The prideful souls pray together their own version of the Lord’s Prayer. Afterward, Virgil asks them to point out the quickest way upward. As they all move along slowly, Omberto Aldobrandesco tells Dante how pride destroyed his family, and the artist Oderisi of Gubbio talks to Dante about the inconstancy of fame.
Our Father in Heaven, You live there not because You must, but because You love Your first creations. Holy is Your name and Your Power, praised by all that You have made. May the peace of Your blessed kingdom come to dwell within us because we cannot obtain it by ourselves, no matter how hard we try. As the angels sing Hosannah and offer You their wills, enable us to do the same. Give Yourself to us every day, Lord, because without You to lead us we would be lost forever. We forgive all those who have done us wrong, and we beg You, merciful Lord, to forgive us as well. Because we are weak, keep us from every temptation and from he who would have us fall away from You. We make this last request, merciful Lord, not for ourselves who have no need of it, but for all those who still strive to reach you on earth.”Most readers will immediately recognize what Dante has done here. Also known as “The Lord’s Prayer,” the “Our Father” is one of the most basic and all-encompassing Christian … Continue reading
And so, those repenting souls prayed for themselves and for all of us as they trudged slowly around that first terrace under the different burdens they carried–burdens that sometimes disturb us in our dreams. In this way, they cleansed themselves from the worldliness that held them back from God. Knowing how those souls always pray for our good, imagine the good that we can do for them when our prayers for them come from clean hearts. In fact, we should do all we can to help in their purification and speed their journey to God.Note first that Dante repeats what he mentioned at the end of the previous canto – that the souls carry different weights (depending, we can infer, on the gravity of their sins). His reference … Continue reading
“May justice tempered by mercy relieve you of your heavy burden,” Virgil said to the souls approaching us, “and may you fly quickly to your desired goal. But, please tell us where to find the stairs–the shortest way, if possible; and if there are many paths upward, please tell us which one is the easiest to climb. You see, this man who accompanies me here is still weighted with his living flesh, and it slows him down against his will.”Virgil’s words here aren’t merely about finding the quickest route upward (Musa, quoting Manfredi Porena, asks: “How does Virgil know there are stairs?”). He prefaces his request in the … Continue reading
It wasn’t immediately clear which of the souls there answered Virgil’s question. But someone replied: “Come along with us now, and you’ll find the path a living man can climb. If it weren’t for this stone that bends my proud neck and makes me face the ground, I’d love to look up and see whether I know this living man and move him to pity me in this condition here. In life, I was Italian, from Tuscany. You may not have heard of my father, Guiglielmo Aldobrandesco, or the rest of my family, but we were famous, and I took such pride in our great deeds that I forgot we were simply made from earth. My disdain for everyone else was famous–and I died because of it. Everyone in Siena and Compagnatico knows this. My name is Omberto and, sad to say, a terrible pride ruined me and all my family, dragging us away with it. If I had been more humble when I was alive, I wouldn’t have to carry this heavy weight here until God is ready to receive me.”As this next section of the canto begins, it’s not certain who it is that replies to Virgil’s request, mainly because all the sinners are bent over under their weights. And Musa points out that … Continue reading
While he was speaking to us, I was bent down low so I could hear him. Then a different soul twisted under the weight he was carrying so he could see me. He recognized me and called to me as he strained under his burden, while I kept pace with them, bent over myself.Twice here Dante tells us that he himself was bent over so that he could hear and be seen by the proud sinners. More than that, the second time he mentions this he seems to be walking along with the … Continue reading
“Oh, my,” I said. You are Oderisi of Gubbio, famous for your art which they call Illumination in Paris.”Oderisi recognized Dante and called out to him, but he didn’t identify himself. Recognizing him back, Dante called out his name and gives us a thumbnail identification–he’s from Gubbio, and a … Continue reading
“Well,” he replied, “Franco of Bologna has surpassed me by now. He is the one to honor, not me. When I was alive, I was so desirous for fame that I was far less courteous to him. And that’s the kind of pride we pay for up here. To tell the truth, I might not be here if the grace of God hadn’t enabled me to turn away from my sins. Human power and glory are empty things, and fame only remains when nothing greater follows it. Early on, Cimabue was the famed painter, but his light now shines on Giotto. Consider the two Guidos: as time goes on, one of these poets takes the fame from the other, and perhaps one even greater than them has just been born. Worldly fame is nothing but a gust of wind. It blows here and there, and as it does, it changes its name. No matter how long you live, fame is nothing compared to eternal glory.Dante certainly knew of the Aldobrandeschi, but he never encountered Omberto, who was killed/murdered (1259) six years before he was born. So we weren’t given much information about him except the … Continue reading
“Look at that one moving along slowly over there. When he ruled in Tuscany, everyone knew his name. Now, it’s hardly ever whispered. He even sought to destroy Florence which, back then, was so proud. Now she’s nothing but a painted whore! And so, worldly fame is like the grass: God makes it grow lush and green, and then He makes it fade.”
