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Dante’s Purgatorio Canto VI in Nineteenth-Century Brazil: Translating the Nazione/Nação


In the 1888 Brazilian –not Portuguese– translation (as the cover proudly reads) in terza rima of Purgatorio Canto VI by Brazilian José Xavier Pinheiro the choice of the translator of the word pàtria instead of the word paese (or in Portuguese país) caught my attention. In this paper I argue that the use of the word pàtria was done in an attempt to translate, both inside and outside the text, the national consciousness present in Dante, a national consciousness that was much needed in nineteenth century Brazilian society. Purgatorio Canto VI is where we witness the moving embrace between Virgilio and Sordello, an embrace prompted by their discovery that Mantua is their common hometown. Such a tender moment unleashes Dante’s rage toward Italy and its citizens, condemning the many wars and the frivolous political games of their municipalities, particularly of Florence. While in the Italian text Sordello inquires about Dante and Virgilio’s “paese” (v.70), in the Portuguese text Pinheiro deliberately uses the word “pàtria” (v.70). First, I discuss the creation of Dante as a political icon by nineteenth century Italian patriots and activists, Mazzini among others, and the ways in which these ideas traveled to Brazil through Garibaldi (among others). Second, I look at how Pinheiro uses this potentiality in his translation of the Purgatorio VI, to reflect on the impact that the translation might have had on the construction of the literary canon of a new nation and whether such ideas can be actually translated. Third, I show how both the Risorgimento’s reinterpretation of Dante and Pinheiro’s translation challenge the arguments advanced by Benedict Anderson in his book Imagined Communities. Finally, I conclude by reflecting on translation as a tool for political change.

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