Dante as piagnone prophet: Girolamo Benivieni's "Cantico in laude di Dante" (1506).
The 1506 edition of Dante's Divine Comedy is the only Florentine production of the complete work between 1481 and 1595. (1) Like its 1481 predecessor with its tour-de-force of patriotic and allegorical interpretation by Cristoforo Landino, the 1506 edition appears to have an agenda of civic promotion at its heart. However, its frame implicitly exalts nor a Medicean and mythologized Florence, but one favorably influenced in the intervening 1490s by Girolamo Savonarola's zealous call to radical repentance, the copious weeping for which earned his followers the designation piagnoni. What is striking is how the work's editor articulates this new civic vision in the edition's proem: as a prophecy received directly from the spirit of Dante. This proem, entitled the "Cantico in laude di Dante" (Canticle in Praise of Dante) by Girolamo Benivieni (1453-1542), is a 199-line poem in terza rima in evident imitation of a Dantesque canto. (2) In it Benivieni relates a dream in which he finds himself transported to the Eart hly Paradise where he meets the spirit of Dante. Dante speaks about the motivation behind his voyage through hell, purgatory; and paradise, about the mistreatment of his Comedy by other editors, and about the Florence of Benivieni's own time. Dante's spirit then proclaims the uncharacteristic Savonarolan prophecy, bringing to a close a composition that is clever, learned, and decidedly polemical.
The "Cantico" does much more than introduce the text of the Comedy or merely praise Dante, as its title suggests. It embodies microscopically and with great subtlety larger questions concerning the contemporary political implications of poetic interpretation. (3) The present study aims to explore how the 1506 Comedy's editor negotiates in his "Cantico" a poetic-critical position in the face of pro-Medicean cultural ties and the fiercely Republican moral reforms of Savonarola's legacy. By putting his vision of Florentine civic direction in Dante's mouth, Benivieni appropriates Dante's authority to promote what is in the first years of the sixteenth century a risky ideological position.
History has not smiled on Benivieni. Although his development as an author closely parallels that of a Sandro Botticelli in art, and despite the fact that when Benivieni edits Dante's masterpiece he could confidently claim the distinction of the "foremost living Florentine vernacular poet," (4) Benivieni remains a relatively obscure figure today. Benivieni came to cultural prominence as a teenager, becoming one of the shining stars of Lorenzo de' Medici's intellectual circle. He delighted the company with his astonishing ability to recite poems composed spontaneously and played the viol, earning for himself the nickname of the "Other Orpheus." (5) A life-threatening illness in 1470 prevented him from continuing a regular course of study. Nonetheless, he developed and flourished in the company of leading humanists and members of the Florentine Platonic Academy, including Marsilio Ficino, Angelo Poliziano, and Pandolfo Collenuccio. Benivieni surpassed many of his peers, especially in the study of Hebrew. (6) In the late 1470s and early 1480s he circulated his own version of the popular, Petrarch-indebted love lyrics. Benivieni also cast a Boccaccian novella in verse and published well-received pastoral poems. After his spiritual conversion, prompted by the fiery sermons of the Dominican preacher Girolano Savonarola (1452-98), Benivieni went on to translate a number of Savonarola's works and to compose the lauds that the Florentine populace sang in some of the 1496 and 1497 religious processions.
Unlike Cristoforo Landino, a teacher at the Florentine Studio and lecturer on Dante before he prepared the 1481 edition of the Divine Comedy, Benivieni seems to have possessed unusual qualifications as an editor of Dante. However, it is possible that by 1506 Benivieni had already earned a reputation for a profound knowledge of Dante as well. This reputation likely did not derive from any specifically critical or expository study on Dante, but rather from his Commento di Hieronymo Benivieni sopra a piu sue canzone et sonetti dello Amore et della Belleza Divina (Commentary by Girolamo Benivieni on Some of his own Songs and Sonnets on Love and Divine Beauty), published for the first time in 1500. Just as Matteo Palmieri (1406-75), for instance, by basing the form and content of his City of Life on Dante's Comedy gained a particular estimation as a dantista, so might have Benivieni with his Commentary.
Benivieni's Commentary and Dante's Comedy are quite different in tone, genre, and intent. Nevertheless, Benivieni shows his debt to Dante in the Commentary's narration of the Soul's narrow escape from the whirlpool of damnation to the arrival at the heavenly Jerusalem. Benivieni's work consists of precisely 100 self-glossed lyric poems, divided into three parts, reflecting Dante's 100 cantos in three canticles. The three parts of the Commentary correspond roughly to the poet's fall, repentance, and reascension in God's grace. During the course of the Commentary, moreover, we encounter significant references to some of Dante's most recognizable characters, including Francesca da Rimini and Ulysses, and to Dantesque treatments of such concepts as memory and exile. (7) Benivieni's stature as a Dante imitator, his prominence as a cultural figure in the Medici circle and as a popular civic poet in his own right, may all have contributed to his role as editor of the Comedy.
The earlier Florentine edition of Dante's work is a crucial point of reference for Benivieni's work. Landino dedicates a large part of his proem to trumpeting Florence's best qualities and extolling her most notable citizens, including those who excel in doctrine, eloquence, music, and art. His lengthy treatment of the divine furor of the true poeta-vates presents a veritable manifesto of Platonic Academy poetics, while promoting its "magnificent" patron, Lorenzo de' Medici. In uncovering the supposed hidden significances of Dante's poetry, Landino's interpretation actually makes Dante a hero for the ideals of Medicean Florence (Lentzen, 41-42).
In fact, one of Landino's primary concerns, as evidenced from his dedicatory oration, lies in asserting the superiority of Florentine culture and language, "This alone I affirm: to have liberated your citizen [Dante] from the barbarisms of many foreign phrases, by which his work had been corrupted by commentators." (8) Landino marshals proof for Florence's linguistic preeminence by pointing out that all Italian writers worthy to be called such have forced themselves to use Tuscan. He spurns subtlety in conjoining linguistic and patriotic or political interests, "Nor did I judge [it] the task of a good citizen to investigate with diligence in the preface of this book the praises of such a poet, but I also join with those praises the honorable virtues of our Republic." (9) In the way he edits the Comedy and promotes the Florentine vernacular, Landino responds directly to editorial decisions made by non-Florentine editors of the Comedy in the 1470s, especially by Martino Paolo Nidobeato in the 1478 Milanese edit ion. (10)
Twenty-five years after Landino's effort, Benivieni faces the same task. In the "Cantico," Dante's spirit asks Benivieni to restore his lyre, that is to re-edit the Divine Comedy after foreigners with ears deaf to the Florentine language have attempted to revise the poem and judge it on linguistic grounds. The primary target of Benivieni's critical blow is the 1502 Venetian edition, edited by Pietro Bembo (1470-1547). Bembo's edition, published by Aldus Manutius, proves to be a formidable adversary. Bembo, with his revolutionary return to Boccaccio's manuscript (Vat. Lat. 3199, which Bembo's father had in his personal library), helps to establish a new way of reading the Comedy as a classic text and as an artifact worthy of philological scrutiny. But Benivieni is ultimately more concerned with arguing the primacy of the Comedy's ethical value over its linguistic one. The civic concerns at stake in Landino's poetic project return in Benivieni's own proemial "Cantico," but in the service of a very different Flo rence. (11)
The following sections present three approaches from which to consider the ideological import of the 1506 edition of the Comedy as it is presented in the "Cantico." The first examines how Benivieni establishes his poetic and prophetic authority. He does this by recontextualizing recognizable passages from the Comedy so as to make them appear to speak directly to the early sixteenth-century Florentine situation. At the same time, Benivieni attempts to write himself into literary history as the direct poetic descendent of Dante. The second part examines the "Cantico's" final prophecy spoken by Dante's spirit. At the heart of the issue is the prophecy's deliberately ambiguous and mysterious mode of expression. The issue of necessary ambiguity in the second section leads to the third part, which sketches the political situation in Florence at the time. Benivieni manages to communicate his vision of a New Florence while avoiding the harsh punishments meted out to more explicit piagnone commentators. Moreover, whil e Benivieni ostensibly praises Dante, he also has Dante praise piagnone Florence, with auspicious personal and civic consequences.
The "Cantico in laude di Dante" divides neatly into two parts. The first (lines 1-75) describes the scene of Benivieni's dream narrative in the Earthly Paradise, while the second part (lines 76-199) consists of the dialogue between the two characters, Dante's spirit and Benivieni the pilgrim. Benivieni chooses language and subject matter that clearly call to the reader's mind specific and vivid situations from the Divine Comedy. He opens his "Cantico," in fact, by emulating Dante's tendency in the Comedy to record the temporal setting of his narrative by means of a mythological periphrasis. It is the hour in which Phoebus Apollo pulls his chariot with flaming wheels out of the east and begins to ascend the steep path across the sky. Benivieni underscores the fact that it is sunrise by speaking of Aurora presenting herself on the balcony of the East: "Thus the adorned daughter of Tithonus, having ascended the eastern balcony, preceded him while she was still vermilion" (lines 7-9). (12) The incipit of Purgator y 9, which furnishes a model for Benivieni's description of Aurora, emphasizes the dream narrative's temporal specificity, since according to a tradition that Dante perpetuates, early morning dreams have prophetic qualities. (13) By commencing in this way, Benivieni likely wishes to bolster belief in the truth of the prophecy that Dante's spirit later speaks.
