ITAL 310: Dante in Translation

Lecture 4

 - Inferno V, VI, VII


This lecture examines Inferno IV -VII. Dante’s Limbo, modeled on the classical locus amoenus, is identified as a place of repose and vulnerability. Here, in fact, among the poets of antiquity, the pilgrim falls prey to poetic hubris by joining in their ranks. The pilgrim is faced with the consequences of his poetic vocation when he descends to the circle of lust (Inferno V), where Francesca da Rimini, in her failure to distinguish romance from reality, testifies to the dangers inherent to the act of reading. From the destructive power of lust within the private world of the court, Dante moves on to the effects of its sister sin, gluttony, on the public sphere of the city. The relationship posited in Inferno VI between Ciacco and his native Florence is read as a critique of the “body politic.” In conclusion, Virgil’s discourse on Fortune in the circle of avarice and prodigality (Inferno VII) is situated within the Christian world of divine providence.

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Dante in Translation

ITAL 310 - Lecture 4 - Inferno V, VI, VII

Chapter 1. The Ambiguities of Gardens [00:00:00]

Professor Giuseppe Mazzotta: Last time I finished — we finished on a little note, as you’ll recall, that the detail of the garden where the pilgrim finds himself and meets the other poets. And he declares, in a way that seems to be really prideful, on his place in this trajectory, this literary poetic tradition. I was emphasizing last time that this is a detail that opens for us — opens our eyes to the ambiguity of gardens, the ambiguity — as Dante will go on dramatizing this idea of this ambiguity of gardens throughout Purgatory especially, and in other areas, in an oblique way. It’s not necessarily monotonously bucolic language, this idea of the ambiguity of gardens.

What are some of these ambiguities in Canto IV? We are drawn naturally to gardens and we are drawn to gardens because they reflect for us some image of order, especially if you’re traveling through Hell, then you do want this sort of — you explore, you enter willfully this place that bears the fingerprints of the human hand, has this — it’s something which had elaborated by human beings. This is a divine place, nonetheless gardens mean that for us. But at the same time they give us a sense of security and in its enclosure, also a sense of a lordship over them. It’s something we can control, it’s something that we see and where we feel we belong. This is exactly the temptation that the pilgrim experiences in Canto IV. He relaxes, and this happens to all the heroes in the epic tradition, when they enter gardens they even set aside their arms. They get disarmed in more ways than one. That is to say, they come to understand that they are — this is a place of shelter, a place which is so peaceful and idyllic that one is no longer — or need not fear that one is in danger. In effect, that’s where the danger is most powerful.

Dante experiences a danger, the danger he experience is that of a poetic hubris. He is descending into humility, that’s the trajectory of his journey, and there he rests with Homer, Virgil, Lucan, etc., and he just says he feels that he belongs — that his high genius allows him to be right there with them. I remind you of this little detail exactly because it allows me to say more precisely what the problems are that a presentation of gardens, but especially to emphasize that Canto V and the drama that is unfolded in Canto V, a drama ostensibly of desire. It’s a story of the great passion of a woman, one of the most famous women in literature, Francesca, has with her brother-in-law Paolo. But, the point is that that drama stems directly from the crisis in the pilgrim’s mind in Canto IV of Inferno. In what way? It is as if the experience of hubris, about the celebrating one’s own power and prowess as a poet, now has to confront the consequences of that claim. Now Dante comes literally face to face with a reader of his poetry, and the reader of his poetry who understands his poetry in a way that was not necessarily the one intended by its author.

Chapter 2. Canto V: The Second Circle [00:04:10]

You have now in Canto V the confrontation of reader and poet, and we shall see Francesca is, of course, as you remember from your reading, having read Canto V, is a great reader of text. She goes on quoting Lancelot, not in the version of Chrétien de Troyes, but it’s a parallel version. It’s the same romance, she goes on quoting from The Art Of Courtly Love, this text about the art of love by Andreas Capellanus, and you may remember I alluded to at least one of the earlier talks, and goes on actually quoting to Dante, Dante’s own poem in the Vita nuova, which we shall go and look at in a while.

Let’s start with Canto V. Where are we in the poem? Where are we located? We are in the second circle. This — your notes will tell you. We’re in the larger area of so-called incontinence and I really should emphasize to you something about — we shall look at it in more detail further on, but something about the topography, the moral topography of Hell. What is the disposition? What is the distribution of sins and sinfulness? What is actually sin? What are we to understand for sin? For the time being I’ll tell you that for Dante, it’s the will which is the locus of sin. You cannot really sin intellectually; you cannot have — commit sins with your mind. You can have your mind which partakes and becomes an accomplice of the will, but it’s primarily in the will, in the voluntary action that you find sinfulness. That’s the first thing.

Where are we now? In the area of incontinence. What does that mean? Well one thing, a way of making it very simple, you probably should know that the shape, the diagram of the soul for Dante is very classical, very ancient, it’s really Aristotelian, it’s the idea of its more or less figured as a triangle which — on the left side you have, because it’s always the left — the will — the area of the will and then on the right side you have the area of reason. Where the two faculties of the soul, there are two faculties, like two feet of the body — there are two faculties of the soul that where they meet it’s — well in the Middle Ages, using a classical term they call, synteresis. This is the area where free will — in other words, in free will you have a conjunction of both will and reason and that’s the beginning of the moral life. It’s not the end of it at all, it’s really when — only when you are really free, your will is free, that you can start making decisions and getting engaged in the world around you.

Now the soul is divided into three parts. It’s a tripartite structure and begins at the bottom, it’s so called — I should put it on this side because it’s a will. The concupiscent appetites, which is really what Francesca experiences, the incontinence lost in this form later will be gluttony, etc., avarice, prodigality. In the middle area here, you would have the sensitive appetite, which is really the middle ground of Dante’s Hell, violence, the kind of bestiality that takes over the human mind, and then the third is the rational. The order, the geometry of Hell, in a way, is patterned on the order of the soul, the idea of the soul, in of course — in an inverted form.

