THEOSOPHY, Vol. 21, No. 6, April, 1933
(Pages 247-253; Size: 21K)

PLAIN THEOSOPHICAL TRACES
IN POETRY

THERE is a chain of poetical literature running from East to West and from West to East again, in which, hidden under symbolical expressions, one predominating idea, one identical philosophy is taught and lauded. Thoroughly misunderstood till lately, more or less discussed also to-day by those influenced by personal or sectarian reasons, the study of this literature which includes a whole cycle of prominent poets and thinkers, is of the highest interest for the Theosophical student, if he holds to the "Second Object" established by Mme. Blavatsky: The study and comparison of ancient and modern literature.

There is no such thing as "a matter of no importance." The smallest stone has to be picked up and classified with the "countless other stones" to build up the "Guardian Wall," and often a kind of excavation work is needed to bring to light again the deeply buried stones of the immortal edifice. This is the kind of work accomplished by some thinkers of the 19th and 20th centuries, poets and philosophers, of whom Dante was one -- and the greatest one. His various poetical creations were but symbols used as a means of communication between himself and a group of poets known in literature as the "Fideli d'Amore" (the faithful to Love) who were the faithful servants of the Eternal Wisdom-Religion, represented in their lyrics by some terrestrial woman and expressions of earthly passion and love.

It seems impossible that any impartial, serious reader of this strange poetry should fail to stop at a certain moment and ask himself: "What kind of Love is this which runs through all the lyrics of the 13th and 14th centuries, so different from any human love, mixed with such strange ideas and expressed often in the most mystic and obscure way?" For centuries the whole cultivated world read the poetry of the 13th and 14th centuries without noticing anything in it other than a poetical production, though wondering about the incoherence of some passages. It is only during the middle of the 19th century that one man after long study stated to the amazement of the literary world that there was a "key" for that lyric, and mysterious meanings running through all that literature. This man was Gabrielle Rossetti, the great enemy of the Roman Church and a member of the Rosicrucian Fraternity.

We do not know if Rossetti arrived at his conclusions by his own intuition or guided by some Adept, but his is the glory to have discovered the secret language used by the "Fideli d'Amore," and to have demonstrated that the "Love" spoken of was but conventional clothing under which ideas of the most mystic and religious nature were hidden. He explains how the Fideli d'Amore could only communicate among themselves by using a symbolical language in order to escape the claws of the various Torquemadas(5). He clearly demonstrates that, whatever may be the name adopted by the poet to designate his "Beloved," be it Rosa, Beatrice, or Savage, the Beloved always meant One and the same Woman, and that this Woman always represents One and the same Idea, which Idea is Wisdom, and the teachings of it, which, on account of the conditions of that time, had to be kept under strict secrecy. Rossetti came to the conclusion that the Fideli d'Amore were but the secret followers of the ancient Pythagoreans, and disciples of those Initiates disseminated through the world in various times and under various names.

Notwithstanding many errors, many confusions and a lack of thought-discipline, G. Rossetti was the first who enlightened the darkness of the lyric of the Middle Ages, and gave a Key to this Poetry. No one before Rossetti ever thought of it. Century after century poems were read and admired according to the letter and -- thoroughly misunderstood. But what was the reaction of such an important discovery, thanks to which a new and very vast field of investigation was opened to the world? Gratitude? No. Incredible and sad to say, the murderers of Beauty, the fearers of truth condemned Rossetti's work to death. And this did not happen during the dark days of the Middle Ages but in the middle of the so-called "enlightened nineteenth century!" There aroused against Rossetti's theories all the destructive elements ruling this world:

1. The Catholic church and all "the orthodox" who not only obtained the condemnation of Rossetti's most famous book, but obliged his widow to burn the copies of the "Mystery of Platonic Love", a work full of precious documentations, copies of which are rare.

2. The historical critics who being attached to the "letter" were absolutely and sincerely incapable of grasping and understanding the hidden philosophy running through all that poetry.

