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The Divine Comedy > Purgatorio, Cantos VI thru XI

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message 1: by Manny (new)

Manny (virmarl) | 3909 comments Mod

Canto VI
The pilgrims continue on in the region of those who repented short of violent death, Dante naming a number of them, all from his recent time in Italy. Dante questions Virgil on the efficacy of prayer, and Virgil confesses that he was wrong when in his day he had written that prayer had no power to effect change. He had been a pagan then and had not known the truth and he promises Dante that eventually Beatrice, who he will meet at the top of the mountain, will explain it further. Wondering what would be the fastest route toward the top, the two stop a solitary figure. Virgil asks, and the soul only asks of their birth place. Virgil says Mantua, and the soul jumps up in excitement, embracing Virgil, and says he too is from Mantua, and his name is Sordello. This embrace of two citizens of the same Italian city albeit separated some 1400 years provides Dante the author a digression on the dismal state of Italian politics, with its infighting, religious intrusion into the secular life, and interference and weakness of the Holy Roman emperor who is not even Italian but German. Dante had a similar rant in Inferno.

Canto VII
Continuing with the encounter with Sordello, the lonely soul asks Virgil who he was. Virgil tells him he is the Roman poet who because he was born a pagan before Christ, he resides in Limbo section of Hell. Sordello doing a double take suddenly realizes he is before the great Roman, Virgil, and bowed and grasped him again in reverence. Sordello too is a poet and honored to be before the greatest of the Latin tongue. Sordello offers himself as guide and explains that there can be no movement in Purgatory at night, so it best to find a spot to sleep. Sordello takes them to a valley in the mountain where the souls are singing the Salve Regina. This is a section where those who were too busy for God in their lifetimes reside, delayed from moving up because they did not have the time to fully worship God. These are mostly kings and princes, who were occupied with their duties as heads of state.

Canto VIII
In one of the most beautiful scenes in all of the Divine Comedy, the threesome settle down to the darkening evening when a soul stands up and sings “Te lucis ante,” a hymn that requests protection from the evil forces let loose during the night, and he is then joined by the rest of the penitents, all looking up to heaven as they sing. Dante notices that in the evening sky the four stars representing the cardinal virtues have been replaced by three stars now representing the Christian virtues. Suddenly two angels with flaming swords fly down from heaven and take protective positions. As the three start into the valley, upon them comes them Judge Nino Visconti, an old friend to Dante, and when he realizes Dante is still alive he asks to bring back word to his family to pray for him. Suddenly a snake enters the valley but scrambles away when the sentinel angels swoop about, chasing him away. Dante next has an exchange with Currado Malispina, from a family of rulers of a north Italian region. Dante praises him and his family as the ideal rulers.

Canto IX
The pilgrims lay down to sleep in the valley and Dante has one of his several dreams while in purgatory. He dreams that an eagle has swooped down and lifted him up into a sphere of fire where both he and the eagle were set aflame. When he awakes he finds himself up the mountain overlooking the sea with only Virgil by his side and it is morning. Virgil explains that they have arrived at purgatory proper now, and that while he was asleep Santa Lucia came and took him up to the main gate while Virgil followed. They turn toward the gate, where stood an angel with a sword. He questions them and is satisfied when told a saintly lady brought them up. There are three steps to climb to get to the gate, and on reaching the third Virgil exhorts Dante to plead to be let in. Dante falls to the angel’s feet and humbly asks where the angel traces seven “P’s” on Dante’s forehead. The P’s stand for peccata, Italian for sin. The angel uses a set of keys entrusted to him by St. Peter to open the door, and the large portal opens, squeaking on its linchpins. Inside there is the sweet song of “Te Deum laudemus” accompanied by an organ.

Canto X
After climbing up a difficult path and squeezing through a crevice that was in the shape of a needle’s eye, the two pilgrims reach the first terrace, that of the prideful. The mountainside is made of smooth marble and on it are three relief sculptures, one scene from the New Testament, one scene from the Old Testament, and one scene from classical Rome, all three accentuating the virtue of humility. First is the scene of the Annunciation, with the words “Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord” etched beneath. The second relief was of King David in humility bringing the sacred ark on a cart pulled by oxen. The third from the life of the Emperor Trajan, who just setting off on campaign is stopped by a little widow requesting that justice be done to the murder of her son. Trajan, who is Dante’s ideal secular ruler, stops his massive endeavor to satisfy this poor woman before continuing on. After passing the artwork, Dante suddenly sees a group of souls walking hunched over with boulders on their backs and their heads down almost to the ground.

