Divine ComedyI Inferno
The Juggler Poem Analysis
A place where sinners, who voluntarily chose their sin and fail to repent who fail to repent, linger it what is know to be Hell. In The Inferno of Dante, the speaker Dante, unless otherwise stated, finds himself in the midst of the underworld, despite being alive. Dante knows this journey through hell is one that he must complete in order to better himself. Dante and his guide, Virgil, walk amongst the souls who embody the evils of the world. Dante often feels pity for the men and women he meets on his voyage. His physical journey through Hell is seen as a spiritual one as he faces learning not to pity those who have sinned. Despite the painful sights of the underworld, the portion of the journey that proves most troublesome for Dante is attempting to increase his religious devotion by limiting his pity.
There are times within Dante’s journey where he expresses a deep hatred towards the sinners; however, Dante’s reason for his actions is not due to religious correctness. When Dante meets Filippo Argenti in the Fifth Circle of Hell, the circle of the wrathful, this is obvious. When Filippo begins to challenge Dante, Dante responds violently, telling the shade that he wishes for Filippo to weep and have his “sorrow remain,” This exhibits the religiously correct response to a sinner: being angry and shaming the souls; however, Dante reveals that he recognizes Filippo from life. Virgil “embaced neck and kissed face,” prasing Dante for his lack of compassion. Dante’s insensitivity was not meager; he went as far as to express that he wants to see that Filippo be “pickled in this swill,” and Dante thanked God for letting him see Filippo “mangl[ed] by the people of the mud”. Dante appears to have done everything right in this situation, he acted in a way of disapproval and disgust, however the motives behind his actions are not what they should be. Virgil glorifies Dante’s actions because Filippo was an egotistic, wrathful sinner in his life, therefore, he shall be condemned; however, the actions of Dante stem from the fact that Dante knew and disliked Filippo prior to Filippo’s placement in hell, making his harsh behavior personal rather than religious. Even though there are times in which Dante abandons pity entirely and acts cruelly towards the sinners, it is unmistakable that Dante has not learned that it is wrong in faith to pity sinners, but instead, he is acting upon preexisting grudges.
Dante the Poet presents sinners and punishments to the reader. Many sinners Dante crosses, similar to their punishments, are unfathomable and are deserving of the torture they receive. However, many are people who faced unfortunate situations in life, and it causes Dante to feel a sense of pity for the sinners. No matter how dramatic and emotional the sinners’ stories are, Virgil opposes Dante feeling pity, advising him to stop, but Dante struggles greatly with this on several occasions. In the Second Circle of Hell, where the lustful are placed, Dante meets the lovers Francesca da Rimini and Paolo Malatesta. He learns their story of how they slipped into love while reading about Lancelot and Guinevere. Dante tells Francesca that the suffering she experiences with Paolo “makes [him] weep/ For sorrow and pity”, signifying that Dante thinks it is a shame that lovers should be punished for loving more than one should. Love is ordinarily seen as a positive thing; it brings people satisfaction and is a generalized goal in life. However, since these people, Francesca da Rimini and Paolo Malatesta, fell in love at the wrong time with the wrong person they get punished for this act. The lovers are punished by the presence of the wind storm, this punishment suggests that Dante views the lover’s sin as innocent in nature, uncontrollable to man. Taking his compassion to a further extreme, at the conclusion of the Canto, Dante is greatly “overwhelmed” and felt himself go “slack: Swooning as in death, felt like a dying body”. Dante is incapable to control his emotions enough to even stay conscious, emphasizing how deeply he feels for these sinners, even though it is not right for him to do so. Dante’s acknowledgment of this proves how genuine his pity is for others, it too illustrates a contrast between the normal societal view of the lustful and Dante’s view of these souls.
Dante’s tendency to pity the sinners he encounters continues as he continues further into Hell. In the Seventh Circle, where those who act violently toward themselves remain, Dante encounters Pier Delle Vigne in the Wood of the Suicides. In this scene, Virgil instructs Dante to break a branch off of a tree, and the trunk begins bleeding and crying in anguish; this tree state is Pier Delle Vigne’s new from. The scene immediately turns somber as Dante realizes that Pier is not only in excruciating pain, but he has also lost his identity. This is the first time in Hell where the sinners lose their complete physical identities. Though it is morally appropriate that those who had no desire for their bodies during life do not get them after death, the situation still places pity in both the reader and in Dante. Directly after ripping the branch, Pier, irritable in pain, asks Dante, “Why have you torn me? Have you no pity”. This question seems absurd to a reader who has been following Dante’s expression of pity, but Dante answers it as he speaks to Virgil; Dante requests that Virgil ask the questions for him, because Dante feels incapable of speaking due to the “pity/ That fills [his] heart”. The exchange implies that Dante, despite knowing that both violence and suicide are sins, wishes that some sinners could be exempted from punishment due to their tragic circumstances. Justifying sinners is not a religious thing to do, but Dante does it frequently, displeasing his spiritual journey.
Dante journeys through Hell with his guide Virgil, and he sees the fate of sinners who have been punished within the different levels of hell. Each punishment being a direct parallel to what the sinner has done wrong in life, however, in many cases Dante chooses to pity the sinner. Virgil advises that Dante does not hold any pity for the sinners as not doing so would be religiously correct. Pity is only allowed in Limbo. Therefore the expression of pity is not to be expressed in other levels of Hell. However, Dante struggles during this journey. Though he attempts to better himself spiritually, he fails, going back to human instinct rather than exclusively expressing religious strength.
Nine Circles of Dante’s Inferno
Dante’s Inferno: Canto XIX
Dante and Virgil encounter the Simoniacs, or sellers of church offices and favors, in the third ring, circle eight of the 19th canto. In this section, there are holes in the ground where the guilty are placed upside down and left with their feet ablaze. I found this canto to be particularly interesting as this circle contains those who commit direct crimes against the church, including a host of popes. In circle eight Dante delivers a stirring speech upbraiding chief sinner Pope Nicholas III on the evils of selling church offices and tainting the belongings of Christ, illustrating Dante’s journey of spiritual self-enlightenment and redemption.
Upon arriving, Dante notes how there are “long rows of holes cut in the livid stone; all were cut to a size, and all were round. They seemed to be exactly the same size as those in the font of my beautiful San Giovanni, built to protect the priests who come to baptize” (XIX. 14-18 153). Dante describes the holes in which the sinners are placed as resembling baptismal fonts. This canto is teeming with irony and religious symbolism as the sinners, who had defiled and sold church offices and belongings, are now being punished through the very same things. According to The Inferno’s notes, the font of San Giovanni was used during Holy Sunday and Pentecost for baptism, and due to the massive influx of people, marble stands were built for the priests to protect them. Dante speaks about these baptismal fonts tenderly and reminiscently, evoking beautiful imagery about the church creating the impression that Dante holds the church and its sacraments in high regard.
Additionally, the feet of the sinners burn from the fire of hell. According to the book of Acts, during Pentecost, the disciples witnessed “tongues of fire” that came to each of them and filled them with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:3). The reason Dante chose to punish the sinners with fire is to illustrate how the sinners, immersed in a fiery baptism, is retribution for desecrating the holy waters of baptism. The fire is depicted as “oiled things [that] blaze upon the surface only” (XIX.30.153). The oily fire could be symbolic of the importance oil plays in Christianity; as oil was used in anointing essential figures and in death rituals. Dante also writes that the degree of heat on the sinner’s feet is equal to their guilt. It’s worth noticing that while the center of hell is covered in ice, there are only a few places in hell where a fire is prevalent with the third ring of the eighth circle being one of them. The eighth circle ties in with the Christian view of hell filled with fire and brimstone, and perhaps this is what Dante wanted for those who directly offended the church.
While entering the circle, Dante sends praises to God, exclaiming “O Sovereign Wisdom, how Thine art doth shine, in Heaven, on Earth, and in the Evil World! How justly doth Thy power judge and assign” (XIX.10-13. 153)! Dante’s praise is him acknowledging God’s omniscient and omnipotent nature and how God’s essence is evident in every corner of the universe. God ultimately has power over everything, and Dante views his judgment on people as fair and just. It’s intriguing that Dante highlights God’s authority on not just judgment but also assignment. God’s power of assessment and appointment creates the impression that instead of Minos assigning the level of hell to each sinner, it is God. Whether He just knows where the sinner will go or condemns them to a part of hell, God has authority over Hell just as He does in Heaven and Earth.