3. The "Romantics" -- all those poetical souls who fainted in ecstasy, and wanted everybody to faint in ecstasy with them, before those "ethereal, angelic" women who at any cost had to be real terrestrial beings and not merely Symbols.

4. The critics, who were bothered by any discussion of symbols, pretending that with all those "foolish" ideas the purely lyric elements of the poems themselves were spoiled.

In short: all the homogeneous and heterogeneous elements were so aroused, as to destroy even any serene and objective discussion of Rossetti's theory. Worst of all, Rossetti's work was destroyed by his own followers. Aroux, a French Catholic, deformed Rossetti's theory(1) by defending -- apparently -- Rossetti's own ideas.(2) Being a zealous Catholic, he exaggerated the apparently heterodox elements in Dante's poems, which Rossetti himself had exaggerated due to his anticlerical spirit. If Rossetti brings forth an heretic Dante arousing against "church spirit", Aroux defends that same "church spirit" by representing Dante -- under Rossetti's wings -- an "heretic revolutionist." None of them was enough impersonal and equal-minded to look for the real value of the facts they were studying.

After all that storm Rossetti's discovery was on the verge of being totally forgotten and condemned, when another revolution broke out with the publication of Francesco Perez' marvellous book "La Beatrice Revelata" (Beatrice Unveiled). Constructed on Rossetti's basis, Perez' book established definitely that Dante's "Beatrice" was not a "Human Being" but simply the symbol of Wisdom, and demonstrates that not only in the Divine Comedy but through all the "Vita Nuova," Beatrice is but the same symbol which also appears in Solomon's "Song of Songs" under the personification of the Mystic Bride. This same conclusion about Dante's Beatrice can be found in Gietman's book(3).

It is interesting for Theosophists to notice that all this movement of search and thought took place around the dates of the Theosophical Movement and the establishment by Mme. Blavatsky of the Parent Theosophical Society.

In this period it was principally amongst the "Dantistes" and critics that controversies arose, based on Boccaccio's testimony of Beatrice's historical existence. They totally forgot or ignored the fact that Boccaccio was himself a member of the Fideli d'Amore association, and knowing the danger of any revelation could logically but try to keep the secret and to mislead the average mind. The moment was critical. Once more the waves of the Ocean of Ignorance were ready to swallow up the appearing solid ground, when suddenly a ray of light travelling from the East stopped and enlightened the face of Beatrice just unveiled by the vigorous hand of Francesco Perez.

This unexpected contribution to the new theory was brought by the revelations of the Orientalists regarding Persian poetry. It became more and more evident that there existed in Persia as well as through all the Islamic world, a mystic poetical movement between the 9th and 15th centuries which developed and worked in the same way as the Italian poetical movement according to Rossetti.

A whole Lyric written by mystic Mussulmen and Sufis in Persia appeared, in which, hidden under feminine appearances, various names and conventional terms, the same Wisdom-Religion was put forth and studied. It was found(4) that various words such as "mouth, hair, smile" and so on, always had a mystical precise signification. In the East as well as in the West the disciples of the Wisdom-Religion were obliged to use a secret language not only because bound by their vow, but on account of orthodox Mussulmen, who, just as the Christians of old and of to-day, would destroy whatever attempt might be made to place Man directly in contact with God -- the God within.

