As Dante and Virgil continue walking around the terrace of envy, two souls hear them passing and stop them. One of them, Guido del Duca, condemns the wickedness of Tuscany and then makes a long apostrophe against the corruption that has ruined so many of the old and noble families of Romagna.
“Who is this soul wandering here on our terrace before Death has taken him – and opening and closing his eyes as he wishes?”
“I have no idea who he is; but I do know that he’s not alone. Go ahead and ask him, since you’re closer; and be polite so he’ll tell you.”
I heard these two souls talking about me, almost face to face, as they sat there to my right. Then they turned to me, and one of them said: “O living soul, making your way to Heaven, but still within your body, in your charity, please tell us who you are and where you come from. God’s grace so wonderfully manifest in you leaves us awestruck. We’ve never seen anything like this before.”In response to something unusual, would a blind person say, “I’ve never seen anything like it!”? Nevertheless, two envious souls, probably leaning against each other, have overheard Dante’s … Continue reading
In answer to where I came from, I told them, “A river, whose source is at Falterona, flows through Tuscany for more than a hundred miles. I bring my body here from somewhere along its banks. As for who I am, since I have no fame on earth yet, you wouldn’t know me.”One wonders whether this is Dante’s attempt to curb his pride – this opaque circumspection about where he’s from and who he is. His name will be used only once in the Poem (yet to come) and … Continue reading
“Ah,” that soul replied, “if I get the meaning of what you’ve just said, you must be speaking of the river Arno.”This speaker is Guido del Duca (1170-1250), a Ghibelline nobleman from Bretinoro in the Romagna region of Italy. In 1218 he was part of a force that drove the Guelphs out of Ravenna. They later … Continue reading
The other soul said to him quietly: “Why would he want to hide the name of that river from us, as though it were something terrible to talk about?”This speaker is Rinier da Calboli (1225-1296), a Guelph leader from Forlì. Note how he is a Guelph and his companion, Guido, is a Ghibelline. There are no party affiliations after death. He served … Continue reading
“I don’t know,” the other one answered. “Perhaps it’s just as good that the name of that place should die. I can tell you this much, though: from it’s source far up in the mountain chain that ended in Sicily, and all along its path down to the sea, people run away from virtue as though it were a snake! The place is cursed by its evil ways, and its citizens are so changed, they should be fed from Circe’s sty!Guido’s condemnation of the people who inhabit the lands through which the Arno flows is fast and sharp, and he’s taken his cue from Dante’s overly-generalized reply to the question of where he … Continue reading
“At first, that river passes brutish hogs who should feed on acorns instead of human food. As it flows onward, it passes among snarling mongrels, but turns away quickly. Farther along its course, this cursèd sewer widens and instead of wild dogs there are wolves. Flowing through deep canyons, it runs now among foxes, so skilled at fraud they elude every trap a man might set.Circe had the power to change people into various kinds of animals, and Guido (Dante) follows the literature, calling the inhabitants of the Casentino (the region through which the first part of the … Continue reading
“I won’t stop now, even though this man hears what I’m saying. As a matter of fact, he should know the truth that has been revealed to me, because in my vision I see your own grandson hunting down those wolves that live in terror of him along the banks of that evil stream. His wickedness knows no bounds as he sells his enemies like cattle, and later slaughters them! Robbing them of life, he robs himself of honor. Covered with their blood, he comes out of the forest, which – in a thousand years – will never be what it was.”In this passage it is Guido who is/has been speaking to Rinieri, not Dante. However, neither of them have been formally identified yet. That will come below. At the same time, Guido seems to know who … Continue reading
Like someone whose face shows shock at the news of approaching doom, the soul who listened to this terrible prophecy was grief-stricken. Hearing those words myself, and seeing the effect they had, aroused my curiosity, and I asked those souls to tell me who they were.One can only imagine Rinier’s reaction to hearing that his grandson was a monster. Looking at Rinier as Guido utters his prophecy, Dante also seems to share his grief and this prompts him – … Continue reading
The soul who had spoken first replied somewhat sharply: “You want me to identify myself, but you would not do so. However, since God has obviously gifted you, I will not hold back. I was Guido del Duca, and whenever I saw someone happy and joyful, I became livid with envy. Now, I reap here what I sowed down there. O human race! Why do you go to such lengths to get what you cannot have?Not much is known about Guido del Duca. He was born in the mid-to late 12th century and did around 1250. He was a Ghibelline of the noble Duchi family from Bertinoro, about 10 miles southwest of … Continue reading