We begin in the area of concupiscence, the area of lust. Someone was asking me what was lust last time; I think that we’re going to have some kind of understanding about this. This is where we are in the area of incontinence, the first one is lust, or what Dante will call with a formula: it’s the area of the sinners who have inverted the order, the hierarchical order of the reason and the will. They have made pleasure — they have invested pleasure with supreme lordship over the order of rationality. So, reason, though somehow dimmed, is always going to be used as a rational to explain — as a kind of way of creating alibis for the passion of Francesca. This is the way the canto begins.

The second thing that I have to mention as we read here, is the particular landscape that Dante evokes. It’s a landscape of souls that go around, swirling around in a kind and sort of circular structure. Let me tell you a little detail here, that you have to be careful as you read the poem even about the directions of the pilgrim. For instance, if I were to ask you which way is Dante descending into this spiraled Hell? When you move into a spiral, it’s very difficult to see if you’re really going left or right of course, but he’s going out of the way that he’s always going leftward. Because he’s descending — and as soon as we get to Purgatory, he goes out of the way to tell us that he’s now going rightward, which is to say, that Hell is the inverted cosmos of Purgatorio. So it’s really — he’s always going the same way, only that as he goes into Hell it’s — he’s going down and he’s inverted. When he has to go from Hell to Purgatorio, the operation is going to be that of turning upside down in order to go finally in the straight way, the right way.

The other detail is that the symbolism of the circle, which as you know, is very ancient, very old. There are a number of ways of understanding direction in the Middle Ages. For instance, the linear direction implies that of human beings were caught in time and they are going to some kind of purpose or precise destination. The angels are those who circle around the throne of God so that the circle implies the plentitude and perfection of movement. Clearly, Francesca is involved, who is caught in a world of love, in the passion of love, she’s giving a kind of parodic version, a caricature of the circular perfect movement of the mind, and of the angels around the divinity.

The spiral, which is the movement of the pilgrim, combines line and circle; implies that Dante is really — the mind is going in a circular way around the divinity, but he also has a purpose, has an aim to reach. Here the two are — Francesca and Paolo are going around in circles, circles that will have — and they will experience no rest.

I think that the principle behind this representation of desire is displacement; desire is always a part of displacement. Something that Dante valorizes greatly, that’s the ambiguity of Dante’s thinking. Desire is displacement because in this case, Paolo and Francesca — they get nowhere and yet it’s exactly this displacement that makes us aware that we are never where we should be, that our hearts are always out of place. It’s what Augustine says in the Confessions that the — he begins the Confessions with the awareness of his heart, he says, is unquiet, that the idea of the unquietness of the heart out of place, so that’s where he’s enacting. Dante’s moving within the larger pattern of Augustine’s thinking about desire and there will be a lot of talk about that.

You know what the word “desire” by the way, which is in English as the same as it is in Italian or Latin, you know what it means? It’s linked to the stars, to have desire is to know that you are not quite sidera, at the end de sidera, we are sort of a removal, removed from the world of stars. It’s a word that is linked, usually its “consideration,” another word that implies that the mind moves alongside, now you consider — when I consider how I like suspense, when you consider is a way of moving with — along the mind manages to move with the circularity and perfection of the sun. All of this irrelevant to the point that’s at hand here.

Chapter 3. The Lustful in the Second Circle [00:13:14]

Dante meets — so we are in the world of — begins this canto with a number of metaphors of birds. You realize that, first of all, he starts around lines 30, about the “hellish storm.” It’s the externalizing of the storm inside, the inner storm, “never resting, seizes and drives the spirits before it; smiting and whirling them about,” etc. It continues, “As in the cold season, their wings bear the starlings along the broad, dense flock, so does that blast the wicked spirits. Hither, thither, downward, upward, it drives them; no hope ever comforts them, not to say of rest but of less pain.” And then the cranes. And Dante asks Virgil, “Master, who are these people whom the black air so scourges?”

And now we have an enumeration, another application of the epic — an epic device, enumerating. The epic that has — it’s always driven by the desire for totality to include all things within the compass of its representation. It always has the enumerative style and now here we have a number of figures that Dante points out — that Virgil points out. And they’re all queens at the beginning. They are founders of cities. Keep this in mind because I think that part of the issues that Dante is raising, and you can think about it, we can talk about it if you wish, is the relationship between eros and politics. Pleasure and the city. Where does pleasure — what is the place of pleasure in the economy of the city?

Let’s see who they are, one is the “Empress of peoples of many tongues, who’s so corrupted by licentious vice that she made lust lawful in her law to take away the scandal into which she was brought.” And the emphasis of the line is this lust becoming lawful, lust becoming public and accepted. And “she is Semiramis,” of Assyria, “of whom we read she succeeded Ninus.” Then the next one is Dido, who is both Virgil’s invention in many ways, where Virgil in the Aeneid; this is a reflection on the Aeneid as a poem of love too.

Dante can not but think about the place of how Rome, Rome’s conquest would appear to be libido of power, libido dominandi and yet — and he’s really playing with the idea that the — Rome or Roma as you know is the — what we call the — I’m going to have to use this term because I can’t think of an English term, boustrophedon. You know what it means, the boustrophedon, right? A boustrophedon, it’s very easy, it’s a Greek term meaning a reversal. Roma, as in a mirror, becomes Amor, but it’s — Venus is the mother of Aeneas. So there is this idea again, of a link and inner link between love, or love and politics and the city. And Virgil writes the Aeneid, literally, as a love poem. That is to say, that the ideology of Rome is an ideology of — based on — of Rome, is an ideology based on desire.

