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Lectura Dantis: Purgatorio, A Canto-by-Canto Commentary

Series: Lectura Dantis
Copyright Date: 2008
Edition: 1
Pages: 412
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  • Book Info
    Lectura Dantis
    Book Description:

    This new critical volume, the second to appear in the three-volumeLectura Dantis,contains expert, focused commentary on thePurgatorioby thirty-three international scholars, each of whom presents to the nonspecialist reader one of the cantos of the transitional middle cantica of Dante's unique Christian epic. The cast of characters is as colorful as before, although this time most of them are headed for salvation. The canto-by-canto commentary allows each contributor his or her individual voice and results in a deeper, richer awareness of Dante's timeless aspirations and achievements.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94052-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  3. CANTO I Ritual and Story
    (pp. 1-10)

    ThePurgatorioopens with a solemn exordium, rich in anticipation and tension, that develops in three stages (1–12). First we are given the graceful but exultant image, dear to the mannerist tradition, of the “waters” and the “little vessel” that will “course” even as it “lifts her sail.” Next, the first-person narrator dramatically (“and what I sing”) offers the firm, clear definition of the theme. Finally, there is an invocation to the Muses recalling, like some mysterious legend, a famous episode in Ovid’sMetamorphoses.

    One understands that this exordium is rhetorical, and that the principal voice is that of...

  4. CANTO II The New Song and the Old
    (pp. 11-20)

    The action of Canto II is divided into four parts: lines 1–12, Dante and Virgil at the island’s shore; 13–51, the arrival of the angelic vessel; 52–117, Casella and Dante; and 118–133, Cato’s rebuke and the pilgrims’ departure.

    The preeminent musicality of Canto II appears to continue the celebrative mood of the preceding canto, which is characterized by motifs such as rebirth, sweetness, delight, and freedom. Yet Canto II, like its number, has a double focus. Each of the threecantichethat comprise theDivine Comedybegins with a canto devoted to the presentation of a...

  5. CANTO III The Sheepfold of the Excommunicates
    (pp. 21-38)

    In the concluding moments of Canto III, a figure appears who, while initially unidentified, is described by Dante with characteristic precision: “he was fair-haired and handsome and his aspect / was noble” (107–108). With an uncanny exactitude of attention, the figure before us is said to carry still on his body the physical scars of the battle in which his time on earth was ended. His brow is cleft: “but one eyebrow had been cleft” (108); and before he names himself the penitent displays a wound “high on his chest” (111). This figure, as one learns at line 112,...

  6. CANTO IV The Lute Maker
    (pp. 39-46)

    It would perhaps seem a little superfluous to pause long over a figure as much discussed as Belacqua or to try to offer a new reading of the forty verses at the end of Canto IV where he appears, given the attention that has been paid to him by such luminaries as Bosco, Petrocchi, Fallani, Romagnoli, and Chiari. An anecdote by the Anonymous Florentine is the archetype behind all the variations that appear throughout the fourteenth century and after, even into our own time:

    This Belacqua was a citizen of Florence, an artisan, and he fashioned mountains of lutes and...

  7. CANTO V The Keys to Purgatory
    (pp. 47-55)

    In Canto V there appears none of those cruxes on which contemporary criticism often fastens as a basis for understanding the poem’s deeper meaning. Nevertheless, this canto contains some of the most vivid episodes of the journey, especially in its second part, which involves the stories of three memorable characters. As is typical of the wholecantica,and especially evident in the first cantos, we find that the three souls we meet here are, by the very definition of their realm, in a liminal state between two forms of existence, the earthly and the celestial. They are gradually shedding the...

  8. CANTO VI Abject Italy
    (pp. 56-64)

    By the middle of the twentieth century, the critical question concerning Canto VI was no longer one of historical identification or aesthetic appreciation, but of whether the canto was substantially unified or, instead, contained a series of poetically unresolved issues. Aurelio Roncaglia, in his “Lectura Dantis” of 1955, showed that the repetition of disjunctive verbs such assi parte(“is done,” 1),disgiunto(“without a passageway,” 42),non m’accompagne(“not at my side,” 114), andscisso(“dissevered,” 123) creates a “convulsive marker” connecting the various parts of the canto. Twenty-five years later, in a completely different cultural climate, one no...

