by the various interpreters. Slide 37 One of the preoccupations of the main commentators from the beginning of the last century (most important of whom is Ernesto Giacomo Parodi) is to defend Dante from the accusation of having betrayed ser Brunettos privacy, permanently associating his master with an infamous sin which would otherwise have remained unknown. Slide 38 The idea of Brunetto the sodomite would be born for reasons relating to the symmetries of the poem. In this way the Florentine master would be assigned to a position corresponding roughly to that of his ancestor Cacciaguida in the third cantica, thereby setting up an intra- textual parallelism of great ideological depth. Slide 39 Despite this, in 1979 Darco Silvio Avalle (followed by Giuseppe Edoardo Sansone) interpreted an exchange of canzoni between Brunetto and Bondie Dietaiuti set out in Cd Vat 3793 using a key of allusive homoeroticism. This goes against the previous interpretation which uses a key of purely structural symmetries that do not have either ethical or ontological implications. Slide 40 Here we begin to see how the question of Brunettos sin is interwoven with the relationship that Dante wishes to establish, both with the historical figure and with Brunettos literary personality. In an insightful reading, Manlio Pastore Stocchi has overwhelmingly accentuated the importance of Dantes ignominiously accused man by drastically overturning what has until now been the usual interpretation of the entire episode. Slide 41 To summarise, we are present at a serious act of denunciation: Dantes allusive and ironic re- assessment of the presumed virtues of his Florentine master. Pastore Stocchi suggests that this is based on the logic which determines the law of the contrapasso. In this instance it is derived directly from the biblical text which speaks of the punishment inflicted by God on the inhabitants of Sodom: this is a sign of a sin judged and punished with special, implacable rigour. Slide 42 To conclude I will note that in a recent lectura Luciano Rossi excludes the importance of the evidence brought to light by Avalle, and attributes Dantes decision to place Brunetto here because of his ambiguous condemnation of sodomy in a well-known passage from the Tesoretto. Slide 43 Drawing together the hypotheses summarised so far, let us return to the text. I do not honestly believe that there are convincing alternatives to the sin of sodomy, in the sense that they extend the boundaries of the potential sins again...</p>