Danteblogging Purgatory Canto XVI

Purgatory Canto XVI
The Wrathful in Canto XVI, already on their way to correction, sing the sweetest liturgical chant, the Agnus Dei. One of my New Testament study sheets for art history students is all about lambs and shepherds — and students explore the transformation of the Lamb of God into the Lamb on the Throne in the Apocalypse. It’s a good lesson for the angry as they untie what Dante describes as the “knot of anger” (Purg XVI.23).
Vision fails on this ledge, because a thick smoke fills the air. People can still here Dante speaking Tuscan, though, and Dante falls in with a Lombard. The Lombard explains how men confuse astrology with fixed fate, as though the stars destroy free will. Instead,

The heavens give your movements their first nudge–
  not alll your movements, but let’s grant that too–
  still, light is given that you may freely judge
And choose the good or evil , and should free will
  grow weary in the first battles with the stars,
  foster it well and it will win the day.
You men lie subject to that One who made
  you free …. (Purg XVI.73-80)

It’s the nature/nurture argument, with Dante saying that fate nudges us, but we don’t have to do what fate says, nor do genes always win. The souls in Purgatory are learning to be really free.
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Danteblogging Purgatorio XV

Purgatory Canto XV

The long arc from the dawning of the day
  to the third hour’s last movements, in that sphere
  whose turning’s ever like a lad at play,
Would measure out how much of its career
  lay for the sun before the evening’s close;
  evening upon that mountain, midnight here.
(Purg XV.1-6)

In the Inferno we saw Dante and Virgil paying close attention to the structure of Hell. Dante was constantly referring to the diagram pinned to his wall to remind the reader how far he’d come.
On that mountain, Dante’s concern is time of day, constantly expressed in astronomical terms — so as the Sun turns it is now evening in Purgatory, midnight in Italy. But the angels, when they appear, are even more dazzling than the Sun, because they reflect the brightness of God.
In some previous canti Dante has seen relief carvings depicting either sins or virtues — here he has, as is probably appropriate after all the dazzle, a vision. He sees three related scenes of Meekness, the correction of pride, one of them quite odd. No reader can be surprised at the Virgin Mary as an exmplar of meekness, or even of Stephen the First Martyr forgiving his persecutors. But Pisistratus, the tyrant of Athens?
Dante knew Pisistratus through Valerius Maximus’s Memorabilia (Esolen nods – he gives the date for Pisistratus as late 5th C BCE, when he was 6th). Someone stole a kiss from Pisistratus’s daughter, and his wife demanded the man be punished.

And he responded, with his countenance calm:
  “What shall we do with those who wish us ill
  when even those who love us we condemn?”
(Purg XV.103-105).

An excellent example of forgiveness!
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Ah – autumn in the Finger Lakes

Lovely soft evening – the kind of day when one discovers that one’s faithful water-resistant black wing tips have sprung what appears to be an irreparable leak, Zappos has stopped carrying the brand, and that at the Shoe Mart a comparable model not only costs $527 but comes in brown. Only brown. My own little Purgatory.
Except that when I was standing looking at the Lake after a committee meeting I may have heard the sound of someone shooting Canada Geese – and sure enough, they’re in season.

Danteblogging Purgatory Canto XIV

Purgatory Canto XIV
Canto XIV is not full of interest for those who are not up on their late Medieval Italian genealogy — the canto is dominated by lists of courtly families extinguished by failure to produce sons or degenerate in behavior. There’s also a very depressing description of the course of the Arno from the mountains to the sea – and everywhere it flows the dirty ditch gets worse; Dante can describe teh natural world charmingingly, but not here. Dante was in a mood
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Danteblogging Purgatory Canto XIII

Purgatory Canto XIII
Canto XIII has 3 very nice moments. First, Virgil uses the verb temo, “I fear.” He admits openly in prayer that Purgatory is new to him and he needs help. We are so used to Dante fearing in Hell that this admission comes as a surprise — even though we’ve seen Virgil’s confusion and occasional discomfiture already in this canticle.
The souls being corrected here are the Envious, whose eyes are sewn shut. Esolen associates the color of their cloaks with liver (livid, liver), based on medieval medical theory of envy originating in that organ. But the outlet for envy, which was a milder form of the Evil Eye, was the eyes. That’s probably why they’re stitched up. Dante asks if anyone was a Latin (which Esolen renders as Italian, l 92). In reply a woman (and a Sienese!) wisely replies:

