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The Divine Comedy > Purgatorio, Cantos XVIII thru XXIII

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message 1: by Manny (new)

Manny (virmarl) | 4207 comments Mod
Canto XVIII
Still sitting within the terrace of sloth, Dante asks Virgil to further explain what love is. The mind, Virgil says, created to react to love moves toward what is pleasing. The soul will never rest until it bends itself toward what it loves. This is desire and it is innate. Though it can appear that all things loved are good, this is not the case. There is, however, within man the innate power of reason to restrain desire for what is not good. Virgil tells him this is all based on philosophic reasoning, and that Beatrice will eventually further explain how faith of revelation will augment this understanding. It is midnight now and rushing by are penitents who to be cured of sloth are required to be in constant running motion. Here the countering virtue is spoken aloud by the penitents themselves, echoing Mary’s visit to Elizabeth and Julius Caesar’s military quickness to Spain. The Abbott of San Zeno rushes by, marveling at a living person. More souls rush by, unable to stop, but giving examples of lack of zeal, those that were swallowed by the Red Sea because they did not rush through while it parted and those in Troy who did not flee when the city was burned to the ground. Finally Dante overcome with drowsiness falls asleep.

Canto XIX
Still at the terrace of sloth and now asleep, Dante has a disturbing dream. A siren came before him, a hideous woman stammering but filtered through his mind she appears beautiful and mellifluent. She says she provides content to all those who dwell with her. As Dante is about to be seduced by her charms, another woman, a holy one, exhorts Virgil to take action. Virgil rips open the Siren’s garments, letting out a stench, which wakens Dante from the dream. As they exit the terrace, the angel of the terrace beckons him to come and swooshes his face with his wing. They enter the fifth terrace, that of avarice, where souls lay with their faces into the dirt, weeping. They cry out the line from Psalm 118 about cleaving to the dust. Dante meets Pope Adrian V, who explains the therapy of this terrace. The penitents are to cleave to the dirt like they cleaved to material things in life to realize that cleaving to material things is turning your back to God.

Canto XX
The pilgrims leave Pope Adrian V, cursing the she-wolf that represents avarice. As they proceed they hear one penitent cry out the positive proclamations of the terrace of greed, which are proclamations of generosity. He cries out on Mary in her labor being taken in at the Inn, the ancient Roman statesman Fabricius, who lived in austerity over wealth, and St. Nicholas, who provided dowry for poor girls so they wouldn't have to go into prostitution. They meet the soul of Hugh Capet, the Frankish king who founded the Capet dynasty in France. Capet goes on a long screed to how France and his descendants to his throne had committed grave sins of avarice. He further explains how during the day the penitents chant the positive proclamations while at night they chant the negative examples of greed. He gives several examples of the negative proclamations from myth and Biblical history, culminating with the Roman general Crassus known for accumulating wealth. Suddenly an earthquake is heard that rocks purgatorial island and all the penitents began shouting together, "Gloria in excelsis Deo."

Canto XXI
Dante stood wondering the meaning of the earthquake and the shout of all the penitents, which had reached down to the shore below when a soul comes up to the pilgrims and gives them a holy greeting. The soul is taken aback when he learns they are not penitent souls in purgatory. Virgil asks about the tremor and the shouts, and the soul explains it occurs every time a soul in purgatory completes a purgation, and this earthquake was for his completion of the terrace. The soul explains he has just completed five hundred years on the terrace of avarice and having had his will freed from the constraint of sin can now rise upward. Virgil asks the penitent who he was in life, and the soul explains he was the first century Roman poet Statius and that he owes whatever he accomplished to his Roman predecessor, Virgil. He says Virgil’s Aeneid was the flame that shone a light to the world. Virgil finally gives Dante permission to say who is standing before him, and upon hearing it Statius drops to his knees at Virgil’s feet.

