THE SIREN AND THE ADMIRAL: A CONTEST OF IDENTITY-FORMATION.
THE woman who appears to Dante in a dream first has the appearance of an old hag, with crossed eyes, crooked posture, crippled hands, and sallow complexion (vv. 7-9). Dante gazes at her, we do not know for how long, until she becomes like one revived by the sun, her tongue freed up, and then, in a very little time, her limbs straightened and her face turned to the color of love (vv. 10-15). She sings a song of herself ('"I am... I am the sweet siren who beguiles mariners on distant seas'"--my emphasis). Her song, Dante writes, would have made it "hard for me to turn aside" (v. 18). This transformation from hag to siren and from disgust to mesmerism takes place remarkably quickly, even by dream standards. Almost before we can adjust to it, a second lady triggers a transformation in the opposite direction. Before the Siren's song of herself ends and her lips close, a lady, "holy and alert," appears "in order to confound her" (v. 27). "Indignant [fieramente]" she reprimands Virgil, "O Virgil, Virgil, who is this?" (vv. 28-29). With his eyes fixed on the holy and alert lady, and her stern reprimand echoing in his ears, Virgil comes forward and tears the garments off the Siren. (5) The stench that follows exposes the Siren's witch state and wakens Dante from his dream. (This account should be compared to the description of Mary's "sweet-smelling womb" in Paradiso 23.104 and 33.7.) (6) Awake but puzzled, Dante hears Virgil say, "Three times at least I've called you. Arise and come. Let us find the opening through which you enter" (vv. 34-36). It's daylight. Dante follows Virgil but "with furrowed brow... as though burdened with a thought that bent my body like the half-arch of a bridge" (vv. 40-42). Puzzled and bent, he at last hears the "soavo e benigno" ("gentle and gracious" v.44) voice of an angel guiding him and Virgil to the opening to the fifth terrace of Purgatory, the Terrace of Greed, the first of the three Sins of Excessive Love to be purged on the upper reaches of Mount Purgatory.
IT is not difficult to imagine why the passage has attracted so much attention--more than 100 essays or book chapters, according to the Dante Online bibliography. There's much to puzzle over: a dream, with a Siren, the viewer's gaze, a reference to Ulysses, a double transformation (from hag to Siren to hag), a triple transition point (night to day, terrace to terrace, section to section), a violent exposure, and multiple associations with other parts of the Comedy, including to the previous cantos' Boethian exposition on love and free will. Despite the attention critics have given to this episode, Robert Hollander, dean of American Dante studies, has stated that it may not yet have an adequate explanation. (7)
Two trends in modern criticism seem clear: one privileges a formal analysis that sees the dream as an introduction to the Sins of Incontinence and the other favors a psychological analysis that describes the episode in post-Freudian or psycho-aesthetic terms. The first has a long history, marked by John Sinclair and Charles Singleton and carried forward in the work of Robert Hollander and many others. Singleton writes, "The witch symbolizes the triform love that is purged (is wept for) on the three terraces of upper Purgatory" (Purgatorio 455, n. 59). In his more contemporary gloss on the witch/Siren, Hollander states, "The poem itself, in the words of Virgil, tells us precisely who the stammering woman is: she represents the conjoined Sins of Excessive Love, Avarice, Gluttony, Lust--the sins of the flesh or, in the language of Dante's first cantica, the Sins of Incontinence." Hollander allows room for a more personal significance, stating that "Dante's dream, nonetheless, must surely also have specific meaning for him," hypothesizing the guilt of wrongful sexual desire, but what is most clear to Hollander is that it introduces the final set of terraces. Like others, he draws upon Virgil's words in vv. 58-59, "You saw... that ancient witch / who alone is purged with tears above us here." (8) In Hollander's view, because "above us" duplicates the Italian phrase used in 17.137 (sow' a noi), it must here, as there, refer to the category of sins purged in the final three terraces of Mount Purgatory. Hence "that ancient witch" becomes a kind of emblem for the Sins of Excessive Love. The passage's other possible meaning, that the ancient witch is associated with the fifth terrace, which is immediately above them, is not so much rejected as ignored.
The second trend, towards psychological analysis, is summarized by Guy Raffa in Danteworlds. Raffa offers two explanatory frameworks for understanding this episode: the tradition of Psychomachia, "in which," he writes, "internal conflicts receive external forms," and a psychoanalytic interpretation in which the witch/Siren corresponds to the Id, the saintly and alert woman to the Superego, and Virgil to the managing Ego (179). Particular examples of a Freudian framework can be seen in recent work by Zygmunt Baranski and Jeremy Tambling, and of a psychomachia framework in work by Giuseppe Mazzotta. Baranski argues that the dream is at least as much retrospective (hence he differs with Hollander's standard interpretation, given above) as prospective. He refers to Freud's assertion that "in every dream it is possible to find a point of contact with the experiences of the previous day" and ties the dream of Canto 19 to Dante's experience in Canto 18 and the confusion that troubled him in the moments before sleep. Baranski notes, "As in psychoanalysis, the signifiers of the pilgrim's dreams are the means to 'disentangle' his fears, desires, and knowledge" (228). (9) In Dante in Purgatory: States of Affect, Jeremy Tambling, whose approach has been described as "[g]enerally speaking... psychoanalytic and deconstructive," analyzes the way affect disrupts and destabilizes self-control (Stone 348). Taking his lead from Maurice Blanchot, Tambling interprets the Siren's appearance in Dante's dream as "the power of fascination" that lies "outside rational self-control and can't finally be repressed by it" (155). Working more within the tradition of Psychomachia, Giuseppe Mazzotta states that the two women take on "the shape of an allegorical psychomachia," standing for "two antithetical impulses of the mind or two personae of a spiritual drama" (143). Noting Charles Grandgent's suggestion that the Siren's "sweet voice" constitutes a specifically poetic temptation (139-40), Mazzotta extends the idea of psychomachia to include "two alternate ways of viewing poetry and viewing oneself," hence following a psycho-aesthetic approach to the dream (144). What's important for us to notice, at this early stage, is that both the psychomachia framework, at least as described by Raffa and Mazzotta, and the psychoanalytic framework emphasize internal states of affairs.
THREE anomalies trouble the modern tendency to explicate the witch/Siren episode through formal or psychological analysis alone. The first anomaly concerns the identification of the Siren as an emblem of the Sins of Incontinence that will be purged in the three remaining terraces. It is difficult to see, for example, what relationship the episode has to the Sixth Terrace of Gluttony. It doesn't easily cover all three sins. On the other hand, it cannot easily be separated from the Sins of Perverted Love purged on the first three terraces of Dante's purgatory or the sin of insufficient love purged on the fourth. For example, the Siren's opening boast, "I am... I am the sweet Siren" [Io son... io son dolce serena] reflects pride and blasphemy more than any of the three Sins of Incontinence. Her transformation from old hag to siren connects the episode to fraud, the sin worse than violence in Dante's Inferno. The enervation she effects also connects to sloth, or insufficiency of love.