Benivieni describes the sunrise by noting that the steep path that Apollo's solar chariot follows is the one along which the god's excessively daring son, Phaeton, had lost control of the reins (line 6). By referring to Phaeton's fate at the outset of his own project, Benivieni subtly recognizes the possibility of his own presumption. Phaeton represents the mortal human being of limited capacities whose pride prompts an attempt at an undertaking that only an immortal can successfully complete. Dante in the Comedy has his own confrontations with the Phaeton myth, most memorably during his flight atop Geryon (Inf. 17.107). (14) In the "Cantico," however, Benivieni casts Dante's spirit in the Apollonian role, and Benivieni's character becomes the Phaeton figure. Benivieni acknowledges the risks he runs in taking up the reins of Dante's light. In fact, Benivieni returns to play on this notion at the close of the. "Cantico" (lines 196-98) when he describes Dante as the bright light that he is unable to sustain. (1 5) Benivieni may also be suggesting that his possibility of earning Apollo's symbolic laurel for poetry comes through Dante, both his verse and his spirit. (16)
That Benivieni presumes to take the reins of Dante's light proves even more intriguing if we remember why Phaeton asks Apollo for permission to drive the solar chariot in the first place. In Ovid's version of the myth, Phaeton seeks Apollo's permission to conduct the chariot only after being goaded by one of his peers who insinuates a doubt that Apollo is really Phaeton's father. In other words, Phaeton's flight should represent the proof of genealogy -- an issue that Dante takes up not by chance during his dialogue with his own ancestor Cacciaguida in Par. 17.1-3 -- but also in spiritual and poetic terms. In particular, the genealogy is set up poetically by allusion to Virgil's episode of the encounter between Aeneas and Anchisis in the Elysian Fields. Benivieni thus attempts to extend an already established poetic genealogy that passes from Virgil to Dante and to write himself into literary history by claiming to be Dante's direct poetic descendent.
The "Cantico" dream's physical setting closely resembles Dante's Earthly Paradise at the summit of Purgatory Benivieni states that the locus amoenus of his dream seems to him that which Eve lost ("quel che perdett' Eva." line 18). Instead of the lone presence of a Matelda figure, however, a chorus of nine women whom he will subsequently identify as the Muses (line 109) appears to Benivieni. These ladies sing among the flowers in the shade of the laurel tree and make, among other adornments, a crown for Dante's honored brow (line 69). Benivieni goes on to identify Dante's spirit in the "Cantico" with Virgil's in the Comedy when the Muses announce the presence of Dante's apparition with the exclamation, "Honor the great Poet" (line 57). These are precisely the same words used to greet Virgil in Dante's Limbo: "Honor the great Poet! His shade, which had departed, now returns." (17)
If in the Comedy Dante claims for himself the status of being "sesto tra cotanto senno," the sixth among the great poets Homer, Lucian, Ovid, Horace, and Virgil (Infi 4.102), Benivieni not so subtly also claims the same privilege for himself in the "Cantico." At first glance, the exclamation ("Honorate l'altissimo Poeta") might seem directed at Benivieni's character, given that Benivieni introduces these words with a humility ropos in parentheses (lines 55-56).
The physical setting of the "Cantico's" dream narrative in the Earthly Paradise also emphasizes the issue of poetic genealogy. Thus for Benivieni, Dante appears in the "Cantico" in the same place where Virgil in the Comedy leaves Dante. Dante's spirit affirms in the "Cantico:" "Here [in the Earthly Paradise] my Guide left me and here he fell silent." (18) The consequences in terms of the civic discourse are also apparent: Dante's poem on the literary "founding" of God's Eternal City succeeds Virgil's account of Rome's founding. In his turn, Benivieni presents Florence as the New Jerusalem, the new Earthly Paradise.
After the Muses' exclamation of praise in the "Cantico," Benivieni identifies Dante as the poet honored above all others, the one who not only takes the glory of the Italian language from Guido Guinizzelli (circa 1235-1276) and Guido Cavalcanti, (circa 1250-1300) but has chased all other contenders from the nest as well. (19) In this way Benivieni adopts the speech that Oderisi da Gubbio makes to Dante the pilgrim in the Comedy (Purg. 11.97-99), but drops entirely the doubt that perhaps another poet is born who will outshine the two Guidos. (20) It is also conceivable that in Benivieni's re-evocation of a string of poets who have brought glory to the Florentine tongue, he obliquely discounts foreign prestige in literary questions.
This possible critique of Bembo's authority becomes more apparent in the second part of the "Cantico," in which Benivieni relates his dialogue with Dante's spirit. Whereas Dante was once the living poet making his trip through the Otherworld, now it is Benivieni, as living poet, who records his encounter with Dante's ghost. Dante is the first to speak, and his words are quite familiar: "Love, kindled by virtue, has ever kindled other love, if but its lame appear outwardly." (21) They are the same words that Dante the poet laces in the mouth of his character Virgil, addressing them to Statius in Purg. 22.10-12. By referring to this particular incident in the Comedy, Benivieni brings to mind an instance in which poetry becomes a vehicle for rophecy, since Statius credits Virgil's words with prompting his Christian conversion. In the Comedy, Virgil explains how when word of Statius's work -- indebted as it was to Virgil's own -- came to him in Limbo, he was sparked with great affection for the Silver Age poet.
Love impels Dante's spirit to descend from paradise to speak to the Renaissance poet. In lines 106-08, Dante summarizes the purpose of his otherworldly journey and the composition of the Divine Comedy, stating hat he wrote the poem "so that having seen both ways of heaven and the abyss, your hearts might be turned to the Good that every man desires." (22) Benivieni emphasizes a Landinian reading of Dante's Comedy as the Platonic education of the soul. Dante is a true poet-philosopher, whose verses contain heavenly concepts infused by Love ('Quinci e' celesti miei nuovi concetti / Amor in tanti e tanti versi effuse / Quanti sai ru che gl' hai piu volti letti"). (23) In these same lines Dante's spirit recognizes that Benivieni knows his Comedy well. In fact, Benivieni's claim to know the Comedy well because he has read it many times parallels Dante's claim to know Virgil's Aeneidby heart (Inf. 20.113-14). By steps, the character Dante in the "Cantico" comes to divulge why he appears in Benivieni's dream and why Benivieni must undertake this new edition of the Divine Comedy. Benivieni must restore Dante's Comedy after its mistreatment by foreign editors. Although there is no mention of Bembo by name, his Venetian edition would seem a clear target. The similar page layout and almost identical italic type-faces accentuate the way in which the 1506 edition emulates the 1502 one. (24) The rhetorical strategy that Benivieni uses is important: Benivieni authorizes himself as the true editor of the Comedy because he pens a work in which he has Dante directly confer on him such status.
Dante's spirit falls silent, inspiring in Benivieni the reverence of which "a worthy heart is capable in a more humble one" (line 123). Benivieni responds with another direct citation from a different context in the Comedy: the encounter between Virgil and Sordello in Purgatory 7. Benivieni's words, "'Oh glory,' I said, 'of the Poets in whom was shown how much our language is capable,"' (25) echo precisely Sordello's words to Virgil in Dante's passage from Purg. 7.16-17: "'Oh glory of the Latins,' said he, 'through whom our tongue showed forth its power."' (26) Benivieni effectively transfers the esteem for the Latin language in the Sordello-Virgil encounter to praise Florentine poets, including himself, in this example and the next, in which Benivieni indicates Dante's status as the first of a poetic school ("'1 prim' honor di questa scola." line 127). Here the allusion is to the dialogue between Dante the pilgrim and Bonagiunta da Lucca in Purgatory 24, where Dante succeeds in asserting the superiority of h is own poetic project based on its direct adherence to Love's dictates.
Dante's spirit in the "Cantico" explains to Benivieni that the favor of seeing Dante's glory comes from Love alone. Love reveals the divine hand that Benivieni claims as the guiding force behind his encounter with Dante's spirit. But Dante is eager for Benivieni to answer a doubt of his: "But tell me why before you said, 'I was' and not rather 'from the place I am?' Could your brothers be as bothersome to you as they were to me that you wish to withdraw from your place of birth on their account?" (27) Dante wonders if Benivieni is denying his native Florence because of political difficulties. Benivieni explains that he uses the past absolute tense because he assumes he is dead, but realizes now that this is not the case: "And I, 'Because it seemed to me that from this lowly hide of the mortal body I was dissolved and had been snatched to this shore, so did I say, 'whence I was,' but now I see clearly [... that I still wear this flesh].'" (28) However, the fact remains that Benivieni also alludes elsewhere in his poem to possible persecution by fellow Florentines, an issue that would give him an incentive for penning a proem motivated by self-defense.