Hearing this, I said to him: “My heart is humbled by listening to you, and what you’ve said has reduced my own pride. But tell me, who is the one over there that you just spoke about?”Oderisi now points Dante’s attention to another proud sinner. Without identifying him at first, he tells the Poet how famous the man was, but now–as he’s told us twice, the man’s fame has … Continue reading
“That’s Provenzan Salvani,” he replied. “He’s in this place because his pride led him to believe he could take complete control of Siena. And now look at him: he’s crawled along like this, without rest, since he died. Up here, this is the price one pays for such presumption down there.”Provenzan Salvani (1220-1269) was, in fact, a significant figure in both Sienese and Florentine history. He was the Ghibelline leader of Siena at the time of the great Battle of Montaperti (1260) in … Continue reading
I was still curious about that sinner. “If sinners who delay their repentance till the last moment have to wait below the gate the same number of years that they lived before they can come up here–unless they’re helped by others’ prayers, then how did he get up here so fast?”From what we know, so far, Provenzan Salvani was a proud and arrogant leader of Siena who was beheaded after he was captured in battle (Dante would have been 4 years old at the time). According to … Continue reading
He replied: “At the height of his glory he did an unthinkable thing. To ransom a friend who had been imprisoned by Charles of Anjou, he put aside his pride and stood humbly in the center of Siena and begged for alms! And now, I’ve said enough. At this moment I may sound vague, but soon enough your friends will help you understand what I’ve been saying. That was the deed that sped Provenzan to this place so quickly.”Here is Oderisi’s answer to Dante’s question about how Provenzan got to the terrace of the proud so quickly after he died. The story was probably well-known at the time and is included in the … Continue reading
Notes & Commentary
|↑1||Most readers will immediately recognize what Dante has done here. Also known as “The Lord’s Prayer,” the “Our Father” is one of the most basic and all-encompassing Christian prayers–taught by Jesus himself and recorded in both the Gospels of Matthew (6:9-13) and Luke (11:2-4). This wonderful paraphrase is also the only complete prayer Dante uses in the Poem. And since we are on the terrace of the proud, notice how his adaptation of the prayer is so well-suited for the proud sinners here, particularly its humble tone and its last sentence which, in ordinary circumstances, would be practically impossible for a proud person to say.
This prayer is not part of the punishment of the proud. The heavy stones they carry constitute the punishment by forcing them to take a bodily posture quite the opposite of their sin. Interestingly enough, though, being forced to look down with their bodies enables them to speak with their hearts and direct the words of the prayer upward, as it were. They recognize that by their own proud wills they would be lost, and thereby never attain peace. And so they join their humble pleas with the rejoicing angels whose wills are always at one with God’s. In the end, they do something very uncharacteristic–they forgive others and they forgive themselves. Only in light of this forgiveness can they end by praying for the salvation of others who still struggle in life.
The Our Father is not only a prayer that can be said at any time by an individual, but from ancient times it has had a significant place in the Christian liturgy. It stands as the community’s prayer between the consecration of the bread and the wine into the body and blood of the Lord and the communion where the worshipers receive and eat that same body and blood. By including this prayer here, Dante wants us to read and hear it from within the ritual or sacred liturgy of the Poem itself. In Canto 25 of the Paradiso, Dante calls his Comedy “…this sacred poem–this work shared by heaven and by earth.”
|↑2||Note first that Dante repeats what he mentioned at the end of the previous canto – that the souls carry different weights (depending, we can infer, on the gravity of their sins). His reference to disturbances in our dreams stems from his seeing the proud souls crushed to varying degrees under the stone burdens they are forced to carry. At the same time, what he may be describing is the experience of sleep paralysis in which sleepers find themselves semi-conscious but completely unable to move or speak and feel as though they are being crushed. And he may have a passage from the end of the Aeneid in mind, which also recounts an experience of sleep paralysis as Aeneas defeats Turnus:
“But he did not know himself, running or moving raising the great rock in his hands, or throwing: his knees gave way, his blood was frozen cold. The stone itself, whirled by the warrior through the empty air, failed to travel the whole distance, or drive home with force. As in dreams when languid sleep weighs down our eyes at night, we seem to try in vain to follow our eager path, and collapse helpless in the midst of our efforts, the tongue won’t work, the usual strength is lacking from our limbs, and neither word nor voice will come: so the dread goddess denied Turnus success, however courageously he sought to find a way” (XII: 903-914).
