Classics and the Western Canon discussion

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Divine Comedy, Dante > Inferno 9: Circles 5 and 6

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message 1: by Laurel (new)

Laurel Hicks (goodreadscomlaurele) | 2438 comments Hollander's outline:


Summary of Canto: Inf IX
1-15 Dante's pallor, Virgil's reaction, Dante's response
16-21 Dante's pointed question and Virgil's general response
22-30 a precision: his previous journey to the pit of hell
31-33 Virgil: a need now for assistance in entering the city
34-54 the Furies and their threat: Medusa
55-60 Virgil's ministrations to threatened Dante
61-63 address to reader (second in poem)
64-72 simile: sound of advancing storm
73-75 Virgil uncovers Dante's eyes as the 'storm' approaches
76-81 simile: frogs leaving pond at the advent of a snake
82-90 Dante obeisant before the messenger's angelic disdain
91-103 his speech to the fallen angels and abrupt departure
104-109 the poets' entrance into Dis, force no longer needed
110-111 the sixth Circle: a plain of torment
112-117 simile: cemeteries at Arles and Pola
118-123 the tombs of the heretics, glowing red with heat
124-131 Dante's question and Virgil's answer: heresy
132-133 coda: the rightward turn


message 2: by Rhonda (new)

Rhonda (RhondaK) | 153 comments I find it both odd and sadly human that these two begin to allow their doubts to work on one another like they do. It is worthwhile to read this canto only for this.
However I was puzzled by Dante's apparent invention of the story of Erichtho. Is this just a poetic means of moving on?


message 3: by Adelle (new)

Adelle | 2943 comments Rhonda wrote: "I find it both odd and sadly human that these two begin to allow their doubts to work on one another like they do. It is worthwhile to read this canto only for this.
..."


Agreed. Towards the end of Canto VIII and then here again at the beginning of Canto IX. How unsettling it must be to be halfway thru Hell and THEN to be assailed by doubt. How even more disconcerting to be halfway thru Hell and THEN notice that your guide has doubts, too.

"Sadly human." Yes. Nice word choice. So true.


message 4: by Adelle (new)

Adelle | 2943 comments Interestingly enough, I noticed that a couple of my translations had quite different meanings.

The Musa:

"The color of the coward on my face,
when I realised my guide was turning back,
made him quickly change the color of his own" (IX, first terza).

I thought this read that Dante had paled when he saw Virgil start back from the city. That Virgil noticed Dante's color. And then Virgil sucked it up, pulled himself together, forced himself to look more positive.

But... Virgil's first words after this have hesitancy. Virgil sounds irresolute.

It's that verb: "made." Virgil is reacting to Dante's appearance.

It MUST be that when Virgil saw how pale Dante was, that made him try to look more positive. Right?

I liked that about Virgil. That he was trying to exude confidence for the sake of Dante.

Zappulla's translation reads a little differently. In Zapupulla's translation, it's not that Virgil tries to look more positive. It's not that Virgil makes as effort to appear more positive for the sake of Dante. Instead, Zappulla merely notes how pale Dante is compared with Virgil:

"The ghastly pallor of my face, brought on
By Virgil's turning back, now made my guide's
Seem much more normal in its hue than mine."

I was surprised there could be such different meaning in the translations.


message 5: by Adelle (last edited Nov 17, 2012 08:14AM) (new)

Adelle | 2943 comments At 2 Rhonda wrote: "However I was puzzled by Dante's apparent invention of the story of Erichtho. Is this just a poetic means of moving on?..."

Looks as though you're right.

Creative, though, yes? Pulls in myth to explain why Virgil knows the way.

Hey! This is cool. And relevant. Ha ha. You motivated me to go googling. And there's a piece which writes about Erichtho as the anti-Sybil. References The Aeneid. No spoilers, but long.

(view spoiler)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lucan

So Dante and Latin readers would have been familiar with Lucan, would probably have understood the reference to Erichtho, I'm thinking.

