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Feb 10

Symposium: Dante’s Ulysses

Last month’s Symposium in Saint Saviour’s Priory in Dublin was given by Prof Corinna Salvadori Lonergan, Professor Emeritus of Italian at Trinity College Dublin. Her truly memorable lecture was entitled ‘Dante’s Ulysses: ‘Beyond the utmost bounds of human thought’. The text of the relevant portion of the Inferno is given below (in Italian and English translation) along with some pictures to which Prof Salvadori Lonergan refers in her talk.

 

 

«O voi che siete due dentro ad un foco,
s’io meritai di voi mentre ch’io vissi,
s’io meritai di voi assai o poco

quando nel mondo li alti versi scrissi,Picture4
non vi movete; ma l’un di voi dica
dove, per lui, perduto a morir gissi».

Lo maggior corno de la fiamma antica
cominciò a crollarsi mormorando,
pur come quella cui vento affatica;

indi la cima qua e là menando,
come fosse la lingua che parlasse,
gittò voce di fuori e disse: «Quando

mi diparti’ da Circe, che sottrasse
me più d’un anno là presso a Gaeta,
prima che sì Enëa la nomasse,

né dolcezza di figlio, né la pieta
del vecchio padre, né ‘l debito amore
lo qual dovea Penelopè far lieta,

vincer potero dentro a me l’ardore
ch’i’ ebbi a divenir del mondo esperto
e de li vizi umani e del valore;

ma misi me per l’alto mare aperto
sol con un legno e con quella compagna
picciola da la qual non fui diserto.

L’un lito e l’altro vidi infin la Spagna,
fin nel Morrocco, e l’isola d’i Sardi,
e l’altre che quel mare intorno bagna.

Io e ‘ compagni eravam vecchi e tardi
quando venimmo a quella foce stretta
dov’ Ercule segnò li suoi riguardi

acciò che l’uom più oltre non si metta;
da la man destra mi lasciai Sibilia,
da l’altra già m’avea lasciata Setta.

“O frati”, dissi, “che per cento milia
perigli siete giunti a l’occidente,
a questa tanto picciola vigilia

d’i nostri sensi ch’è del rimanente
non vogliate negar l’esperïenza,
di retro al sol, del mondo sanza gente.

Considerate la vostra semenza:
fatti non foste a viver come bruti,
ma per seguir virtute e canoscenza”.

Li miei compagni fec’ io sì aguti,
con questa orazion picciola, al cammino,
che a pena poscia li avrei ritenuti;

e volta nostra poppa nel mattino,
de’ remi facemmo ali al folle volo,
sempre acquistando dal lato mancino.

Tutte le stelle già de l’altro polo
vedea la notte, e ‘l nostro tanto basso,
che non surgëa fuor del marin suolo.

Cinque volte racceso e tante cassoPicture2
lo lume era di sotto da la luna,
poi che ‘ntrati eravam ne l’alto passo,

quando n’apparve una montagna, bruna
per la distanza, e parvemi alta tanto
quanto veduta non avëa alcuna.

Noi ci allegrammo, e tosto tornò in pianto;
ché de la nova terra un turbo nacque
e percosse del legno il primo canto.

Tre volte il fé girar con tutte l’acque;
a la quarta levar la poppa in suso
e la prora ire in giù, com’ altrui piacque,

infin che ‘l mar fu sovra noi richiuso».

- Inferno 26.79-142

 

“O you who dwell together in one flame,
if I deserved your honor while I lived,
if I deserved but little or a lot

when in the world I wrote my lofty verse,
do not depart; let one of you now tell
where he, being lost, proceeded to his death.”

The greater horn atop the ancient flame
began to shake itself and start to murmur,
like a flame that’s wearied by the wind.

Then waving back and forth its very tip,
as if it were the tongue of fire that spoke
it flung a sound outside and uttered: “When

I took my leave of Circe, who detained
me near Gaeta longer than a year,
before Aeneas gave that name to it,

not fondness for a son, nor duty to
an aging father, nor the love I owed
Penelope that would have made her glad,

could overcome the zeal that I possessed
to gain experience of the world and learn
about the vices and the worth of man.

So I set forth upon the open sea
with just a single ship and with that little
crew of men who had not left my side.

I saw the shores on either side as far
as Spain and as Morocco, and the isle
Sardinia, and others that the sea embraces.

I and my shipmates had grown old and slow
by the time we came upon the narrow strait
where Hercules marked off the boundary

to designate that none should pass beyond.
Upon my right I left behind Seville,
already on my left I’d passed Ceuta.

‘O brothers,” I said, ‘you who have experienced
a hundred thousand perils and now have reachedPicture3
the west, to such a brief duration of

the senses as remains for us to have,
do not refuse to gain experience
of lands beyond the sun where no one lives.

Consider well your seed and origin:
You were not made to live the life of brutes,
but to seek after knowledge and the good.’

I made my shipmates with my little speech
so passionate to undertake the journey
that I scarcely could have held them back.

And having turned our rear end toward the sun,
we used our oars as wings for the mad flight,
gaining always on the left-hand side.

Now night was showing all the stars that fill
the other pole, and ours was sunk so low
it did not rise above the ocean floor.

Five times the light upon the lower half
of the moon was kindled and was spent
since we had voyaged out upon the deep,

when there  before us rose a mountain, dim
because it was remote, that seemed so high
that I had never seen another higher.

We then rejoiced, but soon joy turned to grief
for from the new land rose a whirlwind
that struck our ship upon its foremost flank.

Three times it spun her round with all the waves,
and on the fourth it raised the stern up high
and made the bow descend, as pleased Another,

 

until the ocean closed itself on us.

 

- tr. Richard Lansing

 

 

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