Canto 16

  • Even the dark gloom of Hell didn’t inhibit Dante’s vision like this cloud because it was so smoky that he had to shut his eyes & depend on Virgil to guide him around physically. Virgil warned him not to let go of his shoulders while they moved.
    • There were voices praying to the Lamb of God, who took sins away, for peace & mercy, with a hymn “Agnus Dei”. Virgil explained these were the wrathful praying for the loosening of the knots of wrath that enslaved them.
    • One of the souls spoke, asking who they were that they spoke as if time still mattered. Virgil ordered Dante to answer the man & then ask if they were on the right path up. Dante asked him to walk with him & Virgil, & to tell him all about himself. The spirit said he’d go as far as he was allowed to. The smoke made all the spirits blind. He had to use his hearing to get around.
    • Dante explained that he was traveling through. He’d already gone through Hell & now he had to climb up the mountain to get to Heaven. He asked the man who he was & as he talked, Dante would follow the sound of his voice up the trail.
      • He was Marco from Lombardy & was well traveled in his time. He loved the world as it was in his time (“Keep climbing to the right, guys”). He asked for prayers for himself once Dante got to the top. Dante agreed to do so but wondered why the guys was so high on things back on earth, especially since back in Canto 14, the souls rambled on about how terrible things were.
      • Marco told him the world was blind & Dante was no different since he was from there. The living speak of Heaven’s will as if it just automatically comes into being on earth. If that were true, there’d be no such thing as free will. There’d be no justice in rejoicing in good or grieving over evil. The heavens prompt your movements & God has given you the knowledge of the difference between good & evil, & free will to withstand the conditions of one’s life & if well-nourished, one’s free will can help you live a virtuous life.
      • People with free will are subjects of a nobler nature & mightier power that creates in you a mind unbound to fate. So, if everyone is corrupt, we know why. Our own free will pursues unholy paths.
      • The rational soul is the direct creation of God put into the person even before he’s born. But when it’s left untaught, it follows its own fancy. At first, it’s attracted by some trifling treasure, becomes beguiled by it, then chases after it if its love is not curbed. That’s why we need legal powers & a ruler to create a virtuous city. We can create laws but who or what makes the people good?
        • No one, because the shepherd who leads the sheep may chew the cud in meditation but doesn’t part the hoof, by not discriminating between spiritual & worldly powers. When the flock see their shepherd helping himself to what he craves, they follow suit & stop looking for more than material good.
      • That is why the world is depraved. It is ill-governed – not from a depraved nature. When Rome reformed the world, it showed 2 roads that ran parallel to each other: the world’s road & God’s road. One ruler has quenched the other: the sword & the crook. When these roads meet, the result is usually bad government because one doesn’t fear the other when they are both in the same set of hands. The plant is known by is fruit – & when that fruit is bad, the plant is considered bad. Worth & courtesy used to grow between the Adige & Po Rivers in Lombardy before the rule of Frederick II.
        • Now only those who go there in safety are those who’ve given up commerce & speech with the good. Only 3 older men are typical of the former, better times: Conrad Palazzo, the good Gerard & Guy Castel (AKA the Good Lombard).
      • The Church of Rome is falling into the mire, trying to combine 2 powers into 1, fouling itself & failing its mission.
  • Dante praised Marco’s speech. Now he understood why the Levite priests were barred from inheriting property & to be supported by the people. But who was this good Gerard fellow?
    • Marco was surprised that Dante had to ask. His daughter, Gaia, had disgraced the family name. Marco had taken Dante & Virgil as far as he was allowed to, & turned around & went back.

Notes According to Dorothy Sayers

  • The Penance of the Wrathful: The Smoke – The effect of Wrath is to blind the judgment & to suffocate the natural feelings & responses, so that a man does not know what he is doing. The penance of the Wrathful is therefore, once again, the endurance of the sin itself. Dante habitually connects Wrath with images of smoke & suffocation – e.g. the Sullen Wrathful in the 5th Circle of Hell (Hell, 7), whose “hearts smoldered with a sulky smoke”, & whose punishment is to lie gurgling & choking in the muddy bed of Styx.
  • Marco Lombardo – Dante here shows us only one image of the Wrathful – probably because he has already given sufficient space in the ferocious & sullen types in the Inferno. In Marco he offers a 3rd, & more pleasing, variation: the open-hearted, generous man with a hot temper.

