Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Notes on Purgatorio 12

Canto 12 completes the tripartite structure begun in Canto 10 which will be the pattern for each of the seven terraces of the deadly sins:
  1. Entering each Terrace, the pilgrim sees the “goad” – the depiction of the countervailing virtue that is the cure for the vice being purged.
  2. He meets the souls being purged.
  3. Leaving, he encounters the “check” – a representation of the vice that was just being addressed.
Here as he leaves off discussing human artistry he encounters 12 panels involving stories of pride, six from the Hebraic Old Testament tradition and six from the Greco Roman myths.

"Pride of place" goes to Satan. There was a lively discussion in the middle ages about how long it took Satan to fall once he was created. Any wagers on Dante's view?

Briareus, we remember from Hesiod's Theogony, was one of the hundred-handed (Hecatonchires) late offspring of Ouranos and Gaia:
Soon after they were born, their father, Uranus, threw them into the depths of Tartarus because he saw them as hideous monsters. In some versions of this myth, Uranus saw how ugly the Hecatonchires were at their birth and pushed them back into Gaia's womb, upsetting Gaia greatly, causing her great pain, and setting into motion the overthrow of Uranus by Cronus. In this version of the myth, they were only later imprisoned in Tartarus by Cronus.

The Hecatonchires remained there, guarded by the dragon Campe, until Zeus rescued them, hoping they would serve as good allies against Cronus. During the War of the Titans, the Hecatonchires threw rocks as big as mountains, one hundred at a time, at the Titans.
The emphasis upon the mimetic power of the images is evident from the anaphoric repetition of Vedea...Vedea...Vedea etc. What emerges from the 13-tercet description of the panels is on the one hand a balanced structure of vivid images of destruction and decapitation, and on the other an acrostic that spells the name of humanity - UOM - which apparently hid unnoticed by commentators until 1898.

The final panel is a vision of the abasement of Troy:

Vedeva Troia in cenere e in caverne;
o Ilïón, come te basso e vile
mostrava il segno che lì si discerne!

Any thoughts on this combination of mimesis (the images on the panels) with the emergence of this other kind of sign?

The canto ends with an angel coming to meet the pilgrim, the lifting of the first "P," and an unusual glimpse of Virgil smiling.

What do the various elements of the canto - the elaborate artifice, the actions of the characters - have to do with the nature of pride? If moral education is going on here, how is it occuring?

No comments: