Italy PIC

The World Week of the Italian Lan­guage is an event promoted by the cul­tural and diplomatic network every year in the third week of October around a theme that acts as a com­mon thread for the...

The World Week of the Italian Lan­guage is an event promoted by the cul­tural and diplomatic network every year in the third week of October around a theme that acts as a com­mon thread for the organization of a vast cultural program focused on the promotion of the Italian language.

The initiative was born in 2001 from an agreement between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation and the Academia della Crusca which was later joined by the Swiss Confederation, a country where Italian is one of the official languages.

The XXI World Week of the Italian Language will take place from 18 to 23 October 2021 and will be entitled “Dante, the Italian.” To celebrate the seven hundred years since the death of Dante Alighieri, the Ministry of For­eign Affairs and International Coop­eration has created an audiobook that offers a guided tour in thirty-three languages (also Kiswahili) through the three canticles of Inferno, Purga­tory and Paradise.

Dante: a poet for our time

By Alberto Casadei (University of Pisa, Dante Group Coordinator, Asso­ciazione degli Italianisti)

Throughout the world, Dante is renowned for one poem, the Divine Comedy, which continues to be trans­lated and adapted. But not many peo­ple know the full version. There is more to it than the gruesome descrip­tions of the pains of Hell (brilliantly captured by the nineteenth-century French artist Gustave Doré, and by the late twentieth-century Japanese artist Go Nagai) since it also includes the much more nuanced passages of Purgatory and the elaborate verses of Paradise. The aim of this audiobook is to offer a concise reading of the entire work in a format devised especially for anyone hearing Dante for the first time, although it may also offer fresh insight to those who have already read a few cantos.

Dante Alighieri was born in Flor­ence in 1265, under the sign of Gemini (namely between 21 May and 21 June), and he died in Ravenna on the night of 13-13 September 1321. We now know that he composed the Divine Come­dy over many years, almost certain­ly between 1307 and the summer of 1321: but it´s quite possible that he may have started the poem even before being exiled from his native city early in 1302. Dante was political­ly active in the so-called White faction of the Guelph party which supported the Church but not the then pope, Boniface VIII. In fact, it was the pope who helped to bring about the down­fall of the Whites, by allying with the Black Guelph’s and thus becoming an enemy not only of the Whites but also of the pro-imperial Ghibellines, who had been exiled from Florence since 1267. For a long time, the Whites tried to return to the city in alliance with the Ghibellines, but to no avail.

The Divine Comedy spans many moments in Dante´s exile and reflects the conflicts of the period, which pre­vented the poet from staying from his home city and forced him to travel to many others, learning dialects, meet­ing the famous and the not so famous, and hearing many tales. In Paradise canto XVII he dwells on some of the hardships of his wanderings through Italy, although he remains proudly convinced of his choices, like that to support Emperor Henry VII´s attempt to broker peace, which unfortunately collapsed between 1311 and 1312. Set­ting this disappointment aside, Dante retained the hope that the conflicts would be resolved one day of personal pride and local interests were over­come, as he repeatedly urged in all three of the canticles that make up his masterpiece. Although this never hap­pened during his life time, his work nonetheless attained an ideal peace, given that Dante imagines himself reaching the joy of the Empyrean, the highest level of Christian Paradise, where –in the hundredth, and last, canto- he even catches sight of God in the form of the Trinity (God the father, Son and Holy Spirit).

This audiobook takes the read­er down through the circle of Hell, where Dante meets famous figures like Francesca da Rimini, daughter of Guido da Polenta, Lord of Ravenna, who was killed for her adulterous rela­tionship with her brother-in-law Pao­lo Malatesta to whom she is bound for eternity; like Pier delle Vigne, Emper­or Fredrick II´s chancellor and loyal servant who committed suicide after being unjustly accused; and like Ugo­lino della Gherardesca, imprisoned in the fortress of Pisa with his sons and grandsons, where, driven mad with hunger, he may have consumed their flesh.

These stories of historical figures are undoubtedly invented or embroidered, while that of the Greek hero Ulysses´ death served to affirm his mythic status once and for all. But Dante´s inferno is also filled with vio­lent Furies, souls whose bodies are constantly transformed, and horrible punishments: many of these images have been copied and reworked as celebrated engravings and paintings, plays, melodramas, films, and even video games. All because Dante knows how to speak to our shared imagina­tion, across countries and cultures. Listeners will also hear and read a selection of the most striking passages from Purgatory and Paradise, culmi­nating in the final vision.

For more in-depth knowledge, readers need to turn to the numerous commentaries, many of them fortu­nately available online.

These provide a more detailed analysis of the excep­tional linguistic and stylistic qualities of the work, the rhythm of Dante´s terzine (groups of three hendecasylla­bles, the most frequent verse form in Italian poetry), as well as his beautiful similes and metaphors. Many of these aspects can only really be appreciated in the original, yet Dante´s great ener­gy and concision, and the universal­ity of his understanding of human nature is also apparent in translation. Indeed, leaving aside the many differ­ences between his culture and ours, in whatever part of the world, the Divine Comedy remain a work in which every individual (or ‘Everyman’, as two pas­sionate Dante scholars, Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot, would write) find a reflection of their instincts and hopes, their errors and endeavors, the drive to know (which prompted Ulysses on his “mad flight”) contrasted by the impossibility of complete knowledge.

The countless reinterpretations of Dante´s poem, up to the present day, underline an indisputable fact: that its narrative continues to live in times and languages that are very distant from the author’s own. The power of Dante´s extraordinary tale, recounted in 100 cantos and 14,233 verses, still makes itself felt over and above the allegories or difficulties of interpreta­tion, because reality and imagination are indissolubly merged in the telling, as is still the case in modern novels. Seven hundred years later, the Divine Comedy continues to offer a wealth of stimuli, and even for today´s audience there are many reasons to appreciate this masterpiece whose roots lie in fourteenth-century Italy but which is constantly refreshed as it passes through epochs and cultures in every corner of the world.



Co-organized by the Embassy of Italy and Embassy of Switzerland