A bit late for this leg of Richard's Dante read-along, which was scheduled for August 6-8. I'm still not done with Purgatorio but I do have my class notes for Cantos 1-10. After that I'm on my own for the rest of the Divine Comedy. And to make matters worse, there is no Durling translation yet for Paradiso so I'm not sure which edition I should use.
So anyway, we left off at the end of Inferno with Dante and Virgil emerging from Hell into a starry night.
Hell was an easy downward ascent. Purgatory is a difficult uphill one. It's easier to sin, after all, than to control your impulses and desires and do what's right.
Purgatory answers the need for a middle ground for those who led sinful lives but repented at the end. In Dante's time, the High Middle Ages, this was a relatively new concept and not much work had been done on it.
According to Augustine, love is a weight that can either drag you down or lift you up like fire (Classical tradition held it that Earth was surrounded by a sphere of fire). Dante's journey is a spiritual as well as physical one: he must resist the pull of sin and defect and learn to move beyond them. There is always conflict between head and heart. Humans are torn between the desire for worldly goods and fame and the desire for Heaven and transcendence. In this way Purgatory acts as a place of transition where both Dante and the souls can acquire the awareness of what they lack. It is a world of hope and certainty.
Dante establishes Purgatory as the subject of this book. Because all beauty is banned in Hell and poetry is beauty, Dante is beauty's revival. He evokes Calliope, the Muse of epic poetry, to "arise / somewhat" because he has not yet been elevated to speak of Heaven (8-9). Dante continues his description of the early morning, predawn sky begun at the very end of Inferno, noting the planets and the constellations. The "dead air" of Hell is where time is stopped. Here, the constellations signify Purgatory as a place of movement, love, and hope.
Dante spies a very distinguished old man with a long beard who is illuminated by the stars as though he exemplified the cardinal virtues. He is surprised to see them and wonders if the laws of Hell have been broken or amended to allow people to leave. Virgil has Dante bow to the man and explains that they are on a mission from a lady in Heaven that's been ordained by God. Dante is not dead, he continues, but he wasn't doing so well when I first found him. I have already shown him all the sinners in Hell.
The old man is indirectly identified as Cato, whom Dante believed to be the paragon of Roman virtue and whose suicide at the fall of the Republic was a sacrifice akin to Christ's (which is why he's not in the Seventh Circle of Hell with the other suicides). He is also important politically. Dante wanted to see the decaying Holy Roman Empire restored as the only way to bring back order and justice, especially after the corrupt papacy involved itself too deeply in secular affairs. He hoped its universal rule, akin to that of the old Roman Empire, would replace the perpetually warring states. Still, both Dante and Augustine were aware that certain liberties were stifled under Roman rule, often violently, and likely would be once again under restored rule. But the divine plan is worth it.
Cato stands on the border of this tension. He is an old man who represents rebirth, renewal, and the redemption of the historical world. According to Saint Paul, conversion is the death of the old self and birth of a new one. The top of the Mountain of Purgatory is humanity's ideal destination, as it is closest to Heaven you can be without actually being in Heaven.
Virgil, appealing to Cato's love of liberty and his willingness to die for it, identifies himself as a soul from the First Circle, or Limbo ("me Minos does not bind" ). He adds that Cato's former wife Marcia is there too and that she still loves him and "still seems to beg for you" (79). (This refers to the suspended state of the souls in Limbo - they can never move forward.) If you will allow us to go through your "seven realms" (82), Virgil continues, I will praise you to her when I return.
Cato replies that Marcia no longer moves him but he will accept Beatrice's authority. He has no nostalgia or anything else to bind him to the past, and this makes us aware of Virgil's limitations. Cato tells Virgil to get Dante a new belt (the old one was used to summon Geryon) and have him clean up before he meets the angel guard. Still addressing all his remarks to Virgil, Cato proceeds to describe the island of Purgatory. Its softness and flexibility connote humanity.
