Dante Blogging – Inferno Canto V

Canto V
Canto IV ended with the pair of pilgrims heading “out of the quiet, into the trembling air–/Into a place where nothing ever shines” (4.150-151). In Canto V we are assaulted by the shouting and grunting of Minos — who is very rude for a king and judge. I suppose that Minos also presents the first horrible body of Hell, as he whips his tail around his torso, with the number of loops representing the circle of Hell to which the soul is sent. I’ve never quite understood the monstrous conflation of Minos and the Minotaur – I wonder where Dante would have learned Greek myths other than Ovid? He certainly knew the Metamorphoses, but would he have known the Heroides? I’m not at all sure. It’s been so long since i’ve read the Ariadne and Theseus section of the Heroides that I don’t remember how much topical detail about Minos it carries. I’ve always wondered if Dante was running together Minos and Midas – specifically the Midas-judging-Apollo-and-Pan story.
Canto V begins with a quick explanation of the structural principle of Hell, narrowing from the top as one descends:

So I descended from the outer ring
  down to the next, which
belts less space about
  but stings the souls to greater agony.

and Minos’s body provides a weird echo:

Discerns what place in Hell is fit for him:
belts himself with his tail as many times
  as there are grades the sinner must descend.

The hardest Canto for big-R and little-r Romantics to deal with is probably Canto V, where Courtly Love comes in for some hard knocks. I’m not in the mood to blog about Paolo and Francesca except to say that luckily I will be team teaching with a friend who regularly teaches troubador material and has no illusions about chaste ladies and ideal knights, even if she does want to believe that Arthur existed.
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Dante Blogging – Inferno Canto IV

Canto IV
Canto III ends with Dante falling into unconsciousness, and IV begins with a boom that shakes him awake. Not every pair of Cantos carries action across the break so smoothly (or jarringly, as in this case), but the transitions are always worth checking. Dante was a thorough craftsman. There is certainly lots of debate about the making of the poem – he started it in exile, probably in 1304, he seems to have published Inferno in 1314. That gives a lot of time for polishing.
I think the urge to see Dante as a poet who begins uncertainly is an example of the (Romantic?) failure to separate maker from creation – to assume that Dante (in this example) is speaking authentically as Dante, that he is afraid, that he does not know where he is, that he is learning from Virgil as he goes along. I’m calling the Pilgrim “Dante” out of laziness and convention more than anything. I don’t believe this is Dante Alighieri speaking to us from the heart – this is a finely constructed object of art. It certainly has stress fractures and may even have some bad lines (I’m not enough of a judge of the Italian to say – though this effort will surely help that), but the Commedia makes much more sense as a unity. If there’s ever a poem that repays formalist analysis it’s this one.
In Canto IV we enter Limbo – and Dante asks Virgil one of those hard questions – did no one leave here before the Resurrection? What about those unbaptized infants?Is this fair??
Well, if ‘fair’ means playing by the rules, this is fair. It’s also hard lines on the virtuous pagans. Dante suggests, though he lists only big name Jewish Patriarchs and Matriarchs, that virtuous Jews from before the Incarnation were saved at the Harrowing of Hell, when Christ descended. What happens to later Jews we will consider later.
Dante is more interested at this point in showing us that there is a hierarchy in Limbo, a hierarchy not of happiness or contentment but honor. There is honor in limbo for the greatest souls.
I’ve always thought that the appearance of the first epic list of names here is hardly an accident. Dante is not only giving us a long list of virtuous unbelievers – among whom he includes 2 or 3 Muslims – because he’s in a castle full of them but also because, in Virgil’s company, he has just met Homer, Ovid, and Lucan. I think because he is accepted into their circle as a poet, he demonstrates his mastery of the genre. If we don’t believe that we have to take refuge in believing the narrative and think that a person, Dante, is walking all around the only castle in Hell with decent lighting looking at nametags.
The Canto ends with the pair leaving this Castle with clear light, headed into darkness. Dante does it with a LOT of words ending in -a.

