Monday, November 13, 2006

Points to ponder in Canto 9

The canto presents some unusual interpretive challenges beginning with the very first terzina:
La concubina di Titone antico
Gia s'imbiancava al balco d'oriente
Fuor de le braccia del suo dolce amico

The concubine of ancient Tithonus
Already was whitening herself on the eastern balcony
Away from the arms of her sweet lover
Aurora, or Eos, often rises to herald the day in the ancient epics, but she's Tithonus' wife, not concubine, and she ordinarily turns the sky rosy. Plus, at this point in the Purgatorio, it isn't dawn, it's only about 9 p.m. These oddnesses might give us pause, to ask: what's going on?

We might also want to think about the rape of Ganymede, and the horrible tale of Philomela, Procne and Tereus. What are these classical stories doing here, at the moment when Dante is being lifted up, not by a Greek God, but by St. Lucia (do you see any relevance in details of her story?), and carried to the threshold of Purgatory? Why does Dante, invoking a scene from Statius' Achilleid, likens himself upon awakening to Achilles as a child?

Up to this point, Dante and Virgil have only been in the anteroom, as it were. Purgatory proper begins at the door which opens at the end of the canto.

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