Antonio Gramsci, The Tenth Canto of Dante’s Inferno

4.78. Debate on “structure and poetics” in the Divine Comedy according to Benedetto Croce and Luigi Rosso. Reading of Vincent Morello as a “vile corpus”. Writing of Fidele Romani on Farinata. On the Saints. Question of the “indirect representation” and of the captions in the picture-show: the subtitles have an artistic value? — do they contribute to the representation of its character traits? Yes, surely — so far as they fix judgment of the actor and more pragmaticly characterize a given personality. The case of Shaw’s Don Giovanni, with the treatise of John Tanner appended: this appendix is a caption, from which a talented actor is able and obliged to extract fundamentals through interpreting them. The Pompeii-esque image of Medea, who slays the children she had with Jason: Medea is depicted as blindfolded: the painter did not know how, or wanted not, to represent this look. (Yet this is the case with Niobe, also in works of sculpture: covering her face would have signified removing the meaning from the work). Farinata and Cavalcante: Guido’s father and father in law. Cavalcante is punished by the squad. No one noticed that whether he was displeased with Cavalcante’s drama, the condemned man’s torment was not actually seen among that group: the formal structure should have led to an aesthetic judgment, most precise one of the canto, since every form of punishment gets represented in act. The work On the Saints made note of the severity comprised in the canto by the fact that Farinata’s character changes with a line: after being made, poetry becomes structure; it explains; it goes from Cicero to Dante. Farinata’s poetic representation is brought back to life in marvelous manner by Romani: Farinata is a series of sculptures. Then Farinata recites his tagline. Isidore del Lungo’s book on the Chronicle of Dino Compagni: in which is fixed the date of Guido’s death. It’s odd that the scholars did not think first of using Canto Ten to determine this date within approximation (who did it?). All the same, the check up performed by Del Lungo is useful in interpreting Cavalcante’s outward appearance and for explaining the execution of duty done, from Dante to Farinata.

What’s Cavalcante’s position, what is his form of torture? Cavalcante sees the past and sees what is to come, but does not see in the present, in a fixed space of the past and of the future into which the present moment is included. Guido was alive in the past, will be dead in the future, but as for the present? — is he dead or living? This is what tortures Cavalcante, the worry his own, one’s only over-riding thought. When he speaks, he asks about his son; when he hears “was”, the copula in past tense, he insists on response and on deferring one, doubts it not any longer: his son has died; he vanishes, into the red-hot sepulcre.

How does Dante represent this dramatic scene? He insinuates it to the reader, does not make it a representation; he gives the reader the basics so that the drama may be reconstructed, and these elements are given in the structure. Yet still there is one dramatic passage and it comes before the tagline. Three remarks: Cavalcante appears not dexterous and manly like Farinata, but humble, broken down, perhaps on his knees and he demands in uncertain way to know of his son. Dante responds, indifferent, or nearly so, and uses the word which refers to Guido in the imperfect. Cavalcante suddenly picks up on this fact and shouts hopelessly. He has a doubt, not real certainty; he demands further explanations in three questions, in which is an ensemble of states of mind. “Why did you say: he ‘was’?” — “Isn’t he still alive?” — “Does the sweet light not still strike his eyes?” In the third question, there is all the fatherly affection of Cavalcante; the typical human “life” is seen in a pragmatic state, in the enjoyment of the light, which the condemned and the dead have lost. Dante takes a while to reply and then the doubt in Cavalcante ceases. Farinata however is not shaken. Guido being his daughter’s husband, this sentiment has no real power in it at that moment. Dante emphasizes this force of his in mind. Cavalcante’s slouching down but Farinata keeps up appearances, keeps head still, moves not a muscle. Cavalcante falls on his back — Farinata does not make any despondent move; Dante has a negative analysis of Farinata in suggesting the (three) movements from Cavalcante: the twisting up of appearance, the head falling back, his back bending. Nevertheless there is something of the changed man even in Farinata. His reply is no longer such other as it had first appeared.

Dante does not make Farinata ask just “to be informed”, he questions such because he is amazed at being struck by Cavalcante’s passing. He wants the knot that prevents them from replying to Cavalcante to be loosened; he perceives that he is at fault in front of Cavalcante. The structural part is not only structure, then: it is also poetics — it is a necessary element in the drama which has taken place.