Once Cato disappears, Dante and Virgil head towards the entrance. They are in a desert or wasteland akin to the one in Exodus. Compare this to the dark wood that opened Inferno - we have progressed from darkness and confusion to the place that preceded the Promised Land. From the land of bondage to the land of freedom.
It is approaching dawn, the beginning of a new day: the rising of the sun, the raising of the sails, the lift of Dante's spirits.
Dante implies that the journey through Hell was a detour from the "straight path" mentioned in Canto 1 of Inferno: they are "like one / returning to the lost path and , until he reaches it, / feels like he walks in vain" (118-120). Virgil uses the dew from the grass to clean Dante's face.
Also, compare lines 130-132 to lines 25-26 of Inferno's Canto 1:
Then we came on to the deserted shore, whichAnd:
never saw any man sail its waters who afterwards
so my spirit, still fleeing, turned back to gazeMany cantos in Purgatorio will recall similarly-numbered cantos in Inferno.
again at the pass that has never yet left anyone alive.
Dante's continued references to the movements of the sun and the constellations reflect the notion of Purgatory as a place of linear time, which equals motion and hope. The Exodus desert becomes more prominent here as well.
In addition to the body, Dante also mentions the heart. The conflict between the two - the heart wants salvation, redemption, etc while the body weighs it down - will be a major issue in Purgatory. Similarly, the Israelites wandering in the desert often felt the pull of their old familiar life in Egypt. (When I was little our pastor compared it to how we experience the heat of summer and cold of winter - feeling one makes us long for the return of the other no matter what discomfort it caused us in the past.)
Dante sees a blinding white light sailing over the sea so rapidly it doesn't touch the water. Virgil identifies it as an angel of God once the wings become visible. He tells Dante to kneel, fold his hands, and show proper reverence. This angel, says Virgil, "disdains all human means" (31); meaning he does not need oars or sails to power the boat, only his wings. Recall that the word "disdain" was used frequently in Cantos 8-9 of Inferno to refer to Dante's righteous anger, the devils' arrogance, and the heavenly messenger's scorn of that arrogance. The angel beats the air with his feathers to make the boat move. This is opposed to Satan, who beats his wings to freeze the sinners in the Ninth Circle of Hell but remains motionless in the ice.
The spirits sitting in the boat headed to Purgatory are singing about the Jews' liberation from bondage in Egypt. This makes explicit the overall theme of Exodus.
The spirits waiting on the shore are unfamiliar with their surroundings and ask Dante and Virgil if they know how to reach the mountain. Virgil replies that they are also strangers here and that they had arrived via a much harsher path, so that this one seems easy. Dante calls these souls "fortunate" (73).
Dante is recognized by his friend Casella, about whom we know almost nothing other than he might have been a composer. Casella initially thinks Dante is dead too, but Dante corrects him and asks him how he died. Casella implies that he died months ago and has been wandering around the Tiber River, where the souls not condemned to Hell congregate. No reason for the angel's refusal to take him is given, other than that the angel always obeys God's will.
Dante tells Casella that his physical body is weary and requests that Casella console him with his singing if he still remembers how. Casella complies and everyone loves his singing, feeling peaceful and contented. They're so transfixed that Cato appears and yells at them for being negligent of their journey. Apparently, then, Cato's singing represents a form of temptation that can freeze someone in place instead of inspiring them to move forward. He also represents the temptation of nostalgia.
The souls snap out of it and hurry off to the cliffs although they still don't know where they're going. Dante compares them to doves that had been eating contentedly until some danger arrives and scatters them. Dante adds that his and Virgil's departure is also very sudden.
At the foot of the mountain are the excommunicated. Ante-Purgatory is a place of further wait before training/purification can begin. It is similar in this respect to Limbo.
When you are excommunicated, the Pope has removed you from the community of the church. The image of the limb of a mystical body being severed recalls the body metaphors used for politics in Inferno (particularly Cantos 29 and 30).
Manfred, the soul Dante meets here, is the natural son of Emperor Frederick II. He tried but was unable to hold onto his father's power. He was killed in a battle with French and papal troops.