  9. CANTO VII Sordello and the Catalog of Princes
    (pp. 65-72)

    In the preceding canto, however willing he may be to answer Sordello’s rapid-fire questions, Virgil is allowed to utter “Mantua” and nothing more. No doubt he would have gone on reciting “me genuit” and the rest of the epitaph ascribed to him by Donatus and St. Jerome, but his reply is cut short by Sordello who, after revealing himself as a native of Mantua too, enfolds him in a most emotional hug.

    Now, at the beginning of Canto VII, Dante is obviously expected to pick up the thread of the story at precisely the point where it had been cut...

  10. CANTO VIII In the Valley of the Rulers
    (pp. 73-84)

    ThePurgatoriowas one of the great discoveries of the twentieth century. The post-Napoleonic nineteenth century not only was preoccupied with but also identified with the overwhelming, larger-than-life personalities that impose themselves on us from within the pages of theInferno.Twentieth-century readers, traumatized and chastened by two world wars, were not in a position to gain much pleasure from doomed, heroic personalities, but they did find much to identify with in thePurgatorio,particularly in its mixed condition of sadness and of hope, its remarkable elegiac lyricism and strong personal conviction, its structural polyphonism, and its delicate interweaving of...

  11. CANTO IX The Ritual Keys
    (pp. 85-94)

    In the third hour of the night following his three days in Hell and a day in Ante-Purgatory, Dante sleeps in a flowering meadow. He feels mournful, like the swallow, which according to myth was once a ravished maiden. Probably at dawn, although the text allows the possibility that his vision lasts all night, he dreams that an eagle carries him up to the circle of fire. He compares himself to Ganymede, whom Jove, metamorphosed into an eagle, carried to the heavens, and then to Achilles, whom bright light awoke when he was carried to Sciros. When Dante revives he...

  12. CANTO X The Art of God
    (pp. 95-102)

    Canto X begins the great cycle of penitence and education that characterizes Purgatory proper. The souls in Purgatory follow the order of the seven mortal sins as defined by Christian doctrine. They traverse the seven circles of the mountain, pausing in each circle, for a time, according to their inclination toward each sin that has remained in them after their life on earth. They are not punished for any specific crimes they may have committed, as happens in Dante’s Hell. Instead, at each stage of Purgatory, penitence regularly consists of a meditation and acontrapasso(a punishment suited to the...

  13. CANTO XI Gone with the Wind
    (pp. 103-118)

    Sandwiched between two descriptive cantos, in which there are remarkably few lines of actual dialogue and in which the foregrounded speech is the increasingly complex virtual (or visual) discourse (“speech made visible,” X , 94) evoked by the attitudes of the figures in relief (in the most complex of these trompe l’oeil—or is ittrompe l’oreille?—dialogues, the sculpted stances of the emperor Trajan and the supplicant widow are read as an extended exchange in which each of the two participants speaks no less than three times), Canto XI, the second of the three cantos dedicated to the sin...

  14. CANTO XII Eyes Down
    (pp. 119-128)

    In terms of its narrative, Canto XII is tightly connected to the previous three cantos, which describe the entry of the poet and his leader into the genuine Purgatory, along with their experiences in the first circle. We cannot even locate a dividing line between Cantos XI and XII (from the perspective of the narrative, at least); the borderline appears instead to be within the new canto, since the episode of the previous canto is yet to be completed. The poet is still accompanied by Oderisi da Gubbio, the miniaturist punished for his pride, with his back bent almost to...

  15. CANTO XIII Among the Envious
    (pp. 129-140)

    Of the various text divisions that have been suggested for Canto XIII, the best is perhaps Benvenuto’s three-part reading: the description of the place with its voices (1–42), the description of penance and purgation (43–72), and the conversation with “a modern spirit” (73–154). Like all the others, however, this division submerges the brief but eerie episode of Virgil’s prayer to the sun (10–23), which demands and will receive special treatment here.

    Critics often remark on the stark contrast with the cornice below that Dante rapidly creates on reaching this second level. A dry, geometrical account of...