Canto XXII
After completing the terrace of avarice and after the angel of that terrace wiped another “P” off Dante’s forehead, the three souls continued on, Dante trailing behind while Virgil and Statius converse. Dante hears Virgil ask Statius why he a man of such noble character suffered the vice of averice. Statius explains that he was not there in the fifth terrace to cure him of greed but of its opposite, prodigality, the inability to control one’s spending. Virgil then asks, how could Statius, a pagan, come to have true faith? Statius explains that Virgil wasn’t just a poetic inspiration that shaped his poetry but that Virgil’s prophesy of Christ in the Eclogue and combined with the first century Christian preachers, led to a conversion and was baptized. But he hid that baptism for fear, and so was not martyred with the early martyrs but had to spend four hundred years in the ante purgatory section. The two continue discussing poetry with Dante listening when they came to a tree with fruit, “You shall not eat of this fruit,” the tree says. Then the tree goes on to give positive proclamations countering the vice of gluttony, speaking of Mary more concerned with the newlyweds than of food at Cana, of ancient Roman women who were ascetic, Daniel who scorned food, and of John the Baptist eating honey and locust.

Canto XXIII
The pilgrims and Statius continue on into the terrace of gluttony when a penitent sings out “O Lord, open my lips.” The penitent is emaciated, eyes sunken and skin tight against the bones. The face shaped by the two eye sockets and cheek and nose bones formed into the word OMO, which is Italian for man. Finally Dante recognizes the penitent. It is Forese Donati, an old friend, and cousin to Dante’s wife. Dante, shocked by his friend’s disfigurement, asks him what has happened. Forese explains that all those on this terrace satisfied their appetites on earth beyond “all measure,” and so here are to learn the thirst and hunger of holiness. Dante asks, since it’s only been five years since he passed away, how has he made it so far so fast on the mountain? Forese explains that his wife Nella’s devoted prayers for him has sped his course. He predicts that Florence will pass some laws to prevent women from immodest dress and cautions Dante to renounce that wild life they shared as young men. Dante says it is now painful to recall those days and says that because of Virgil he has left all that behind.


message 2: by Manny (new)

Manny (virmarl) | 4207 comments Mod
Perhaps I'm getting faster at completing a block of cantos, but still not what I anticipated.

I hope people are still reading along. As you can probably sense, I really love the Divine Comedy.


message 3: by Manny (new)

Manny (virmarl) | 4207 comments Mod
I just checked the original schedule. We're about two and a half weeks behind. We should have been wrapping up this week. Sorry. We'll probably finish a month behind.


message 4: by Kerstin (new)

Kerstin | 1557 comments Mod
I'm still here :)
I think I'll be catching up to this segment sometime next week. We are in Colorado for a few days, and I didn't take Dante with me.


message 5: by Manny (new)

Manny (virmarl) | 4207 comments Mod
Some discourse on the character of Statius is required. Not only is he in the three last cantos that I summarized but he goes all the way through to the end of Purgatorio with Dante. That’s more than a third of the cantica, which is more than any other character in the entire Divine Comedy except for Virgil or Beatrice. That’s significant and requires some understanding.

To emphasize the importance of Statius, Dante (the author) has Statius complete a purgatorial terrace with the customary earthquake that occurs on such completions, the only character that we see complete one as Virgil and Dante (the character) pass through. When Statius is asked who he is, he responds with this:

'My name is Statius. On earth men often speak it.
I sang of Thebes and then of great Achilles,
but fell along the way with the second burden.

'The sparks that kindled the fire in me
came from the holy flame
from which more than a thousand have been lit—

'I mean the Aeneid. When I wrote poetry
it was my mamma and my nurse.
Without it, I would not have weighed a dram.