This is where the lazy are purified. The laws of Purgatory are made more explicit: the mountain is more difficult at the bottom than further up. Hell, by contrast, descends, which is easier. Also, only prayers made from Grace can be heard in Heaven, and you can't progress at night. These imposed constraints are necessary for the souls to learn patience and for them to have time to meditate and reflect. Patience counters negligence.
Dante has continued climbing after visiting those who were negligent in their repentance. Because they're generally lazy, only now do they notice that Dante's alive as his physical body forms a shadow. Virgil tells Dante to ignore them and continue walking. People who get too wrapped up in trivial cares, he says, lose sight of the greater goal.
Dante soon hears a chorus of voices singing "Miserere." Because they're not lazy they realize right away that Dante is alive. Two depart from the group to inquire about him. Virgil confirms that Dante is living. The entire group then goes to see Dante but Virgil tells him to just listen and keep walking.
They ask Dante if he recognizes any of them and, if so, to please give them news of the world. This Second Terrace contains souls who met violent ends and repented at the last minute.
Dante doesn't recognize anyone. The notes of my edition say he actually did know two people but his failure to identify them may imply that they're somehow transfigured or he's just feigning ignorance to make a point.
The first soul isn't actually named but it's obvious from his words that he is Iacopo del Cassero, a prominent Fano nobleman whose death was a public scandal. Dante had participated in some of his military campaigns. Iacopo asks Dante to remind his family to pray for him to help him along in Purgatory. He then recalls how he was assassinated in the swamps of Padua by someone from Este. He refers to the Paduans as "Antenori" after Antenor, who is said to have betrayed Troy to the Greeks and founded Padua.
The second soul identifies himself as Buonoconte de Montefeltro, son of Guido de Montefeltro. Buonoconte was killed in the Battle of Campaldino, which established the Florentine dominance of Tuscany. He is upset that his relatives seem to have forgotten him. Dante asks him why is burial place is unknown and what moved his body. Apparently Buonoconte's body was washed away after he was pierced in the throat and fell into the Arno River. He repented at the very last minute and was fought over by an angel and a devil, the latter arguing that a last-minute repentance was not enough. Buonoconte recalls the storm that made the Arno a raging torrent that carried off his body and blames it on evil will.
Dante himself was in this battle. In the Middle Ages, people of certain social classes were required to participate in war. It was fought between the Florentine Guelphs and the Arezzo Ghibellines.
A third soul introduces herself as "Pia; Siena made me, / Maremma unmade me" (133-134). This is echoed in Part III of T.S. Eliot's "The Waste Land": "Highbury bore me. Richmond and Kew / Undid me" (292-293).
Dante is crowded by souls like he is the winner of a dice game surrounded by friends begging for money. Dante recognizes some of them as victims of Tuscan political and clan violence. There is also one Pierre de la Brosse, who was a chamberlain to French King Philip II. He was executed for accusing Queen Marie of Brabant of poisoning Philip's son from a previous marriage. Dante uses his poem to warn Queen Marie that she may end up in a worse place than Purgatory because of this.
Dante finally leaves the souls behind, observing that they are praying for others to pray for them to lessen their time in Purgatory.
Dante recalls an episode in Virgil's The Aeneid in which the unburied Palinurus begs Aeneas to help him across the River Styx in the underworld, only to be rebuked by the Sybil. It seems to me, Dante says, that in this text you (Virgil) specifically deny that prayer can influence the decisions of Heaven. Yet it appears that these souls wish to do just that. Virgil explains that what he wrote was true at the time because God did not listen to pagan prayers before the coming of Christ. But Virgil also tells him to wait for Beatrice's explanation before fulling letting go of his doubts.
Dante then tells Virgil to hurry up because this journey is less difficult than the one through Hell and he is eager to see Beatrice. Virgil replies that it will take more than one day to reach the summit of Purgatory; in the meantime, there is a soul sitting and meditating alone who will give them directions for the quickest route. This soul doesn't respond to Virgil but asks who he and Dante are. When he hears Virgil's accent he is overjoyed to meet a fellow Mantuan and introduces himself as Sordello, an Italian poet who wrote in Latin. He also participated in and profited from Charles of Anjou's invasion of Italy (he was granted several fiefs). He became involved in a scandal when he abducted a lord's wife at the request of her brothers, who feared for her safety.