Seeing how these souls are burdened so terribly, how this punishment is designed to purge away their sins of pride, and having just heard their version of The Lord’s Prayer, Dante himself is moved by that part of the prayer where they prayed for others. Seeing and hearing this, he is reminded of–and urges the reader to remember–the duty of charity we have to pray for them. Earlier, we have encountered souls who have asked for prayers, and this will continue as we climb the Mountain. Furthermore, if we step back from the Purgatorio itself, we can’t help but notice that this entire canticle is a prayer as though it were a grand liturgy. The constant singing of Psalms and hymns, the device of the whip and rein, the quotations from Scripture, the theological themes–all of this is by design to immerse the reader in the prayerful experience of these souls as they purge themselves of sin. The Church’s celebration of All Souls’ Day on November 2–a time to pray for the souls of the dead–would already have been common in Dante’s day. Of course, numerous ways of remembering and celebrating the dead are as old as humanity itself.
|↑3||Virgil’s words here aren’t merely about finding the quickest route upward (Musa, quoting Manfredi Porena, asks: “How does Virgil know there are stairs?”). He prefaces his request in the name of two great principles that we have already seen operative in the Inferno and will continue to see here in the Purgatorio: God’s justice and mercy. Not only that. It’s as though he reprises the carving of Trajan and the widow (which he is still standing in front of) where we/he saw the same principles working toward the emperor’s conversion. His wish that the souls “fly quickly to your desired goal,” also reprises Dante’s earlier image of the heavenly butterfly.
At the same time, Virgil’s request here is both polite and humble, and he’s also caring in his hope to find the easiest way for Dante to continue his climb. And his request is a way of announcing to the souls that meet them that Dante is still alive. The reference to Dante’s “living flesh” has a double meaning in that it refers to his literal (heavy) body, but it also refers to the fact that Dante, as a living person, is also susceptible to the various worldly temptations of the flesh – both of which slow him down against his will. A careful reader will find some irony in Virgil’s reference to Dante’s heavy body while he speaks with the sinners who are themselves heavily weighted with the stones they carry.
|↑4||As this next section of the canto begins, it’s not certain who it is that replies to Virgil’s request, mainly because all the sinners are bent over under their weights. And Musa points out that Dante cleverly makes the syntax in these lines more like Latin than Italian, which adds a layer of confusion in trying to determine exactly who is speaking. The reference to his “proud neck” adds a biblical touch here which Dante surely has in mind. In the Hebrew Bible, the Israelites are often referred to as “stiff-necked” as a mark of their pride and disobedience. Nevertheless, the speaker is both helpful in that he answers Virgil’s question about the path, and he is very curious to know who this living man is. Perhaps as an indication that his pride still has a grip on him, and to solicit pity, the anonymous speaker identifies himself and gives all of us more information than we are expecting. Dante, of course, would certainly appreciate this. On the other hand, when Omberto says to Virgil: “You may not have heard…,” his modesty may still be tainted with his pride.
Observe how much the speaker uses references to himself and his family background. Dorothy Sayers notes in her commentary that three aspects of pride are punished here and exemplified in the three speakers: the first is pride of race with Omberto, the second is pride of achievement with Oderisi, and the third is pride of domination with Provenzano.
When he actually identifies himself, Omberto also lays claim to the terrible pride that ruined him and the rest of his family. His candor is evidence that his purgation is working to good effect. Ironically, in spite of his overblown build-up here, John Ciardi, in his commentary here, notes that:
“Little is known of Omberto, and such accounts as there are contradict one another, though all agree that he was excessively proud of his lineage. The Aldobrandeschi were in constant conflict with Siena. In 1259, according to varying accounts, the Sienese either besieged the Aldobrandeschi castle in Campagnatico, killing Omberto in battle, or their agents crept in and strangled Omberto in bed. Since Dante refers to it as an event known to every child, he was probably following the account in which Omberto, though with very few men at his disposal, scorned his enemies, refused to surrender, killed many Sienese, and even made a mad charge into the thick of the enemy’s forces, where he was killed after giving a bloody account of himself. Omberto’s words seem to indicate that his main motive in this action was utter contempt for those who opposed him.”