  16. CANTO XIV The Rhetoric of Envy
    (pp. 141-150)

    In the previous canto, Dante and Virgil have arrived at the Second Terrace, where the envious are punished. In Canto XIV, they meet two souls, Guido del Duca and Rinieri da Calboli, who denounce the sin of envy. However, the actual invective against envy will spill over and conclude in the following canto (XV).

    Canto XIV has often been viewed as a political canto. “It would be difficult,” writes John A. Scott, inDante’s Political Purgatory,“to find more striking proof that the poet is concerned above all with the message he must impart ‘for the sake of the world...

  17. CANTO XV Virtual Reality
    (pp. 151-166)

    Three hours before sunset in Purgatory we find Virgil and Dante in an open space somewhere between the Terrace of Envy and that of Anger, climbing a slight incline, toward the northwest. The solar light, which seems to be hitting the Pilgrim straight in the face, is so intense that he cannot help but shade his eyes. The Pilgrim forms a visor by putting his hand over his brow, but it is ineffectual, and he has to turn away from what he now likens to light reflected from a mirror or a mirrorlike surface. Soon he learns from Virgil that...

  18. CANTO XVI A World of Darkness and Disorder
    (pp. 167-177)

    The opening words of Canto XVI,Buio d’Inferno(Darkness of Hell), challenge the reader’s attention with the plosive force of the initialBand the unexpected backward glance to thetenebraeof Hell. In contrast to the beauty of the seascape on the shores of Mount Purgatory, illuminated by Venus, “ the lovely planet that is patroness / of love,” and the four stars seen only by Adam and Eve (Purg.I, 13–25), the terrace of Wrath plunges us into Erebus, its smoke thicker than any “Darkness of Hell” and darker than “night deprived / of every planet” (1–...

  19. CANTO XVII On Revenge
    (pp. 178-190)

    Dante Alighieri would have known a thing or two about anger. While he was representing the White Guelfs in a diplomatic mission to Pope Boniface VIII, the Black Guelfs seized control of Florence with the pope’s support and set in motion a campaign of revenge against the Whites, who had participated in the previous government. In January 1302 Dante was sentenced in absentia by the Florentinepodestàfor “graft, embezzlement, opposition to the pope and Charles of Valois, disturbance of the peace of Florence, and turning over control of Pistoia to the Whites with the resultant expulsion of the Blacks”;...

  20. CANTO XVIII Love, Free Will, and Sloth
    (pp. 191-199)

    Many readers have been inclined to pass quickly over Canto XVIII, thinking its philosophical discussion of love and free will to be of little importance and finding no particularly significant character or event. To such readers, the philosophical discussion may appear repetitive of Marco Lombardo’s statements on free will and the soul in Canto XVI; moreover, there is nothing in Canto XVIII to match Marco’s engaging image of theanima semplicetta(“soul is simple,”Purg.

    XVI, 88), with her delight in all that is pleasurable, or Marco’s political fervor and spleen. Even the pilgrim’s attention wanes in the second part...

  21. CANTO XIX Vectors of Human Love
    (pp. 200-209)

    Canto XIX of thePurgatoriohas not been among the most favored in terms of its readers’ attention. A survey of its critical history reveals, moreover, that readers have been attracted largely by one element, that of the dream of the siren with which the canto begins. The account of the pilgrim’s dream, however, occupies only nine tercets, or twenty-seven verses out of a total of 145. Even if we include in the episode the two introductory tercets that afford a temporal orientation, as well as the dreamer’s awakening to Virgil’s call and the latter’s explanation of the dream experience,...

  22. CANTO XX Hugh Capet and the Avarice of Kings
    (pp. 210-221)

    The subject of Canto XX is avarice, for Dante the most detestable of vices. Avarice—in this case the collective avarice of the kings of France, who in the poet’s lifetime thwarted the election of an emperor and effectively subjugated the papacy—destroys the ordered fabric of life, and the canto is notable for an impassioned speech delivered by a shade, Hugh Capet, who is a mouthpiece for the poet’s anti-gallicism. Canto XX is virtually devoid of lyricism, as befits the gravity of the vice, and it can be seen to fall into three parts, with a sustained central speech...

