Roberto Benigni, the Italian actor and comedian  (most famous in the U.S. for his film, Life is Beautiful) on Dante:

“Dante’s genius is that he can find and create poetry in everything, even excrement.  He doesn’t say you should avoid evil in life–which is impossible–but you should confront it every day, beacuse in that struggle every single human being has the potential of becoming something magnificent, a wonder of the universe.”

If you’ve seen Benigni’s movie, you know it takes place during the Holocaust, and tells the story of a funny guy who gets the beautiful girl (his real-life wife!) and then has a beautiful son, but who is taken to a concentration camp, where he hides his son to keep him from being taken away, telling little Giosuè that this whole thing is a big game that they have to win.  He enlists the help of his fellow inmates to keep up the ruse for the little boy.  In the meantime Benigni’s character also searches constantly for his wife, who has allowed herself to be taken captive even though she is not Jewish.  It is a beautiful movie, and a testament to one man’s ability not only to confront evil, to laugh in the face of present horror, but to become “something magnificent,” leaving his son a far better memory than he would have had otherwise.

The above quote from Benigni comes from a book my mom, knowing my love of Italian language and culture, gave me for Christmas called La Bella Lingua (The Beautiful Tongue/Language) by journalist Dianne Hales.  The book could not have come at a better time (thanks, Mommy!), for it encouraged me over the holidays to remember just how and why I fell in love with Italian during college and kept pursuing my study of it from Seattle to Florida and beyond, and it got me psyched up to write this last (last!) dissertation chapter on Beatrice’s veil in Dante’s Divina Commedia.  

Wish me luck, or, as the Italians say, “In boca al lupo!”* 

*(“In the mouth of the wolf!”– like the English, “Break a leg!”)

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