The Aldobrandeschi were a proud and bothersome force for 300 years. But when Omberto was killed, the entire family fell apart and the Maremma was taken over by their enemies, the Sienese. If the saying, “Hindsight is always 20/20,” has any merit, Omberto’s last words are evidence that it does. To his credit he realizes that his present suffering could have been avoided had he been more humble when he was alive–an admission that shows the progress of his spiritual renewal.
|↑5||Twice here Dante tells us that he himself was bent over so that he could hear and be seen by the proud sinners. More than that, the second time he mentions this he seems to be walking along with the sinners, bent over as they are–in a very real sense a participant, not just an observer.|
|↑6||Oderisi recognized Dante and called out to him, but he didn’t identify himself. Recognizing him back, Dante called out his name and gives us a thumbnail identification–he’s from Gubbio, and a famous illuminator of manuscripts whose style of work was known in Paris.|
|↑7||Dante certainly knew of the Aldobrandeschi, but he never encountered Omberto, who was killed/murdered (1259) six years before he was born. So we weren’t given much information about him except the tragic pride that ruined he and his family. Oderisi and Dante, on the other hand, obviously knew each other–most likely from Dante’s days in Bologna where Oderisi was already well-known. Because he’s actually talking to Dante, the artist gives us a wealth of information about himself. Gubbio is a small mountain town about 30 miles north of Perugia and the same from Assisi. St. Francis lived for several years in Gubbio, and it is from there that we get the famous story of St. Francis and the Wolf. St. Francis died only 39 years before Dante was born.
We know that both Oderisi and Franco of Bologna, whom he also names, were commissioned by Boniface VIII to illuminate manuscripts in the Vatican Library. Oderisi died in Rome in 1299, so he has only been here in Purgatory for a short time if we consider the fictional year of the Poem to be 1300. Recalling Sayers’ three dimensions of pride (race, achievement, and domination), Oderisi represents the pride of achievement. Unfortunately, we don’t know much about his work, though the illuminating of manuscripts–the painting of images, stories, and designs on the pages of medieval books–was quite popular and hundreds of gorgeous examples still exist in libraries and museums around the world. And Dante obviously knew that Paris was an art center in Europe. Perhaps he and Oderisi had talked about it. He even engages in a bit of linguistic fun (pride?) here by using the word alluminar for illuminating because it is close to the French verb enluminer. The usual Italian verb for this art is miniare from the Latin word minium, which was a red form of lead used as a pigment.
As for Oderisi’s relationship to Franco, his ability to tell Dante now that Franco was the better artist shows us how the work of soul-restoration operates in Purgatory. Most likely, Oderisi could never have made this admission while he was alive, so concerned was he about his own fame. But now he makes it, and he thanks God for the grace that enabled him to realize, while he was alive, the damage his pride was doing to his soul and turn himself around. This is surely why he is here and not in Ante-Purgatory. It is a different Oderisi who speaks with Dante here in Purgatory, and one can see this in his moralizing after he admits to his lesser stature. Human power and glory are passing things. We read in St. Matthew’s Gospel: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and decay destroy, and thieves break in and steal. But store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor decay destroys, nor thieves break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be” (6:19-21). We read in Isaiah (40:6): “All flesh is grass, and all its beauty fades like the flower of the field.”
Oderisi’s insights about the passing of fame from one generation to the next are borne out in the examples he uses: Cimabue’s fame passed to his student Giotto who surpassed him and has been called “the father of modern painting.” (Dante and Giotto were friends. There is a portrait of Dante in the Bargello in Florence that is said to be done by Giotto. And Dante may have seen Giotto at work in the gorgeous Scrovegni Chapel in Padua (see Inferno 17:64-66 and commentary). As for the two Guidos, they are most likely Guido Guinizelli from Bologna (d. 1276) and Guido Cavalcante (d. 1300). Guido Guinizelli, whom we will meet in Canto 26, was considered by Dante as his literary father, and father of “all those who wrote poetry of love in a sweet and graceful style.” Toynbee (Dante Dictionary) calls Guinizelli “The most illustrious of the Italian poets prior to Dante.” Guido Cavalcanti, who is said to have surpassed Guinizelli, was a close friend of Dante. Dante dedicated the Vita Nuova to him and wrote there of him: “…he whom I call first among my friends.” He is also referenced in Inferno 10 when Dante is talking with his father, Cavalcante. There Dante seems to claim superiority to Cavalcanti because his friend didn’t have the same esteem for the high style he himself claimed. He seems to be making a similar claim when Oderisi suggests: “…perhaps one even greater than them has just been born.” In fact, it did!
Oderisi’s last thoughts about the passing of worldly fame are reminiscent of Virgil’s lesson to Dante on the workings of Fortune in Canto 7 of the Inferno: “The changes that she brings are without respite: it is necessity that makes her swift; and for this reason, men change state so often (88-90).