Nevertheless, we barely glimpse this suggestion of Benivieni's political persecution. In line 145 of the "Cantico" he contrasts his close relationship to Florence as "motherland" with her cruel, stepmotherly treatment of Dante ("La patria ch'a me madre, a te noverca." "Cantico," line 145). Benivieni's words echo two separate passages of Dante's Paradise (16.58-61 and 17.46-51), both of which Cacciaguida speaks and which contextualize or prophesy Dante's exile. (29) Despite the fact that Benivieni points out the divergences in Florence's treatment of her two poets, the comparison paradoxically seems to link Benivieni's situation more, not less, closely to his illustrious predecessor's.
Benivieni notes that the way the Florentines remember Dante now at the turn of the sixteenth century is much different from the way they treated him at the turn of the fourteenth century. In language that once again recasts entire tercets from Dante's poem, Benivieni asserts that Dante's once unfulfilled dream of being recognized by and welcomed back to his native city is now a reality. At one time Florence, the metaphorical lion, behaved in a fierce, cruel, and bitter ("fero ... crudo e acro," 148-49) way toward Dante, but now she has become humble as a lamb ("hor come agnel s' e fatto humile," 150). Like an Orpheus figure, Dante succeeds in taming the civic beast by his divine song, winning over Florence's cruelty. Benivieni says to Dante in the "Cantico":
The sweet sound of your sacred poem co which both heaven and earth have leant a hand and that for many years made you lean, has overcome the cruelty that once locked you outside the sheepfold where you slept a lamb, enemy to the wolves that waged war. Now not only under its welcome fleece it gathers you to its breast, but of your worth and glory makes itself ever more lovely. (30)
In so wording his speech to Dante's spirit, Benivieni hardly changes the vision in Paradise (25.1-9) that Dante the poet had wished for himself:
If ever it come to pass that the sacred poem to which heaven and earth have so set hand that it has made me lean for many years should overcome the cruelty which bars me from the fair sheepfold where I slept as a lamb, an enemy to the wolves which war on it, with changed voice now and with changed fleece a poet will I return, and at the font of my baptism will I take the crown. (31)
Another subtext of this passage of the "Cantico" might also be Giovanni Boccaccio's Trattatello in Laude di Dante (ca. 1364), another work ostensibly in praise of Dante, but which also criticizes certain factions in Florentine politics for banishing the one who was to bring her great glory (see especially the scathing seventh chapter, "Rimprovero ai Fiorentini," Reproach of the Florentines). In fact, from the opening words of the proem, Boccaccio links the republic's health to the treatment of its poets. Florence has not honored her most worthy poet with a marble statue, fitting burial, triumphal arch, or laurel crown. Boccaccio laments this refusal to honor Dante, stating flatly that Florence's avaricious merchants certainly cannot win her the kind of glory that Virgil won for Mantua or Ovid for Sulmona. In Boccaccio's rebuke of Florence, he exhorts her testily to "begin to want to seem like a mother and not like an enemy anymore." (32)
In the "Cantico" Benivieni concludes his speech about the honor Florence now bestows on Dante by noting that the city's "gates, walls, and walkways are decorated with [Dante's] image" (lines 161-62). He shows much pride in the moral reforms and artistic contributions of his city and the way she honors the poet who brings her such great glory. (33) These words cause Dante's eyes to sparkle like coal enkindled, a direct quotation from the Paradise, once again in the episode between Dante the pilgrim and Cacciaguida. (34) Dante's spirit then speaks his difficult prophecy:
Believe that not much time before the heavens will turn, the evil ties that bound her [Florence] before will be loosed. And if she holds the right rein that governs the brake directed to God, the way shall be shorter to her Good, and likewise the damage less. But in order that you know the most flayed truth of the fault, whence it is fitting that her barque be freed if she is to make safe harbor, know that the vase that the serpent broke was and is not, but the one that is to blame should believe that God's vendetta fears no hindrance. Already your lion has inherited such an issue that now (and let the one who wishes to hear me understand) in its thoughts its fleeces divides up and gives as booty. I see it already on the ground lashing its tail. I hear it growling such that its roar will be heard on both banks. Oh proud Lion, how well-punished you are for your sin, but he who delights because of this should wait since God's judgment is not finished. For what is given to you is to reform you for greater glory, to your enemies death will come swiftly, and let the one who hears not understand. (35)
The language is deliberately worded in such a way as to have more than one significance. On the one hand, "Cantico" lines 178-80 are highly Dantesque, repeating word-for-word Beatrice's exegesis of the symbolic spectacle in the Comedy's Earthly Paradise: "know that the vase that the serpent broke was and is not, but the one that is to blame should believe that God's vendetta fears no hindrance." (36) The context of the Comedy is quite important, since Beatrice introduces these words with the injunction that Dante the pilgrim cast off fear and shame and speak no more "like one who is dreaming" ("che non parli piu com' om che sogna," Purg. 33.33). Benivieni, who deliberately couches his entire "Cantico" as dream narrative, is signaling here that what follows in the "Cantico," like what follows in Beatrice's explanation, should be understood as having a greater weight of truth and authority compared with mere dreaming.
Particularly ambiguous, and significantly so, are Dante's final words to Benivieni in the "Cantico." Dante states: "let [the enemy] who hears [what I say] not understand." A statement of this kind lends an aura of mystery to the enunciation. It can refer, on the one hand, to a context of Renaissance hermeticism: only the adepts of a Neoplatonic ascension of wisdom can perceive the hidden significances of the prophecy. On the other hand, the statement resonates strongly with biblical overtones. In particular, the language evokes Jesus speaking in parables. In his words of envoy, Dante's spirit says that his soul must return to its nest, whence with Love he came to speak. "Remain in peace," he counsels Benivieni, and shoots off in a flash of light, at which point Benivieni's dream fades out.
Benivieni's allusions in his "Cantico" to situations in the Divine Comedy refer back to passages in all three canticles and recast the interlocutors, Dante and Benivieni, in various Comedy guises. Dante in the "Cantico," for instance, speaks sometimes in Virgil's words, other times in Beatrice's words, still others in Cacciaguida's. But the thread that ties together all of the cited episodes is a particular concern with authority and prophecy. Dante's poem and person become the auctoritates through which Benivieni can dare to present his Savonarolan vision for Florence's future. The author of the Divine Comedy and De Monarchia represents the position that a Virgilian empire, tempered by the spiritual sun in the form of papal power, together hold the potential for the political formation of an Earthly Paradise. Benivieni, influenced by Savonarolan denunciations of the curia, appropriates the figure of Dante as the mouthpiece that heralds the truth of Florence's new foundation as the Earthly Paradise that Rome, in its present corruption, can no longer promise.
The figure of the lion at the heart of Dante's prophecy is a particularly rich and ambiguous symbol. By long-standing tradition, it represented the city of Florence. Reinforcing this identification were many works of art, ranging from Donatello's sculpture, Il Marzocco, a lion upholding the crest of Florence, to Benedetto da Maiano's gold friezes of lions paired with Florentine heraldic shields in the Sala dei Gigli. The lion was also a symbol for a number of the city's most important districts. In fact, more Florentine gonfaloni were named for lions than any other animal or entity, including the lion d'oro (the gold lion of the city quarter of San Giovanni), the lion rosso and the lion bianco (the red lion and white lion, both of the Santa Maria Novella quarter), and the lion nero (the black lion of the Santa Croce quarter). While piagnoni hailed from many different civic districts, the largest contingency came from the lion d'oro district, which in Benivieni's times was part of the parish of San Marco. (37) In addition, real lions participated in important Renaissance civic processions and functions, and were caged in the center of Florence, on the via de' Leoni.
However, the lion also symbolized the French monarchy. In fact, another shared symbol of both Florence and France, the lily, often reinforced the French lion association. The association of the lion with France can have particular significance for both Dante and Benivieni. At the time of Dante's exile, it is the fierce pro-French forces in Florence, aided by Pope Boniface VIII, that seal Dante "outside the sheepfold," in exile. In Par. 6.106-08, Charles II of Anjou is warned against the power of the empire, symbolically represented by the eagle: "And let not this new Charles strike it down with his Guelphs, but let him fear talons which have stripped the hide from a greater lion." (38) In Benivieni's day, Savonarola's diplomatic actions in representing Florence before King Charles VIII result in a lion "now like a lamb made humble" ("Cantico," line 150).
In Dante's Comedy the lion appears on a number of other occasions, most notably among the beasts of the first canto of the Inferno, where it is understood by Landino and others as a symbol of arrogance, "con la test'alta e con rabbiosa fame." (39) The Florentine lion, Benivieni states, has been made gentler by the sweet sound of Dante's sacred poem. Now the lion not only willfully rakes Dante under its grateful fleece, but also is made more beautiful by Dante's glory.