Dante launches into a lengthy condemnation of Italy for its apparent inability to govern itself, its enslavement to vice and corruption, and constant state of civil war. People in cities "gnaw" at members of their communities whom they should love - recall the idea of the "body politic" in Inferno and how it can be dismembered or become diseased, and also the impersonators chewing on each other in the Eighth Circle. He denounces Florence as a city of hypocrites and sycophants who seek public office only to profit from it and ridicules Florence's claim to be a new Athens.
The era of empire had come to an end by Dante's time. Emperors clashed with popes and both sides used the Bible to justify themselves. Many people were too concerned with local issues to even care for distant imperial authority anymore. While Inferno was concerned with popes, Dante puts many secular leaders in Purgatory for their failure to enforce the Roman laws codified by Byzantine Emperor Justinian in the sixth century BC. The Divine Comedy is also Dante's attempt to make an argument for a strong empire, which is why he wrote in the vernacular - to reach as large an audience as possible. He wanted to open discourse to people who might not be aware of what's going on.
The Garden of Eden is turning into a desert due to lack of leadership. Although history began with Adam and Eve's expulsion - which means that earthly human life is itself a form of exile - Dante feels that the historical world can be like a garden as well. Certain basic communal values can exist. We must take responsibility and see civil power as a service to the community, just as Jesus washed his followers' feet. Narcissism, the love of the self, is both the root of hate and a form of sterility (recall the homosexuals in Canto 15 of Inferno). Everyone claims the right to rule but for Dante, only certain people are divinely appointed. Tyranny is the opposite of just rule.
Dante rests in the Valley of the Princes. It is not an unpleasant place but frightening nightly occurrences serve to remind people who are forgetful. It is a temporary Limbo for those who think they've reached their destination. There is nothing more deceptive than a false sense of self-accomplishment. Your subsequent lack of action (repentance, working towards the greater goal) and lack of responsibility is strictly voluntary.
Virgil is always in an image of Limbo, which is why we're always being reminded of this condition (i.e. the "truncated words" in Canto 9 of Inferno).
But we are more than just the results of our choices. Divine justice is inscrutable - there is always a plan or hope or logic or a meaning to everything that happens. There is always something in us that wants more than earthly fame.
As his first day in Purgatory draws to a close, Dante has identified many kings and emperors from all over Europe. The first few lines also continue the ongoing navigation metaphor that began in Inferno. Limbo can also be seen as a place where rulers delude themselves and think they can get away with neglecting their spiritual and political obligations.
One of the souls stands up and faces east, the direction in which many churches are oriented and to which Christians traditionally pray. He leads the other souls in an evening prayer that reflects standard monastic practice and calls for protection during the night. Only Dante sleeps, however, and the souls in Purgatory are incapable of sin. Thus, the prayer is an act of remembering, not performing.
(All the depictions of Dante sleeping have me wondering what he's been eating all this time. I'd be starving after journeying through all Nine Circles of Hell.)
By addressing the reader directly, Dante is calling attention to the next event: two angels in green robes descend from Heaven. They have fiery swords with the tips cut off. This is a nightly occasion and the souls expect it. The swords allude to the angel sent to guard Eden, which sets this episode up as an inversion of Adam and Eve's expulsion. The color green is often associated with life and vitality.
The angels position themselves so that all the souls are between them. Dante can see their "blond heads" (34) but their faces are too dazzling for him to make out as he has not yet achieved the spiritual maturity to perceive divine images (although he's working on it). Sordello says they come from "Mary's bosom" (37), a reference to Heaven and the loving intercession of the Virgin Mary. Their purpose is to guard from the serpent that comes out every night. This makes Dante nervous. But the souls must be reminded that they are still in an imperfect world.