So the reference makes some sense.

Thank you, Rhonda!!! You just made this Canto way more interesting for me!


message 6: by Laurel (new)

Laurel Hicks (goodreadscomlaurele) | 2438 comments Adelle wrote: "Interestingly enough, I noticed that a couple of my translations had quite different meanings.

The Musa:

"The color of the coward on my face,
when I realised my guide was turning back,
made him q..."


Here's Longfellow's translation, with his note:

That hue which cowardice brought out on me, (1)
Beholding my Conductor backward turn,
Sooner repressed within him his new colour.
He stopped attentive, like a man who listens,
Because the eye could not conduct him far
Through the black air, and through the heavy fog.


(1) The flush of anger passes from Virgil's cheek on seeing the pallor of Dante's, and he tries to encourage him with assurances of success; but betrays his own apprehensions in the broken phrase, "If not," which he immediately covers with words of cheer.


message 7: by Adelle (new)

Adelle | 2943 comments Laurele wrote: "..(1) The flush of anger passes from Virgil's cheek on seeing the pallor of Dante's."

Thanks, Laurele. I hadn't considered Virgil being angry here, but the Longfellow translation does read that way.


message 8: by Lily (new)

Lily (Joy1) | 4459 comments Ciardi:

My face had paled to a mask of cowardice
when I saw my Guide turn back. The sight of it
The sooner brought the color back to his.


His note: "At the Gate of Dis the Poets wait in dread. Virgil tries to hide his anxiety from Dante, but both realize that without Divine Aid they will surely be lost...."

I find the aid mysterious and will have to look for commentary if I decide to try to understand further. (Lines 70-100)


message 9: by Adelle (new)

Adelle | 2943 comments So...Dante begins this journey at the midpoint of his life.
This is the midpoint of Hell.

The event in the woods is a turning point in Dante's life.
This is a turning point in Hell. (D and V change direction now as the continue down.)


message 10: by Laurel (new)

Laurel Hicks (goodreadscomlaurele) | 2438 comments Adelle wrote: "So...Dante begins this journey at the midpoint of his life.
This is the midpoint of Hell.

The event in the woods is a turning point in Dante's life.
This is a turning point in Hell. (D and V chang..."


So it is!


message 11: by Wendel (new)

Wendel (Wendelman) | 557 comments And then, at the gates of Dis, something goes wrong: the travellers are deterred. The narrator panics and seems to question Virgil’s ability as a guide, while Virgil in his turn blames Beatrice. Eventually a heavenly crisis manager arrives to smooth things out, but what did really happen?

Virgil tried to negotiate, but his voice of reason was to no avail. So Reason, and maybe even Love, cannot fathom the sheer evil that is dead behind these walls. Walls against Reason - is this the idea that is so important that we had to stop and ponder? But why doesn’t Dante tell us so in a more straightforward way?

O you who have sound intellects,
consider the teaching that is hidden
behind the veil of these strange verses.

Inf. IX, 61-63


message 12: by Nemo (last edited Nov 18, 2012 11:15AM) (new)

Nemo (nemoslibrary) | 2456 comments Wendelman wrote: "O you who have sound intellects,
consider the teaching that is hidden
behind the veil of these strange verses.
Inf. IX, 61-63 "


"The veil" alludes to 2 Corinthians 3:16-17.

I wondered why Dante mentioned Theseus and Medusa together, two seemlingly unrelated characters. In my google search, I came across a book titled Dante: The Poetics of Conversion. The author made some interesting points which I'll summarize/paraphrase below.

Medusa was actually a ravishingly beautiful woman, which is why men couldn't turn their gaze away from her, and were all turned to stones as a result. Medusa represents the lust of the world which leads to death; Theseus, who descended into the underworld to rescue those imprisoned by Hades, represents the spiritual truth that set man free.

The residents of Dis recalled "Theseus' assault" when they saw Dante, and wanted to unleash Medusa against him, because Dante possessed life and spiritual light, of which they were deadly adversaries. "For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness?"

