All good things must come to an end…

The world is a book and those who do not travel only read one page.
Saint Augustine

A semester abroad…..4 months, 18 weeks, 126 days and a million moments I will never forget.

My Facebook status 4 hours before leaving Florence:
As I spend my last few hours in Florence, I realize how cliche this all is; how students come here step out of their comfort zones, live and fall in love with this city. However, I know one thing and that is that these buildings may or may not last a thousand more years, but the memories and friendships that I’ve made will. Thank you everyone and fly safe. Keep in touch and expect a visit from yours truly. 

I didn’t think this status was that good. But as the likes accumulated and comments came I guess it was pretty good. These last few months have been more than extraordinary. The people I met and the sites I saw will forever be ingrained into my mind. The utter grandeur and amazing people I met will walk with me for a long time if not forever. Going abroad is such a temporary “thing” with such a lifelong impact. It’s kind of crazy. My status in retrospect is perfect in explaining it. Living in a foreign or at least my case, barely foreign place, alone, forces you to step out, forces you to do things you usually don’t. It makes you take initiative. Mom isn’t there to wash your clothes or make your bed or feed you or do groceries or anything. You have you, yourself and the people you meet. I’ve been trying and trying to grasp or put my finger on what it is that could, in one simple thought, describe studying abroad in its entirety and I just can’t.

I think the sites and images in your mind eventually disappear. Everything you saw, smelled and heard. All that fades away, hence why pictures are seen as so essential sometimes even though they never do the scene justice. But what doesn’t fade are the people. The people you meet abroad, whether local or other students, are literally growing as you are. The moments lived with them….will change you. Knowing all these people abroad and all over the US now, opens so many windows. Oh I’m in California, let me see what ______ is up to or hey I’m in Baltimore, I wonder if _______ wants to grab lunch or dinner. Even better, hey I’m going to visit ______ down in Charleston or the Cape for the weekend, ciao! I don’t know what you think but that’s awesome.

I mean, I’ve never been the type to get soft and sappy over things like this because people come and go in your life but this was different. It was so cliche and everyone saw it coming everyone knew it was going to happen. Millions of students that go abroad experience this but it happens anyways. I don’t know, maybe I am overdoing this but, who knows.

All I have to say is I’m more than grateful to have been given the opportunity to study abroad. More than grateful to have met the people I have met, do the things I’ve done and experienced what I’ve experienced. I wouldn’t have changed a thing. And I promise you I’ll be back. AND you best believe I’m planning some type of reunion. Already have a standing agreement with some of the boys that if one of us makes it one day we’ll reunite and buy a place out in Tuscany and open a club in Florence and put all the others out of business. Haha….one day. Nonetheless, I’m almost at a loss for words becuase it hasn’t all happened  or set in yet. Maybe there will be a part II of this post. Anyways, thank you for reading.

Alla prossima.

Ciao

M

Advertisements

Londontown

Late post but as always, better late than never.

It was funny when I first went to write this. I went to write, Cherrio! As in the English way of saying goodbye? And it auto-corrected to Cheerio’s like the cereal. Found that to be a knee-slapper.

Anywho, a few weeks ago I met my mother in London. It was awesome to see her again since homesickness was starting to set in. So I hopped on a plane, packed some clothes to send back with her and flew out to London.

Well, of course I had no service and found my way to the hotel. There she was sitting in the lobby, slightly uncertain that her 20 year old son that has recently traveled all over Europe would somehow not make it to the hotel. Nonetheless her face breathed a breath of air after she saw me walk through those doors.

First day we hit the city hard. Got on one of those classic red double deckers and hit the streets. Buckingham Palace, Westminster, Trafalgar Square, Tower Bridge and London Bridge just to name a few places. Had lunch and dinner in some pubs and a steak house. English food is pretty terrible but I lucked out on my selections. I actually found it nice that in many of the pubs (Silver Cross @ Trafalgar) you have to pay first then eat etc. So much easier and you’re not stuck waiting for the check like you usually are in Europe. Had a couple cheeky pints with Mom and hit the hay.

Day 2&3 were comprised of going on the Eye of London and the Castle/Fort of London, a still standing medieval castle that allowed London to be what it is today. View from the Eye was sick, basically was a Ferris wheel on steroids and the Castle was sick. Saw the Crown Jewels and some sweet English accents. At night we went to Harrods. That place is ridiculous, there is everything. When I say everything, I mean like everything. You can get a haircut, pick up some milk, a Louis Vuitton bag, some tea and crumpets and be on your jolly way in one stop. Literally redefined, “one stop shopping.” What was actually really interesting was the Princess Diana and Dodi Fayed memorial with in the Egyptian staircase in Harrods. As the owner of Harrods, I don’t know the specific details of their relationship but as some may or may not know they both died in a car accident years ago that was pretty controversial. Nonetheless, in the memorial there is a absolutely decked out ring that Dodi was supposedly going to give Diana from what I understood. Sitting there in a solid glass pyramid was this massive shining ring. Impressive, well done Dodi.