“My brother, each man is a citizen
  of one true city .What you meanto say
  is, ‘who once lived a pilgrim in that land.'”
(Purg XIII.94-96)

That’s one of the great themes, as Esolen reminds us, of lots of medieval authors, from Augustine (who named the one true city) to Chaucer.
Best of all, though, may be Dante’s brief examination of conscience. When the woman notes that he still breathes and asks what he’s up to he admits that he will spend little time on this ledge, but can already feel the burden of the rocks the Proud haul around (Purg XIII.133-138). Dante knows himself. He’s no longer afraid, and he is confronting his real sins.
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Death from above to prevent snakes on a plane!!


Dead mice packed with acetaminophen, strapped to pieces of cardboard and dropped from helicopters may help control one of the big headaches for the Pacific island of Guam – the brown tree snake.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture last week began dropping the expired rodents packed with 80 mg of the generic equivalent of Tylenol on the forests of Naval Base Guam.
. . .
The aerial attack on the tree snakes is designed to augment current trapping systems, which are placed around ports and airports to prevent the snakes from hitching rides to other Pacific islands such as Hawaii and causing the same ecological nightmares they’ve been responsible for on Guam.

Danteblogging Purgatory Canto XII

Purgatory Canto XII
Dante’s empathy has never been so evident as in the simile opening of canto XII.

Now neck to neck like oxen at the plow
  I walked along beside that burdened soul
  all while the sweet instructor would allow,
But when he said, “Come on and leave the man,
  for here it’s well that each soul speed his boat
  with wings and oars as quickly as he can,”
I drew upright, as men are wont to go —
 my body drew upright, though my thoughts still
 remained all hunched and bowed and humbly low.

But isn’t the second comparison an odd juxtaposition! Dante and Oderisi the Illuminator are like oxen, burdened, low, but Virgil sees Oderisi (and all the souls) as boats speeding on! Interesting passage.
This is another place Doré ignores the text. Notice how he shows heroes carved on the wall of the ledge of the proud; Dante is hunching along with Oderisi. But the poem says that the carvings in this area are carved “upon the road from hill’s base to the brink” (Purg XII.24), and compares them to floor tombs in a church.
This is a canto with an overwhelming patterned ekphrasis. As Dante describes the subjects of these carvings each tercet begins with a pre-determined word – 4 with Vedea (Mark! or Look!), 4 with O, 4 with Mostrava (Look! or See!), and then one last Vedeva. Lots of other patterning going on inside the description, proud pagans and patriarchs brought low, but no Christians.
Dante refers to Satan in line 25 as “the one,” colui; I wonder if that avoidance of naming him in Purgatory is like Dante’s avoidance of naming Christ in the Inferno, where he was the One. I’ll have to keep my eye out.
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Talk about a depressing past participle: processed

Crushed leg bones, battered skulls and other mutilated human remains are likely all that’s left of a Native American population destroyed by genocide that took place circa 800 A.D., suggests a new study.
The paper, accepted for publication in the Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, describes the single largest deposit to date of mutilated and processed human remains in the American Southwest.
The entire assemblage comprises 14,882 human skeletal fragments, as well as the mutilated remains of dogs and other animals killed at the massacre site — Sacred Ridge, southwest of Durango, Colo.
Based on the archaeological findings, which include two-headed axes that tested positive for human blood, co-authors Jason Chuipka and James Potter believe the genocide occurred as a result of conflict between different Anasazi Ancestral Puebloan ethnic groups.
. . .
The unearthed bones and artifacts indicate that when the violence took place, men, women and children were tortured, disemboweled, killed and often hacked to bits. In some cases, heads, hands and feet appear to have been removed as trophies for the killers. The attackers then removed belongings out of the structures and set the roofs on fire.

Ugh. Once again, any image of the Noble Savage is undermined. I’m reading Collapse right now myself.

Maxine Waters staffers protest – get this – Pelosi!

Three staffers working for embattled Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) were asked by security officers to leave an event in downtown Washington on Thursday after they tried to display large campaign signs just as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was about to speak.
The aides were holding lawn signs that defended Waters from the ethics charges she is facing in the House.
“Let’s fight for Maxine Waters,” read a headline on the signs above a large picture of the congresswoman. Smaller headings read: “No improper action. No benefit. No failure to disclose. No one influenced. No case!”


