Monday, April 30, 2007

The Preposterous Trope

Dante conveys the speed of his ascent to the first sphere (Moon) (Paradiso 2) by saying it took no longer than it takes an arrow "to strike, fly, and leave the bow" (2.23-6). The reverse chronological order of these actions is an example of hysteron proteron, from the Greek for "later / first."

Cantos 21 and 22 of Purgatorio put Hysteron Proteron in play in various ways. It could be seen as the structuring principle of these cantos. Here's more about the trope:
The "classic" example is from Virgil's Aeneid, where the poet says, "Moriamur, et in media arma ruamus," or "Let us die, and rush into the midst of the fray (2.353)." Shakespeare is a master in the use of hysteron proteron. "Th' Antoniad, the Egyptian admiral,/ With all their sixty, fly and turn the rudder (Antony & Cleopatra 3.10.1-2)." In both instances the verbs are "out of order." You don't die before you go into the fight. You don't "fly" before turning the rudder. But the more vivid or prominent verbs are "die" and "fly."

A biblical example of this is in the highly-charged scene at the Last Supper when Jesus takes the bread and says to his disciples, "Take, eat; this is my body." In fact, the more "normal" way of saying it would be "This is my body. Take it and eat it." Hysteron proteron is a device that allows great immediacy of an important concept.
Another take on it:
Hysteron Proteron is the rhetorical equivalent of the theological truth taught by Jesus that the last shall be first and the first, last. In rhetoric it is a (literally impossible) situation where the idea suggested by the first word (usually a verb) must happen temporally after (hysteron means "latter") the idea suggested by the second word (proteron means "former" or "first"). Thus, the latter word will become the former word.

It is the "cart before the horse," which the Greeks call "Histeron proteron" and we call "Preposterous." Preposterous? Ah, it began to make sense. The word preposterous is made up of two Latin words, where the "posterus" (the "latter," equivalent to hysteron) is made "pre" (the "former," equivalent to proteron).

A contemporary blog about Purgatory

In Rome, there is a church called the Church of the Suffering Souls (address: Parrocchia Sacro Cuore in Prati-Lungotevere Prati 12-Roma, which is a short distance from the Vatican). In this church there is a small museum called the Holy Souls Museum with relics, prayer books, clothing and table tops that were touched and scorched by the holy souls that were allowed to leave Purgatory and return to their family or fellow religious and beg them for Masses and prayers.

From a blog maintained by a Catholic apostolate.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Ecce Statius

Canto 21, 7-14:

And behold -- even as Luke records for us
that Christ, new risen from his burial cave,
appeared to two along his way -- a shade

appeared, and he advanced behind our backs
while we were careful not to trample on
the outstretched crowd. We did not notice him

until he had addressed us with: "God give
you, o my brothers, peace!"

Many have puzzled over the way in which Statius sort of appears before he appears, and how it's not unlike what's happening in a passage from the last book of Luke that Dante refers to:

On the Road to Emmaus

13Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles[a] from Jerusalem. 14They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. 15As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16but they were kept from recognizing him.

17He asked them, "What are you discussing together as you walk along?"

They stood still, their faces downcast. 18One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, "Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?"

19"What things?" he asked.

"About Jesus of Nazareth," they replied. "He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. 20The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 21but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. 22In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning 23but didn't find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. 24Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see."

25He said to them, "How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26Did not the Christ[b] have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?" 27And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

28As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus acted as if he were going farther. 29But they urged him strongly, "Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over." So he went in to stay with them.

30When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. 32They asked each other, "Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?"

The Vulgate version:
# et ecce duo ex illis ibant ipsa die in castellum quod erat in spatio stadiorum sexaginta ab Hierusalem nomine Emmaus
# et ipsi loquebantur ad invicem de his omnibus quae acciderant
# et factum est dum fabularentur et secum quaererent et ipse Iesus adpropinquans ibat cum illis
# oculi autem illorum tenebantur ne eum agnoscerent
# et ait ad illos qui sunt hii sermones quos confertis ad invicem ambulantes et estis tristes
# et respondens unus cui nomen Cleopas dixit ei tu solus peregrinus es in Hierusalem et non cognovisti quae facta sunt in illa his diebus
# quibus ille dixit quae et dixerunt de Iesu Nazareno qui fuit vir propheta potens in opere et sermone coram Deo et omni populo
# et quomodo eum tradiderunt summi sacerdotum et principes nostri in damnationem mortis et crucifixerunt eum
# nos autem sperabamus quia ipse esset redempturus Israhel et nunc super haec omnia tertia dies hodie quod haec facta sunt
# sed et mulieres quaedam ex nostris terruerunt nos quae ante lucem fuerunt ad monumentum
# et non invento corpore eius venerunt dicentes se etiam visionem angelorum vidisse qui dicunt eum vivere
# et abierunt quidam ex nostris ad monumentum et ita invenerunt sicut mulieres dixerunt ipsum vero non viderunt
# et ipse dixit ad eos o stulti et tardi corde ad credendum in omnibus quae locuti sunt prophetae
# nonne haec oportuit pati Christum et ita intrare in gloriam suam
# et incipiens a Mose et omnibus prophetis interpretabatur illis in omnibus scripturis quae de ipso erant
# et adpropinquaverunt castello quo ibant et ipse se finxit longius ire
# et coegerunt illum dicentes mane nobiscum quoniam advesperascit et inclinata est iam dies et intravit cum illis
# et factum est dum recumberet cum illis accepit panem et benedixit ac fregit et porrigebat illis
# et aperti sunt oculi eorum et cognoverunt eum et ipse evanuit ex oculis eorum
# et dixerunt ad invicem nonne cor nostrum ardens erat in nobis dum loqueretur in via et aperiret nobis scripturas

