Dante and Virgil are now within a cloud of dark, acrid smoke. Dante is blinded by the smoke and can only proceed by holding onto Virgil’s shoulder. They hear souls singing Agnus Dei, the hymn of peace, as they are purged of their sin of anger. Dante wonders who the singers are and is interrupted by Marco the Lombard, with whom he has a long conversation about why the world is in such a bad state.
The terrible smoke that now surrounded us completely was worse than the gloom of Hell, and darker than a night sky empty of all its stars and planets and covered over with heavy clouds. Not only that, it was thick and harsh, and it stung my eyes so that I had to keep them closed as I hung on to Virgil’s shoulder for support. I was a blind man, helpless, walking close to my guide so I wouldn’t wander off or crash into something that might injure or even kill me. Moving through that foul, stinging air, Virgil guided me gently. “Watch out there!” he would say, or “Be careful to hold on to me now.”Having arrived at the Terrace of Wrath, the Pilgrims are enveloped in such a thick and acrid smoke that Dante is blinded and must rely on Virgil (who can see) to guide him. This will last through the … Continue reading
And all the while, I could hear voices. They were praying for peace and mercy from the Lamb of God who cleanses us from sin. Each verse began with the words Agnus Dei, and all those voices in unison gave one a sense of complete and perfect harmony.While he’s getting used to the smoke and blindness of this terrace, Dante hears voices praying in unison. That the sinners are praying this way is significant because it manifests the redemptive … Continue reading
“Master,” I asked, still blind, “whose voices are these? The souls here?”
“Yes,” he replied. “And as they sing, they loosen the knot of anger which held them so tightly bound in life.”Virgil confirms for Dante what we noted above–it is the sinners who are praying (or, perhaps, chanting). That they do so in unison is evidence that the “knot of anger” is being loosened in … Continue reading
“You there, with a body that moves the smoke as you walk. You speak as though you were still alive. Who are you?”
This question came from somewhere in that awful smoke. Virgil whispered: “Tell him who you are, and then ask him if we’re going in the right direction.”The soul who calls out, though a spirit like Virgil, must have sensed some disturbance in the smoky air. How this happened we aren’t told, but the fact that it did adds to the mystery of this … Continue reading
So I began: “O creature, purifying your soul here so that you may return to God more beautiful, come along with me and I will tell you amazing things.”
“Well, I’ll join you as far as I am permitted to go,” he said, “and if we can’t see each other at least we can hear.”One can imagine that this soul stopped praying with the others when he sensed Dante’s presence. Interestingly, he doesn’t seem to recognize that Virgil is also present though he certainly must … Continue reading
“As you thought, I am still alive, and I come here having traveled all the way through Hell. You see, God has filled me with the grace of desire to see His Kingdom, and permits me to do this by means unknown to others. So, if you please, tell me who you were. And, if you would be so kind, tell me also if this path will lead us to the stairs upward. Your words will be the guide we need.”Dante fulfills his promise to tell amazing things as he reports that he is indeed alive, that he has come here by way of Hell, and that he’s on his way, by a special and mystical grace not given to … Continue reading
“I was a Lombard,” he replied, “and my name was Marco. I was well-versed in the ways of the world, but I also pursued the ways of virtue, which few seem to do nowadays. The path you’re on now is, in fact, the one that will lead you upward.” Then he added this request: “When you reach that Kingdom above, may I ask that you pray for me?”At last we have the name of Dante’s interlocutor. Though he and Dante carry on a conversation significant to both of them, we know very little about Marco. And though there are hints at his … Continue reading
“You have my word,” I said. “I will do as you ask. But, now, let me ask you a question. I have been bothered by a problem that was raised down below, and what you just said makes me feel that you may be able to solve it for me. You noted that the world is lacking in virtue and filled with more and more wickedness. What do you think is the cause of this, so that I might understand it and then enlighten others with the truth. Some see the cause in our stars, and for others the cause is found on earth.”What Marco said that leads Dante to pursue him further was this: “I was well-versed in the ways of the world, but I also pursued the ways of virtue, which few seem to do nowadays.” In other … Continue reading
He sighed heavily, as though in grief. “Unfortunately, my brother, the world is blind. You know this because that is where you come from. How many there are who attribute causes and outcomes to the stars, as if they controlled everything. But think: if this were the case, then we would have no free will. And where would be the justice in simply rewarding good and punishing evil?Here begins Marco’s 66-line answer to Dante’s question! Obviously, the Poet is interested in this topic to devote so much space to it. That the stars and planets have an influence on … Continue reading
“It is true that the heavens do have some influence on your inclinations, though not all of them. But even so, you have the wisdom to know right from wrong. And you also have free will. You might not always choose the right thing, but your will grows stronger the more you use it to choose what is good.