Savonarola further developed the leonine symbolism in the sermons he delivered to Florentine citizens from the pulpit of San Marco in the 1490s. He frequently dwelt on the characteristic pride or arrogance of the lion, and emphasized not so much the regal image of the animal, as much as its possible association with tyrants:
I want to show you that your past government was a monster, that is a monstrous government: it had the head of a lion, the back and arms of a bear; the rest of its hind parts were those of the dog. . The lion's head signifies pride because the lion wants to be first among the animals. (40)
The association between lions and tyrants -- the Medici rulers, according to Savonarola -- is not a difficult one for the preacher to make in his listeners' minds, given that the Medici family had already been appropriating the lion, with all its civic resonances, as their own emblem. Perhaps the most explicit renderings of this appropriation came a few years after Benivieni's edition of the Comedy, around the time of the election in 1513 of the Medici Pope, Leo X; but subsequently, this association became almost automatic. (41) It is even possible that Giovanni de' Medici chose the name Leo precisely with an eye to embodying the myth of the lion of Florence. But it should be remembered that the seeds of the Medici appropriation of the Florentine lion might already be planted in the initial page illustration of the presentation copy of Landino's 1481 edition of the Comedy to the Signoria of Florence (now in the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale in Florence, BR 341). According to Rachel Jacoff's description:
Its border has a blue ground and elaborate gold vines enclosing a series of medallions. The medallions at the top and bottom enclose symbols of the Florentine Republic such as the Florentine lily, the red cross on a white shield, and a shield with the word libertas; the central medallions show emblems associated with both the Republic and the Medici as well: the Hercules in the center medallion to the right, and the lion in the center medallion to the left (49, my emphasis). (42)
Benivieni mentions the lion in other writings as well. He always capitalizes Lion and adopts it in poetic contexts with specific political undertones. For instance, "Leone" is a hapax legomenon in his Commentary of 1500. Not by accident, the lion figures in one of the few songs directly linked to the Savonarolan civic actions, the sixth stanza of the poem "Canzona circa alle gratie promesse alla citta di Firenze, facta in uso della prescripta solemnita e processione et infine di epsa publicamente cantata lo anno della nostra salute Mcccclxxxxvi" (Song on the Graces Promised to the City of Florence, Made for Use in the Aforementioned Solemnities and Processions and Finally Publicly Sung in the Year of Our Salvation 1496). Benivieni wrote this song, as he did others, to be sung in the public religious processions of 1496-97. In the poem, Benivieni follows the insistence of the piagnone movement adherents in stating that Florence is governed by no other king than Christ along with His Queen and Bride Mary. God s ingles out Florence for His special favor. (43) But, writes Benivieni, because God sees that Italy's secular and ecclesiastical heads multiply their sins day by day, He has deliberated to purge His Church with a "very great scourge." Before He does so, however, He will send a prophet to warn the Florentines of His judgment. This prophet Benivieni clearly associates with Savonarola, who urges Florence to embrace her role as the New Jerusalem and to repent of her sins. In this way Florence would be an edifying example for all nations. (44) The City of the Flower for Benivieni will become the model of moderate living from which "must be born the expansion of your empire and your jurisdiction." Benivieni holds no separation of secular and spiritual powers, but instead joins conversions to the Savonarolan message to the extension of Florence's political power. In this way, Florentine imperial ambitions depend on and will only find success so far as her citizens embody virtue in their daily lives. (45)
The sixth stanza of Benivieni's canzone further emphasizes this close association between secular and spiritual powers:
Of your noble lily, whose leaves You must extend beyond your walls, That to your ungrateful neighbors it makes shade for itself. Blessed by God is he, who in you is welcomed, And cursed be each one who keeps in disdain Your good, your glory, and your peace. While you please your king, Expect that even in a batting of the eye, Not without wonder, Will be torn the veil that now darkens your glory. (46)
Benivieni's gloss on the third verse of this stanza mentions the lion. He states that Florence's neighbors show their ungratefulness by their poor treatment of a city that has done them no wrong. They will soon be reduced under the paws of the lion that has been too meek until now. (47) Here the lion seems to indicate not only Florence's temporary political weakness, but also a figure of divine justice that Benivieni sees as being far too lenient and inclined to mercy in recent times. It is likely that the Biblical context of the lion as God's Justice from Hosea 5:14 undergirds this passage. Benivieni who, as we saw earlier, places Savonarola in a role of God's prophet, likens Savonarola as a kind of Hosea, the Old Testament prophet who attributes the city's political tragedies to the sins of its people, announcing that the path to salvation lies in the sincere conversion of the people and their prayer to God for His necessary aid.
Finally, another source for Benivieni's adoption of the symbolic lion is its appearance in fifteenth-century prophecies and prophetic visions concerning Florentine political and ethical life. Savonarola's sermons further popularized this metaphoric civic identity in the alternately epideictic and apocalyptic rhetoric that derives from earlier Florentine writings by Fra Antonio da Rieti and many others, known and anonymous. (48) Among the piagnoni followers of Savonarola, the highly symbolic language remained popular, The Oraculum de novo saeculo (Oracle of the New Century) by Giovanni Nesi (circa 1456-1530) differs substantially in tone from Benivieni's "Cantico," the Oraculum also adopts the figure of the lion, among other animals and symbols, to communicate a prophetic event for Florence. (49) Benivieni makes his contribution in the skillful way he causes this fifteenth-century prophetic development to appear to converge with the sphere of Dante's poem.
Thus the central figure of the lion in Dante's prophecy has a remarkably Savonarolan flavor, while retaining enough possible significances to mean different things to different readers. Such a poetic procedure allows Benivieni to express his tenacious hopes for a reformed Florence. At the same time, the poetic ambiguity is a form of political prudence, seemingly promising other more obscure meanings. Benivieni's preference for writing two highly literary works -- a poem and a dialogue -- to accompany the 1506 edition, rather than a gloss, says a great deal about Dante's reception and the cultural currents of Florence in the first decade of the sixteenth century.
Apparently Benivieni must approach his subject very gingerly. Commentary, as the experience of his contemporary Simone Cinozzi indicates, could be a very dangerous undertaking indeed. (50) In his commentary entitled Expositione sopra el psalmo 'Verba mea auribus percipe' (Exposition on the Psalm 'Verba mea auribus percipe') the friar states clearly his perception of the relationship between Biblical passages and the recent events in Florence. (51) Savonarola, Cinozzi declares, is another Moses, another prophet-elect of God who will bring His people out of the bondage they suffer at the hands of the evil "Egyptians," that is, the antagonists of the piagnone movement, the Medicean Pharaohs and corrupt members of the Church. Cinozzi declares woe to Florence in particular for killing God's prophet. Like the other cursed cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, Florence shall be destroyed by a righteous God for her sins. Cinozzi further warns that the more the city's powerful try to stamp out the ardor of the righteous peopl e of God, the more the piagnone spirit shall spread and the more plagues God will unleash on the city. For his explicit interpretation, Cinozzi paid heavily by having his clerical privileges revoked and by enduring severe punishment, including a diet of bread and water (Polizzotto, 177). In contrast, Benivieni, who is likely to have been aware of the dangers inherent in explicit commentaries, cleverly avoided the loaded references to Moses, the ark, and prophet-killing. He recognized the advantages of couching his message in Dante's language and adopting the poetic strategy of re-evoking a long-standing civic emblem like the lion.
Thanks to the studies by Donald Weinstein and Lorenzo Polizzotto, it is possible to understand better the great complexity of the Florentine political situation around the turn of the sixteenth century. This is crucial for any examinarion of Girolamo Benivieni and his works. The typical characterization of Benivieni as first a Neoplatonist in Lorenzo de' Medici's circle, then as a fervent anti-Medicean piagnone, and finally as a Medici papal supporter might make him seem like a man of changing loyalties. Giulio de' Medici himself posed a relevant question to Benivieni: "Girolamo, you profess to believe in the Friar [Savonarola], how can it be that you are wholly our friend and devotee?" (52) Benivieni answers, "Your Most Illustrious Sir should not ever fear of the Friar's friends and disciples. They await the miracle that God will bring about and keep their peace" and again:
biography of Savonarola and was an avid promoter of Benivieni's Commentary. See Placido Cinozzi's letter, republished in Savonarola, 3-28.
I do not deny, most illustrious sir, being among the Friar's followers, and together with all the upstanding men of this city, wishing liberty for the republic; but neither I, nor they, will ever commit an evil on this account, nor ever take up arms against the state. We will pray to God and you that [liberty] be conceded. (53)
Savonarolan supporters were not a monolithic group. They were a widely disparate company of views and allegiances: radical pietists, religious reformers, idealists, and citizens looking for political alternatives. By contrast, Benivieni's longing to direct his soul to the Good and to show his fellow citizens by his own example and through his writings the best course to temporal and spiritual well-being never wavered.
