Saturday, November 25, 2006

Canto 11 note

The canto ends with another character, the illuminator, Oderisi,

l'honor d'Agobbio e l'onor di quell'arte
ch'alluminar chiamata e in Parisi

predicting that Dante will soon know the pain of exile and want. The hint of what is to come is elaborated on later, by Cacciaguida, Dante's noble ancestor whom he encounters in Paradiso. There in simple, stark terms, Dante gives us his experience of exile:

Tu lascerai ogni cosa diletta
piu caramente; e questo e quell strale
che l'arco de lo esilio pria saetta.

Tu proverai si come sa di sale
lo pane altrui, e come e duro calle
lo scendere e 'l salir per l'altrui scale.

Paradiso 17.55-60.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Canto 10: a few elements

This is the first terrace of Purgatory proper, with three images -- Dante calls them visibile parlare, speech made visible -- of antitypes of Pride: Mary, King David, Emperor Trajan.

Mary to the angel: "I am the Lord's servant," Mary answered. "May it be to me as you have said." Then the angel left her.

12 Now King David was told, "The LORD has blessed the household of Obed-Edom and everything he has, because of the ark of God." So David went down and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-Edom to the City of David with rejoicing. 13 When those who were carrying the ark of the LORD had taken six steps, he sacrificed a bull and a fattened calf. 14 David, wearing a linen ephod, danced before the LORD with all his might, 15 while he and the entire house of Israel brought up the ark of the LORD with shouts and the sound of trumpets.

16 As the ark of the LORD was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the LORD, she despised him in her heart.

17 They brought the ark of the LORD and set it in its place inside the tent that David had pitched for it, and David sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings [f] before the LORD. 18 After he had finished sacrificing the burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, he blessed the people in the name of the LORD Almighty. 19 Then he gave a loaf of bread, a cake of dates and a cake of raisins to each person in the whole crowd of Israelites, both men and women. And all the people went to their homes.

20 When David returned home to bless his household, Michal daughter of Saul came out to meet him and said, "How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, disrobing in the sight of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!"

21 David said to Michal, "It was before the LORD, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the LORD's people Israel—I will celebrate before the LORD. 22 I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But by these slave girls you spoke of, I will be held in honor."

23 And Michal daughter of Saul had no children to the day of her death.
Trajan and the widow:

There was storied the high glory of the Roman prince whose worth moved Gregory to his great victory; Of Trajan the emperor I speak: and a poor widow was at his bridle in the attitude of tears and grief.

Round about him appeared a trampling and throng of horsemen and the eagles in gold above him moved visibly in the wind. The poor creature among all these seemed to say: 'Lord, do me vengeance for my son who is slain, whereby my heart is pierced.'

And he to answer her: 'Now wait until I return.' And she, like a person in whom grief is urgent: 'My Lord, if thou do not return?' And he: 'One who shall be in my place will do it for thee'. And she: 'What to thee will be another's good deed if thou forget thine own?'

Wherefore he: 'Now comfort thee, for needs must I fulfil my duty ere I stir: justice wills and pity holds me back

At the conclusion of the three scenes:

Colui che mai non vide cosa nova
Produsse esto visibile parlare
Novello a noi perche qui non si trova.

The canto ends comparing the encumbered proud souls to corbels - stone brackets, sometimes in the form of human figures, that support a cornice or arch, often in a cathedral:

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.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

immortal bees

though each a life of narrow span,
Ne'er stretched to summers more than seven, befalls,
Yet deathless doth the race endure, and still
Perennial stands the fortune of their line,
From grandsire unto grandsire backward told.

Bees are a rich classical topos. In Virgil's Georgics, they provide an emblem of the immortality of the species. Later in the same book, they occasion a story of expiation and rebirth:

Then, when the ninth dawn had led in the day,
To Orpheus sent his funeral dues, and sought
The grove once more. But sudden, strange to tell
A portent they espy: through the oxen's flesh,
Waxed soft in dissolution, hark! there hum
Bees from the belly; the rent ribs overboil
In endless clouds they spread them, till at last
On yon tree-top together fused they cling,
And drop their cluster from the bending boughs.
Bees enjoyed a long and distinguished afterlife in European publishing, as illustrated by this lovely blog.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

A few aspects of the status of Purgatory

Here are a few follow-ups to questions raised during our last session, taken from Wikipedia's basic article on Purgatory:

Besides the concept expressed in early Christian writings of purification and suffering after death, as well as the efficacy of prayer for the dead (see above), no explicit use of the Latin word purgatorium (purgatory) is recorded before the 11th century. One of the first documents to mention purgatorium by name was a letter from the Benedictine Nicholas of Saint Albans to the Cistercian Peter of Celle in 1176.

Dogmatic definition of purgatory was given in 1254, following the normal pattern of doctrinal clarification, with concepts having roots in Scripture and Tradition being given explicit names and further unambiguous theological description by dogmatic decrees as needed. ...

Though most Protestant churches embrace the somewhat similar doctrine of glorification, they largely reject explicit belief in Purgatory, especially in the precise Catholic theological definition. ...

Lutherans, following the later teachings of Martin Luther, deny the existence of purgatory and do not pray for people who have already died. Luther wrote in Question No. 211 in his expanded Small Catechism:

"We should pray for ourselves and for all other people, even for our enemies, but not for the souls of the dead."...

Protestant disbelief in "purgatory" partially centers on the idea that it implies that Christ's blood sacrifice on the cross was insufficient to save humanity in whole and represents a human desire to perform some works that can "assist" them through into Heaven.

Some Eastern Orthodox sources, including the Ecumenical Patriarchate, consider Purgatory to be among "inter-correlated theories, unwitnessed in the Bible or in the Ancient Church" that are not acceptable within Orthodox doctrine,[7] and hold to a "condition of waiting"[8] as a more apt description of the period after death for those not borne directly to heaven. This waiting condition does not imply purification as it is linked to the idea "there is no hope of repentance or betterment after death." The prayers are simply to comfort those in the waiting place.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Dante on Florentine Democracy

Atene e Lacedemona, che fenno
l'antiche leggi e furon sì civili,
fecero al viver bene un picciol cenno

verso di te, che fai tanto sottili
provedimenti, ch'a mezzo novembre
non giugne quel che tu d'ottobre fili.

Athens and Sparta, which made the ancient laws
and had such civil order,
gave only hints of the good life compared to you,

who make such fine provision
that the threads you've spun but in October
do not survive to mid-November.
Purgatorio VI