Danteblogging Purgatory Canto XI

Purgatory Canto XI
Canto XI continues the correction of the proud, and continues to show Dante’s interest in the visual arts. But instead of describing works of art carved for the edification of the saved souls, Dante meets repentant painters and describes other painters — not that painting is a sin, but like all things humans can do excellently painting can lead to pride.
The canto begins with a long (22 line) paraphrase of the Lord’s Prayer, sung by the souls, paraphrased to bring out the themes of reliance on God. Their chant ends with

Dear Lord, we do not make this final prayer
  for ourselves here, for here there is no need,
  but for the ones behind us yet to come.
(Purg XI.22-24

These souls are saved – they need no prayers for that, though the prayers of the living can shorten their time there. But they, graciously, are praying for us, too.
I’m a specialist in early Medieval architecture and such, and had never considered the etymology of a remarkably common word in later Medieval art, “illumination” and its variants. Dante made me wonder about why we call manuscripts illuminated with a throwaway line.

“Oh!” diss’io lui, “non se’ tu Oderisi,
  l’onor d’Agobbio e ‘lonor di quell’arte
  ch‘alluminar chiamata è in Parisi?”

“Say!” I began, aren’t you Oderisi,
  glory of Gubbio and glory of that art
  which they in Paris call illumining?”

Dante thinks of alluminar as a French loan word? Interesting! So I checked up on the word in the OED and found that ILLUMINATE in meaning 8, “To decorate (an initial letter, word, or text, in a manuscript) with gold, silver, and brilliant colours, or with elaborate tracery and miniature designs, executed in colours; to adorn (a manuscript, inscription, text, etc.) with such decorative letters and miniatures,” comes with a parenthetical note: “(In this sense it has taken the place of ENLUMINE.” Noting that the earliest occurrences of “Illuminate” are 16th Century, I follow the trail to EN’LUMINE (accent on the first syllable, interesting), from Old French enluminer, which shows up as early as 1366 in Chaucer, A.B.C. (what’s that text?), “Kalendeeres enlumyned….” The great dictionary throws in a CF to a medieval Latin term I’d never heard, “lumina (lit. ‘lights’) the paintings in a MS.”
Fun morning digressions aside, Oderisi’s pride is so tamed that he responds by naming the successor who has outshone him – he is well on his way to being corrected, and expresses his correction in a monetary metaphor – “Here for such pride we pay the fee” (Purg XI.88). He goes on to name Giotto as another successor who has outshone his predecessor – in Giotto’s case, Cimabue – and then to relate the pattern to poets and politicians, all of whom could use correction for their pride.
The poem ends with another prediction of Dante’s exile, but again the tone is different when those come here in Purgatory. In Hell there was always some gloating on the part of the damned soul who had the news. Here it is more gentle, more corrective.
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One bad book review

No – I mean negative, not bad.

That a graduate of Columbia University, as Ms. McCain purports to be, produced writing this shoddy is bad; that a publishing company let this authorial abortion go to print is an insult to the collective self-worth of our thinking nation.
For instance, Ms. McCain and her editors were apparently unaware of the existence of any mid-sentence punctuation mark other than the comma. One would think hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on Ms. McCain’s education (Columbia University FTW!) would have somehow resulted in a basic understanding of the colon and semicolon, but alas – no such luck.
Some examples are in order. In one passage, Meghan explains the travails of life in the following ragtag collection of sentence fragments, sewn haphazardly together with enough commas for an entire Tolstoy novel:

Our room was crowded with our stuff – a total mess, totally trashed with blog equipment, photo stuff, cameras, and all our makeup, clothes, our huge suitcases. We were like animals, like bears who have to litter and mess up their cave to feel it is theirs.

Or consider the following excerpt on her fondness for the state of New Hampshire, which she certainly composed on post-it notes while giggling madly with her BFFs as they called one another “naughty” about all the bon-bons and tequila:

And later, just before the New Hampshire primary in January, it was bitter-ass freezing, so cold that my body was screaming, but, at the same time, it was so magical, so clean, an amazing winter wonderland.

Please don’t think that I have perhaps copied these passages wrong in an attempt to make Meghan look bad; I assure you, I have not. Nor are these anti-comma 8th Amendment violations merely isolated incidents. The entire book is riddled with inappropriate comma use: commas where there should be colons, commas where there should be semicolons, commas where there should be periods, and commas where there should be no punctuation at all.

Oh dear.