Primordial poetry

Chapter 4 of The Infinite Beauty of the World touches on a couple of intriguing points around Dante’s Purgatorio. One is that of language in Eden. Mr. Baxter writes: “Given that Adam was the first to enjoy the privilege of describing reality, the father of the human race was also the father of language. In a certain sense, Adam was the father of poetry, given that he was the ultimate, God-inspired practitioner of language.” (p. 109) He continues, “For Augustine, man, once ‘exiled from the Garden and from God’s presence into a world containing only traces of an absent God,’ now had ‘to labour for the knowledge [he] had lost with the Fall.’

After the Fall, ‘elements of [the primal language] may survive in the names of animals,’ but for the most part, ‘fallen humans…having been collectively exiled from the Garden… now find themselves in a vast and bewildering forest…where the tempter lurks with false signs of the divine truth that was lost or obscured with the Fall.’ Similarly, for Dante, the language of Adam is now in exile, ‘dissipated’ on account of human presumption: ‘and this form of language would have continued to be used by all speakers, had it not been shattered through the fault of human presumption…’ (p. 109-110)

In Purgatorio, canto 28, “Dante has the pilgrim walk in the footsteps of the first man”.

Adam naming the animals. From a painting in Meteora, Greece. On Wikimedia Commons.