Perhaps the most riveting part of this canto is Dante’s speech to Pope Nicholas III. When Dante first encounters him, Pope Nicholas mistakes him for Boniface, an archbishop who helped organize Christianity in modern day Germany. Pope Nicholas then admits his sins, saying that he valued wealth above all else and to achieve it he sold church powers and offices. Dante then severely rebukes him, rhetorically asking “’how much cash our Lord required of Peter in guarantee before he put the keys into his keeping?’” (XIX. 84-86. 155). Dante answers his question, stating that Jesus never required material goods but that we believe in Him and follow Him. Dante goes on to say that the apostle Peter never asked for money to portray that Pope Nicholas, who put his life in the hands of money instead of Jesus, justly deserves his punishment. Dante doesn’t normally pause to tell sinners that they earned their hellish eternity so for him to stop and shame Pope Nicholas shows that Dante holds the church and its offices in high regard. He goes on to say that he is “constrained by the reverence [he owes] to the Great Keys” (XIX. 95. 156). The great keys representing the church, Dante expresses his loyalty to the church which highlights his redemption in the eyes of God.
Dante, through his dialogue and descriptions, shows that the act of simony warrants a horrific eternity of pain and suffering in hell. Simultaneously, through his interaction with Pope Nicholas Dante is depicted as a lover and protector of the church and God. Dante proves himself worthy of redemption and that he has learned what is truly important in life. While reading and researching about the sinners guilty of simony, I can understand Dante’s raw hatred for the crime. To abuse church offices and powers by selling them mocks the religion and throws away its value and importance. Simony takes religion and tramples it underfoot, treating it like garbage. To partake in this crime is one of the most selfish acts a human can commit and it is a personal sin against God himself.
Renaissance: A Time Of Renewing
The Renaissance was a period of time where great innovations on art, architecture, math, and science were brought to Europe. It was a period of unparalleled growth. The Renaissance was a time of the rebirth for Europe.
This was one of the largest periods of growth in history. It was not only in the terms of educations but also in architecture and the life style. (Pointer) People then lived longer and had better diets, they would have no plagues, which would lead them to have a positive outlook on everything. As there are major contents of the Renaissance one of the major people like Leonardo Da Vinci. Leonardo Da Vinci is a guy that knows a way to view the human body in a 360 form. He comes up with ideas for the machine guns, submarines, helicopters, and also painted a painting famous for all of time, the Mona Lisa.
Also, Michelangelo painted the ceiling of the Sistine chapel, which is one of the great works of the Renaissance that we still have in today’s society. It led many people in society to a greater understanding of the world around them than any of the other times in western history. People no longer must worry about everything around them. The people of this erar’s lives were better because this is the greatness of no plague, no famine, no anything. They tend to have a more positive outlook. Also, they did not fear their faith as much as the people before them would have. They cannot see what they are doing with the faith. They are starting to realize that they do not have to stay in one place. They do not have to live and died at the same place, they can move around. This is one of the longest periods without plague or famine it is a period of great positivity and period of people that not only eat better but live longer. Since they live longer, they can do a lot of neat things then before they could not. Plagten had thrown that off. Even though everything was right when they moved around it could create other issues. (Peters) There were many amazing members of this society that gave great contributions to the Renaissance era.
People like Charlemange, Thomas More, Dante Algerie, Niccolo Machiavelli, Thomas Aquinas, and Augustine. Charlemange is the greatest ruler in western history. His name literally translated means charles the great karla magne. He is the ruler of the carligen empire and the first emperor of the holy roman empire in 400 years. The guy that could speak four languages but could not read for his life. Yet he was responsible for creating other things on the renaissance. He is the guy to fine of education. Counts were created by Charlemagne, to control the lands that he conquered. They called the lands that he conquered counties because they were ruled over by counts. Which had brought a new word into western history. Thomas More named the defender of the faith under henry the eighth. He will write another seminal work of western civilization utopian. He will then eventually be put to death well executed over his disagreement with henry and his divorce from captain of aragon he does not agree with henry’s reason for the divorce.
But being the captain of aragon and being the defender of the faith, he has to be the guy that stands of for what he believes in and gets him executed. Dante Algerie is most famous for writing the inferno. The inferno was about his journey, hell, purgatory into heaven. He wrote the inferno was a great middle ages work and his journey. Was one of the great seminars of western civilizations. Niccolo Machiavelli, Machiavelli is a guy influenced by a guy Cesare Borgia. He writes another seminal work of western literature called the prince. Which he organizes the way that princes should behave to those that are there subjects. He says that it’s better to be feared than loved because the fear lasted longer and there is still fear in the subjects and they will bend to your will easier than if you love them. Thomas Aquinas is the most important scholastic thinker of his time. He is the guy who becomes along in the wake of the discovery the new books from aristotle. He disagreed with most of the christian thinkers of his time, that he could discover the truth about how you could discover the truth of ideas. Also said that you could use scientific study and observations to discover the truth of the ideas. It was not just based on faith alone it was also on observation as well. He was the first person to push idea.
Also wrote a book called the summation of teaology which he puts for that view of summa theologiae. So many people have brought great change and innovation to this era. Saint Augustine was an early Christian humness. He is most famous for coming up with the idea of original sin. A lot of churches hang on to that original sin business. Also famous for a book called the city of god, which was Charlemagne favorite book. The City of God, the book written by Augustine says that there are two cities in the world, the city of god and the city of man. (Ariew) The city of god is perfect, seemless, blameless, gloress, and heaven. The city of man is less, sinful, derogatory, degrading, it is just terrible, and awful people do terrible things each other. It is a bad place to be but eventually from the march of time he says is linear. The city of man and the city of god eventually in this linear march the city of god will overtake the city of man. Because of man being sinful and religional sin. Eventually the city of god will take over the city of man and redeem the city of man and bring those low people into the city of god.
New religion was even introduced during this time. Islam is one of the three last great created acts of the Roman empire. Which was Christianity, Barboram kingdoms, and Islam were a part of the Roman Empire. The first one and the last one was Christianity and Islam will come to occupy the world potential for the next several thousand years ago. It will become outside of Christianity the fastest growing religion of the time. It took the roman empire to create both of them. The nice patormoite of roman peace lasted over two hundred years. They will come to clash over issues of ideology that will lead to the crusades and other things like that. (Bowd) The Koran is the holy book of Islam. It is very similar to the bible, in fact there are a lot of stories that are the same. Except for, the man difference is that Koran is also full of the visions of Mohammed that is what separates everything but that is the holy book of Islam. That is one setting that tells a good Muslim what they should do and how they should act.
Overall the Renaissance was a time of renewing and learning and growing for the European society. Many people took advantage of this time and embraced the atmosphere while increasing their knowledge of the world. Many people also worked together and grew as a whole. This era was a very significant part of the history of western civilization.
