Canto 25

  • It was now 2 p.m. & the 3 of them walked through the gap on to the next cornice. Dante was yearning to ask so many questions but couldn’t get them out. Virgil encouraged him to ask whatever was on his mind.
    • Dante asked how the souls got so skinny when they were dead & didn’t need food or drink. Virgil asked him to recall the story of Meleager who’d been consumed in an internal fire & his insides when up into thin air. Virgil asked how one’s image in the mirror moved when one moved… Then he asked Statius to fill in the gaps of Dante’s understanding with some Medieval Medicine/Scientific Understanding…
      • Perfect blood, which never gets absorbed by the veins & remains perfect, takes on virtue in the heart of build limbs. The blood gets “mixed” with another person’s blood when the 2 bloods mingle (sexual reproduction). When they clot, they give life.
      • The active virtue becomes a soul & works until it can feel & moved, & grows organs. The animal limbs grow until the human body is formed. But we don’t yet see the difference between beast & man. This concept has tripped up even the smartest of men.
      • When the articulation of the brain is perfected in the embryo, the 1st mover breathes a new spirit into it, making the soul complete, alive, sensitive & self-aware. When Fate is done with a man, it leaves the flesh, & takes away the human & divine qualities. All the lower functions are gone but the memory, intelligence & the will remain active & even sharper than they used to be.
      • The soul, once it shows up on the Tiber to be sent off to Purgatory, or the Acheron to be sent off to Hell, knows its old ways for good or evil. The soul can exercise its informing virtue. But the soul also has the shape & size the living body had. Even though it appears to have a form & dimension, it’s just an image that is controlled by the spirit. That’s why souls are often referred to as a “shade”. They all have the ability to laugh, cry, sing & rejoice as evidenced by what was seen in Dante’s travels.
    • At that point they’d reached the top of the staircase & the conversation stopped so they could take in their surroundings. There was a blanket of fire all the souls had to walk through on the edge of the mountain.
      • Virgil told the other 2 they had to be vigilant so they wouldn’t get burned or fall over the edge. Dante heard the song “Summae Deus clementiae” being sung. He saw the spirits walk through the fire. They shouted “Virum non cognosco” (I don’t know a man). Then they continued with Summae. They they said that Diana lived in the woods, & chased Helice forth, who’d angered Venus. Then they sung again. They praised husbands & wives who were chaste in marriage. Dante believed they did this over & over again until the last of the 7 Ps was removed from his forehead.

Notes According to Dorothy Sayers

  • The Penance of the Lustful: the Fire. By contrast with the common run of eschatological writers, Dante is strangely economical in his use of fire. Even in Hell, the naked flame makes only four appearances (in the 6th Circle, Ring 2 of the 7th, & Bowges 3 & 4 of the 8th), & is never unaccompanied by some touch of greatness amid the squalor: Farinata, Capaneus & the 3 Noble Florentines, Ulysses, the outraged majesty of the Most High Keys. On the Blissful Mountain, the traditional “Purgatory Fire” is conspicuous by its absence: only on its last & highest & most triumphant Cornice does this great Scriptural image blaze out with a sudden splendid lucidity.
    • “For He is like a refiner’s fire”; “the fining-pot is for silver & the furnace for gold”; “the words of the Lord are pure words, even as the silver, which from the earth is tried, & purified 7 times in the fire.” Fire, which is an image of Lust, is also an image of Purity. The burning of skin, & the burning charity which is its opposing virtue, here coalesce into a single image & a single experience; here, where the souls of great poets go singing & weeping through the flame, the noblest of earthly lovers is purged & set in order.

Canto 26

  • While they walked along the edge, Virgil kept reminding him to pay attention to what he was doing. It was late afternoon & the sun was darkening his shadow. The spirits noticed this fact & made mention of it. Some approached him but had to keep some distance so as not to walk into the flames.
    • One asked who he was & why he was casting a shadow as if he wasn’t dead yet. Dante was attracting a crowd. He wanted to speak but taking in everything he saw prevented him from saying anything. The path was moving from West to East unlike the rest of the mountain, surprising him.
    • The shades went up to other & kissed one another. When the kissed ended, each side tried to out-shout the other. “Sodom! Gomorrah!” “Into the cow Pasiphaë leaps so that the bull can charge at her in lust.” Then the 2 sides went back to where they originally were, weeping, singing & crying.
      • Those who’d quizzed Dante came back to him to hear what he had to tell them. Dante told them that he wasn’t dead yet. He was on his way up to the top of the mountain at the behest of the grace-giving Lady (Beatrice or Mary). That was why he was passing through. He wanted to know who they were & why they behaved so strangely.
      • One spoke up: “Good for you for choosing a better life. The other group shouted ‘Sodom’ in a show of self-reprimand. Our sin was heterosexual. But we despised human law & like animals, we were slaves to our appetites. Now we pour hatred on ourselves & call out ‘Pasiphaë’, the one who’d climbed into a wicker cow to satisfy her lust with a bull. But there’s not enough time to give you everyone’s name. But I’m Guido Guinicelli of Bologna.”
      • Dante knew Guido as the father of the “New Sweet Style” that he wrote in himself. He tried to approach him but had to keep his distance due to all the flames. He offered to put his service to Guido’s use. Guido told him he’d been impressed with him & even the memory-erasing River Lethe couldn’t wipe out the memory of him. He wanted to know why Dante held him in such high regard.
        • Dante told Guido that his verses were the very beginning of the modern style of poetry.
        • Guido introduced him to Arnaut Daniel of Provence, whom he considered the best poet of anyone in his own language, Romaunt. The rest of the fool could fawn over Giraut de Bornelh but Guido knew better.
          • Guido asked Dante, if he did indeed make it all the way to Heaven, to say a Pater Noster for him.
    • Guido disappeared into the crowd & Dante approached Arnaut, who presented himself. He appreciated all the kind words said about him & wished Dante well on his journey. The fire flared up & Arnaut also receded into the crowd.