Put simply, the Siren is too dangerous to represent only the sins of the flesh. At the very least, those who take this approach should follow Olivia Holmes's qualifying remark that "the whole is also greater than the parts, and the Siren can stand for all of the vices" (63). The Siren can be read forward, but should also be read backwards to the "mal amor''' ("evil love") which Dante is told at the base of the mountain "makes the crooked way seem straight" (10.3). (10) If W.B. Stanford is right to refer the canto's opening astrological reference of Fortuna Major to the figure of a Y representing Hercules's choice, then the episode is more likely about the radical choice of a way of life than about restraining an excessive love. Stanford writes that the astrological reference to Hercules's choice "symbolizes the choice that a young man must make when he comes to choose his way of life" (88). In the early Christian world, the Siren was often identified with the dangers of classical learning (360-62). Hugo Rahner states that from the time of Homer through the early Christian period the Siren represented both "deadly lust and deadly knowledge" (354). Both classical and early Christian backgrounds, then, suggest that a way of life may be at stake. (11)
Second, the ambiguous role of Virgil in this episode complicates psychological analysis. All twentieth- and twenty-first-century commentators agree that the "saintly and alert" lady's strong reprimand is addressed to him, not Dante, making him seem as confused as Dante and perhaps more culpable. Though Virgil will once again become the masterful instructor later in the canto, in the narrative of Dante's dream he qualifies neither as managing ego nor as winnowing will. His role is not clear enough to symbolize just one aspect of the mind, certainly not that of the managing ego.
Third, neither the formal nor the psychological approach takes into account the episode's fit with the steadily communal involvement in liturgical practices that characterizes Dante's Purgatory. If the dream of the Siren is in part about self-absorption, then that should be read in relation to Purgatory's efforts to break down the isolation that characterizes Hell. Dante's enervation must have some relation to the communities of laggard Israelites and irresolute Trojans referenced at the end of Canto 18 and so, too, to their counterparts in the throng of zealous ones calling out the name of Mary and of Julius Caesar. Emilio Pasquini supposes that the episode also points forward to the lancing of Florence's swollen paunch in the following canto on greed (20. 73-75), which symbolizes the corruption of the commune destroyed by treachery (191-92; qtd. in Scott 281). It does not seem likely that Dante has a momentary lapse of interest in the civic or communal element of identity-formation.
What happens if we approach the episode from a different angle, loosening its status as prelude to the Sins of Incontinence by attending both to a more immediate and a more global context and then placing the image of the Siren within the broader movement of reprimand and consolation of which it is part?
HOLLANDER follows Singleton in interpreting the Siren as an emblem of the Sins of Incontinence purged in the final three terraces of Mount Purgatory. This interpretation is based on the repetition of "above us" in Virgil's statement, "You saw... that ancient witch /who alone is purged with tears above us here" (19.58-59). This is the same prepositional phrase used by Virgil in Canto 17 when referring to the excessive love (incontinence) purged on Mount Purgatory. It "is mourned above us in three circles" (17.137). Since the Siren episode
occupies a liminal position in Dante's 3-1-3 structure to the terraces of Mount Purgatory, and since the three dreams each come at an important stage in Dante's progression up the mountain, this reading has seemed plausible to almost all critics. But the dreams could be important events in Dante's three-day journey without giving a map of his experience. Grammatically, the phrase "above us" (sovr' a noi) could as easily refer to the first terrace above Virgil and Dante, to which we see them ascend in the next three tercets (vv.61-70), as to the group of three terraces that remain. Paying closer atttention to the more immediate context for the episode (the transition from the Terrace of Sloth to the Terrace of Greed) will loosen the episode's connection to the final category of sins purged on the next three terraces.
The end of Canto 18 (still in the Terrace of Sloth) and the last third of Canto 19 (in the Terrace of Greed) fit the witch/Siren episode like bookends, suggesting that Sloth and Greed pertain to the episode more directly than does the triad of Lust, Gluttony, and Greed. Near the end of Canto 18, a former abbot of St. Zeno laments that the present abbot will "in place of its true shepherd" place "one who was unsound of body and, / still more, of mind, and born in sin--his son" (vv. 124-26). This attention to unsound body and mind prepares us for Dante's dream image of the witch. The passage's further reference to true and false shepherding provides a religious and political context for the dream, as does the canto's concluding reference to the Israelites' desert exodus and the Trojans' watery exile, Jerusalem and Troy being the religious and political antecedents to Rome, respectively. The final third of Canto 19 also pulls our reading of the witch/Siren episode into a larger social and political context. Its figure of the repentant pope answers to the figure of the deformed abbot at the end of Canto 18. Pope Adrian V states that he had discovered "/a vita bugiarda" (the life full of lies) once he had to carry the heavy mantle of the Roman shepherd (19. 108).
As Singleton notes, Adrian's explanation of his earlier avaricious life echoes Dante's description of avarice in the Convivio:
And it is in this fashion that riches are dangerously imperfect in their growth; for, submitting certain things to us which they promise, they actually bring the contrary. The false traitoresses ever promise to make him who gathers them full of satisfaction when they have been amassed up to a certain sum; and with this promise they lead the human will to the vice of avarice. And this is why Boethius in the Consolation calls them perilous, saying: "Ah, me, who was he who first dug out the weights of hidden gold, and the stones that sought to hide themselves, those precious perils?" The false traitoresses promise... [my emphases]. (4.12. xii.3-5, noted in Singleton 461-62, n. 109)
The emphasis on avarice as a "traitoress" fits both Pope Adrian's description of the "life full of lies" and the Abbot of St. Zeno's statement that a deformed abbot now stands "in the place of its true shepherd" (18.126). These bookend passages connect to the witch/Siren episode more clearly and powerfully than does the group of three terraces purging Lust, Gluttony, and Greed. These passages also fit in a particular way. When Pope Adrian twice refers to the justice required by the giusto Sire ("just Lord"--vv. 125-26), this justice contrasts, both in concept and sound, with the serena (Siren) whose language (Io son... io son) usurps God's "I am that I am." Such a context not only frames the witch/Siren dream episode but also fits the overall design of the Commedia as a book about love and justice. As Ferrante says, "Dante sees almost all vice and virtue in terms of their effects on others and, therefore, cannot separate personal morality from the public context" (199). Love and justice provide the right context for viewing the episode of the witch/Siren. Both concern public as well as personal life.
Attention to the bookend narratives of the Abbot of St. Zeno and of Pope Adrian leads us to question the traditional view of the witch/Siren as emblem of the Sins of Incontinence. Her appearance in Dante's dream seems more to span than to separate the fourth and fifth terraces. It raises questions of misdirected, not only excessive, love. Once we loosen the categorical tie between the witch/Siren episode and the Sins of Incontinence, broader contexts come into focus. I have already stated that the Siren's speech and appearance have strong connections to the sins of pride and fraud--to the proud blasphemy of Capaneus in Inferno 14, for example, and to the deceit of Geryon and false counsel of Ulysses in Inferno 17 and 26. Once her appearance is no longer limited to the category of excessive love, the Siren's pride can also be contrasted to the exemplars of humility in Purgatorio 10, God's sculptures, so realistic they seem to speak. The attitude of God's "Mary" contrasts as sharply as possible with the self-assertion of the Siren's song:
for she as well was pictured there who turned the key to love on high. And in her attitude imprinted were the words: 'Ecce Ancilla Dei' as clearly as a figure stamped in wax. (vv. 41-45)
The attitude of God's sculpted Mary bespeaks the words "Behold the handmaiden of God," claiming Ancilla Dei instead of the Siren's Io son... Io son. Contrasting the soundless speech of Mary and the boastful speech of the Siren fits the argument Holmes makes that the Comedy repeatedly places the pilgrim and his readers in a position to choose between two beloveds.