Sordello suggests that they go down to speak to the souls, who, unlike their counterparts in Hell, are eager to meet Dante. Dante observes that it is getting dark, another indication of normal, passing time.
Dante recognizes the judge Ugolino "Nino" Visconti and is thrilled to see that he is not in Hell. He is the grandson of Count Ugolino whom we encountered in the Ninth Circle. He fled Pisa when Ugolino joined the Ghibellines and lodged a complaint against Cardinal Ruggieri following his grandfather's death. Nino was also a frequent visitor to Florence. Like the others, Nino also thinks Dante is dead at first but Dante explains that he is still in his "first life" (58). (Second life is Heaven and second death is Hell.) Sordello and Nino seem dismayed to hear this. One calls to another soul named Conrad to join them.
Nino requests that Dante tell his nine-year-old daughter Giovanna (who has taken refuge in Florence) to pray for him. He doesn't believe her mother Beatrice loves him anymore because she has "[given] up the white fillets" (74) of widowhood and remarried Galleazzo Visconti, the Ghibelline ruler of Milan. She will be "wretched" and "yearn for them again" (75) because her new husband's death in 1302 will leave her penniless. For a widow to remarry was seen as self-indulgent. Both the viper of the Milan Visconti and the cock of the Pisa Visconti were carved onto Beatrice's tomb in 1334. Dante finds Nino's resentment quite justified.
Dante looks to the sky and notices that three bright stars have replaced the four bright ones he saw earlier. These new stars represent the three theological virtues of hope, faith, and love. Sordello then draws Dante's attention to "our adversary" (103). There is a snake in the grass, similar to the one that tempted Adam and Eve. Dante calls the angels "two celestial hawks" (103), as hawks supposedly hated snakes. The angels approach the serpent, which flees at the sound of their wings.
The new soul addresses Dante. He is Conrad II of the Malaspina family that controlled the region of Lunigiana near Tuscany. Dante deplored family division; the Malaspinas, by contrast, were renown for their solidarity. Conrad may also have fought against Nino in life.
Conrad wishes Dante luck on his trek to the "flowering summit" (114) by referring to God's illumination and Virgil's guidance as a "lam that leads you on high find / sufficient to fuel in your free will" (112-113). He then asks if Dante has news of any of his old territories. Unlike the other souls, he seems unaware of the current state of his family on earth. Dante says that he has never been in the Malaspinas' lands but assures him that they are celebrated throughout Europe. He praises them as morally upright people even in the face of evil and corruption.
Apparently Dante was on very good terms with the Malaspinas. In 1306 he was made the family's representative in a successful peace negotiation; the following year he addressed his Epistle IV to Moroello Malaspina and praised him for his recent hospitality and the liberal atmosphere of his court. Conrad's response indicates that within seven years Dante will know the truth of his own words through direct experience, as the result of some kind of crucial event ("larger nails than the / speech of others" [136-137]). This is another prophecy of Dante's exile.
Canto 8 opens with the image of sailors feeling nostalgic for their homeland and ends with a reference to Dante's exile from a member of the family who will host him. In broader terms, the expulsion from Eden represents the beginning of history. And while the phrase locus amenos refers a pleasant place with the features of a garden (like the Valley of the Princes), Exodus portrays the desert as a land of exile. This dichotomy is always on Dante's mind.
These notes are dated 12/12 so they must be from our very last day of class.
Basically, the souls are taught through art made by God himself. Galeotto (my notes don't specify who he is but I think he was in Inferno somewhere?) once asked how literature mediates our personal and spiritual quests. Dante's love for Beatrice can be thought of as a great mediation. It's about ascent and trying to find the means of ascent. As such, Canto 9 is about the transition from ante-Purgatory to the door of Purgatory proper.
Dante's mention of the Classical figures Philomel and Ganymede is an example of intertextuality. Dante dreams of an eagle and compares it to the one that carried off Ganymede to be Zeus's cup-bearer. Since the eagle is also the image of Christ in the Christian tradition and the symbol of the Roman Empire, it is as though Dante is mixing the debased, earthly, and divine here. The eagle may also be a metaphor for the visionary power of the poet's wit and genius.
