|2015 Dante Alighieri Poetry Recitation Competition – Notes to students and teachers.
Dear Teachers and Students,
This year marks the 750th Anniversary of the birth of esteemed poet and ‘father’ of the Italian language – Dante Alighieri in Florence ( 1265 – 1321). To mark this occasion, the Dante Society of Melbourne is endeavouring to introduce students at Years 9 & 10 to Dante’s greatest work La Divina Commedia. Year 11 and 12 students and teachers are familiar with the Divine Comedy and its appearance in the annual recitation competition, and of course this year is no exception. The Divina Commedia’s original title was La Commedia and therefore in the information below I am referring to the Divine Comedy as The Comedy. Giovanni Boccaccio gave the title ‘Divina Commedia’ in the 14th Century to elevate the status of Dante’s work as a ‘divine’ work of art/poetry.
We wish to introduce younger students to The Comedy in order that they commence a ‘journey’ of understanding and appreciation of the most famous poetic work so far written in Italian literature. It is hoped that they will be challenged – just like Dante in his journey through Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso – to overcome the ‘fear’ that The Comedy is too complex in its language and content to read. When students are introduced to Shakespeare for the first time, there is the perception it will be difficult because we don’t read or speak the English language in the same way as his plays were written. Teachers who read Shakespeare’s plays in class expose students to the content, language and themes to ‘demystify’ his work in order to foster interest and appreciation. So too we hope to inspire students to read, recite and imagine the world Dante created in The Comedy.
The theme therefore for the selected verses of La Divina Commedia this year is ‘Le guide’ (the Guides). We wish to introduce students to Dante’s guides in The Comedy and demonstrate the parallels between the students commencing their guided journey into The Comedy– just as Dante was guided respectively into Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso by Virgil (who represented his love for rational thought and poetry) and Beatrice (the love of his life and muse).
Practice makes perfect and we challenge the students to select La Divina Commedia in honour of the 750th Anniversary of Dante’s birth in Florence in 1265. Teachers are encouraged to present information on the overall content and ideas of La Divina Commedia to their students – after all - they have been exposed to it through video games and popular culture in recent years.
Also in this year’s Recitation Competition, we have selected some poems from the “Futurists” – who were instrumental in so many facets of Italian art and culture in the second decade of the 20th Century. This movement began over 100 years ago and the artists, musicians and poets were pivotal in inspiring much dynamism and change in Italy before and after World War 1. See info at this link http://www.theartstory.org/movement-futurism.htm .
Teachers and Students, we hope this year’s competition is challenging, enriching and enjoyable. In bocca al lupo a tutti ! Information regarding the Year 9 – 12 exerts of The Divine Comedy for 2015 Recitation competition are on the next page.
Poetry Competition Coordinator for Secondary Schools.
2015 Dante Alighieri Poetry Recitation Competition
Notes to the Divina Commedia verses for Year 9 - 12
Inferno Canto 1, v: 1 – 12
Dante, in the year 1300, finds himself (and Dante’s character represents all us as he, obviously, is as human as the person sitting next to you) ‘lost’ in a deep, dark forest where the road he has travelled is obscured by darkness, thick and overgrown shrubs and trees. The Comedy is not just Dante’s story but it tells the story of all of us (we all feel lost at one point in our lives and we all think that hope has all but abandoned us). The opening words of the poem, in fact, read: We, who find ourselves lost… He feels lost and has no recollection of where he is or how he got to this place/world. The mere recollection of what he sees, feels and senses horrifies him. All that he can recollect – is that the path he was taking (in life – choices made, lifestyle he was leading) was not a good path…
Inferno Canto 2, v: 58 – 66, 70 – 75.
Dante has met up with Virgil, the famous Roman poet, at the end of Canto 1. Dante is amazed that he sees Virgil, whom he considered the most important poet of the Classical era. Virgil’s works were said to have inspired Dante to write poetry and literature. Dante sees Virgil as a ‘paternal’ role model and is delighted to see him. In this moment, Hell is suspended as an apparition of Beatrice appears in the dark forest. Beatrice is Dante’s lost love and the inspiration of many of his poetic works. In verses 58 – 126 a dialogue between Virgil and Beatrice begins and Dante listens in on this conversation. He hears Beatrice assign Virgil the role of guiding Dante to Paradise. Virgil asks Beatrice why she can’t take Dante to Paradise already, and why Dante has to see what he is going in Hell and Purgatory. She does not give an answer, other than telling them that this is what it is wanted in Heaven and concludes by telling them both to start their journey – they have no time to waste!