Holmes, in fact, sees the Dream of the Siren as a kind of miniature of Dante's overall interest. Taking her cue from Giuseppina Mezzadroli, she claims that "the dream's implicit pattern of departure and return, illness and recovery, reflects in distorted form... the plot of the entire Commedia" (67). Holmes locates this pattern especially in "the archetypal scheme of one lady--a Wisdom-figure--driving out an enticing rival or set of rivals" (54). She shows the persistence of this scheme throughout Dante's corpus and in the tradition that lies behind it (including Brunetto Latini, Alan of Lille, Boethius, and various books of the Bible). Of special interest to my argument is the close connection between Drittura (Justice or Rectitude) and Wisdom. Holmes points out that Dante first makes this connection in his "definitive canzone on exile [Around My Heart Three Ladies Have Descended']" (55) but also "incorporates [this same connection] into the Commedia by having the pilgrim see it spelled in lights across the Heaven of Jupiter (Paradiso 18.91-93)" (56). What lights up the heaven of Jupiter is the incipit to the book of Wisdom, "Diligite iustitiam qui iudicatis terram" (Love justice, you who judge the earth).
The identification of wisdom with justice may also be at work in the second half of Canto 19, where "justice" is named by Dante once (v. 77) and by Pope Adrian three times (vv. 120, 123, and 125). This places the giusto Sire named near the end of the canto in sharp contrast to the false semblance of the Siren at its beginning. (12) This contrast may also be seen in the imagined straightening of the Siren's limbs at the beginning of the canto ("e poscia tutta la drizzava in poco d'ora" vv. 13-14) and Pope Adrian's actual command to Dante, near the end, to straighten his limbs ("Drizza le gambe, levati su, fratel" v. 133). This contrast between a haughty straightening and one based on common service fits Holmes's claim that the Dream of the Siren is a kind of miniature of Dante's overall theme of departure and return, illness and recovery, again suggesting that the Siren episode is more than an introduction to the Sins of Incontinence.
The Siren episode's placement at the end of the Terrace of Sloth also connects it to Inferno 1, where the pilgrim is "full of sleep" and "leaving the straight path" (vv. 11-12). The theme of wandering and correction also recalls the "mal amor" (evil love) of Purgatorio 10, which "makes the crooked way seem straight." Virgil's instruction to Dante to "Raise your eyes to the lure / the Eternal King whirls with His majestic spheres" (19. 62-3) and the famous falcon image that follows (64-69) recall earlier instances in the poem where the falcon and lure image describes a misdirected desire. At the midpoint of the Inferno (17.127-36), for example, Geryon, emblem of fraud, is described as being like the falcon that lands, "angry and sullen, far from its master" (v. 132). In the Purgatorio, the Envious are criticized for succumbing to "the old adversary" (l'antico avversaro), keeping their eyes on the earth rather than the lure of heaven (14.143-51). The Siren's "beguiling" song also fits Marco Lombardo's charge that "failed guidance / is the cause the world is steeped in vice" (16.103-04). In the lines that follow, Marco applies this statement to Rome's conflation of ecclesial and political power (106-14). Misdirection is not only an individual but also a public matter. It is larger and more dangerous than the Sins of Excessive Love.
Once we broaden the scope of Dante's dream beyond the sins of the flesh, not only images and themes we have just considered but also a network of verbal actions comes into focus. Attending to these verbal actions keeps us close to the movement of the poem while keeping source studies and the interpretation of symbols flexible. The actions of reprimand and consolation are closely related to the thematic patterns of departure and return, illness and recovery that, Holmes states, characterize "the plot of the entire Commedia" (67). We can group the holy and alert woman's stern speech with similarly strong reprimands from Virgil, Cato, and Beatrice:
--Virgil to Dante in Inferno 2, "If I have rightly comprehended this, /.../ your spirit has been seized by cowardice" (vv. 43-45). --Cato to Virgil and Dante and others who have stopped to listen to Casella's song in Purgatorio 2, "What is this, you laggard spirits? What negligence, what stay is this?" (vv. 120-21) --Beatrice to Dante in Purgatorio 30, "Dante, because Virgil leaves you, do not weep yet, do not weep yet, for you must weep for another sword!" (vv. 55-56). (13)
These three verbal actions sting the pilgrim, and correct the turning aside or delaying to which he is prone. The saintly woman matches the dignity and sense of justice that Cato showed: she is onesta (19. 30) to his onesto (2. 119). (14) Her "Who is this?" (chi e questa? 19.28) answers to and strengthens his "What is this?" (Che e ciol 2.120). Their reprimands might fairly be classified as the rebuke of justice, warning against the seductive power of self-indulgent song or of false beauty, much as Virgil had warned, in Inferno 2, against self-serving fear. Dante, as dreamer/creator, requires such reprimand again. He seems closer to a willful Pygmalion--not the brother of Dido mentioned in Canto 20, but the mythical figure Ovid writes about in Metamorphoses 10. 243-98, who falls in love with his own creation and gazes at her in hopes she will speak--than to God's artistry, which figures forth a Mary figure who seems to voice the words "Ecce Ancilla Dei" (10. 44). (15)
The "holy and alert" woman's stern speech ifieramente dicea) also anticipates Beatrice's initial appearance as stern admiral in Canto 30. (16) As admiral, Beatrice, on our and Dante's first sighting, is described as "disdainful" (proterva) in attitude (v. 70), "speaking hotly" (caldo parlar v. 72). Even after Beatrice finally moves from admiral to mother (v. 79), she is still described as seeming "harsh" (superba) and having "the savor of stern pity" (la pietade acerba), with speech whose sharp point is turned against Dante (31.3). The new love Dante glimpses in the garden at the top of Mount Purgatory, as Canto 30 makes shockingly clear, first requires correction of the old, the "counterfeits of goodness" that he had followed (imagini di ben seguendo false--30.131). Singleton glosses this passage as recalling the dream of the "ancient witch" (antica Strega) in Purgatorio 19. Indeed, Canto 30 seems obsessed by the contrast between the new and the old, with antico amor (v. 39), antica fiamma (v. 48), and antica matre (v. 52), suggesting that Dante's loyalty needs to shift from the ancient love, flame, and mother to the new. These "ancients" all carry some of the taint of the antico avversaro of Purgatorio 11.19-21 and 14.145-47. At stake here are not only two states of mind but also two sets of loyalty.
THE dream episode has received so much attention by itself that the liturgical weight of the canto has often been ignored. (17) But the canto pits a more democratized society against the egocentrism of the Siren just as the liturgical elements in the Purgatorio pit community against the isolated individualism of Hell. The element in the canto that most obviously bears liturgical weight, which by definition concerns identity-formation, is the fourth of seven Beatitudes spoken on Mount Purgatory, "Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted" (Matt. 5.5). (The Qui lugent is spoken in church Latin while the rest of the beatitude is summarized in Italian.) The consolation seems equally appropriate for the prior slothful, as Singleton and Hollander suggest in their notes, and for those whose greed is being purged above (see the reference to tears or weeping at vv. 59, 72, 91, and 140 and to sighs at v. 74). It also fits Dante pilgrim, who feels on his pulses the holy lady's sharp rebuke and shares the penitents' bent posture (v. 42).
There are other liturgical elements as well: the two other Latin tags, for example, with the penitents together confessing Psalm 118.25, "Adhaesit pavimento anima mea" ("my soul cleaves to the earth" v. 73) and Pope Adrian reciting Christ's "Neque nubent" ("nor do they marry" v. 137). A fourth Latin tag, "scias quod ego fui successor Petri" ("know that I was a successor of Peter" v. 99) may contribute to the liturgical feel of the canto, the papal Latin interrupting the Italian text once more, but doesn't share the communal character of the first three. There may be other liturgical elements, too. Pope Adrian's "non s'acquetava il core" ("the heart not at peace" v. 109) answers to the well-known "For we are restless until we find our rest in Thee, O Lord" with which Augustine begins his Confessions. Virgil's reprimand and command at v. 35 ("Three times at least I've called you. Arise and come") has multiple strong biblical precedents, both in the New and Old Testaments, including Isaiah's "Arise, shine, for your light has come" (60.1). Already we anticipate the communal force of Pope Adrian's statement to Dante near the end of the canto, "make no mistake. I am a fellow-servant / with you, and with the others, of a single Power" (vv. 134-35, my emphasis).
