Curtius, Ernst Robert: The Medieval Bases of Western Thought

We are perhaps οnly in the first stage of that process. I am convinced that America will play an important part in this development. T.S. Eliot is, I believe, the first poet to have drawn inspiration from Indian thought. It was in Boston, I think, that he studied Sanskrit. But he is rooted also in the Middle Ages, and I believe that he considers Dante his greatest master. Eliot is a sad poet. He has more to say about hell and purgatory than about paradise. We live in an age of disorder and despondency. Some thinkers will tell us that we ought to feel despondent. But if anything is flatly contradicted by the medieval mind, it is certainly this. Remember the seventh canto of Dante’s “Inferno.” He meets there a particular class of sinners -the people suffering from depression. “We have been sad,” they confess, “in the sweet air that is gladdened by the sun”-

Tristi fummo

Nel aer dolce che del sol s’allegra

Today these people would be treated in hospitals. But Dante considered them sinners.

If I were to sum up in two words what I believe is the essential message of medieval thought, I would say: It is the spirit in which it restated tradition; and this spirit is Faith and Joy.

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