Canto XI
As the penitent souls approach, Dante hears they are chanting a paraphrased version of the Our Father. Virgil stops the penitents to ask for the shortest route up the mountain. The soul who steps up to help is Omberto Aldobrandesco, a Tuscan nobleman, who took overwhelming pride in the history of his aristocratic family. While listening to Omberto, another soul recognizes Dante and calls out to him. Dante hunching down and getting a good look recognizes him as Odirisi, a great artist of manuscript illumination. In what is now a newly gained humility he says that Franco of Bologna is the greater illuminator. He then reflects on how fleeting how such pride of place lasts citing how Giotto has now overtaken Cimabue as the greatest artist. He mentions how one Guido (Guinnizelli) has been replaced by another Guido (Cavalcanti) as the greatest Italian poet. What’s even a thousand years of fame, he ponders, in that it takes that long to reach heaven once dead. Dante is struck to humility—he knows these poets and thought himself better. Odirisi points out politician, Provenzan Salvani, who would have been much further back in purgatory but he had humbled himself in an act to save a friend.

message 2: by Manny (last edited Jul 30, 2018 06:36AM) (new)

Manny (virmarl) | 3909 comments Mod
I apologize for the week delay. If I would have rushed this, I would not have been able to do it justice.

message 3: by Frances (new)

Frances Richardson | 594 comments What a stunning piece of work, Manny. I particularly love the words you use to open Canto VIII. You don't need to worry: you did it justice. Thanks so much.

message 4: by Manny (new)

Manny (virmarl) | 3909 comments Mod
My pleasure Frances.

message 5: by Kerstin (new)

Kerstin | 1435 comments Mod
"Worldly fame is nothing but a gust of wind,
first blowing from one quarter, then another,
changing name with every new direction"
Canto XI, 100-102

message 6: by Manny (last edited Aug 01, 2018 06:42PM) (new)

Manny (virmarl) | 3909 comments Mod
One thing that should be pointed out is the thematic interconnectedness of cantos six, seven, and eight, all which contain Sordello as a supporting character. In canto six Virgil and Dante stumble upon Sordello who is sitting solitary. That he is solitary is odd and perhaps ironic given the theme of civic responsibility that is at the core of these three cantos but I do not think it was an accident as almost nothing in the Commedia is an accident. Virgil approaches him for directions:

He did not speak to us
but let us approach, watching us
as would a couching lion.

Nevertheless, Virgil drew up closer,
asking him to point us to the best ascent.
To this request he gave no answer

but asked about our country and condition.
My gentle guide began: 'Mantua--'
-and the shade, who had seemed so withdrawn,

leaped toward him from his place, saying:
'O Mantuan, I am Sordello of your city.'
And the two of them embraced. (VI. 67-75)

That he is compared to a lion suggests magnanimity, as most of the commentators note, but I think it also suggests a certain pride of place. Notice he doesn’t answer Virgil’s question but returns with a question of his own on a completely different subject. He asks from where they come, and not in respect to their journey as almost all ask, but from what country. He asks about the homeland because he is fixated on people’s homelands, and, as we will see, his own. Before Virgil is even able to finish the sentence—all he is able to get out is the name of his city, “Mantua”—and Sordello springs up and embraces him in an almost wild Italian burst of emotion, “O Mantuan, I am Sordello of your city.”

Who is this Sordello? He is a troubadour poet having died a just few years after the time Dante was born. He wrote of love as most troubadour poets but he also wrote of government and leadership, and I think that is why he is noted here. What’s interesting is that if you look at the details of his life he did not spend most of it in his home city of which he is so proud. He lived in Provence and other Italian cities, but Dante has him here portray the role of a patriot.

Then Dante the author goes onto his invective about Italian politics, contrasting the despicable infighting within each city-state and between the city states with Sordello’s simple love of one’s country.

Ah, Italy enslaved, abode of misery,
pilotless ship in a fierce tempest tossed,
no mistress over provinces but a harlot!

How eager was that noble soul,
only at the sweet name of his city,
to welcome there his fellow citizen!

Now your inhabitants are never free from war,
and those enclosed within a single wall and moat
are gnawing on each other. (VI. 74-84)

Here patriotism is portrayed as love of fellow citizen, and Dante honors it. It is not supercilious of others or exclusionary, but just as one has a special bond with one’s family members it is normal to have a special bond with one’s fellow countrymen. I won’t get into the details of Dante’s invective; just let it suffice that wretched infighting is a result of political selfishness, zealously taking advantage of other city’s problems, the interference of the papacy into secular matters, the lack of Justice, and a lack of a centralizing authority to create a unified country. In fact the one centralized authority that exists, the Holy Roman emperor, is situated outside Italy, has his own infighting to deal with in the German city-states, and has little interest in Italian problems.