Canto IX as a Microcosm of Dante’s Inferno
Canto IX of Dante’s Inferno is remarkably representative of the work as a whole. It includes a number of prominent themes, among them the role Virgil plays as the manifestation of human reason and the argument that faith can achieve what reason cannot, as well as contrapasso¸ or the matching of sins on Earth to punishments in Hell. Canto IX also demonstrates the marked divide between the first five circles of Hell, housing the Incontinent, or relatively minor sinners, and the next circlethe Violentwhose damned God despises much more. A microcosm of the entire epic, the importance of Canto IX lies in the themes and values it reflects.Canto IX begins with Virgil’s failure to penetrate the gates of Dis. His attempts at reason with its demon guards are useless; Dante fears desertion. He is rightly frightened by Virgil’s sudden weakness. In the first eight cantos, the shade is a surefooted, confident guide; he surmounts obstacles with ease and disarms all challengers handily. His abrupt impotence leads a pallid Dante to ask discreetly for reassurance that Virgil is still in command of their journey. Virgil begins to explain that he is, but the anxious poets are interrupted by a fearsome sightthree Furies tearing at their breasts, calling for Medusa to turn Dante into stone. Virgil takes the threat seriouslyhe considers Dante’s hands to be insufficient protection for his eyes and blindfolds his ward himself. Dante is terrified, helpless. Then an earthquake. This sequence of eventscompounded by Virgil’s uneasinessis not mere drama. The barrage is something new for The Inferno. For the first time there is a real, almost palpable sense of danger. Dante clearly intends for Virgil’s ashen face at the start of Canto IX to represent fearthere is no evidence offered to the contrary, as in a similar scene in Canto IV, when Dante,who’d seen the change in his complexion,said: “How shall I go on if you are frightened,you who have always helped to dispel my doubts?” (IV: 16-18)There, the shade reassuringly explains: “The anguish of the people / whose place is here below, has touched my face / with the compassion you mistake for fear. (IV: 19-21)” Dante is convinced; the shade’s pallor is not mentioned again. In Canto IX, however, Dante is not comforted by Virgil’s wordsin fact, the opposite occurs:[H]is speech made me afraid,because I drew out from his broken phrasea meaning worseperhapsthan he’d intended. (IX: 13-15)Virgil’s sudden vincibility and the newfound possibility of harm also signify a shift in the type (and awfulness) of sin that the pair are about to encounter: they are leaving the first five circles, home of the Incontinent, and taking a large step downwardto the Violent. The souls they encounter will no longer be accidental sinnerssuch as those whose only crime was living before Christ, and so were unable to live according to his teachingbut those who deliberately harmed themselves or others. This is a significant escalation in severity of sin. The notion that Virgil might be unable to protect Dante permeates the rest of the epic, creating tension as the duo descends deeper. The poets are clearly entering an entirely new region of Hell, fraught with danger.The surefooted Virgil, who for most of the work shepherds Dante through danger with physical and verbal protections, is the embodiment of human reason. This makes Virgil an excellent escort, and for most of the journey he knows his route and occasionally lends mettle to the weak-kneed Dante. This is why Virgil’s stark failure at the gates of Dis is so thematically important: it represents the limits of human reason. There are certain places, Dante the poet implies, that even as eminent a man as Virgil cannot tread upon when he counts but reason among his faculties. Reason has literally and allegorically taken Dante the character as far as it can go. For the pair to progress, Faith must step inand it does, via a deus ex machina intervention by a Heavenly messenger, who opens the gates of Dis with ease. (Throughout the poem, Hell’s creatures serve as obstacles to Dante’s trek and Heaven’s messengers act as catalysts; ” ‘What good is it to thrust against the fates?’ ” the messenger asks the fallen angels rhetorically (IX: 97).) The clear implication: Faith succeeds where Reason fails. A harbinger of this sequence occurs in Canto I, when Virgil informs Dante that he will lead him through the deepest circles of Hellbut no further, for he is unworthy of entering Heaven:If you would then ascend as high as these [“the blessed people”],a soul more worthy than I am will guide you;I’ll leave you in her care when I depart,because that Emperor who reigns above,since I have been rebellious to His law,will not allow me entry to His city. ( I: 121-126)In both instances, there is only so far Reason can go; it is powerless without Faith. This characterizes The Inferno as a primarily Christian poem. For all his disparaging of Church figureseven popesDante the poet implies through his writing that God is indeed omniscient and omnipotent, that his wisdom is infinite, and that faith in him will save one’s soul.The final verses of Canto IX hint at another prominent theme of The Inferno: contrapasso, or the matching of eternal punishments to worldly sins as part of God’s infinite justice. For example, Diviners, Astrologers and Magicianswho in life claimed to see the futureall have their heads turned backward; Thieves are transformed into serpents and must bite the similarly damned to regain their form. As Dante enters the Sixth Circle, Virgil explains the flaming tombs around them:”Here, like has been ensepulchered with like;some monuments are heated more, some less.” (IX: 130-131)That is, within this particular circle of Hell, each of the damned is punished according to the extent of his heresy. The flames are a fitting punishment for the Heretics, who obstinately believed in their interpretations of Christianity instead of the Church’s, and so they are encased in correspondingly immobile tombs. The flames of the Sixth Circle are in marked contrast to the swampy Styx, in whose murky depths the sullen lie submerged.
The Conversations of Francesca, Pier, and Ulysses
The journey of introspection can lead to unbound places and uninhibited realizations. In the course of his travels throughout the Inferno, Dante Alighieri encounters the damned souls of the underworld and experiences their prodigious punishments. Undoubtedly one of the most exalted and enigmatic poems to have ever been written, an unassuming reader can be virtually overwhelmed by all of the multifaceted allegory that distinguishes the Inferno from all other works. Unrequited love that burns its desire in misery, desolate despair that becomes disfigured in perpetual gloom, and falsified deceivers who bluster their shame evermore all become personified in each sinner that Dante approaches. The Inferno invents a complex, elaborate system of hell with each sinner’s own hell appropriately suiting the crime committed; as Professor Braden of the University of Virginia states, “the sinner eventually and often grotesquely becomes what they made of themselves.” In particular three sinners, (Francesca da’ Rimini, Pier della Vigna, and Ulysses) though each committed distinctively different wrongdoings, all entertain a significant conversation with Dante, who desperately seeks the attention of all three individuals. Each leave him moved and more learned, with the profound, chilling realization that though the sinner may be a virtuous person, at times, austere consequences of their actions are inescapable.The Inferno creates two interlocking explanations for the allegory, both of politics and religion. Dante, while writing this poem in exile of his native city Florence, cunningly permeates his own political propaganda noticeable by in the circles of which he places his enemies. Through his own unique placement, punishment, and portrayal of each sinner, Dante sculpts the readers own perception of those who he pities and also of those whom which he frowns at with little more than merciless disdain, as in with Pope Nicholas III. Clearly shown by sensitive gestures and words, Dante empathizes with Francesca da’ Rimini in canto V. A famed and greatly known fate in contemporary 14th century, she had married Gianciotto Malatesta of Rimini, but fell in love with his younger brother, Paolo, as she explains “love, which in gentle hearts is quickly born, seized him for [her] fair body” (41). As history unfolds, her husband found out about the illustrious affair and had them both executed. Francesca has been placed in the 2nd circle amongst the incontinent sins, and at first she describes “love gave [them] both one death,” (41) it is evident that her crimes are ones of passion and desire. However, she quickly contradicts herself in altering the impulse that she and her lover suffered from when she clarifies that “A Galeotto, that book!” (42) was the true reason their passion bloomed. Comparing themselves to Lancelot and Guinevere, Fransceca tells Dante that it was while Paulo and she was reading the tale that they gave in to the impulse of desire. Her infinite doom is to rage on in the tempestuous wind, gusting about the 2nd circle of Hell like her emotions had gusted out of her with Paolo. Dante the poet responded overwhelmingly proclaiming, “My pity overwhelmed me and I felt myself go slack: swooning in death, I fell like a dying body,” (42) and fainted in sympathy, apparently understanding the energy and influence that the written word can provoke.Further descending down past the sins of incontinence, Virgil leads Dante to the sins of violence, and noteworthy in canto XIII, the sins of violence against oneself. Here surrounded by the decaying disfigured trees who held the souls of those who committed suicide. Dante describes them with “leaves not green, earth-hued; their boughs not smooth not fruit but poisoned thorns;” (101) each timber is clawed at continuously by bird-like daemons. Amongst the contorted woods lay Pier della Vigna, a primary counselor to Frederick II, who had been wrongly accused of disloyalty to the emperor, and in despair of being denied his love of service, killed himself. He claims his innocence to Dante, “I stayed so true I lost both sleep and lifeI never betrayed my lord who was so worthy of honor” (103-105) defending how loyal and diligent he was. Dante discovers that it was “the common fatal Vice of courts” (103) as Pier refers to envy as the sin that coerced his own violence towards himself. He begs Dante to “comfort his memory” (105) when returning back to the living, which presented a not often found sympathy in the poet; so intense was his compassion for Pier, that