The idea, which Augustine will counter by saying, yeah this is not really love, this is lust for power and the distinction that someone was raising here, the gentleman was raising last time about how lust is related to love. You already start seeing the antagonism between the two of them. Augustine, a Roman, an African, but a Roman thinker — was really writing about and belongs and reflects on the great myths, on the mythology of Rome. And for him this is true in the Confessions, but it’s especially true in The City of God, where he juxtaposes the earthly city, Rome to the heavenly city, the heavenly Jerusalem. The two cities are opposed to each other. There he reflects on Rome as a city based on lust for power, and from that point of view, really not different from any other empires. They’re all Rome, like say the Persian Empire, the Greek claims for empire, and what not, are all part of a long sequel of violence and imperial fantasies.

Dante is thinking along these lines and we shall see where that will take him in a moment. Then there is Cleopatra of Egypt, Helen and the story of the fall of Troy. Then finally, the story of Tristan, who as you know belongs — is really a medieval invention: Tristan and Isolde. We are going to see now Lancelot and Guinevere in a moment. The presence of Tristan shows one thing, that all the heroes and heroines of antiquity are viewed through the lenses of medieval romances. They may belong to the grand epics of the classical world. Dante will see them through that optic of romances, the literature of desire. “And he showed me more than a thousand shades, naming them as he pointed, whom love parted from our life.” This is the catalog of — the epic catalog. “When I heard my Teacher name the knights and ladies of old times, pity came upon me, and I was as one bewildered.”

Chapter 4. Overwhelmed by Pity, Dante Faints Like a Dead Body [00:19:40]

Now this is really the first time that Dante introduces the notion of pity in the poem. And we shall see by the end of the canto, that he is going to be overwhelmed by pity and he is going to faint after he hears the story of Francesca. He was so overwhelmed that he fell, he says, “like a dead body” falls. It’s a fainting. It’s sympathy; maybe it’s a little bit of a self-recognition, maybe it’s — we shall see that it’s a way of coming to grips with his own responsibilities, maybe some of his responsibilities.

The point I want to make there with this pity is that you do know, but Dante does not know the the Poetics of Aristotle, but he knows whatever is available through Horace and he knows quite a lot. The point here is that Dante goes on reflecting — it could become a paper topic for some of you enterprising spirits, for some of you maybe — on the relationship within pity and justice. Throughout the poem he goes on thinking about these two terms. Does justice necessarily need pity or is there some kind of justice that must learn how to be pitiless, that has no place for this kind of compassion. Are they two necessarily antagonistic or is there some way of thinking of a meeting point between them? This is the first time he introduces this idea of pity, a kind of recognition; a sense that it could be he who is in that position.

And he begins, “Poet I would fain speak with these two that go together and seem so light upon the wind.” He doesn’t talk to any of the major classical figures. He chooses two people from his own time, two people from the ordinary life around him, two people in the — by this time Dante may very well be living in that area of Italy which is Ravenna, not quite Ravenna, but in that area of Ravenna.

“ ‘Thou shalt see when they are nearer us, and do thou entreat them then by the love that leads them, and they will come.’ As soon as the wind bent… ‘Oh wearied souls, come and speak to us — and speak with us, if One forbids it not.’” You realize that the name of God is never mentioned here in Hell, if not as a discourse that takes place here on Earth, but the souls in Hell will always use periphrastic constructions, terms or phrases; as if it would be highly improper for Dante to allow them, or even for them, to acknowledge that which they never really acknowledged: “now if One forbids it not.”

Then, “as doves summoned by desire, come with wings, poised and motionless to the sweet nest, borne by their will through the air, so these left the troop where Dido is.” Again, the presence of Dido that — the Virgilian myth of Dido and also the other possibility of Rome: Virgil is writing about the great battle between Carthage and Rome as two ways of choosing a civilization, two ways of deciding how one should organize one, how should one experiment with cities.

“Coming to us through a malignant air; such force had my loving call.” Now listen to how Francesca speaks, “Oh living creature, gracious and friendly, who goes through the murky air, visiting us who stained the world with blood.” She’s killed, she was killed, by the way, by her husband, who caught Francesca and his brother Paolo in a tryst, so it’s — that’s what the allusion to the blood is.

“If the King of the universe were our friend, we would pray to Him for thy peace, since thou hast pity of our evil plight. Of that which thou pleased to hear and speak, we will hear and speak with you while the wind is quiet as here it is.” Now she begins the description of her life, where she was born. Most of the narratives in Inferno begin with this idea of birth. You saw that in the case of Virgil and you see it once here in the case of Francesca. They begin with birth for a number of reasons, but because birth is for Dante the event that somehow could potentially have changed and have imparted a different direction to the world, or could end in nothing, as in the case of Francesca. Hence a great piece of literature, but she herself did not really achieve much. Now she talks about her city, in terms that clearly contrast with this movement of the souls caught in the storm.

There they go endlessly in the air and now she evokes the place of what she really wants is rest, “The city where I was born lies.” That’s the image of the stability of a city she has lost. “Where the Po, with the streams adjoin it, descends to rest.” Now three tercets in Italian all beginning with the word love. Love made into kind of transcendent divinity. It is the great subject of her experience, look at this. “Love which is quickly kindled in the gentle heart, seized this man for the fair form that was taken from me, and the manner afflicts me still. Love, which absolves no one beloved from loving, seized me so strongly with his charm that, as thou seest, it does not leave me yet. Love brought us to one death.” What is she saying? Well, a number of things, and I really have to give this to you. First of all, she’s really quoting important literature. The first line “Love which,” the translation is, “Love which absolves no — love which is quickly kindled in the gentle heart,” and you know that this is really a quotation from one of Dante’s sonnets in the Vita nuova that you read, Chapter XX. “Love,” that’s how Dante starts, “Love and the gracious heart are a single thing,” and Dante quotes the poetics of a sweet new sound. It’s when it’s early he says, tells us in his poem, one can more be without the other, one can no more be without the other than one that then can the reasoning mind without it’s reason,” etc.

