What are the lessons for today, taught by Dante Alighieri 700 years after his death in September 1321? How did he consciously create the Italian language, not just to free Italy from the oligarchy which dominated at that time, and establish the basis for a sovereign nation-state dedicated to the principle of the general welfare – but to breathe a spirit of impassioned poetic imagination into all of history, religion, statecraft, economics and science? How has his journey through Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise in his Divina Commedia, become a universal metaphor for Schiller’s assertion that mankind is “born for that which is better?"
At this week's Midwest Meeting, Tim Rush and Denise Ham discussed this and Dante's importance for us today.
English poet Percy Shelley, in his In Defense of Poetry demonstrates his understanding of the power of Dante and the power of poetry:
“A man, to be greatly good, must imagine intensely and comprehensively. The great instrument of moral good is the imagination; and poetry administers to the effect by acting upon the cause. Poetry enlarges the circumference of the imagination by replenishing it with thoughts of ever new delight, which have the power of attracting and assimilating to their own nature all other thoughts, and which form new intervals and interstices whose void forever craves fresh food. Poetry strengthens that faculty which is the organ of the moral nature of man, in the same manner as exercise strengthens a limb.”
“Dante was the first awakener of entranced Europe; he created a language, itself music and persuasion, out of a chaos of inharmonious barbarism. He was the congregator of those great spirits who presided over the resurrection of learning, … of that starry flock which in the thirteenth century shone forth from republican Italy as from a heaven into the darkness of the benighted world. His very words are instinct with spirit; each is as a spark, a burning atom of inextinguishable thought; and many yet lie covered in the ashes of their birth and pregnant with a lightning which has yet found no conductor. All high poetry is infinite… A great poem is a fountain forever overflowing with the waters of wisdom and delight; and after one person and one age has exhausted all its divine effluence which their peculiar relations enable them to share, another and yet another succeeds, and new relations are ever developed, the source of an unforeseen and an unconceived delight.”