By Peter Vassallo
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Extra resources for Byron: The Italian Literary Influence
Ll. 7-11) Byron's interest in Dante was probably reawakened by Shelley during the summer of 1816 which the poets spent in close companionship near Lake Geneva. The Prisoner rif Chilton was occasioned by an actual visit to the Castle of Chillon, but the literary treatment of the anguish of physical and mental incarceration was in all probability inspired by Dante's awe-inspiring account of the horrible fate of Count Ugolino. There is undoubtedly a parallel between Ugolino's helpless witnessing of the slow death of his sons and the prisoner of Chill on's ordeal in outliving the gradual death of his brothers.
19 In Byron's view, however, Dante's claim to greatness rested not so much on his poetical achievement as on the fact that he was a martyr to his high principles. An exile himself, he readily identified with Dante's prolonged suffering in the cause ofliberty, and admired the Italian poet for his unwavering adherence to his beliefs. As he remarked to Medwin: Persecution, exile, the dread of a foreign grave could not shake his principles. 20 Tasso and Dante were in fact heroes whom Byron readily associated with the nascent spirit of Italian nationalism.
Although Byron found it difficult to respond to the complex allegorical structure of Dante's Divine Comedy/7 he nonetheless appreciated Dante's treatment of human passions and emotions in this poem. He was in fact outraged when he read Friedrich Schlegel's criticism of Dante in the Lectures on the History of Literature in] anuary 1821. Schlegel had taken Dante to task for his lack of gentle feelings - a rash assertion which aroused Byron's indignation: Byron, Dante and Italy 29 He says also that Dante's chief defect is a want of gentle feelings!