The verses selected here specifically relate to Beatrice telling Virgil he is chosen by her, through the Grace of God, to ‘guide’ Dante to the gates of Paradise. Note that Virgil is both a real person (the great ancient poet) and a symbol. He represents Dante’s earthly great loves: poetry and reason, while Beatrice is youth love and she represents his greatest achievement: he was able to see inside himself and find those things that were separating him from being whole and true to himself. Beatrice is thus, according to the tradition at the time (750 years ago!) the representation of that which allows man to be whole: the Divine Grace. She will wait for them both there so that Dante can enter Paradise.
Purgatorio, Canto 31, v: 37 – 42, 49 – 63.
Dante has been shown by Virgil the horrors of Hell. He’s seen Lucifer and the tortured souls of sinners. He has travelled through Purgatory and been purified of his sins and is almost about to enter Paradise by crossing the Letè River. In Canto 29 and 30 Dante is in a place we can liken to the Garden of Eden; beautiful and pristine. In the midst of an amazing procession of angels, Dante is attracted to the lights of Paradise and turns to find Virgil disappearing behind him. His guide, his mentor and ‘father’ has left him and he is alone. Dante begins to cry and as he does an apparition of Beatrice appears (he thinks it is her – but he isn’t sure as the figure has a veil). Dante is elated and crying at the same time. He can’t believe Virgil has left him, but in the same moment is overjoyed that he finally has met Beatrice again.
But Beatrice isn’t happy to see him! Dante has to pass a final test – he has to confess his own sins (in other words, he must show that he has learned to recognise who he really is and is now finally honest to himself and to others) in life before he can enter Paradise. Beatrice scolds him and tells him off for crying and for the ‘unrighteous’ path he has led in his life. Dante is confused and dazed that Beatrice is treating him this way – like a mother telling her child off for doing something terrible. Beatrice tells Dante to confess his sins– almost as though she is putting him on trial for the path he took in life. This is so unexpected for Dante. He can’t even talk but summons the courage to confess his sins to her. Beatrice scolds him even more at the meekness of his confession.
The verses here selected recount Beatrice’s anger at Dante. (this all means something very simple: you got to accept that in life you can’t make it by yourself and sometimes those who love you most can be your most severe judges. However, they are so severe because they only want your good. For Dante is to enter Paradise, for the rest of us, it is whatever our Paradise is).
Purgatorio Canto 31, v: 124 – 145
After Beatrice’s judgement and scolding of Dante, he faints and falls into the River Letè. He awakens in the arms of Metelda who is baptising Dante and purifying him of his sins. He is surrounded by nymphs and the figures of the 4 Cardinal Virtues (Prudence, Justice, Temperance and Fortitude) who bring him round to his senses on the other side of the River. Dante is entering Paradise and leaving Purgatory behind. The virtues tell Dante that he has been protected through his journey by the 3 Cardinal virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity. In this moment he sees a Griffon, and beside the Griffon, Beatrice’s face is revealed to him with the light of Paradise shining all around him.
The verses selected bring ‘us’ the reader, into the spectacle of what Dante sees. He tells us how amazed he is at what he is seeing and that words are unable to do justice to the whole event. He hears angels tell Beatrice to reveal herself and that she has been harsh on Dante, who has been ‘absolved’ of his sins and purified. Dante’s new guide is revealed to him – it is Beatrice who will accompany him through the circles of Paradise. (continued next page)
In other words, this rather elaborate spectacle is an ancient way to tell us something very simple and very modern: if you want something amazing you have to work for it and sometimes the road is steep but the reward is great. In Dante’s language this is expressed through Nymphs, Angels, Virtues and reaching the ‘start’ of a finishing line. He’s been through a lot by this point in The Comedy - therefore you have to excuse Dante for his elaborate descriptions at the ‘pearly white gates of Paradise’.
Don’t be fooled by the ancient language of The Comedy! It is much more modern than you could ever imagine. After all The Comedy tells YOUR story. Every human being’s story. Enjoy it!