  23. CANTO XXI Greeting Statius
    (pp. 222-235)

    Canto XXI is in many ways a canto of thresholds and surprises or, as William Stephany has emphasized, of conversions. These threshold crossings involve both poetic and religious issues, nor can the two ever be far apart for Dante. The canto, which introduces a major classical poet and discusses the influence of Virgil’s poetry, is also the first in which we meet a soul fully cleansed of sin and ready to ascend to Paradise. Beginning with the appearance of Statius and ending with his recognition of Virgil, this canto offers the last concentration on classical poetry before the series of...

  24. CANTO XXII Virgil and Statius Discourse
    (pp. 236-251)

    The various themes and narrative threads that constitute Canto XXI all come together in Canto XXII : the interrelated notions of thresholds and conversion; the shift from philosophy to theology and from philosophical prose to religious poetry; the confrontation of human reason and its limitations with profound religious mysteries; and the bittersweet celebration of the ancient world, of Virgil for the excellence of his poetic model, and of Virgil’s works for the moral and spiritual influence they reputedly exerted. This combination of elements forms what could rightly be called the triumph of Virgil and of his poetry as they were...

  25. CANTO XXIII Reading Literary and Ethical Choices
    (pp. 252-261)

    Soon after Dante and his two guides enter the terrace of the gluttons (Cantos XXII–XXIV), they come across a tree laden with appetizing fruit and sprinkled with fresh water, a tree whose branches widen as they reach higher into the sky. Later on, just before the travelers exit from the terrace, they will encounter another such tree. The gluttons run around this cornice and purge themselves of their sin by suffering the pangs of hunger and thirst, made sharper by the sight of fruit and water. The moral meaning of the trees, that is, the equation of gluttony to...

  26. CANTO XXIV Of Poetry and Politics
    (pp. 262-276)

    Canto XXIV ofPurgatoriois one of the few cantos of theComedythat, though formally complete in itself, does not form a complete narrative unit. The account of Dante’s visit to the terrace of the gluttonous begins at Canto XXII, 115, and ends with the last line of Canto XXIV. From Canto XXIII, 37, to Canto XXIV, 99, the focus is on Dante’s encounter with his Florentine friend Forese Donati. This episode is in turn interrupted by Dante’s exchange with the poet Bonagiunta da Lucca (XXIV, 34–63). As a result of this complex structure, Canto XXIV can only...

  27. CANTO XXV Statius’s Marvelous Connection of Things
    (pp. 277-287)

    Canto XXV of thePurgatorio,largely taken for granted in the late fourteenth century and during the Renaissance, had, in the modern period, become a kind of curiosity: a part of the poem thought of as bound to outdated cosmologies and esthetics. But since the pathfinding studies of Bruno Nardi, the canto has begun to receive wider and more sympathetic attention. Beyond its illumination of doctrinal and intellectual issues of critical importance to Dante’s cultural milieu—which, as Vittorio Russo has shown, mirror the passage of intellectual vigor from Parisian Scholasticism to the bourgeois, “scientific” culture of Bologna, Florence, and...

  28. CANTO XXVI The Fires of Lust and Poetry
    (pp. 288-302)

    No canto of theComedyhas compelled the imagination of twentieth-century English-speaking poets more powerfully than Canto XXVI of thePurgatorio.When T.S. Eliot added his famous dedication to the second English edition ofThe Waste Land,echoing line 117 (“miglior fabbro”) of our canto and making it an obligatory point of reference for any literate English reader, he not only paid his friend and fellow poet Ezra Pound an exquisite compliment, he also completed what, in hindsight, seems a necessary trajectory. The closing line of Canto XXVI (“Poi s’ascose nel foco che li affina”; “Then, in the fire that...

  29. CANTO XXVII At the Threshold of Freedom
    (pp. 303-310)

    When Mario Sansone stated that Canto XXVII functions as a narrative pause between two climactic sequences (the rise through the three richly populated last cornices of the purgatorial mountain and the meeting with Matilda and Beatrice in the Terrestrial Paradise), he certainly did not mean to reduce Canto XXVII to merely a link lacking a poetical strength of its own. In fact, Sansone has added that the pauselike quality or narrative suspension following the poignant voice of Arnaut Daniel in the refining fire and foreshadowing the apparition of Matilda in the place of perennial springtime is counterpointed by an “ascending...

