Retracing the steps of the Supreme Poet entails moving away from the historic centre of Ravenna, where Dante is sure to have lived, organised his work, frequented friends and scholars, and took part in the events promoted by Guido Novello da Polenta, to rediscover, immediately south of the city, an environment as different as it was dear to Dante Alighieri: the natural habitat of the Pinewood of Classe.
An evocative place that, even today, is a reserve of timeless fauna, capable of evoking, still intact, the atmosphere that the Poet’s long walks through the coastal forest could have exuded in those days. Landscapes, colours, patches of light and shade, were undoubtedly precious sources of inspiration for an artist in search of impressions and imagery, useful for recreating in writing the many descriptions that form the backdrop to the encounters in the Commedia.
As in Canto XXVIII of the Purgatorio (vv. 1 – 21), where we find the Pinewood of Classe in the description of the enchanting forest of Earthly Paradise, into which he and Virgil enter on the last day of their mystical journey.
At the end of their period of purification, the Earthly Paradise appears to them, a beautiful and hospitable forest, in stark contrast to the dark forest of the first canto of Inferno. Here the air is fresh and light, rich in scents, with a pleasant breeze that does not prevent the birds from chirping in perfect harmony. Moving through the woods, Dante arrives at a river, on the bank of which walks a woman of incredible beauty and serenity, Matelda, who sings and gathers flowers.
Now keen to search within, to search around
that forest – dense, alive with green, divine –
which tempered the new day before my eyes,
without delay, I left behind the rise
and took the plain, advancing slowly, slowly
across the ground where every part was fragrant.
A gentle breeze, which did not seem to vary
within itself, was striking at my brow
but with no greater force than a kind wind’s,
a wind that made the trembling boughs –they all
bent eagerly – incline in the direction
of morning shadows from the holy mountain;
but they were not deflected with such force
as to disturb the little birds upon
the branches in the practice of their arts;
for to the leaves, with song, birds welcomed those
first hours of the morning joyously,
and leaves supplied the burden to their rhymes –
Compared to the other woods, perhaps the Pinewood of Classe boasts the greatest artistic and literary impact, due to the many other famous quotations: from Giovanni Boccaccio, who wrote the novella of Nastagio degli Onesti, contained in the Decameron (day V, novella 8); from Botticelli, who portrayed the magic of the same forest in the representation of Boccaccio’s novella.
The poet Dryden, who made the Pinewood of Classe known abroad, and Byron, who galloped through it, followed by all the artists on the Grand Tour and other scholars who, over the centuries, stopped in this pinewood in memory of the great poet. Giovanni Pascoli attempted the impossible by bringing Dante and Garibaldi together in his poem “L’ero italico” (The Italian Hero).