Halfway through our journey through life I found myself in the dark forest, for the straight path was lost to me.
Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita mi ritrovai per una selva oscura ché la diritta via era smarrita. (Inferno I, 1–3)
The first lines of the “Divine Comedy” memorized us, siblings, very early. This was not a sign of precocious education, but, as we were only later to recognize to our shame, the product of infantile joy in the supposed clay feet of adults. Our fun was due to a kind of ritual that often happened when our father’s friend, the SPD politician Carlo Schmid, was our guest. Sitting on a straight chair, which made it easier for this mighty figure to get up, Schmid tried, probably out of fear that the long discussions about politics would have bored her, to respond to the children who remained around after lunch because of these visits always had something solemn.
Schmid’s question about our school or reading experiences, motivated by educational sympathy, inevitably led to Dante and Schmid’s declaration that he knew the whole “Divine Comedy” by heart. To prove it, he began to declaim in Italian with gentle pathos, almost in a whisper, while using a hand raised to the side at ear level like a metronome. It always seemed like he was starting a long recitation. However, it broke off abruptly after the first terzine, from which we children concluded that “Uncle Carlo” must have tried to fool us, especially since the same game was played with Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”: the performance never went beyond “Who?”. Every time we had to resist laughing and mocked ourselves about it until we were old enough to understand what a profound meaning Dante had not only for Carlo Schmid, but also for our father and a group of friends who were critical of the regime in the thirties owned.
At that time, the later co-creator of the Basic Law was a private lecturer in international law in Tübingen. As a half-Jew, our father had great difficulty finding a supervisor for his doctorate. Schmid, who announced his rejection of National Socialism, among other things, by taking in Jewish students who were put in front of the door by landlords at high risk, offered himself as a doctoral supervisor. The relationship came about through the mutual closeness to the circle of friends of followers of the poet Stefan George, whom the Renaissance researcher Percy Gothein and the writer Wolfgang Frommel had gathered around them. In this community, the fascination for the thought world of the honored “master” went hand in hand with the veneration of Dante as one of the ancestors of that mystical vision of a spiritual nation that George used the – later differently interpreted – terms of “secret Germany” or the “New Kingdom” ” Association. Both strands came together in the ideal image of a European humanism, which Carlo Schmid contrasted with the National Socialist conception of the Reich in covert criticism.
The spiritual and spiritual nourishment that Dante offered him all his life, but especially during these years of isolation under the dictatorship, Schmid tried to convey to a group of students with whom he played the “Divine Comedy” once a week at home. read and, as my father reported later, “explored the mysterious depths of Dante’s worldview”. “Dante, the exiled poet, became a model for those ostracized by National Socialism. The utopia of the ‘New Kingdom’ strengthened the will to resist ”, writes Schmid’s biographer Petra Weber in a touching passage about the“ essential importance ”that poetry was given in the situation at the time. Some from this group felt compelled to emigrate. In his memoirs Schmid tells that he read with them “the song of praise of another exile, the Divina Commedia” before they went on the great journey. They took these ideas with them in their spiritual baggage. It should serve as a compass for them in the dark forest.
All previous episodes our series can be found at www.faz.net/dante.
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