Virgil instructed Dante to turn away from Medusa, and veiled the latter's eyes. For "we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen" behind the veil; Dante in turn instructs the reader to discern the Spirit of the teaching behind the letter.


message 13: by Lily (last edited Nov 18, 2012 11:59AM) (new)

Lily (Joy1) | 4459 comments Thanks for the Corinthians link, Nemo.

Do we understand why Divine Aid came to Virgil and Dante?


message 14: by Nemo (new)

Nemo (nemoslibrary) | 2456 comments Lily wrote: "Thanks for the Corinthians link, Nemo.

Do we understand why Divine Aid came to Virgil and Dante?"


Good question. It was Dante, not Virgil, who was refused entrance. Virgil was a pagan, and Dante was facing many adversaries, so divine aid was needed to open the gate (perhaps an allusion to 1 Corinthians 16:9)


message 15: by Laurel (new)

Laurel Hicks (goodreadscomlaurele) | 2438 comments Wendelman wrote: "Virgil tried to negotiate, but his voice of reason was to no avail. So Reason, and maybe even Love, cannot fathom the sheer evil that is dead behind these walls. Walls against Reason - is this the idea that is so important that we had to stop and ponder? But why doesn’t Dante tell us so in a more straightforward way?"

Emily Dickinson:

Tell all the truth but tell it slant,
Success in circuit lies,
Too bright for our infirm delight
The truth's superb surprise;

As lightning to the children eased
With explanation kind,
The truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind.


message 16: by Nemo (new)

Nemo (nemoslibrary) | 2456 comments You're a treasure trove, Laurele. :)


message 17: by Laurel (new)

Laurel Hicks (goodreadscomlaurele) | 2438 comments Nemo wrote: "You're a treasure trove, Laurele. :)"

Thanks, Nemo. As are you.


message 18: by Adelle (last edited Nov 18, 2012 08:05PM) (new)

Adelle | 2943 comments Wendelman wrote: "And then, at the gates of Dis, something goes wrong: the travellers are deterred....Virgil tried to negotiate, but his voice of reason was to no avail. So Reason, and maybe even Love, cannot fathom the sheer evil that is dead behind these walls

I like that. I like Virgil there as the voice of Reason. But then I keep thinking, How do we explain how Virgil got through before? Maybe he didn't pass through the first time through reason. Perhaps they let Virgil through before because he had been summoned by one of their own?

EDIT. Just read Nemo's post above. That it was really Dante they were denying.


message 19: by Adelle (new)

Adelle | 2943 comments I double underlined line about 28:

"And he [Virgil] said other things, but I forget them,
for suddenly my eyes were drawn above,
up to the fiery top of that high tower"

It seemed so human. Virgil, "the Guide"--in the midst of Hell--tells Dante something. Probably something quite important. And Dante can't remember because something else caught his interest.


message 20: by Adelle (new)

Adelle | 2943 comments Wendelman quoted:

O you who have sound intellects,
consider the teaching that is hidden
behind the veil of these strange verses.
Inf. IX, 61-63 "


Nemo provided the link to 2 Corinthians 3:16:
"Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away."

Augustine, apparently in Confessions wrote the biblical texts are "veiled in mysteries."


Esolen has a long note on the four levels of meaning. And then Hollander has practically a whole chapter on that in his Allegory in Dante's 'Commedia", which I think Laurele has.

No spoilers.

(view spoiler)

So I think Dante wants us, if possible, to see the three levels of meaning that are there beyond the mere words. He's telling us to look for the meanings.


message 21: by Laurel (new)

Laurel Hicks (goodreadscomlaurele) | 2438 comments Adelle wrote: "Wendelman quoted:

O you who have sound intellects,
consider the teaching that is hidden
behind the veil of these strange verses.
Inf. IX, 61-63 "

Nemo provided the link to 2 Corinthians 3:16:
"N..."


