Modernist (including "post"-modern) scholarship has tended to obscure the Renaissance reading of Dante as "poet theologian" understood as "criptic philosopher," or as philosopher "under the veil of [vulgar] verses."
Today, virtually all scholarly books published on Dante place the man in one of two camps: fideism or semiology. A third alternative is presented by scholars who set out to synthesize fideism and semiology, under the heading of a new "spirituality" (if only masked as the reconstruction of a medieval counterpart). All three readings would have struck the Renaissance apologists of Dante as absurd and as contributors to an obscuring of the way illuminated by the Florentine, in the first place.
The present site is dedicated to a revival of Dante's original philosophical endeavor. He writes of himself as having lived the life of Philosophers. To understand what Dante meant by "upright way" (diritta via) is to understand Dante as philosopher and philosophy as a way of life to which Dante helps us regain access.
Penetrating the Abyss
In his Comedy, Dante sets out to penetrate the abyss (abisso) poetically circumscribed. Having cast himself into his own poem as into a "wild wilderness" (selva selvaggia), in Inferno Canto IV the poet emerges as a viator or "wayfarer" descending into the abyss through a broad and confused "circle." From the journey's outset, the abyss is circumscribed, and evermore narrowly so as the wayfarer penetrates it. Thus encountered, the abyss "ends" in the frozen body of Beelzebub (Belzebù).
Inferno's journey begins from a broad and confused circle populated by voices swirling in the dark and ends in the narrow, almost-mute centre (XXXIV.66, 77, 93) of the cyclonic underworld, cutting across the very source of infernal motion (28, 49-51). Following the sound of Virgilian poetry, Dante descends by a narrow stream, unseen but "known by its sound" (129). The poetic stream has cut through the abyss to its "other side" with respect to the Fall of Beelzebub from his original, beautiful semblance (as, la creatura ch'ebbe il bel sembiante--18 anticipating 33). Poetry has succeeded in recovering--for us--the visual horizon of the beauty eclipsed by the Fall (134-138). Once again, poetry can cast its enlightening spell!
We begin to understand why a "long way" (via lunga) was necessary to recover the "short proceeding" (corto andare) announced in the very first Cantos of Inferno. The "long" and winding "way" that Dante is to tread following Virgil's lead, is Inferno itself, which ends with the recovery of a path seemingly occluded by the beastly semblances or shadows that Christianity draws out of the depths of the human imagination. Come falso veder bestia quand'ombra (Inferno II.48; compare I.110-111): now we discern how false it is to see a beast when in reality it is but a shadow of vile suspicions (III.14-15).
Outside of Inferno, the way is open to a self-purging ascent leading to the "Mecca" of poets--the hilltop of muses: the sweet pinnacle of Parnassus--Biblically dubbed "Earthly Paradise." Purgatorio does not contain any "abyss," but merely carries us from a narrowing abyss to a widening abyss (Purgatorio, I.46 and VI.121): from the abyss of the fleshy particularity of Lucifer ("bearer of light") to the abysmal divine counsel (l'abisso dell'eterno consiglio) ordering the heavens: from an abyss that prepares us for philosophy to an abyss in which philosophy hides (as in the final "notes" of Dante's Convivio). In both cases the abyss is penetrated to its "bottom," and in both cases the "bottom" is met with refined ingenuity--in one case, through Virgil's mediation; in the other case, directly by the viator staring in the "eye" of the Trinity. From within the eye of the heavenly, trinitarian/triangular mystery, Dante's own reflective eye emerges as that of a geometrician capable of succeeding there where Icarus had failed (Paradiso XXXIII.124-142).
(published on the 25 of June, 2013)
© 2016 by M. A. Andreacchio. All rights reserved