“This soul with me here is Rinier, the favorite of the Calboli family, who now, after his death, have no heir to match his worth. From the Po to the Alps, from the Reno to the sea, no virtue is to be found in Romagna. The region within these boundaries is so thick with poisonous weeds and shrubs that planting something worthwhile would be impossible.Guido finally identifies the soul he has been talking to and about – Rinieri dei Paolucci da Calboli di Forlì. He was a member of a noted Guelph family. He held the position of podestà in … Continue reading
“Where are the honorable families of old? Good Lizio and Arrigo Mainardi, Pier Traversaro and Guido di Carpigna? O people of Romagna, over time you’ve turned into bastards! When will we find a Fabbro in Bologna again? When another Bernardin di Fosco in Faenza, who rose from humble roots to nobility?Guido’s apostrophe grows now as he mourns the loss of great families and leaders from the past in the face of present corruption and tyranny. Ronald Martinez offers a framework here to understand … Continue reading
“O Tuscan to whom I pour out my lament, what happened to Guido da Prata and Ugolin d’Azzo who lived with us? What of Federigo di Tignoso and his comrades; or the Traversaro and Anastagi – families with no heirs? Where are those ladies and knights, the tournaments, the courts that inspired love and gentility where hearts once filled with such grace are now so wicked?Addressing Dante directly, Guido continues. Guido da Prata was a nobleman in Ravenna, and Ugolin d’Azzo was a Tuscan of the Ubaldini family who lived in the Romagna. Federigo di Tignoso, the … Continue reading
“O Bretinoro, you should disappear now, since anyone who was good fled from your corruption long ago! Good for you, Bagnacaval, to have no more virtuous sons among you. Castrocaro and Conio will never match honorable men like yours. When the devil of the Pagani family finally dies, they will be the better for it, even though the memory of their wickedness lives on. And you are safe, Ugolin de’ Fantolin, since you have no heirs to corrupt your family name. So, be on your way, O Tuscan. I cannot speak more for weeping; such sorrow has filled my heart.”Bertinoro, about ten miles southwest of Forlì, was a town known for its generous nobles and leaders. The Mainardi family (mentioned above) had a castle there and Guido may be referring to them as … Continue reading
Virgil and I moved away from those sad souls, and their silence told us we were going in the right direction. But as we walked along that desolate path, a voice came down upon us like lightning rushing through the air: “If I am found, I shall be slain!” It echoed past like distant thunder in a storm. No sooner had we regained our senses than a second voice roared through the air like another clap of thunder: “I am Aglauros, who was turned to stone!” Instead of moving on, I moved closer to my Poet as everything around us became calm once again.
Then Virgil said: “What you just heard is the bridle that keeps a man going straight along life’s path. Sadly, however, you mortals are easily hooked like fish by the Evil One who reels you in. Then neither whip nor bridle can guide you. Look above you and see how the great spheres of the heavens move. They call out to you with their eternal glory. But in spite of all this splendor, you insist on looking only at the ground! And for that, God will punish you.”Not long after Dante and Virgil arrived at the Terrace of Envy in the previous canto, they heard the voices of kindly spirits telling of great acts of charity and love: Mary’s concern for the hosts … Continue reading
Notes & Commentary
|↑1||In response to something unusual, would a blind person say, “I’ve never seen anything like it!”? Nevertheless, two envious souls, probably leaning against each other, have overheard Dante’s conversation with Sapia and know that he’s alive. Their back-and-forth conversation is humorous as one soul gets the other to probe Dante’s identity, failing, it seems, to realize that he’s right there in front of them. One is reminded of naughty children having to tell their parents they’ve done something bad.
Then comes another captatio benevolentiae, but Dante’s use of this rhetorical device serves as a foil to the sin of envy which is punished here. Having just heard Sapia’s exclamations of benediction and miracles, their request to Dante now follows suit.
|↑2||One wonders whether this is Dante’s attempt to curb his pride – this opaque circumspection about where he’s from and who he is. His name will be used only once in the Poem (yet to come) and Hollander reminds us that Dante was probably not particularly famous in 1300 – the year he sets the Commedia. And yet, “His modesty here is gainsaid by his previous inclusion among the greatest poets of all time in [Limbo] Inferno 4:100ff.” He was also somewhat circumspect in Inferno 23:94ff when he encountered the hypocrites, and, perhaps more famous are Francesca’s lines in Inferno 5:97ff: “The place where I was born [Ravenna] lies on the shore where the river Po with its attendant streams descends to seek its final resting place.” Structurally, however, the fact that he mentions the Arno without actually naming it sets up a dialogue (nearly 100 lines) that will last almost to the end of this canto.
