You cannot, that is, understand the Inferno without the Purgatorio and the Paradiso. On the one hand, it is an exercise that invites us to re-imagine the tradition of reading the Commedia in independent installments, in an attempt to elucidate each of the hundredths that make up the whole of the poem as a relatively if not absolutely selfstanding unit. This double hermeneutical call to interpret the canto units — as well as the contexts each completed section of the poem builds for the next — requires a fine tuning of the theoretical framework for the reading exercise, and a reconsideration of our task as readers which is perhaps best placed before we work our way through the three cantos and their interconnections.
To be sure, our enterprise is based on a set of pointed observations that have been in circulation for a while now, and which may be used as a theoretical foundation, or more modestly an operating principle, for the work at hand. The idea that there are strong elements connecting the three proemcantos of the poem or the three political cantos — those numbered vi, for instance — is not new. As we look for interconnections between distant cantos, in other words, we are also invited to consider the possibility that the layout of the poem was, for Dante, not clear from the start; in particular, that such a plan did not include the double reading perspective that we will be practicing when we read vertically.
It would be a dangerous assumption to credit Dante with a blueprint for the poem, in which the forward thrust of the narrative is also balanced by a stringent system of proleptic signposts, marking out reciprocally relating areas of the text. Objections to the interpretive validity of a vertical reading of the kind that implies the assumption of a strong authorial design are not without merit.
Admittedly, we know fairly little — almost nothing — about the compositional history of the poem and its early dissemination. When Brunetto Latini gives Dante one more warning about the imminent demise of the White Guelph party in Florence, now formulated as a personal prophecy of struggle, defeat, and exile, the protagonist provides us with what will eventually become an abandoned narrative prolexis:. In Paradiso xv, Dante does not learn about his future from Beatrice, but from Cacciaguida. The issue of timing in compositional decisions is not a moot point, and we will have to come back to questions of dating in due course.
For now it may suffice to note that such proleptic inconsistencies are indeed present in the poem. A practical interpretive decision ensues from this awareness: all phenomena detected by a vertical gaze should be studied as elements in a process unfolding in time and progressively producing sense, rather than as a set of data charged with meaning, forever residing in the semiotic reservoir of the text. In order to gauge the dynamic interplay of these elements in the cantos, we have to move, finally, into their text.
The circle is reserved for the punishment of violence against God, exerted indirectly. As Virgil explains in canto xi, this is the violence one does to things that emanate from the creator — which is to say, violence against nature and art.
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The environment here is the same as in the preceding canto, where we find the blasphemers, violent against God Himself: a barren, scorched plain, perpetually under a rain of fire, and it does not change for the next ring either. Groups of sinners run incessantly under flakes of fire that burn their aerial bodies and disfigure them almost beyond recognition.
In this most Florentine and vernacular episode, Virgil is somewhat marginalised. The matter is difficult to adjudicate, but one element that our vertical gaze brings to the fore is that language, in particular vernacular language, does indeed play an important part both in Inferno xv and in Paradiso xv. Unlike its predecessor, which revolved around a singular encounter and a pause in the narrative progress or at least a slowing down of its pace , this is a canto of transition. The canto is composed of four distinct movements. The first comprises the encounter with the angel of mercy.
The third movement is the arrival on the ledge of wrath, and the exposure of the protagonist to the new set of examples — of mercy or meekness, the virtue opposing the vice being purged on the new ledge. The examples offered through a new means of delivery — ecstatic visions — start, as is customary, with Mary, mother of Jesus. The episode encapsulated in the vision centres on the sweetness with which Mary scolds her son, whom she and Joseph had lost in the throng of pilgrims gathered in Jerusalem for the celebration of Passover.
The next two examples are from Greek history Pisistratus, tyrant of Athens of the sixth century BC and early Christian history the stoning of Saint Stephen, proto martyr, in Jerusalem. The final section of the canto consists again of a lively exchange, a conversation in which Virgil explains to Dante what he knows all too well; namely, that what the protagonist has been given are exemplary visions inciting to mercy. The canto opens with the protagonist already situated in the Heaven of Mars, where militant souls show themselves to Dante as lights forming a cross on which, mysteriously, shines Christ we have learned all this in the previous canto.
One of these martial and militant souls descends towards Dante, and the text reminds the reader of a classical parallel; namely, how Anchises came forward to welcome his son Aeneas in the Elysian Fields. Perhaps in line with the classical paradigm just evoked, the soul, adding sound to the jubilation of light and movement, pronounces a full tercet in Latin:. O poured out from above grace of God! To whom as to you has the gate of Heaven ever been twice opened? The soul is so overjoyed that the meaning of his second outburst goes beyond human understanding — and we are left to wonder if this is a question of content or of idiom.
The text begs the question, that is, whether we are meant to understand that Cacciaguida still spoke in Latin, but about incomprehensible things, or whether he said something in the language souls use in Heaven whatever that is , but the content of which was outside human grasp. In the framework of an autobiography, Cacciaguida also gives Dante a summary of their family history, a portrait of the city of Florence in his past, and a brief account of his life and death as a crusader.
The most extended section of his biographical presentation, which is taken up again in an even more extended form in the next canto, contains the description of the city. Cacciaguida here sketches the portrait of a city imagined in an idealized, peaceful, modest, socially healthy setting. First, there are issues of language, with Inferno and Paradiso concerning themselves with the relative value of the various vernaculars of Latin, and of trans-linguistic utterances. There are pointed indications that the role and authority of Virgil, the first guide in Purgatorio , and of his text, the Aeneid in Paradiso are to be subjected to certain limitations.