Gabrielle Rossetti certainly must have known about the existence of this secret Movement in the Orient, as he uses in his book "Il Mystero del Amore Platonico", V. III, many arguments to prove that the custom of hiding mystical and intuitive ideas under the veil of terrestrial Love has come from Persia through the Manichei, the Catari and the Templist, who were themselves connected with the secret movement. According to Rossetti, the Movement, starting in the East, passed through the "Provincials" to the Sicilian Poets (Frederic II, Pier della Vigna, Jacopo Lentini); from these to the Bolognese (Guinizelli); and finally to the Toscans (Dante, Cavalcanti, Ceno). In that way one can see that the Persian and Italian pseudo-love poetry not only have the same Root, are historically connected and form an unbroken chain, but arrive at the self-imposing conclusion that there was One Teaching, One Truth, One Aim among all those philosophers, which they were obliged to hide under poetical clothing, each of them expressing himself according to his own country. It became evident, then, that the "Mystic Rose" of Persian Poetry (where the Nightingale, symbol of the Soul, is longing so for the "Mystic Rose," symbol of Divine Wisdom) and the "Mystic Rose" in the Hindustan romance, "The Rose of Bakavali," symbolizes exactly the same idea as does the "Rosa" which was the Aim of the sacred journey of Dante, who said that only "under the form of a Rose" will he find manifested "the temple of his Vow." Every Theosophist will recognize in the Rose the same symbol as that of the Lotus, changed by the Persians into a flower of their country.

Following in the steps of Rossetti, Francesco Perez, and Giovanni Pascoli, another great thinker -- Luigi Valli, after years of deep comparative study began reconstructing the Secret Doctrine hidden in the Divine Comedy under the symbol of the Cross and the Eagle (the Cross representing Divine Wisdom, the Eagle terrestrial power) and it became evident to him that the symbols of the sacred Poem aimed to hide a Doctrine, which, while being profoundly religious in its spirit, could nevertheless never agree with the dogmas of the Catholic church and Christian world. Through that study Luigi Valli became more and more convinced of the great importance of Gabrielle Rossetti's theory regarding the poems of the Fideli d'Amore in which Dante and his friends spoke with such precaution and often with such evident artificiality, of their "deep Love" and "eternal Faith." He determined to undertake a study which would enable him to present not an hypothesis but irrefutable evidence, based on proofs and facts. He began his colossal research from the starting point, studying and examining with a serene and impartial mind Gabrielle Rossetti's assertions. The great task was crowned with stupendous success. Overlooking every exaggeration, not only of the pro- and contra Rossetti's theory critics, but also of the sometimes confused deductions of Rossetti himself, he simply faced the poetry of the Fideli d'Amore in itself purposing to find an answer to this question: "Is the hypothesis that the poetry of the Fideli d'Amore could have a secret language plausible? If so, a vast comparative examination of the whole Poetry must give the answer to the question." He next held this other argument: "Rossetti affirms that certain words used frequently by those poets have a conventional signification. If so, only a mathematical method of research can resolve the problem and never any personal opinion. It is only through a minute examination of the whole poetry, and especially of those passages where the suspicious words are used, that a definite conclusion can be obtained. If there is such a hidden meaning, the substitution of the right word, expressing the right idea, in the place of the symbolical word, must always give a clear sense to the poem and unveil through all the poetry the regular existence of the supposed Secret Doctrine."

On this basis Luigi Valli obtained the following result showing:

(1) That there was a secret Language used by the Fideli d'Amore and especially by Dante and his immediate successors, bearing a secret meaning for which at least 30 words have infallibly a second and often a third hidden meaning, and that by reading the poems with that Key, the existence of an Initiate's Doctrine as well as that of a Brotherhood serving this Doctrine was clearly demonstrated. Such words as: love, madonna, death, life, women, gaiety, seriousness, annoyance, nature, stone, rose, flower, source, salutations, savage, shame, to weep, and some others, appear through all the poems with a monotonous and exasperating regularity, and often to the detriment of the comprehension of the phrase in which they are used.

(2) That all the various heroines of the lyrics of the "Dolce stil 'Nuovo" (sweet new style) represent one and the same Woman who is the personification of Divine Wisdom under various names according to the Poet. So, for example, it is "Beatrice" for Dante, "Giovanna" for Guido Cavalcanti, "Lagia" for Lapo Gianni, "Savage" for Cino. Furthermore Luigi Valli established that the same name was used for designating the Doctrine itself as well as the sects of the various poets, sects and doctrine being interblended.

