Thursday, May 14, 2015

Blogging through Hell (pt 11) - Dante Weeps

Of a new pain behoves me to make verses
And give material to the twentieth canto
Of the first song, which is of the submerged. (XX:1-3)
Thus Dante announces the arrival into the fourth "pocket" (bolgia) of the Eighth Circle of Hell, the Circle where the Fraudulent are punished. Here Dante is taken aback by a "new pain," one which our pilgrim guide seems to struggle with more than many others that we've witnessed with him,
and in the valley's circle I saw souls
advancing, mute and weeping, at the pace
that, in our world, holy processions take. 
As I inclined my head still more, I saw
that each, amazingly, appeared contorted
between the chin and where the chest begins; 
they had their faces twisted towards their haunches
and found it necessary to walk backward,
because they could not see ahead of them. (XX:7-15, Mandelbaum)
Indeed, Dante begins to weep. He attempts to justify his reaction, after learning so much about Hell, sin, and Divine Justice, to his readers,
So may God grant you, Reader, benefits
from reading of my poem, just ask yourself
how I could keep my eyes dry when, close by 
I saw the image of our human form
so twisted - the tears their eyes were shedding
streamed down to wet their buttocks at the cleft. (XX:19-24, Musa)
 It is the disfigurement of the human form, made in the image and likeness of God (cf. Gen 1:27), not the self-inflicted pain and suffering of the unrepentant sinners, that Dante claims makes him weep. Virgil, however, is having none of it,
..."Art thou, too, of the other fools? 
Here pity lives when it is wholly dead;
Who is a greater reprobate than he
Who feels compassion at the doom divine? (XX:27-30)
"Qui vive la pietà quand'è ben morta", "here pity lives when it is wholly dead" (XX:28), is a lesson Dante was supposed to have learned by now. It is also a lesson we're supposed to have learned by now, but how many of us are also moved by the repeated horrors we see in lower Hell? These sinners, the fraudulent and the violent above them, have maliciously chosen to act out evil, whether through killing others, themselves, violating nature and nature's God, or through deceiving others (an act reserved to persons, and thus worse than violence), yet we still, like Dante, have a tendency to feel sorrow for their self-imposed sentences. These sinners, all the sinners in Hell, have freely chosen, against the Will of God, to be precisely where they are. God, not being a spiritual rapists, desires all men to behold His Holy Face, but doesn't force anyone to. That is the radical nature of Love - a Love so great that even the Almighty allows His Will to be thwarted by some so that others may freely choose love (for love not freely chosen is no love at all).

"Chi è più scellerato che colui / che al giudico divina passion comporta?" "Who is a greater reprobate than he / who feels compassion at the doom divine?" (XX:29-30) As divine justice (perhaps a better translation than Longfellow's "doom divine") fulfills the dictate of love, not of wrath, makes he who would rail against it not "merciful" or "loving" but anti-love and even anti-mercy. "Il giudico divina" isn't the opposite of l'amore divina, God's love, but is one and the same with it, as all of God's attributes are ultimately one with His eternal, unchanging essence.

It is with this in mind that, even when seeing the human form "so twisted" (XX:22) by sin, that we should not be moved to pity but to righteous indignation that creatures beloved of God, creatures given the opportunity to fulfill a blessed destiny, have instead chosen sin over Love and in so doing have warped their souls into a greater disfigurement than even that which we behold in the twentieth canto. Here the shades of those who wanted to see the future (i.e. they wanted to see farther ahead of themselves than is possible or just) are now walking backwards, with their heads facing the same direction as their backsides, forever unable to see forwards at all. The shades here bemoan their self-imposed eternal lot with tears of suffering, not of repentance, the one thing which could have saved them.

Tiresias, damned in the Eighth Circle, tells Odysseus the future

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