Vergil’s 10th Eclogue

Grant me, Arethusa, this final effort for a few verses must be
uttered for my dear Gallus, but ones which his Lycoris
herself might read. Who would refuse poems for Gallus?
Likewise, when the waves of commotion cause the ancient
Italians to slip away, let bitter Doris not stir her own wave up.
Do begin: let us speak of Gallus, his anxious loves, while
the snub-snouted lambs snip at the soft branches. We do not sing
verses to unwilling audience; the woods answer every reply.

And what forests or which woodland pasture will hold you, water
nymph girls, to be unworthiness when Gallus was perishing of love’s
loss? Because neither do Parnassus’s peaks, and neither do any
of Mt. Pindus, delay — not even Aganippa at Aonia either.

Even the laurel trees, even the tamarisks do not make him weep.
The pinecone-laden mountains of Arcadia, and the rocks of ice-
cold Lycaeus, make him weep lying under Mainalo’s lonely ridge.
And the sheep, they all stand about; they’re sorry because of us,
so don’t be sorry for them, you divinely inspired poet — and a
shapely sheep feeds by the streams of the river Adonis; and
the sheperd has come too; and the late swineherds have
come; sodden Menalcas, come for the winter chestnut.

They all ask, “That love of yours, from where?” Apollo arrives:
“Gallus, why are you being crazy?” He says, “Your care,
Lycoris, she followed another through the snows and awful
encampments.” Silvanus came decked in the honor of a leafy
brow, waving a rod flowering, and brandishing massive lilies.

Pan, woodland god of Arcadia has come, & we saw him ourselves —
he was blush-red with the bloody elderberries and dye of scarlet.

He said, “Shall there be any measure? Love does not care about
such things; cruel Love is not satisfied in tears, nor is the grass by
the streams, nor bees with clover — lambs, not by the foliage.”

And in sadness he says, “You’ll sing these poems all the same,
you Spartans on your mountains: Arcadian poets alone are well
versed in singing. O how softly then will my bones be at rest, if
your reed pipe should speak once of my feelings of love, loves!
But oh, to wish I had been one of your number, either as the
guardian of your flock, or the cultivator of the ripe grape’s vine!
It is for sure that whether Phyllis is mine, or whether it be Amyntas,
or whatever furor rage — something for certain if dark-skinned
Amyntas does; and the purple-black violets and bruised hue of
hyacinths — she’d sleep with me among willows under the clinging
vine; Phyllis would pick flowers for my garlands, Amyntas singing.
Here are frigid pools, here the soft meadows, dear Lycoris, the
wood here; right here could I spend up that very age with you.
Now craziness in love holds me back in the weapons of rigid Mars
into the very midst of the missiles and even enemies in opposition:
you, so far from your homeland (would not be so hard for me to
believe!), do see the Alpine snows, oh strong one, and cool chills
of the Rhein by yourself without me: oh let not cold airs beat you!
Aw, would that the rough ice not cut your soft branches trimmed!
I will go and, those poems of mine composed in style of Chalcedon —
I shall intone them on the rustic pipe of a Sicilian sheperd. It is a
sure thing in the woods, among the wild animals’ dens, to prefer
suffering, and cut my loves inscribed into the delicate trees;
those illustrious loves will grow, you shall grow, you desires.
Meanwhile I will make Mainalo shine with wood nymphs inter-
mingled, or I will hunt boar with sharp arms: there are no streams
that forbid me surrounding Mt. Parthenion’s woods with hounds.
Now I do believe I’m going throughout the rocks and wooded
groves uttering sounds; it pleases Pollio to hurl whirling Cretan
points in horn: as though this were cure for my raging, so that
noted god might learn to be light on men’s evil ills? Now
neither do the wood nymphs please us again, nor even our
songs themselves; the very woods, you must yield to them again.
Our efforts are unable to alter that, not even if we might drink
from the very middle of the chills of Mt. Hebron, and were to under-
go the watery snows of a Sithonian winter — not even if,
since perishing paper-thin bark is parched on the high elm,
we took Ethiopian sheep to pasture under the Crab’s star.
Love conquers everything; and let us give ourselves up to Love.”

Oh goddesses of Pieria, this nymph will be enough to sing your
poet in verse, while she sits and weaves a little basket with
marshmallow branches; you shall all do the greatest things to Gallus —
Gallus, for whom love does grow as greatly by the hours,
as alderwood to the truly new youth of the verdant green.
Let us arise: a heavy shadow is customary for ones reciting,
the juniper’s shadow weighty; and shades, they harm the crops.
Go home with belly full — Evening is coming — go on, you goats.

