with the kindly Boccaccio
, that the purely literary life, and that dilettanteism, which is the twin sister of scepticism, began.
As a merely literary figure, the position of Dante
Not only as respects thought, but as respects aesthetics also, his great poem stands as a monument on the boundary line between the ancient and modern.
He not only marks, but is in himself, the transition.
Arma virumque cano
, that is the motto of classic song; the things of this world and great men. Dante
says, subjectum est homo
, not vir;
my theme is man, not a man. The scene of the old epic and drama was in this world, and its catastrophe here; Dante
lays his scene in the human soul, and his fifth act in the other world.
He makes himself the protagonist of his own drama.
In the Commedia
for the first time Christianity wholly revolutionizes Art, and becomes its seminal principle.
But aesthetically also, as well as morally, Dante
stands between the old and the new, and reconciles them.
The theme of his poem is purely subjective, modern, what is called romantic; but its treatment is objective (almost to realism, here and there), and it is limited by a form of classic severity.
In the same way he sums up in himself the two schools of modern poetry which had preceded him, and, while essentially lyrical in his subject, is epic in the handling of it. So also he combines the deeper and more abstract religious sentiment of the Teutonic
races with the scientific precision and absolute systematism of the Romanic.
In one respect Dante
While we can in some sort account for such representative men as Voltaire
(nay, even Shakespeare
) by the intellectual and moral fermentation of the age in which they lived, Dante
seems morally isolated and to have drawn his inspiration almost wholly from his own internal reserves.
Of his mastery in style we need say