Lunch with Dante in Florence. The Poet comments on consistories.

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.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. teomatteo says:

    I can’t say i studied the DC exactly but one area did impress me. The ‘foyer’ in hell. People who in life just kinda got by without much zeal. Not really bad people but in hell just the same. Frightened me that.

    Do you think that a three part film could be made of the DC? Done right. Maybe M.Gibson?

  2. Kate says:

    In addition to Esolen’s translation, I highly recommend his series on the Divine Comedy on DVD by Catholic Courses (TAN). Get signed up for their emails, and they’ll let you know when their homeschooling materials are on sale for 30% off.

  3. Kathleen10 says:

    I’d welcome a thumbs up or down on the John Ciardi translation, by you Fr. Z or anyone. I don’t want to bother with a bad translation. I read through the first part which must be the Inferno. I loved it and can’t remember why I never finished it. It’s deep but what a great read.

  4. Kent Wendler says:

    Upon your past recommendation I obtained copies of Esolen’s translation of the DC. I slowly made my way through it, and a project it was! I simultaneously used two bookmarks – to keep my place in the text and the corresponding place in the endnotes, which frequently amplify the numerous on page footnotes. It’s presented in a side-by-side format with the medieval Italian on the left and Esolen’s translation on the right. And you do not have to be able to understand the Italian to see Dante’s poetry.

    I can’t say anything about other translations.

  5. newishconvert says:

    I found my aged (50+ y/o) but still useful Ciardi translation most helpful. A friend with the Sayers translation and I spent last summer going thru the books. She had worked in Italy for several years and loved it.
    I had many more years of Latin than she had, but we both managed with the translations and the notes.
    I feel sure that Esolen’s translation is valuable as is his writing. A most worthwhile project. If you haven’t read it before, put it on your To Do list.

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