Philomel's story is one of metamorphoses, the transformation from human to animal, similar to what we've also seen in Hell. In the the Seventh Circle, for example, the thieves are tormented by and merge with snakes, while in the Eighth Circle the impersonators relentlessly tear at each other with their teeth like rabid beasts. There is also the presence of half-human, half-animal creatures like the centaurs and Minotaur. This motif will continue in Purgatorio.
The threshold of Purgatory has additional abstract meaning. Both Ganymede and Philomel's stories are characterized by dark eroticism so it's uncertain whether Dante is talking about a sensual experience or the sublimation of the soul. Love can lead you to either the straight or crooked way, and this is the border between the two paths (the door, the eagle). This isn't the first ambiguous metaphor we've seen in The Divine Comedy. In Inferno the flame can either engulf a sinner (the "counselors of fraud" in Cantos 26 and 27) or be a prophetic voice or vision. So you have to make sure you read and interpret signs correctly. The eagle that lifts me up can also be the eagle of those erotic pagan tales.
From Philomel and Ganymede Dante moves on to Achilles, the hero of the Trojan War. This stylistic elevation (to epic high poetry) coincides with Dante's newfound confidence upon hearing from Virgil that Lucia had come down from Heaven to carry Dante as he slept.
Reader, you see well how I am elevating myThese lines occur directly in the middle of the canto and divide it in half.
matter, and therefore do not marvel if with more
art I bolster it. (70-72)
The Gate of Purgatory resembles the Gate of Heaven with Saint Peter. Dante is told not to look back as he passes through. He must continue to move forward, not give into nostalgia, a painful desire that will have you dwelling on the past and creating nothing new. It is a form of sterility (recall the sodomites in the Seventh Circle - remember, they're not necessarily sodomites in the sexual sense).
Dante has seven P's carved into his forehead by the angel. They are said to stand for the three main issues he will be examining as he progresses through Purgatory: Peccatum (sin), Plaga (wound), Penitentia (penitence).
The First Terrace is for the prideful. Dante examines some carved examples of humility, drawn from both the Bible and Classical tradition. If Art is humanity's representation of Nature, these images far surpass any human creation in terms of lifelikeness. In fact, the viewing experience is audio as well as visual.
The angel who came to earth with the decree ofRemember that light, visibility, and speech (language) are all linked together. Also recall from Inferno that Nature/Creation is God's own Art.
peace, for many years bewailed with tears, which
opened Heaven after long prohibition,
appeared before us so truly, carved there in his
gentle bearing, that he did not seem a silent image.
One would have sworn he was saying,
"Ave!" for imaged there was she who turned the
key to open high Love, . . . (34-42)
The prideful souls are carrying stones that have them stooped over in a position Dante compares to the Telamones, the corbels and capitals used in Romanesque and Gothic buildings. Basically, they're human statues that hold weights. As the souls trudge around the Terrace they must view the images of humility, particularly that of the Annunciation. This is the moment when the Virgin displays her submission as a servant of God, who also humbled himself by assuming human form.
The motif of metamorphoses is even stronger here.
O proud Christians, weary wretches, who, weakAlso note that while the spirit wants to ascend, the body is weighed down by sin that prevents both from moving forward.
in mental vision, put your faith in backward steps,
do you not perceive that we are worms born to
form the angelic butterfly that flies to justice
without a shield?
Why is it that your spirit flies high, since
you are like defective insects, like worms in whom
formation is lacking?
As to support a ceiling or roof we sometimes
see for corbel a figure that touches knee to breast
so that what is not real causes discomfort to
be born in whoever sees it: so I saw them to be,
when I looked carefully. (121-135)
Coming up: I do my best with the book's notes as my only guide.
I should have the rest of Purgatorio up shortly. Click here for Richard's post.
Please check back September 3-5 for Paradiso!