he had to ask Virgil, his guide to continue conversing with the doomed shade for he “cannot because of pity that fills [his] heart.” (105).This example represents the second time that Dante had become overcome by a single encounter with a punished soul. Dante pities both Francesca and Pier, fainting from Francesca and touched so deeply by Pier it left him speechless. Both have committed the “lesser of sins,” different from those kept in Malebolge who have committed sins of fraud, like the soon to be introduced Ulysses. Dante has categorized each so the more conscious and deliberate sins are morally worse than those which are done by impulse such as Francesca, motivated by desire, and Pier, who’s suicide is punished more severely, but is still sorted amongst the sins of incontinent and violence. These two souls also demonstrate to Dante that often the sinner may still be a virtuous person, though there are irrefutable consequences to one’s actions. The two souls do differ in that Pier’s suicide put in the deeper seventh circle than the second circle of Francesca, and is punished accordingly. Francesca’s sin was derived from love in the lowest form, physical desire. Pier was motivated by madness, anger and depression, neither of which emotion involves love. As love is a predominant theme throughout the Divine Comedy, Dante suitably punishes sins because of love less torturously than violence, and in particular, suicide.Becoming gradually more assured of himself as hell becomes more shocking, Dante’s growing confidence becomes a valuable virtue. As he enters the 8th circle of Malebolge, he is introduced in canto XVI to one of the greatest heroes of classical literature, Ulysses, who is perplexingly placed amid the false counselors. Ulysses, warrior of the Trojan war and con-artist of the Trojan horse, with Diomedes “grieve for their device, the horse that made the doorway thorough which went forth the Romans’ most noble seed.” (219). The two schemers have been doomed to swirl in a mist of flames, circling the cliffs like “fireflies a peasant has seen (resting on a hill)” (217). Virgil must again speak with this soul, like he spoke with Pier della Vigna secondly, insisting to Dante to “leave speech to me- Greeks that they were, they might treat words of yours with some disdain,” (221) which Robert Pinsky explains as Dante’s method of acknowledging that he does not speak Greek. Ulysses is punished, along with being the deceptive strategician, for failure to recognize that he conned his own companions who “grew so keen to journey, spurred by the little speech [he] made” into joining his “insane flight” (223). He tells Dante that nothing could overcome his longing for experience in the world. Dante’s placement of Ulysses deep in the 8th circle demonstrates his own values and opinions of lying and fraud; Ulysses defies many Christian principles like lying, cheating, and stealing. Violence, even murder, does not provoke near as much reprimand as falsifying oneself, and adultery does not even begin make a case against it. Ulysses serves as a message to warn that prominence gained fraudulently will gain priority in punishment.Francesca and Ulysses both commit similar acts of passion, and succumb to their own desires. Yet Francesca is placed in the 2nd circle and Ulysses in the 8th; Dante distinctively divides them into two ways. The first discrepancy is the deceitful methods Ulysses resorted to that Francesca did not, and the second is that Ulysses is from the ancient Greek world and Francesca is of Dante’s Roman contemporary. Ulysses fought against the Trojans and brought down their kingdom, and the most well-known Trojan of course, happens to be Aeneas, founder of Rome. Pier and Ulysses both show Dante’s Guelph preference into dealing with the souls he longed to speak with who dealt in the aspects of politics and war, as opposed to his outright scorn for the wicked shades of the religious like Pope Nicholas III.All of these three characters demonstrate the poet’s introspective discovery and underlying themes that even though the sinner may have been well-regarded and honorable in their time on earth; in hell, they may still be punished along with the most wretched and vile. All three are left in endless sorrow, never to experience a joyous thought again. God created hell to implement justice; the gates over hell in canto III read “JUSTICE MOVED MY HIGH MAKER, IN POWER DIVINE; WISDOM SUPREME, LOVE PRMAL” (19). Hell’s sole purpose is to fulfill God’s will of justice, and that the punishment of the damned, even those who were virtuous in their lives, shall be fitting of their sins.Works CitedPinsky, Robert. The Inferno of Dante, a New Verse Translation. The Noonday Press: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. New York, New York: 1994.
Stories of Sin: Storytelling as Confession in Dante
To tell a story is to narrate events, or to give an account. Within literature, storytelling becomes a frame within a frame, a story within a story. A character from the outer frame of the book creates a smaller frame in the form of his or her story. As Dante descends through Hell in his Inferno, he and his guide Virgil hear many damned souls tell stories. Some sinners foretell the future, as do the suicide of Canto XIII, the gluttonous Ciacco of Canto VI, and the heretics of Canto X. Others, such as the Jovial Friars and Navaresse barrater, identify other sinners and explain punishments distinct from their own. Most of the stories that the damned tell, however, are their personal confessions. The structure of each confession is usually tripartite, consisting of the sinner’s identification of himself or herself, narration of the occasion for his or her particular sin, and the description of his or her punishment. The suicide in Canto XIII, for example, begins his lengthy confession to Dante and Virgil by identifying himself: “I am the one who guarded both the keys to Frederick’s heart and turned them…” (Canto XIII, lines 58-59). He then explains how he was driven to suicide. He tells Dante and Virgil that he became the object of envy for his great influence with Emperor Frederick. Such envy, the sinner says, “inflamed the minds of everyone” against him (Canto XIII, line 67), and he committed suicide, believing that he “could flee disdain through death” (Canto XIII, line 71). The damned soul then completes the three-part confession structure when he gives a vivid description of the punishment for suicides, who become thornbushes in Hell and are eaten by harpies.These confession stories serve several functions. The confessions not only identify actual historical figures in Hell, but they also highlight certain differences between Dante the author and Dante the character. By identifying an individual soul and his or her sin, each confession gives a specific example of a particular sin. Since Dante the author places historical people in Hell, their confessions allow him to identify those people, thereby condemning their earthly deeds. The author creates the system by which these souls are eternally damned, and even invents the tortures with which these sinners afflicted, but Dante the character occasionally feels pity for a confessing soul, as he does for Francesca in Canto V: “Francesca, your afflictions/ move me to tears of sorrow and of pity” (Canto V, lines 116-117). Thus, the stories, because they identify the speaking sinner, provide occasion for the distinction of Dante the character from Dante the author.By expounding a sin’s unique punishment, the confessions give insight into the structure of Dante’s punishment system. Bertran de Born, for instance, in the eighth circle, where sewers of schism are punished, explains why he is punished with his head severed from his body. He says:I made the son and father enemies…because I severed those so joined, I carryalasmy brain dissevered from its source,which is within my trunk. And thus, in meone sees the law of counter-penalty.(Canto XXVIII, lines 136, 139-142)This “law of counter-penalty” lets the punishment fit the crime. Bertran de Born severed father and son, and so in Hell his body is severed from his head. Most sins in Dante’s Hell are punished by counter-penalty. The suicides, for instance, are never to be reunited with or to resemble their bodies because, as the thornbush explains to Dante and Virgil, “it is not right for any man to have/ what he himself has cast aside” (Canto XIII, lines 105-106).An additional function of confession is to place each sinner in the appropriate circle. Upon entering Hell, each soul is assigned a punishment according to his or her sin by the creature Minos, whom Dante calls the “connoisseur of sin” (Canto V, line 9). Minos casts judgment only after a soul has confessed his or her sins to him. Dante explains that “when the spirit born to evil/ approaches him, it confesses all” (Canto V, line 7-8), and that “they speak and hear, then they are cast below” (Canto V, line 15). Speaking confession, that is, telling the story of one’s sins, is integral to the judgment and placement process for new souls in Hell.These souls before Minos are compelled to tell their stories, but the sinners who speak to Dante and Virgil are not so obliged. Most of the souls whom the sojourners meet volunteer to tell their stories, such as the heretic whose voice “burst so unexpectedly/ out of one sepulcher” that Dante is startled (Canto X, lines 28-29). But why do they speak? Why tell these stories? Each soul does not confess the story of his or her downfall simply to satisfy Dante’s curiosity, but, rather, is motivated by the desire for fame. For instance, in order to entice the soul of the suicide to speak further, Virgil encourages him, “But tell him who you were, so that he may,/ to make amends, refresh your fame within/ the world above, where he can still return” (Canto XIII, lines 52-54). The soul does indeed identify himself for Dante, and also adds, “If one of you returns into the world,/ then let him help my memory…” (Canto XIII, lines 76-77). The importance of telling one’s story is perhaps best illustrated by those who are not allowed to speak, the cowards of the Ante-Inferno. Virgil says of them, “‘The world will let no fame of theirs endure/…/ let us not talk of them, but look and pass'” (Canto III, lines 49-51). Of course, by simply looking and passing, Dante and Virgil do not speak to any of these, and thus prevent them from attaining fame by telling their stories. In fact, not one of the cowards is identified by name. In this way, storytelling, in the form of confession, is integral to achieving fame. The confession structure becomes for these damned souls the vehicle for memory and, thus, means of attaining or maintaining fame on earth.
