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[88]

But how to put this theory of his into a poetic form which might charm while it was teachings He would typify Reason in Virgil (who would serve also as a symbol of political wisdom as having celebrated the founding of the Empire), and the grace of God in that Beatrice whom he had already supernaturalized into something which passeth all understanding. In choosing Virgil he was sure of that interest and sympathy which his instinct led him to seek in the predisposition of his readers, for the popular imagination of the Middle Ages had busied itself particularly with the Mantuan poet. The Church had given him a quasi-orthodoxy by interpreting his jam redit et virgo as a prophecy of the birth of Christ. At Naples he had become a kind of patron saint, and his bones were exhibited as relics. Dante himself may have heard at Mantua the hymn sung on the anniversary of St. Paul, in which the apostle to the Gentiles is represented as weeping at the tomb of the greatest of poets. Above all, Virgil had described the descent of Aeneas to the under-world. Dante's choice of a guide was therefore, in a certain degree, made for him. But the mere Reason1 of man without the

1

What Reason seeth here
Myself [Virgil] can tell thee; beyond that await
For Beatrice, since 'tis a work of Faith.

Purgatorio, XVIII. 46-48. Beatrice here evidently impersonates Theology. It would be interesting to know what was the precise date of Dante's theological studies. The earlier commentators all make him go to Paris, the great fountain of such learning, after his banishment. Boccaccio indeed says that he did not return to Italy till 1311. Wegele (Dante's ‘Leben und Werke,’ p. 85) puts the date of his journey between 1292 and 1297. Ozanam, with a pathos comicallytouchingto the academic soul, laments that poverty compelled him to leave the university without the degree he had so justly earned. He consoles himself with the thought that ‘there remained to him an incontestable erudition and the love of serious studies.’ (Dante et la philosophic catholique, p. 112.) It is sad that we cannot write Dantes Alighierius, S. T. D.! Dante seems to imply that he began to devote himself to Philosophy and Theology shortly after Beatrice's death. (Convito, Tr. II. c. 13.) He compares himself to one who, ‘seeking silver, should, without meaning it, find gold, which an occult cause presents to him, not perhaps without the divine command.’ Here again apparently is an allusion to his having found Wisdom while he sought Learning. He had thought to find God in the beauty of his works, he learned to seek all things in God.

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