On the misuse of Dante

Filippo Argenti is down there somewhere.

In an earlier post I commended the analogy made by a First World War airman between the appearance of a battlefield and the geography of Dante’s Inferno. What I particularly liked was its literary precision. It didn’t just use “Dante’s hell” as shorthand for something very bad, but specifically drew a comparison between the tortured landscape he was flying above and the place where punishment was meted out to heretics.

I was thinking of that correct use of Dante recently while reading Sara Gay Forden’s The House of Gucci. In the first of two references to Dante in the book Forden pulls a line from Inferno to shine some light on the “bizarre Florentine or Tuscan spirit,” which is a very literal translation of some words (fiorentino spirito bizarro) used in Canto VIII that are used to describe Filippo Argenti.

That’s all Forden says, and it surprised me a bit because all I could remember of Filippo Argenti is that he was someone Dante (the poet) really hated, and who Dante (the pilgrim) found drowning in the bog of the Styx. I thought the use of the word bizarro probably meant something a little different than “bizarre,” at least as it was being used in the poem. On looking into the notes in Robert and Jean Hollander’s English translation of Inferno I found this:

The word bizarro, explains Boccaccio’s comment to this passage, in Florentine vernacular is used of people who “suddenly and for any reason at all lose their tempers.”

This makes sense in context because the Styx is where the wrathful are being punished. But I don’t think it’s what Forden meant. Especially since in the poem it refers to Argenti going into a kind of fit where he starts biting himself in rage.

The second time Forden mentions Dante made even less sense to me. Talking of the building that Guccio Gucci bought as a workshop, she quickly gives some of its history: “In 1642, the building was acquired by the cardinal and then the archbishop of Florence, Francesco de’Nerli, whom Dante mentions in his Divine Comedy.” How could Dante have mentioned a cardinal who was alive in 1642 in a poem written in the early years of the fourteenth century?

I’m not a Dante scholar. I never studied anything by him at school and I don’t know Italian. I shouldn’t be stumbling over things like this.


4 thoughts on “On the misuse of Dante

    • It’s a bizarro world. I think she just went with that quote because she figured it meant bizarre, which is how she translates it directly. But really it seems to mean irrational rage. Oh well. The book itself is pretty interesting. Thought I’d read it before seeing the movie.

      Liked by 1 person

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