Time, eternity, history: Dante, Petrarch, Machiavelli
- Remo Bodei
I want to sketch a conceptual and historical analysis of such terms as “time” and “eternity”, to restore them to their original set of implications in Dante’s Comedy, Petrarch’s Triumphs and Machiavelli’s Prince and Discourses. We do derive the concept of eternity from our notion of time, imagining eternity as a very long time, extended to infinity. But in classical and medieval philosophy, starting from Plotinus, eternity (aion) is identified with zoe, life, while in Boethius it is defined plenitudo vitae. Time is instead a hemorrhage of life, a loss of fullness. In this sense it is aegestas, poverty, need, constantly chasing after fulfillment, which, in earthly life, just flickers for a moment. Far from having a duration, an extension in time, eternity is, therefore, as un-extended as a geometrical point. It is in a “point / in which all times are present”. Even Petrarch’s “the three parts of time” (past, present, and future) coincide in eternity. In Machiavelli, the concept of eternity vanishes altogether, and we are left with the time of human history, the time in which individuals are irrevocably immersed during the brief span of their existence.