The river, of course, is the Arno, which rises at Mt. Falterona, about 30 miles east northeast of Florence in the Casentino forest region of the Apennines. But with much winding along the way, the distance from its source to Pisa, where it empties into the sea, is about 150 miles – having passed near Arezzo and through Florence on its way.
|↑3||This speaker is Guido del Duca (1170-1250), a Ghibelline nobleman from Bretinoro in the Romagna region of Italy. In 1218 he was part of a force that drove the Guelphs out of Ravenna. They later attacked Bretinoro and expelled him and other Ghibellines. Dante had answered the question about where he was from obliquely. However, Guido figures it out, saying in Italian: “‘Se ben lo ‘ntendimento tuo accarno con lo ‘ntelletto,’ allora mi rispuose quei che diceva pria, “tu parli d’Arno.” In other words, “If I ‘grasp’ (understand) the meaning of what said…you’re speaking of the Arno.” The word he chooses for “grasp,” accarno, describes the action of one animal catching another and sinking its teeth into its flesh (carne). But Guido’s (Dante’s) clever word choice shows that he knows the name of the river – acc–arno.|
|↑4||This speaker is Rinier da Calboli (1225-1296), a Guelph leader from Forlì. Note how he is a Guelph and his companion, Guido, is a Ghibelline. There are no party affiliations after death. He served as podestà of many cities and was involved in several attacks and counter-attacks throughout his life – at one point being spared from death by Guido da Montefeltro, whom we met in canto 27 of the Inferno.
Continuing to speak together in hushed tones (lest Dante hear?), Rinier still doesn’t seem to understand why mentioning the Arno is such a terrible thing.
|↑5||Guido’s condemnation of the people who inhabit the lands through which the Arno flows is fast and sharp, and he’s taken his cue from Dante’s overly-generalized reply to the question of where he is from. As noted above, the source of the Arno is on the slopes of Mt. Falterona in the Apennine chain which, it was believed from ancient times, ended in northeastern Sicily. The island was thought to have been cut off from the Italian peninsula by some great upheaval, creating the Strait of Messina. Interestingly, modern geologists confirm this to be true. Dante may have known this apart from Virgil’s Aeneid, where we read about Helenus’ advice to Aeneas:|
“But when the wind carries you, on leaving, to the Sicilian shore, and the barriers of narrow Pelorus [modern Cape Faro] open ahead, make for the seas and land to port, in a long circuit: avoid the shore and waters on the starboard side. They say, when the two were one continuous stretch of land, they one day broke apart, torn by the force of a vast upheaval (time’s remote antiquity enables such great changes). The sea flowed between them with force, and severed the Italian from the Sicilian coast, and a narrow tideway washes the cities and fields on separate shores” (III:410ff).
People talk of rivers as “snaking” along their course, and the Arno is no different. But notice how Dante changes the “snake” image into the reptile that people run away from. Those who live along the Arno are, according to Guido (Dante), so foul, corrupt, and cursed that they have been transformed into filthy pigs, just as Odysseus’ men were transformed into pigs by the sorceress Circe (see Homer’s Odyssey, Books X and XII, and Ovid’s Metamorphoses Book XIV). It’s interesting to see how Virgil, in his Aeneid (VII:30ff), has Neptune guide Aeneas away from Circe’s island by sailing past it at night:
|↑6||Circe had the power to change people into various kinds of animals, and Guido (Dante) follows the literature, calling the inhabitants of the Casentino (the region through which the first part of the Arno flows) pigs, those from Arezzo wild dogs, those from Florence wolves, and the Pisans foxes. The river itself becomes almost bestial or reptilian (see above).
Commentators note that Dante may have had the clan of the Conti Guidi in mind when he mentions the Casentino because their castle was in the region of the Arno’s sources and some of their members are referred to in the Inferno (Guido Guerra in XIV:39; Master Adam in XXX:58-69; Guido and Alessandro in XXX:77). Singleton observes that Guido refers to them here as brutti porci, filthy pigs, and that Dante may have intended the word porci as a play on the Porciano branch of the family, whose castle was at the foot of Monte Falterona where the Arno started.