Virgil's reprimand of Dante merits longer consideration. Mattalia refers it to Matthew 9.5-6 and Christ's command to the paralyzed man to "Get up and walk." Hollander finds Matthew 26.36-46 to be a more likely source: Christ's complaint to the disciples when they could not stay awake in the garden at Gethsemane. Hollander explains, "Jesus three times leaves his disciples in Gethsemane in order to pray in a place apart and three times comes back to find them sleeping, finally arousing them with 'Surgite, eamus' (Rise, let us be going), for His betrayal (by Judas) is at hand." Hollander concludes, "Lost in his dream, Dante is like the disciples who sleep while their Lord suffers alone" (397-98, n.34-35). Hollander's gloss has the advantage of keeping "three times" and "Surgi e vieni" ("Arise and come") together. But Virgil's position hardly parallels the position of Christ in Gethsemane. If we allow the grammatical divider, the attribute "dicea" to put some space between the two halves of the sentence, then it is Peter's triple denial of Christ that comes to the foreground. It is predicted before the Golgotha passage and fulfilled after it (Matthew 26 vv.31-35 and 69-75). The angel's "qui lugent" (v. 50), which Scott calls "the most puzzling citation" of the Beatitudes in the Purgcitorio, also fits the sorrowing Peter better than the tired disciples, since the gospel states that Peter, after being brought to his senses by the rooster's crow, "went outside and wept bitterly" (Matthew 26.75. Also see Mark 14.72 and Luke 22.62). (18) The prophecy and fulfillment of Peter's triple denial also reflect more closely the theme of identity and betrayal implicit in the holy and alert lady's indignant question, "Who is this?"
The story of Peter includes not only his triple denial and his repentance but also the reconciliation and re-commissioning that follow Christ's resurrection. Three times Christ asks, "Peter, do you love me?" and three times commands "Feed my sheep" (John 21.15-17). The post-Resurrection question and re-commissioning follow the Old Testament pattern of reprimand and consolation that we have found at work in Canto 19. The re-commissioning also recalls the original commissioning of Peter ("On this rock I will build my church") after Peter's bold response to Jesus's question, "But who do you say I am?" (Matthew 16.18). These questions of identity and identity-formation also line up well with the question of true or false shepherding in Purgatorio 18.126, and with Pope Adrian's statement that he was the successor Petri in 19.99.
The question of identity posed by the holy and alert lady's question, "Who is this?," also figures importantly in a second narrative about Peter, this one the narrative in Acts 10 of the vision that wakened Peter to the democratizing work of the gospel. In his dream, a large sheet filled with all kinds of animals and birds is lowered from heaven and Peter is commanded to "Get up (Surge). Kill and eat." Peter answers that he never has and never will eat anything unclean, to which a voice responds that nothing can be impure that God has made clean. This happens three times (10.16), after which the sheet is immediately drawn back to heaven. A little later in the story, when Peter arrives at the house of the Roman centurion, and Cornelius "[falls] at his feet in reverence" (10.25), Peter tells him the same thing that Pope Adrian says at the end of Canto 19, namely, to rise to his feet since they both worship the same God (10.26). If there is a biblical narrative behind Virgil's reprimand and command at v. 35 ("Three times at least I've called you. Arise and come"), it is more likely to be the narrative of Peter than of the lame man or sleepy disciples. He also is a more apt counterpart to Ulysses and, despite his strong individuality, is never separate from the question of the church.
Adrian's command "to straighten your legs" ("drizza le gambe") continues Canto 19's emphasis on straightening as an image of justice. (One finds variations of drizza in vv. 13, 78, and 133, and of giustizia in vv. 120, 123, and 125). Near the middle of the canto, the two go together when Virgil asks the pilgrims on the new terrace, "O chosen ones of God, whose sufferings / both hope and justice (giustizia) make less hard, / direct (drizzata) us to the steps that lead us up" (76-78). Here giustizia and drizzata are so close that justice seems to drive the pilgrims' progress. In her work on "Postures of Penitence in Dante's Purgatorio" Heather Webb helps connect this canto's emphasis on justice and straightening, or re-direction, to the reader as well as Dante. Webb writes, "A dense, multilayered system of models works to bring the individual penitent soul in Purgatory to imitate certain postures or attitudes of prayer: the text seeks not only to describe these effects but also to propagate them in the reader, transforming her from passive spectator to a choral performer in the vast devotional drama that is Purgatorio" (221). The reader, too, should hear the Surgi e viene as a call to pursue again the way of justice, to form a new or renewed community. This point is also made in recent work by Marc Cogan on habit-formation and by Peter Hawkins on the re-writing of the pilgrims' desires and actions along the terraces of Purgatory. (19) We see, in contrast to the Inferno, how liturgical the symbolic network of Scripture and preaching and of art and architecture is in Dante's Purgatory, and how social. The purgations found on each terrace help the pilgrims, curved into themselves, to turn instead toward God, justice, and community.
The pilgrims' practices suggest a different context for art, more anthropological in nature than the psychological and epistemological contexts we often assume. So does Dante's sense of vocation. Beatrice tells him in Purgatorio 32.103-05 that the visions afforded him are "for the profit of the world that lives ill" (136). In Paradiso 17.133-35, Cacciaguida tells him "to make manifest all that he has beheld, to let his cry be as the wind upon the mountain top, like the prophet's voice in Isaiah 40.9." (Singleton glosses grido ["cry"] as "used here in something of the meaning of a 'public proclamation.'") This sense of public proclamation for the sake of the world pulls our reading of the witch/Siren episode towards a civic as well as a personal significance. So does the end of Canto 18, where the Trojans' exile and the Israelites' exodus are taken together and Caesar and Mary represent the slothful ones' active counterparts. Their personal and civic significance seem inseparable.
THERE is nothing automatic about the exposed woman receiving scorn. Sometimes, in Dante, it is the one who exposes her who is scorned. In the Convivio, for example, the garment of Justice (Drittura) hangs in tatters, so that even the part of her body "which it is decent not to name" is exposed by humankind's greed. (Avarice is, Barbara Reynolds states, "the vice [Dante] has come to regard as the most destructive of all." (20)) In Paradiso 27, the mother's garment is torn by her unjust child, an image used earlier by Alan of Lille to describe the disrespectful treatment of Nature by humankind, in Plaint of Nature Prose 4.131 and Prose 6.170, where Man is accused of being lured by Siren-like lovers to the shipwreck of idolatry. (21) So sometimes it is not the woman but the one who tears her garment who represents injustice or greed or idolatry. In the two instances cited, it is not a matter of mind alone but of humankind's rebellion against the life-giving justice or Nature that the woman represents.
In Purgatorio 19, however, the exposed woman is charged with wrongdoing since she beguiles Dante and Virgil--as she had beguiled Ulysses and others--interrupting their ascent to God. The action and speech surrounding the Siren link her to an Old Testament image, as Cervigni points out, though without identifying the image of the unfaithful woman with Jerusalem or describing the image's social and political force (147). (22) Both major and minor prophets refer to an idolatrous Jerusalem as a bride turned prostitute, reprimanded and exposed by her divine lover. This biblical connection fits the tenor of this section of Dante's poem. Christopher Kleinhenz comments that of the over 300 biblical quotations or parallels that earlier criticism had tracked in the Comedy, "Dante's poetics of [biblical] allusion" is especially strong in this middle section of the Purgatorio (87). What Kleinhenz calls "Dante's imitative prophetic voice" is intrinsic to what Singleton refers to as "the pattern of thought" available to Dante (73) and his late medieval audience. I think we can specify a strain of this "prophetic voice" or "pattern of thought" as reprimand and consolation.
