“Did Dante Alighieri Suffer From a Sleep Disorder?” by Henry Nicholls

“I was at a conference, standing in the queue for coffee during a break between sessions, and the woman in front of me went down. As she fell, she resembled a push puppet, one of those little elasticated toys that collapses when you press the button on the base. It all happened very quickly, but if it had been possible to slow down the motion, I would have seen her head drop first, chin onto chest, her shoulders relax, arms flop to her sides, and legs buckle.

[. . .]

“This is cataplexy, a condition in which emotions can cause the body’s muscles to fail; it affects many people with narcolepsy. Nathaniel Kleitman understood the difference between narcolepsy (the sleep) and cataplexy (the collapsing fits) only too well. ‘Boredom and monotony favor narcolepsy; gaiety and excitement, cataplexy,’ he wrote in Sleep and Wakefulness.

[. . .]

“Giuseppe Plazzi, head of the sleep lab at the University of Bologna, has argued that Dante Alighieri might have suffered from narcolepsy with cataplexy all the way back in the 14th century, as his autobiographical masterpiece The Divine Comedy features most of the symptoms, including cataplexy. In the middle of his journey through Hell, for instance, Dante hears the tragic love story of two lost spirits and collapses. ‘I fainted out of pity, and, as if l were dying, fell, as a dead body falls.’

“The idea that Dante suffered from narcolepsy is certainly intriguing, but most sleep specialists—including Plazzi—date the first unequivocal description of cataplexy to 1877, when German psychiatrist Karl Westphal presented a case at a meeting of the Berlin Medical and Psychological Society. [. . .]”   –Henry Nicholls, “Did Dante Alighieri Suffer From a Sleep Disorder?” LitHub (September 7, 2018)

The passage is an excerpt from Nicholls’s 2018 book Sleepyhead: The Neuroscience of A Good Night’s Rest.

See also the related discussion from The Guardian, posted here.

Natsume Sōseki, The Wayfarer (Kojin) (1912)

“[I]t gradually becomes clear that marriages good and bad, arranged and romantic are constants in this narrative. Suffering from a kind of existential crisis, Ichiro’s marriage to Nao is in trouble. Ichiro even suspects that his feckless younger brother Jiro has been carrying on with Nao, and voices despairing references to Paolo and Francesca from Dante’s Inferno. The third part of the book covers the period after they all return to Tokyo from their travels. As Ichiro and Nao’s marriage continues to deteriorate, Nao is tight-lipped, refusing to argue or complain, while Ichiro seems close to a nervous breakdown.”   –B. Morrison, “The Wayfarer (Kojin), by Natsume Sōseki” (March 22, 2010)

See also our post on Sōseki’s 1908 novel The Miner.

#stoacasacondante, Flashmob in honor of Dantedì 2020

The Società Dante Alighieri promoted a flashmob on the first annual celebration of Dantedì (25 March 2020), while Italy and much of the world was under shelter-in-place orders due to the spread of COVID-19. Below, the message from the President of the Società Dante Alighieri, Andrea Riccardi:

“mentre il coronavirus ci tiene separati dai luoghi e dalle persone che amiamo, l’Amore e Dante ci uniscono. La Società Dante Alighieri invita tutti ad aprire le finestre delle proprie case, a leggere due terzine del V Canto dell’Inferno (Divina Commedia), a registrare le letture con gli smartphone e a condividere i video nei social network con hashtag #stoacasacondante e #Dantedì.

“Ecco il testo da leggere: «Amor, ch’al cor gentil ratto s’apprende, prese costui de la bella persona che mi fu tolta; e ‘l modo ancor m’offende. Amor, ch’a nullo amato amar perdona, mi prese del costui piacer sì forte, che, come vedi, ancor non m’abbandona».”  —ladante.it

For news coverage, click here.

David Shapiro, “Dante and Beatrice (at Forty-Seven)”

David Shapiro’s “Dante and Beatrice (at Forty-Seven)” appeared in vol. 29, no. 5 of the American Poetry Review (full text available here). Here is how it begins:

“are kitsch six inches of a gold bronze toy
sculpture on my wife’s dead grandmother’s
delicate endtables ours
separated by a red grace and pink
candles and some smaller
horribly-shaped vegetable-like candles pointing
Dante looks like the mayor showing not pointing
of a small-town corruption
in a small cap he wears not against the
winter a cruel righteous careerist
grim as glucose and morose to boot
boasting of pride like a tiger on a street
Beatrice in nightgown her sin hope
a girl always about to go to bed
by herself and her long ringlets
as voluptuous as her nightgown
She is sexual and sad and refuses
to look at that businessman of words
all this is a gift from Mickey Mouse who
said when he saw them it had to be
for me Goofy who took the sleep
out of the Comedy and took the
flowers and took the fathers, too
until what was left for a fatuous cento
like a student who translates
all vulgarity into ancient Greek a mistake

So if a person loves you they could say
I want to be in Hell with you forever
like two bats summoned on a windy
word by a poet having a mid-life decision

[. . .]”