It’s clearly meant for Francesca to flatter the sensible authorship of the poet himself. It’s part of a seductive strategy also that she can use. The second image, but love that does not allow anyone who loves from returning, reciprocating the love, it really comes from the so-called ruse of love that Marie de Champagne dictates in Book III of The Art of Courtly Love and I want to read this. It’s — the translation is not quite — all that accurate but I think — I’m sorry I got the wrong one, the wrong book. The Art of Courtly Love, Book III, and these are the famous — it ends with the rules of love. I will — I’ll explain what they are and Rule 9 says — I can really read some of them to you so you have an understanding of what courtly love is. This is the mind of — which applies very well to Francesca. Francesca imagines herself as really a courtly love heroine. She lives in the world of kings, the God is the king of the universe, she’s in the court of the king of love maybe.

These are some of the concerns of the rules of love and The Art of Courtly Love. “Marriage is no real excuse for not loving.” It’s a way of saying adultery is the law of courtly love. “He who is not jealous,” number 2, “cannot love.” No one can be bound by a double love than the boys do not love until they arrive at the age of maturity. It leaves that very unclear what the age of maturity can be; 7, “when one lover dies, a widowhood of two years is required of the survivor.” Number 8, “no one should be deprived of love by the very best of reasons.” Number 9, “no one can love unless one is impelled by somebody else’s love,” which is exactly the line that Francesca mentions, number 9.

Why these rules of love? What are they? What is she saying? What Andreas, first of all, is doing by having these rules of love and having — and reducing love to an art, is a way of acknowledging that love is the most transgressive, disruptive of all experiences and therefore it needs to be formalized. It needs to be contained. It may be part of a game, as is perhaps the thrust of Andreas Cappellanus’ thinking, or made to be part of an acceptable ceremony, which is the possible reading of what is happening. Francesca falls completely, squarely within this tradition of believing that she lives in a world of love where there is no other possible resistance.

In effect, these tercets with which I read to you above love, love, and love: they are really meant to cast love as a transcendent force that no one can really — that she at least, cannot withstand. What she is doing is abdicating the power of her will to the irresistible, omnipotent, presence of this love. It’s part of a strategy, of not acknowledging any responsibility. It’s part of a strategy to instead find for herself an alibi: I was made to do that. The literature of yours and the literature of Andreas Cappellanus’ were filters of love.

You understand what I mean — how in romances you always have filters of love. No one is going to take the responsibility saying well the — I had too much to drink or I read the great poem or whatever, and so I was doing that. It’s a way for Dante to show the blindness of Francesca to the reality of her situation, and this — where she is, a kind of unwillingness to give up that which is really the quality of sin and the trait of sin: habit. Is sin in the measure in which it has become a habit, a way of clinging to it and not acknowledging that there may be some kind of alternative or something different to it.

So Dante goes on now, entertaining the arguments. “When I answered I began: ‘Alas, how many sweet thoughts, how great desire, brought them to the woeful pass!’ … Then ‘Francesca, thy torments make me weep for grief and pity, but tell me, in the time of your sweet sighing how and by what occasion did love grant you to know your uncertain desires?’ And she answered: ‘There is no greater pain than to recall the happy time in misery and this thy teacher knows; but if thou has so great desire to know our love’s first root,” which is a way of almost — even that metaphor of the root of love, the origin of love, she calls it the root of love as if the passion, her passion were the flower of love, “I shall tell as one may that weeps in telling. We read one day for pastime of Lancelot, how love constrained him. We were alone and had no misgiving. Many times that reading drew our eyes together and changed the color in our faces, but one point alone it was that mastered us; when we read for that the longed-for smile was kissed by so great a lover, he who never shall be parted from me, all trembling, kissed my mouth. A Galeotto was the book and he that wrote it. That day we read in it no farther.’ While the one spirit said this, the other,” Paolo — whose name means “little” in Latin, as you know paulus, small, “wept so that for pity I swooned as if in death and dropped like a dead body.”

Chapter 5. A Story of Reading; References to Time [00:32:34]

And that’s the end of the canto. Well, we could say it’s an amazing story and we will talk about a number of things. The first thing is that this is a scene represented through reading, a story of reading. You are aware of that, right? This is clearly, she reads, they read — he says that when one day they were reading for delight, that’s probably part of the concerns that Dante has. How should we read if we read for delight? They read for delight. Is there some other way of reading? Is delight — clearly it’s the constitutive elements of reading literally text, but is there something else that we could do along the way? What is our problem really? Let’s continue with this idea of reading.

She’s reading the story of Lancelot, Lancelot and Guinevere, you do know the story, it’s not the story of Chrétien de Troyes, but you could easily go on, if you want to write about Chrétien de Troyes Lancelot and Canto V, you can. Dante does refer to the stories of Chrétien de Troyes often in his theoretical works. The story of Lancelot is the story of adultery at court. Lancelot is the secret lover of the queen; clearly out of the desire and that says something about the nature of desire, to really supplant the king, Arthur. There’s a triangle here at stake, a triangle of desire, and Francesca imitates this triangle and we’ll talk about it in a moment.

