Danteblogging Purgatory XXIV

Purgatory Canto XXIV
Forese continues as Dante’s interlocutor (I guess Virgil and Statius are off speaking in Latin with each other?) in Canto XXIV. As Forese names souls among the gluttons, we find out that many of them are clergy — the kind of hierarchs who always eat well. There is at least one poet beside Forese — Bonagiunta di Lucca who had dismissed Dante and his circle in life. Here he praises Dante, and names Dante’s technique the dolce stil novo, “the sweet new style” (Purg XXIV.57). Esolen admits in the notes that Dante may be cheating here — it’s one thing to put your enemies in Hell, but having your dead rival praise your work over his poetry?
When Bonagiunta first approaches he asks if Dante is the one who wrote the poem ‘donne ch’avete intelletto d’amore,’ ‘Ladies who have intelligence of love.’ Dante answers

Said I to him, “I’m the one who takes the pen
  when Love breathes wisdom into me, and go
  finding the signs for what he speaks within.”
(Purg XXIV.52-54

That last is an interesting explanation of the poet’s working method. Love (or the Muse, or inspiration) speaks within, and the poet has to find a sign to express it.
Another of Dante’s Ps is wiped away as they leave this ring and climb away.
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Danteblogging Purgatory XXIII

Purgatory Canto XXIII
Canto XXII ended with the sight of an apple tree – it will be awhile before we discover that it sprung from a seed of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Canto XXIII begins with Dante looking up at the tree so fixedly that Virgil has to speak to him to get him to move on. And just as Virgil was protective and mothering in the Inferno (why can’t I remember which canto?), here he is più che padre, “more than a father” (Purg XXIII.4).
As they go on into the ring of the Gluttons — who turn out to have been more gourmands than piggish gluttons — Dante meets his old friend and poetical comrade Forese Donati (who was also some sort of relative of Dante’s wife). Forese and Dante were the kind of friends who exchanged poems of humorous abuse. Esolen includes them in an appendix, where we read Dante alleging that Forese neglected his sickly wife, Nella; however, she gets mentioned here in Purgatorio because she’s prayed him up the hill so quickly — Forese had only been dead five years. Compare that to poor Statius, who had no one to pray for him!
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Ah, Roma!

And elsewhere!
My colleague and I nailed down our proposal for the academic week structure for the Rome program today — exciting! Let’s hope everyone at the Scuola Leonardo da Vinci is as pleased with it as we are!
Among other things, we’re (heresy!) cutting Pompeii. Our first weekend trip will be to Naples – where we’ll have the opportunity to visit Herculaneum instead. You can see almost every type of thing at Ercolano that you can at Pompeii (no theater, no amphitheater – but hey – we’ll go to Ostia!). The big difference is that you can see almost ALL of Ercolano in an afternoon. With Pompeii you never know what houses will be open — it depends on which guards showed up that day, and how many of them. And this way we’ll have plenty of time for the Museo Nazionale, which is where all the good stuff is anyway, AND Capodimonte!
Our second weekend trip will be to Torino — very interesting, especially in the 150th year of the Unification of Italy. And the – yum – Museo Nazionale del Cinema is there.

Danteblogging Purgatory XXII

Purgatory Canto XXII
Virgil and Statius chit chat about the sin being purged here — Statius was a spendthrift, and they are with the avaricious in Purgatory just as they slam rocks against them in Inferno VII — and then Virgil asks the question that must really interest him: how did you get saved?

“…What candle, then, what sun
  scattered the darkness that you might turn sail,
  following the Fisherman?”…
(Purg XXII.61-63)

The answer is “You.”

Per te poeta fui, per te cristiano

A poet you made me, and a Christian too. (Purg XXII.73)

Statius says that Virgil first made him a poet, leading him on to write his own epics, and then in Eclogue IV he set Statius up for the Gospel message.

magnus ab integro saeclorum nascitur ordo.
Iam redit et Virgo, redeunt Saturnia regna,
iam nova progenies caelo demittitur alto.

The great line of the centuries is born again,
now the Virgin returns, now the reign of Saturn
now a newborn babe is sent down from high heaven.
(Virgil, Eclogue IV.5-7)

You can see why Christians have often thought that something other than a pagan Muse touched Virgil there? Statius says that God touched him through Virgil, at least, and then he began listening to the itinerant preachers of Christianity. During the persecutions of Domitian he was baptized, but concealed his faith. Therefore he spent centuries in the fourth ring with the late repenters. Virgil passes on news about various classical folk in Limbo and Hell, and they continue to climb.
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Danteblogging Purgatory Canto XXI

Purgatory Canto XXI
The earthquake at the end of Canto XX bewildered the pilgrims — and silenced the singing of the souls, briefly. In Canto XXI they meet an even older saved soul than Hugh Capet and learn the reason.
What’s the line from It’s a Wonderful Life – “every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings?” Every time the mountain shakes, a soul is ready for freedom, and passes out of Purgatory (58).
Their interlocutor is the early imperial poet Statius, who lived in the Vespasianic era (69-96). His conversion story will come in the next canto. Here we read his tribute to Virgil, his model. He says this about his influences:

Of the Aeneid I mean: for all I am
  of poet, it was my mama and my nurse.
  Without it, all my work weighs not a dram.
(Purg XXI.97-99)

Talk about a willingness to acknowledge influence!
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Danteblogging Purgatory XX

Purgatory Canto XX
Dante is such a snob! The poor Capetians are STILL a new family to him, from Hugh down, and what Hugh is atoning for is avarice. Hmm – Hugh is certainly the longest-serving patient we’ve met so far in Purgatory; he died just before the year 1000 (Cato doesn’t count – he’s not going any further up the mountain). Hugh’s diatribe is really a stick to beat the French monarchy with, that institution whose interferences in Italy took things from bad to worse.

