Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Allusions in Paradiso 9: Folco and Rahab

Dante was not going to leave the sphere of Venus without some dalliance with love stories from the ancient world and, in a different way, from the Old Testament. A few quick pointers to allusions in Paradiso 9:

Folquet de Marselha, or Folco, brings in both the Aeneid and Ovid's Heroides in speaking of Dido and of Demophon and Phyllis, both of whom were abandoned and perished by their own hand, and of Heracles and Iole, with whom our Sarasota group spent much time when reading Women of Trachis. Dante would not have known Sophocles' play, but thanks to Ovid, all these tales were in some form available to him.


Folco was a troubadour associated with a few famous love affairs. After experiencing a conversion, he joined the Cistercians and later was made Bishop of Toulouse. The city was a hotbed, so to speak, of heretics -- the Cathars, who preached against the corruption of the Church.

Folco's support of the Albingensian Crusade made him very unpopular with the people of his diocese.

His predicament with his own flock may be seen in two vignettes cited here:
St Bernard of Clairvaux, . . . although opposed to the Cathars, said of them in Sermon 65 on the Song of Songs:
If you question the heretic about his faith, nothing is more Christian; if about his daily converse, nothing more blameless; and what he says he proves by his actions ... As regards his life and conduct, he cheats no one, pushes ahead of no one, does violence to no one. Moreover, his cheeks are pale with fasting; he does not eat the bread of idleness; he labours with his hands and thus makes his living. Women are leaving their husbands, men are putting aside their wives, and they all flock to those heretics! Clerics and priests, the youthful and the adult among them, are leaving their congregations and churches and are often found in the company of weavers of both sexes.[21]
When Bishop Fulk [aka Folco], a key leader of the anti-Cathar persecutions, excoriated the Languedoc Knights for not pursuing the heretics more diligently, he received the reply:
We cannot. We have been reared in their midst. We have relatives among them and we see them living lives of perfection.[22]
As his final words show, Folco's campaign against the Cathars did not blind him to the "adultery" they decried in the corrupt Church.

The story of Rahab and the spies begins in Joshua 2. Other scriptural mentions of the prostitute of Jericho are noted here.

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