Overall the city was awesome. A great combination of old and new. Such an old city with such a new and wealthy history. London was definitely the most pricey, but I could see myself living there. Don’t know why but I just did. Maybe it was being with Mom that gave me that impression. Don’t know. But being with her, she does whatever, pretty go with the flow, was fun because she doesn’t complain when it comes to traveling. We walked in the rain, wanted to kill a couple people and possibly slash the tired to a couple of those double deckers at one point but laughed it off. After all, it isn’t London if it doesn’t rain. Overall great time, would do it again anytime. Can’t thank Mother enough.

 

That was London. This is now. Buona notte.

 

M

The Role of Italian Grandparents

“Quando niente sta andando bene, chiama la Nonna”
Italian Proverb

When it comes to Italian culture, there is something truly special about the role that grandparents, or Nonni, play. The Nonni are looked to for anything and everything. As the quote translates above, “When nothing is going well, call Nonna,” is the mentality of many kids today in Italian society.   Unlike many cultures, where a grandparent’s involvement in both their child’s and grandchildren’s lives decreases as they age, the presence of Italian grandparents in a family tends to be seemingly limitless.  In fact, in many cases, grandparents provide significant aid to their own children when it comes time to raise the newest generation of the family.  This aid often comes in many forms, whether it be contribution of time and experience, financial support, or a sense of emotional support and love, it seems as though Italian grandparents are constantly working to better their families.

One may wonder how it is that Italian grandparents are capable of being so involved in the lives of their children and grandchildren.  That being said, in most Western cultures, it is uncommon for three generations to live under one roof, however it is considered a cultural norm amongst Italians.  More often than not a grandparent will either live with their son, daughter, or grandchild. This “extended family,” as anyone with parents can imagine, this sense of constant “togetherness” can be seen as both a blessing and a burden. When it comes to the constant influx of help with child rearing, housework, and general familial connection, live in grandparents are certainly a blessing.  That being said, when an adult feels as though they cannot escape their own parents or embrace a sense of independence, the feeling of burden can begin to weigh heavy on the adults shoulders.  Nonetheless, the positives generally outweigh the negatives, especially when it comes to the ways in which the grandchildren benefit.

In the last forty years, dynamics of Italian families and the roles that different individuals play within them, have changed drastically. Many attribute this to the ever-changing gender roles within Italian society.  Up until the second half of the 1900s, Italian women, as well as the majority of women from other cultures, were seen through a purely domestic lens.  Their responsibilities revolved around their children and the importance of maintaining a well-functioning home and marriage.  While these are still highly important aspects of an Italian woman’s life, the past few decades have shown a drastic broadening of options when it comes to the complex role that women play.  The recent evolution of the female gender role in Italian culture has allowed for an increased acceptance of women in the workforce; whereas prior to this, women were forced to choose only one path.  This exciting shift often forces women to split their focus between the importance of motherhood and a successful career. While this is a highly difficult task for any parent, the ability to find a positive balance becomes possible with the help of grandparents and other familial outlets.  Due to the change and advancement in roles in Italian society, the emphasis on grandparents being highly involved in family life has increased dramatically.

With 40% of Italians between the ages of 18 and 28 unemployed, Italy is facing one of the worst economic job climates in its history.  That being said, as the job market continues to deteriorate, having a family with only one source of income is quickly becoming a disappearing luxury in Italy.  There is no doubt that as a result of the economic crisis and the change in the traditional role of women as the faithful housewife, the average Italian family is experiencing a cultural reshaping.  Furthermore, grandparents are quickly becoming the cornerstone of the family.  It is the involvement of grandparents that allows both halves of couples to simultaneous work and raise their children in a comfortable manner. According to a study cited by Cecilia Tomassini and Karen Glaser, “In Italy, as in other Southern European countries, around 40 percent of grandparents provide regular childcare for their grandchildren compared with less than 20 per cent in the Nord European countries” (Tomassini, Glaser). These numbers demonstrate that Italy is not alone in the rising trend that shows an enormous percentage of grandparents regularly providing childcare.  By not having to pay for childcare, Italian families witness intense financial benefits. While these saving are helpful for individual families, grandparent provided child care also factors into the struggling economic situation. A 2009 study conducted by the Milan Chamber of Commerce calculated, “ savings of 50 billion euros, supposedly based on how much it would cost Italian families to find babysitters and/or housekeepers for all Italian children under the age of 14” (Gilbert, Stranitalia). The benefits that families experience with grandparents living in an extended family, only bolsters this growing trend.