The story of Lancelot is a story of — let me go a little bit into that. It’s the story of — like all the stories Chrétien de Troyes, they begin on the great feasts of Christianity. It’s, I think, usually the Ascension, Easter, the Pentecost, one of the great feasts. And the heroes are sitting around boasting about themselves. Not one of them is doing anything heroic, but they all talk about how great they were. It’s a little bit like the parodic version that you have of the battle of the argument between Ulysses and Ajax in the last book of the Metamorphosis where they talk about who is the hero worthy of inheriting the arms of the great Achilles. And they talk about not the present prowess now but what they were.

In the story of Chrétien clearly the idea is that the heroic age is over and done with. And the whole romance goes on exploring, and pondering about that which the reasons why the heroic age may have come to an end. What it is, is that the secret love affair between Lancelot and Guinevere. The story starts, it goes on where they’re sitting around drinking ale, and talking, a mysterious figure comes from the outside and kidnaps the queen. The knights who were sitting around don’t move and everybody’s expecting Lancelot to get up and go and rescue the queen, but he won’t out of fear that if he were to impetuous, it would be the secret affair that he has with the queen would probably be discovered.

That hesitation, that moral hesitation of Lancelot is really the cause of — it’s the emblem of the falling from aristocratic virtues. There is now the intrusion of a time, a temporal wedge between the thought and the action, and then of course Lancelot would have to go on that famous cart of shame, exposed to the ridicule of the whole town, before he can go on really trying to rescue the queen. This is — but if you think about it, then Chrétien is already reflecting on the crisis of the city in terms of the private passion. Something is really gnawing at the heart of the city and it’s really the question of desire. The inability to distinguish between the public and the private, the inability to separate somehow the two, or find some sort of a heart — threading the line between those two concerns. In Canto V this is really what Francesca does.

Dante’s exploring reading, so she is reading the text of Lancelot and lapses into an imitative strategy of reading. She wants to be like the heroine that she reads about. She refuses to take an interpretative distance from whatever specular image: she wants to feel like a queen. And she thinks of Paolo can be like Lancelot, and this is exactly what we call the mimetic quality. It’s not my term, it’s the term René Girard who has written about this question of the imitative structure of desire. Between us and the object of desire there is always the presence of a mediator, and in this case the mediator is Lancelot for Paolo, and it is Guinevere for Francesca.

But there’s more to this story. For instance, you cannot read the story without thinking about how Dante frames the experience of Francesca with the language of time. Do you see how many references there are to time? There’s no greater grief than remembering happiness, a past happiness, and this, your doctor, meaning Virgil, knows very well. Then she starts talking about her adventure, “we were reading one day,” remember, “that day we read no further.” It’s all about time, about the question of time as if an experience — so what is the problem with this idea of time? Why is Francesca understood? Why is her story represented in terms of time?

In effect, I think Francesca want — there’s one great passion that she has and her passion is to do away with time. She’s expressing the desire that her happiness that last year, very briefly, a brief instance may really last an eternity, or maybe, just maybe, she may be expressing the wish that — or the idea, the insight more than the wish, that one moment of happiness is well worth an eternity of pain. Or maybe she’s just saying that it’s not too bad that the love story I had only lasted the briefest possible time. At any rate, all this shows is that primarily Francesca not only abdicated choice and not only thought that her own will was powerless, vis-à-vis, the irresistible force of this transcendent idea of love, but above all, she has betrayed the order of necessity and time. Her passion violates the order of time. Above all, from this point of view, Dante goes on reflecting about his responsibilities of an author — as an author when he’s confronted with the reader. What have I done? What have I written? That what I write has been understood in a way that is not necessarily the one that he meant, the meaning that he meant to assign to the Vita nuova. These are some of the concerns and we can find some others.

Chapter 6. Canto VI: The Third Circle; Ciacco [00:40:29]

Let me just pass onto Canto VI, which is really not completely unlike what we have been describing here. Now we go into canto — Dante goes — that’s another part of this other strategy. Whatever Dante has found out about passion, about desire, about this in the world of appetites and whatever he has decided about himself and the meaning that this may have for him as a poet, and that scene of fainting at the end, he will go on — this will become the premise for other concerns raised in Canto VI, which as you know, is a political canto.

This is the strategy of Dante. Let me see, I found out certain things about me, my responsibility, I found some things about the disruptive quality of desire, vis-à-vis, the political order, now let me find out — let me see if — let me find out how authentic this finding may be. Let me move into a public realm, so we go from the world of the court, the private world of Francesca, now to literally the world of the city, the world of Florence where we are still talking about incontinence in a different form: the question of gluttony and politics. And let’s see — so he takes elements that he has already anticipated here in Canto V, the political, and goes on thinking about politics in Canto VI. Here we go then with Canto VI, the third circle, the gluttonous. “With return of my mind, with the return of my mind that was shut off when the piteous state of the two kinsfolk, which was quite confounded me with grief, new torments and new souls in torment I see about me, wherever I move and turn and set my gaze.”

I find first of all the presence of the word mind, in Italian it is mente, in line 1, very suggestive. We are dealing here now with bodies. Canto VI is all about bodies: it’s all about gluttonous souls who were bodies who took care of the bodies. Dante uses as a counterpoint the question of mind, as if the sin of these bodies, the sin of these gluttonous has also been the sin of not thinking in terms of mind. The mind is a necessary counter, a necessary compliment to the presence of bodies.

The word mind, of course as you know or in Italian — in English we have mental, in Italian it’s mente, Latin mens, really comes from the Latin for measure. The mind is that which measures things, the mind is that which gives a sense of the measure of even our own desires. The metaphor of mind appears throughout Canto VI. We are asked to think of that which is missing in this biological reflection, a reflection about the — what I call the biology of politics. Politics now reduced to the question of appetites of bodies. It’s not — normally we have the pride of minds when we think about all the people who have whatever fantasies, whatever megalomanias, whatever desires, but mental above all when we talk about politics, but here it’s really a question of politics in terms of the inexhaustible appetites of bodies.