The image of Jerusalem as bride turned prostitute, found in Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Etosea, Nahum, and Joel in the Old Testament, and repeated in the Book of Revelations, puts love and politics, justice and desire, in the context of Israel's faithful or unfaithful relationship to God. In Jeremiah 13, for example, the image is related to the king and queen (18), to "missing leaders" (21) and, finally, to "Jerusalem" (27), stand-in for Israel. Though described in terms of adultery and lust (27), the sin is breaking covenant by trusting in false gods (25). (The connection between lust and idolatry is made explicit in Wisdom 14.12, "The devising of idols is the beginning of fornication" [qtd. in Holmes 60], and also in Jeremiah 1-4.) Because of Jerusalem's unfaithfulness, God will "pull up her skirts over her face" and expose her shame (26). The Book of Ezekiel puts the case against Jerusalem even more strongly since it emphasizes her original state as an unloved orphan "thrown out into the open field" but rescued by God (16.5). As in Purgatorio 19, there is a double movement from dishevelment to beauty and from beauty to exposure--for Jerusalem has sought her security in foreign lands and sacrificed sons and daughters to the images of false gods (16.21-29).
The image of the exposed woman becomes more personal in Hosea, where the prophet is commanded to marry an adulterous woman and "to love her as I, the Lord, love the Israelites, although they resort to other gods" (3.1). The image is both more graphic and more civic in Nahum, where we read, "the alluring mistress of sorcery... by her harlotry and sorceries beguiled nations and peoples." Nahum continues, "T am against you,' declares the Lord Almighty. T will lift your skirts over your face. I will show the nations your nakedness and the kingdoms your shame'" (3.4-5). What's at stake is whether the people of God will be faithful or not, and what implications that has for their society. When Isaiah employs the same image and makes the same connection between an unfaithful love and an unjust nation, he includes a reference to smell like that in Canto 19: "Instead of perfume there will be the stench of decay" (3.24). The prophet Joel also refers to evil as a "stench and foul smell" (2.20). The stench of evil contrasts with the sweet smell of Mary's womb, a commonplace Dante refers to in Paradiso 23.104 and 33.7.
Though the Old Testament images are most important for our understanding of a biblical context for the witch/Siren episode, the same image enters John's description in Revelations of a vision received from an angel of the Lord. The angel gives "the verdict on the great whore, she who is enthroned over many waters" (17.1). After granting the vision, the angel also interprets it: "The waters you saw, where the great whore sat enthroned, represent nations, populations, races, and languages" and "The woman you saw is the great city that holds sway over the kings of the earth" (vv. 15, 18). They "will come to hate the whore. They will strip her naked and leave her destitute"(v. 16). In the New Testament, too, the unfaithful woman represents a civic life gone astray, a sophisticated but unjust society exposed.
In all but one of these instances, consolation follows reprimand. In Jeremiah, for example, God says, "Surely I will deliver you for a good purpose; surely I will make your enemies plead with you" (15.11). In Ezekiel, Jerusalem is consoled within the same verse that delivers God's reprimand: "I will deal with you as you deserve, because you have despised my oath by breaking the covenant. Yet I will remember the covenant I made with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish an everlasting covenant with you" (16.59-60). The whole book of Hosea centers around the charge (Ch. 4) and judgment (Ch. 5) that God brings against Israel. Yet, after the final chapter's call for repentance, God says, "I will heal their waywardness and love them freely for my anger has turned away from them" (14.4). Only in Nahum, where it is Nineveh that is imaged as "the mistress of sorceries," does consolation not follow closely upon reprimand. These are the same patterns of speech we see in Purgatorio 19, where an angel comforts Dante after the "holy and alert" woman's sharp reprimand, and also in Purgatorio 30, where a chorus of angels follows Beatrice's stern reprimand with their singing of a psalm of consolation so that, Dante says, "the ice that had confined my heart / was turned to breath and water" (vv. 97-98).
Placed against a backdrop of the Old Testament prophets and their criticism of an idolatrous Jerusalem, the Siren of Canto 19 looks as if she is more than a representation of the mind or an emblem of the Sins of Incontinence. She is involved with questions of identity-formation that pertain both to individual and to community: what will you love and what will you resist? The reprimand and consolation that surround her follow the typical movement of the major and minor prophets' imaging of Jerusalem as faithless and exposed spouse. Having moved beyond Cervigni's source study to the movement of the texts and their socio-political significance, can we posit historical as well as thematic continuity between these biblical texts and Dante's Siren episode?
THE interwoven threads described in the previous three sections suggest that Virgil's "Rise" and "Come" refer to more than the movement from the Terrace of Sloth to the three Terraces of Incontinence. More is at stake than that. The classical image of the Siren tilts toward an Old Testament pattern of thought, both in the reprimand and exposure by the "holy and alert" woman and in the Siren's opening stream of song, "Zo son... io son" a classical blasphemy like Capaneus's in Inferno 14 of God's "I am that I am." The Siren usurps God's language and twists the desires of those who "get used to" or "dwell" with her (e meco s'ausa v.23). They must be corrected, but also consoled ("for their souls shall be comforted [di consolar]" v.51). (23) The angel's suave e benigno ("gentle and gracious") speech (44) follows the reprimand of the santa e presta lady (26). The movement matches the movement in the Old Testament passages imaging Jerusalem as faithless and exposed woman.
The same questions of deception, reprimand, and consolation travel through the early Christian tradition, as is clear in the work of Boethius, Augustine, and Prudentius. Boethius's sixth-century Consolation of Philosophy, everywhere present in the previous three cantos' discussion of love and free will, includes a reprimand remarkably like that of Dante's "holy and alert" lady. In the Consolation, a lady appears just as suddenly on the scene, interrupting Boethius's friendship with the poetic muses. (24) Boethius writes that when this lady saw the Muses of Poetry at his bedside dictating words that would give expression to his tears, she grew angry and asked who gave them access to the man:
"Who," she demanded, her piercing eyes alight with fire, "has allowed these hysterical sluts to approach this sick man's bedside? They have no medicine to ease his pains, only sweetened poisons to make them worse.... They habituate men to their sickness of mind instead of curing them.... Sirens is a better name for you and your deadly enticements: be gone, and leave him for my own Muses to heal and cure." (36)
Casting the Muses of Poetry as Sirens, Lady Philosophy opposes their "sweetened poisons" with the "cure of the soul" tradition begun at least as early as Plato's Gorgias, which took justice in the soul to be equivalent to medicine for the body. (25)
Lady Philosophy's contrast between the false Muses of Poetry and her own true Muses, who give opportunity "to heal and cure" (54), anticipates Dante's contrast between the Siren's idolatrous pride and the "holy and alert" woman. This is also parallel to the contrast we marked, above, between the status of handmaiden that God's sculpted image of Mary seems to claim (Canto 10) and the blasphemous claim that comes from Dante's dream creation. (26) In On Christian Doctrine, Augustine had also used the image of the handmaiden to describe the proper role for rhetoric (4.6.10, p. 124). When true, Boethius and Augustine agree, music and rhetoric should resemble Mary's willingness to serve. When false, they call attention only to themselves. (27)
The image of the Siren enters Augustine's early defense of the church against the Manicheans. (28) Defending Christians against the charge that they worshipped tombs and pictures, Augustine challenges the Manicheans to compare their fasts, dress, food, and self-restraint, their charity and their precepts, with those of the church: "Then you will see the difference," he says, "between... the sirens of superstition and the harbor of religion" (Schaff 34.74). Dante may not have known Augustine's early work, but he certainly would have known the driving force behind the image, that is, the sharp contrast between true and false semblance from the Confessions. (29) Augustine describes a classical rhetorical education as "alluring pleasures" (1.15) and names the distinctive curtains of the Schools of Literature (1.13) "a covering for error [tegimentum erroris]."" The image of a cloak soon changes to that of a powerful river, and then ocean, as Augustine worries that through our education false human custom infiltrates our lives below the level of consciousness:
But how one must condemn the river of human custom! Who can stand firm against it? When will it ever dry up? How long will it continue to sweep the sons of Eve into that huge and fearful ocean which can scarcely be passed even by those who have the mark of the Cross upon their sails? Was it not here, in this stream of custom, that I read of Jupiter thundering at one moment and committing adultery the next? (1.16)
The water imagery repeated here--river, ocean, stream--continues into the next paragraph. Augustine writes, "Nevertheless into this hellish river of custom the sons of men are hurled, and much money is spent on acquiring this learning." This river of custom, the deep undertow of a classical rhetorical education, does not sing like the Siren, but, remarkably, it does talk: "[T]his river of custom dashes against the rocks and roars out: 'This is where you can learn words. This is where you can learn that art of eloquence which is so essential for gaining your own ends and for expressing your own opinions'" (1.16).