The “snarling mongrels” is a reference to the inhabitants of the area of the city of Arezzo. From its source, the Arno flows almost southward for about 35 miles. Just north of Arezzo it makes a sharp curve back toward the northwest and on toward Florence. It’s fascinating here to see how Dante’s mind works. The citizens of Arezzo were often made fun of as small dogs, good for nothing but barking. Even early commentaries on this canto note this. The fact that the Arno makes a sharp turn to the northwest just above Arezzo gives Guido an opportunity to suggest that the “brutish hogs” from the Casentino Region are turned back by the “snarling mongrels” of Arezzo. Thus the flow of the Arno from Monte Falterona to Arezzo = “brutish hogs,” and the flow and sharp turn at Arezzo = “snarling mongrels.” The river itself is likened to a snorting pig rooting its way southward toward Arezzo and driven off by the barking dogs of that city. Dante most likely gets this image from Ovid who, in his Remedia Amoris, VI, says, “…the boar is often gripped by a not very large hound.” Musa says here: “Guido probably makes mocking use of [this] motto on Arezzo’s coat of arms…” I have been unable to find an image of it, but according to the Anonimo Fiorentino, the Aretines had cut on their totem, ‘A cane non magno saepe tenetur aper.’ (The wild boar is often caught by a small dog.)
As the Arno moves farther on toward Florence, the wild dogs give way to wolves, which are often a symbol of avarice and greed. Sayers notes that Dante characterized Arezzo as a Ghibelline city as dogs, and Florence, a Guelph city as wolves. At various places in the Comedy, Dante rants against the greed of his city and how this sin has corrupted it, corrupted its leaders, and corrupted the Church hierarchy.
Finally, the Arno reaches the region of Pisa, tainted with fraud and characterized by foxes. Recall how the famous, but tragic, Pisan strategist, Guido da Montefeltro, characterized his skill as fox-like (Inferno 27:74).
|↑7||In this passage it is Guido who is/has been speaking to Rinieri, not Dante. However, neither of them have been formally identified yet. That will come below. At the same time, Guido seems to know who Dante is, though the Pilgrim has yet to identify himself. All of this adds foundation to the “prophecy” that Guido is about to make – not caring who hears it, not caring who it hurts. Hollander notes a dispute among commentators here as to whether the intended recipient of the prophecy is Rinieri or Dante. Dante, who is still alive, might make something of what Guido foretells, but Rinieri is no longer in a position to effect any change on earth. Furthermore, Guido tells Rinieri that “he (Dante) should know the truth.”
As for the vision itself, before it is even explained it already has the status of a revelation. But even this is unusual because, while we already know that souls in the afterlife can see into the future, it’s curious that Guido has this power but not Rinieri. Commentators have wrangled over this, usually ending by suggesting that some souls have the power and others don’t. If we recall that Dante casts the poem back to the year 1300, what Guido is about to say has, in fact, already happened. Mark Musa offers a simple solution that fits the context of where we are – on the Terrace of Envy: “But Guido, like envy in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, seems to feed on misfortune and to form his thoughts from its substance.”
Guido says that he sees Rinieri’s grandson hunting down wolves. This grandson was Fulcieri da Calboli, who became the chief magistrate (podestà) of Florence in 1302. Florence, remember, was inhabited by “wolves,” and this is around the time Dante was exiled. But Fulcieri was, indeed, a wicked and ruthless man. Florence’s citizens and its government were in constant turmoil at the time. Guelphs and Ghibellines were continually fighting for power, and the Guelph party itself split into two factions: the White Guelphs and the Black Guelphs (so-called for the colors of their banners). Many Italian cities at this time were in the same situation and, finding it impossible to settle their disagreements, chose outsiders to govern them – hopefully impartially. Fulcieri, a Guelph from Forlì) set about arresting, torturing, and killing many White Guelphs (Dante’s party) to solidify his power. The few Ghibellines that were left in Florence received the same treatment. He was noted for handing his enemies over to their enemies to be killed for sport (selling them like cattle)! In terms of Guido’s imagery, these Whites were the “wolves” Fulcieri hunted and killed. The “forest” he emerges from all covered with blood is Florence itself. He himself has become a beast, and his predatory rule has almost literally deforested Florence – which may never recover from such devastation. Some commentators note that this imagery may have come from Dante’s own memory of the “dark forest” he found himself in at the beginning of the Inferno. Dante himself was lucky to be away (from that dark forest of Florence) on diplomatic business in Rome when much of this happened or, most likely, he would have been caught up in it. Between the years 1297 and 1309 Fulcieri was also podestà of Milan, Parma, and Modena. He died in 1340.
|↑8||One can only imagine Rinier’s reaction to hearing that his grandson was a monster. Looking at Rinier as Guido utters his prophecy, Dante also seems to share his grief and this prompts him – finally – to ask who these two souls are. Note how this canto is characterized by the drawn out and back-and-forth play on identities: Dante, Guido, Rinier, the Arno/Tuscany, the four animals, etc.|
|↑9||Not much is known about Guido del Duca. He was born in the mid-to late 12th century and did around 1250. He was a Ghibelline of the noble Duchi family from Bertinoro, about 10 miles southwest of Forlì. In 1199 he is noted as a judge for the podestà of Rimini. Later he was a man of affairs in the Romagna region and drove the Guelphs from Ravenna in 1218 where he may have lived until he died.
