Holistic Wellness in Austin, TX

Just One Tear: Alan Rickman, Professor Snape, And Dante Alighieri


The figure of Professor Snape, both written and onscreen, captured the imaginations of all who experience his commanding presence, his anger, his slow cadenced speech, and his heartbreak.  The actor who made him come to life in film, Alan Rickman, was known for a wide variety of roles, both on stage and in the cinematic world; and yet, for so many, Alan Rickman is Snape and only Snape.  On the occasion of the second anniversary of this beloved actor’s unexpected death, it seems fitting to look back on the defining moment of Professor Snape’s persona and to consider the tear that completely changed our view of him.  Like a famous figure in Dante’s Purgatorio, the second book of the Florentine author’s famous Commedia, it is a tear that redeems him, and it is a tear that redefines him.  Whether or not JK Rowling intended it, and especially in the film rendition of it, the death of Professor Snape and his parting gift to Harry, such as it was, resonates with a certain figure in Dante’s cautionary tale, one Buonconte da Montefeltro.




Screenshot from a lovely twitter account (linked here)


If you’re not Italian or a literature scholar with some, however tenuous, connection to Italian literature, you may have only read the Inferno section of what is colloquially known as Dante’s Inferno or The Divine Comedy.  The allegorical poem is the story of Dante, the literary figure, and his journey through hell, purgatory, and paradise while accompanied by the poet Virgil.  It is, as a whole, better known as La divina commedia or La commedia, and if you have not read it yet, do find yourself a good translation (I like Mark Musa’s but your mileage may vary) and read the whole thing.  The first book, the Inferno, is full of history and inside stories and no end to literary references.  The second book, Purgatory, is the same, though more touching and less gossipy, in my estimation.  The third book, Paradise, is pretty heavy on the theology and not as fun (I think).  But the first two?  Oh, you cannot die happy without having read them (and if you’ve gotten that far, you might as well read the last one and you may well love it, too.  The whole thing is a treasure, I promise).

So who, you might be asking, is Buonconte da Montefeltro?  Well, the entire work is a who’s-who of Italian political and historical figures.  In the fifth canto of Purgatorio, Dante and Virgil are walking along when the come across a group of souls singing the Miserere.  When they realize that Dante is alive, they rush at him and he soon learns that they are the souls of people who have died violently and repented at the very last moment.  Of the three who speak with Dante, and whose stories thus surface via the Florentine poet’s retelling of it, one is the son of Guido da Montefeltro, a warlord and politician who speaks to Dante in the 27th canto of the Inferno.  Father, you see, became involved in the machinations of popes and politicians and warfare; asked by Boniface VIII for counsel, Guido da Montefeltro initially demurs.  Assured that he will be pardoned, the warlord complies; later in life, he even becomes a Franciscan friar in a show of penitence.  Ultimately, this does not work, and while his son–Buonconte–repents, as you will see, the father’s last acts while alive do him no good.  He will remain in hell for all eternity for the sin of providing wicked counsel.  His penitence, you see, was self-serving and thus null.  But his son?  Ah, now that is a different story.  At the end of his life, he is sorry, and he sheds the magic tear that changes his fate and the narration of it forever…but I’ll get to that in a moment.

A digression is in order, please.


He Shou Wou is an herbal formula to keep one’s hair shiny and black

As anyone who follows my blog or has, by chance, read my essay on the subject of why Harry Potter books are good for students of Chinese herbal medicine will know, I came to the tale of the boy who lived late in the game.  (You may read the essay here).  As for Chinese medicine, that is my second career; in the first, I was a Spanish professor with a solid background and more than one degree in Italian literature.  I’m really not that familiar with British literature, besides some idiosyncratic favorites (I love Charles Dickens, for instance).  This being so, I’m not certain of JK Rowling’s education because I do not know much about UK scholarly preparation.  I assume that it is thorough, of course.  She studied French and Classics at the University of Exeter (source).  What is evident via close reading of the Harry Potter series, though, is that she is an incredibly well-read woman who makes use of multiple sources (which is but one of the reasons her books are so marvelous and endlessly enjoyable).  Because my background is in Spanish and Italian, of course I see the threads from the countries and literary traditions I know and love, while commentary on the English sources is not something I would entertain.  It’s just not my specialty area and I don’t know enough about British literature to do so in a creditable way.  (Though I do see some of Charles Dickens in her work, especially in the enchanting and intercalated tales of the young wizards’ adventures.  But now I really digress and should probably get back to my original subject, fascinating as the topic of Rowling’s literary influences may be).



Momento mori.  Want more?  Go here.


