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"Dante's Commedia: Anecdote"
by Osvaldo Zappa
At Dante’s tomb in Ravenna, I asked the beloved master the following question: “Maestro, tell me in simple words, for I have difficulty understanding philosophical, theological and liturgical jargon, about the arrangement of the sins in the Inferno, and redemption for those who want to be saved in Purgatory. I need to understand your Inferno (Hell) and how you selected the sinners you banish there.” Bemused, he rose and, as was peculiar to him, he began walking the great walk of wisdom, keeping his ‘Guide in silence,’ head bent down while meditating on all things secular and religious.
“Ah, the Maestro replied, I see you have read my book, my sacred work my “Divina Commedia”. What I have written is based on facts of my time and for the future of humanity. But…” he paused and appeared to be in deep thought again.
“Maestro, I ask again, I need to understand my present world for I think I know of the old one, having read your great book and those of many other illustrious poets of the time. And how can one maintain that ‘in-Godding’, as some scholars refer to, and enjoy here and hereafter the peace, which is man’s good? Mainly I need to know on what layer of Hell will be placed unworthy churchmen and corrupt politicians as well as unscrupulous businessmen who have amassed untold wealth in ill-gotten benefits. I know you suffered untold cruelty at the hands of church and princes, and you were banished and became an exile, and we are all exiles. Your Commedia has dealt with human concerns: moral, political, religious, and intellectual and you give a complete picture of the people and institutions of the time. You cast your great poem in the form of a journey, but I need to better understand the modern world and my life, and what my God is, because your journey is the journey of all mankind.” When I finished with my very long question the Maestro looked up, and for the first time, I saw his deep luminous eyes that were the colour of the blue firmament. Until then he had been in deep thought. He spoke with the clearness of the genius that he was. And I was in awe of the greatness of the person. Collecting himself Dante said:
“Well my child, I wrote what was appropriate for the time I lived on earth, ‘but it is of its age’, although you could consider it of no age and all ages. It is timeless as man is timeless, and as Hell and Heaven. But, for your own good you must find new ways to deal with those maters you are asking me about. Be inspired by what I have written and let the divine light guide you, for surely you will find the right place for all who sin and those whose lives will be redeemed. Now to the Commedia: here is the primary division; Incontinence, Violence or Bestiality, Fraud or Malice. There are scores of subsections, but since I departed the material world many years ago, I leave it to the world to decide on the next category of guiltiness or redemption.” Having said that the great Maestro bade me good luck and good bye and returned to his eternal resting place.
I left Ravenna and returned to Florence to find Guelfs and Ghibellines still fighting over the “lamb” whom the wolves attacked. Wolves they were and wolves they remained, until his death. He had few friends. His desire to keep the peace was ridiculed, but he cherished his indignation against his follow town-men. And we are all sinners.
Man is still in chains, chains that we have created and imposed on ourselves. Like almost all learned men he had pondered on the visible and visible world. He was master of his craft. But I came away with doubts of my own that I needed to deal with, and to reconcile with my own beliefs. I promised myself I would try to do the best I could.
And so spoke the storyteller.