Slingshot, the book by Gabor George Burt, opens in Florence, in front of Michelangelo's David, with a brief but thorough analysis of the figure’s state of mind right before his duel with Goliath. Florence, cradle of the Renaissance, was the site of an explosion of creativity unprecedented in human history – and a source of inspiration for me in illustrating two examples of meaningful innovation that took place just few hundred meters from Michelangelo's David. The protagonist in both examples is Roberto Benigni, the famous actor and director who won an Oscar for his 1998 film Life is Beautiful. In the first example, the scene is the Piazza Santa Croce in Florence, under the severe gaze of the statute of Dante mounted on the wall of the Basilica of Santa Croce. Here, Benigni explains, reads and recites the verses of the Divine Comedy. It is a singular, original, extraordinary event. His explanation is anything but academic: an interdisciplinary approach that relentlessly weaves together history, literature, theology, classical poetry, philosophy, morality, culture, and religion in an astonishing way that irresistibly engages the listener. His boundless passion for the subject brings his readings to elevated heights of spirituality, while at the same time entertaining with numerous reminders of and contextualizations into today’s Italy.
The second example follows in the footsteps of the first: this time Benigni presents, on television, the Constitution of the Italian Republic, the document that contains and inspires the principles upon which the democratic life of the country is founded, defining the rules and functioning of political life. In this case as well, Benigni's performance differs from the normal way of discussing legal matters. His visceral and uncontainable love for Italy, along with his gifts as an actor and comic, make such technical issues as law accessible, compelling, and fascinating. In both cases, the result was an extraordinary success in all respects, both as a televised event and for Benigni personally as an actor. In the first case, he reawakened in his audience the desire to re-read, to re-discover the Divine Comedy and become excited by the subject. In the second case, he reawakened patriotic pride in millions of people. He achieved success through stimulating and inspiring more engaging, interesting, and modern approaches to the teaching of the Divine Comedy and the Constitution.
…Dante, the opening of the Divine Comedy:
Midway upon the journey of our life, I found myself within a dark forest, for the straightforward path had been lost.
In the course of our existence, many of us are forced to face the dark woods of our problems, and to find a guide who can show us the way out. It could help us to consider that, because of Virgil’s guidance, Dante “went out to gaze at the stars” only after having passed through the fires of hell.
More here. (Note: I heard Benigni recite (perform?) the XXXIII canto from Paradiso in 2003 and it inspired me to commit it to memory and to make my 9 year old daughter do the same. He is truly brilliant)