Notes According to Dorothy Sayers

  • The Embrace: As with the fire, so with the exchanged embrace: the image of the sin is also the image & means of the remedy. More clearly here than on any other Cornice, we are shown what Virgil has already told us – that love is the root of virtue & vice of alike: the purging fires burn off the dross, & the good that remains is the good that lay always at the heart of the sin. The swift exchange of kisses, reflected in the speed of the verse, contrasts with the exchanged kiss of Paolo & Francesca – the heedless dallying with temptation, & the relaxed abandonment to indulgence: “we read no more that day”. Between these 2 kisses, damnation & salvation swing balanced.

Canto 27

  • As they moved along, the Angel of Chastity appeared before them on the other side of the fire. He said: “Beati mundo corde” (Blessed are those pure in heart) making the sweetest music Dante had ever heard.
    • The Angel continued: “Fellas, there’s no other way over to this side. You’ve got to pass through the fire. You might as well just get it over with.” Dante was terrified by what the Angel told him, acting as if it were a death sentence. He stared at the fire, picturing all the burned & charred bodies he’d just seen in Hell.
      • Virgil spoke to him: “Sure, passing through the first isn’t going to be a picnic, but you won’t die. Do you remember how quickly you jumped on the back of the Geryon? Why delay now? Especially when God is so close? If you think I’m lying, just put a little bit of your jacket in the fire to test it.” Dante still stood there frozen, unable to move. Then Virgil took a different tack & told him that beyond the was Beatrice. That got Dante’s blood pumping. Virgil asked if he really wanted to stay in Purgatory.
        • Virgil went first & asked Statius to follow behind. Now he passed through himself. It was incredibly hot & Virgil encouraged him by talking about Beatrice’s eyes. A voice was singing & guiding them where to go, up the road & the stairs to the top of the mountain: “Venite benedicti patris” [Come, you blessed by my Father]. The voice warned them to hurry because the sun had nearly set & they’d have to stay put until the morning. They didn’t make it in time & each one of them slept on a step while the night came out. The stars were bigger & brighter than Dante had ever seen before.
      • Dante fell asleep & had another dream. He saw a young lady gathering flowers in a meadow singing: “I’m Leah. I work all day while my sister, Rachel sits in front of her mirror. She prefers to stare at herself & reflect, while I like to act & to work.”
        • He woke up at dawn to see the other 2 already up. Virgil told him that the fruit that mortals hunger for would soon be his. Dante was excited by this & was eager to continue.
        • At the top of the stairs, Virgil told him he’d seen the eternal & temporal fire in his journeys. Virgil couldn’t help him anymore with his wit & reason. He would have a new guide beyond this point.

Notes According to Dorothy Sayers

  • The Wall of Fire: It is the peculiarity of the 7th Cornice that all souls, whether or not they are detained there to purge the sin of Lust, are compelled to pass through & suffer its torment of fire before ascending the Pass. From the point of view of the story, Dante has here very skillfully & economically combined several themes in one. The fire in fact exercises a triple function: (a) it forms the Penance of the Cornice; (b) it represents the flaming sword of the Cherubim who guard the entrance to the Garden of Eden; (c) it provides that “Pass of Peril” which, in so many folk-tales of other-world journeys, the hero has to leap through in order to attain the Lady, or other object of his search. Allegorically, since every sin is a sin of love, the purgation of love itself is a part of every man’s penitence.
  • Dante’s Dream of Leah & Rachel: Jacob served Laban 7 years for the hand of Rachel his younger daughter. At the end of that time, Laban gave him Leah, saying that it was not fitting for the younger sister to be married before the elder. When Jacob had accepted Leah & promised to serve for another 7 years, Laban gave him Rachel also. & Leah was dim of sight but fruitful; Rachel, beautiful but barren.
    • In mystical writings, particularly those of Richard of St. Victor, whom Dante places in the Heaven of the Sun (Paradise, 10), the 2 wives of Jacob are frequently interpreted as allegories respectively of the Active & the Contemplative Life; & this is the function they fulfill in Dante’s 3rd dream.
      The Active Life is the Christian life lived in the world; it is abundantly fruitful in good works, but those who pursue it cannot see very far into the things of the spirit because, like Martha (another type of the Active Life) they are “cumbered with much serving”. The Contemplative Life is that which is wholly devoted to prayer & the practice of the Presence of God; it is less prolific in good works than the Active Life, but the fruit it bears is the most precious of all (Leah bore Jacob 10 sons; but the 2 sons eventually born of Rachel were Joseph & Benjamin, the best beloved). The Active Life is in no way to be condemned; it is indeed necessary to the existence of the Contemplative Life (Leah must be wedded before Rachel), for if there were no Marthas to do the work of the world, Mary could not be nourished, nor find leisure for contemplation. Nevertheless, Mary’s is the “better part”, & the Active Life exists, in a manner, for the sake of the Contemplative. The complete Christian is a blend of action & contemplation, the former leading to the latter, & being subdued to it as the means to the end.
    • N.B. The perfection of the Active & Contemplative lives must not be severally equated with the perfection of the Natural & Spiritual lives; although in The Banquet Dante sometimes uses expressions which suggest that he himself was, in his early “philosophic” days, a little confused about this. By the time he comes to writing the Comedy he is, however, quite clear that the Active & Contemplative lives are the 2 component parts of the Christian life, whose differing but complementary perfections are both displayed in the Paradiso. (Both Actives & Contemplatives may, of course, also be found within the framework of a natural religion, though not in their full Christian perfection.)

 

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