We are going to talk about politics and gluttony, politics and bodies. Dante here meets the figure that is presiding; the mythological figure that is presiding over this canto, this area of gluttony is the classical figure of the three-headed Cerberus, a way of hinting about the voraciousness, the many mouths of this monstrous animal. “Cerberus, a beast fierce and hideous” and so on. And we do know that the landscape is stinking under an endless rain; there are hints that this is really one of — some kind of repulsive form of waste and food. “The rain makes them howl like dogs, and the profane wretches often turn themselves, of one side making a shelter for the other. When Cerberus, the great worm perceived us, he opened his mouths and showed us the fangs, not one of his limbs keeping still and my Leader.”

And so on. “As the dog that yelps for greed and becomes quiet when it bites its food, being all absorbed and struggling to devour it, such became these foul visages of the demon Cerberus… We passed over the shades that were beaten down by the heavy rain, setting our feet on their emptiness which seemed real bodies.” This is actually the great — the description and figuration of gluttony. Bodies that are always empty and they are empty now. They are punished to be empty, as empty forms; and they seem — they are not bodies, they seem real bodies.

“They were all lying on the ground except one who sat up as soon as he saw us passing before him. ‘O thou who art led through this hell,’ he said to me, ‘recall me if thou canst; thou wast begun before I was ended.’” Another little reference to birth, the birth of Dante and the death of — it’s part of a cycle. There’s no necessary connection between the three heads. The death of — the name is Ciacco, meaning a pig, that’s the way he was surnamed in the streets of Florence and the death — and the birth of the pilgrim.

“I said to him, ‘The anguish — the anguish thou hast perhaps taken thee from my memory,” and the word is mente, the mind, “so that I do not seem ever to have seen thee. Tell me who you are, put in a place of such misery and under such a penalty that, if any is greater, none is so loathsome.’ And he said to me, ‘thy city,” we are talking about Florence, this is the politics of the city. “Thy city,” it doesn’t say our city, your city. He’s already — Ciacco views himself as outside of it, not really occupying a place within the city, “which is so full of envy that already the sack runs over, held me within it in the bright life, when you citizens,” once again the distance of Ciacco from the city of Florence, “called me Ciacco. For the damning fault of gluttony, as thou seest, I lie helpless in the rain; and in my misery I’m not alone, for all these are under the same penalty for the same fault.’ And he said no more.”

Okay here I have to stop a little bit to tell you what — something that you already caught of course, what the basic metaphor, what the basic conceit is in this canto, and it’s the conceit of the city and the body. You — in the classical world you’re used to the conceit between — of the correlation between the soul and the city, but for Dante this is a soulless city. The only way to talk about is through this image which is very ancient, very Roman actually, the story of the city as a corporate, as a body, as a corporate structure. The image, some of you readers of Shakespeare you may remember your Coriolanus, where Coriolanus makes the same speech about the city and the body. But it really goes back to a historian of the classical world that Dante absolutely loves. He’s not the only one, all the way Augustine is using — the name is Livy who wrote this famous book about from — about the — from the foundation of Rome, a Roman historian who tells the history of Rome.

One of the stories he tells is that of the famous civil war in Rome: the civil war between the patricians and the plebeians. The plebeians, the workers, were so tired of what was happening in the city. They were doing all the work; that’s the way they complained, but they had few of the pleasures coming from living in the city that they decided to secede. It is the famous secession whereby they go — it’s a kind of schism, they go on the — they retreat on the Aventine Hill, one of the seven hills of Rome, and the patricians, the city is paralyzed as you can imagine, it’s a strike, the patricians send one of their — an emissary, a man by the name of Menenius to convince the plebeians to return to the city. Menenius manages to do this by telling the plebeians a famous fable which called, is still known as The fable of Menenius.

What does he tell them? He said, look, the city’s really like a body. When you have a body the hands work. Yes, it seems that the mouth enjoys and savors the great pleasures of foods and so on. It seems that the stomach can be full, but actually whatever they produce and take in and they ingest, they redistribute to the body, to the rest of the body, to the hands, the feet, etc. The city is like a body. That’s the analogy. Between the corporate structure of the city, the idea that the city is a corporation and — which by the way we carry on a reminder of this, how vital this is, we carry on a dime. I don’t have a dime with me, but if you have a dime you can read e pluribus unum. And it says one body out of many limbs, out of many members, still an image that we carry. It’s still a conceit that we have, right?

The idea is that the city is like a body and plebeians are convinced and they go back to order and they recompose the order of the city. This is the fundamental structure here. I said something else which is really is going to — does Dante believe in the corporate structure of the city? Can it really hold together and I go on submitting to you that he no longer believes in this. If you — when you read the canto you will see that all the body parts are literally littering the city, they’re all mentioned. The nails, the hands, the heart, the beard, the hair, etc., the mouth are sort of spread all over, and as if to imply the impossibility of constituting these body parts into an organic unified totality.

There’s another little issue here that is being raised and that I want to talk about before the end of the hour: the question of civil war and what Dante understands by civil war because Dante’s political thought, the reality of his political thinking is always the civil war. Let me just give you some textual evidence and then we’ll go on.

“I answered him Ciacco, thy distress so weighs on me that it bids me weep. But tell me if thou canst, what the citizens of the divided city,” this is now Florence, “shall come to and whether any there is just, and tell me the cause of such discord assailing it.” An amazing image discord because it’s a musical metaphor: accord, discord but it really comes from — it makes the ‘heart,’ that’s where the word comes from; discord makes the heart the place, the receptacle where all the envy, all these jealousies that destroy the city are placed, are located.