In Confessions Book Three, we again see Augustine's sharp distinction between appearance and truth, this time described in terms of a seductress, if not yet named a Siren. Augustine writes, "I stumbled upon that bold woman [mulierem audacem] devoid of prudence in Solomon's allegory [of Folly]; she was sitting outside on her stool and inviting me: Come and enjoy eating bread in secret, and drink sweet, stolen water [Proverbs 9:17]. She seduced me because she found me living outside, in my carnal eyes, and ruminating within myself only on what I had devoured through them" (3.6). Augustine's Confessions suggests the danger from which Dante must disengage (Virgil's "Rise and come"): the untoward gaze is a kind of self-absorption associated with eloquence and injustice that slips in with our education, often under the level of consciousness, and there threatens to undo us, leaving a self that is "living outside" itself. This can happen even to those "who have the mark of the Cross upon their sails." Hugo Rahner summarizes the myth of the Sirens in a way that incorporates many of the elements of Augustine's description: "the myth [of the Sirens] became for the Christian an expression of the belief he so passionately held, the belief that while he was on his journey to the port of eternity, he was in the throes of a decision, the issues of which were life or death. True, he sailed in the good ship of the Church, but a 'shipwreck of the faith' was still possible, for the all-knowing Sirens still threatened" (364-65).
Prudentius also helps us picture the early Christian tradition's understanding of deception, reprimand, and consolation. We have seen that Guy Raffa lists the tradition of Psychomachia as one of the explanatory frameworks for our understanding of the Siren episode. He describes "psychomachia" as "internal conflicts receiving] external forms." Mazzotta describes it similarly as standing for "two antithetical impulses of the mind or two personae of a spiritual drama." Though this matches the popular understanding of psychomachia, recent Prudentius criticism has recovered the civic character of the poem. Prudentius honors but also challenges a pagan Roman tradition by making his Virtues and Vices speak in a Virgilian epic language, the language of empire. He also draws on Old Testament and Roman history in ways that are not easily allegorized as mental states. In his Virgilian language and in his use of history, Prudentius presents, as Marc Mastrangelo puts it, "a renewed concept of self and its relation to the political community and the world" (4).
The Psychomachia becomes relevant to our discussion because its hand-to-hand combats between the Vices and Virtues sometimes shift from straight-forward struggles to scenes of disguise and discernment, and from single combatants to whole societies. (?)" Through Indulgence's dissimulation, for example, "a band once invincible [was] being lost without shedding of blood" (303). Soberness, "like the good leader she is," rallies her troops by placing the standard of the cross at their head "and with biting words restores her unsteady regiment, mingling appeals with her reproaches to awake their courage" (303). Her speech has a strong note of social identification: "Remember who ye are," she says, "remember Christ too." This is not an individual matter: "Ye should bethink yourselves of your nation and your fame.... Ye are the high-born children of Judah and have come of a long line of noble ancestors that stretches down to the mother of God." Indulgence also has a whole company attending her and following her strategy of dissimulation. Before they can escape, Ostentation and Allurement have their robes of garlands torn from them, exposing their deceit. Greed also dissimulates. Though first described as world conqueror, she finds that she can only harm Christians by masking herself as the virtue Thriftiness: "The deadly creature's changing, double form makes ['the Virtues'] sight unsteady and dubious, not knowing what to make of her appearance" (319). Notes of reprimand, consolation, and social identity follow.
As these examples show, the battles between individual vices and virtues get complicated by dissimulation and by signs of society. In her final speech to the Virtues, Concord calls them "dwellers in the holy city" (331) and "the nation's peace" (333). The turn from individual to society fits Mastrangelo's argument that Prudentius's poetry "reflects a renewed concept of self and its relation to the political community and the world" (4). In a summary that sounds as if it could refer to Dante's work, Mastrangelo describes "the Psychomachia % ambitions to change the individual reader into a 'true' Roman citizen" (170). In the light of recent Prudentius criticism, we may affirm that the Siren episode in Purgatorio 19 can indeed be read as a kind of psychomachia but one interested in forming a new civic as well as personal identity. In Boethius, Augustine, and Prudentius, then, we see a similar movement to that found in the Old Testament prophets' criticism of Jerusalem as a faithless woman exposed by God and in Dante's description of the dissimulation and exposure of the Siren in Purgatorio 19. The movement of Dante's text, like that of its Old Testament and early Christian predecessors, has social as well as personal implications.
IT is not only the presence of a classical image in a Christian construct but also Ulysses's de-stabilizing force that requires us to think of Purgatorio 19 as an ensemble rather than a unity. He can hardly be contained and can certainly not be absorbed. We know from Inferno 26 that he mesmerizes Dante almost as much as the Siren does, and almost as much as, we hear in the Vita Nuova, Beatrice had when he was young. (31) When the Siren says that she "beguiles mariners on distant seas" (v. 20) and "drew Ulysses, eager for the journey, with my song" (vv. 22-23), it is clear she wants to count Dante as one of their number for "she started singing in a way that would / have made it hard for me to turn aside" (vv. 17-18). In Inferno 26, Dante had compared his eagerness to see Ulysses's flame in the eighth ditch of the Circle of Fraud to Elisha's eagerness to follow Elijah's chariot's ascent into heaven until it, too, was only visible as a flame (36-42). His request to stay until the twin flame of Ulysses and Diomedes reaches them is couched in terms of prayer: "I pray you, master, and I pray again --/ and may my prayer be a thousand strong" (65-66, my emphasis). The reference to the prophets and the language of prayer give Dante's fascination a kind of religious zeal.
Dante's description of the almost involuntary pull Ulysses has on him also repeats the terms of his encounter with Beatrice described in the Vita Nuova. Just as, in the earlier text, he stated that upon seeing Beatrice he would have fallen save for a wall close at hand, in the latter text he states that he would have fallen were it not for a jutting crag he could grasp (26.43-45). In the same section of the Vita Nuova (14), Dante says that he told his friend, "I have placed my feet on those boundaries of life beyond which no one can go further and hope to return" (26). These lines anticipate Ulysses's account of going beyond the gates of Hercules to "the world where no one lives," that is, going out and not returning (26. 116-17). (32) In writing about Ulysses, Dante borrows, or at some level remembers, both the language of the Bible and the language of his adolescent encounter with Beatrice. The correspondence between Dante's description of his unsteady bearing and dangerous border-crossing in the presence of Beatrice and his description of his unsteady bearing and dangerous border-crossing in the presence of Ulysses suggests the intensity of the latter encounter. Ulysses's effect midway through Dante's life touches Beatrice's effect when he was a youth. Re-conjured by the Siren's song, Ulysses becomes part of the Siren's fascination for Dante.