Read the rest of the poem in The American Poetry Review 29.5 (2000).

“Every Major Piece of Art Featured in Beyoncé and Jay Z’s Apesh*t Video”

Francesca da Rimini and Paolo Malatesta appraised by Dante and Virgil (1835)

“This work by Ary Scheffer depicts a scene from Dante’s Inferno, but not just any scene. In it, Dante and Virgil can be seen watching Francesca da Rimini and Paolo Malatesta in hell. The reason they’re in hell? Infidelity. The pair fell in love and carried on affair, despite both being married. Upon finding out, Francesca’s husband, who also happened to be Paolo’s brother, murdered them.”    —Jesse Kinos-Goodin, CBC Radio Canada, June 18, 2018

Paolo and Francesca Necklace

“The story of Paolo and Francesca, two lovers entwined in an eternal whirlwind, was first told in Dante’s Divine Comedy, and has been the inspiration for countless classical artworks ever since.”    —NET-A-PORTER

“Ivresse” by Pablo Neruda

“Hoy que danza en mi cuerpo la pasión de Paolo
y ebrio de un sueño alegre mi corazón se agita:
hoy que sé la alegría de ser libre y ser solo
como el pistilo de una margarita infinita:

“oh mujer -carne y sueño-, ven a encantarme un poco,
ven a vaciar tus copas de sol en mi camino:
que en mi barco amarillo tiemblen tus senos locos
y ebrios de juventud, que es el más bello vino.

“Es bello porque nosotros lo bebemos
en estos temblorosos vasos de nuestro ser
que nos niegan el goce para que lo gocemos.
Bebamos. Nunca dejemos de beber.

“Nunca, mujer, rayo de luz, pulpa blanca de poma,
suavices la pisada que no te hará sufrir.
Sembremos la llanura antes de arar la loma.
Vivir será primero, después será morir.

“Y después que en la ruta se apaguen nuestras huellas
y en el azul paremos nuestras blancas escalas
-flechas de oro que atajan en vano las estrellas-,
¡oh Francesca, hacia dónde te llevarán mis alas!”

–Pablo Neruda, “Ivresse”, 1904-1973.

Pablo Neruda was a 20th-century Chilean poet. The poem “Ivresse” is a part of The Essential Neruda: Selected Poems, which you can purchase on Amazon.

Fritz Koenig, “Paolo und Francesca” (1958)

Among German sculptor Fritz Koenig’s oeuvre one finds a number of works that take inspiration from Dante, particularly mediated through Rodin’s sculpture groups in his Gates of Hell. Below, “Paolo und Francesca” from 1958.

Fritz-Koenig-Paolo-und-Francesca-1958

Photo credit Heinz Theuerkauf (Flickr)

Koenig’s work was celebrated with a retrospective at the Gallerie degli Uffizi in 2018.

Contributed by Jessica Beasley (Florida State University, 2018)

Francesca da Rimini at La Scala, Milan

Francesca-da-Rimini-La-Scala-Milano“15 April-13 May [2018]. This is the first time Francesca da Rimini, inspired by D’ Annunzio’s novel of the same name written in 1901, returns to La Scala in six decades.

“Zandonai’s opera, his most successful, was performed in Turin for the first time in 1914. This new La Scala production is conducted by Fabio Luisi and directed by David Pountney with Maria José Siri in the lead role. Pountney is a British theatre and opera director known for his productions of rarely performed or new works. Teatro alla Scala, Via Filodrammatici 2, www.teatroallascala.org.” — Posted on wantedinmilan.com

“Francesca da Rimini”: Ballet Meets Robotics


Francesca-Da-Rimini-Ballet-Robot-Capture
Francesca da Rimini is an experiment in using a robotically controlled camera to capture ballet. Starring dancers Maria Kochetkova and Joan Boada, Francesca is based on a story from Dante’s Inferno and set to Tchaikovsky’s Francesca Da Rimini. The entire performance was filmed with motion control camera movements designed to synchronize with the dancer’s every step. The camera moves as if operated by a third performer, fluidly orbiting around the two dancers from the intimate perspective of another artist on stage. Using a combination of motion capture, 3D animation, and industrial robotics, Francesca demonstrates how the synthesis of art and technology can bring a new perspective to a classic art form.” — Director of Photography Joe Picard

Director: Tarik Abdel-Gawad
Dancers: Maria Kochetkova & Joan Boada
Choreographer: Yuri Possokhov

To learn more about the project, see the Making-Of film here: Ballet Meets Robotics: The Making of Francesca Da Rimini.