All of this happens before Sordello even knows he is speaking with the great Latin poet Virgil. Once he learns of it, Sordello who is a poet himself falls to the ground in reverence. It is interesting that Dante delays this exchange between the two into the seventh Canto. If you remember from my overview during Inferno, there are three main themes to the Commedia. (1) The formation of Dante’s soul to be in harmony with God, achieved through the love of Beatrice. (2) The understanding of a proper political order, which is delineated best by the exactness of God’s justice in the afterlife. (3) The formation of a poetic work to reflect the beauty of God and His creation. Sordello, both political figure and poet, inherently addresses themes two and three. He takes the pilgrims into the Valley of the Princes, as it is sometimes called, and points out many of those rulers and administrators who in life were too busy with their governmental duties. So civic responsibility is qualified here. Yes, we have an obligation to our fellow citizens to support and govern properly, but it cannot be at the expense of shirking our duties to God. There needs to be a balance.

And then in Canto VIII we meet specific rulers and administrators that Dante is familiar with. The good judge, Nino Visconti. (Side note: I always associate Judge Nino with the Supreme Court Justice, Antonin Scalia, who I believe was called Nino by friends.) Like many of the other penitents in purgatory, he asks to have his family pray for him back on earth, but we also get this description:

'The viper that leads the Milanese afield
will hardly ornament her tomb as handsomely
as the cock of Gallura would have done.'

He spoke these words, his face stamped
with a look of righteous indignation
that burns with proper measure in the heart. (VIII.79-84)

Notice his face is “stamped with righteous indignation,” a metaphor of stamping coins, which adds to the civic overtones of the character, and though indignant his heart burns with “proper measure,” the sort of balance of a good judge. It should be noted that Judge Nino is the grandson of Count Ugolino who we met in hell eating on the brains of Bishop Ruggiere, and of course there is an implied contrast to Ugalino as a political conspirator and Nino as an honest judge. And finally to cap off this sequence from Canto VI through VIII we come Corrado Malaspina, who their short exchange Dante exuberantly praises him and his family.

Oh,' I said to him, 'never have I been there,
in your country. But where do men dwell,
anywhere in Europe, that it is not renowned?

'The fame that crowns your house with honor
proclaims alike its lords and lands--
even those who have not been there know them,

'and, as I hope to go above, I swear to you
your honored race does not disgrace
the glory of its purse and of its sword.

'No matter how a wicked chief may warp the world,
privileged both by nature and by custom,
your race alone goes straight and scorns the evil path.' (VIII.121-132)

High honor indeed. So in these three cantos, Dante starts with simple patriotism, rants against the despicable Italian politics of his day, and ends with noble examples of how political figures should administer.

message 7: by Manny (new)

Manny (virmarl) | 3909 comments Mod
Here are some thoughts on Cantos IX through XI.

The entrance into purgatory proper occurs in the tenth canto, which parallels the entrance into the City of Dis in the tenth canto of Inferno. This again speaks to the high degree of integration within the work.

In Canto IX, when the pilgrims approach purgatory’s gate, they climb three steps, hewn out of various stones. I find the symbolism of these steps utterly fascinating. First off, they are the same as the three steps that led to the altar in most pre-Vatican II church arrangements. What do the three steps signify? I can’t find an answer to that but the logical one would be the Trinity. So Dante uses the same three steps to approach purgatory and as we see with the angel holding the keys, this is essentially the entrance to heaven. So what else can these steps signify in Dante? Hope, faith, and charity. Hell, purgatory, heaven. The first step is clear white, reflecting his image. Some can consider this signifying sin but white is also innocence. The second is dark and cracked, perhaps suggesting the man’s broken state. The third is blood red signifying Christ’s redemption. You can probably think of other things it can signify. It’s a powerful image.

Each of the terraces will have a similar format in that there will be three images that are to work into the penitent’s soul as conditioning for holiness. The one exception is the terrace of envy where the penitents are incapable of seeing, so there images are replaced with audio. I should have been more specific in my summary. The image from the New Testament is always from the live of the Blessed Mother. Here in the terrace of pride is the image of the Annunciation, where she humbly accepts God’s will.

