Translated by Alanna Quintyne
In today’s article called “10 of Dante’s expressions still used today”, I talk about ten expressions used by Dante Alighieri more than 700 years ago and that we are still using nowadays!
If you want to know how much Dante enriched the Italian language read the following lines. I am sure they will be so interesting to you!
Dante Alighieri is universally known as the father of the Italian language, as the one who enriched this language by coining new terms and inventing expressions that have been passed down to us all, albeit sometimes with slight modifications. It is no coincidence that the authoritative Treccani wrote: “If Dante had not written his masterpiece today’s Italian would be a different language”.
I don’t know if you remember it, but in the past, I have already mentioned our sommo poeta (as we often call Dante), although not speaking directly about him, the Divine Comedy and all his other works, but to make you participate in an event, Dantedì, a day dedicated to him which takes places annually on March 25th. If you want to learn more about this day, don’t miss out on my other article.
Today, however, I decided to talk to you about expressions used by the genius of Dante Alghieri that are still used today. If you think about it, this is incredible! A man who lived centuries ago, whose 700th death anniversary we are celebrating, continues to live on through the language that he himself helped to create!
But returning to the topic of this article, I would like to point out that many of these phrases that have been passed down to us are practically identical to the originals which the poet had conceived, while others have slight changes. But let’s not waste any time and immediately start listing them.
1. Lasciate ogni speranza, o voi ch’entrate (Inferno III, 9)
What better sentence to start this list of quotes than this one?
In this sentence from Inferno, there is an exhortation to the damned souls to abandon all hope. In practice, Dante says that once they get there – in hell – their pain will be eternal, it will last forever.
Often the term lasciate is replaced by other verbs, for example, perdete ogni speranza, or voi ch’entrate, but despite these little puns, the meaning remained completely identical.
Today, this expression is often used in a joking or ironic sense to refer to difficult situations to deal with. For example, a particularly lively, if not downright undisciplined class might say to teachers: “Lasciate ogni speranza, o voi ch’entrate! – Abandon hope, all ye who enter here!”
2. Non ti curar di loro Ma guarda e passa (Inferno III, 51)
This expression should be considered by everyone as a real-life lesson: don’t think about what other people think or say, but just keep straight and follow your own path.
Just pay attention to one thing: in the Divine Comedy, this verse was slightly different. It read:
non ragioniam di lor, ma guarda e passa,
but time and its use in everyday life have brought it to the present day as a slightly different version, which, however, does not detract from its original meaning.
3. Degno di nota (Inferno XX, 104)
This is a very popular expression in today’s spoken language, meaning “deserving of consideration”.
It’s interesting to note that the Accademia della Crusca explains that this is the first example of the word nota taking on the figurative meaning of “trace left in the memory” rather than a written note.
4. Senza infamia e senza lode (Inferno III, 36)
This expression quoted above is also one that has reached the present day from Dante almost unchanged. The original was
sanza ‘nfamia e sanza lodo.
In the Divine Comedy, Dante uses it to refer to the unsuspecting, those who have been placed in hell because of their inability to take sides and express their ideas. So, for Dante, the unsuspecting are those who have never acted either for good or evil.
Therefore, the saying “senza infamia e senza lode – without shame and without praise” is today used to indicate something or someone mediocre, who does not stand out neither for his merits nor for his faults.
5. Mi taccio (Inferno X, 120)
The use of the verb tacere with a pronoun is not very common in contemporary spoken Italian, but it was absolutely normal in Dante’s time. Today, mi taccio can be heard especially on talk shows or political insight programs, where before concluding rather long speeches, experts and columnists are used to saying: “L’ultima cosa e poi mi taccio! (Let me add one more thing and then I’ll be quiet)”.
6. Dolenti note (Inferno, V, 25)
In the Divine Comedy, Dante writes:
“Or incomincian le dolenti note
a farmisi sentire.”
That is, the poet begins to hear the cries of pain of souls condemned for eternity for having sinned in lust.
This dolenti note has come down to us, but very often you might hear it in everyday conversation in the form of nota dolente or note dolenti to indicate unpleasant facts or situations. For example:
- Nostro figlio è stato uno studente esemplare quest’anno, ma la nota dolente è che il suo comportamento lascia a desiderare.
(Our son has been an exemplary student this year, but the sore note is that his behavior leaves something to be desired).
7. Il ben dell’intelletto (Inferno III, 18)
In the Divine Comedy Dante uses this expression in the following passage:
Vedrai le genti dolorose
c’hanno perduto il ben de l’intelletto.
By ben dell’intelletto Dante was referring to the damned souls who, because of their sins, have lost the possibility of meeting God and entering into His grace.
Nowadays, however, the use of ben dell’intelletto has lost its religious connotation and indicates more simply reason or wisdom. An example that comes to mind is:
- Quell’uomo ha perso del tutto il ben dell’intelletto. (That man has completely lost his good intellect), that means
- Quell’uomo è completamente matto. (That man is completely crazy).
8. Il Bel Paese (Inferno XXXIII, 80)
I’m sure that you all know Italy is commonly referred to as il bel paese. This appellation gained great popularity towards the end of the 19th century, thanks to a book in which it boasted of Italy’s enviable climate and beautiful landscape.
In fact, Bel Paese had been used earlier by Dante, in a way that was anything but positive. As is well explained by the Accademia della Crusca, this phrase in which Dante uses Bel Paese is derogatory, full of indignation and refers to a very serious event that took place in the city of Pisa.
9. A viso aperto (Inferno X, 93)
A viso aperto is a fairly common expression in the Italian language. To do something a viso aperto means to do something, usually to speak, to address a topic, even an uncomfortable one, with courage, without fear and without the need to hide or to postpone the discussion. For example:
- La cosa migliore che tu possa fare è affrontare il tuo capo a viso aperto, e fargli capire che questo procedimento non funziona.
(The best thing you can do is to confront your boss frankly and make him understand that this method does not work).
10. Amor, ch’a nullo amato amar perdona (Inferno V, 103)
This is without a shadow of a doubt one of the most famous verses from the Divine Comedy, perhaps of Italian literature. Just think that more than one Italian singer-songwriter has used this verse, adapting it and inserting it into their songs.
This poem talks about the love story between Paolo and Francesca, and the meaning of the verse is as follows: love, does not allow any loved one not to reciprocate.
The Crusca Initiative
Well, we have reached the end of this long roundup of 10 of Dante’s expressions still used today that have come down to us, I would say, in excellent health.
Before concluding this article, however, I would like to tell you about a very nice initiative of the Crusca, which, on the day of Dante’s 700th death anniversary, has decided to create a column of 365 words, phrases and verses of the great poet: in practice, one day for the whole of 2021.
If you are curious and would like to have a look at these publications, take a look at this link!
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