In addition to Benivieni's adherence first to the Medici and Florentine Academy circles, then to the Savonarola movement, it is important to keep in mind his experience, including the role of his older brother Domenico. Domenico was a much more radical piagnone than Girolamo and one of the staunchest defenders of Savonarola, as evidenced by the tract, dialogue, and epistle he published in 1496-97. While the two brothers' relationship does not seem to have suffered from this difference of degree of adherence to their prophet, we must remember what Girolamo's more moderate piagnone position entailed. Girolamo Benivieni effectively set himself against both the bigi, the supporters of Piero de' Medici, and the anti-Medicean arrabbiati, who, however, also largely opposed Savonarola's moral reforms. (54) The "middle path" that Girolamo Benivieni trod certainly earned for him suffering at the hands of the Savonarolan opponents. When these came to power after the republican fall, Benivieni had to pay harsh fines and was barred from public office for a time (Polizzotto, 144). But Girolamo was also under great pressure from more extreme elements of Savonarola's followers to become a more devout" piagnone. The situation was complicated by the fact that Benivieni somehow maintained fruitful relations with some members of the Medici family (Leo X and Giovanni delle Bande Nere) and quite late in life served in a republican government position, as a member of the Duecento in 1532. It can nevertheless be said that after his spiritual conversion, Benivieni never betrayed his own ideals of endeavoring to make Florence the New Jerusalem.
In his ideals, Girolamo Benivieni might profitably be compared to one of his more famous contemporaries with whom he shared a similar life development: Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510). Both men enjoyed Medici favoritism during the height of Lorenzo's rule. The artist was also involved in the Landino edition of the Divine Comedy, providing the designs for illustrations of the work. They also each experienced profound spiritual conversion and adhered to Savonarola's program, and they each provided subsequent allegorizations of their own works. A case in point for Botticelli is his Greek inscription above his Mystic Nativity (Fig. 1). The following translation is by Weinstein, 335.
I Sandro painted this picture at the end of the year 1500 in the troubles of Italy in the half time after the time according to the eleventh chapter of Saint John in the second woe of the Apocalypse in the loosing of the devil for three and a half years. Then he will be chained in the twelfth chapter and we shall see him trodden down as in this picture.
Although modern interpretations vary, the passage is probably an allusion to Florence's tumultuous years following the French King Charles VIII's descent into Italy and Savonarola's death. Botticelli's Magdalene at the Foot of the Cross (Fig. 2) is even more explicitly linked to Savonarolan prophecies. In this instance, there is no need for an inscription, according to Weinstein (336-37), since Florentines familiar with Savonarola's themes would easily interpret the representation:
The fiery brands showering from the heavens on the left were the instruments of the flagellum Dei ... while the white shields emblazoned with crosses on the right were the standard symbol of Florentine Guelfism. The prostrate woman embracing the cross was not only the repentant Magdalene, but also Florence, the bet/a donna of Florentine poetry, painting, and prophecy, whose repentance was the first condition of the fulfillment of God's promise. The animal being whipped by the angel suggests the Florentine lion ... . The city on the left, bathed in light, is clearly recognizable as Florence; we are able to make out her Cathedral, Baptistery, Campanile, and other familiar landmarks .... The prophetic intent of the painting is expressed by the artist's treatment of time. Florence is represented three times, the three times of Savonarola's prophetic cycle: once, under the divine scourge; again, repentant at the foot of the cross; a third time, in triumph, bathed in the light of the open book of God's revelation."
If, as Rab Hatfield points out in his study of Botticelli's Mystic Nativity, the artist creates an allegory of willful obscurity so as to minimize the political risks of his spiritual message, one can easily imagine the delicate situation in which Benivieni finds himself as well.
One more issue further complicates an assessment of the meaning of the "Cantico" and Benivieni's role in editing the 1506 Comedy. It is the "Elegia Iohannis Pici Mirandulae adolescentis Egregij ad Florentiam in laudem Hieronymi Beniuenij eius ciuis, qui nuper adolescens & ipse Buccolicum carmen ediderat" (Elegy in Praise of Girolamo Benivieni), written in Latin and included with an Italian translation in the 1519 edition of Benivieni's Opere. This work claims as its author Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (1463-94), the young count with whom Benivieni became such an inseparable friend that they were united even in death, sharing the same tomb in Florence's Church of San Marco. If the "Elegia" is Pico's work, as it claims, it predates the "Cantico" by at least twelve years. (56) In this case, Benivieni emulates quite closely its language and technique of recontextualizing Dantesque passages in his "Cantico in laude di Dante." Who would not detect Dante's famous apostrophic invective against Florence: "Godi Fiore nza perche sei si grande" (Inf. 26.1: Rejoice, o Florence, since you are so great) in the opening verse of the "Elegia" "Godi Firenze, et ciascun cor che meco"? However, there is an entirely different tone in the Renaissance composition:
Rejoice, o Florence, and every heart that with me loves your good, invoke and call Apollo and of such an honor of yours celebrate now with you. Of such an honor as to be fully satisfied can your proud Lion raise its forehead, Raise haughtily your mane-covered neck. This good, this your new Phaeton, This your new sun born and nourished in your pious breast within your horizon. (57)
What was, in the context of Dante's Inferno, a scathing condemnation of Florentine sinfulness, becomes in the "Elegia" the non-ironic, if overinflated praise of Benivieni. In lines 5 and 6, we see again the Florentine Lion. The Lion can be justifiably proud to have this new Phaeton, born and raised within her horizons.
Rejoice, and each who loves and seeks your good with you, oh blessed fatherland, applaud your poet, your glory, your fame ... Here among your dearest and most grateful Sons is born in you, Florence, he whom your wise old man resembles. Your wise old man, who by his flight, his verse, his glory extended already his wings between one and the other pole. (58)
Benivieni resembles, according to this account, Florence's wise old man, who with his poem soars between the two polar extremes. If we needed any aid in identifying this well-traveled poet as Dante, we could bear in mind Landino's familiar description of Dante as the one who by his flight in verse encompassed the whole universe, from the depths of hell to the highest realms of heaven. (59) Neoplatonizing interpreters saw in Dante's narration the blueprint for the flight of Everybody's soul to God.
Whence he weeps for the old insults, his faults, the deceptions and the vain sorrow that nourished the fire by which his heart burns. For his first youthful error he hopes to find pity, in addition to pardon from those who understand love from experience. (60)
his faults, the deceptions and the vain sorrow
that nourished the fire by which his heart burns.
For his first youthful error
he hopes to find pity, in addition to pardon
from those who understand love from experience. (60)
Like Dante who bemoans his "old insults" at the end of the Purgatory (and elsewhere) or Petrarch, whose verse hopes to inspire pity as well as pardon, so Benivieni here repents of his youthful error. "See now, here is the one whom you have mourned as dead for so long returned to life, and well you can recognize his voice in the poem." (61) These lines suggest that the wise old man, Dante, whom Florence has mourned for so long has returned to life, recognizable in this new poet's song, Benivieni's poetry.
In the "Elegia" there is an explicit comparison between Dante's poetic value and Benivieni's: Benivieni's lyre is no less weighty with theological and philosophical significance, no less sweet, and no less perfect than Dante's, for which Benivieni is said to deserve the laurel crown, honor and glory of Florence. (62) The poem ends with an extravagant comparison of Benivieni to an Orpheus who can stop the river Po from flowing. The remark seems a direct allusion to Landino's characterization of Orpheus in his Orazione (Cardini, 375-76):
Nor do the poets mean anything more when they say that Orpheus of Tracia, a most ancient Greek poet, with the sweet sound of his zither could stop the rivers and move the rocks, mitigate and tame bears, lions, and tigers, than that he could do so much with his speech (by means of rhetorical ornaments and gravity of the composed phrases) that he represses the excitable souls of the furious (like a river, swollen by a flood, that flows in every cruelty), and teaches the slow and brutish wits of the ignorant and all but unfeeling, and tames the haughty and cruel, in such a way that they live together in communal charity. (63)
There is perhaps no text closer to Benivieni's poetic manifesto than this one. By the power of his poetry Benivieni hopes to calm the tyrants and other political forces, to subdue the cruelty of the furious, and to teach the proud and fierce ones to live together in Christian charity.
When the "Elegia" writer states that Benivieni resembles Florence's "docto vecchio" Dante, it is actually the culmination of a long and arduous task of representing Dante in the guise of a piagnone Republican, a transformation that the "Cantico" also promotes. It is true that Benivieni with the 1506 Florentine edition of the Divine Comedy did not respond to Bembo's grand linguistic challenges. For him there was much more at stake: what Benivieni saw as the moral and civic essence of poetry. For the Florentine inheritors of Brunian humanism, poetry broke the confines of any linguistic, self-enclosed restrictions imposed on it to partake of a wider network of moral, philosophical, and political debates. Moreover, Benivieni wrote in a time when Florentines repented of their ill treatment of Dante and wanted to honor him in death by translating his remains back to Florence. Benivieni's, own situation in the politically divided city put him at risk to repeat Dante's economic ruin and exile, or worse. Thus he aime d to associate himself in every possible way in the minds of his fellow citizens with his illustrious predecessor.
(1.) The 1572 edition and commentary by Vincenzo Buonanni contains only the Inferno.
(2.) The rhyme is only approximate in places, however, such as at lines 47, 49, and 51: ve-diensi-sensi-sospinsi. Benivieni also falls out of the rhyme scheme at roughly the halfway point: lines 101-02 display rima baciata in seco-cieco. The most recent republication of the "Cantico" appears in the fourth volume of Del Balzo's anthology.