One of the primary themes of the Harry Potter series is death: avoiding it, unfortunately succumbing to it, and going out into the dark wood (of error, like in Dante?) thinking to meet it head-on.  During the final book, Snape is betrayed by Voldemort and the snake, Nagini, tears at his throat and leaves him to die.  When Harry steps forward to place a hand on his wound, Snape looks into his eyes and recollects the woman he loves.  Whereas Buonconte has Mary (and Dante, for his part, has the figure of Beatrice), for Snape, this is, of course, Lily Potter.  As his tears fall, he orders Harry to take them in a vial to the memory replaying water basin known in the series as the Pensieve.  Of the many things that we see in the memories contained in the teardrops, we see Snape’s tragedy, his love for Harry’s mother, his conflict with what is preordained, and we see his redemption.  Snape, who has seemed so very cruel over the course of the series, becomes something else, something new.  The way Rowling wrote him in the novels is breath-taking; Alan Rickman’s portrayal of him, for its part, is divine.

Dante, for his part, while walking along with Virgil, is accosted by three figures who will speak and be remembered in the section reserved for those who died violently and repented at the very last moment.  One is a warrior, killed in battle and another is a woman who, it seems, has been murdered in an act of domestic violence.  The second speaker, Buonconte, also a warrior killed in action, is a surprise for Dante because nobody in his realm knew precisely what had happened; after the conflict that ended his life, his body was never recovered.  “What happened to you?” he asks the spirit, “And what happened to your body?”  Buonconte relates a tale of combat, a throat wound that is mortal, and a last-minute act of contrition.  Fleeing, his final thoughts are on the Virgin Mary, and as he dies, he sheds a tear of penitence.  An angel comes, then, and snatches him from the devil’s attempt to take him down to hell.  The devil protests that “per una lagrimetta che ‘l mi toglie” (Purgatorio 5.107)–or in English, “The devil is infuriated that “one little tear”—“una lagrimetta” (Purg. 5.107)—is enough to deprive him of Bonconte’s soul” (source).  And though the angel takes the dead man’s spirit to begin its journey towards paradise, his body is then washed away in a flood of water from the stream where he lay dying.

During the entire course of the novels and the films, Professor Snape is so wicked.  He is genuinely cruel to poor Harry.  He is a cranky, suspect, troubled character.  Certainly, though, there are hints at something deeper.


Random screenshot but we all know this scene

When he flings himself between the students and there werewolf manifestation of Professor Lupin in The Prisoner of Azkaban, I knew right there that he must be hiding a decent, loving heart.

All genuine teachers would fling themselves between their students at danger and he did it without the slightest pause.  And Dumbledore did trust him and defend him, over and over again.

But Alan Rickman’s drawling voice and relentlessly dark wardrobe kept Snape on a singular level of malice.  Who can forget the first time he comes flouncing into Potions class in the first movie?  Or the nasty barbs he throws at Harry throughout?  I cried when he walked away from a broken Harry at the end of The Half-Blood Prince.  Didn’t you?  And nobody can forget the way Professor McGonagall leaps in front of Harry and his classmates in defense against what surely will be a vicious attack on his part in the final movie.  The novels are my favorite, but I do love the films.  Alan Rickman’s performance throughout give almost no clues whatsoever at the tragic figure beneath his black robes.  His Professor Snape is the Professor Snape, and as vivid and wonderful as the narrative is, it’s Alan Rickman’s version of this character who I see in my mind’s eye.

And then his throat is wounded.  And his last action, with Lily filling his thoughts, is to shed a tear.  And with this one lagrimetta, this one small tear, the entire story as we know it–including our vision of Professor Snape–changes.  He is redeemed, now.  There’s more for Harry to do, and Neville, and the rest of the beloved characters; all must finish their tasks before they find their own forms of redemption, or at least some measure of peace.  But Snape, alone by the water, dead, never to be seen again, is redeemed where he rests, alone in the dark and watery Hogwarts boathouse.  When I first read the book, I thought of this; when I saw the movie, I knew that there was that connection.  Whether it was deliberate or not, it’s there.  As JK Rowling herself says, “The stories we love best do live in us forever” (source) and this of course is as much true for the Harry Potter series as it is for the Commedia.  Whatever you thought of Snape before that moment, Alan Rickman’s portrayal of his last breath is unforgettable.  Like Dante, we hear his story and see his pain and we share it.  The one small tear is just that powerful.





May he rest in peace, Alan Rickman, and may his performance of Professor Snape keep him alive in the hearts of readers and movie-lovers alike.  Yes, I’m going to say it:




Screen Shot 2018-01-14 at 7.43.59 PM

Screenshot from twitter, here


2hw.v2Have you ever though to try traditional Chinese bodywork? At present, I offer tui na (similar to massage) and other ancient Chinese therapies, including cupping, gua sha, moxa, and more.  If you are looking for a holistic wellness consultant and coach, my services can entail short or longer term programs.  You are your own best investment, and when you take charge of your wellbeing you invest in yourself now and for the benefit of your future.

Two Hearts Wellness is a local holistic health and wellness outfit with a passion for all things nourishing, including but not limited to: joyful living, great food, art, and literature, and–of course–traditional Chinese medicine.  If you want to learn more about me, click here and do feel free to follow my blog and/or my Instagram, connect with me on Facebook, or contact me here to set up an appointment for personal training or health coaching services.  If you are interested in Asian bodywork therapy, click here to book an appointment online.






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