A final biographical note comes from Benvenuto da Imola, an early (14th century) commentator on the Comedy, who wrote: “This Oderisi was a great miniature-painter in Bologna at the time of our author, and he was very vain and boastful about his artistic talents, quite sure that he had no peer. Dante, who was well aware of his hunger for praise and glory, deliberately praised him as being without equal, to see if he had lost the wind that formerly inflated him.”
|↑8||Oderisi now points Dante’s attention to another proud sinner. Without identifying him at first, he tells the Poet how famous the man was, but now–as he’s told us twice, the man’s fame has turned to anonymity and no one remembers him. Here, Dante interrupts for a moment to tell Oderisi (and the reader) that his words about himself and this as yet unidentified soul have had a profound effect on him, and that he has experienced a deflation in his own pride. Note that he doesn’t wait till the end of the canto to tell us this. He’s had time to consider the three carvings which seemed real, to see (and feel) the procession of the burdened sinners, and then to hear the “real” stories of actual men like Omberto and Oderisi. All of this has had a cumulative and inspiring effect on Dante, and now he can put into words what he has experienced growing within him. He will most likely hear this third narrative with different ears.|
|↑9||Provenzan Salvani (1220-1269) was, in fact, a significant figure in both Sienese and Florentine history. He was the Ghibelline leader of Siena at the time of the great Battle of Montaperti (1260) in which the forces of Florence were defeated. As a matter of fact, he was so powerful and so arrogant that he took the title dominus (lord)! He represents the third of Dorothy Sayers’ facets of Pride: domination. It was he, at the Council of Empoli, following the defeat of the Florentines, who strongly urged that the city of Florence (the “painted whore”) be completely destroyed. He was countered, luckily, by Farinata degli Uberti who led the army of Siena in Florence’s defeat. In another battle against Florence in 1269, he was taken prisoner and beheaded. Villani writes in his Cronica: “He was an important man in Siena in his time, after the victory of Montaperti. He controlled the whole city, and the entire Ghibelline faction of Tuscany looked to him as its leader. He was very imperious in manner.” At this point, he’s been in Purgatory for 31 years, paying the price of his presumption. Part of his punishment may, in fact, that Dante does not allow him to speak. Someone else (Oderisi) speaks for him, and for a proud person that would never do. It is interesting, however, that Dante places Farinata in Hell (for the sin of heresy) (Inferno 10) and Provenzan for the sin of pride here in Purgatory.|
|↑10||From what we know, so far, Provenzan Salvani was a proud and arrogant leader of Siena who was beheaded after he was captured in battle (Dante would have been 4 years old at the time). According to Dante’s thinking, his soul would be in Purgatory because he probably repented when he was captured. But this last-minute repentance ordinarily lands one in Ante-Purgatory–and in the case of delayed repentance, Provenzan would be there for 49 years before he could come to this terrace of pride because he was killed when he was 49. But here he is after only 31 years. (He died in 1269, 31 years before 1300, the year in which the Commedia is set.) So how is it, he asks Oderisi, that he’s here so early–unless people have prayed for him (which he probably didn’t count on because Provenzan was proud to the extreme).|
|↑11||Here is Oderisi’s answer to Dante’s question about how Provenzan got to the terrace of the proud so quickly after he died. The story was probably well-known at the time and is included in the Ottimo Commento, the most important fourteenth-century Florentine commentary on the Comedy:
“King Charles [Charles of Anjou] had a friend of his [Provenzan’s] in prison, on whom he put a ransom of 10,000 gold florins. (He had fought with Conradin against Charles in the defeat at Tagliacozzo.) When the king gave him only a short time to pay or die, he appealed to Messer Provenzan. It is said that Messer Provenzan had a bench with a carpet over it put up in the square of Siena, and then sat on it in clothes that the occasion required. Bashfully, he asked the Sienese to help him in his need of money, forcing no one, just humbly asking for help. When the Sienese saw this man, whom they thought of as their lord, usually so proud, begging so pitifully, they were moved to pity. Everyone helped, according to his means. So that, before the time had expired, he was able to buy his friend’s release.”
It goes without saying that this must have been terribly humiliating for Provenzan, and yet it was a heroic act of charity to do such a thing to save his friend. One might say that he killed his pride to save his friend. Which sounds almost Christ-like. But this is what saved him, and most likely sped him to this terrace in Purgatory. That he might have spent time in Ante-Purgatory is not made clear by Oderisi. But the force of his humiliation and charity lead one to consider that he arrived here directly upon his death.
There is a prophecy in Oderisi’s final words. Dante’s “friends” (the Florentines) will exile him and he will live the rest of his life in shame as a recipient of charity from his friends and patrons.