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Interview: Brunetto Latini on Canto XV

"He doubtless owed much to the paternal influence of Brunetto Latini (d. 1294), the philosopher and rhetorician ... Of Brunetto Latini Dante himself speaks with the most loving gratitude and affection, though he does not hesitate to brand his vice with infamy." -- Encyclopaedia Britannica (1944)

But Dante lied -- there was no sinners' band
or running troop, no visage scorched by flames.
And these -- the "calcined features" your text claims?
Why, don't you see they're drawn in Dante's hand?
Just so! With "Ser Brunetto, are you here?"
and then "defiled in the world of men"
he feigns surprise but hastens to condemn,
as if intent on spreading wide the fear
of this "one sin" he thinks he dare not name
(though quick with "impure blotch" and "wretched throng").
Yet he admits I schooled him for so long
without a fault -- the truth! And there's the shame:
This man I taught to think unthought me thus:
My work forgotten, still my name lives on,
reviled now -- I daresay spat upon --
for loving whom I loved. It ever was
a danger loving men. But where's the threat?
Did fairest Florence falter? No. He lied:
He made those circles up -- hell, too! I died,
my soul flew free, and hasn't wearied yet.

(Note: The poet Richard Howard contributed Cantos XV and XVI for an especially interesting edition of The Inferno that brought together translations by 20 contemporary poets [Ecco Press, 1993].)

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