“He said to me, ‘After a long strife this shall come to blood and the party of the rustics shall drive out the other with much offense; then by force of one who is now maneuvering,” meaning the Pope, “that party is destined to fall.” This is the Guelfs and Ghibellines that — within which the city is divided. “To fall within three years and the other to prevail, long holding its head high and keeping the first under grievous burdens, for all their tears and shame. Two men are just and are not heeded there. Pride, envy and avarice,” these are the cause, these are “the sparks” he calls them. “ ‘These are the causes that have set these hearts on fire.’ Here, he made an end of his grievous words.”

And then Dante goes on literally evoking a street scene in Florence, goes on asking about some other characters in the city. “I would still learn from thee and I beg thee to grant me further speech. Farinata,” he mentions about whom we shall see next Thursday in Canto X of Inferno, “Tegghiaio, men of such worth, lacopo Rusticucci, Arrigo, and Mosca and the rest whose minds were set on well-doing, tell me where they are and give me knowledge of them; for I’m pressed with a great desire to know whether they share in Heaven’s sweetness, or the bitterness of Hell.”

I would like to point out to you the presence of this — of the language of gluttony throughout: sweetness, bitterness, pleasant, unpleasantness. This really runs through the canto and gives its — and links together gluttony and the politics. It’s the body: you can see the body metaphor, but also these other experiences. What is happening here he asks, as Dante asks about these other famous Florentines, the “men of such worth”? He says, where are they? They achieved so much worth, so set on well-doing in the city and the English cannot quite render the ambiguity of the Italian. The ambiguity of the Italian is benfare which is really very difficult to translate, which you don’t know if it means “doing well” or “doing good,” and that impossibility of deciding what the sentence really means is exactly what Dante’s dramatizing here. What he’s dramatizing is the distance between human perspective, the judgments that we make as human beings, and the divine judgment on the dealings and doings of these famous people; the discrepancy between them here on earth when they judge one way, then the real — the reality of the worth and value of these other people that can be different.

We are talking about — he’s talking about them, the black souls, that is to say they’re further down in the fire and different faults weigh them down to the depth. What an extraordinary metaphor, the weight, the burden of sin, but it’s really an image that goes back, the gravity, the question of gravity. This is — we speak of civic gravity, but here it’s a different kind of gravity. It’s an idea of — it’s an old idea. When you want to talk about the weight that we carry within us, the gravity we have within us, that gravity is love.

The way of deciding, the way of understanding this line: there’s a passage in the Confessions of Augustine, where Augustine says, that he wants to exemplify why some people go up, other people go down, and he says it’s like the gravity of objects around us. A stone, you drop a stone and the stone goes down out of its own gravity, its own specific weight. A fire, he says, goes up out of its own specific weight. We are carried wherever our love carries us. We are — our love is our own gravity, inner gravity, and whether we go up or down, it depends according to the direction of our desires.

Let me just go back to — this is to give you a sense of all the resonances of this canto, but at the heart of it all, there is the question of civil war. Between Guelfs and the Ghibellines, between patricians and plebeians: Dante sees the whole of history, Roman history, whether he is going to read Virgil, or will read Lucan, or he will read Statius, which actually deals not with Roman history in this great epic the Thebaid. He reads — he’s really reading Greek history, the story of Oedipus and Eteocles and Polyneices. They view history from the point of view of the civil war.

Chapter 7. Dante’s Political Understanding [00:57:47]

Let me just formulate the question of the political understanding Dante has. For those of you who may have read a little bit of Monarchia, for instance, which is the treatise about the desirable form of a universal confederation of states, under the one emperor: that’s the grand vision that Dante has in Monarchia. He thinks about the needed unity of all states, a kind of sort — we could call it today, a confederation of states, very much patterned on the Roman Empire. The idea of the — in fact the Roman Empire becomes the model for this kind of unification. That’s really what most of us think that Dante’s political vision is.

In effect, Dante sees history especially as — and it’s kind of inevitable — a satanic form of civil war. So harsh is he going to be about the realities of the cities, that you really wonder how can he go on elaborating a theory of, a constructive theory, of politics. You see what I’m saying? Once you are so harsh about the reality of politics, then you really wonder how can one go around really thinking that politics can be necessary. It’s necessary that you can explain, that it’s somehow useful, that it’s feasible. Where does it say — where does this understanding of Rome come to him?

Dante does not really agree with Virgil. And Dante does not agree with Virgil’s greatest critic who is Augustine in The City of God. For Virgil, Rome is the providential empire, an empire that can really bring about, unify the whole world. Augustine writes against Virgil and says, no because even Rome, as I just indicated to you a little earlier, even Rome is part of the history of violence.

Dante comes along and pulls together within the Divine Comedy the question of Rome and the needed empire and the question of the civil war. What do they have in common? What is it that connects them? Dante’s argument is the following: you, Virgil, are right in believing in the unity of all mankind, a Stoic idea that we all live in a cosmopolis, in a city which is the city of the world where we all find a place. And you, Augustine, are right in claiming that the empire is all built and based on the libido and lust. You’re right; you are both right, and yet you are both wrong, precisely because you contradict each other.

What Dante says to Augustine, if there is no empire, then we are living in a world of disorder and lawlessness. The empire becomes the necessary remedy to the evils of the civil war. The civil war is the condition where my own brother, my own neighbor, can become my own enemy. Augustine does not acknowledge the reality of civil war. To him, it’s just empire and the empire is evil. And we’ll finish with the famous line: what do I care who governs me, provided that they don’t make me sin? It’s the famous Christian response to the idea of the evil, the historical evil of empires. Let me retreat into myself and find within myself some kind of comfort and some kind of shelter. And Dante will respond to him, says no that’s not enough because once you think that you have retreated into yourself then there is the reality of the civil war that will reach into you.