(3.) By focusing on the political motivations of literary editing, I bring to the 1506 edition the kind of attention granted to the 1481 Landino edition of the Comedy by scholars such as Cardini, Brown (1986), Field (1986), and Jacoff.
(4.) Dionisotti refers to Girolamo Benivieni, in fact, as "un superstite di quella generazione gloriosa, [il] maggior poeta in volgare, che a Firenze fosse rimasto" (377).
(5.) The name of Orpheus had numerous connotations in Florence during this time, as Meltzoff rightly notes in his discussion of Marsilio Ficino's Orphic nickname (128). Benivieni may be considered another Orpheus as much for his poetic or rhetorical eloquence as his musical virtuosity. For more information about Benivieni's life, the most complete source remains Re's 1906 biography.
(6.) Testament to the esteem Benivieni had earned in these studies is the fact that he was asked later in life to make an Italian vernacular translation of the Bible, a task that he never accomplished. See Pugliese's 1970 study.
(7.) A more detailed examination of Benivieni's imitation in the Commentary of Dante's masterpiece appears in the fourth chapter of Roush, forthcoming.
(8.) Landino, 1:379-80: "Questo solo affermo, avere liberato el vostro cittadino dalla barbarie di molti esterni idiomi ne' quali da' comentatori era stato corrotto." English translations are mine unless otherwise indicated.
(9.) Ibid., 380: "Ne solamente giudicai essere officio di buono cittadino investigare con dil igenzia nella prefazione del libro le laude di tanto poeta, ma con quelle ancora congiugnere le onorifiche virtu della nostra republica" (my italics). Like Landino, Benivieni does not stop at praising Dante in his "Cantico." Rather, he joins with those praises a familiar call to civic virtue.
(10.) Nidobeato defends his choice of the commentary by Jacopo della Lana, praising the grace and dignity of the Bolognese language he uses, as well as the virtues of the city: "materna eadem et bononiensi lingua superare est visus, cum sit illa urbs ita in umbilico Italie posita ut assiduo commertio non tersa solum vocabula sed provintiis omnibus etiam communia habeat, nec minore gratia dignitateque sit in Italia bononiensis sermo quam laconicus olim in Grecia fuit" (cited from Dionisotti, 371).
(11.) Benivieni continues to evoke Landino's example by including in the 1506 edition a "Dialogo circa il sito, la forma, e le misure dell' Inferno di Dante" (Dialogue on the Site, Form, and Dimensions of Dante's Inferno). See Manetti. In the 1481 edition, in fact, Landino offers a discourse on the "Sito, forma e misura dello 'Nferno e statura de' giganti e di Lucifero." Benivieni in the 1506 "Dialogo" honors his deceased friend Antonio di Tuccio Manetti (1423-97) by reassembling Manetti's notes on the Comedy's first canticle. Benivieni thus frames his text of the Comedy in such a way as to call explicitly to mind Landino's edition. However, Benivieni also makes a point of showing his independence from his predecessor by underscoring the places in which he corrects and revises Landino's earlier assertions on the subject.
(12.) "Onde dal suo Thiton la ornata figla / Pur alhor surta al balzo d'oriente / Precedea quel com'ella e anchor vermigla."
(13.) "La concubina di Titone antico / gia s'imbiancava al balco d'oriente, / fuor de le braccia del suo dolce amico" ("The concubine of old Tithonus was now showing white on the balcony of the East, forth from her sweet lover's arms"). This and subsequent citations from the Divine Comedy and English translations are from the critical edition by Charles S. Singleton. There is some confusion concerning the relationship between Tithonus and Aurora. As Singleton notes, Dante is unique in calling her Tithonus' concubine, which has led some scholars, including Edward Moore, to assert unconvincingly that Dante speaks of the moonrise and not the sunrise. Most interpreters describe Aurora as his spouse. For a more recent treatment of the debate, see Cornish. Benivieni appears to refer to another understanding of the myth, which holds Aurora to be the daughter of Tithonus's wife, Dawn, and not the selfsame figure. On Dante's conviction that early morning dreams are true, see Inf 26.7: "Ma se presso al mattin del ver si sogna ...." See also Purg. 9.13-18, and his Convivio II, viii, 13.
(14.) For a sketch of this Dante-Phaeton confrontation and some of the other direct and indirect allusions in Dante's poem to the Phaeton myth, see Brownlee. However, an allusion to Phaeton is also implicit in Ulysses' "mad flight," which is the uncomfortable foil for Dante's entire voyage.
(15.) "In the Comedy Dante states that he was unable to sustain the light of a purgatorial angel who shone like the sun. Brownlee, by considering the passage's affinity to the Ovidian narrative, links the episode to a series of Phaeton references in the Comedy
(16.) See also "Cantico" lines 85-87 when Dante's spirit alludes to Benivieni's worthiness to receive the laurel crown.
(17.) Inf 4.80-8 1: "Onorate l'altissimo Poeta: / l'ombra sua torna, ch'era dipartita." This is not the only allusion Benivieni likely has in mind in his citation "Honorate l'altissimo poeta." Benivieni would be well aware of the inscription (ca. 1430) by Antonio Neri beneath the portrait of Dante in the Church of Santa Maria del Fiore: "LA MANO / Onorate l'altissimopoeta / che nostro, e tiellosi Ravenna, / perche di lui non e chi n'abbia pieta. / DANTE / Se l'alto posse che dispone il tutto, / Fiorenza, volse che ti fussi luce, / perche tua crazia in ver' di me non luce, / che del truo ventre so' maturo frurto? / IL VECCHJO / O lasso vecchio, o me, quanto e chupito / la tua virtu sl alta, esser famata, / per dengnio sengnio nel fiorente sito, / che or da' cieli vegho nunziata / mia giusta vollia en cielo redimito, / ch'ancora in marmo la fara traslata" (cited from Ricci, 413; the emphasis is mine). See Ricci, 420, on Benivieni as one of the leading voices of his time to have Dante's remains translated to his native Florence.
(18.) "Cantico," line 100: "Qui 'l mio Duca lasciommi e qui si tacque."
(19.) Ibid, lines 62-66: "colui che 'l grido / Si sopt' ogn'altro poerando acquista, / Che non pur solo a l'uno e l'altro Guido / Tolt' ha la gloria della lingua 'l nome / Ma con lor trarto ogn'altro ha fuor del nido."
(20.) The reader will recall that the exchange between Oderisi and Dante rakes place on the purgatorial ledge of pride where Dante shares to some extent the punishment for that sin, walking stooped like the penitent shades who carry massive boulders on their backs. We have already seen Benivieni's acknowledgment of his own tisk of excessive pride in the allusion to the Phacton myth and in the varying ways that the issue of poetic pride reasserts itself in Dante's and Benivieni's poems. The risk of pride may be suggested, for instance, in Benivieni's repetition of "to me ... to me" ("ad me ... ad me") in "Cantico" line 70. The anaphoric echo may wish to recall the "io son, io son" of the Siren in another of Dante's prophetic dreams (Purg. 19.19). Certainly there is cause to question Benivieni's show of poetic humility. Unlike the long tradition of poets, including Dante, who must repeatedly beg the Muses to come to the aid of their works' composition, Benivieni pens a vision in which all nine ladies without p rompting circle round him, singing and dancing. Moreover, Benivieni enjoys the special favor of direct transportation to the Earthly Paradise, skipping a journey through Hell or up the mountain of penance. Similar to Dante's flight up the first ledge of purgatory, in which a sleeping Dante is snatched up by Saint Lucy's eagle, Benivieni seems to ascend the mountain while dozing, "not do I know how between earth and heaven" ("ne so gia com' infra la rerr' c 'l cielo," line 15).
(21.) "Cantico," lines 76-78: "Amore, / acceso di virtu, sempre altro accese, / pur che la fiamma sua paresse fore."
(22.) "Accio che seorta l'una e l'altra via / Del ciel e dell abysso e vostri perti / Tirar potessi al hen ch'ogn' huom disia."
(23.) Concerning the Florentine Accademias promotion of Dante as a Neoplatonic poetphilosopher, see Bigi, especially 157-61. Bigi sees no coincidence in the fact that it is precisely Lorenzo de' Medici who after more than fifty years renewed the effort to bring Dante's remains back to Florence: "lo sappiame da una letrera di Antonio Manetti, che ricorda a Lorenzo una promessa in proposito da lui fatta (la coincidenza significativa) durante funerali di Marreo Palmieri, l'autore della Citta di Vita" But Lorenzo's motives were more in keeping with a civic-ideological agenda, rather than because he made a promise to a friends "vede egli [Lorenzo] pure in Dante soprattutto, come aveva detto il Ficino, un 'filosofo poetico,' e in concreto un modello da imitare specialmente in opere ispirate ai concetti e ai gusti dell' ambiente neoplatonico."
(24.) On the political and economic ramifications of Florentine and Venetian typesetting rivalries, see Pettas.
