Monday, October 30, 2006

A new Aeneid

Robert Fagles has a new translation of the Aeneid, and has this to say about the poem in today's New York Times:
“I usually try not to ride the horse of relevance very hard,” Mr. Fagles said recently at his home near Princeton University, from which he recently retired, after teaching comparative literature for more than 40 years. “My feeling is that if something is timeless, then it will also be timely.” But he went on to say that “The Aeneid” did speak to the contemporary situation. It’s a poem about empire, he explained, and was commissioned by the emperor Augustus to celebrate the spread of Roman civilization.

“To begin with, it’s a cautionary tale,” Mr. Fagles said. “About the terrible ills that attend empire — its war-making capacity, the loss of blood and treasure both. But it’s all done in the name of the rule of law, which you’d have a hard time ascribing to what we’re doing in the Middle East today.

“It’s also a tale of exhortation. It says that if you depart from the civilized, then you become a murderer. The price of empire is very steep, but Virgil shows how it is to be earned, if it’s to be earned at all. The poem can be read as an exhortation for us to behave ourselves, which is a horse of relevance that ought to be ridden.”
Fagles has also translated the Iliad (I still prefer Lattimore) and the Odyssey, and offers this personal glimpse into his fascination with these works:
Virgil worked on “The Aeneid” for 10 years, and Mr. Fagles took almost as long. When he was done with it, he said, he went through a period of mourning, having lost what had become in effect a daily companion. And he still can’t decide which of the epics is his favorite.

“Some days are very Iliadic,” he said. “You’re in a war. And some days it’s all about getting home; you’re like Odysseus. It all depends on what side of the bed you get up on.”

Friday, October 27, 2006

A few sources

Wikipedia's capsule view of the Commedia.

There are many, many online resources helpful for reading Dante. For example, in Purgatorio VIII, Dante alludes to an old hymn sung by monks to ward off sexual and other kinds of dreams during sleep. Googling the name of the hymn, Te lucis ante, brought up this page about it, found on ChoralWiki, a large collection of music found in the public domain.

Here's the text:

Te lucis ante terminum,
Rerum Creator, poscimus,
Ut pro tua clementia,
Sis praesul et custodia.

Procul recedant somnia,
Et noctium phantasmata:
Hostemque nostrum comprime,
Ne polluantur corpora.

Praesta, Pater piissime,
Patrique compar Unice,
Cum Spiritu Paraclito,
Regnans per omne saeculum.


To thee before the close of day,

Creator of the world, we pray
That, with thy wonted favor, thou
Wouldst be our guard and keeper now.

From all ill dreams defend our sight,
From fears and terrors of the night;
Withhold from us our ghostly foe,
That spot of sin we may not know.

O Father, that we ask be done,
Through Jesus Christ, thine only Son,
Who, with the Holy Ghost and thee,
Doth live and reign eternally. Amen.

Tr. John Mason Neale, 1852, alt.

Here's background on Salve Regina, sung in Purgatorio 7.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Illustrated Comedy

Speaking of the Bodleian, this link will take you to illuminations of the Commedia from a 14th century North Italian manuscript. Here Dante meets Buonconte and La Pia, Purgatorio V.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

On Reserve

We've set up a small reserve area at the Fruitville library for any Purgatorio-related articles, books, or other resources which the group might wish to share. It's located at the main reference desk in the center of the main room - directly ahead as you enter.

So far the "collection" consists of a book offering text and some images of works by Giotto; an article on the ancient epic and the Commedia by Dante scholar John Freccero, and a piece found on the Internet whose authorship remains mysterious. The article is called: "Introduction to the Humanities as Involved Knowing" - it's a concise but far-ranging look at learning, the humanities and sciences, with comments on the value of humanistic learning from the Greeks to the present. Naturally, you don't need to go to the library to read it, since it's online here.

Please sign for items you borrow, and return them when done.

Our thanks to Valerie and the staff at Fruitville for allowing us to do this.

