Rain falls for six days, rain falls for one hundred and forty-four hours, rain falls for eight thousand six hundred and forty minutes, and so on. As with Aureliano Segundo who fights boredom during the four years, eleven months, and two days rain falls in Gabriel Garcia’s novel One Hundred Years of Solitude, I have work to do–but what to do? Why, of course, at the end of October I’m to deliver a paper in Rome for the Seventh International Conference on Food Studies on the “taste” of Dr. Hannibal Lecter and famous chefs like José Andrés, Dan Barber and René Redzepi. Better get to work.
Season Three of Hannibal features my favorite chef and cannibal with Dr. Bedelia Du Maurier waltzing in Florence under the masks of Dr. Roman Fell and his wife, Lydia; Hannibal, of course, having disposed of them in a very tasteful way, so as to take their identities and his new position as the curator of the Capponi Library in Florence. At a ball, Hannibal has his knowledge of Medieval and Renaissance Italian literature challenged by Professor Sogliato. Hannibal responds in his dramatic and pointed fashion by quoting in Italian the last six lines of Dante Alighieri’s first sonnet in La Vita Nuova.
Allegro mi sembrava Amor tenendo
meo core in mano, e ne le braccia avea
madonna involta in un drappo dormendo.
Poi la svegliava, e d’esto core ardendo
lei paventosa umilmente pascea:
appresso gir lo ne vedea piangendo.
Joyous Love looked to me while he was holding / My heart within his hands, and in his arms / My lady lay asleep wrapped in a veil / He woke her then and trembling and obedient / she ate that burning heart out of his hand; / Weeping I saw him then depart from me.
This famous sonnet carefully shapes in allegorical language Dante’s love for Beatrice di Folco Portinari, who he first met when they were nine years old, and who would become his muse for journeys in the Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso. Of that first sighting, Dante writes,
At that moment, and what I say is true, the vital spirit, the one that dwells in the most secret chamber of the heart, began to tremble so violently that even the least pulses of my body were strangely affected; and trembling, it spoke these words: ‘Here is a god stronger than I, who shall come to rule over me.’
The vital spirit for Dante means the physiological movement originating in the heart; the natural in the liver, the animal in the brain, and these categories Dante pulls from Albertus Magnus‘ De Spiritu et Respiratione. Nine years later, when Beatrice is now eighteen, Dante sees her again walking on a street and she greets him. Dante writes,
And since that was the first time her words had entered my ears, I was so overcome with ecstasy that I departed from everyone as if intoxicated. I returned to the loneliness of my room and began thinking of this most gracious lady.
He falls asleep and dreams of ” a cloud the color of fire,” “a lordly man,” and in his arms “a figure asleep and naked except for a crimson cloth.”
After a short while, he seemed to awaken the sleeping one, and through the power of his art made her eat this burning object in his hand. Hesitatingly, she ate it.
This sonnet inspires Patrick Cassidy to compose a beautiful aria featured in Ridley Scott’s Hannibal. Here is the music followed by lyrics.
E pensando di lei / And thinking of her
Mi sopragiunse uno soave sonno / Sweet sleep overcame me
Ego dominus tuus / I am your master
Vide cor tuum / See your heart
E d’esto core ardendo / And of this burning heart
Cor tuum / Your heart
Lei paventosa / She trembling
Umilmente pascea. / Obediently eats.
Appreso gir lo ne vedea piangendo. / Weeping, I saw him then depart from me.
La letizia si convertia / Joy is converted
In amarissimo pianto / To bitterest tears
Io sono in pace / I am in peace
Cor meum / My heart
Io sono in pace / I am in peace
Vide cor meum / See my heart
So where are we? in Dante’s vision and poem, Beatrice eats his heart, an eating sanctioned, certainly insisted on, by a divine figure. As Dante points out in his prose, he worships Beatrice as a god or worships “Love” for Beatrice, so it’s not surprising a sacrifice occurs when Dante offers his heart, but as well, when Beatrice must eat what will become her identity–this is the danger of love which Dante portrays with Paolo and Francesca in the Inferno and Ovid weaves in the story of Apollo and Daphne in the Metamorphosis; there’s a gain, there’s a loss. This sonnet begins the story of love that will lead from hell to heaven, a love that will remain unrequited. And these are the words Hannibal recites to prove that he knows his Italian literature, and as well for Bedelia and the audience watching, an indication of his culinary taste and philosophy.
Let this be an aperitivo to wet our appetite for the next course, and a question–whose heart would you eat when it’s all about love? Consider as you listen and watch Vitaly Pisarenko play Franz Liszt’s Après une lecture du Dante – Fantasia quasi sonata. Bon Appétit!
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