Procne with a head.

Canto 17

  • If you’ve ever been caught in the mist in the mountains & could barely see a thing, & remember what it was like to see the sun peak weakly through the vapor, then you’ll know what it felt like when Dante saw the sun again as it was setting.
    • Dante followed Virgil’s footsteps as they passed through the clouds into the waning sunlight. Fantasy often takes us away from ourselves so we remain distraught & deaf to all that is going on around us. But a light from Heaven guides you.
    • Procne’s cruelty appeared to him in a vision as she was turned into a nightingale. The image was so strong that he took no notice of anything around him.
    • A vision of a man hanging from a gallows, with the great Ahasuerus, his wife, Esther, & Mordecai stood watching. The image burst like a bubble & another vision came to him, a girl, Lavinia, crying & asking, “Why did you let your anger bring you so low, Queen Amata? You killed yourself not to lose me but now you’ve actually lost me. I mourn for your loss & no one else’s.”
  • Dante was snapped out of these visions by a light stronger than any he’d ever seen on Earth. He looked around to find out where he was & heard a voice that said “Here is where you ascend”. That ended any other thoughts he’d had because he wanted to see who had spoken.
    • But he felt his senses failing him. Virgil spoke, “This is a spirit of God that will lead you on your way before you ask & is hidden in his own light. He treats us as he treats himself. He sees the need but waits to be asked is half-way ready to refuse. Le’s follow his guidance while the sun still shines”.
    • They moved quickly up the stairs. As Dante made the 1st step, he felt wings flapping, the voice said “Beati pacifici – Blessed are the peacemakers who don’t know evil wrath”.
    • The last sunrays up so high that stars began to show around them. They’d reached the top of the stairs but were powerless to move any further. He waited & listened for any sounds from the next level, & then turned to Virgil, asking what the next sin to be purged was. They couldn’t move but they could still talk.
    • Virgil answered the love of the good that once let slide in its proper duties was restored there. Virgil asked for his full attention because he was going to be explaining details about Purgatory while they were delayed.
      • Never has a creator or creation ever lacked love, natural or rational. The natural can’t err but the rational can, either out of bad aim, too much zeal or not enough.
      • While it is directed towards prime goods & in lesser goods in due measure, no sin can come of its delight in them. But if it turns to evil, or pursues good too quickly or too slowly, then the workman’s work is undone. Love is the root in you, not just of every virtue but of every sin. Love can’t turn away from the well-being of its object.
      • When love is perverted, a man dismisses:
        • 1 – Himself – Everybody naturally loves himself & can’t really wish to harm himself.
        • 2 – God – Since everybody is wholly dependent on God, no one can hate the source of his existence.
        • 3 – There only remains the love of harm to one’s neighbor. This is the object of perverted love & the only means to work against the workman by harming an image given to one for due love.
      • Some hope their neighbor’s ruin will divert his glory to them & that sole hope drives them to drag his name in the dirt (Sin of Pride). Some fear losing their fame, favor, scope & honor if someone else rises up in prominence, wishing the worst, sit there & mope (Sin of Envy). Some whose sins have turned them sour & they thirst for vengeance (Sin of Wrath).
      • They saw those 3 in the previous levels of Purgatory. Next, they would see those who sought good but in a disordered love & repent, you’ll move on. There is also another disordered love that abandons itself to a good, in 3 ways further on.