Hughe Capet was my name, and every last
  Philip and Louis who has governed France
  from my day until now has sprung from me.
(Purg XX.49-51).

I like that echo of Tom, Dick, and Harry Esolen gets in there – the Italian just has definite articles, “the Philips and the Louises.”
Hugh is so disgusted with his family that Dante lets him say something positive about Boniface VIII – who was harried to death by the agents of the King (the slap of Anagni).
The canto ends with another set of those weird voices through the mist – disembodied voices giving historical examples of avarice. I find the auditory events disturbing, for some reason. I’ll have to think about that.
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Hitler and Germany

More than 65 years after Hitler’s death and the collapse of the Third Reich, the German Historical Museum is seeking answers to a question that each generation asks anew: How did Germany, known as a nation of poets and thinkers, fall under Hitler’s spell and let him commit some of the worst crimes in history?

Oh, I don’t know. Maybe because Germany was also the nation of the Thirty Years War and the Prussians? Not that anyone else in Europe or the world is particularly less guilty. But still – can we stop asking stupid questions like this? Great artists do not inoculate against evil. In fact, plenty of interesting artists are pretty bad themselves.
Or maybe the average Westerner doesn’t expect anything better than Stalin or Mao of the Russians and Chinese, and so Hitler is a shock in comparison? That might explain why Hitlerism is frequntly held up as worse than regimes that killed so many more people (for what looks like an interesting corrective, though utterly neglecting Mao as a bad man, look here).
Why does human evil surprise? That’s what bewilders me.

Specific student whine, midterm edition

OK. So rather than use blue books I’ve gone to the xeroxed page with space for answers. I thought that might be clearer – I want them to write less on the early questions and more on the comparisons, and give them space accordingly. I also TELL them what I want for the identification data.
But who knew I should say “please turn the page – #2 is on the back of the first sheet.”
Yes, 4 out of 38 students turned the sheet and began answering #2 where #3 should go — and then there is the student who turned 2 sheets and got even more tragically off-kilter.
HUGE SIGH.

Danteblogging Purgatorio XIX

Purgatory Canto XIX
Canto XIX begins with a dream — remember, Dante fainted occasionally in the Inferno, but in the Purgatorio he rests. Dante’s dream is of the Siren, an allegory for the attachments purified in these upper rings, avarice, gluttony and lust (58-60). Virgil explains, and then rousts Dante out of his revery, like a falcon.

An idle falcon, gazing at his feet,
  turns at thefalconer’s cry in hot desire
  to feed, and launches forth upon the wing
(Purg XIX.64-66)

And so they scramble on up to see the avaricious, who lie in the dust with their faces to the ground. Dante’s interlocutor is Pope Adrian V, pope for a month in 1276. Adrian expresses the frustration of success, his realization that the position he wanted so much:

Was a cheat, for it could not still the heart,
  nor from its highest reachdes could one climb.
  So for this life I felt the flame of love.
(Purg XIX.109-111)

The obvious contrast is to Pope Nicholas III, the simonist of Inferno XIX. Nicholas is unrepentant, and in fact eagerly awaits the arrival of Boniface VIII. The simonists were planted upside down in little holes, only the soles of their feet showing. Esolen speculated that this represented the inversion of the hierarchical positions they sought. Here in Purgatory, the position is brought low to the dust — but Adrian accepts his correction.
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Danteblogging Purgatory XVIII

Canto XVIII
In Canto XVIII Dante gives Virgil a new title: l’alto dottore, “the Teacher of deep matters,” Esolen offers. Or “high,” alto being one of those annoying words. Virgil certainly lives up to the name in this canto, with a long disquisition on love. Love is the source “of all good actinos and their opposites” (Purg XVIII.15).

L’animo, ch’è creato ad amar presto
  ad ogne cosa è mobile che piace,
  tosto che dal piacere in atto è desto.

The soul, which is created quick to love,
  once readiness is wakened into act
  will move toward anything that pleases it.
(Purg XVIII.19-21)

I love that create ad amar presto! That explains a lot, doesn’t it? Our souls are, by nature, ready to love, and easily distracted into loving things that aren’t good for them. And it’s beauty that does it!

For they may see the goodness of the matter,
  but they neglect the form. Not every seal
  is good, although the wax it stamps may be
(Purg XVIII.37-39).

Virgil also presents two other things that are inborn, like the desire for beauty: reason and liberty. Both of those are called innate, “inborn.” The Purgatorio is the story of the unclouding of clouded reason and the achieving of true liberty. That really is the big pattern, in much the same way that the great pattern of the Inferno is the correspondence of suffering to the particular rejection of God.
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Call me a reactionary . . .

. . . after all, it’s true about so many areas of my intellectual life.
Final exams? Yes. I believe in finding out if they have learned anything significant across the semester. Not if they can do a last project or take test #3 — but did they learn something from the course and can they show it to me?
Harvard professors?
No — they don’t want to spend time grading.
I hate grading, too.
But you know, if people are paying $52,000 a year (list price) they deserve a fair assessment.