La sesta compagnia in due si scema:
  per altra via mi mena il savio duca
  fuor de la queta, ne l’aura che trema.
E vegno in parte ove non è che luca.

Esolen gives us:

The company of six is cut by two,
  and my wise guide leads me another way,
  out of the quiet, into the trembling air —
Into a place where nothing ever shines

“Trembling air” sounds lovely, but when we turn the page we will find out what makes it tremble.
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Dante Blogging – Inferno Canto II

Canto II
Dante is one self-absorbed poet who has to learn to be a little less so. Canto II – and the whole of The Inferno – is about* fear, one of Dante’s besetting faults, and getting past fear. Dante starts the Canto well, invoking the Muses, genius, and memory – and I’m wondering to what extent ingegno has connotations of “skill” as well as “genius” or “ingenuity” here. He addresses Virgil at great length about previous trips to Hell and Heaven, but by the end of his address he is afraid he is not up to it. “I’m not Aeneas, I’m not Saint Paul!” Dante sums up his own problem in 6 lines:

And as a man who unwills what he wills,
   changing his plan for every little thought,
   till he withdraws from any kind of start,
So did I turn my mind on that dark verge,
   for thinking ate away the enterprise
   so prompt in the beginning to set forth. (2.37-42)

Ah – cowardice. Virgil names the vice and explains how he himself came here, his call by Beatrice. Virgil himself had wondered that Beatrice came to him from Heaven with no fear or worry; Beatrice gave him the answer, which he offers as one reason for Dante not to fear:

The only things that justly cause us fear
   are those that have the power to do us harm; (2.88-89)

That’s going to come up again.
More important though is this – Virgil puts it for Dante in the terms of courtly love and the Court of Heaven – why are you afraid:

Seeing that three such ladies blessed in Heave
   care for your healing from their court above,
   and what I tell you holds forth so much good? (2.124-126)

Esolen says about another moment in the Canto “He is saved not because he loves but because he is loved” (413).
Dante’s response is a lovely piece of courtly contrast – his courage is like little flowers, fioretti and virtude

As little flowers shut small and bowed beneath
   the frost of night, when the sun brightens them,
   rise open-petaled on their stems upright,
So did my weary courage surge again (2.127-130)

Talk about plenty to discuss – and that’s even without delving into the placement of the invocation of the Muses (yes, we started in medias res as well as nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita) or one of my own little hobbyhorses, Dante’s avoidance of names. In Canto II we get a good example of his refusal in the Inferno to name the Virgin Mary, and the first time Aeneas is called something other than the father of Silvius is in a negation – “I’m not Aeneas!” Typical – and worth talking about.
*disclaimer – when I say something “Is about” or “is all about” I am engaging in the exaggeration of the spoken voice or the written blog post – everything in the Middle Ages is about lots of things. Univocality may be a sign that something is not medieval.
Further: It occurred to me when rereading – while I was getting the HTML to format the tercet indentations correctly – that I hadn’t said that virtude has its root in Latin vir, “man.” Then I realized that this is not a commentary on the Commedia but only a first pass at teaching notes. When I do this sort of thing for books I’m preparing to teach I just circle word parts that are going to go up on the blackboard – I know what vir means, what virtù means in Renaissance Italian, and I’m going to go on about it in class.
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Blogger Luncheon

Sorry the photo is of the wrong time of day – but the church on the horizon is Ss. Domenico e Sisto, the chapel of the Angelicum, the Dominican University. Catho-Bloggers may be able to guess who I’m talking about – yes, I got to take Fr. Philip Neri Powell to lunch! I really did live just the next hill over, but we were both busy. I’m thinking about a book, he’s almost finished with one. Here – go preorder Treasures Old and New: Traditional Prayers for Today’s Catholics, Fr. Philip’s reflections on novenas.