Dante’s Divine Intellect
In Canto XI of Dante’s Inferno, Virgil carefully explains the layout of hell to his student, Dante. Toward the end of his speech, Virgil says that “Sodom and Cahors” are “speak[ing] in passionate contempt of God,” (XI, 50-51), and divine will thus relegates them to the seventh circle. The sin of the Sodomites is clear for Dante, who poses no question on the matter, sodomy perhaps being an obvious affront to God which the bible directly addresses. However, the sin of “Cahors,” namely usury, is not clear to Dante. He asks Virgil to “unravel” the “knot” in his mind, since there is no obvious reason why a usurer – a money lender essentially – deserves any punishment at all for a crime which does not necessarily involve dishonesty, and certainly is not violent in nature.Independent of the question itself, the very fact that Dante is comfortable enough to ask Virgil anything reveals a certain intimacy between the two characters. The student-teacher relationship need not be interactive. An interaction implies an equality. Dante could very well have written a Virgil who talks but does not listen, much like the Virgil who wrote the Aeneid; there is no dialogue when one reads an epic poem. Dante’s Virgil allows Dante into his intellectual circle, both by listening to Dante, as he does here, and by introducing Dante to other master poets, as he does in Canto IV. Virgil even says that the “pupil imitates his master,” which, as we shall see, has an entirely separate meaning, but does refer back to the relationship between this pupil and his master as well.What is especially remarkable though in the way that Virgil addresses Dante’s question is that he is at first condescending. By beginning with, “Philosophy, for one who understands…” Virgil effectively mocks Dante, since Dante is certainly familiar with classical literature (as is evidenced by the Divine Comedy itself). Thus, Dante is on Virgil’s level in one sense, and far below him in another, which is true in the grand scheme of the work: Dante is only beginning to understand the workings of the divine order by Canto XI, while Virgil borders on omniscience throughout. Furthermore, Dante has not yet eclipsed Virgil as a poet, since at this point the Inferno is hardly begun, while the Aeneid presents Virgil’s view of Hades from top to bottom..In Dante’s hell specifically, the reason that usury is a deadly sin is very confusing, which is why Dante calls it a “knot.” Unlike other sins, usury is not on its face a dreadful immorality. Virgil approaches the issue at first philosophically, making the profoundly esoteric claim that “nature follows… the Divine Intellect and the Divine Art.” The idea “nature” is therefore composed of these two abstract elements. The “Intellect,” coming first, must be at the root of the “Art,” since intellect must precede production, as in the Platonic doctrine of the “essence” of a thing preceding the existence of a thing. The “Intellect” is the potential; the art is the result. In concrete terms, the “Intellect” must therefore be the primordial “stuff” from which everything is made, and the “Art” therefore must be the process of making it into something tangible or usable. From this, then, we can deduce that “Intellect” is literally the stuff that God provides to enable us to live – the land, the fruit, the animals – and “Art,” the process of sustaining ourselves by using that stuff, the labor.This interpretation fits perfectly with the rest of the passage. Virgil elaborates on the idea of nature as being the process of going from intellect to art by citing Aristotle’s Physics, wherein Aristotle apparently proves that “when it can, your art would follow nature.” Our “art,” as it were, is not very different from the Divine Art, since God is the source of all that we do (as Saint Augustine says over and over again). Our “art” is our method of self-sustenance as determined by God, since God has given us the tools we need to employ our method (“intellect”). Therefore, we are learning from God “just as a pupil imitates his master.” We are, then, “God’s pupil,” which is an apt analogy since self-sustenance is really a type of creation: Planting and harvesting crops is the human version of making the universe. Virgil goes on to say that our “art” or production “is almost God’s grandchild.” This analogy sums up everything Virgil has previously said and foreshadows his later comments, as it works in several different ways. First, if the Divine Intellect leads to the Divine Art, and if our art is a derivative of the Divine Art, then our art is indeed the “grandchild” of nature, since it is the offspring of the Intellect and the Art, which are in a way the offspring of nature herself. Second, we are all in some sense God’s grandchild, as we are all sons or daughters of Adam. Finally, the idea that our “art” is “almost God’s grandchild” reveals the egregiousness of any sin, as we all can imagine a child who is disrespectful to his grandfather more easily than a man who is disrespectful to the abstract “God.” Thus we are further prepared for all the terrible punishments that we will encounter in the coming cantos.Furthermore, the idea of our art being “God’s grandchild” is clearly an allusion to the biblical concept that we are made in “God’s image,” as it says in Genesis. It is therefore perfectly fitting that Virgil makes the allusion, asking Dante to “recall” how Genesis “begins.” What Virgil asks us to focus on though is not how we were made, but what Adam had to do to “make [his] way” and thus what “men” in general are supposed to do “to gain their living.” The Genesis story teaches that Adam must “in toil eat of [the tree] all the days of [his] life…” and must “eat of the plants of the field.” (Genesis, 2.17). To be moral then is to procure wealth (sustenance) through work, turning the “Divine Intellect” through “art” or human labor into life-giving food. Finally, the “knot” has been “unraveled” for Dante. The usurer “prefers another pathway,” meaning that a money lender does not seek to sustain himself by using “stuff” for “life.” A usurer by definition uses money to make money. Thus he is cut off both from “Intellect” and “Art,” or, as Virgil puts it, “he scorns both nature in herself and art,” as “his hope is elsewhere.” A banker, for example, charges a fee in exchange for loaning money. Nowhere is he working to produce anything, in contrast to Adam who is a “producer” in the most basic sense. Instead, he is using others as a means of life: in Dante’s pre-capitalist economic system, he is a parasite. He is a fraud of the highest magnitude because at first he appears to be doing nothing wrong. As we see in the usurers’ punishment in Canto XVII, their “outer semblance” is very normal. Only upon looking closer does one make out that they are “adorned with twining knots and circlets,” the word “knots” of course referring back to Dante’s original confusion, his own personal “knot” of the mind.After Virgil has made everything clear, he tells Dante to “follow.” The word “follow” (in Italian “seguimi”) is the same word that Virgil had used to refer to art “following” (“segue”) nature. This repetition underscores the divine presence throughout the Comedy, showing us that Dante is “following” a path that was set for him by the higher power. The reason that it is “time to move” is that Dante now understands why the usurer is a sinner. This means that what is propelling the story forward is Dante’s progressive education. At points of confusion, we stop to try to understand. Once the issue is clear, we move on. This gives us a key into understanding the whole work, in that it shows that Dante is on this divine path in order to learn from it. From that we can deduce that we too are on the same path in order to distinguish the moral from the immoral. Dante serves as our Virgil.Another subtlety within the text that demands a wide-angled literary lens to see is the mixing of secular doctrine with Christian doctrine. Dante has moved seamlessly from Aristotle to Genesis, so that his argument holds on every conceivable level. He even seems to make a indirect reference to the fact that the ideas of the respective schools of thought are both in perfect harmony with the claim – which can be interpreted in a multitude of ways – that “[our] art would follow nature.” Our art could very well be a combination of philosophy and science: Aristotle coins the term “metaphysical” in his work Physics. And our art, our logic, does not contradict in the least with the inescapable nature that God creates in Genesis. In fact, it “follows” directly from Genesis.One final possible interpretation of “your art” (as Virgil says to Dante) is the Comedy itself. The Comedy is a poetical depiction of the divine order as Dante sees it. This is in a way a contradiction, because no human could ever wholly grasp the divine order. Dante seems to recognize that when he has Virgil say that his “art is almost God’s grandchild,” the word “almost” being key. The connection to the divine mind is irrefutable, as art follows nature, but Dante subtly admits his own humanity. Just as Dante is in one sense the teacher (the writer) and in another the student (Virgil’s “pupil”), so too is he in one sense divine, and in another sense human. Perhaps this is how Dante wants us to see him throughout the Comedy. The only way that we could trust him is if he is omniscient like God throughout the whole of the work, while the only way that we could learn from his journey is if he is as ignorant as the reader at the same time.The only certain conclusion that one can draw from this incredibly rich passage is that there are a thousand possible conclusions that one could draw, a thousand possible interpretations of a phrase like “Divine Intellect.” Not one plausible interpretation however seems to contradict with any other plausible interpretation. This means that Dante has deliberately layered his text just as he has layered hell. We must then, like Dante, work our way carefully through the divine path, asking deeper and deeper questions of our teacher along the way, striving to “unravel” all of our “knots” as we descend further and further down through the spiraling realm of ideas called the Inferno until we have probed deep enough to finally ascend upwards toward the Divine Intellect as nature had always intended.