“Always remember that your freedom comes from God who created you to be free. The stars and heavens have no control over this. So you can see that the cause of evil in the world comes from yourselves, nothing else. However, let me explain this in even greater detail.Marco continues by admitting that–as noted above–the stars have some influence on some of our actions. However, he also points to the fact that wisdom (reason), which we also possess, and free … Continue reading
“The innocent soul is fashioned by the loving hands of God, who looks upon it with joy before giving it being. She is like a little child, simple and pure. As she plays, she is drawn to whatever attracts her, however frivolous; and she will want that thing unless she be guided to something better. Men are not much different. They need laws and they need leaders who can at least see the ramparts of the Heavenly City. You will say, ‘Yes, but there are laws.’ That is true, but no one enforces them. The Pope may know the laws, but he doesn’t understand how to apply them. Unfortunately, the flock who see that the Pope is greedy for the same things they are, will be happy to eat the same things he does! So you can begin to see that the poor state of affairs in the world at present is caused by bad leadership–not by your inner nature, though that is becoming corrupt.When we are born, Marco explains, our souls are as child-like as our baby bodies. Having watched small children at play, we can follow the image he uses: they are distracted by one pretty thing or … Continue reading
“In older times, Rome, which was a seed for good in the world, had two suns. One lighted the road of this world, and the other showed the path to God. But now, the church has usurped the prerogatives of the empire. The sword and shepherd’s crook have become one, and nothing good can come of this because neither one fears nor obeys the other.Marco looks back to an ideal time when Rome’s “two suns”–the Emperor and the Pope, lived in peace, each upholding their own responsibilities and each respecting the rights of the other. … Continue reading
“In times past, the regions watered by the Po and the Adige were filled with virtue and honesty–until Frederick’s continual conflicts. Now none but disreputable people walk the streets–and with pride!Using the names of two different rivers, Marco echoes Guido’s image in Canto 14 of the banks of the Arno populated and contaminated by equally “disreputable” people. As it happened, Marco … Continue reading
Three old men still live there, whose noble lives stand in stark contrast to the present state of things. This being the case, how they must long for God to bring them quickly into his Kingdom. I speak of Currado da Palazzo, Gherardo da Camino, and Guido da Castel–noted for his simple way of life.Again, echoing Guido del Duca in Canto 14, Marco makes note of noble characters whose virtue contrasts with the present state of affairs. Currado da Palazzo was a Guelph nobleman from Brescia. He … Continue reading Let this be your message, then: the Church, trying to usurp the role of the Empire, has mired herself in filth, fouling herself and perverting her true mission!”At the beginning of this conversation, Dante asked Marco to tell him the truth about why the world is lacking in virtue and filled with wickedness. His purpose in asking this question was so that he … Continue reading
“My dear Marco,” I said, “how clearly you have presented your answers to my question. I understand, as well, why it was that the Levites who served God in His Temple, were forbidden to own land.We are accustomed to Dante’s tangling one or more items together along the way of his Poem. On the one hand, this is a simple “Thank you!” for the breadth, length, and depth of Marco’s … Continue reading
But tell me, please, who is this man Gherardo you speak of, whose life is an example of virtue in our wicked age?”
“Surely, you jest!” he replied. “You, a Tuscan, do not know of Gherardo? I know him only by that name, though he might be called ‘Gaia’s father.’As noted above, Gherardo da Cammino, was a nobleman from Brescia, captain-general of Treviso, and noted for his generous hospitality to poets. He is known to have entertained Dante during his exile. … Continue reading
Nevertheless, may God be with you! I have walked with you as far as it is permitted, and now I must return. But open your eyes and look ahead now–you can see how the light gets brighter with every step we take. The great angel is near, I must not be seen by him.” And he disappeared back into the thick darkness of that smoke without giving me a chance to ask more questions.As noted above, Gherardo da Cammino, was a nobleman from Brescia, captain-general of Treviso, and noted for his generous hospitality to poets. He is known to have entertained Dante during his exile. … Continue reading
From Dante’s De Monarchia (3.11.7-10) on the “two suns” (noted above): “Thus God’s ineffable Providence set before man two goals to pursue: the beatitude of this life, which consists in the operation of human virtue and is figured by the Earthly Paradise; … Continue reading
Notes & Commentary