When the Siren sings of "mariners on distant seas" and of "Ulysses, eager for the journey," the nautical imagery reaches back to Dante's description of the imagination as a small boat in the opening lines of the Purgatorio. The second canticle begins, "To run its course through smoother water / the small bark of my wit [ingegno] now hoists its sail, / leaving that cruel sea [the world of the Inferno] behind" (1.1-3). The early connection between writing and sailing reminds us what is at stake for the author-explorer as well as the pilgrim. Ulysses again seems, as he had in Inferno 26, to be a warning to the pilgrim and a self-warning to the author. The episode is also a warning about faith if Dante felt, as Rahner tells us the Church Fathers felt, that "the Church itself... was the ship of life here below," with the Cross corresponding to the mast to which Ulysses had tied himself (345). For Ambrose, Rahner writes, "He who boards this ship leaves all old customs and conventions, indulgences of habit and weak-willed inclination behind him" (346).
But what is it that tempts Dante nearly as so strongly as Ulysses? Inferno 26 suggested it was experience. Ulysses reports that nothing "could overcome the fervor that was mine / to gain experience of the world / and learn about man's vices and his worth" (26.97-99). Ulysses's desire for knowledge of human vices and worth (valore to Ulysses) fits Cicero's view that the Siren's temptation was knowledge, not sound. (33) (This also strengthens the association of the Siren with the serpent in the Garden of Eden since they both tempt humankind with a knowledge that goes beyond the bounds.) (34) The last line of the tercet, "and learn about man's vices and his worth," shows how close Ulysses's goal was to Dante's. It very nearly repeats Virgil's instruction to Dante in Inferno 17: "So that nothing / in this circle escape your understanding [piena esperienza--full experience], / go over and examine their condition" (vv. 37-39). But we also hear Ulysses's willingness to brush aside pietas, the presumed goal for gaining full experience: "not tenderness for a son, nor filial duty / toward my aged father, nor the love I owed /Penelope that would have made her glad, / could overcome the fervor that was mine" (26.94-97). Full experience is both Ulysses's thirst and his most persuasive theme, as we hear in his speech to his men: "do not deny yourselves the chance to know [non vogliate negar l'esperienza]--/ following the sun--the world where no one lives" (26.116-17).
Dante also knows this fervor, as we've seen in his posture and the language of prayer. His self-warning in Canto 26 not to let the powers of wit ['ngegno'] "run on where virtue fails to guide them" (22) should be paired with the earlier references to Phaethon's and Icarus's destruction in Inferno 17.107-09. This discourse on border-crossing finds its end-point in Adam's statement in Paradiso 26.115-17: "Now know, my son, that the tasting of the tree was not in itself the cause of so long an exile, but solely the overpassing of the bound [segno]," a passage Christian Moevs quotes before adding, "To overstep the segno is... to seek more from the ego and the senses, from finite being, than what they can provide" (101). It is a kind of idolatry.
This is where the question of guidance becomes relevant again, for both the individual and society. Before Dante pilgrim knows the names of Ulysses and Diomedes, he compares them to Oedipus's warring sons. He asks Virgil who is in the flame "so riven at the tip / it could be rising from the pyre / on which Eteocles was laid out with his brother" (vv. 52-54), the two of them having devastated the city of Thebes with their opposed ambitions. The comparison to warring brothers and the articulation of a broken pietas mark the temptation to identify with Ulysses as a temptation with not only psychological risk and aesthetic interest but also social significance. Marco Lombardo had said in Purgatorio 16.103-04, "As you can plainly see, failed guidance / is the cause the world is steeped in vice." Exploration, so important to thought, art, and action, requires daring but also guidance, agency, well-directed attention.
IN Canto 2, with the arrival of Casella, and in Canto 19, with the appearance of the Siren, reprimand follows song. That changes with the arrival of Beatrice in Canto 30, with song following the reprimand instead of preceding it. The angels sing Psalm 31 immediately after Beatrice exercises her "stern pity": "The angels--suddenly--/sang, "In te, Domine, speravi" ("In you, O Lord, do I put my trust" [30. 82-83]). Dante says that "their singing did not go past 'pedes meets' ("my feet")" (30.84). This phrase, which concludes verse 8 of Psalm 31, expands our focus again, recalling 'l pi'e fermo ("the firm foot") of Inferno 1. Now the two feet seem at last to work in concert, so that God can set them, as Psalm 31.8 puts it, "in a spacious place" (Psalm 31.8). The surrounding verses of Psalm 31 name many of the themes of the first two canticles: justice and liberty (in justitia tua libera me); false idols (vanitates supervacue); and trust, maybe especially trust (the "ego autem in Domino speravi') of verse 7 echoing the opening verse's ("In te, Domine, speravi"). It is as if this time a new song, the right song, has been found. (35)
But what about the reader? The poem's famous opening line, "Midway in the journey of our life," lets us know from the beginning that Dante's journey is both distinct and representative. He is a kind of Everyman, as Jacob, the lame-footed wrestler with the angel of God, had been for Augustine. In Sermons 5.6 and 5.8, Augustine is at pains to say that we find both blessing and limping in the same man. "Look, it's a single man," he writes in Sermon 5.6 and reiterates in Sermon 5.8 (Sheridan 219-20). In the second sermon, what is true for the individual is also true for the church: "For the time being, the church is lame. It puts one foot down firmly; the other one, being crippled, it drags" (220). Augustine follows that description with this consolation: "Yet the touch of the Lord is the hand of the Lord, chastising and giving life" (220).
Pursuit of a secret knowledge may be the Siren's temptation, knowledge that could enchant and beguile, which presents itself as a kind of consolation for what was lost. Dante's call is to a new society, whose preparation we partly experience along the correcting and consoling terraces of Mount Purgatory. As with the Siren, Dante's portrait of Beatrice in Purgatorio 30 has both a personal and a civic element to it. The civic element harmonizes well with Augustine's description of the City of God: "There is the true felicity, which is no goddess, but the gift of God. From there we have received the pledge of our faith, in that we sigh for her beauty while on our pilgrimage" (5.16). Not seeing the civic element of the Siren's temptation sells her danger short. It also limits our view of her opponent. It is not only the pilgrim's or the reader's psyche that is at stake. Beatrice is a new body politic; she urges an alternative civic identity
(1) Unless signaled differently, translations are from Hollander & Hollander.
(2) See Rahner 328-86 on entry of the Siren myth into early Christianity. Also, see Mazzotta 142, Pe'pin, and Rachewiltz. Many thanks to Clifford Ando and Jas Eisner for their help in tracking down these materials.
(3) See Hawkins, "Religion of the Mountain," and Webb, "Postures of Penitence."
(4) See Oliver O'Donovan's description, especially in Chapter Three, of the way communities are built around common loves and resistances.
(5) See Cervigni 145 for the minority view that it is not Virgil but the "holy and alert" woman who exposes the Siren.
(6) See Holmes 215.n27.
(7) Hollander believes the "saintly and alert" woman is Beatrice but states that this "is a controversial statement. The identity of this lady in Dante's second purgatorial dream is much and hotly debated." Dante: A Life in Works, 122. Also see Hollander's "Canto II: The New Song and the Old."