Contrapasso in the Inferno
Instead of leaving all of Inferno’s sinners to burn in the traditional flames of Hell, Dante successfully uses contrapasso to build a world with unique psychological depth, and therefore a deeper potential for suffering. Contrapasso distinguishes each sinner by making his or her punishment uniquely appropriate to the sin so that every soul in Inferno inhabits an individual Hell of different thoughts, desires, and pains. As Dante moves into Purgatorio and Paradisio and still sees distinctions between souls according to their Earthly characteristics, it is tempting to say that contrapasso continues to define a soul’s existence throughout the Comedy. But though contrapasso works so brilliantly in Inferno, Dante does not use this technique of separation as a central theme when building an effective Purgatorio and Paradisio. This shift away from the human isolation of contrapasso and towards a unity of desire and purpose helps Dante create a vision of Purgatorio and Paradisio both uniquely peaceful and awe-inspiring.The effectiveness of contrapasso in punishing Inferno’s sinners is apparent in the isolated position of Master Adam, for whom contrapasso creates an individual world unique to his sin. Dante meets Adam, a coin counterfeiter, in the Tenth Pouch of the Eighth Circle, where the Fraudulent suffer together. Adam’s body is unnaturally disfigured so that he appears “fashioned like a lute” (Canto XXX line 49) and he can not move from his spot. His immobility and deformity are appropriate to his sin, the distortion of metals, an occupation that allowed him everything he desired on Earth. In the Eighth Circle, he is not only physically distorted but also psychologically affected: the two things that he most longs for are water and revenge on his fellow falsifiers, both goals that require movement. He says:alive, I had enough of all I wanted;alas, I now long for one drop of water.. . . I am racked by memory the image of their [streams of the Arno] flow parches me morethan the disease that robs my face of flesh. (Canto XXX, lines 62-69)Master Adam’s world is eternally limited to his internal suffering, his mind forever stuck on revenge against his fellow sinners and his inability to fulfill his desires. His punishment isolates Master Adam forever from his fellow men.Another sinner that helps elucidate contrapasso’s effectiveness is Brunetto Latini and his conversation with Dante in the Third Ring of the Seventh Circle of Inferno. The Seventh Circle contains Sodomites who were Violent Against God and Dante has a hard time even recognizing Brunetto, his old mentor and teacher, from among a group of souls running under a rain of fire. Brunetto’s face is badly scorched and he must keep their meeting brief so as not to fall behind the group he is running with. His sins continue to dominate his existence and act as the instrument of his punishment. The indignity of the old and respected master’s position makes his punishment not only physically appropriate the raining fire akin to the homosexual passion he could not control on Earth but also psychologically so. Indeed, Brunetto never discusses his sin directly and instead discusses politics and earthly matters with Dante. But Brunetto’s only hope is for earthly fame and to be remembered in the great encyclopaedic work he left behind, the Tesoro: “Let my Tesoro, in which I still live, / be precious to you; and I ask no more” (Canto XV, line 119-120) are his parting words as he races off to join his fellow sinners. Because of his homosexuality, Brunetto did not leave his name behind through his offspring, the natural way, but instead wants his name to live through his work. This pride in his work plays a crucial role in his punishment because fame and respect are things he can never attain from his humiliating position in Inferno. These obsessions are unique to Brunetto, placing him alone in his torment and separated from the many other souls in Inferno who each have their own private Hell of desire and pain.This severe isolation is lessened in Purgatorio, where the characters experience a transitional form of contrapasso, one that takes them from the Inferno’s eternal punishment to the timeless unity of Paradisio. In one sense, contrapasso still exists in each of Purgatorio’s terraces where the souls purge their sins through punishments directly related to their faults on Earth. However, the contrapasso does not define the center of their existence: the souls are not consumed with their sin as the sinners in Inferno are. Instead, all of the pilgrims in Purgatory want to discard their Earthly distinctions, wash away their sins, and move towards a unity in God, a goal they share as they suffer together. One can argue that contrapasso still remains in the suffering accorded them on each terrace, but their ultimate and most painful punishment is their distance from God and an awareness of a Paradise they have yet to reach. Dante begins to observe this new harmony in Purgatorio when he reaches the Second Terrace where the Envious purge their sins. He greets the souls with:”You who can be certain,”I then began, “of seeing that high lightwhich is the only object of your longing,may, in your conscience, all impuritysoon be dissolved by grace, so that the streamof memory flow through it limpidly”. (Canto XIII, lines 85-90)After seeing the eyes of the Envious sewn shut (because it was through their vision that they envied others), Dante feels compassion for them but realizes that their unified desire is to forget their sin through this physical pain and experience God’s love. Whereas contrapasso works in the Inferno by trapping the sinners with their painful memories forever, Dante recognizes that these souls wish for only a “limpid” memory of their past. Purgatorio’s souls not only share a disdain for their personal pasts, but also a desire for a unity with God and the other souls. Guido del Duca, one of the souls on the Second Terrace, cries out against the isolated heart of a sinner when he admits his envy on Earth to Dante and entreats him: “o humankind, why do you set your hearts / there where our sharing cannot have a part?” (Canto XIV, lines 86-87). Dante later questions Virgil on what Guido meant by this “sharing” and Virgil explains that:when your longings center on things [sins that need purging]. . . then envy stirs the bellows of your sighs.But if the love within the Highest Sphereshould turn your longings heavenward, the fearinhabiting your breast would disappear;for there, the more there are who would say “ours”,so much the greater is the good possessed by each so much more love burns in that cloister. (Canto XV, lines 49-57) Therefore we see that the greatest goal for the Purgatory characters is to leave behind and purge their distinctive sins and human qualities in order to become one with God and with their fellow souls. The inhabitants of Purgatory do not suffer in a private Hell for their sins on Earth as we saw in Inferno, but instead focus as a united group on God and their desire to make their own free will at one with God’s. Though Dante witnesses many brutal punishments in Purgatorio that draw his pity and compassion, the souls do not seem to concern themselves as much with the contrapasso-like pain as the souls in Inferno did. Their greatest punishment is that the sins they must purge prevent them from receiving God’s love in full and delay their entrance into Paradisio. Whereas in Inferno, each sinner voiced his own desires, whether it was for Earthly fame or revenge, the characters in Purgatorio request the same thing — only that Dante pray for them when he reaches Paradisio or remind family members to pray for them in Purgatory.This disregard for Earthly pain can be seen in Dante’s meeting with the poets Guido Guinizzelli and Arnaut Daniel in the Seventh Terrace of Purgatory where the Lustful (heterosexual and homosexual) are punished. Their sin of excessive lust as well as their fame on Earth make this scene a striking parallel to Dante’s meeting with Brunetto in Inferno. Just as with Brunetto, Dante sings his appreciation for Guido Guinizzelli’s work after recognizing him, but Guido’s reaction immediately separates him from Brunetto. He unconcernedly brushes off Dante’s compliments, declaring the greater talent of Arnaut, another soul on the Seventh Terrace, and asks Dante to pray for him in Paradise as he runs away with his group. Dante speaks soon after with Arnaut, who also refuses to speak of his work on Earth as if it were inconsequential, declaring that:with grief, I see my former folly;with joy, I see the hoped-for day draw near.Now, by the Power that conducts you tothe summit of the stairway, I pray you:remember, at time opportune, my pain! (Canto XXVI, lines 143-147)Whereas Brunetto suffers alone wanting only for his work to gain Earthly fame, both Arnaut and Guido long to forget their past writing and sins in their fervor to reach God. The last words of each master artist further cement the difference between Inferno’s contrapasso and Purgatorio’s new unified vision. Brunetto’s existence and all his desires relate directly to his personality and individual qualities on Earth: contrapasso demands that he will always be trapped and consumed with his sins. Guido and Arnaut, in contrast, share the same desire to move closer to God, just as all the other many characters Dante encounters in Purgatorio: despite their current purging and their different accomplishments as humans, their existence is no longer defined by their sins but by their increasing capacity and devotion to God. As Dante leaves Purgatorio and moves into Paradisio, he once again sees a separation of the inhabitants in their placement on different spheres according to their faults and assets on Earth. Despite this distinction, however, this is not the contrapasso that Dante uses in Inferno. Dante’s guide Beatrice explains that the spheres are not a reality as the circles of Hell were because all those souls grace the Empryean;and each of them has gentle life though somesense the Eternal Spirit more, some less.They showed themselves to you here not becausethis is their sphere, but as a sign for youthat in the Empryean their place is lowest. (Canto IV, lines 34-39)Though the souls have different places in Paradise, their relative positions do not dictate their happiness or constitute the focus of their existence; it merely symbolizes their differing capacities for God’s love. An example of this seeming paradox, wherein all souls are unified and happy despite their higher or lower positions in Dante’s eyes, is Piccarda, who appears on the sphere of the Moon in a lower position in the Empryean because of her inconstancy on Earth. Dante immediately questions whether she desires to be in a higher sphere, to which she gently answers,Brother, the power of love appeases ourwill so we only long for what we have;we do not thirst for greater blessedness.. . . to live in love is here necessity,. . . The essence of this blessed life consistsin keeping to the boundaries of God’s will;. . . all this kingdom willsthat which will please the King whose will is rule.And in His will there is our peace. (Canto III, lines 70-85)Piccarda’s thoughts are not consumed