Purgatory Canto VI
In the University of California Lectura Dantis, Purgatorio ( a canto-by-canto commentary, and one I should read more thorougly), Maria Picchio Simonelli points out that the 6th canton in all three cantiche is political. Canto VI in the Inferno, the circle of the Gluttons, was mainly about partisan politics, Guelphs and Ghibbelines. This canto is the introduction to the negligent princes, with Sordello as guide.
Before we get in Canto VII to the princes who neglected their souls to be about their business we read here some of Dante’s most famous denunciations of Italy – and he even calls her Italia (VI.76), rather than the land of the Latins (see Inferno XIX) or some such.
Ahi serva Italia, di dolore ostello
nave sanza nocchiere in gran tempesta,
non donna di provincie, ma bordello!
Ah Italy, you slave, you inn of grief,
you ship without a pilot in the storm,
no lady of the shire, you house for whores! (VI.76-78
Dante plays again and again the contrast between localism and nationalism – the love for non-existant Italy and the love of City. Here in Purgatorio VI, Sordello, a man who lived in France, wrote poetry in Provencal, and retired to the Abruzzi, goes all gushy over his fellow Mantuan, Virgil. Dante is not portraying that as an entirely positive reaction.
Now here’s something about which I’m sure I could find more discussion. Dante and Virgil consider (VI.25-VI.48) the inefficacy of prayer to the Olympian deities (based on a quotation from the Aeneid about the uselessness of praying for Palinurus). Esolen talks about that as a misalignment of ends — the prayer is directed to the wrong deities, but when it seemed to be answered it was because it happened to correspond to God’s will. Virgil evades the question (a little) by saying that Beatrice will clear all this up, and Dante rises to the bait of Beatrice.
Then 100 lines later, in what is at least an ironic usage and at best a weird classicism, Dante prays:
And if you will allow me, highest Jove,
you who on earth were crucified for us,
have your just eyes turned elsewhere? Or is this
The preface to some benefit you’ve planned
in the abyss of providence, cut off
from our capacity to understand? (VI.118-123)
Because if those 2 tercets aren’t about the mystery of unanswered prayer and the inscrutability of theodicy I’m not sure what they’re about — and they’re addressed to Giove. Neither Esolen nor Simonelli help at all. Oh – the mystery Dante’s talking about is still why Italy is such a bordello.
So much to learn!
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