The image from the secular world is a well-known story from the life of the emperor Trajan. Preparing to go to fight his Dacian War, he is stopped by a widow whose son has been murder and she appeals to him to bring the murderer to justice. He tries to put her off, but she says in her grief, what if you don’t return. Trajan is supposed to have said, “My duty [must] be perform'd, ere I move hence: So justice wills; and pity bids me stay.” The emperor at a moment of historical consequence, he is moved to compassion to fix an injustice of an almost insignificant person. Dante considers Trajan the ideal ruler, so ideal that he is the only pagan that will be in heaven, as we will eventually see.

That the artist Oderisi, artist of miniature illuminations, is the penitent Dante meets in the terrace of pride is wonderfully ironic. If an artist working in the smallest of scales can have such exuberant pride, what do artists working in large scale feel? Or for Dante, who is writing an epic covering the full scope of Goad and man, life and after life, sin and redemption, what exuberance of pride must he overcome? Pride is probably the sin that I personally feel is embedded in me the most. As an engineer, one accomplishes many things, creating things from scratch. Over time one’s ego gets inflated. Many times I have pictured myself in this terrace. I humbly pray that I can overcome my sin.

message 8: by Kerstin (new)

Kerstin | 1435 comments Mod
Great summary!

message 9: by Kerstin (new)

Kerstin | 1435 comments Mod
Manny wrote: "Many times I have pictured myself in this terrace."

This to me gets to the essence and genius of Dante. The way he paints for us a physical picture of invisible realities. We are corporeal beings, and it is really difficult for us to picture the spiritual realm. Once you read him, you can't undo how you picture in which environment souls find themselves given their current state of sanctity or damnation.

message 10: by Manny (new)

Manny (virmarl) | 3909 comments Mod
What is interesting is that Dante seems to feel that he himself also identifies with the terrace of pride. It’s not accidental that he specifically chooses an artist as the central penitent he meets and speaks to. He feels particularly convicted here.

message 11: by Irene (new)

Irene | 909 comments Is the location on the mountain reflect gradations of seriousness of the sin repented there? In hell, the closer to the center, the more serious the sin for which the individual was guilty. Is the same true in purgatory? Is envy more serious than wrath, sloth more serious than lust? Or, since we are seeing the 7 capital sins, are they all equal since any can give rise to any array of immoral behaviors?

message 12: by Manny (last edited Aug 07, 2018 12:16PM) (new)

Manny (virmarl) | 3909 comments Mod
Irene wrote: "Is the location on the mountain reflect gradations of seriousness of the sin repented there? In hell, the closer to the center, the more serious the sin for which the individual was guilty. Is the ..."

Yes Irene. I was going to get to that when the structure of purgatory is explained. But the gradations are the inverse of hell. So the are declining in severity as one climbs up. Pride is the most serious, just as satan’s pride at the end of hell was the most serious.

message 13: by Irene (new)

Irene | 909 comments And if a person is guilty of more than one sin, does that soul spend time in each area of repentence? Or is the individual just asked to repent for the most serious? My experience is that there is a bit of each sin in most of us that we must struggle with. This ranking of seriousness is Dante's poetic vision, not official Church teaching? I don't recall anything in the moral teaching of the Church that claims that sloth is more serious than lust or envy more serious than greed. My understanding is that anyone of these capital sins can have a greater or lesser hold on a person and can result in more or less seriously immoral actions.

message 14: by Manny (last edited Aug 07, 2018 02:07PM) (new)

Manny (virmarl) | 3909 comments Mod
Yes. A soul can bypass a penitential terrace if he does not have that sin as a compulsion. Remember each terrace is to re-train the sinner to a proper virtue, technically I think the proper ordered virtues we are born with but life has trained us away to a disorder. Those in purgatory are saved but are not properly ordered. So yes a sinner will probably have to go through more than one, and that adds time in purgatory.

message 15: by Manny (new)

Manny (virmarl) | 3909 comments Mod
As to the severity, I don’t know if there is a teaching on the severity. That might be Dante’s invention. I think it gets explained somewhere coming up. There will be a whole canto on the structure and nature of purgatory. Think of it this way. Lust is a disorder of love and so is the least severe. Pride is the disorder of self over God, and so the most severe. How the others in between are arranged, I don’t remember but I’m pretty sure there is a logic to it. But lust though the least severe still gets one into hell, if you remember Francesca from the first circle of hell. Sin is always sin but this is the Middle Ages where there is an obsession with hierarchy.

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