with her life on Earth or her individual position but instead with receiving God’s love — she even uses the plural voice, saying “we” instead of “I”. So though the individual qualities of each soul dictate their capacities for receiving God’s love in Paradise, the ultimate reward for the souls here has no relation to their human qualities on Earth but is instead the same for all souls: the peace of being at one with God’s will. The individuality of the contrapasso in Inferno, and its purpose of assigning uniquely appropriate existences to each soul, is not found in the unity and singular focus among the souls in Paradisio.Perhaps one of the most individually distinctive souls in Paradisio is Cunizza, and the ease with which she dismisses her unique character on Earth for the shared goal of peace and unity in God provides a strong example for the absence of contrapasso. Dante meets Cunizza in the Sphere of Venus, where those who were influenced by amorous love are grouped. Cunizza was a famed woman with many lovers and husbands, and her appearance in Paradise may be surprising to Dante’s contemporaries who were aware of her reputation. But her excessive love also meant she was compassionate and warm and she apparently turned her energies to God in her later life. Despite her fame on Earth and location in Venus, Cunizza does not experience Paradise any differently than the other souls around her. She says . . . I shine herebecause this planet’s radiance conquered me.But in myself I pardon happilythe reason for my fate; I do not grieve and vulgar minds may find this hard to see. (Canto IX, lines 32- 36)She goes on to comment on the political scene in Dante’s home city of Florence and concludes her speech with “Above are mirrors — Thrones is what you call them –/ and from them God in judgement shines on us;/ and thus we think it right to say such things” (Canto IX, lines 61-63). So after she dismisses her renowned past on Earth, she goes on to evaluate Dante’s politics according to God’s judgement, using “we” instead of “I”, thus dismissing her identity in favor of speaking collectively with God’s will. Cunizza’s thoughts and focus are not on her own unique excessive love on Eart she dismisses that outright. Instead, her reward in Paradise is the same as all the other souls. Dante says it best, when he realizes that “every place/ in Heaven is in Paradise” (Canto III, line 88).When one so examines the desires and thoughts of the souls in the Comedy it is apparent that contrapasso no longer operates as the central focus in Purgatorio and Paradisio. In the Inferno, each character is consumed with their own distinct thoughts directly related to his or her individual sin: often they involve Earthly fame, revenge, or politics. The sinners are isolated from those around them and face a tormenting eternity of unfulfilled hopes and desires. In contrast, while the souls of Purgatorio are still assigned punishments directly related to their sin, there exists a unity among their thoughts and desires. Time and again, the souls Dante talks with quickly dismiss their own lives on Earth and their sins as stumbling blocks on the path to their higher goal: a union with God. This unity of thought and desire among the souls is a continuous theme as Dante travels to Paradisio, where the distinction between souls is even less tangible and the unity of their thoughts and desires is always the same God and His love. Though the individual qualities of each soul correlates to their capacity for receiving God’s love, Paradise leaves each soul completely satisfied and thus all are unified in their will (one with God’s Will) and focus. Dante’s use of contrapasso in the Inferno followed by a move away from it towards collective feeling in Paradisio perhaps reveals something about his conception of happiness and love: an insistence on individuality, isolation, and Earthly fame can only lead to an eternity of unfulfilled desires, while leaving behind our personal demands in favor of God’s will can leave us ultimately satisfied in our need for love and comfort Dante’s Paradise defined.
La Petit Mort: Dante and Mortality After The Lovers
The difference between death and dying can often seem minute. The dying are merely those on the way to death. Yet the intrinsic difference between the process of dying and the moment of death is one of great literary obsession, in particular in Dante’s The Inferno. Robert Pinsky’s otherwise transcendent translation makes a provocative error in translating the following line:My pityOverwhelmed me, and I felt myself go slack:Swooning as in death, I fell like a dying body. When in reality, the original Italian reads “as a dead body.” This moment of frailty, realized after the interaction with the doomed lovers Paolo and Francesca, is entirely dependent on the word choice. If Dante falls like a “dead” body, then the lovers have made him realize his own mortality. By changing the word to “dying,” Pinsky implies that Dante is less aware of his own death. Dante realizes that he is falling like a dead body, meaning that he is not exactly one. One cannot fall like oneself, like one’s state of being. The simile is in fact a state of removal; it suggests that Dante is so unlike a dead body that to compare the two makes for a memorable analogy. Rather, to point out that he falls almost as though he is dead only points out that he is in a similar but different state, living. And what are the living but those in the process of dying? All life is but a forestalling of death, and if death is the inevitable event then dying is the inevitable process leading up to it. To be living (and thus to be dying) is to have a fixed trajectory, to assume that death is waiting in a span of an indeterminate amount of years. Virgil promises the trajectory to Dante early, and his assent is assured, just as his death is assured by his existence as a human being. To realize that he is dying is to assert the trajectory. That he will eventually become one of the dead he meets (even if he will attain eternal providence) is overwhelming to Dante (a poet convinced that his work will outlast so many others), and partly the reason for his fit of swooning. When Dante falls “like” a dead body, he is forced to realize that he is not dead yet, which means that his death is still oncoming. His human mortality becomes more evident, and the text hammers in this realization. In the original Italian, the repeated words “morisse” and “morto” are so linguistically similar as to merely reinforce the realization that death is approaching, and thus that Dante is dying. By contrast, to say like “dying” implies that Dante is not dying, that his trajectory is still mutable, and that Dante is less aware of his path: be it ascent or near-Biblical fall. The key difference between death and dying is one of motion, too, and reinforces Dante’s awareness of mortality. To be dead is to be in stasis; even the shades that appear to be moving lack the ability to change their position. Paolo and Francesca are merely blown about in an eternal circle, able only to drift towards the human and Dante, who by contrast follows a fixed path of ascent. Dante chooses to emphasize how their lack of movement, their being dead, only serves to emphasize that he is not dead but dying. Dante “fell,” collapsed in “swooning.” He has the capability to move, but only in one direction: descent, much like the diminishment of dying. Dante must descend into Hell to become whole, much as he must go through the process of dying to achieve death and thus (as he is promised) salvation. The lovers remind Dante that he must fall, but fall like the “dead.” He will later ascend in contrast to these dead, but the importance of his “fall” cannot be ignored. By suggesting that Dante falls like a “dying” body, Pinsky loses this awareness of the descent, because, as previously mentioned, to fall “like” dying to make clear that one is not dying, and thus unable to make the descent that Dante goes through. We cannot forget that it is the presence of the lovers who bring out this realization, this moment of sublime cognizance of mortality. And the circle where Dante sits is not one of a sin of money or false words, but of the lustful, which ultimately conceptualizes the fact that Dante’s realization of his mortality occurs because of lust, and lovers, and eroticism. In fact, the distinction between death and dying is fundamentally one of eroticism. Death is inherently tinged with erotic overtures, ever since Dante’s beloved Greeks surmised that excessive sexual excretion of bodily fluids was the path to death, and the French invested with the phrase “la petite mort,” meaning “the little death” with symbolism of the orgasm. Dante “felt [himself] go slack,” a phrase that cannot help but conjure up the post-coital fatigue. Death is a societal fetish, in particular in Dante’s time, when the promise of plague and mortality was everywhere. The only response to this was to fetishize, to make death an object of sexual awareness. Medieval and renaissance depictions of death, in particular those connected with a Biblical representation, are often erotic in an almost inadvertent way: from Van Dyck’s 1459 depiction of St. Sebastian to the medieval danse macabre, with its emphasis on the body of death. Dante’s erotic death only further brings out his awareness of mortality, for lust is a sin of the body, which must inevitably be silenced and its urges ceased. Thus for Dante to fall “like a dead body” he is falling with an erotic connotation. He is falling “like” one after the consummation of passion, which despite (due to the simile) distancing him from the actual process of orgasm, connotes to the reader an eroticism that is not awoken by Pinsky’s translation merely through the use of the word “dead.” This connection binds him to the openly erotic and lust-driven lovers; in fact it is the lovers who give Dante a greater self-realization. But “dying” is a state of being supremely un-eroticized. As Sontag’s observed in On Illness and Metaphor, dying is a state of removal, of descent. Thus it is the antithesis of Dante’s ascent towards heaven and the inevitably eroticized Beatrice. Dying is unerotic because it shows the inevitable and tragic fate of man: his mortality. Dying cannot be eroticized because it is such a process, a lingering and depressing malady. Death, by contrast, is a whole, a completed act. Dante’s shades look complete; they resemble human beings with human bodies, and thus have more erotic qualities. To fetishize death is somehow easier in Western society than to do the same for dying, for death is a momentary act, closer to the consummation of lust than dying. Dying is, in its own way, to death what the pursuit is to the orgasm. The pursuit and dying can easily be idealized but never sexualized, and for Dante it is the latent eroticism of death that emerges in this passage. Be it a question of Biblical descent or nascent eroticism, one cannot deny the power of the body for Dante. Seeing the lovers awakens in him a realization, a moment of overwhelming mortality in the face of eternity. Ultimately, The Inferno cannot be undermined by this peculiar choice in translation, but rather more questions can only arise.