(25.) "'O gloria,' dissi, 'de' Poeti, in cui / Monstro quanto potea la lingua nostra.'"
(26.) "'O gloria di Latin,' disse, 'per cui / mostro cio che potea la lingua nostra, / o pregio etterno del loco ond' io fui, / qual merito o qual grazia mi ti mostra? / S'io son d'udir le tue parole degno, / dimmi se vien d'inferno, e di qual chiostra."
(27.) "Ma dimmi perche dinanzi 'io fui' dicesti / Et non piu presto 'del loc' ond'io sono'? / Sarien gia a te come gia fur molesti / A me gli fratri tuoi si che tu voglia / Per lor sottrarti al loc' ove nascesti?" The question cannot help but bring to mind Cavalcante de' Cavalcanti's inquiry in Inferno 10. Like the question posed by Guido Cavalcanti's father to Dante the pilgrim in the Comedy, this one focuses on a misunderstanding sparked by the use of a verb in the remote past tense. In the Comedy, Cavalcanti mistakenly believes his son is dead from Dante's reference to Guido with the term "ebbe." In the case of the "Cantico," the character Dante errs in thinking that Benivieni wishes to deny Florence, the place of his birth, when Benivieni says, "io fui" and not "del loc' ond'io sono." The literary comparison with a context in the Comedy that deals specifically with heresy may not be accidental either. Heresy is a charge commonly associated with Savonarola, although the friar was actually accused of variou s crimes centering on his obstinate disobedience of the Roman curia, including celebrating Mass while in a state of excommunication. By suggesting that Savonarola's ideas continue to live in him and in Florence and by emphasizing the divine sanction of his poetic mission, Benivieni may be pointedly contrasting Savonarola's living vision with the eternal death of Cavalcanti's heresy.
(28.) "Cantico," lines 136-39: "Et io, 'Perche da quest' invida spoglia / Del mortal corp' esser disciolto alhora / Mi parve ch'io fu' ratto a questa soglia. / Pero disse 'ond'io fui,' ma ben veggi' hora ... che pur di lei mi vesto anchora'." Like many of Benivieni's literary allusions, this one may also refer to differing sources without preferring one to another. Underlying this "Cantico" passage in which Benivieni describes himself as having been "snatched" to another place, may be both Francesca da Rimini's coy remark, "Amor ch' al cor gentil ratto s'apprende" (my italics) from Inferno 5 and the Stilnovistic tradition behind it, as well as a specific contemporary source: Marsilio Ficino's De Raptu Pauli, a dialogue between Ficino and St. Paul that allegorizes, according to Neoplatonic notions, the account of St. Paul caught up into paradise (II Car. 12:2-4).
(29.) The first of the Paradiso passages alludes to the anti-imperial Florentine political forces that condemn Dante to exile: "Se la gente ch'al mondo piu traligna / non fosse stata a Cesare noverca, / ma come madre a suo figlio benigna, / tal fatto e fiorentino e cambia e merca ...." In the second passage, Cacciaguida confirms and explains previous prophecies of Dante's imminent exile by comparing Dante's plight to that of Hippolytus from Athens: "Qual si partio Ipolito d'Atene / per la spietata e perfida noverca, / tal di Fiorenza partir ti convene. / Questo si vuole e questo gia si cerca, / e tosto verra fatto a chi cio pensa / la dove Cristo tutto di si merca."
(30.) "Che 'l dolce suon del tuo poema sacro / Al qual ha' posto man e ciel e terra / Et che molt'anni gia ti fece macro, / Vinta ha la crudelta che alhor ti serra / Fuor dell'ovile, ove dormivi agnello / Nimico a' lupi che gli facien guerra. / Ond' hor non pur sotto 'I suo grato vello / T'accogle e nel suo sen ma del tuo pregio / Della tua gloria ogn' hor si fa piu bello."
(31.) "Se mai continga che 'l poema sacro / al quale ha posto mano e cielo e terra, / si che m'ha fatto per molti anni macro, / vinca la crudelta che fuor mi serra / del bello ovile ov'io dormi' agnello, / nimico ai lupi che li danno guerra; / con altra voce omai, con altro vello / ritornero poeta. e in sul fronte / del mio battesmo prendero 'l cappello."
(32.) Boccaccio 3: 462: "comincia a volere apparire madre e non pits inimica." Although he does not use the term "noverca," Boccaccio makes the mother-stepmother contrast more explicit in a sonnet among his Rime (2.32, lines 9-14): "Fiorenza magna terra ebbi per madre, ' anzi matregna, e io piatoso figlio, / grazia di lingue scellerate e ladre. / Ravenna fummi albergo nel mio esiglio: / e ella ha il corpo, l'alma ha il sommo Padre, / presso a cui invidia non vince consiglio" (5.1: 112).
(33.) Like the reference to Phacton earlier in the "Cantico," there maybe another evocation of the risks of pride in this tercer. Benivieni speaks of his native city in a way that calls to mind the ledge where sins of pride are punished in Dante's Purgatory. On the ledge's walls and walkways Dante the pilgrim scrutinizes bas reliefs, friezes, and other visual representations that both admonish the sin of pride and encourage the virtue of humility through allusions to exemplary stories.
(34.) Paradise 16.28-29: "Come s'avviva a lo spirar d'i venti/ carbone in fiamma."
(35.)"Cantico," lines 169-92: "Ma credi che non molto temp' innanzi / Volgera '1 ciel che sviluppati sieno / GI' invidi lacci che 'l legar pur dianzi. / Et se la destra che governa 'l freno / Dritto a Dio 'l tiene, assai 'l camin piu corto / Al suo ben fia e cosi 'l danno meno. / Ma perche tu conosca 'l ver piu scorto / Del fallo, onde convien che si sviluppe / La barca sua se vuol condursi in porto, / Sappi ch'el vaso ch'el serpente ruppe / Fu e non e, ma chi n'ha colpa creda / Che vendetta di Dio non teme zuppe. / Gia di tal fatto 'l tuo Leone hereda / Chor e' suoi velli (e ch'udir vuol m'oda) / Ne' suoi pensier divide e dalli in preda. / Jo 'l veggio ad terra gia batter la coda / Il sento mughiar si ch'el suo rugito / S'udira insin da l'una a l'altra proda. / O fier Leon quanto se' ben punito / Del fallo tuo, ma chi ne ride attenda / Ch'el iudicio di Dio non finito, / Che quel che dat' a te, per emenda / Ad maggior gloria, a' tuoi nemici ad morte / Fia presto, e chi l'ascolta non l'intenda."
(36.) Purg. 33.34-36: "Sappi che 'l vaso che 'l serpente ruppe, / fu e non e ma chi n'ha colpa creda / che vendetta di Dio non teme suppe."
(37.) See, for example, the 1497 piagnone subscription list in Polizzotto's appendix.
(38.) "Non I'abbatta esro Carlo novello/ coi guelfi suoi, ma tema de li artigli/ ch'a piu alto leon trasser lo vello."
(39.) Another instance of the lion in Dante appears in the description of Sordello in the majesty or regality of the resting lion (Purg. 6.66).
(40.) Savonarola, 166: "Io ti voglio mostrare che il tuo governo passato era un mostro, cioe un governo mostruoso: aveva il capo di leone, le spalle e le braccia d'orso; il resto della pane posteriore erano di cane.... . Il capo di Leone significa la superbia, perche il leone vuole essere il primo fra gli animali."
(41.) Benivieni subsequently develops his lion-Medici mythology in the "Frottola pro Papa Leone in renovatione ecclesiae" (included in his Opere), which he dedicates to the pope at his ascension. In the "Frottola" Benivieni identifies Giovanni de' Medici as the Lion that God has sent forth from Judah to put the wolves to flight in Rome. In Benivieni's critique of the previous papacy, he speaks of the sheep, the faithful people, as being wronged by the wolves, those in power in Rome. God, therefore, has sent the Leone from Florence, the New Jerusalem, and Pope Leo X will soon right the wrongs of Peter's city.
(42.) Another excellent example is in the form of illustrations in the liturgical codices for the Cathedral of Florence, Santa Maria del Fiore. A decorative illumination by Monte di Giovanni for the service for the Baptism of Christ is reproduced in Fabbri and Tacconi, eds., 206. At the foot of the sumptuously illuminated page are two lions, one lioness, and a bear playing with golden balls from the Medici coat of arms. The civic shields of the red cross and lily hang from laurel tree stumps, a recurring image in Lorenzo's works. My thanks to Tacconi for bringing it to my attention.
(43.) Polizzotto's book centers on precisely this fundamental piagnone belief See also Weinstein, 34-35: "To the citizens of Florence their city was a living creature with a destiny shaped by God. Divine Providence had attended her birth and continued to guide her throughout her history. She was a favorite of the Lord, and as such her statesmen had the responsibility of considering the moral and religious implications of their deliberations.... humanists did not make a clean break with the values and traditions of the past. If they developed a new view of the founding of the city, they retained the notion that Florence, as the daughter of Rome, had a special heritage; and if they no longer saw Florence as the dutiful servant of Papalist Guelfism, they incorporated into their new view of the city as the champion of republican liberty certain features of the old Guelf ideology -- its moralism and its sense of special civic destiny."
