May 15, 2015 | Posted by Peter Jakobsen | DANTE | 0 Comments |

"lo gran disio dell' eccellenza" (the great desire of excelling) (Painting by Luca Signorelli)

In his book The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy, Jacob Burckhardt wrote as follows:

“As publicist and man of letters, [Dante] laid stress on the fact that what he did was new, and that he wished not only to be, but to be esteemed the first in his own walks.  But even in his prose writings he touches on the inconveniences of fame; he knows how often personal acquaintance with famous men is disappointing, and explains how this is due partly to the childish fancy of men, partly to envy, and partly to the imperfections of the hero himself.* And in his great poem he firmly maintains the emptiness of fame, although in a manner which betrays that his heart was not set free from the longing for it.

In Paradise the sphere of Mercury is the seat of such blessed ones as on earth strove after glory and thereby dimmed ‘the beams of true love.’  It is characteristic that the lost souls in hell beg of Dante to keep alive for them their memory and fame on earth, while those in Purgatory only entreat his prayers and those of others for their deliverance.  And in a famous passage, the passion for fame…is reproved for the reason that intellectual glory is not absolute, but relative to the times, and may be surpassed and eclipsed by greater successors.”

(c) Mark Herbert Breedon; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

(c) Mark Herbert Breedon; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation (Dante by William Herbert Allen)

[* e.g. see the poem by Barry Humphries, The Price of Fame:

“Better to love us from afar

Let distance tint your overview,

Up close you’ll see how crass we are;

How disappointingly like you.”]


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