Innovation, Rhyme, and Feel in Robert Pinsky’s Poetry
The first U.S. Poet Laureate for three consecutive years (from 1997-2000), Pinsky has succeeded in much more than poetry. In 1984, for example, he was the author of an interactive fiction game called Mindwheel; today, he is the poetry editor for the irreverent online Slate magazine. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that his poetry embraces modern life–yet remains firmly rooted in a traditional education in poetry and the classics.In The Figured Wheel, for example, Pinsky’s poetry ranges from a look athi smother to a discussion of psychiatrists. His style, although variable, is readable, and shuns much of the “encoding”, or deliberately obscure language, of other poets. His poem “History of My Heart,” for example, begins, One Christmastime Fats Waller in a fur coat Rolled beaming from a taxicab with two pretty girls Each at an arm as he led them in a thick downy snowfall Across Thirty-fourth Street into the busy crowd Shopping at Macy’s: perfume, holly, snowflake displays. Chimes rang for change. In Toys, where my mother worked (Pinsky, 1996, 123)Even in this short excerpt, Pinsky uses a number of poetic devices that deepen the poem–yet make it both comprehensive, and conscious of modern life. For example, the unusual choice of the word “Rolled” instantly gives the reader the feeling of the large man emerging exuberantly into the snow, perhaps with a sense of urgency or inexorability. The capitalization of “Thirty-fourth Street”, which is unnecessary, gives you a sense of the importance of the time and place. The colon use is unexpected in the “Shopping at Macy’s:” line – and the colon alerts us that it is announcing what shopping at Macy’s was about during Christmastime. “Chimes rang for change” brings up the sound of cash registers ringing and coins rattling, but it can have a different meaning. It can just as well conjure up the image of bell-ringers ringing the changes (each different pattern of bell ringing in a church is called a “change”) in a cathedral. It is an interesting image, and in keeping with the festival aura of Christmas with which Pinsky begins this poem. Pinky’s style in this collection is generally free verse, with the occasional internal rhyme. However, he does not write in a prose style. With the use of inversion, parallel constructions, allusions, and poetic language Pinsky makes it clear what he is writing is a poem, not a prose-poem, or a poem trying to sound like prose. The poem “Ode to Meaning” (which is an example of his wide-ranging subject matter – this is concerned with a philosophical questioning of symbols) shows how his poetry is not necessarily strictly metered or rhymed (the feet of the lines vary – 4, 3, 3, 5, 5, 3), but still very musical and poetic. You also in the laughter, warrior angel; Your helmet the zodiac, rocket-plumed Your spear the beggar’s finger pointing to the mouth Your heel planted on the serpent Formulation Your face a vapor, the wreath of cigarette smoke crowning Bogart as he winces through it (Strand and Boland, 253)He uses anaphora, like the Bible, to make the lines ring together, and it makes the large amount of information passed in this one stanza easier to digest and understand. His exploration of images and symbols continues to the end of the poem: Dire one, Desired one. Savior, sentencer – Absence, Or presence ever at play: Let those scorn you who never Starved in your dearth. If I Dare to disparage Your harp of shadows I taste Wormwood and motor oil, I pour Ashes on my head. You are the wound. You Be the medicine. (Strand and Boland, 254)Pinsky, it is clear, has a distinct ear for language. In one of his books of criticism, The Sounds of Poetry, he writes, “The medium of poetry is the human body: the column of air inside the chest, shaped into signifying sounds in the larynx and the mouth. In this sense, poetry is as physical or bodily an art as dancing” (Summary, Pinsky, 1998). Pinsky believes that poetry is to be experienced aurally. In this, he is harkening back to the origins poetry, when it was only an oral art. Despite the modern roots of Pinsky’s poetry, many of his other works show that he clearly hails from a poetic, classical background. For example, his translation of Dante’s Inferno is tackled in its entirety, both English and Italian, but Pinsky resists the original Italian convention of terza rima; as he explains, triple rhyming is extremely difficult in English. He rejects the terza rima, and instead translates the entire poem in a rhyming convention of “like sounds.” He writes,”This translation rejects that solution and instead makes a more flexible definition of rhyme, or of the kind and degree of like sound that constitute rhyme. But on the other hand, I have not accepted just any similar sounds as rhyming: the translation is based on a fairly systematic rhyming norm that defines rhyme as the same consonant-sounds-however much the vowels may differ-at the ends of words.” He gives examples “tell/feel/well” and “sleep/stop/up” (Pinsky, 1994, xix). In this, Robert Pinsky is innovating into a new kind of rhyme, or at least referring back to an old form (consonance – (Abrams 9) “repetition of a sequence of two or more consonants, but with a change in the intervening vowel”) and then restricting it to the ending consonant In this, he is fulfilling what he said, when commenting on Landor’s poetry “One can be an ‘innovator’, … by reviving, adapting and developing traditional forms, quite as much as by invention” (Schmidt 388-389). Pinsky did not invent a completely new kind of rhyme for his translation of the Inferno, but he has made the sound of it uniquely his own, and adapted it well to the English language. For example, he writes, My teaching; He who made all of Heaven’s features In His transcendent wisdom gave them guides So each part shines on all the others, all nature’s Illumination apportioned. So too, for goods Of worldly splendor He assigned a guide And minister – she, when time seems proper spreads (Pinsky, 1994, 57)The “like sounds” of features/nature’s, goods/spreads, plus the repetition of guide/guides gives the stanzas a feeling of unity and musicality, without the “hard rhymes” which he explains in his Translator’s note (xix) that he dislikes so much. This is a novel innovation, and to modern ears sounds more poetic and less conversational than blank verse, but also lacks the sing-songiness that direct and hard rhymes have come to mean in our day and age The enjambment, even across stanzas, is common in his Inferno and his own poetry works, such as “History of My Heart” (see above). It is curious, perhaps, that Pinsky would choose such extreme enjambment, which would seem to suggest fragmentation of thought. Actually it is part of his innovation against the singsonginess and end-stopped conventionality of old forms. This enjambment leaves Pinsky free to make his like-sound rhymes, but doesn’t limit his thoughts to the limit of his line, whatever its length. “Wormwood and motor oil” – an old substance and a new one – perhaps give some clue to what Robert Pinsky’s poetry is all about. His new poetry is accessible and engaging, without being overly simple or trite. His translations are dense, but poetic and light-hearted, even with serious subject matter. He chose a huge work, and a seven-centuries-old one, in Dante’s Inferno, but he makes the conversations and the descriptions sound both full of poetic gravitas and a modern feel. Thus, the Poet Laureate has managed to make the old new, and bring a kind of rhyme back into poetry that feels poetic without sounding false or old-fashioned.Works CitedAbrams, M. H. (2005). A Glossary of Literary Terms (8th ed., Rev.). Boston: Thomson Wadsworth. The Academy Of American Poets. (). Poets.org. Retrieved October 16, 2006, from The Academy of American Poets poets.org Web Site: http://www.poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/200The Library Of Congress. (). LOC Poet Laureate Timeline. Retrieved October 16, 2006, from The Library of Congress Web Site: http://www.loc.gov/poetry/more_pinsky.htmlPinsky, R. (Trans.) (1994). The Inferno of Dante. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. (Pinsky, 1994) Pinsky, R. (1996). The Figured Wheel: New and Collected Poems, 1966-1996. New York: Farrar. Straus and Giroux. (Pinsky 1996)Pinsky, R. (1998). The Sounds of Poetry: a brief guide [Electronic version]. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. (Pinsky, 1998) Schmidt, M. (1999). Lives of the Poets. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. (Schmidt)Strand, M., & Boland, E. (Eds.). (2000). The Making of a Poem. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. (Strand & Boland)