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Corbin - Dante - i Fedeli d'Amore

Corbin invokes Dante and the group of poets


known in Italian as the Fedeli d'Amore time and again throughout his work. The
primary source is Volume 3 of En Islam Iranien, Book 3, Les Fideles d'Amour.
For the English speaking reader the best place to begin is his profound and
beautiful book on the great Islamic mystic Ibn Arabi, Creative Imagination in
the Sufism of Ibn 'Arabi (now published as Alone with the Alone). Here he
recounts an incident from the Masters life that illuminates the question at the
heart of the souls journey. In Mecca in the year 1201 (A.H. 598) the mystic and
poet was a guest in the home of an Iranian family originally from Isfahan. The
daughter of the house was a figure of surpassing intelligence, beauty and spiritual
discernment. Her name was Nizam, ayn al-Shams wal-Baha, which is
Harmonia, Eye of the Sun and of Beauty. As Beatrice did for Dante, so she
revealed the human face of the eternal Sophia for Ibn Arabi. Of his discussion of
this incident, and of much else besides, Corbin writes,

"There is [one] term which perhaps calls for special justification: Fedeli d'amore.
We have already had occasion to speak of the Fedeli d'amore, Dante's
companions, and we shall speak of them again, for the the theophanism of Ibn
'Arabi has a good deal in common with the ideas of the symbolist interpreters of
Dante (Luigi Valli) , though it is secure against such criticism as that of the
literalist philologists, who were alarmed to see the person of Beatrice fade into
pale allegory In any case the young girl who was for Ibn Arabi in Mecca what
Beatrice was for Dante , was a real young girl, though at the same time she was
in person a theophanic figure, the figure of the Sophia aeterna (whom certain
of Dantes companions invoked as the Madonna Intelligenza)

It has not been our intention to re-open the great debate inaugurated by Asin
Palacios, concerning the actual historical relations between those to whom we
can give the name of the Fedeli damore in the East and West. It has seemed
more important to indicate the undeniable typological affinities between them.
We shall observe that this term Fedeli damore does not apply indiscriminately
to the entire community of Sufis; it does not, for example, apply to the pious
ascetics of Mesopotamia who in the first centuries of Islam took the name of Sufi.
In making this distinction we only conform to the indications provided by the
great Iranian mystic Ruzbehan Baqli of Shiraz (d. 1209) in his beautiful Persian
book entitled the Jasmine of the Fedeli damore. Ruzbehan distinguishes
between the pious ascetics or Sufis, who never encountered the experience of
human love, and the Fedeli damore for whom the experience of a cult of love
dedicated to a beautiful being is the necessary initiation to divine love, from
which it is inseparable. Such an initiation does not indeed signify anything in the
nature of a monastic conversion to divine love; it is a unique initiation, which
transfigures eros as such, that is, human love for a human creature. Ruzbehans
doctrine falls in with Ibn Arabis dialectic of love. It makes Ruzbehan the
precursor of that other famous man of Shiraz, the great poet Hafiz, whose Diwan
is still observed today by the Sufis of Iran as a bible of the religion of love,
whereas in the West it has been solemnly debated whether or not this Diwan has
a mystic meaning. This religion of love was and remained the religion of all the
minstrels of Iran and inspired them with the magnificent tawil [spiritual
hermeneutic] which supplies a link between the spiritual Iran of the Sufis and
Zoroastrian Iran, for according to this tawil the Prophet of Islam in person
proclaims Zarathustra to b the prophet of the Lord of love; the altar of Fire
becomes the symbol of the Living Flame in the temple of the heart." (Alone with
the Alone, 100-101)
A few pages further on Corbin writes that those among the Sufis whom we group
as the Fedeli damore [are] dominated by two great figures: Ibn Arabi, the
incomparable master of mystic theosophy, and Jalaluddin Rumi, the Iranian
troubadour of that religion of love whose flame feeds on the theophanic feeling
for sensuous beauty. Fedeli damore struck us as the best means of translating
into a Western language the names by which our mystics called themselves in
Arabic or Persian (ashiqun, muhibbun, arbab al-hawa, etc.) Since it is the name
by which Dante and his companions called themselves, it has the power of
suggesting the traits which were common to both groups and have been analyzed
in memorable works. " (Alone with the Alone, 110)

The "memorable works" that Corbin cites in a note are by Miguel Asin Palacios,
Enrico Cerulli and Luigi Valli. Asin Palacios first suggested Arabic sources for
Dante's Commedia in 1919. The spirited debate that his thesis sparked is ongoing
even today in the context of discussions about Western "Orientalism" in general.
A history of the controversies up to 1965 is provided by Vincente Cantarino in his
essay "Dante and Islam: History and Analysis of a Controversy," in De Sua,
William J., and Gino Rizzo. A Dante Symposium in Commemoration of the
700th Anniversary of the Poet's Birth (1265-1965). Chapel Hill: University of
North Carolina Press, 1965. More recently Maria Rosa Menocal has argued for
Islamic influences in Medieval literature in her book Arabic Role in Medieval
Literary History: A Forgotten Heritage. The Middle Ages series. Philadelphia:
University of Pennsylvania Press, 1987. Also useful are these short articles:
Otfried Lieberknecht, A Medieval View of Islam: Dante's Encounter with
Mohommed in Inferno XXVIII and Paul Cantor, The Uncanonical Dante: The
Divine Comedy and Islamic Philosophy.

Corbin himself was perfectly willing to accept the idea of Arabic influences on
Dante, but he characteristically remained largely indifferent to any strictly
historical analysis, and was concerned, unlike most modern scholars, with
the"typological affinities" involved, as he remarks above. It is the spiritual
similarity based on the archetype of Sophia that is important, not the existence or
non-existence of historical influences, which he would nonetheless be inclined to
accept.

For a concise and detailed overview of the relations among Dante and the Fedeli
d'amore as well as the Arabic sources of the troubadour traditions from the point
of view of someone who accepts Asin Palacios' basic account see Dante and the
Fedeli d'Amore by Bruce MacLennan. The figure said to have been the leader of
the Fedeli was Guido Cavalcanti. Also useful is this piece on the Troubadours.

For more on Ruzbehan see Henry Corbin, "The Jasmine of the Fedeli d'Amore: A
Discourse on Ruzbehan Baqli of Shiraz," Sphinx 3: A Journal of Archetypal
Psychology and the Arts, (London) 1990.

The portrait of Dante (from wikimedia) is atttribued to Giotto.