Very good.


message 22: by Adelle (new)

Adelle | 2943 comments Laurele wrote: "..."


Thanks, Laurele.
Not being Catholic, i hadn't known about those four levels. I found it interesting and thought perhaps others hadn't known either. And in conjunction with the verse from 2 Corinthians, shed light on Dante's "veil" remark.

I had very much wanted to finish reading my WWII books.
I should catch up in the reading here soon.


message 23: by Roger (last edited Nov 19, 2012 07:14AM) (new)

Roger Burk | 1333 comments Adelle wrote: "Wendelman wrote: "And then, at the gates of Dis, something goes wrong: the travellers are deterred....Virgil tried to negotiate, but his voice of reason was to no avail. So Reason, and maybe even L..."

The walls of Dis mark the entry to Lower Hell, which is for sins of malice. Upper Hell was for sins of mere excess or deficiency. That's why there's extra perimeter security at Dis.


message 24: by Adelle (new)

Adelle | 2943 comments To keep souls in?
Or to keep souls out?


message 25: by Roger (new)

Roger Burk | 1333 comments Adelle wrote: "To keep souls in?
Or to keep souls out?"


To keep souls out, it seems. The guardians want to stop Dante and Virgil. And the souls within seem to be in no shape to make a break.


message 26: by Rhonda (last edited Nov 19, 2012 02:15PM) (new)

Rhonda (RhondaK) | 153 comments Adelle wrote: "And there's a piece which writes about Erichtho as the anti-Sybil. References The Aeneid. No spoilers, but long.."

It is my turn to thank you, Adele, for forcing me to go back and read Lucan's Bellum Civile, especially in reference to how Erichtho's character relates to that of Sextus Pompey. I really wasn't getting how much of this canto in Dante was working, even as a poetic device.
At first I was confused by the contrast with which Aeneas is referenced as pius and Erichtho as impia but I realized that this is the break from the old tradition which Lucan is trying to establish.
Aeneas' piety is established through obedience, either to the gods or to the Sibyl (prophetess) at Cumae. (She is known as Deiphobe in the Aeneid, although she oddly has different names from other sources.) But Erichtho is considered impious because she does not yield to the gods! She needs no instruction to the underworld and she even bids the gods to heed her prayers, (BC 6.710, Parete precanti.
Erichtho, though mortal, seems to represent the forces of nature which are greater than the gods; but when she throws a tantrum because her corpse is not properly revitalized, she threatens to call up the god of evil himself, although no name is given. Still the threat has its effect.
Lucan, in telling Sextus Pompey, whom he calls a coward, not to be afraid because he will see a reanimation, is referencing Virgil with almost identical words, contrasting Aeneas' bravery to Sextus' cowardice. When Sextus receives no answers worth the trip (and it is worthwhile noting that no one ever does in antiquity, at least ones which they interpret correctly,)we only learn one thing: In se magna ruunt: All great things collapse on themselves. It's a great line.
However in Dante, Virgil seems to be suffering from cowardice and/or doubt. This only recedes when the furies arrive and Virgil instantly recalls his task as protector, covering Dante's hand-covered eyes just to make sure. It is the immediate threat which chases away the fear, doubt and cowardice with a call to his duty.
As I found it so sad that each were increasing the fear of the other, so do I find it humanly admirable (perhaps only for its rarity) that the human response to danger can not only erase fear, but demonstrate the noblest nature of humanity.


message 27: by Adelle (last edited Nov 19, 2012 04:35PM) (new)

Adelle | 2943 comments Rhonda wrote: "Adelle wrote: ".."

It is my turn to ..."


That was wonderful, Rhonda. I love all those bits of layering in the poem and the interconnectedness to other works of literature.

As I found it so sad that each were increasing the fear of the other, so do I find it humanly admirable (perhaps only for its rarity) that the human response to danger can not only erase fear, but demonstrate the noblest nature of humanity.



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