  30. CANTO XXVIII Watching Matilda
    (pp. 311-328)

    Certified fit to travel alone by Virgil at the close of Canto XXVII, Dante strolls eagerly into the Garden of Eden. This shady forest atop Mount Purgatory is the setting for his meeting with a stunningly beautiful maiden who appears all alone, laughing and singing, on the other side of a two-pronged rivulet. As she gathers flowers to weave a garland, she reminds him of Persephone; her glance recalls Venus, luminescent with love for Adonis. Dante, longing to step across the narrow stream, compares himself to Leander grounded on the shore of the Hellespont by storm-swollen breakers, just where once...

  31. CANTO XXIX Dante’s Processional Vision
    (pp. 329-340)

    To the modern reader this canto might seem at first to be of a somewhat remote and antiquarian interest with, at best, a certain formal and old-fashioned poetic beauty. Coming immediately after the richly textured account of humankind’s lost paradise on earth and of the beautiful lady who explains it to Dante, Canto XXIX introduces a series of symbols from which the reader is required to deduce a corresponding series of “other meanings.” It would appear, therefore, to belong to that outmoded form, the allegory, and indeed virtually all commentators agree that it is an allegorical presentation of the history...

  32. CANTO XXX At the Summit of Purgatory
    (pp. 341-352)

    Canto XXX is commonly regarded as the structural and emotional center of theComedy,its kernel or nucleus. Preceded by sixty-three and followed by thirty-six cantos, it even has a symbolic centrality in the poem’s trinitarian numerology. Here Dante is at last reunited with Beatrice after his “ten-year thirst” (Purg.XXXII , 2–3) in a sequence that also unites theComedywith the Vita Nuova, Dante’s present with his poetic past. His guide up till this moment, Virgil, disappears from the poem in between the very lines in which Beatrice is presented. The style of the canto is deliberately...

  33. CANTO XXXI Dante’s Repentance
    (pp. 353-359)

    However much Canto XXXI forms a solid continuation of the one preceding it, only here does Dante render a full account of himself, even if his confession is directed at Beatrice, who draws it out after she turns directly toward him. It has been preceded by her condemnation of his past behavior that she mediates by addressing the angels around her chariot, as Dante listens from across the stream of Lethe (XXX, 103), and by her ironic, sarcastic comments (XXX, 55–57 and 73–75), with which she nonetheless implicates herself.

    The canto is divided into four parts: first (1–...

  34. CANTO XXXII The Parallel Histories
    (pp. 360-377)

    Canto XXXII depends heavily on the effect of its incipit, an opening verse that almost seamlessly links this canto to the preceding one in which Beatrice makes her dramatic appearance, on a much more profound level, to the experience of world and Church history in Dante’s own keenly developed sense of political and moral poetics.

    On the poetic stage of the six cantos that conclude thePurgatorio(XXVIII–XXXIII), the double spectacle of world order and Dante’s personalpoetic drama unfolds in the symbolic state of innocence unique to Earthly Paradise. In the narrative trajectory of these six cantos, Dante’s personal...

  35. CANTO XXXIII Beatrice’s Prophecy, Matilda’s Name, and the Pilgrim’s Renewal
    (pp. 378-390)

    Closely connected with the allegorical scene described at the end of Canto XXXII, and consequently, also with Cantos XXX–XXXI , Canto XXXIII begins with the seven ladies’ sad proclamation of the chariot’s destruction (1–6). It then continues with Beatrice’s prediction of an ultimate redemption (7–102) and concludes with Dante the Pilgrim’s total transformation and renewal through the waters of the second Edenic river, Eunoe (103–145). Furthermore, in the last part of Canto XXXIII, Beatrice first instructs the lady whom Dante the Pilgrim encountered on entering the Earthly Paradise to complete the role assigned to her and...

    (pp. 391-398)
  37. INDEX
    (pp. 399-412)
  38. Back Matter
    (pp. 413-413)