Academic journal article Italica

Inferno X.63: "Forse Cui Guido Vostro Ebbe a Disdegno"

Academic journal article Italica

Inferno X.63: "Forse Cui Guido Vostro Ebbe a Disdegno"

Article excerpt

If one were to characterize interpretation of this verse as focal to dealing with one of the most vexed cnices in the poem, one might find few who chose to disagree. It is probably fair to say that no single current hypothesis toward a solution has garnered general support. Nonetheless, it is important to realize that--for all the current uncertainty --there was near-unanimous consent, lasting almost six centuries, to the notion that the relative pronoun cui in this verse was an accusative and that it referred to the protagonist's guide, Virgil. Currently, this interpretation has hardly any proponents. (1) Let us examine the disputed terzina to remind ourselves of the reasons for our perhaps only understandable confusion:

   E io a lui: "Da me stesso non vegno:
   colui ch'attende la per qui mi mena
   forse cui Guido vostro ebbe a disdegno."

The protagonist is speaking to the shade of Cavalcante de' Cavalcanti, eternally situated in the sixth circle for his heretical notions. More than a few commentators have argued that, in the poet's view, both he and his son, Guido, were guilty of no less a sin than atheism, some adducing the evidence of Boccaccio's reference to a contemporary opinion to that effect about Guido (Decameron VI.ix.9: "si diceva traila gente volgare che queste sue speculazioni erano solo in cercare se trovar si potesse che Iddio non fosse"). Whatever Boccaccio's own view was of such "speculations," it seems clear that Dante's treatment, in this passage, of his former primo amico (VN III.14, XIV.6, XXV.10, XXX.3) associates him with negative intellectual activity. Further, if the cui is interpreted as an accusative, as it is by Boccaccio and at least forty other commentators over the first six centuries in the poem's afterlife, we probably ought to consider the putative reasons for Guido Cavalcanti's disdain of the Roman poet, the case for which, as we shall see, has never been more than tenuous.

What if Dante had written the verse differently, employing a more usual order for the first two words: "cui forse Guido vostro ebbe a disdegno"? That might have made our task easier; the text would then have pointed more naturally (and more clearly) to "colui che attende la," Virgil. However, that variant reading is apparently not found in even a single manuscript. The absence of any such reading may lead us to believe that the poet, whether deliberately or not, had complicated our task as readers. The order of the words encourages a search for a more challenging reading, making it at least possible--and perhaps even necessary--that the reader not regard this cui as being an accusative used as a direct object ("whom [quern] your Guido perhaps disdained"), but rather as being an accusative of direction ("perhaps toward the one whom [ad eum quern or ad earn quern] your Guido disdained"). To put the matter in the clearest possible grammatical terms, we need to establish that to which the adverb forse affixes itself, the previous verb, mena, or the following one, ebbe. (2)

At this point the question of whether or not there ought or ought not be a comma at the end of the sixty-second verse might well come into play. Of course, the question of Dante's actual punctuation of his text is and must always remain moot, since not a single manuscript that we possess is demonstrably descended directly from the authorial original. Further, even if one (or even a single family of manuscripts) were certifiable as such, the punctuation found in texts of the Commedia is so haphazard that no certainty is possible in this respect. The insertion of a comma after mena or its omission is a matter for a given editor to decide. Here, the presence of a comma would tend to support the case for the reference to "colui ch'attende la," the protagonist's guide, Virgil, the subject of the preceding verb, mena. Surely more significant is the following: Had the text read "cui forse" (rather than "forse cui") it would have been more natural for the reader to understand that the protagonist is indeed referring to Virgil, since the adverb forse would then more likely modify the verbal phrase ebbe a disdegno. …

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