Due to these factors, Italian grandparents have had to take on a much more active role in their families. This role sometimes forces the grandparents to take care of their grandchildren more than their actual parents.  In some cases as well, the grandparents are sometimes seen as a haven from the parents due to their more patient and “spoiling’ nature typical Italian grandparents have. Another rising trend to keep in mind is the slowly rising number of divorces in the once catholically fortified Italy. In a 2003 national survey conducted by the Italian Statistical Office found that, “new generations of grandparents are more likely to experience divorce,” indicating that now more than ever, grandparents are faced with the fact that their children are divorcing, with and without children, thus leaving both their children and their grandchildren in their hands (Tomassini, Glaser). This survey was called the “Indagine Multiscopo sulle Famiglie e Soggetti Sociali,” which is explained by Tomassini and Glaser to be a survey of “over 60,000 people with the response rate well above 90%, though is lower for very old people. A section of the questionnaire is devoted to analysis of the structure and the exchanges within family members. Information on presence, proximity, and contact with grandchildren are included” (Tomassini, Glaser). Therefore, with splitting households, grandparents are exponentially becoming more of a refuge for the children experiencing the divorce of their parents. Having a stabile home or another source of parenting becomes more familiar and comforting than that of their parents. As King also reinforced in his article Consequences for ties between Grandparents and Grandchildren, “Grandparents step in children’s family breakdowns. They are often seen as the next level of parenting or nurturing that the child identifies with.” Italian children today are not only raised by their mother and father. Every child either has their mother’s or father’s parents as well that act as parents in their everyday lives. It will be an interesting phenomenon, how these children today will grow up to be due to these circumstances.

The Nonni of today’s Italy have taken a gigantic role in today’s Italian family. Without many of the grandparents of today, many families would not be able to survive the economic climate. In addition, the empowerment of women and the progress women’s rights have experienced in the last 40 years would also be at risk if it were not for the willing grandparents in Italian society. Without someone to take care of the kids, whether it is while going to work or during divorce, the Italian woman would be seriously disadvantaged without the convenience of someone to take care of their children. Without i Nonni, it would also be extremely difficult for single mothers and mothers in general to pursue careers. In the Italian culture there truly is something different about grandparents. The roles of Italian grandparents go far beyond the expected. From essentially raising their grandchildren, to being the last minute babysitter to even providing financial help. Italian grandparents live for their grandchildren, have been the glue of Italian families for the last 40 years and very well may become more and more needed as time continues.

Works Cited

King, V. (2003) The legacy of a grandparent’s divorce: Consequences for ties         between Grandparents and Grandchildren, Journal of Marriage and Family,       65, 170-183. Print.

DC Reitzes, EJ Mutran (2004) Grandparenthood: Factors influencing frequency of            grandparent–grandchildren contact and grandparent role satisfaction,       Journals of Gerontology. Print.

Glaser, Karen, Dr. “Grandparenting in Europe Project.” Grandparents Plus.            Krystal, 28 June 2012. Web. 11 Nov. 2013.      <http://www.grandparentsplus.org.uk/grandparenting-in-europe-project&gt;.

 

Gilbert, Sari. “Grandparents Supposedly Saving Italian Families      Millions.” Stranitalia. Petar.org, 20 Aug. 2009. Web. 12 Nov. 2013.    <http://www.stranitalia.com/home/index.php?option=com_content&task=vi            ew&id=237&Itemid=1>.

“Report – Italian Families – FCE Preparation.” Lang-8. Lang-8.com, 9 Apr. 2012.   Web. 11 Nov. 2013.

<http://lang-8.com/371812/journals/1412789&gt;.
Tomassini, Cecilia, and Karen Glaser. “Unmarried Grandparents Providing Child   Care in Italy and England: A Life – Course Approach.” EPC 2012.         Princeton.edu, n.d. Web. 12 Nov. 2013.

<http://epc2012.princeton.edu/papers/120948&gt;.

The Lives and Legacies of Catherine & Maria de Medici

 

If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead, either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.

Benjamin Franklin

If there is one thing that is, was and always will be constant between today and the time of the Medici, is that wealth is power and power is politics. However, talent in one does not mean talent in the other. What changed throughout the time of the Medici was exactly this. As extremely able bankers, the Medici sought power after three generations of successful, love fueled marriages. The marriage of Lorenzo the Magnificent to Clarice Orsini was the first of its kind and the turning point in Medici history. Besides the fact of Lorenzo’s extraordinary contributions to Florence and his family’s social position, the marriage was politically motivated. For the first time, the Medici family sought its power through marriage. This marriage signified the beginning of a political future for the Medici family as the Orsinis from Rome were wealthy and had blood in the Catholic Church. This change in direction would affect not only the Medici family, but eventually change the course of European history. Two results of this change were two French Queens, Catherine de Medici and Maria de Medici; both with rather interesting stories and a legacy that would transcend their time.

