The topic of Dante came up recently here in a comment stream following an article on parsley.  So I am taking this opportunity to share with you two of my favourite bits.

First, from Canto XVI of Paradiso

Setting: Dante has reached the Heaven of Mars, and meets his great-great-grandfather Cacciaguida degli Elisei.  Dante marvels at his nobility, and laments the corruption of Florence in his time.
O poca nostra nobiltà di sangue,
se gloriar di te la gente fai
qua giù dove l’affetto nostro langue,
mirabil cosa non mi sarà mai:
ché là dove appetito non si torce,
dico nel cielo, io me ne gloriai.
Ben se’ tu manto che tosto raccorce:
sì che, se non s’appon di dì in die,
lo tempo va dintorno con le force.
which roughly translates as
Oh, our poor nobility of blood, if you make people glory in you down below, where our affections languish,
It will no longer seem strange to me, that there where our appetites are not twisted, I mean in Heaven, I gloried in you.
You really are a rapidly shrinking cloak, because if you’re not added to daily, time cuts you away with scissors.
And what do I make of this?  The last bit, in bold, applies to our technique in science.  The old folks used to declare how much of their own glassblowing they could do, etc., etc., and it is true that many of the old skills are not being passed on.  But it’s not so much these manual skills, as even the ability to think of apparatus to do a particular something, that is getting lost.

Moving back now, to the Purgatorio Canto V

Dante is climbing the mountain of Purgatory, following his guide Virgil.  The spirits are so surprised that Dante, unlike Virgil who is also a spirit, casts a shadow.  Virgil tells him not to be distracted, and to keep climbing:
Vien dietro a me, e lascia dir le genti:
sta come torre ferma, che non crolla
già mai la cima per soffiar di venti;
ché sempre l’omo in cui pensier rampolla
sovra pensier, da sé dilunga il segno,
perché la foga l’un de l’altro insolla.
Keep right behind me, and let them carry on talking: stand like a solid tower whose top never collapses, however hard the wind blows;
Because it’s always the case with someone in whom thought piles upon thought, what they’re aiming at gets further away, because one thought dilutes the force of another.
Which tells me to keep my mind on one job at a time!

One little bit more from the previous scene.  In Canto XVII, Cacciaguida has shown Dante that he is to be, in effect, a whistleblower on all the corruptions in Florence.  This will lead to his exile, but nevertheless, go ahead:
e lascia pur grattar dov’è la rogna.
which means
and let them scratch where it itches!