|↑1||Having arrived at the Terrace of Wrath, the Pilgrims are enveloped in such a thick and acrid smoke that Dante is blinded and must rely on Virgil (who can see) to guide him. This will last through the entire canto, during which, by the way, the entire Poem reaches its mid-point. The Poet represents his guide here as gentle and caring, similar to their experience in Canto 24 (ll.22-30) in the Inferno as they were climbing out of the pit of the Hypocrites. The smoke is a clever contrapasso inflicted on the angry sinners who populate this terrace. While alive, their good judgment and the exercise of their free will were clouded by their wrath, and so they suffer and repent in a real smoke that also symbolizes the blinding anger that led them away from the path of virtue. Note how Dante’s opening description of this terrace is not unlike the darkness of Hell. Note also how, on this terrace and the one below it, the sinners are blinded. Dante’s observation that, without his Guide’s help, he could get lost, or worse, fatally injure himself, gives us another sense of the seriousness of the purgation that is performed on the sinners here. Compared to the earlier terraces below them, where the path seemed fairly safe, this one is fraught with physical danger–again referencing how individuals caught up in the bitter smoke of wrath can and do harm others. Here Virgil’s words take on added meaning: “Hang on to me!”|
|↑2||While he’s getting used to the smoke and blindness of this terrace, Dante hears voices praying in unison. That the sinners are praying this way is significant because it manifests the redemptive work of this particular terrace where the chaos of anger is changed into the unity of prayer and the harmony of peace. And it contrasts with the tumult of Hell. In addition, the particular prayer the sinners are reciting is an ancient one from the liturgy of the Mass which the congregation recites after the Our Father and before they receive Holy Communion: “Lamb of God (Agnus Dei), you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us. Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us. Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, grant us peace.” The Lamb of God is a reference to Christ as the sacrificial victim who died to take away our sins and grant us peace. The innocent and spotless sacrificial lamb contrasts here with the sin of anger. Christian iconography often depicts a lamb as representing Christ. The significance of this prayer is also heightened because it comes from the liturgy of the Mass which, for Christians, is the highest form of prayer. All through the Purgatorio we are intended by Dante to see elements and symbols of the liturgy in which the penitent souls participate as they purged from their sins in sure anticipation of the heaven that awaits them.|
|↑3||Virgil confirms for Dante what we noted above–it is the sinners who are praying (or, perhaps, chanting). That they do so in unison is evidence that the “knot of anger” is being loosened in them. Proverbs 5:22 tells us: “By their own iniquities the wicked will be caught, in the meshes of their own sin they will be held fast.” And John the Baptist, in St. Luke’s Gospel (3:5) quotes the prophet Isaiah: “The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth.” All the while, of course, Dante is blinded by the same acrid smoke that blinds the repenting sinners.|
|↑4||The soul who calls out, though a spirit like Virgil, must have sensed some disturbance in the smoky air. How this happened we aren’t told, but the fact that it did adds to the mystery of this terrace. The soul’s question reminds us of the incident in Inferno 8:33 when Dante and Virgil are crossing the River Styx and Filippo Argenti rises up out of the water and attempts to get into the boat, challenging Dante with the same question.
In the Italian, the soul not only points out that Dante is alive, but that he (the living) measures time by calendars (or calends). It’s a subtle point the soul makes, but the Poet reminds us by doing this that space and time in Purgatory are radically different from what the living experience on earth. Note also that Virgil doesn’t answer for Dante, but he does tell him what to ask.
|↑5||One can imagine that this soul stopped praying with the others when he sensed Dante’s presence. Interestingly, he doesn’t seem to recognize that Virgil is also present though he certainly must have heard him speaking to Dante. Is this because Virgil is also a spirit? Or is this simply Dante at work? Regardless, in light of Dante’s gracious–and intriguing–invitation, the soul seems quite willing to interrupt his purgation to walk along with the Pilgrims, though both he and Dante are blind (and Virgil must obviously be able to see). Recall that in Inferno 15 Brunetto Latini also walked for a while along with Dante and Virgil. When this soul agrees to join the travelers “as far as I am permitted to go,” commentators suggest that, while Dante and Virgil have been walking to the right, the wrathful sinners here have been walking in the opposite direction. The soul, only able to follow Dante’s voice, will now join the two Pilgrims proceeding to the right.|
|↑6||Dante fulfills his promise to tell amazing things as he reports that he is indeed alive, that he has come here by way of Hell, and that he’s on his way, by a special and mystical grace not given to others, to see the rest of God’s Kingdom. He is not a spirit, but this special grace God has given him enables him to travel through the realms of the afterlife which are all inhabited by spirits.