Note how he continues to do all the talking, and how he’s quick to throw Dante’s question back at him. Nevertheless, already sensing that the Pilgrim is the recipient of a divine privilege, he answers Dante kindly and with his confession, not unlike what Sapia did in the previous canto. As I noted with Sapia, the confession is part of the purgation these sinners undergo and, like her, Guido’s is a manifestation that the purgation on this terrace is working to good effect – even to his small apostrophe to the human race. Envy grows because people want what they cannot have and/or they won’t share what they have with others. As we will see in the next canto and later in the Poem, love, particularly divine love, increases the more it is shared.
Apart from what Guido confesses, there is not much evidence about his envy. However, Mark Musa offers an interesting possibility:
|↑10||Guido finally identifies the soul he has been talking to and about – Rinieri dei Paolucci da Calboli di Forlì. He was a member of a noted Guelph family. He held the position of podestà in several cities. To counterbalance his dark prophecy about Rinieri’s grandson above, Guido here compliments his nobility, but laments that he had no heirs to match his worth. In Paradiso canto 16:9-12, Dante will remark: “Nobility, a mantle quick to shrink! / Unless we add to it from day to day, / time with its shears will trim off more and more.”
Following upon his compliment to Rinieri, though, Guido reprises his denunciation of those who live along the River Arno – this time it’s the region of Romagna, not Tuscany, but which, like Tuscany, suffers the same fate of bad government and social strife which ruins the state like poisoned ground where nothing good can grow.
The Po is Italy’s major river. It stretches all the way across northern Italy from the northwestern Alps and empties into the Adriatic at Ravenna. It forms the northern boundary of the Romagna region. The Reno is a river that marks the boundary between the Romagna and Tuscany and, like the Po, empties into the Adriatic just north of Ravenna.
|↑11||Guido’s apostrophe grows now as he mourns the loss of great families and leaders from the past in the face of present corruption and tyranny. Ronald Martinez offers a framework here to understand Guido’s catalog:|
“In nine tercets (ll. 97-121), Guido deploys seventeen names (of families and places), arranged in groups of two to four tercets. The first group (six names) denounces corrupt families; the second (five names) laments the loss of noble manners; the third (six again) praises the lack of new offspring as a blessing.”
All seventeen men were important figures in Romagna at some point in Guido’s life, and they were most likely highly regarded in Dante’s time.
|↑12||Addressing Dante directly, Guido continues. Guido da Prata was a nobleman in Ravenna, and Ugolin d’Azzo was a Tuscan of the Ubaldini family who lived in the Romagna. Federigo di Tignoso, the Traversaro, and the Anastago families were all well-known Ghibellines of Ravenna. As he recalls so many noble families, Guido also remembers with regret their lifestyles as courtly knights and ladies with their tournaments and genteel manners – all gone now. The last sentence here is, in fact, used by Lodovico Ariosto to open his great romance epic, Orlando Furioso, written in 1516: “Ladies and knights, weapons and love, courteous acts, bold-hearted deeds: all these I sing.”|
|↑13||Bertinoro, about ten miles southwest of Forlì, was a town known for its generous nobles and leaders. The Mainardi family (mentioned above) had a castle there and Guido may be referring to them as having fled long ago. Bagnacavallo (literally “horsebath”) is 15 miles west of Ravenna. The Ghibelline Malvicini family were lords there. They were involved with the expulsion of Guido da Polenta and the Guelphs from Ravenna in 1249. Later on their reputation was tarnished by their often changing sides. Castrocaro and Conio were castles located to the southwest of Forlì in the valley of the Montone River. The Lords of Castrocaro were Ghibellines, those of Conio were Guelph.
The Pagani were Ghibelline lords of Imola and Faenza at the end of the thirteenth century. The worst offspring of the family was the notorious Maghinardo, known as “the demon,” a cruel and cunning warrior who frequently changed sides (see Inferno 27:50-51). He died in 1302, and is, therefore, the only person named in this canto who would have been alive at the imaginary date of the Poem (1300).
