Dante can provide wisdom on most of the troubles of our lives. His wisdom pops up just about anywhere and in timely fashion.
Thus, a wise and respected friend was lunching in Florence in the shadow of the Duomo today and, lunching, captured this image which, in advance of the upcoming Amazonian Synod – or, perhaps a future consistory or even conclave? – provided food for thought together with the darn good food for the body.
What’s going on here?
Dante is in the Sphere of Mars in the Fifth Heaven. He is conversing with Cacciaguida, related to Dante’s family, about the situation in Florence. Cacciaguida blames several families for the corruption of Florence. When you go about in Florence, by the way, you occasionally spot these plaques from the 1920s with Cacciaguida’s thoughts about these corrupting families at the places where they once lived.
With a substitution or two, it’s apt.
Così facieno i padri di coloro
che, sempre che la vostra chiesa vaca,
si fanno grassi stando a consistoro.
L’oltracotata schiatta che s’indraca
dietro a chi fugge, e a chi mostra ‘l dente
o ver la borsa, com’ agnel si placa, …
“So did the fathers of those
Who, when a vacancy comes in your church,
Fatten by stalling in the consistory.
“The overweening breed that plays the dragon
To one who runs off, but to one who shows
His teeth — or purse — is docile as a lamb….
For the record, the lunch included vitella tonnata and Vermentino. A good combination, well chosen.
If you have never read the Divine Comedy, you should. You could start with Anthony Esolen’s excellent translation (Part 1, Inferno US HERE – UK HERE) or perhaps with Dorothy Sayer’s fine version (Part 1, Inferno, US HERE – UK HERE). There are many renderings to choose from. I would very much like to teach on Dante someday. Maybe it’ll happen.
When you make the life-changing choice to read the Divine Comedy, here are a couple tips. First and foremost, make the decision that you will read the whole thing. Don’t read just the Inferno. The really great stuff comes in Purgatorio and Paradiso.
Also, read through a canto to get the line of thought and story and then go back over it looking at the notes in your edition.
Dante was, perhaps, the last guy who knew everything (with the possible exception of Erasmus). Each Canto is dense with references. You will need notes to help with the history, philosophy, cosmology, poetic theory, politics, theology, etc. Really. You will need help.