23rd March 2021
Selene Genovesi


Dantedì is the day especially dedicated to the Father of the Italian language, Dante Alighieri. The poet in fact died in 1321, aged 56, while in exile from his beloved Florence.

We celebrate him all around, with an endless list of commemorative events, so to remind who already knows and to educate who has never heard of him.

Dante is best known for his masterpiece, The Divine Comedy, where he endures an imaginative trip through Hell, Purgatory and Heaven. It might sound heavily religious and – let’s be honest – a little boring, but rest assured, it is far from this! A thriller, a love story and a gossip on the XIII century Florence, there are crimes and punishment, horrific descriptions of souls in pain, flirts and political agenda, the hope we will maybe be saved and the full outright joy coming from the vision of God.

Why is all of this still relevant today?

First, we must thank Dante for video games such as Dante’s Inferno and Devil May Cry. Many references to Dante’s circles in Hell are found in TV series like The Sopranos and The Simpsons, for example. Not to mention Dan Brown’s Inferno, a novel transformed in a breath-taking movie starring Tom Hanks.

Curiously, like Shakespeare’s renowned verse “To be or not to be”, almost any Italian is able to recite the first two or three lines of the poem. More importantly, for all our language nerds, the Divine Comedy is still very much embedded in the Italian culture and in our everyday speech, sometimes in ways we do not even recognise.

How? I’ll give you a couple of examples:

“Stai fresco” – untranslatable, colloquial and quite common, this comes from the XXXII canto, where sinners are found in an icy lake. The worst their sin, the deeper they go in. Today we use this idiomatic expression when we know there will not be a happy ending.

“Fatti non foste a viver come bruti…”- “…ma per seguir virtute e canoscenza” (vv. 119-120, canto XXVI). Today is almost a proverb, and the core of many funny memes, used to push people to chase knowledge and do not live or lives in ignorance.

“Galeotto fu…”- originally ending with “’l libro e chi lo scrisse”, today replaced with anything we want to refer to. The untranslatable line refers to the heart-breaking story of Paolo and Francesca, brother and sister-in-law, who fell in love reading Guinevere and Lancelot’s tale.

“Non mi tange”- “It does not touch me”, or as we would say in English “it doesn’t bother me”. It is Dante’s love, Beatrice, who says this about Lucifer’s reign. This poetic line is still very much used with the same meaning.

“Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate”– Translated by Reverend H. F. Cary as “Abandon hope all ye who enter here”, used by many Italian mothers when entering their kids’ untidy rooms.

“Far tremare le vene e i polsi”- “It makes veins and wrist tremble”, still used when referring to something terrifying, making us shake uncontrollably.

If I have picked your curiosity and would like to know more about it, listen to this marvellous reading, appositely made to celebrate this coming Dantedì.

EN – Dante – The Divine Comedy. Dalla selva oscura al Paradiso – From the dark wood to Paradise

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