Monday, August 6, 2018

Theodore Roosevelt on Dante

Some of you will, no doubt, be surprised to learn that several American presidents were influenced by the thought and writings of Dante Alighieri. I wanted to point to one in particular today, Theodore Roosevelt.

Most of us know TR as an avid hunter, leader of the First United States Volunteer Cavalry (the "Rough Riders") in their famous charge up San Juan Hill during the Spanish-American War, and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. What many are less familiar with, however, is his love for reading. Roosevelt himself estimating that he read tens of thousands of books over the course of his life. He even managed to read a book a day during his time as president.

Even those who might be aware of TR's erudition, normally do not associate him with our favorite medieval love poet - Dante Alighieri. However, TR read enough Dante that the Italian ambassador,  Edomondo Mayor Des Planches, called him a "constant reader of Dante," and the Italian king gifted TR a beautiful edition of The Divine Comedy. TR also wrote an article for Outlook magazine, which is well worth taking a moment or two to read.

IT is the conventional thing to praise Dante because he of set purpose “used the language of the market-place,” so as to be understanded of the common people; but we do not in practice either admire or understand a man who writes in the language of our own market-place. It must be the Florentine market-place of the thirteenth century—not Fulton Market of to-day. What infinite use Dante would have made of the Bowery! Of course, he could have done it only because not merely he himself, the great poet, but his audience also, would have accepted it as natural. The nineteenth century was more apt than the thirteenth to boast of itself as being the greatest of the centuries; but, save as regards purely material objects, ranging from locomotives to bank buildings, it did not wholly believe in its boasting. A nineteenth-century poet, when trying to illustrate some point he was making, obviously felt uncomfortable in mentioning nineteenth-century heroes if he also referred to those of classic times, lest he should be suspected of instituting comparisons between them. A thirteenth-century poet was not in the least troubled by any such misgivings, and quite simply illustrated his point by allusions to any character in history or romance, ancient or contemporary, that happened to occur to him.

Read the rest HERE.

by Nathan Barontini