A Polysemantic Country Song?
While in exile, Dante relied on wealthy friends for lodging and other support. In return, he offered his creations. In the letter excerpted below, he dedicates Paradiso to his friend Can Grande della Scala and attempts to tell the nobleman what the work is about.
To the great and most victorious lord, Lord Can Grande della Scala, Vicar General of the Principate of the Holy Roman Emperor in the town of Verona and the municipality of Vicenza, his most devoted Dante Alighieri, Florentine in birth but not in manners, wishes him a happy life through long years, as well as a continuous increase in his glorious reputation. …
For me to be able to present what I am going to say, you must know that the sense of this work is not simple, rather it may be called polysemantic, that is, of many senses; the first sense is that which comes from the letter, the second is that which is signified by the letter. And the first is called the literal, the second allegorical or moral or anagogical.
Which method of treatment, that it may be clearer, can be considered through these words: "When Israel went out of Egypt, the house of Jacob from a barbarous people, Judea was made his sanctuary, Israel his dominion" (Douay-Rheims, Ps. 113:1-2).
If we look at it from the letter alone, it means to us the exit of the Children of Israel from Egypt at the time of Moses; if from allegory, it means for us our redemption done by Christ; if from the moral sense, it means to us the conversion of the soul from the struggle and misery of sin to the status of grace; if from the anagogical, it means the leave taking of the blessed soul from the slavery of this corruption to the freedom of eternal glory.
And though these mystical senses are called by various names, in general ...