Dante as Dramatist: The Myth of the Earthly Paradise and Tragic Vision in the Divine Comedy

By Franco Masciandaro | Go to book overview

II. The Garden of the Ancient Poets

The motif of the garden and correspondingly the drama of the pilgrim's return to Eden take on new significance in Inferno IV. Between lines 106 and 120, the poet portrays a "noble castle" rising in the midst of a "meadow of fresh verdure!" which is encircled by seven walls. Here dwell the souls of the famous virtuous men and women of antiquity, eminent among them the poets -- from Homer to Lucan. This castle occupies the privileged place earlier described as defined by a fire that overcomes "a hemisphere of darkness" (IV, 69). "Here," notes A. Bartlett Giamatti "Dante gives the pagan poets a dwelling place which approximates the best they portrayed in their poems. They live in an Elysium because Elysium was the highest state they could conceive."1 Yet, we must add with the same critic, this is more than an Elysium, more than a garden. "This benign landscape blends, for the first time, the twin notions of City and Garden, later tentatively reconciled in Eden ( Purg. XXXII) and finally luminously integrated in the rose of the City of God ( Par.XXXIII)."2

If this reconciliation of the antinomy of city and garden constitutes a significant counter-assertion to the assertion represented by the pilgrim's illusory recovery of Eden inscribed in the Prologue, it is also significant as an unforeseen counter-assertion to the more recent scene of Dante's and Virgil's entrance into Hell. This scene begins to take shape the moment the wayfarer sees the inscription above Hell's portal:

PER ME SI VA NE LA CITTÀ DOLENTE
PER ME SI VA NE L'ETTERNO DOLORE
PER ME SI VA TRA LA PERDUTA GENTE.
GIUSTIZIA MOSSE IL MIO ALTO FATTORE;
FECEMI LA DIVINA PODESTATE,
LA SOMMA SAPĨENZA E'L PRIMO AMORE.
DINANZI A ME NON FUOR COSE CREATE
SE NON ETTERNE, E IO ETTERNO DURO.
LASCIATE OGNE SPERANZA, VOI CH'INTRATE.

-36-

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