We all have dream books and this has long been one of mine. As I understand it, the notion of the current Enciclopedia Dantesca was born toward the end of the Second World War when the editor Umberto Bosco recognized the need for an update to the 1895 Enciclopedia Dantesca directed by Giovanni Andrea Scartazzini (digitized copies of which are available for view here). It took until 1965 – the 700th anniversary of Dante’s birth – for the project to gain enough interest to be put into production. Work then proceeded and between 1970 and 1977 six total volumes were published. These were revised and reprinted in 1984 (the revision seems mostly to have been an expanded bibliography), and that revision was itself reprinted in a limited run luxury edition in 1996 (which is the one I’ve had out from my library for 6? years). Then in 2005 the enciclopedia saw another revision, this time adding bibliography for 1985-2005 and at least retouching the biography (I don’t have the 1996 volume at hand to compare so I can’t be sure the extent). This latest printing, distributed across an impressive 16 volumes, is now in my personal library – though homeless until I shift about some other books. There is an online version here that includes everything but volumes 1-4 – the texts, commentary, biography, and bibliographies – but it’s not quite the same.
Dante’s lyrics – his Rime – haven’t received much attention in English. Although there is a wonderful recent treatment with overview essays and some commentary – the 2014 Dante’s Lyric Poetry: Poems of Youth and of the ‘Vita Nuova’ in the Univ. of Toronto Lorenzo Da Ponte Italian Library – the fullest edition remains the Foster and Boyde Dante’s Lyric Poetry first printed in 1967 and reprinted five years later. This set is now very scarce – doubly so if you don’t want ex-library copies – and almost invariably ugly in price. But I recently tripped into a bargain of a near new copy so once again I add to the lumber room.
Despite actually being a sort of librarian with something like 7 million volumes at hand at work I still buy many, many books – operating loosely on Umberto Eco’s now-tired dictum that you should limit your personal library only from considerations of budget and space, not by time or intention to immediately read what you acquire. Today’s new purchases, the Mondadori Meridiani editions of Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso and Petrarch’s Canzoniere, fall into the category of abiding intentions. Petrarch I’ve of course read in selections but mostly focused on his prose (Secretum especially but also Rerum familiarium libri and De otio religioso) so it would be nice to learn more of his poetry. Ariosto I’ve never touched, despite some strong recommendations of Charles James Fox regarding his ‘freedom of manner’ – “Ariosto has more of it than any other poet, even so as to vie in this particular merit with Homer himself; and possibly it may be that my excessive delight in him is owing to my holding in higher estimation than others do the merit of freedom and rapidity.” I think he elsewhere says Ariosto alone is worth learning Italian for. So here’s to hoping time for both is found in coming years.