'To have lived on earth when Virgil lived
I would have stayed one year's sun longer than I owed
before I came forth from my exile.' (Purg. XXI. 91-102)


Statius https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Statius was a first century Roman poet who wrote much in the style of Virgil, including an epic like the Aeneid. In this passage he does not yet realize he is speaking to Virgil himself, the man “that kindled a fire in me” but more importantly calls his predecessor a “holy flame.” So Virgil was his poetic forefather, or more accurately here, his “mamma and nurse.” How many times has Dante called Virgil his father? Countless. Dante the author then has set up a situation where Statius stands in parallel with Dante the character, both poets who not only revered Virgil but was a poetic guide and parent. I don’t quite know what to make of Statius feminizing Virgil with “mamma” while Dante looks at him as a father but it is noteworthy. In literary construction, Statius is Dante the character’s doppelgänger, a double. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doppelg...

But a doppelgänger is not usually a complete double. There is something different that allows the author to make a particular point. The second of Virgil’s questions concerns how Statius came to the terrace of avarice, and while this is interesting I don’t believe this contrasts with Dante in any important way. The third question that Virgil asks Statius is most interesting and I think leads to a discriminator. He asks how Statius became a baptized Christian, since that is the only way to being saved in purgatory.

'But, when you sang the cruel warfare
between the twofold sorrows of Jocasta,'
said the singer of the Eclogues,

'it does not seem, from what you wrote with Clio's help,
that you had found as yet the faith,
that faith without which good works fail.

'If that is so, what sun, what candles
dispelled your darkness so that afterwards
you hoisted sail, following the fisherman?' (Purg. XXII. 55-63)


The singer of the Eclogues is Virgil, Eclogues being another of his major works. Notice the metaphor Virgil uses to describe those in faith and those not. The light of both the sun and of candles describes those who follow “the fisherman,” which would be St. Peter or perhaps Christ Himself. Statius replies,

And the other answered him: 'It was you who first
set me toward Parnassus to drink in its grottoes,
and you who first lit my way toward God.

'You were as one who goes by night, carrying
the light behind him--it is no help to him,
but instructs all those who follow—

'when you said: "The centuries turn new again.
Justice returns with the first age of man,
new progeny descends from Heaven."

'Through you I was a poet, through you a Christian.
But, that you may see better what I outline,
I will set my hand to fill the colors in.

'Already all the world was pregnant
with the true faith, inseminated
by the messengers of the eternal kingdom,

'and the words of yours I have just recited
did so accord with the new preachers
that I began to visit them.

'More and more they seemed to me so holy
that when Domitian started with his persecutions
their weeping did not lack my tears.

'While I remained on earth,
I gave them comfort. Their upright ways
made me despise all other sects.

'I was baptized before, in my verses,
I had led the Greeks to the rivers of Thebes,
but, from fear, I stayed a secret Christian,

'long pretending I was still a pagan.
More than four centuries, because I was lukewarm,
did I circle the fourth terrace. (Pur. XXII. 64-93)


So it was Virgil again that showed Statius the light of the true faith in the darkness of false faith. Statius read the famous Eclogues 4, where Virgil wrote “The great line of the centuries is born again; now the Virgin of justice returns, and the golden reign of Saturn; now a newborn child is sent down from the heavens on high” (ll. 5-7). Virgin, Saturn as supreme deity, newborn child from heaven, it’s not surprising how all the intellects of the middle ages believed that Virgil somehow had prophesied the coming of Christ with those lines. Dante the author is saying that Statius, reading those lines and coming across the first century church fathers who preached of an incarnate God who was born as a child from a virgin, led to his conversion to Christianity, was secretly baptized, and hid his Christianity for fear of martyrdom. That reluctance of coming out as a Christian cost him four hundred years in ante-purgatory.

Now this is all made up by Dante the author. There is no evidence that Statius converted or was even aware of Christianity. Dante is creating this fiction to make a point, to discriminate Statius from Dante the character.