I even got to tell him about a novena practice he hadn’t come across – the Flying Novena. Many years ago and not so far away I was visiting Saintes Marie de la Mer, the great fortified Romanesque church on the French Mediterranean coast with Tom Lyman and an Emory group. It was some kind of holy day (perhaps St. Mary the Egyptian? Wikipedia claims for Saint Sarah, but I’d prefer something better sourced) for the Gypsies. Lots of ladies were coming in one door, heading for an altar, saying a prayer and lighting one candle, heading out a different door, coming back in the first door, and repeating.

I asked “What on earth are they doing?” Tom told me they were doing Flying Novenas. Since they wouldn’t be able to come to the church for 9 consecutive days, the usual way one handles these things, they were packing it all in.

Father Philip Neri was sceptical about the licitness of this devotional practice, but then he’s a Dominican and that’s what they do.

We had a lovely lunch – pasta and laughter. It doesn’t get much better.

The Mother of All Vigils

I met my colleagues leading our program in Rome this year at Sta Prassede for the Easter Vigil. Luckily for my overall liturgical tourism mood I was early enough to catch the Exultet in Latin next door at Sta Maria Maggiore while waiting for them, because the Vallumbrosans were not all thhat on the ball. Not the Exultet – which, though in Italian, was full-length and lovely. But they didn’t use the schola at all except for a little incidental music during the eucharist. I wouldn’t be surprised if they quit. They also turned on the lights WAY too early – that church could stand some candle light.
But hey – it was the Vigil! And there was incense, and solemnity, a fine organist, and enough readings to take the whole affair seriously. Still and all, they need a real MC.
I spent Sunday wandering around and today has been about equally useful – actually more seems closed today for Pasquetta, Easter Monday, than yesterday!

Fools for Christ

Yesterday I was making my usual round of church stops. The added benefit was getting to see a lot of Altars of Repose. I didn’t photograph any of those (you know, I really should get over being so nice!), but when I got close to home around noon I went by Sta. Maria ai Monti, where I had been to mass on Sunday.

The great reason to visit there is the tomb of St. Benedict Joseph Labre, an odd sort of saint. He failed to enter two or three monastic orders – all of whom seem to have detected some incipient craziness. He wandered as a pilgrim from place to place, eventually more or less settling in Rome. He lived off and on in the ruins of the Colosseum (much more ruinous then!), and eventually died in the house of some charitable person in the parish who took him in.

Miraculous healings followed at once – and he may have done a few in his lifetime. He’s the kind of saint who makes the hierarchical church very nervous – but he was canonized anyway, and here he is.

Looking at layers

Ninth Century mosaic, with motifs lifted from 5th and 4th century examples. Set in a plan lifted from a 4th century basilica. 18th century baldachino, reusing some porphyry columns from the 16th century baldachino – and goodness only knows where they came from before that. Under the baldachino? A crypt full of relics! See why I love Santa Prassede?

So WHERE is the SSPX in America? How many masses do they say they say?

I’ve blogged in the past about the coffee problem chez Tinkler. Well, this morning my parents are off to a doctor’s appointment leaving me with ALL the coffee in the second pot! Bwah hah hah!
In my caffeine induced state of well-being, I got to thinking about the SSPX in America. I had never actually looked to see in detail what they say they are doing and where they say they are. So I checked here – on their own Chapels of the SSPX in the USA page. Since they want to maximize attendance we have to assume that this is a regularly updated list – and at the bottom of the page we see 2009.
I did some counting and find:
97 places with Mass scheduled at least once a month
16 places with priories or priests’ residences
3 places with daily and Sunday masses but no listed priory or residence
50 places with Sunday Masses (and perhaps another day or two). I didn’t see any places with weekly Masses where there wasn’t a Sunday Mass – but I may well have missed some.
I put my list into the extended entry. Click on the “continue reading” link at the bottom if you’re interested.
This information is interesting in case of a corporate reunion with the Roman Catholic Church – there will be a lot of complications over what Cardinal Ricard described as “the integration of the juridical structure of the Fraternity of St. Pius X in the Church.” In other words, if and when there were to be a entry into full communion, under what circumstances will they be allowed by local bishops to work in a particular diocese.
That will be a difficult process.
Though I pray everything will go smoothly, I won’t be surprised if some priests and even whole congregations refuse to go along.
Compare the 16 priories and 3 places with daily Mass with this map I did back in the Fall (and haven’t updated since November – has anything changed lately?) of the residences of priests (etc, etc) who say Mass in the Extraordinary Form. That is to say, most (if not all) of these places also have daily Mass according to the books in use in 1962. Looks to me as though there are more of them than there are of the SSPX.
All of this is based on self-reporting, but there you go. I’m an amateur.