What I have been explaining to you and I will stop because I want to talk about something else before we go, Canto VII. What I’ve been trying to explain to you is that the movement from Canto V to Canto VI of Inferno, it’s a movement from the internal world of desires that seem to be so private and so personal. Then, I said, Dante has to go outside of himself to test, to find out what the authenticity is of what he has found out in Canto V. In Canto VI, the political canto will tell them there is no such comfort zone of one soul in the world, that the inner world is necessarily part of the outside world and the outside world will encroach upon it and it will enter one’s own inner world.

The terms for this kind of movement between the inner and the outer are really Virgil and Augustine. Virgil with the idea of the defense of the empire, Augustine with his undermining of the notion of the necessity of the empire. Dante will go on harmonizing the two visions. He will endorse the idea of the empire, aware that that’s the only possible best response to the tragedy of civil wars.

Chapter 8. Canto VII: The Avaricious in the Fourth Circle [01:03:05]

Let me say just a few things about Canto VII and then I’ll give you a chance to ask some questions, there should be two or three minutes for questions. Canto VII also is a canto that can be read symmetrically with the other Canto VII of the Divine Comedy, Purgatorio VII, just as Canto VI. I neglected to mention it, but Canto VI of Inferno is about the city and politics; Canto VI of Purgatorio about the nation; Canto VI of Paradise about the empire, so they’re really connected; the same thing with Canto VII.

This is the only canto that’s not individualized sinners. He meets avaricious, the avaricious and the prodigals, and they are sort of taken in a kind of — they have no — there’s no individual figuration for them. It is as if this became a kind of an anonymous, therefore a more collective kind of problem, avaricious and prodigality, which he represents in terms of the counter movement of Scylla and Charybdis, and here we have the great figuration of Fortune. You remember as I call her the Vanna White of the time, the lady who is at the Wheel of Fortune, turning blindfolded and let me say something about this figuration. Dante describes it as — what is it? It’s a great — an idea that I — what is it about the avaricious and the prodigals who could turn around, so one against the other, how can this be possible? What is — why are we so attached to the things of the world?

And then Dante goes on explaining on Canto VII, lines 80 and following, he will say, “He ordained them,” He meaning God, “for them for worldly splendours, a general minister and guide who should in due time change vain well from race to race, and from one to another blood beyond the prevention of human wits, so that one race rules and another languishes according to her sentence… She foresees, judges, and maintains her kingdom as the other heavenly powers do theirs. Her changes have no respite. Necessity makes her swift, so fast men come to take their turn. This is she who is so reviled,” meaning Fortune, “by the very men that should give her praise, laying on her wrongful blame and ill repute. But she is blest and does not hear it. Happy with the other primal creatures she turns her sphere and rejoices in her bliss.”

It’s Fortune at the wheel, but it’s a figuration that in many ways it needs some explaining. How can Dante believe in God as Fortuna? How can he go on talking about this pagan deity, she is Roman deity, Lady Luck, how is he doing this? How can that — do you see how he lives in a world of providentiality where there is well — and he does say that Fortune is an intelligence of God. That is to say, not the — though she’s blindfolded; there is also a kind of — there’s some criteria, there is an intelligence, there is a will, and a meditation behind it. What it means is that what is up will inevitably turn down to go down, it’s an endless rotation of fortune. In a certain way when you are down you only — the only — it’s the best time to be at, because you only get to — you can only go up. We are always though on the — precariously poised on this — on the curve. We are never quite stable in our own achievements. How can Dante relate this fortune — idea of fortune to the providential scheme that he — that regulates and shapes his own vision?

What I would have to tell you is that the — two things. The first thing is that as you see, Canto VII begins with an illusion to the great war in Heaven. The angels, the primal struggle that disrupted the order of the cosmos, in other words, Fortune is for Him the divinity that rules over the world, this sublunary world of generation of corruption. That is to say, she is a minister within the world of the fall, first thing. There is still a fallen world and that’s how perception of all the changes that take place. And the other thing is, that Dante is intimating that the only way to conquer Fortune is to really give up. It’s a kind of mystical idea. Mystical in the sense of a spiritual idea, that is, give up the attachment to the things of this world. Let’s stop here with the briefest summary of Canto VII.

Chapter 9. Question and Answer [01:08:17]

Let me see if there are questions about some of the weighty issues that I raised in Canto V and VI. And there is much more that we can say, but let me, if you want to ask questions and maybe I can qualify things that were left in the background. Please?

Student: In Canto V, [inaudible]?

Professor Giuseppe Mazzotta: The question is a very good question, what is the significance of Francesca doing all the talking and not Paolo, I guess. I take the significance is that this is — to me is that this is a canto where Dante understands some of the elements that he had put forth in the Vita nuova. You remember where we discussed the Vita nuova? There I indicated that the great poem, “Women who have intellect of love,” where the — he discovers that they are the interlocutors about love. Not only are they the interlocutors about love, there are also those — the privilege of interlocutors because they know how to combine; because they understand the necessary independence of intellect and love. They are not two separate entities, they are not two separate aspects, and therefore, now he has Francesca as a woman who can become indeed his own interlocutor.

That’s one aspect, the other one is that medieval romances had made this extraordinary discovery and I think that it’s the most revolutionary change that has taken place in the consciousness of — in the imagination of the — in the Western world in modern times. That is to say, before it became a sociological issue, before it becomes a philosophical problem, the dignity and worth of the woman was already retrieved and vindicated by romances. It’s there that the woman becomes either the figure in charge or the partner, or friend of the man. Does that answer your question?

Student: [Inaudible]

Professor Giuseppe Mazzotta: By the way the answer was yes. That could not be picked up by the video. Other questions? Well, okay thank you, we’ll see you next time with Canto IX, X, and XI, I guess.

[end of transcript]

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