miércoles, 25 de agosto de 2010

The Divine Comedy II: Purgatorio #2


And we had not gone far in that direction
when the lady turned around toward me
saying, "My brother, look and listen."

And all at once there was a shining
that raced through the great forest on all sides,
making me wonder whether it was lightning,

but whereas lightning is gone as swiftly
as it comes, this stayed, shining brighter and brighter,
and in my mind I kept saying, "What can this be?"

And running through the luminous air was
a sweet melody, so that a good zeal
led me to blame Eve for her recklessness,

that there, where the earth and Heaven were obedient,
a woman, alone, and who had just been made,
could not bear to be veiled by anything.

If only she had stayed devoutly under
hers, I could have tasted these pleasures
beyond words earlier, and for longer.

While I walked on among so many
first fruits of eternal happiness,
enraptured, and longing for still greater joys,

the air under the green boughs before us
came to be like a fire blazing
and we could hear that the sweet sound was singing.

Oh most holy virgins, if I have endured
fasting, cold, and vigils for you ever,
need drives me now to ask for the reward.

Now is the time for Helicon to brim over
and Urania to help me with her choir
to put into verse things hard to hold in thought.
(Purgatorio XXIX, 13-42, p. 283-285 [translated by W.S. Merwin])

With apologies both for the long quote and for the sudden interruption of the Don Quixote readalong, I'd like to send a shout-out to any unicorn-loving lurkers out there with this quick post on Dante and the ladies.  Whatever you make of the real life Dante's lifelong crush on Beatrice dei Portinari, his choice of her as a heavenly symbol throughout The Divine Comedy is just fascinating to me in terms of the psychology at play in the poem.  In the excerpt above, for example, you'll note that Dante trots out that old "Eve is the mother of sin" trope that was already hoary even in the poet's day and age.  It's not mean by medieval standards and it's definitely not anywhere near as weird as Bernard of Clairvaux's fetishistic obsession with the Virgin Mary's breast milk or anything along those lines, but then again it's not the kind of attitude you might expect from a man who's chosen to elevate a secular woman to the status of idealized spiritual heroine of his poem.  Not having started Paradiso until today and not having done as much secondary reading on the Commedia as a whole as I would have liked anyway, I'm not really sure what role Beatrice will play as the poet and the muse make their platonic way through the third canticle's heavens.  I'd like to think that Dante gives us a hint in the final line of the excerpt above--i.e. that Beatrice's status as an idealized woman might provide some sort of a link between the "secular" inspiration necessary for creating verse and the "religious" raptures that seem to dominate the Divine Comedy's themes--but that's only guesswork and potentially really off the mark guesswork at that.  In the meantime, more on Purgatorio later or maybe not (covering all my bases with the full knowledge that laziness sometimes interferes with my psychic predictive powers).

P.S. As much as Beatrice interests me for what she tells us about Dante's conflicted attitudes towards women, she's not actually all that happening on her own merits.  In contrast, Juan Ruiz' Trotaconventos from the Libro de buen amor and Chaucer's Wife of Bath from the Canterbury Tales are two deliciously complex female characters that would absolutely wipe the floor with Beatrice for anyone looking at approaching any of these three 14th-century classics from a gender studies perspective.  Not sure if the fact that Trotaconventos and the Wife of Bath would have been more likely to end up in Inferno than Purgatorio has anything to do with it, but you get the picture.

7 comentarios:

  1. One must wonder about the hang-ups ascribed to a god who creates a creature that needs to be veiled. And the last two verses: I don't even want to go there, not with the lurkers lurking you so vividly described!

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  2. Jill, touché on the hang-ups thing. That's an interesting POV. I'm not sure what you're referring to re: Dante's last two verses in the excerpt, but the haircut I got tonight might have stripped me of some mental powers, who knows? Cheers!

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  3. Haha, yep, I prefer the ladies who end up in Inferno! Like Tom Sawyer said, if heaven is going to be full of stern aunties (or idealized virgins, etc.), I'd rather go to the other place.

    Will have to check out Trotaconventos and the Libro de buen amor at some point - I think I've made that claim before on your blog, but one of these days I'll follow through. :-)

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  4. I had forgotten/never known about that Tom Sawyer quote, Emily, so thanks for sharing. Easy to see where Twain was coming from, though, no?!? And while the Libro de buen amor is mighty awesome, I'm not sure that there's a good English translation of it out there (at least, the ones I've seen have all been duds). I will look into this if/when I do some LBA posts later in the year like I hope to. Cheers!

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  5. I know almost nothing about The Divine Comedy so it is enlightening to read your post - I look forward to more in the series.

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  6. The more fascinating people always are the bad ones, aren't they, male or female? That's probably part of the reason more people are inclined to read Inferno than Purgatorio or Paradisio--we find the characters more interesting in Hell than in Heaven.

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  7. *Tom: Thanks! A bunch of us read Inferno last month and a few of us read Purgatorio earlier this month, so there are many more review posts to be found on the Comedy should you be interested. Cheers!

    *Amanda: The point that you and Emily have made about all the fascinating people in hell is a good one to be sure, but I'm still trying to figure out what other reasons might explain Inferno's popularity. You'd think I'd have more of a handle on this having read the first two canticles in such quick succession!

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