Continue reading

Korean treasures

Koreans get involved (there doesn’t seem to be anything official about the delegation, so I don’t think we should say “Korea gets involved”) in asking museums to return shadily-collected objects.

A Seoul Metropolitan Council member and Buddhist monks will fly to the United States to seek to retrieve a cultural art piece that was stolen during Japanese colonial rule of Korea (1910-1945).
Council member Boo Doo-wan, Ven. Hyemun, and Lee Sang-geun, secretary of the Buddhists Jogye Order, will visit the U.S. from Jan. 7 to 8 to ask the Boston Museum of Fine Arts to return a reliquary that contains relics of Buddha and other high ranking monks.
The 22.5 centimeter-high “Silver-plated Lamaist Stupa” has the shape of a Lamaist pagoda and is assumed to have been made during the Goryeo Kingdom (918-1392) and kept at Hoiam Temple until it was seized by Japanese colonial authorities in 1939. The Boston Museum has allegedly bought the piece from Japan.

Here’s the MFA’s page for the object, the Sarira Reliquary. The text there implies that the relics are no longer inside the reliquary (past tense, “held minute relics of the Historica Buddha Shakyamuni, two other Buddhas and two eminent priests”).
I’m not certain how this piece got from Korea to Japan to Boston; the MFA leaves us with the cryptic “Weld Collection, by Exchange, June 8, 1939. See Registration folder No. 57.” Charles Goddard Weld bought the Fenollosa collection and loaned it to the MFA (and it eventually ended up permanently there). I have no idea why I half-knew that, but wikipedia came to the rescue. I wonder if in 1939 the MFA exchanged some nice bits of the Japanese art in the Weld collection for the Korean reliquary?

Carnivalesque 45 – a blog carnival of Ancient and Medieval findings

Welcome to Carnivalesque 45 – a blog carnival of Ancient and Medieval findings!
Lots of people are talking conferences – it’s a way of not thinking about grading, of course. J. J. Cohen at In the Middle gets some organizational information about what sort of audience to expect for his paper at the Leeds Congress and breaks out into a rash:

Yeah, nooo pressure at all. I’ll just wear a nice suit and juggle oranges on a unicycle while reading from my translation of Judith Butler’s Giving an Account of Oneself into medieval Latin. Slowly.

Dr. Virago complains at Quod She about her future office, but then she shows pictures of the Modern Panopticon! She’s right – those are a lot of windows to clap to.
What brings people to the blogs they read? Jonthan Jarrett at A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe (IN a Corner of Tenth-Century Europe? I’m not sure) looks at his referrer logs and decides to do something for the searchers.

If I leave aside the porn searches and count only strings that look academic, the two things that bring people to this blog from search engines more than anything else are, firstly, my piece on the First Crusade, which is good as that’s what it’s there for, and secondly, the piece I wrote about Charles the Simple, because it includes a reference to and a map of the Treaty of Verdun. It’s searches for “treaty of Verdun” that bring people to that, and they can’t really be getting what they want out of it. I’m not going to try and fill that gap here, because there are already better sites out there explaining what the Treaty was, but I will do two things. Firstly, I will make an important point about the Treaty’s effect, and then I will do what I do best, or at least most, and tell you a story from a charter that helps to illustrate the sort of thing that was going on.

