Yesterday I wrote about Mario Biagini‘s exquisite reading of Dante. But he also praised someone else during that morning session – the Oscar-winning actor Roberto Benigni, of It’s a Beautiful Life fame.
A few years ago, Benigni held televised Dante readings in front of live audiences. They transfixed all Italy – “millions, for hours,” said Mario, “even non-Tuscans.” And he did it for years.
“It was amazing,” said Mario. “It means that people are not stupid.” The show toured America in 2009 as “TuttoDante.” The New York Times described it this way:
Roberto Benigni leapt up with a riff on the 26th Canto of Dante’s “Inferno,” in which fraudulent advisers are engulfed by flames that scorch them. “It’s like landing in Los Angeles or Manhattan, full of little lights like a skyscraper,” he exclaimed in his frenetically choppy English. “Dante describes the lights like fireflies, like a farmer who sees billions of fireflies. And every single firefly is hiding a fraud — people like Madoff. Very cunning, very shrewd. These people are hiding inside the flame because they are hiding in life. The Florentines, you know, they invented finances.”
Later, Benigni said in his Manhattan hotel, “We need to have the nerve to understand why a man with a big nose 700 years ago had the heroic shamelessness to write. Really this is the most daring, bold poetry ever. In 2,000 years of Christian poetry they never surpassed this. They never produced such a scandal of beauty. Never, never, nobody.”
Why do I remember Benigni now? We’re heading into Oscar week, and I happened to see that Benigni is the lead item in a Yahoo News column that asks “Where are they Now?”
I could have told them. He’s here, reading the same Inferno Canto V that Mario read earlier this week. (Frankly, though, I like Mario’s reading better.)