Jan 27: Purgatory Hath No Fury

Today we're promised "Dante and Beatrice in Paradise." And what better day to celebrate this great love than this – the 706th anniversary of “Dante victim of political persecution in Florence”? Just on one day?

Anyway, it’s canto XXX (like on a likker jug) of the Purgatorio, for you highbrows. Today’s translation is by a Henry F. Cary about whom little is discovered, except that he finished his translation in time for it to be in the public domain by 1910. (And if they re-did the HC now, what fights they’d have about the translations!)

Our canto has an “argument” (“Beatrice descends from Heaven, and rebukes the Poet”), and that is something I miss in modern-day literature, as little as I know of it – the italicized stuff that summarizes the chapter for you. (E.g. “A conversation -- Yet Mary has different plans – A dinner of rabbit.”) They have executive summaries everywhere else, why not in literature?

This also has footnotes, whereas Burns, or the Odyssey, doesn’t. The inconsistency is a little maddening. I suppose if you read it volume by volume like you’re supposed to you don’t notice it so much.

This is going to be tough sledding:

SOON as that polar light, 1 fair ornament
Of the first Heaven, which hath never known
Setting nor rising, nor the shadowy veil
Of other cloud than sin, to duty there
Each one convoying, as that lower doth
The steersman to his port, stood firmly fix’d;
I think it's supposed to mean “morning”.

-- Hey, this is the canto where Dante has to leave Virgil behind. I think I would have spent a little more time lamenting the end of this now-classic buddy movie, but no time -- Beatrice is talking. (“I am, in sooth, I am/Beatrice.” -- just like any MC would.)

-- This thing is goddamn replete with epic similes. As a Denny’s, where the Grand Slam breakfast is placed before you, and you think, “Must I consume this entire grease-coated meal? Surely it can’t be that good for me” – so larded is the plate of the Divine Comedy with the epic simile.

-- Beatrice tears him a new one:
Soon as I had reach’d
The threshold of my second age, and changed
My mortal for immortal; then he left me,
And gave himself to others. When from flesh
To spirit I had risen, and increase
Of beauty and of virtue circled me,
I was less dear to him, and valued less.
She’s jealous. Even in heaven. It’s kind of cute. Actually, I think Dante intends for us to be on her side, but what the purgatory is he supposed to do? He's not dead. And he's still Italian.

-- Now to Canto XXXI. Here’s the summary (or, “Next week -- on Purgatorio”):

Beatrice continues her reprehension of Dante, who confesses his error, and falls to the ground; coming to himself again, he is by Matilda drawn through the waters of Lethe, and presented first to the four virgins who figure the cardinal virtues; these in their turn lead him to the Gryphon, a symbol of our Saviour; and the three virgins, representing the evangelical virtues, intercede for him with Beatrice, that she would display to him her second beauty.
And that’s exactly what happens in this Canto. I feel like an undergraduate again – the kind that doesn’t understand a single word of what’s going on, and falls upon the Cliffs’ Notes like a drowning man. Or – “as an sophomore, taking classics of world literature, does sometimes feel beset…” Ah, screw it. ("Display to him her second beauty," though -- that's a summation from more innocent times.)

-- I have nothing to say about XXXII either. The symbolism is the kind that’s immediately explained in the footnotes (plumes=donation of Constantine), so what’s to be beguiled by? Except that it’s nice he thinks so well of Beatrice that she gets such special attention in Heaven. But overall -- and I blame the translation -- it's as soporific as a similarly Roman-numeraled Super Bowl.

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