Dr. Weevil is also checking meta-blog information. He blogged a bit from 14th century essayist Yoshida Kenko that reminded him of the essence of blogging:

If I fail to say what lies on my mind it gives me a feeling of flatulence; I shall therefore give my brush free rein. Mine is a foolish diversion, but these pages are meant to be torn up, and no one is likely to see them. (Kenko, Essays in Idleness 19, tr. Donald Keene)

Then a little later,

Belatedly wondering if anyone else had quoted Kenko’s proto-blogger manifesto, I did a Google search on “Kenko + blogger + Idleness + flatulence”. The first result of “about 93” was my own 11:57pm post, dated (timed?) “9 minutes ago”, which means that Google had it in their database approximately 25 minutes after I posted it. I would be less impressed if I had even 0.1% (e.g.) InstaPundit‘s traffic.

Speaking of meta-blogging, how many of us started out as anonymous bloggers only to be outed? Or noticed? It just happened to Another Damned Medievalist.
Disiecta membra! Got to love them! Carl Pyrdum at Got Medieval shows us a marginal guy ripping himself apart! And monkeys!
We don’t always have to reinterpret the same ol’ same ol’ – we can dig up new stuff! But then we find ourselves in an arms race with, you know, the public. Who sometimes dig things up without consulting the experts. Alun Salt at Archeoastronomy considers all sorts of issues along these lines – starting with Great Britain’s current finding regime, the Portable Antiquity Scheme. The broader consideration is of how we might encourage a world in which a conserved heritage is more valuable than a marketed heritage. Lots of links for people interested in ethics and morals of archaeology. Here’s the Portable Antiquity Scheme in case you don’t already have it bookmarked.
Talking about the ethics and morality of archaeology, Dr. Martin Rundkvist at Aardvarchaeology offers a guest entry by Florian Freistetter of Astrodicticum Simplex – who manages to go to a lecture and restrain himself from standing up and shouting by taking diligent notes:

A few weeks ago, on 17th October, I had the dubious pleasure of attending a lecture by Erich von Däniken with the title Götterdämmerung, “Twilight of the Gods”. The great hall in Jena’s Volkshaus was rather full: I believe there were 650 to 700 people there. It was a strange feeling, being in the same room as all those people and knowing that most of them would probably believe what Däniken was going to tell them.

Speaking of aliens, Michael Drout, in his only political blog posting, asked Why Settle for the Lesser Evil?
Gesta at On Boundaries posted on a Chris Wickham lecture, ‘The problem of the dialogues between medieval history and medieval archaeology.’ Gesta links comments on the same lecture by Jonathan Jarrett and Magistra et Mater, and notes:

What is interesting from my point of view is that clearly I had my teaching head on rather than my research head in this lecture. While Magistra and Jonathan were mulling over the implications for the way they write history, I was pondering how we start to address the problems at undergrad level. I fear I am becoming institutionalised.

Do you know what Zenobia really looked like? Judith Weingarten has some ideas. Coin pictures at Zenobia, Empress of the East!
And since we’re turning to the classical world, let’s talk Classics as a major – and one of those awkward conversations we sometimes have this time of year during registration for Spring classes. Are your students declaring majors? Michael Gilleland at Laudator Temporis Acti has Ed Turner’s letter to young Ted Turner (yeah, that Ted Turner) on the subject. Ed wrote:

“I am appalled, even horrified, that you have adopted classics as a major. As a matter of fact, I almost puked on my way home today.”

How would you help Ted answer Ed?*
Edward Cook at Ralph the Sacred River tells us why the Jesus Bowl is just another crock. Everyone loves Magic Bowls, but this one’s nothing special.
And a different sort of bowl – and back to the idea of the morality of digging up or owning things, Chris Bertram at Crooked Timber talks about buying a Song dynasty bowl. Read the comments.
Just remember, don’t go buying things as if the sales catalog is accurate! David Nishimura at Cronaca pointed out a couple of stories about a Fatimid ewer selling at Christie’s for 3.2 million pounds. The same piece had been cataloged in January of 2008 as a 19th century claret jug and valued at 100-300 pounds. Jug, ewer – is it the price point that inflects the nomenclature? Whatever – caveat emptor!
The December 2008 Carnivalesque Logo (early modern) will be hosted at Investigations of a Dog. Go make suggestions!

