The Function of Lethe

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Coassin, Flavia
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Australian Humanities Press
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When, in the last canto of the 'Purgatorio', Dante-character claims not to remember having ever estranged himself from Beatrice, she reminds him that he has just drunk of Lethe, and adds that his inability to remember is proof of his estrangement. If Lethe were just a generic river of forgetfulness, it would lose the metaphorical complexity of the Lethe of classical myth, and, as a consequence, its inclusion would amount to a mere literary reference that Dante had not been able to resist. This cannot be the case, firstly because these cantos are brimming with such references and the complexity of their meanings and interpretations has to be assumed totally; and secondly because, in making use of myth, Dante never erases or diminishes its original significance but enriches it instead through a Christian perspective, the procedure being one of equation and integration of the truth of pagan myths into Christian truth, just as Matelda equates the myth of the golden age with the Edenic myth. This article examines the function of Lethe in Dante's 'Comedy'.
Dante, Italian literature
Coassin, Flavia 2000. The Function of Lethe. In M. Baker and D. Glenn (eds). "Dante Colloquia in Australia: 1982-1999", Australian Humanties Press: Adelaide, 95-102.