La Pia and Great Libraries

Jutta shares two links of interest:

First, an academic article by Aldo Scaglione that offers a detailed look at Purgatorio V. Here's a snippet from its subtle reading of the character of La Pia:
Pia's position in the topography of the Commedia gives reason to assume a significant parallelism with the somewhat analogous female characters who appear toward the beginning of each cantica, namely Francesca (Inf. V) and Piccarda (Par. III). All three are unusually gentle toward Dante, all three had been the victims of their husbands, yet, when seen in succession, they mark an interesting and telling progression from Francesca's complete, tragically lasting involvement in human passion, to Pia's transcending her private affairs in a willful state of preparation for the final, total salvation of her soul, and lastly to Piccarda's having reached the complete identification with divine will, as expressed in the memorable line,

«E 'n la sua volontade √® nostra pace» (Par. III 85).

Scaglione continues: The...contrast between this abruptly peaceful ending and the fury of the highly emotional, bloody, and tempestuous stories that immediately precede (vv. 64-129), is another example of Dante's unprecedented and uniquely effective method of arranging the parts of his poem by frequent variations in mood in the form of dialectically contrasting episodes, somewhat like the movements of a sonata. This discreet, subdued ending suggestively closes a canto that had been so full of dramatic action.

Jutta's second link is to a site about several of the great libraries of the world, including extraordinary collections such as that at Patmos (above), the Marcian, and the Bodleian (below):

Monday, October 23, 2006

Manfred of Sicily (Canto 3)

The appearance of Manfred of Sicily is occasion for one of the most celebrated lines in the Commedia:

Biondo era e bello e di gentile aspetto

Some background on Manfred here. The Sicilian Vespers was a direct consequence of what happened to Manfred.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

"Poppa" and Cato

Following up on a couple of questions from today:

"Poppa" indeed means "stern" when used of boats (it also means breast). The prow of a boat is the prora or prua. In Italian, "from stem to stern" is rendered "di prua a poppa."

Dante's guardian of Purgatory is Marcus Porcius Cato (Wikipedia entry here), also known as Cato the Younger. Plutarch devotes a chapter to him in his Lives (as well as another one to his ancestor, Cato the Elder). He appears in Sallust's Conspiracy of Catiline, and in Lucan's Pharsalia (61-65 AD).

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Allegory in the Middle Ages

As we read Dante's Purgatorio it will be helpful to gain some understanding of how the Bible was interpreted in the Middle Ages. A great deal of the basis for Biblical reading can be found in the works of Augustine and Thomas Aquinas. Much of this turns on the nature of allegory as construed in the Middle Ages.

The Letter to Can Grande allegedly written by Dante (whether it was by him or no, it's generally believed that he'd agree with its tenor) sets forth a contrast between the allegory of the poets, as can be found, for example, in Plato, and the allegory of scripture.

Wikipedia offers a brief summary of Dante's views.

From Dante's letter: may be called "polysemous", that is, of many senses [allegories]. A first sense derives from the letters themselves, and a second from the things signified by the letters. We call the first sense "literal" sense, the second the "allegorical", or "moral" or "anagogical". To clarify this method of treatment, consider this verse: When Israel went out of Egypt, the house of Jacob from a barbarous people: Judea was made his sanctuary, Israel his dominion (Psalm 113). Now if we examine the letters alone, the exodus of the children of Israel from Egypt in the time of Moses is signified; in the allegory, our redemption accomplished through Christ; in the moral sense, the conversion of the soul from the grief and misery of sin to the state of grace; in the anagogical sense, the exodus of the holy soul from slavery of this corruption to the freedom of eternal glory.. they can all be called allegorical.
More on Dante's letter and a detailed look at the typological view of Scripture can be found here.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Limbo in Limbo?

Pope to end doctrine of Limbo

The Pope will this week overturn a belief held by Roman Catholics since medieval times by abolishing the concept of Limbo. More here.