Nel nome di Dante. Diventare grandi con la Divina Commedia

Marco Martinelli
Milano, Ponte alle Grazie, 2019, pp. 155
€ 14,00 (paperback), € 8,99 (ebook)

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Love and study. How weird does this combination sound? How antithetical are the two terms, in the eyes of who is or has been a student? “Love” is the word for free spaces and summer afternoons, evenings at the beach until late at night and waking up at noon; “study” is the word for rainy mornings spent at school desks, alarm clocks that always ring too early, evenings spent on manuals, questions, homework… Love and study: two complementary universes that do not intersect. Yet there is study in love and love in study.

Tackling the classics

We place the classics of literature almost always in the world of study: we read them not as books, but as voluminous “bricks”, building blocks for our personal monuments, for our moral edification. It is difficult to comprehend, within these walls, the affection that live people feel, in flesh and blood, exchanging glances, sweet words, caresses. It is a cemetery, the one populated by the classics. But there are those who, in the presence of the sumptuous tombstone of the one who, in Italy, is the classic, also know how to find the memories of childhood and the father. Marco Martinelli (author of Nel nome di Dante. Diventare grandi con la Divina Commedia, Milano, Ponte alle Grazie, 2019) is playwright and director, one of the four founders of the Teatro delle Albe, and never abandons the comparison with the great classics. He reads a book like the Comedy and feels the words come alive, turning into presences, shadows, ghosts, taking on the anthropomorphic aspect of the theatrical actor and moving on stage. As a theatre writer, what fascinates him is the drama of Dante’s hendecasyllables.

The Divine Comedy is great theater. More than 500 characters appear on its stage. [...] On the other hand, from the title: Commedia, Dante turns out to be part of the "technitai Dionisou", the "technicians of Dionysus", as the ancient Greeks called the theatre people, the faithful of Dionysus, of that god who could die like men but then knew how to rise again, like the actor on stage every night.

Marco MartinelliNel nome di Dante. Diventare grandi con la Divina Commedia, Milano, Ponte alle Grazie, 2019, p. 98

The example of the fathers

Martinelli was born in Reggio Emilia, but grew up in Ravenna, a city where “it is impossible not to stumble on Dante”. When his father Vincenzo rode with him on his bike to high school, they would pass by

in front of the eighteenth-century temple of Morigia that welcomes the mortal remains of the poet, and sometimes Dad would say, in a fictitious-mysterious tone: "the Ghibellin... fugitive!", and days later he would throw me there only the first part of the sentence, so that I would finish it.

Marco MartinelliNel nome di Dante. Diventare grandi con la Divina Commedia, Milano, Ponte alle Grazie, 2019, p. 10

Dante, the father of the Italian language, and Marco’s father, Vincenzo, are the two threads that intertwine in the plot of the work Nel nome di Dante: macro-history (History with a capital letter) and micro-history (history with a lower case), the vicissitudes of the living and the dead, the small and the large, whose solderings and continuity are revealed. In the pages of Martinelli’s book, you can read about Emilia in the mid-twentieth century and understand more about Florence at the end of the thirteenth century, you can wonder and discover Syria in rubble or the Scampia of the murders of Gomorrah; you can relive the attacks of the seventies and the clashes of the White and Black Guelphs and recognize the same hell into which humanity can plunge.

Nel nome di Dante is, in part, also a book of hell: the Inferno in which a poet “in the middle of his life’s walk” enters after having lost the straight path, but also the hell of rubble of Florence devastated by Guelphs and Ghibellines, where an adolescent Dante walks, careful observer of the bubbles of inhumanity that human beings reach.

Walking beyond hell

It’s not just hell. There is the path through hell and, finally, beyond hell. There is a mystical and human path of growth and redemption: that of Dante who, in exile, thanks to the pen of a poet, ascended to Paradise, and that of Vincenzo, a young soldier locked up in the Nazi concentration camps and then, as an adult man, an energetic Christian Democrat official, a voluntary exile. In old age, once again a loving father: that of the author himself, Marco Martinelli, guided by his love for the theatre through the difficulties of dramaturgic practice in provincial Italy, outside the institutionalized paths – an adventure that the author recounts in Aristofane a Scampia. Come far amare i classici agli adolescenti con la non-scuola, Milano, Ponte alle Grazie, 2016 –, but there is also the path of the reader himself. It is, in fact, to the reader (the “very young” reader) that Martinelli addresses.

I am not writing this book for the specialists, who do theirs, and of whom I feed, grateful. I know very well how much distance there is between us and Dante's time, how great is the risk of misunderstanding a language, a culture so far from ours. I know that. And yet it is a risk I must take. Because no matter how far back we go, maybe Dante is still ahead of us. Because I am writing this book especially for the boys and girls of this tormented country of ours. So that they can suffer the same fascination, the same dizziness that I felt when, as a teenager, I began to enter that shining cathedral of darkness that is the Comedy, carried by the hand of my father.

Marco MartinelliNel nome di Dante. Diventare grandi con la Divina Commedia, Milano, Ponte alle Grazie, 2019, pp. 21-22

The young readers

Disenchanted, cynical, “young adults.” That’s what they call kids today. They themselves build their identity within these labels. They don’t talk about love, because they are ashamed of it, but they feel it and don’t know how to live it; they know how to study, but they don’t like studying, because they have never learned to love it. To this generation, for whom “the straight path is lost” (but for which generation of adolescents is it not?), Marco Martinelli proposes a path of study and love. Dante’s path through Inferno and Purgatory to Paradise is one of love (the one for Beatrice) and study. The poet takes the first step precisely by welding love and study:

I saw things that made me propose not to say more about this blessed woman until I could deal with her in a more dignified manner. And to come to this I study as much as I can, as she truly is. Yes that, if it will be the pleasure of him to whom all things live, that my life will last for some years, I hope to say of her what has never been said of anyone.

Dante AlighieriVita nova, § 42, a cura di Guglielmo Gorni, Torino, Einaudi, 1996

It is from this last chapter of Vita Nova that the original meaning of the Latin studium (desire, impulse, favour) is accompanied by the more modern meaning of “intellectual research aimed at satisfying a desire”. Even if this were not the case, this study is the backbone of Martinelli’s Dante’s life: not only the refinement of one’s poetic abilities, in the name of sublimated love for a woman; but also the commitment and passion for politics, understood as not factionary fanfare, but philanthropy and the desire to dedicate oneself to improving the fortunes of humanity, a commitment and passion that even the most disillusioned Dante of exile would never have abandoned – the same commitment and passion as Vincenzo Martinelli.

Classics to grow

Nel nome di Dante wants to be a Virgil for generations of new readers, as Vincenzo was for Marco. If today the expression “young reader” seems an oxymoron, it is because books like Martinelli’s are more useful than ever because they build bridges between centuries and connect, beyond time, the great classics, such as the Commedia, and small contemporaries, scholars eager for greatness and love.

So you can read it, very young reader, and make it resound in you that song made of three songs made of a hundred songs, as if Dante, in coming out of the "dark forest" of his despair, had thought about you, you and no one else. Even seven centuries later.

Marco MartinelliNel nome di Dante. Diventare grandi con la Divina Commedia, Milano, Ponte alle Grazie, 2019, p.22

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