Now what point could that be? Dante is clearly a Christian already, already baptized, and except for some mortal sin would be on his way to heaven. Remember that Dante at the beginning of this work is in a midlife crises having lost “the one true way” (Inf. I. 12). What is the “one true way?” He lost his faith. This will become more fleshed out when Dante the character meets Beatrice in a few more cantos. But for now, let it suffice that Statius followed both lights that shined in the darkness, that of poetry and that of Christian truth, though Virgil was unaware in his prophesy. But Dante only followed the light of poetry and as we will see that of pagan philosophy, but somehow had lost sight of the light of faith.


message 6: by Irene (new)

Irene | 909 comments I have finished the Purgatorio.

In the Infirno, sexual sins were among those placed furthest from the center and in the Purgatorio, Lust and sexual transgressions are the furthest up the mountain. The implication is that sexual sins are less serious on a scale of gradation. I wonder if Dante would judge things differently today after the extreme damage of sexual sins on the Church. Greed, envy, gluttony, none of the sins corresponding with these vices seem to cause the scandal nor harm the faith of people to the extent that sexual sins have done.


message 7: by Manny (new)

Manny (virmarl) | 4207 comments Mod
Yes. Good point Irene.


message 8: by Manny (new)

Manny (virmarl) | 4207 comments Mod
Some random thoughts on other issues in these cantos.

The P’s on the forehead must only be for Dante. I think I said somewhere all the penitents have P’s wiped off as they complete a terrace. Apparently not because there is no mention of Statius having a “P” removed when he completes the terrace of avarice. I guess an earthquake supersedes wiping a P off.

The final part of Virgil’s discourse on love takes place in Canto XVIII. Here he completes his thoughts by saying that though the soul moves toward what is pleasing she has the power through free will to reject that direction. This works in two ways. One can reject what is good, which stymies spiritual development but one has the power to reject sin, though the sin is pleasing. Just because the soul moves toward what pleases her does not mean it is good.

'Now you see how hidden is the truth
from those who hold that every love
is in itself deserving praise,

'perhaps because such love seems always good.
But every seal is not a good one,
even if imprinted in good wax.' (Purg. XVIII. 34-39)


All loves are not good, though they may seem so. But Dante is actually more perplexed. He asks:

'For if love is offered from outside us
and if the soul moves on no other foot,
it has no merit in going straight or crooked.' (43-45)


Dante is asking if love comes from outside of us, how is the soul supposed to discern if she follows the straightway (good) instead of the crooked? And on this Virgil cannot answer him. “No other foot” refers to the twin feet of philosophy and faith. Virgil is only able to explain love through the one foot of Greco-Roman philosophy.

And he to me: 'As far as reason may see in this,
I can tell you. To go farther you must look
to Beatrice, for it depends on faith alone. (46-48)


The other foot is that of faith and revelation. Virgil, being a pagan, can only go so far in his understanding. Dante’s next guide, Beatrice, will have to fill in what he cannot.

This is quite fascinating. This seems to echo the Cardinal virtues that came from Greek philosophers, and recall that the guardian of the island was Roman pagan Cato back in the first canto who was an exemplar of those four virtues. But the four Cardinal virtues are incomplete for salvation. The three Christian virtues are required, and here Cato and Virgil are lacking.

Notice too, that what saves Statius is not just the nobility of Virgil’s Aeneid, but the other foot, faith, that was hidden in Virgil’s fourth Eclogue, despite Virgil not even being aware of it.

The passage with the dream of the siren in Canto XIX is I think demonstrative of Virgil’s philosophy. The siren is attractive, and Dante the character is moved toward her. She stands outside of him but his mind formulates her as a good, though the reality is she is not. It takes divine intervention from what some think is St. Lucy to get Virgil to strip her bare and expose her hideous true self.

Another episode in this group of cantos that deserves some discussion is that with Forese Donati in Canto XXIII. Actually the encounter spills over into the following canto, so Donati’s appearance is one of the longer encounters. Donati, residing on the terrace of gluttony, is emaciated, so much so that Dante doesn’t even recognize him at first. Donati is an old friend of Dante’s and the cousin of his wife, Gemma Donati. This is about as close as we get for a family member to show up in the Divine Comedy.