Catherine de Medici was born in 1519, great granddaughter to Lorenzo the Magnificent. Protected by Pope Clement VII, Lorenzo Duke of Urbino and Maddalena de la Tour d’Auvergne orphaned daughter Catherine, grew up to become a very powerful lady, Queen Consort of Henry II, son of King Francis I of France. However her early life was nothing of that of a typical queen. An orphan at a young age, Catherine lived in Florence when the Medici were not the most popular family in the city. In fact, after the invasion of Italy by the German barbaric tribes, many Florentines wanted to kill off the remaining Medici; which led Catherine into living in a convent most of her youth, hiding from the turmoil that was Florence. In addition to this, after her parents’ death she was passed from the care of Alfonsina to Clarice Orsini. This childhood formed Catherine a very resolute and cold character that would attribute to her legacy as Queen of France. After the restoration of order in Italy and Florence, Catherine stayed in Rome in the hands of Maria Salviati. But it was in Rome where under Pope Clement VII, she would marry by proxy, Henry of Valois the Duke of Orleans. The Duke of Orleans, was the second son of King Francis I of France. Her time thereafter in France was rather interesting. Unhappy with her husband and without the sympathy of the French people, Catherine was a one woman army. Miles away from home and any type of family, it is here that her childhood and character would distinguish her as a very strong woman. Catherine was a woman of sport; she loved hunting and very skilled with a bow (Catherine de Medici, Frieda). She complimented her sport equally with her knowledge in science and math as well being a more than generous patron to the arts. Catherine was not the most beautiful of women but wasn’t ugly. Her features were not abnormally displeasing and she was not absolutely stunning but what was always seen was her sinister appearance. In 1536, the heir to the throne died, Francis II, leaving Catherine’s husband, the next in line. As a mother, after nearly nine years of nothing and threat of divorce, Catherine bore ten children including three later French Kings; Francis II, Charles IX and Henri III. In 1547 however, the King of France died, Francis I, putting her husband in power over France. The next few years proved extremely trying for Catherine. Besides the death of her husband in 1558, she also had to deal with her husband’s mistress, Diana di Poitiers. However, after the death of her husband she became Queen Consort of France, a regent, because her son Charles’ young age. The years following her Queenship earned her the nickname, “Madame Serpent.” As one can probably guess, this was due to her political behavior as queen. Defending not only her, who was not French but nonetheless Queen of France but also her young son during a time of religious conflict.

The religious conflict in France would later be known as the French Wars of Religion that lasted from 1562 to 1598 between French Protestants and Catholics. This religious conflict translated directly into the politics of France, of which Catherine clearly had to deal with on a daily basis. While Charles IX was still king, Queen Catherine had arranged the marriage of her daughter Marguerite de Valois, to the Protestant Henry III of Navarre.  The wedding took place in Catholic Paris despite the Pope’s rejection of the marriage. A few days after the marriage, on St. Bartholomew’s Day, 1572, Admiral Gaspard de Coligny, a Huguenot leader and admiral, was murdered. The Admiral’s death spurred the killing of dozens of Huguenot nobles still in Parts after the wedding, and the rounding up and massacre of hundreds of other Huguenots in Paris and then throughout France.  The St. Bartholomew’s Day and subsequent massacres are regarded in history to be the work of Catherine. Historians point her motives to be that of obvious political power and stability. The resulting deaths and conversions of St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre solidified Catherine’s son’s throne and diminished the political threat caused by the French Protestants. Protestant Henry III of Navarre became Catholic Henry VI of France, and when the half Medici Marguerite died, he married the full Medici Maria de Medici. Catherine later died in 1589 and was buried in Castle de Blois, where another Medici would one day reside (Catherine De’ Medici, Havemeyer & Malone).

Catherine’s tough youth and life was not only plagued with years of war and conflict but also self-reliance and struggle. Although one of the more prominent figures of the 16th Century, her legacy will go on as the same manner in which it was created, out of violence and hardship.