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Purgatorio 21: Enter Statius

From a page about Dante's Statius:
Dante's aesthetic of poetry involves a theological presence as the prime motivator from which he writes. Coinciding with a need for a uniform government, Dante uses his poetry as a conversion to a higher purpose. Joan Ferrante claims "poetry was and is a tool of salvation for Statius, as it is meant to be for Dante's audience" (Political Vision of the Divine Comedy 238). If poets are the only fit guides to society, Dante places himself within "an epic tradition as successor to Statius and Virgil, [. . .] who deal with morality within the context of history."

According to Ferrante, three stages of Roman poetry exist. First, Virgil represents the world under an emperor preparing for the arrival of Christ and writes about the beginnings of Rome. Secondly, Statius represents a world growing toward Christianity and writes about civil war. Thirdly, Dante represents his contemporary Christian world without a central political power and writes about "the corruption of church and state and the ideal society that might be, and will return to earth with a message and a promise of salvation."

Statius...quotes from Virgil's Fourth Eclogue, (ll.64-73) as the source of his (Statius's) conversion: "when you declared: 'The ages are renewed; / justice and man's first time on earth return; / from Heaven a new progeny descends'" (Purgatory 70-72). Although Virgil was probably writing about an heir to the Emperor Augustus, Dante's Statius, aware of Christ, could read that poem of Virgil's against the grain, seeing more into it than one could who lived before Christ. Thus, Virgil accomplishes more for Statius than for himself-a powerful irony.
More on Statius' works, The Thebaid, The Achilleid (incomplete) and Silvae, here.

Something of his ornate style may be gleaned from this poem, To Sleep.

Biographical information on Statius here and here. Note that he was born in Naples, but due to a medieval mix-up, Dante has him hailing from Toulouse.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Human Comedy

Augustine on hope and sin

Some thoughts of Augustine of Hippo on sin and, of particular interest for readers of the Purgatorio, on the Pauline understanding of hope:
I see that it is necessary for me to make here an additional remark, that we are saved by hope. "But hope that is seen is not hope; for what a man sees, why does he yet hope for? But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it." Romans 8:24-25

Another look at hope:

Radical Hope is first of all an analysis of what is involved when a culture dies. This has been the fate of many aboriginal peoples in the last couple of centuries. Jonathan Lear takes as the main subject of his study the Crow tribe of the western US, who were more or less pressured to give up their hunting way of life and enter a reservation near the end of the nineteenth century.

The issue is not genocide. Many of the Crow people survive; but their culture is gone. Lear takes as his basic text a statement by the tribe's great chief, Plenty Coups, describing the transition many years after in the late 1920s, near the end of his life: "When the buffalo went away the hearts of my people fell to the ground, and they could not lift them up again. After this nothing happened." NYRB

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Augury in Rome and in Dante

From an interesting article on divination among the ancient Romans:

Thus, the Romans looked upon astrology and the whole prophetic art of the Chaldaeans as a dangerous innovation; they paid little attention to dreams, and hardly any to inspired prophets and seers. They had on the contrary learnt from the Etruscans to attach much importance to extraordinary appearances in nature — Prodigia; in common with other neighbouring nations they endeavoured to learn the future, especially in war, by consulting the entrails of victims; they laid great stress upon favourable or unfavourable omina, and in times of danger and difficulty were accustomed to consult the Sibylline books, which they had received from the Greeks; but the mode of divination, which was peculiar to them, and essentially national, consisted in those signs included under the name of auspicia.
The whole piece (from Smith's Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities) is worth reading, and it's likely that the Italian middle ages was still steeped in this tradition. Dante's rich and patterned use of bird imagery throughout the Commedia, but especially in his use of the images of the falcon and the eagle, suggests that he found in the Christian iconography a means of alluding to the ancient Roman arts of the auspices, but informed by a further dimension deriving from revealed truth.