Vergil’s 7th Eclogue

Ecloga VII

By chance beneath well-known, the elm had Daphnis taken
a sit; Corydon and Thyrsus gathered their flocks into a group —
Thyrsis his sheep, Corydon the goats swelling with milk:
both in the flowering of youth, both youths from Arcadia be
matched equal, ready to recite poetry, in call & response.

A he-goat, one of the flock, wandered off to me as I was guard-
ing the soft myrtle branches from the frost; and I looked upon
Daphnis. When he saw me in return, he says: “The quicker you get
here, Meliboeus, the goat and his kid will be kept safe for you.
And if you can stop a while, take a rest beneath the shade.
They are going to come here through the cattle-fields to drink;
Here Mincius did cover the fresh green banks with a light
reed flute, so equally does a multitude echo with holy oak-tree.”
What could I do? I had not Alcippe, held not Phyllis either —
none to pen the lambs who were weaned off of milk at home:
it was a competition, Corydon along with Thyrsus, huge contest.

Yet have I come to write off my serious words as a game of
theirs: they therefore both began to have it out in trading
verses; the Muses wanted them to remember to take turns.
Corydon requites these lines, Thyrsis those ones, after another.

Adjudicating nymphs of Mt. Helicon, our dear love, either per-
mit me a song like my dear Codrus (He does make poetic verses
closest to those of Apollo.), or if we cannot all do so, right here
will the reed-flute hang off the pine, tree disclosed as sacred.

You shepherds of Arcadia, give the laureate coming into his own
one’s due, so that Codrus’s enviously wanted waist may be broken;
or if pleasing praise will have been further made, wrap your brow
in ivy wreath, so a wicked tongue trouble not a coming prophet.

Little Micon said this head of a scruffy boar be for you, my Delia,
and yours are the woodland antlers of the lively deer. If this
would have been one’s own proper, entirely — all of sleek marble —
shall you stand, wrapped about the calf with sandal laced.

It is enough that you wait, Priapus, for a bowl of milk and these
cakes the year-long through: you are guardian of the paltry garden.
Now we have already made you a marble self for a time; but if
the fodder’s going to fully fill up the herd, you must be golden.

Nereus’s daughter, Galatea — you who are sweeter than Sicilian
thyme, brighter shining than the swans, better looking than a
white lamb — when first pastured the bulls do seek once more their
pen, come here, if any care for your Corydon concerns you.

Really, I will seem to you lovelier than Persian Buttercups, more
wild than lagomilia, more low-down than beached sea-
weed, if this light is still not more enduring for me than a year.
Come home, cows who’ve grazed, come, if you be not shameless.

Mossy stream sources and grass rather softer than slumber,
and the occasional shade of a green tree touch you: do watch
out for your flock during the summer solstice; now is the hot
season coming, now buds in the pliant palm grow to swelling.

Here are the rich hearth and resinous torches, here the great big
flame forever, and doors with their continual soot of blackness;
here we are as concerned about the chills of the South wind as
a wolf cares for the flock’s tally, or roaring streams to the shore.

The juniper trees stand tall too, and the chestnut foliage; the
apples lie strewn about the place beneath their tree; everything
is pleasing as laugher now: but if fine-looking Alexis goes off,
away from these mountains, you’d also see the streams dry.

The countryside’s parched; the grass is thirsty, dying for the
weather’s fault; Bacchus envies leafy vine shadows upon hills.
At the arrival of my girl Phyllis, all the wood green will be:
& Juppiter is going to descend joyously in a shower of rain.

The poplar of Hercules, Bacchus’s vine, the myrtle of shapely
Venus, his own laurel tree — they’re most welcome to Phoebus;
Phyllis is in love with the hazel: while she adores the trees,
neither the myrtle nor Apollo’s bay leaf will beat out hazels.

The ash is prettiest in the forest, pine loveliest in the gardens,
poplar tree finest among streams, fir fairest on high mountains:
but if you come back fairly often to see me, beautiful Lycida,
let the ash-tree yield to you in the woods, the pine in the gardens.

These, the things I remember, and that Thyrsis, the loser, in vain
did compete: from that point on, Corydon is the Corydon for us!