A later Medici daughter Maria was born in 1573 at the Florentine Palazzo Pitti, daughter of Francesco de Medici the Grand Duke of Tuscany and Joanna Archduchess of Austria. Maria also became Queen Consort of France by marrying the first French Bourbon King Henry IV by proxy, also known as the Protestant King of Navarre and then later, Henry IV Catholic King of France. Of her childhood, there was nothing very out of the ordinary for Maria other than the early deaths of both her parents. Similar to Catherine, she was orphaned at a young age and put into the care of other relatives. However, unlike Catherine she did not take to them as well. Her father, like many powerful men and Medici husbands had a mistress in which both her and her mother despised during her youth. Maria lived in Florence for the first 25 years of her life until she was sent off to marry Henry IV of France at the age of 18. Nicknamed “the foolish,” she as well was not particularly liked by the French people. However, unlike Catherine who was cultured and had a strong nature, she was uncultured and frankly unintelligent. Her figure was short and stubby with blond hair. She unfortunately had the characteristic bulging Medici eyes and with age she slowly became fat and inelegant, not a typical French Queen. Having another Queen from the Medici family made Florentines ecstatic, unlike their French counterparts. The French counterparts had reason to hate her though. She was known for spending outrageous amounts of taxpayer money for vanity and the famous artist she provided thousands in patronage to, Rubens.  During her time in France she became a puppet of two of her closest confidants. She was not the wisest of women and remained oblivious to Leonora Galigai and Concino Concini who were out for power but luckily never resulted in anything major (Brittanica). 1610 came with the assassination of Maria’s husband, leaving the throne to her son Louis XIII, who would then have to wait because he was only 9 years old. After the death of Henry, the queen became snappy, irritating and unappreciative. After getting even with Henry’s mistresses and various courtiers, and advised “unscrupulous Italian” Concino Concini and later the famous Cardinal Richelieu (Brittanica). Maria managed to overcome Henry’s death and overstay her regency to 1617. When son Louis XIII took over, Concini was assassinated, Richelieu became even more powerful as chief minister, and the half Habsburg half Medici Maria was exiled to Castle de Blois due to her political ties with the Hapsburgs and Spain. After two years in the Castle she allegedly escaped by rope with the help of her artist, Rubens. Later, with the help of Cardinal Richelieu she then reconciled with her son. Despising Cardinal Richelieu however, for being so close to her son she attempted a coup to remove him in 1630, but failed.  Her failure led to her exile for good to the Netherlands in 1631 as Bourbon France took on Habsburg Spain. However it was not here that Maria would leave her mark. Maria left her mark on history and her legacy in those that would come after her. Among Maria’s descendants would become the most famous Louis XIV, “Louis the Great,” “the Sun King,” who also became the longest reigning king in French history. In addition to Louis XIV, she would give birth to Elizabeth, later the Queen of Spain, Christine, later the Duchess of Savoy, Henry, later the Duke of Orleans, Gaston later the Duke of Orleans, and lastly Henrietta the later Queen of England. Her legacy unlike Catherine’s ended on a much higher note as her children would start long lineages of royalty all across Europe, coining Maria’s nickname as the “Grandmother of Europe” (Saward, 311).

The two Medici queens had many similarities and many differences. One can quickly see that both of their childhoods were one of sadness and hardship. They were both arranged to marry a man they had never met, that lived thousands of miles away. They both were shipped off, away from the little family they had left. It is quite possible that it is exactly their upbringing and youth that shaped them into the negatively connoted queens they are regarded as today. Both were not seen as fit queens and hated by the French people. Unfortunately as well, both queens were not regarded as the most aesthetically pleasing women either. In addition both of their husbands passed before them leaving them in power of one of the most powerful countries in Europe.

The queens’ differences are interestingly many. Although studied in a mostly negative light they both seemed to do a decent job of keeping France afloat and staying in power. However, Catherine was much more instructed, with both her mind and body she was a much better queen, especially under her circumstances. As a woman highly known for her wits and hunting abilities she presents a much more independent woman that simply fought back for not only herself but her sons. Maria on the other hand was not intelligent and actually let herself be manipulated by her confidants. She had no admirable skills that are ever mentioned and let her husband off with his mistresses. Although their upbringings may have been, with a few exceptions, very similar their time in Paris was not. They were two different French queens but very similar Medici women. In a way they were opposite ends of the spectrum in regards to their political life. Catherine was extremely involved, knew the court well and how to impose her will and push her agenda whereas Maria seemed to barely hold onto power. Then when her son came of age she was quickly sent away and basically kept away from any position of power. Their relationships with their sons were also very polar opposite. Catherine is depicted in literature and films such as 1994’s Queen Margot directed by Patrice Chéreau; where she is shown to be very affectionate to her sons and very family oriented. Whereas Maria was the absolute opposite in this respect, her son exiled her twice after her incompetence on the throne.

Nonetheless, one can see the utter differences and peculiar similarities between these two queens in their early years and their time as French royalty. However the main difference lies in their legacies. Although a better queen all around, it was the state of affairs she had to deal with that ultimately led to her violent and infamous legacy. Known by some to the extent of being a “Poisoner, besotted mother, despot, necromancer, engineer of a massacre: the stain on the name of Catherine de Medici is centuries old,” clearly demonstrated the more gruesome depictions of the Queen (Catherine de Medici, Frieda). Then on the other hand, Maria, the more incompetent queen who ruled rather poorly, ended up with the greater legacy thanks to not necessarily her intent but more so how her children wed after she passed. As much as the French may have despised the Medici queens and how poorly they represented Florence, but thanks to them Florentine blood would forever run throughout the bloodlines and history of regal Europe.

So what started as a move by Piero the Gouty and Lucrezia Tornabuoni to marry their famous son Lorenzo the Magnificent to a wealthy Clarice Orsini as an arranged consolidation of power, then served as a catalyst in the Medici family marriages. This trend of arranged marriages was not only spurred by the Medici success but also their ambition for power and prosperity. Their ambition succeeded, with a bloodline that can be traced to even modern day royalty, these two unanticipated Medici women’s legacies, made it possible.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

Frieda, Leonie. Catherine De Medici: Renaissance Queen of France. New York: Fourth Estate,    2003. Print.