(8) Here we can already begin to see how a formal or structural analysis and a psychological analysis can go together.
(9) Peter Armour probably gives the most complete account of Dante's three dreams in the Purgatorio, looking carefully at biblical, classical, and medieval traditions concerning dreams up to Dante's time, and he sees no need to choose between the dream's retrospective or prospective meanings.
(10) In the 1960s, both Hardie and Mazzeo took the minority position that the Siren episode refers to more than the Sins of Incontinence. Hardie wrote, "She should personify the whole range of seven [sins], just as the sin of Adam can be shown to include elements of the whole gamut from superbia to luxuria" (236-37), while Mazzeo showed that when Beatrice rebukes Dante for being attracted to the Siren she stands for "the temptations of the mind as well as the temptations of the flesh" (209). Barolini notes her agreement in 108 n.20.
(11) I find more convincing than "Hercules's Choice" Stanford's suggestion that in the transformation of the Siren from ugly and stammering to mellifluent and beautiful woman "Dante for a moment anticipates, and rejects, the attitude of the Renaissance to the pagan Graeco-Roman tradition," whose beauty the Siren sometimes represented (90 n.17).
(12) The purgation which Pope Adrian describes as a just response to the Avaricious having fixed their eyes on earthly things also doubles as a posture of penitence, matching Dominic's second way of prayer, according to Heather Webb, 232.
(13) Hollander connects the first two examples to Beatrice's correction of Dante in Paradiso 2 when he misunderstands the dark spots on the moon. He concludes that "[e]ach cantica thus begins hopefully and then moves to the experience of a troubling inadequacy of one kind or another" (11).
(14) In Inferno 2.113, Virgil's speech is also called oneste, and there can be little doubt that the same attribute pertains to Beatrice in her first appearance as Dante's judge.
(15) See Land, 55-60. Dante's dream reverses the instructions of Macrobius to "veil truth in a fair and fitting garment of fiction" (n.151).
(16) Mazzotta doesn't make reference to the earlier reprimands by Virgil and Cato but does claim that "the Siren's antagonist is undoubtedly Beatrice" (145), finding echoes of tone and a similar motif of falseness (149) in Canto 19 and Cantos 30-31. I'm less sure that the "saintly and alert woman" is Beatrice than that the dream vision is given by Beatrice in order to return Dante to the dritta parte, as described in Purgatorio 30.133-35. See Cervigni for a succinct account of the identifications of the "saintly woman" throughout the commentary tradition and in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. But also note that Cervigni states such identification is at best a "secondary issue" (138-40).
(17) Webb and Hawkins are two exceptions.
(18) Scott 300.
(19) See especially Cogan 89, 280-85 and Hawkins 125-32.
(20) See Barbara Reynolds's discussion of the image of Justice that appears in the 14th section of the Convivio, 95-101. The quote about avarice also comes from Reynolds 98.
(21) See VanderWeele, "Mother and Child in Paradiso 27."
(22) Cervigni gives more attention to "three biblical temptations [which] best illustrate the Dantean account": the temptation of Eve, the temptation of the Israelites crossing the desert, and Christ's temptation in the wilderness (137).
(23) W.S. Merwin marks the movement from the Inferno to the Purgatorio in terms of consolation as well. While the Inferno "portrays the locked, unalterable ego. form after form of it. the self and its despair forever inseparable" (viii), at the beginning of the Purgatorio "[w]e--the reader on this pilgrimage, with the narrator and his guide, Virgil--have... made our way through the tunnel of another birth to arrive utterly undone at a sight of the stars again. And we are standing on a shore seeing the first light before dawn seep into the sky, and the morning star, 7o bet pianeta che d'amar conforta' "The beautiful planet that to love inclines us,' with all the suggestions of consolation after the horrors of the infernal world" (xiii).
(24) Boethius the character also learns, like Dante pilgrim, the desire for correction. In 3.1, for example, Boethius says to Lady Philosophy, "You were talking of cures that were rather sharp. The thought of them no longer makes me shudder; in fact I'm so eager to hear more, I fervently beg you for them" (78).
(25) See Kolbet on Augustine's revision of the classic ideal of the cure of the soul, especially 19-61.
(26) Boethius's influence can be heard again in various twelfth-century texts that have been defined as Boethian in their form (dialogue, with alternation of prose and poetry) and in their subject (the journey through false goods to the true good). Of these, the one that most resembles the plot structure in Purgatorio 19 is Adelard of Bath's "On the Same and the Different." In it, as in Boethius and Dante, the Lady of Worldly Love (Philocosmia) enters first but is strongly reprimanded by Lady Wisdom (Philosophia) once she arrives on the scene (17).
(27) Augustine reverses Cicero's description in Of Oratory (1.55) of legal knowledge following Eloquence as a little maid at her heels. He describes the right relationship between rhetoric and truth this way: they are "like wisdom coming from her house (that is, from the breast of the wise man) followed by eloquence as if she were an inseparable servant [inseparabilem famulam] who was not called" (Of Christian Doctrine, 4. 6.10, p. 124). This is close to the description of Mary as "handmaiden [ancilla] of the Lord" in Luke 1.38 & 48 since famula and ancilla could be used interchangeably. We see that, for example, in Jeremiah 34.11: "But afterward they turned, and caused the servants and the handmaids [ancillas], whom they had let go free, to return, and brought them into subjection for servants and for handmaids [famulus])--KJ version.
(28) In "The Christian Odysseus," Robert O'Connell argues that the Siren also is referenced in the Confessions, especially in 3.4 and 3.7, where Augustine "fuses" the image of Odysseus and the image of the Prodigal Son.
(29) For the influence of Augustine in Dante's Commedia, see John Freccero, especially his argument in "The Prologue Scene" that Augustine's emphasis on the will ("The fallen will limps in its efforts to reach God") was "very probably Dante's direct source for the image of an homo claudus [limping man] unable to advance to the summit" in Canto One of the Inferno (8). See Freccero's "The Firm Foot," especially 40, including n.44, for a history of this image.
(30) Because the Psychomachia is better known today as a term than as a text, it may be important to establish its relevance to Dante and his late medieval audience. See H.J. Thomson, xiii-xiv, who states that "more than three hundred manuscript copies survive"; Howard Louthan; Emile Male for a catalogue of poets and theologians who follow Prudentius in showing the virtues and vices in action and making them speak, 98-101; and Paul Gehl's study of texts used in the pre-university schools of Trecento Florence. A strong influence can still be seen in Erasmus's 1503 Enchiridion militis christiani (Handbook of the Christian Soldier).
(31) G. Singh's "Personal Appreciation" essay on Inferno 26 might still be the best description of what Dante identifies with and resists in Ulysses. For an extended history of Ulysses in literature, including in Inferno 26, see WB. Stanford, The Ulysses Theme.
(32) This is the point Mark Musa makes in the note to his translation.
(33) The passage usually referred to is De Finibus 5.49. A second relevant passage can be found in De Oratore 2.154, where Catulus responds to Antonius, "Really, ... you've been pretty timid in steering your mind to philosophy, as if you were approaching the alluring rock of the Sirens."
(34) Former student Schuyler Roozeboom first drew this to my attention.
(35) See Hollander on the old and new song in Purgatorio 2.
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Michael VanderWeele (Ph.D., University of Iowa), Professor of English at Trinity Christian College, has published essays in Hermeneutics at the Crossroads, Literature and the Renewal of the Public Sphere, The Force of Tradition, and Contemporary Literary Theory. A Christian Appraisal, as well as in Nineteenth-Century Literature, Christianity and Literature, Religion and Literature, Renascence, and the Denver Quarterly.
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|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2018|
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