Ugolino de’ Fantolni of Faenza (d.1278) was a Guelph nobleman from Cerfugnano (modern Zerfognano di Brisighella, about 8 miles southwest of Faenza). He led a quiet and honorable life, and his line died out (and therefore can no longer be disgraced) when his sons were killed in campaigns against Guido da Montefeltro (Inferno 27). He was the podestà of Faenza several times and noted by Jacopo della Lana as a “brave, virtuous, and noble person,” and by Benvenuto da Imona as “a man of singular goodness and wisdom.”
What is also fascinating in these long monologues is the picture Dante the Poet gives us of the times he was living in. There is no doubt that he was deeply acquainted with the human condition and knew more about all these men and their deeds than he tells us here. At the same time, underlying these stories is a great deal of sin and evil – some of which radically affected Dante’s own life. Guido, of course, is mourning the loss of the “good old days.” But we – alongside Dante (and Guido, for that matter) – are also in a place of ultimate mercy, forgiveness, and redemption. These are the markers of hope, and the deeper message of this canto is to focus on that hope. Guido’s last words obviously leave the silent Dante with much to think about as he continues his journey.
|↑14||Not long after Dante and Virgil arrived at the Terrace of Envy in the previous canto, they heard the voices of kindly spirits telling of great acts of charity and love: Mary’s concern for the hosts at the wedding feast, Pylades disguising himself to save the life of his friend, and Jesus’ words from the Sermon on the Mount. These were the “whip” of envy, intended to give examples of virtue to the envious sinners to bring them back onto the path of righteousness. Now, before we leave this terrace, we experience the “bridle” of envy, a much darker set of warnings to the blind souls here. Earlier, it was sweet voices. Now they come like the booming sounds of a thunderstorm.
The first voice is taken from the Old Testament (Genesis 4:14). Note that Adam and Eve committed the first great sin of pride. And now we hear the desperate voice of Cain, their oldest son, who killed his brother out of envy – the next great sin. Frightened that anyone who saw him would recognize him as a murderer, he is marked by God so that he will not be recognized. The second voice is taken from classical mythology (Ovid, Metamorphoses II:737-832). This is a wonderfully narrated, but wicked story of envy told by Ovid. Cecrops, king of Athens, had two daughters, Herse and Aglauros. The god Mercury fell in love with Herse and bribed her sister, Aglauros, to arrange a place of assignation. However, because Aglauros had offended Minerva, the goddess went to Envy’s cave and sent her to poison Auglauros’ heart with envy for her sister. When Mercury came for Herse, Auglauros refused to let him enter the house, and as he left he turned her into stone! Ovid ends by saying: “Nor was she white stone: her mind had stained it.”
Mark Musa offers a wonderful perspective in his commentary here to bring this canto to a close:
In the end, Virgil’s small sermon leaves us with much to think about. Near the beginning of canto 3 of the Inferno, he explained to Dante that Hell was filled with people who had lost the good of the intellect. That’s a somewhat oblique way of saying that Hell is a place for those who choose to forfeit God’s greatest gift – freedom of the will. The result is that they live like moral beasts, having given themselves over to the wiles of the Evil One. Sadly, Virgil states here, in spite of the “whip” and the “rein” of virtue, we easily go astray and loose our way in the “dark wood of error” (where Dante found himself at the very beginning of the Poem. But this doesn’t have to be the case, he insists. In a wonderful moment of vision that makes us think of the Paradiso, Virgil tells us to look up into the heavens and see the movement of the planets and stars. More than a glance, though, know that all we see there calls out to us in the splendor of their glory. But we must look up in order to see. That is our destiny. To look down (literally and spiritually) is to adopt the posture of an animal. And, he ends, for that choice God will punish us!
In his De consolatione philosophiae, which Dante certainly read and used, Boethius wrote: “In their blindness men are content, and know not where lies hid the good which they desire. They sink in earthly things, and there they seek that which has soared above the star-lit heavens (III,M8).” And he writes again: “Look upon the expanse of heaven, the strength with which it stands, the rapidity with which it moves, and cease for a while to wonder at base things (III,P8).” And, finally, Robert Hollander brings his commentary here to a close with a wonderful image of God as a falconer who uses the stars as lures to direct us back to Himself. Sadly, though, as Virgil notes, we are drawn downward to false lures rather than upward toward the great Falconer Himself.