Havemeyer, Janie, and Peter Malone. Catherine De’ Medici: “the Black Queen” Foster City, CA: Goosebottom, 2011. Print.

Saward, Susan. The Golden Age of Marie De’ Medici. Ann Arbor, MI: UMI Research, 1982. Print.

Queen Margot. Dir. Patrice Chéreau. Perf. Isabella Adjani, Daniel Auteuil, Virna Lisi, Jean-Hugues Anglade. Miramax Films, 1994. DVD.

“Catherine De Medici.” Catherine De Medici. History Learning UK, n.d. Web. 24 Nov. 2013.                  <http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/catherine_de_medici.htm&gt;.

“Marie De Medicis (Queen of France).” Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d. Web. 25 Nov. 2013.      <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/365073/Marie-de-Medicis&gt;.

 

Dante’s Inferno: Themes & Symbols and their Attraction to Modern Poets

Lasciate ogni speranza, voi ch’entrate

Dante Alighieri, Canto III, line 9

Dante Alighieri and his work La Comedia have had immeasurable influence on Western literature since the 14th Century. However, it has now become common for people to reference the Comedy simply by its first canticle, Inferno. Many suspect this happened because Inferno has experienced the greatest response from its critics and readers over time. An analysis of motifs, themes and symbols used by Dante in the Inferno will shed light as to why writers have always gravitated towards the Inferno more than the Comedy as a whole. From Ezra Pound, T.S Eliot and Osip Mandelstam to more recent W.S. Merwin, Seamus Heaney and Robert Pinsky, modern poets at every bend have been drawn more so to the Inferno than to the other two canticles. Dante’s Comedy is an example of poetry’s world-creating power, a perfect manifestation of the locus amoenus, an ideal imaginary place and of a poet’s success throughout his own spiritual and political exile. It is impossible to simplify the iconic complexity of Inferno to a diminutive list of noteworthy symbols. Because this poem is predominantly an allegory, it exploits its themes, hundreds of symbols, and literary devices. Dante even indicates that his works must be read through more than one lens. The Comedy must be read literally, allegorically, morally, and anagogically; therefore not making this epic poem the simplest of reads. That being said, an analysis of major symbols and motifs and will offer an explanation as to why Dante encrypted his work with these symbols and why the Inferno is sought after much more than the rest of the Comedy.

Dante’s Inferno is rich in themes. As you flip through the book, these themes jump off the page and soak its reader with irony and provide examples of symbolic retribution. This term represents the punishments sentenced to the souls, directly and equally according to the sins committed on earth. In the Third Circle of Dante’s Hell, there are many examples of this poetic righteousness. The gluttonous reside in a valley of muck, awaiting the terrifying jaws of Cerberus. Gluttons are people who overindulge in their desires, whether it be for others or their own finances, hospitality, or food. Gluttonous people in Dante’s Inferno suffer this punishment for a reason: they are both punished by the endless rainfall and by Cerberus. The symbolic reckoning demonstrated here is that of the glutton’s endless overindulgence during their time on Earth. Therefore, now they must endure an eternity being indulged by eternal God’s wrath. Dante’s use of irony in the Inferno openly allows the reader to relish in the misery of the eternally punished for committing these sins. This equivalence represents a sense of balance, almost to the point of echoing Hammurabi’s “eye for an eye” ideology. The sinner suffers to the degree of his sin. As Dante continues into the 9 circles of Hell, the sins as well as the punishments become worse and worse.

Initially in the Inferno, Dante shares very compassionate relationships with those he encounters in Hell. He builds great sympathy for the sinners and souls around him. However, the farther he travels, the less pity he feels for the souls he encounters. This again relates to God’s equal judgment in terms of the severity of  every sinners punishment. The farther Dante travels, the less pity he has for those he sees.

Dante’s Inferno can also be seen as an imaginary classification of sin. How he classifies sin is a reflection of his morals and judgment as a Catholic and as a man of politics. We see that a man that accepted a bribe is in a deeper circle of hell than a man who committed murder. Dante’s narration of Hell with Virgil follows first and foremost that of Christian doctrine and then Dante’s personal ideology. Dante’s political affiliations also affect the severity and position a sin holds in Hell. Additionally, just as God’s judgment, none of his structures are explained or reinforced. Dante offers every form of background and introduction but never any explanation of why each sin, is where it is.