(44.) "Surgi, o Hierusalem novella, e udi, / vedi la gloria tua, confessa, adora / La tua Regina el suo dilecto figlio, / In te, citta di Dio, che in pianto hor siedi / Tanto gaudio e splendor nascer de' ancora / Che non sol te, ma tutto el mondo adorni, / In quei felici giorni / Venire in te vedrai da ciascun fine / Devote e peregrine / Gente allo odore del suo sacrato giglio." For an analysis of the piagnone political terminology, see Polizzotto (28-29): "on Savonarola's urging, the citizens took Christ as their King and acknowledged the fact by popularly referring to the Hall of the Great Council as the Hall of Christ (sala di Cristo) .... To emphasize the religious and moral effects resulting from the newly acquired political freedom, the government had no compunction in referring to it as the holy liberty (santa liberta) .... Conversely, in keeping with this religious outlook, subversive groups seeking to overthrow the new political order were characterized as 'conventicles' or 'sects' and condemned as s uch." This tendency to use figures and symbols with significances unique to contemporary Florence was particularly strong among the city's poets and editors as well.
(45.) In this sense Benivieni retrieved and adapted an imperial focus in Dante that Landino downplayed considerably in his edition. Ficino, writing in the same cultural context as Landino and with the same intent to promote the Medicean rule, translated only one work by Dante, the De Monarchia. It is a choice that highlights the distance between, on the one hand, the Landino-Ficino civic ideal of governance - with its reliance on the two suns of rule, one of which was implicitly Lorenzo de' Medici - and, on the other hand, the Savonarolan vision of King Christ with no separation between Church and State.
(46.) "Del tuo gigilo gentile, che le sue foglie / Intanto extender de' fuor del tuo regno, / Che a' tuoi ingrati vicini per se faccia ombra. / Benedecto da Dio chi in te s'accoglie, / Et maladecto sia ciascun che a sdegno / Ha el tuo ben, la tua gloria e la tua pace. / Tu mentre al tuo Re piace / Expecta pur che in un voltar di ciglia / Non senza maraviglia / Fia ropto el vel ch'or la tua gloria adombra."
(47.) "Che a' tuoi ingrati vicini per se faccia ombra: a e' quali non havendo anchora tu dopo la tua reassumpta liberta facta alchuna iniuria, ne data alchuna occasione di nuocerti. Anzi per lo opposito, havendo tu facto bene a ciascuno, ingratissimamente per certo fanno ora in-verso di te quello che e' fanno. E preo non sia cosa o admirabile o iniqua se poi che epso tuo giglio hara ripreso el suo vigore dilatera intanto le sue male hora attenuate foglie, che lui per se faccia ombra a epsi tuoi ingrati e male avezi vicini, reducendoli sotto le branche del suo troppo certo per insino a qui mansuero Leone ("Canzona circa alle grarie promesse alla citta di Firenze" Stanza 6, gloss on verse 3).
(48.) Antonio da Rieti's vision of Italy's future is one of the better known prophecies. It is contained in Florence's Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, MS. Magi. 25.344, fols. 33-36. In fact, this manuscript is a particularly rich treasury of various examples of Florentine prophecy. English translations of two excerpts of these prophecies are now available in Baldassarri and Saiber, 232-37. See also Weinstein, 56ff, on the fifteenth-century rhyming Florentine prophecy "Awake, oh proud lion, to my loud cry," erroneously attributed to St. Bridget of Sweden.
(49.) Weinstein, 196-97: Odd apparitions appear to Nesi in the Oraculum, "a goose turned into a swan and heralded great changes; a worm arose in Asia out of its parents' bones and turned into a phoenix; the phoenix nested with a lion in the city of the sun .... The swan which had ascended to the city of the sun was sent to rouse [Giovanni] Pico's own nephew, Gianfrancesco, for the fateful battle to come. The worm which had turned into a phoenix signified the rebirth of religion, while the nest in the city of the sun was Florence, where many sons would be born in the cross of the Lord. The sun in the house of Aries signified Christ, who would he chosen King of that Etruscan city whose horoscope was Aries and whose sign was Leo" (my italics).
(50.) Benivieni may have perceived Cinozzi's experience uncomfortably close to his own situation. Fra Simone Cinozzi is the cousin of Fra Placido Cinozzi who makes the first
(51.) "The detailed account of Cinozzi's work and its consequences is in Polizzotto, 174-78.
(52.) From the Vita di Girolamo Benivieni, as quoted in Polizzotto, 249: "Girolamo voi fate professione di credere al Frate, come puo stare I'essere intieramente amico et affezionato nostto?"
(53.) Polizzotto, 250: "V.S Illustrissima non tema gia mai delli amici et devoti del Frate, essi aspettando il miracolo e che Dio Operi, quieti se ne stanno.... Io non [sic] niego, monsignore illustrissimo, di non essere de' seguaci del Frare, ed insieme con tutti gli uomini dabbene di questa citta, desiderare la liberta comune; ma ne io, ne coloro faranno per tal canto fellonia, ne verranno con le armi contro allo stato giammai: pregheremo bene Dio e voi, che ne la conceda."
(54.) The piagnoni and arrabbiati factions came to some fragile agreements during the decade or so after Savonarola's death. However, the piagnoni also came to the painful realization that the oligarchic arrabbiati had their own reservations about piagnone republicanism. See Polizzotto, 17-18.
(55.) "A similar picture in the form of a woodcut adorns a book by Benivieni's older brother Domenico Benivieni, 1496b, fol. 4v.
(56.) The poem appears among Benivieni's Opere, and the language and poetic evocations are very similar to his. Pico and Benivieni collaborated in other works, especially the famous early canzone by Benivieni, 'Amor dalle cui," for which Pico wrote a commentary After their spiritual conversion, Benivieni writes a counter-canzone, 'Amor sotro cui," aimed at correcting the concepts of the earlier canzone. But Pico died before he could provide a commentary on the new poem and Benivieni must have taken over Pico's task. Jayne provides an excellent history of these commented canzoni (see especially 15-20 of his introduction). With this in mind, one might wonder if Benivieni had a hand in the "Elegia's" composition as welt.
(57.) "Godi Firenze, er ciascun cor che meco / ama el tuo bene inuochi et chiami Apollo / et d'un tanto tuo honor si allegri hot teco. / D'un tanro honor di quanto esser sarollo / Ben puo el tuo fer Leone, aiza la fronre, / Alza superba el tuo crinito collo. / Questo ben, quesro tuo nuovo Phaetonte, / Questo tuo nuovo sole nato & nutrito / Nel tuo pio seno & dentro al tuo orizonte."
(58.) "Godi, & ciascun ch'el tuo ben cerca & ama / Teco, o beata parria, al tuo poeta / Applauda alla tua gloria, alla tua fama. /.... / Ecco infra tuoi piu cari & grati figli / Nato e Firenze in te colui che se lo / Se stesso, el docto tuo vecchio simigli. / El docto vecchio tuo, che col suo volo / Co' versi suoi, con la sua gloria extese / Gia l'ale insin da l'uno a l'altro polo."
(59.) Cardini, 369: For Landino, Dante "abraccia el cielo, abraccia la terra, abraccia el profondo" and he belongs to the ranks of other divine poets who "sopra agl'altri scrittori come aquile volano" (361).
(60.) Onde piangendo poi le antiche offese / Le sue colpe, gl'inganni el van dolore / Che nutria el foco, onde 'l suo cor si accese. / Del primo giovenil suo anticho errore / Spera trovare pieta non che perdono / Dove sia chi per pruova intenda amore."
(61.) "Elegia," lines 49-51: "Ecco hora, ecco colui che tu gia tanto / Morto lassa piangesti, in vita torna / Et ben conoscer puoi la voce el canto."
(62.) Questo ti rende, alargisce & cede / Hieronimo chorona, honore & gloria / Di te Firenze, onde el tuo nome excede. / Et certo (il che bor sia senza memoria / Non pur senza presentia o invidia decto / Di te & d'ogni tua cieca Victoria) / Non men grave, men dolce & men perfecto / El suo di questa che di quella lyra / Che orno gia del tuo vechio el sacro pecto."
(63.) "Ne altro significano e' poeti inducendo che Orfeo di Tracia antichissimo poeta greco col dolce suono della sua citera potessi fermare e' fiumi e muovere e' sassi e mitigare e fare mansueti gl'orsi, e' lioni, e' tigri, se non che tanto pote el parlare suo, e d'ornamenti di parole e di gravita di sentenzie composto, che e gl'animi concitati de' furibondi, e' quali come fiume per diluvio cresciuto trascorrono in ogni crudelta, ripremessi, ed e' tardi e grossi ingegni degli indotti e quasi insensati amaestrassi ed e' superbi e crudeli mitigassi, in forma che con comune carita insieme vivessino."
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|Title Annotation:||paradise, politics, and poetry; Dante Alighieri|
|Article Type:||Critical Essay|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2002|
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