San Zeno

Canto 18

  • Virgil had finished his lecture & looked at Dante to see how he’d respond. Dante kept quiet but inside he was worried his questions were annoying Virgil. Virgil could read his thoughts & so Dante decided to speak.
    • “Master, you’ve definitely helped me to see things so much better by describing & explaining things. Would you mind defining that love which stands over everything else?”
    • Virgil answered: “The spirit is created ready for love & is moved by anything pleasing. Your senses draw an inward image from a real fact & shows it to you, & that image is attractive to the soul. If the soul yearns for it, that yearning is love. Nature secures its bond in you with those pleasures.
      • “Just as fire goes to whenever it can find fuel, the enamored soul goes toward desire. This is a spiritual motion that can’t rest until it enjoys its object completely. Now you can see how blind most people are to the truth, when they say all love is praiseworthy, in itself, no matter what kind. They would argue its material seems always good, the imprint isn’t always good as well.”
    • Dante felt informed by Virgil’s description of love but it made him full of doubt. If love calls us to it & the soul follows it involuntarily, there is no merit if we go in the right direction or the wrong direction.
      • Virgil said there was only so much he could reveal to him them & there.
        • “Beatrice would have to be the one to explain it because it required faith. Every substantial form has a specific, integral & inbound virtue attached to it that no one sees except in operations. It’s often known by its effects. In the plant, life shows up as green leaves.
        • “Man is ignorant of where prime concepts or what guides his appetite for them. They are instincts in him, just like making honey is to a bee. This deserves no praise or blame. As for the other wills related to this one, the virtue that is in you ought to guard assent. That’s where comes in – how you separate the good love from the bad love. Those who dug down deep & found all this inborn liberty gave us Ethics. If you think all the loves in you came out of necessity, you still have the power of mastery over them. Beatrice will call that power “Free Will”. See if she talks about that any.”
  • It was nearly midnight & the scene reminded him of seeing the stars as you’d see them in Rome. Dante got his answers & started nodding off.
    • Suddenly, he was startled out of his Dozing by the sound of a group of souls coming towards them. They were running around a track. Voices shouted:
      • “Mary ran quickly to the hills”.
      • “Caesar ran through Marseille & into Spain to win the Battle of Ilenda”.
      • “Quick, don’t let precious time because of lack of love”.
      • “Strive in good work till grace revives us from the dust”.
    • Virgil said these people were being filled with an eager fervor that had slipped away in dalliance or sloth in lukewarm fervor of doing good. He pointed to Dante telling them he was living & wanted to know when the sun would come back up. One soul answered they ought to run along with them because the zeal to move makes them unable to sit still. It was not that they were being rude.
      • He had been the abbot of San Zeno in Verona under Barbarossa. There was a man the in Dante’s present time, Alberto della Scala. He would soon mourn because of the monastery, & rue its influence & the powers he gave it. He put his own bastard, mentally handicapped son in charge there instead of a proper pastor.
      • If he’d said anything else, Dante missed it because the man ran off. Virgil told him to move over & talk to 2 coming towards them. They called out:
        • “Those who crossed the Red Sea with Moses refused to cross the Jordan to the Promised Land”.
        • “Aeneas left behind the companions in Sicily who were to follow him to Latium”.
      • The souls left & Dante fell into a dream again.

Notes According to Dorothy Sayers

  • The Penance of Sloth: Ceaseless Activity – The sin which in English is commonly called Sloth & in Latin accidia (or more correctly acedia), is insidious, & assumes such Protean shaps that it rather difficult to define. It is not merely idleness of mind & laziness of body: it is that whole poisoning of the will which, beginning with indifference & an attitude of “I couldn’t care less”, extends to the deliberate refusal of joy & culminates in morbid introspection & despair. One form of it which appeals very strongly to some modern minds is that acquiesence in evil & error which readily disguises itself as “Tolerance”; another is that refusal to be moved by the contemplation of the good & beautiful which is known as “Disillusionment”, & sometimes as “knowledge of the world”; yet another is that withdrawal into an “ivory tower” of Isolation which is the peculiar temptation of the artist & the contemplative, & is popularly called “Escapism”.
    • The penance assigned to it takes the form of the practice of the opposite virtue: an active zeal. Not that on this Cornice alone no verbal Prayer is provided for the penitents: for them, “to labor is to pray”.

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