Immortality for many writers comes through their stories. This is a theme that has transcended time. For Dante, this immortality and legacy was of utmost importance. Not only do the many souls ask Dante to retell their stories but he also sees his own immortality when he cites himself among the best poets of all time. He sees Horace, Ovid, Virgil and many others including himself. Although suffering in Hell, many of the souls hope that through their stories, they will live longer than their mortal lives allowed. For example in the Eighth Circle of Hell Dante actually denies souls the favor of bringing words of warning to men on Earth. Although being directly denied, in the greater perspective he is granting their wish through his writing. Keeping in mind that all these stories are of sinners, he allows for some to “continue living” through his literary legacy. However, while emphasizing the legacy of others, he also takes advantage to advance his own legacy. In Canto XXIV, in his description of the Thieves’ punishment, Dante asserts that he has exceeded both Ovid and Lucan in his ability to write and depict metamorphosis and transformation. This is in reference to Ovid’s Metamorphoses which focuses entirely on transformations and Lucan’s Pharsalia, an interpretation of ancient Roman political transition and chaos in the first century B.C. By claiming to have outdone these two renowned classical poets he seeks to secure his own immortality in the literary world. Therefore Dante uses storytelling as a vessel for many legacies. It is not only the storyteller but also the subjects of the stories he includes that continue with him and transcend time.

On the other hand lays an indisputable motif. Dante also pursues many political arguments. An extremely significant part of his agenda in the Inferno was to comment on the disastrous political atmosphere in 14th century Florence, while keeping in mind his biased and his exile from the city.  He not only condemns political enemies ruthlessly but also predicts and condemns figures ahead of time due to the Inferno being set years before. Thirdly, Dante asserts his position as a White Guelph in his supported ideology of separation between Church and state. However, due to the sensitivity of the topic he cautiously emphasizes its divine and political importance. The last scene in the Inferno also emphasizes this Christian and political duality as Lucifer is chewing on both religious and infamous political figures; by chewing on Judas, betrayer of Christ, and Brutus and Cassius, infamous betrayers of Julius Caesar, the most famous classical politician. Betrayal and mutiny of religion and state both merit the most severe punishment in Hell according to Dante. However, an important note is that with this political and religious sin, there are also instances where these two spheres cross. It is here, where the instance of a priest accepting a bribe that warrants a deeper circle in Hell than one who commits murder. This is another example to Dante’s emphasis on religion and state. These examples are only the tip of the iceberg in terms of this concept Dante presses on throughout the Inferno.

References to the classics and mythology are also present motifs in the Inferno.

As much as Dante refers back to Greek and Roman mythology, he also references Christian morality. It is interesting how Dante includes mythological creatures and ancient creatures in a Christian Hell. He includes beasts from Centaurs and Minos, to figures such as Ulysses and places such as the river Acheron and Styx. As mentioned before he also mimics the styles of great classical writers, Homer, Ovid, Lucan and Virgil. He mixes and includes all these classical and ancient traditions not only to create a “hybrid,” or ode to the classics, but to also represent his supremacy and greatness as a poet. Dante also recognizes the dramatic potential in using these ancient elements. By including all these traditions, with the overarching one being that of Christianity, he is pushing Christianity to the top while simultaneously acknowledging that all others are real, but simply, of the past.

The symbolism in Dante’s work is endless. It is impossible to diminish the iconic intricacy of the Inferno to a short list of significant symbols. Because the poem is an extended metaphor, it uses symbols, ranging from the painstakingly small, to the major symbolic representation of the entire story of The Divine Comedy itself, to the spiritual journey of human life. For example the white banner representing the Uncommitted in Canto III representing the insignificance of their lives. Many of the symbols in Inferno are clear and easy to identify, such as the beast Geryon, with the head of a man and the body of a snake, he characterizes deceit and fraud. Some others are much more nuanced and difficult to recognize, such as the three beasts that stop Dante from the path up the mountain in Canto I. While reading the Inferno, it’s critical to take each element of the poem into consideration in accordance to how it fits into Dante’s allegory as well.

Arguably the more significant, yet less obvious examples of symbolism in the Inferno are woven in the damned figures and their punishments which, as mentioned, correlate to their sins committed while they were alive. For example, the Lustful, who are blown around in a violent storm but never come into contact with one another as their punishment. Another important symbol Dante uses are figures who represent human qualities, such as Virgil and Beatrice. Virgil is the representative of reason and Beatrice is the representative of spiritual love. Settings also represent Dante’s emotions, such as the dark forest in Canto I, demonstrating Dante’s confusion and fear. Figures in Hell also represent something more than merely their sins. An example of this is Farinata, who characterizes qualities of leadership and political dedication that surpass his character as a Heretic in Hell.

A brief but contextualizing analysis of all these themes, symbols and motifs, as a whole lead to why Dante’s Inferno has always been so appealing to contemporary writers. Concepts such as death, the afterlife, Hell, judgment, strife and suffering have always been easy topics to relate to not only on a Platonic level but also very intimately. Love, leading to suffering and the conquest of women, has fueled many writers in many different ways. Both T.S Eliot and Ezra Pound take their works to an even closer connection with Dante by making clear references to Dante’s work. Eliot, in a more subtle fashion, takes concepts and methodologies from Dante; whereas Pound literally names his work Cantos. Eliot wrote The Wasteland partially about his personal struggles and experiences, but many have seen it as a portrayal of a modern Inferno, a depiction of a shattered Europe, filled with entire societies missing optimism or vision.  Pound had begun work on the Cantos even before the publication of The Wasteland in 1922. Like Eliot, Pound liked using multiple perspectives. However, Pound often pictured his Inferno as an economic inuendo, full of the costs of man’s economic inhumanity to humanity.