*Fun fact to know and tell – Ted Turner started Latin under the same man I did, W.O.E.A. Humphreys at the McCallie School. Note that I am not listed as one of the notable alumni.

I’m sorry, some religious practices are just odder than others.

I’m sure that sounds narrowminded and judgmental, but hey – I have tenure.

Wrapped in red silk and adorned with red flowers in her hair, Matani Shakya received approval from the priests and President Ram Baran Yadav in a centuries-old tradition with deep ties to Nepal’s monarchy, which was abolished in May.
The new “kumari” or living goddess, was carried from her parents’ home to an ancient palatial temple in the heart of the Nepali capital, Katmandu, where she will live until she reaches puberty and loses her divine status.
. . .
As a final test, the living goddess must spend a night alone in a room among the heads of ritually slaughtered goats and buffaloes without showing fear.

That’s a 3 year old. Alone with goat and buffalo heads. Do they have a webcam to see if she shows fear?

Who says there will always be an England?

From the Guardian:

Geoffrey Robertson QC, the constitutional lawyer who has represented the paper in challenges to the constitutional restrictions, said last night: “I welcome this as two small steps towards a more rational constitution.
“The Act of Settlement determined that the crown shall descend only on Protestant heads and that anyone ‘who holds communion with the church of Rome or marries a Papist’ – not to mention a Muslim, Hindu, Jew or Rastafarian – is excluded by force of law.
“This arcane and archaic legislation enshrined religious intolerance in the bedrock of the British constitution. In order to hold the office of head of state you must be white Anglo-German Protestant – a descendant of Princess Sophia of Hanover – down the male line on the feudal principle of primogeniture. This is in blatant contravention of the Sex Discrimination Act and the Human Rights Act.”
The next stage, he said, was for the government to challenge the notion of a head of state who achieved the position through inheritance.
[my emphases]

Modernity takes another step against continuity and in favor of rupture, this time in the name of Human Rights. By the way, I’m not at all sure there’s a current problem with mixed race descendants of Princess Sophia of Hanover, so long as they’re Anglicans. William or Harry could marry nice Nigerian noblewomen (and goodness knows there are lots of kings there!) and their children would have no constitutional problem.
We see that all this is a pretext. Labour doesn’t really care about Catholic princesses or hypothetical Rastafarian princes – the goal is the abolition of the Windsors as hereditary heads of state. They messed with the House of Lords and this is next on the agenda. Not that the craven Tories seem like they’d be likely to resist something like this particularly fiercely, but they might not propose it.
Of course the pressure of Modernity has already reduced any sense of majesty a great deal – I feel more like a historic preservationist than a partisan, as though my feelings in favor of keeping a monarchy around are antiquarian. Alas!
I won’t even comment on Robertson’s use of the f-word in the 3rd paragraph.

So did they sacrifice 100 oxen?

If not, I’m not impressed, and I doubt Athena would be, either. Hecatombs, people!
New Acropolis Museum Prompts Greek Pagan Service at Parthenon

The funniest part, though it might have suffered in translation, is this: “Moving these sculptures to a museum that is foreign and hostile to the Greek environment is like breaking up a family.”

No, moving the sculptures from exposure to the chemically-hostile Greek environment is the only thing that might save them!

Portal to Maya Underworld

Now this is the sort of thing that would have made me grow up to be a Maya-specialist if I’d read it at 15.

A labyrinth filled with stone temples and pyramids in 14 caves—some underwater—have been uncovered on Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, archaeologists announced last week.
The discovery has experts wondering whether Maya legend inspired the construction of the underground complex—or vice versa.
According to Maya myth, the souls of the dead had to follow a dog with night vision on a horrific and watery path and endure myriad challenges before they could rest in the afterlife.
In one of the recently found caves, researchers discovered a nearly 300-foot (90-meter) concrete road that ends at a column standing in front of a body of water.
. . .
“These were probably made as part of a very elaborate ritual,” de Anda said. “Everything is related to death, life, and human sacrifice.”

Full-scale models of the entrance to the Underworld! Coolness!