Thursday, March 22, 2007

Canto 20: Dore's Avaricious

Oddly, the site where the Dore illustrations were obtained seems to be offline. Click to enlarge.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Canto 19: Geomancy

Just before the pilgrim has his second dream, he offers a time indication via a reference to geomancy - the ancient art of using figures to tell the future. He refers specifically to the figure of fortuna maior, seen below, second row down, left hand side:

More on astrological geomancy can be found here.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Canto 18: Caesar pauses to destroy Marseilles

One of the more unusual pairings of Biblical and Classical exemplars comes in Canto 18, where we first are reminded of how Mary, after learning she was to be the mother of God, made haste to visit Elizabeth in the hill country, who was also pregnant (with John the Baptist). We are then treated to a scene from Lucan's Pharsalia where Caesar chooses to attack Marseilles, (here rendered as Massilia). Although in great haste to attack Spain, Caesar pauses at Marseilles long enough to destroy a sacred grove, set up the attack structures, and order his army to persist until the city falls. Impatient with the long siege, he then races off to Spain.

Here's part of the set-up for the scene:
But Caesar's visage stern betrayed his ire
Which thus broke forth in words: "Vain is the hope
Ye rest upon my march: speed though I may
Towards my western goal, time still remains
To blot Massilia out. Rejoice, my troops!
Unsought the war ye longed for meets you now:
The fates concede it. As the tempests lose
Their strength by sturdy forests unopposed,
And as the fire that finds no fuel dies,
Even so to find no foe is Caesar's ill.
When those who may be conquered will not fight
That is defeat. Degenerate, disarmed
Their gates admit me! Not content, forsooth,
With shutting Caesar out they shut him in!
They shun the taint of war! Such prayer for peace
Brings with it chastisement. In Caesar's age
Learn that not peace, but war within his ranks
Alone can make you safe." Lucan Bk III

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Dore and Dante

This is Gustave Dore's version of the encounter with Marco Lombardo in Canto 16. Numerous scenes from the Commedia as reimagined by Dore can be found here.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Another tale of Satan's Fall

Louis Ginzberg, a 20th century Talmudic scholar, gathered many traditional Jewish folktales and legends into a four-volume series of narratives entitled Legends of the Jews, which is online here. Eunice points us to the legend of Satan's fall:


Legends of the Jews
by Louis Ginzberg

The extraordinary qualities with which Adam was blessed, physical and spiritual as well, aroused the envy of the angels. They attempted to consume him with fire, and he would have perished, had not the protecting hand of God rested upon him, and established peace between him and the heavenly host. In particular, Satan was jealous of the first man, and his evil thoughts finally led to his fall.

After Adam had been endowed with a soul, God invited all the angels to come and pay him reverence and homage. Satan, the greatest of the angels in heaven, with twelve wings, instead of six like all the others, refused to pay heed to the behest of God, saying, "Thou didst create us angels from the splendor of the Shekinah, and now Thou dost command us to cast ourselves down before the creature which Thou didst fashion out of the dust of the ground!" God answered, "Yet this dust of the ground has more wisdom and understanding than thou." Satan demanded a trial of wit with Adam, and God assented thereto, saying: "I have created beasts, birds, and reptiles, I shall have them all come before thee and before Adam. If thou art able to give them names, I shall command Adam to show honor unto thee, and thou shalt rest next to the Shekinah of My glory. But if not, and Adam calls them by the names I have assigned to them, then thou wilt be subject to Adam, and he shall have a place in My garden, and cultivate it." Thus spake God, and He betook Himself to Paradise, Satan following Him.

When Adam beheld God, he said to his wife, "O come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord our Maker." Now Satan attempted to assign names to the animals. He failed with the first two that presented themselves, the ox and the cow. God led two others before him, the camel and the donkey, with the same result. Then God turned to Adam, and questioned him regarding the names of the same animals, framing His questions in such wise that the first letter of the first word was the same as the first letter of the name of the animal standing before him. Thus Adam divined the proper name, and Satan was forced to acknowledge the superiority of the first man.

Nevertheless he broke out in wild outcries that reached the heavens, and he refused to do homage unto Adam as he had been bidden. The host of angels led by him did likewise, in spite of the urgent representations of Michael, who was the first to prostrate himself before Adam in order to show a good example to the other angels. Michael addressed Satan: "Give adoration to the image of God! But if thou doest it not, then the Lord God will break out in wrath against thee." Satan replied: "If He breaks out in wrath against me, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God, I will be like the Most High! "At once God flung Satan and his host out of heaven, down to the earth, and from that moment dates the enmity between Satan and man.'