The troubles of World War I profoundly influenced both Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot.  The utter destruction of Europe’s physical and psychological aspects, no longer unified by belief or culture led the two poets down different paths. Eliot chose to remain in England after the war, and his personal issues and struggles as a poet led him to become both a British citizen and to join the Church of England. Pound on the other hand, found London intolerable and in an attempt to understand the economic causes of World War I, moved to Paris and later to Italy. Paradoxically this led him to support Mussolini in Fascist Italy. Both however, continued to recognize Dante as both a literary and spiritual idol.

Eliot’s Wasteland, is filled with the imagery of anguish and disappointment, the ideal torment for the self-conscious soul. The Wasteland is an enigmatic poem filled with many references to other works with equally complex frameworks and imagery. In the world of The Wasteland, this isolationis torment and Eliot explicitly uses lines from Dante to emphasize the degree of this modern existence, as well as to ironically belittle the difference between both “infernos”. The world in Eliot’s poem has no religion or God to unify the poem or the characters under one rule. At the end of Wasteland Eliot provides commentary on some of the parts that seemed to only add to the confusion of some of his imagery. However, whenever there was a reference to Dante’s Divine Comedy there appeared to be more of an explanation for what motivated him to write what he did. The lines taken from Inferno set the tone for the first section of his poem, “London seems full of not living souls but the dead who are on their way to hopeless damnation” (Wasteland, Eliot). Just as Dante and Virgil near the gate of hell in the third Canto and Dante recalls:

“I saw a banner there upon the mist.

Circling and circling, it seemed to scorn all pause.

So it ran on, and still behind it pressed.

a never-ending rout of souls in pain.

I had not thought death had undone so many

as passed before me in that mournful train” (Inferno, III, 49-54)

Here Eliot is associating a similar link he makes in The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock in which the existing people found in the modern world closely bear a resemblance to Dante’s souls Hell.

“No torutured wailing rose to greet us here

but sounds of sighing rose from every side,

sending a tremor through the timeless air.” (Inferno, IV, 25-27)

Eliot’s souls of the contemporary world that are without hope and without choice, Eliot parallels them the opportunists Dante and Virgil encounter. Eliot’s judgment on his world connects in a different sense. The real world for Eliot is full of the condemned souls of Dante’s Inferno.

Throughout Pound’s Cantos he makes numerous references to politics, their injustices, and genocide in the same manner Dante does to not only the political world but also the Catholic Church, due to the beginning of the Jubilee in 1300. Whereas in comparison, Canto XXII continues with witty narratives comparing Pound’s philosophies of economic rational with the hardheaded, avaricious economics which Pound thinks have created his modern Inferno. On numerous occasions in the Cantos Pound overtly refers to the likelihood of a paradise on Earth, but once again is stopped by what he saw as bad economics.

Both Ezra Pound and T.S Eliot saw Dante as not only one of the greatest poets, but also as a man who had written an epic poem, one which would serve them better than the classical models of Homer and Ovid or any other classical poets for that matter.  Both of them also saw the medieval Catholic dimension of Dante’s work could not be used in a modern poem without substantial modifications. However, it is exactly for those themes and concepts used by Dante that have attracted so many other more contemporary writers to his work, more specifically, to his Inferno. Both Pound and Eliot chose to use drastic positions with drastically different voices to present their modern Infernos and they reached fundamentally different ends in terms of how to deal with life in the wake of World War I, just as Dante did in the wake of his exile. Through the connection of personal struggle, a concept that has, and will continue to transcend time, these writers have been able to relate not only to one another but also to their literary works, hundreds of years later.

Bibliography

Eliot, T. S. The Wasteland and Other Poems.  NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovitch, 1958.

Lummus, David. “Dante’s Inferno: Critical Reception and Influence.” Stanford.edu. Stanford       University, n.d. Web. 21 Nov. 2013.

<https://www.stanford.edu/dept/DLCL/cgi-bin/web/files/lummus-inferno-influence.pdf&gt;.

Pound, Ezra. The Cantos.  NY: New Directions, 1972.

Terrell, Carroll F. A Companion to The Cantos of Ezra Pound. Berkeley: U of Cal P, 1980.

“Dante Alighieri (1265 – 1321).” Ipl2 Literary Criticism. Drexel University, n.d. Web. 21   Nov.2013.

<http://www.ipl.org/div/litcrit/bin/litcrit.out.pl?au=ali-104&gt;.