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appears in the shape of a Centaur covered with curling snakes, and on whose neck is perched a dragon hovering with expanded wings". It is supposed that Dante took the idea of his INFER No from a magnificent nightly representation of hell, exhibited by the pope in honour of the bishop of Ostia on the river Arno at Florence, in the year 1304. This is mentioned by the Italian critics in extenuation of Dante's choice of so strange a subječt. But why should we attempt to excuse any absurdity in the writings or manners of the middle ages Dante chose this subječt as a reader of Virgil and Homer. The religious Myster Y represented on the river Arno, however magnificent, was perhaps a spectacle purely orthodox, and perfeótly conformable to the ideas of the church. And if we allow that it might hint the subječt, with all its inconsistencies, it never could have furnished any confiderable part of this wonderful compound of clasfical and romantic fancy, of pagan and christian theology, of real and fićtitious history, of tragical and comic incidents, of familiar and heroic manners, and of satirical and sublime poetry. But the grossest improprieties of this poem discover an originality of invention, and its absurdities often border on sublimity. We are surprised that a poet should write one hundred cantos on hell, paradise, and purgatory. But this prolixity is partly owing to the want of art and method : and is common to all early compositions, in which every thing is relāted circumstantially and without rejećtion, and not in those general terms which are used by modern writers. Dante has beautifully enlarged Virgil's short comparison of the souls lingering on the banks of Lethe, to the numerous leaves falling from the trees in Autumn.
* CANT. xxv.
H h 2 Similmente
Similmente, il mal seme d'Adamo
In the Fields inhabited by unhappy lovers he sees Semiramis, Achilles, Paris, and Tristan, or fir Tristram. One of the old Italian commentators on this poem says, that the last was an English knight born in Cornovaglio, or Cornwall, a city of England *.
Among many others of his friends, he sees Francisca the daughter of Guido di Polenta, in whose palace Dante died at Ravenna, and Paulo one of the sons of Malatesta lord of Rimini. This lady fell in love with Paulo; the passion was mutual, and she was betrothed to him in marriage: but her family chose rather that she should be married to Lanciotto, Paulo's eldest brother. This match had the most fatal consequences. The injured lovers could not dissemble or stifle their affection: they were surprised, and both assassinated by Lanciotto. Dante finds the shades of these distinguished vićtims of an unfortunate attachment at a distance from the rest, in a region of his InFER No desolated by the most violent tempests. He accosts them both, and Francisca relates their history: yet the conversation is carried on with some difficulty, on account of the impetuosity of the storm which was perpetually raging. Dante, who from many circumstances of his own amours, appears to have possessed the most refined sensibilities about the delicacies of love, enquires in what manner, when in the other world, they first communicated their passion to each other. Francisca answers, that they were one day fitting together, and reading the romance of LANcelot ; where two lovers were represented in the same critical situation with themselves. Their changes of colour and countenance, while they were reading, often tacitly betrayed their yet undiscovered feelings. When they came to that passage in the romance, where the lovers, after many tender approaches, are gradually drawn by one uniform reciprocation of involuntary attraction to kiss each other, the book dropped from their hands. By a sudden impulse and an irrefistible sympathy, they are tempted to do the same. Here was the commencement of their tragical history.
y CANT. iii. who belongs to fir Tristram's romance, is * In the fixteenth Canto of the PAR A- mentioned. piso, king Arthur's queen Genevra,
But this pićture, in which nature, sentiment, and the graces are concerned, I have to contrast with scenes of a very different nature. Salvator Rosa has here borrowed the pencil Correggio. Dante's beauties are not of the soft and gentle kind.
— — Through many a dark and dreary vale
A hurricane suddenly rifing on the banks of the river Styx is thus described.
* He is one of the knights of the * CANT. v. w Round Table, and is commonly called • Milton, PAR, L, ii. 618. Sir Galhaad, in Arthur's romance.
The conformation of this heterogeneous beast, as a fabulous hell is the subject, perhaps immediately gave rise to one of
the formidable shapes which sate on either fide of the gates of hell in Milton. Although the fićtion is founded in the classics.
Virgil, seeming to acknowledge him as an old acquaintance, mounts the back of Geryon. At the same time Dante mounts, whom Virgil places before, “that you may not, says he, be “ exposed to the monster's venomous sting.” Virgil then commands Geryon not to move too rapidly, “for, confider, what “ a new burthen you carry !”
In this manner they travel in the air through Tartarus: and from the back of the monster Geryon, Dante looks down on the burning lake of Phlegethon. This imagery is at once great and ridiculous. But much later Italian poets have fallen into the same strange mixture. In this horrid fituation says Dante,
This airy journey is copied from the flight of Icarus and Phaeton, and at length produced the Ippogrifo of Ariosto. Nor