Most prominently, however, the three cantos contain questions surrounding civic life and concerns with models of paternity.
A vertical reading of the poem allows us to bring these recurrences into sharper focus. It also helps us to see that what recurs are elements in a cluster of ideas, connected to one another and not only each to its own repetition. The ramifications uniting these recursive connections will concern us for the rest of our reading. The connection is also literal. The connection on this point is one that is not difficult to interpret.
Readers are asked to construct an oppositional pair from the two episodes and their protagonists. After all, earthly fame is for him a viable surrogate of eternity, as his last words to Dante attest. Opposite Latini stands Cacciaguida, the fatherly martyr, fully immersed in the glory of God, yearning for, and yet peacefully awaiting in Heaven, the encounter with Dante. He stands poised to give the protagonist a new perspective on work and fame, time and eternity, martyrdom and peace. The connections that Purgatorio has with both extremes, however, should not be overshadowed.
Fathers and also, for that matter, treasures are, in fact, not absent from Purgatorio xv. It is a passage that, through the unambiguous evocation of a clear biblical antecedent, draws attention to a dichotomy in paternity. It is a passage in which we are called to recognize two fathers, the distinction between which is actually the model for the systematic opposition that the poem invites readers to perceive between Infernal and Paradisal types of paternity.
And as she fell silent here, what first appeared disappeared. Et dixit mater eius ad illum fili quid fecisti nobis sic ecce pater tuus et ego dolentes quaerebamus te. Luke 2. In the original context, Jesus replies by alluding to a different plane on which his actions may be understood.
But he did not need to include them, since they would have been embedded in the memory of his first readers. Their meaning is mysterious: the Gospel of Luke states explicitly that Mary and Joseph were unable to understand what was meant by them. But not just yet; thus far, the promise remains unfulfilled, the language obscure, a foreboding that has not become a foretelling.
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Although confined to one detail in its plot, we may see, then, that Purgatorio xv is actually not indifferent to paternity. The second macroscopic intersection between Inferno and Paradiso xv is that both cantos tell a tale of two cities. Actually, once we read them vertically, we can see that the cantos numbered fifteen tell a tale of several pairs of cities. The first level of urban analysis may be found in the tale of degeneration that is told in the poem by way of a hermeneutic suggestion.
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The vertical perspective invites readers to move backward from the Florence of the good old days that we find in Paradiso xv and xvi to the corrupt Florence of the present depicted in Inferno xv and xvi. Florence, Brunetto explains to the protagonist, is currently under the rule of the same vices diagnosed in Inferno vi by Ciacco: pride, envy and avarice, the vices of civic dissension and societal dissection. A side-by-side reading of the two passages reveals their connection:.
In the parallel speeches of Cantos vi and xv, pride may be taken as the sin typifying the Black Guelphs who preach, and frequently put into practice, an aristocratic and warlike ethos. On the other hand, greed may be taken as the sin typifying the White Guelphs who are merchants at heart and in practice, more inclined to peace negotiations than to military action.
Envy, then, would be the sin opposing each party to the other. Charles gave free rein to the Black Guelphs in their bloody campaign of proscriptions against their adversaries, one of whom was Dante himself. In the way Cacciaguida describes the Florence he was born into and that he knew growing up, we find exactly the virtues opposing the vices for which we have heard the city being indicted by Brunetto. In the triad of adjectives that he uses to describe his quasi-heavenly Florence, we can see a point-by-point response to the social vices Brunetto and Ciacco had individuated:.
The city of the past is evoked only in order to address the present. The Florence of Cacciaguida exists and is ideally visited, in order not only to elicit a reaction from the reader, but also to trigger an authentic ideological reaction in the text, precipitating a counter-model to the city of the present. Both cantos, incidentally, also have a coda, with that of Inferno xvi devoted to the noble, harmonious homosexuals that inquire about the current state of the city and lament its demise ll. There is, however, one tercet that, although only incidentally, may be brought to bear on the ethical framing of civic dissension that Dante constructs in the episodes of Brunetto and Cacciaguida.
Although the context is generally political and Purgatorio xiv had indeed contained a more pointed review of civic vices , the connection thus established is arguably tenuous.
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We should resign ourselves, perhaps, to having reached a hermeneutical dead end — and there is nothing wrong with that. In the speeches of Brunetto and Cacciaguida, there is a constant reference to Rome as the positive model to which the lost city of Florence should, but tragically fails to, conform itself. The mixing of the Roman-Florentine stock with the Fiesolani is a moment of downfall which is revisited and repeated by modern Florentines, who have allowed their city to grow too much, inviting in the populace from neighbouring towns and the countryside.
The Florence of the past and that of the present are both measured by the ideal of Rome. And Brunetto and Cacciaguida make the point rather forcefully. Brunetto twice accuses Florence of having been contaminated ab origine by the mixing of races with the people from Fiesole, the city which was guilty of having supported Catiline in his attempt to overthrow the Roman Republic as Cicero tells the story. The theme is sounded twice in a short span of lines:. Pare che ser Burnetto voglia se et Dante mettere nel numero di quelli romani.
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Ottimo commento , ad Inf. Since the siege was a long one, some Romans set up their habitations in the valley; once the Fiesolani surrendered, they were forced down the hill.
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The city of Florence was populated with them and the Roman veterans who decided to stay. The noble Romans received fields and lands confiscated from the Fiesolani rebels. This block will remain in place until legal guidance changes.