Dante the author begins the passage through the terrace of gluttony in what I think is an ironic humor. As they enter the chant they hear from the penitents is “Labia mea, Domine” or in English, “O Lord open my lips.” The line is from Psalm 51 but those who pray the Divine Office will recognize it as the opening to the Morning Prayer. The complete line goes, “O Lord, open my lips and I shall praise your name.” It really doesn’t have anything to do with eating, so it rings with irony. Hollander’s note does cite commentators who make the point that these gluttons are now making better use of their mouths.

When Forese discovers Dante is alive, like many souls we have seen he is taken aback. Forese here cries out, “What grace is this for me!” or in the Italian, “"Qual grazia m'è questa?" (Purg. XXIII. 42). The phrasing echoes a very similar situation where in the Inferno Dante meets his old teacher, Brunetto Latini, who when he discovers Dante cries out, "Qual maraviglia!" or “What a marvel!” In Purgatory the surprise is seen as a “grace,” a gift from God, while in Hell it’s seen as some sort of empirical phenomena disconnected from God.

Though the two friends speak of their past in round-about terms, we gather that in their youth the two were quite the party animals. Forese speaks about renouncing their past lives, which given the context suggests an overindulgence of food and drink, and given he speaks of “the brazen ladies of Florence” who “flaunt their nipples with their breasts” (Pur. XXIII. 101-102) further suggests a time of dalliance with loose women. I kind of have an image of young Disco Dante, partying it up.

We learn that Forese has accelerated his penance because of his wife Nella has constantly prayed for him. It is the faith and devotion of his wife that has aided his purgation. In the following canto (unfortunately I cut off the grouping in between Forese’s episode) Dante asks his friend about Forese’s sister Piccarda. Forese tells him that his “virtuous sister” is now in paradise “rejoicing in her crown.” Actually Piccarda is one of the first souls Dante meets in Paradisio.

I think it is quite intentional that we get a contrast between the devoted Nella and the virtuous Piccarda against the brazen ladies of Florence. What are we to make of it? There does seem to be less women in hell and purgatory than men. When we get to Paradisio we do by my perception seem to encounter more female characters than in the previous canticas. We have Beatrice, St. Lucy, the Blessed Mother and many other women as we will see as constant examples of virtue. It’s a feminist complaint that much of literature portrays women as either saints or sluts. It is not an unfounded complaint. Women do seem to be closer to the divine in the Divine Comedy than men. However, given the context of the times, women didn’t have the power to commit the variety of sins that men could. Are women less inclined toward evil? Perhaps a slight bit, though I think that may be controversial to say.


message 9: by Manny (new)

Manny (virmarl) | 4207 comments Mod
Sorry I got further behind with our discussion on the church scandals. Unfortunately there is only one thing I can focus on at a time. But now I'm back on this.


message 10: by Kerstin (new)

Kerstin | 1557 comments Mod
The siren puzzled me. Why are there temptations in Purgatory? Is it because Dante is still alive?


message 11: by Manny (new)

Manny (virmarl) | 4207 comments Mod
Kerstin wrote: "The siren puzzled me. Why are there temptations in Purgatory? Is it because Dante is still alive?"

That's a good question Kerstin. Actually I think I answer the Siren's significance are in my most recent comments, those to Cantos XXIV to XXVIII. also, since I've read to the final set of Cantos, Beatrice - yes, Beatrice and Dante finally meet - refers to the Siren in a way that supports my reading in those recent comments. You'll have to wait for that answer.

As to temptations, the Siren is in a dream, so I don't know if it's an actual temptation. I think it's a resurfacing of something in Dante's life. But dreams blur with reality here, don't they?, so perhaps it is a temptation of sorts. I don't have a clear answer for that.


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