(3) That the entire "Vita Nuova" was written in that secret Language, each word being purely symbolical. That the whole poem is but the description of Dante's Initiate life, and his relations, not with Simone de Bardi's wife, but with the Eternal Wisdom-Religion and with that group of disciples who followed the same doctrine and studied the same teachings. Keeping all this in mind, the appearance of Beatrice in the Apocalyptic Vision in the Divine Comedy takes on its real profound meaning.

(4) That by reading with the Key, the incomprehensible passages of those lyrics and especially Dante's, on which so much useless study has been spent, and volumes of comments written, lose all their darkness, become clear, bright, coherent and of unexpected depth. That Key threw the same light on the works of some of Dante's contemporaries, such as Francesco Barberini's "Documents of Love," Dino Compagni's "Intelligence," Cecco d'Ascoli's "Acerba."

(5) That in all those poems there is to be found the same intense and deep love for that Wisdom, for the safe-keeping of which the Fideli d'Amore fought so intensely against the corrupted church of Rome, conventionally called by them "Death" or "Stone" and pictured as the "Foe" of all their associations.

We can now easily see that the theory of Gabrielle Rossetti followed by Francesco Perez, Michelangelo, Caetani Duc of Sermoneta -- one amongst the most prominent Dantistes, Giovanni Pascoli, then Luigi Valli and several others, is of the highest interest for the searchers of Truth and will, let us hope, render the positive critics more careful in their solemn pronouncements, and the public more diffident towards the superficial judgments which the critics so copiously emit. Certainly, there will still be many zealous orthodox ready to deny all that has been affirmed and demonstrated, not so much perhaps on account of objective reasons as because of an intuitive repugnance to admit that a Movement of such importance in Art, Literature and Philosophy -- the soul of which had such a vast activity -- could be so highly opposed to the teachings of the Roman Church. But Luigi Valli clearly points out that the doctrine of those poets was not against Deity; on the contrary, it aimed to promulgate and keep alive the true teachings, the Eternal Verities of the Wisdom-Religion taught by Christ and all the Great Teachers, and which became so corrupted and so forgotten by the Christians as to oblige those "Who Know" to fight against Church, Church-spirit and priests.

This rapid glance over the much discussed poetry of the Middle Ages, particularly that of Dante and the Fideli d'Amore should be of some interest to those students of Theosophy especially interested in Literature and Art. Keeping Dante's philosophy in mind, they will understand Dante's expression as painted by his friend, the immortal Giotto, and will look respectfully at the colossal and tragic figure of the great exile draped in his Initiate coat, with that expression in his eyes which sees beyond appearances and knows that which is beyond speculation -- Dante, the great warrior, never fearing, never ceasing to fight for the triumph of Truth. Read in the right way, La Vita Nuova (the New Life) will acquire its real meaning from the title to the last word, and the student then could imagine the Unveiled Beatrice also uttering the words of the Golden Precepts: "False learning is rejected by the Wise, and scattered to the Winds by the Good Law."


Next article:
Conclusion: Final Comments by the Compiler


FIVE (5) FOOTNOTES LISTED BELOW:

(1) Les Mystere de la Chevalier et de l'Amour du Moyen-age.
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(2) Dante Revolutionnaire et Socialisto.
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(3) Beatrice Geist und Kern der Dant'shen Dichtung -- (1889).
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(4) Pizzi, "Storia della poesia Persiana."
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COMPILER'S NOTE: I added this 5th footnote; it was not in the article. If it doesn't paint an accurate enough picture, or is incorrect, I hope the Editors of THEOSOPHY magazine will spot it and point it out to me, so that I can make the necessary corrections.

(5) "Torquemadas" means the various people who were the Grand Inquisitors (you know, the persons in charge) for the cruel Institution known as the "Inquisition". For hundreds of years of its operation the Christian Church used this organization to hunt down heretics and people such as these poets who studied wisdom. The Torquemada name is taken from the most famous and notorious one, Tomas de Torquemada, who was the Grand Inquisitor for Queen Isabella, and who burned over ten thousand people and tortured over eighty thousand more in a brief period of only 14 years.
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