When Dante says that his travels through the realms of the afterlife are the result of a grace not given to others, the Italian is: “per modo tutto fuor del moderno uso…” In other words, “in a way that is completely out of modern use.” Hollander notes here that this is the first time the word moderno is used in the Italian language. Thanks to Dante. This definitely gives his travels special significance in the sense that no one has ever done what he is doing (perhaps with the exception of St. Paul, who describes his vision of heaven in 2 Corinthians 12:1-7) Furthermore, that no one has ever done what he is doing is, most likely, a reference to the Commedia, which he will continue to elevate as the poem continues. Dante’s command of the language is such that he not only adds to it, but he is able to use it to create a poem of unmatched stature for the last 700 years! And yet, this master of language is humble enough to ask for simple directions.
|↑7||At last we have the name of Dante’s interlocutor. Though he and Dante carry on a conversation significant to both of them, we know very little about Marco. And though there are hints at his temperament, nothing stands out as a characterizing sin that would land him here on the Terrace of the Wrathful–except that Dante puts him here.
Marco first identifies himself as a Lombard. Lombardy is presently one of the provinces of north central Italy, its chief cities being Milan, Brescia, and Bergamo. In Dante’s time, being a Lombard or from Lombardy often meant northern Italy generally. We do know that he also lived in Venice, that he was noted for his many noble qualities, and that, while he knew the ways of the world, he lived a generally virtuous life. Benvenuto da Imola writes that “He was a certain noble knight of the illustrious city of the Venetians.” According to some of the oldest commentators, including Benvenuto, his several princely acquaintances indicate that he may at times have been a political counselor and diplomat. Ronald Martinez connects him with a major character we met at the end of the Inferno: Count Ugolino in Canto 33. Marco denounced him for his betrayal of the Guelphs. Hollander suggests he may have been well-known enough in Dante’s time that additional biographical information was unnecessary.
That Marco was apparently a man who strove to live a virtuous life–noting that not many do–is manifest in his answer to one of Dante’s questions: “The path you’re on now is, in fact, the one that will lead you upward.” And at this point he seems to recognize the deeper significance of Dante’s gifted journey by asking the Pilgrim to pray for him when he reaches Paradise. By the way, he is the first soul we’ve met in Purgatory who has asked him to do this. Dante obviously takes the measure of Marco, because what he already knows of him from real life and what he says here enables the Pilgrim to raise a question we will soon discover is of great importance to both men, particularly because both of them realize the social consequences of lives lived without virtue.
|↑8||What Marco said that leads Dante to pursue him further was this: “I was well-versed in the ways of the world, but I also pursued the ways of virtue, which few seem to do nowadays.” In other words, Dante wants to know why so many no longer follow the path of virtue. But he also adds a “teaser,” as it were: Does the cause of this problem lay in the stars, or is it here on earth? His hope is that Marco will enlighten him so that he, in turn, can enlighten others when he returns from his journey. Given the historical circumstances of Dante’s life and times, it’s no wonder that he’s interested in the answer to this question because he himself has suffered greatly at the hands of those who do not follow the path of virtue. Furthermore, his concern has been fed by Guido del Duca’s harangue in Canto 14 against those degenerates who live along the shores of the Arno, from its source to the sea.|
|↑9||Here begins Marco’s 66-line answer to Dante’s question! Obviously, the Poet is interested in this topic to devote so much space to it.
That the stars and planets have an influence on the human character and human affairs is an ancient astrological principle that was still very much alive in Dante’s time. He himself believed that the stars had some minor role in the direction of human affairs, yet he also placed astrologers and fortune-tellers in Canto 20 of the Inferno, walking forward with their heads twisted backwards! Yet even today various forms of astrology are popular.
Fundamentally, that the stars have a more than passing influence on human behavior is a denial of free will. In Paradiso 5:19-24, Beatrice, referring to free will, tells Dante: “The greatest gift that our bounteous Lord bestowed as the Creator, in creating, the gift He cherishes the most, the one most like Himself, was freedom of the will. All creatures with intelligence, and they alone, were so endowed both then and now.” Quite an amazing statement! If one denies the freedom of the will, they are no better than animals. These, in fact, are the ones Virgil refers to when he and Dante enter the gate of Hell in Canto 3 (l.18) of the Inferno: “…souls who lost the good of the intellect.” By choosing sin over grace and virtue, the souls have forfeited their free will. Better yet, they’ve misused their free will to choose sin over God. In Canto 14 above, Guido del Duco told Dante that the banks of the Arno are populated by people who have become like animals–corrupted their wills and chosen evil over good.
If, as Marco suggests, human affairs were guided by the stars–fate, in other words, not only would we have no free will, but this raises significant questions about the nature and workings of justice, good and evil, and the rewards or punishments that follow from them. No wonder he sighs! But he sighs also at human moral blindness, perhaps Dante’s included. There is an irony here, of course, because though both Dante and Marco are blinded by the thick smoke of this place, Marco can “see” what Dante wants to see but can’t until Marco answers his question. In the largest sense possible, Purgatory is a correction of faulty sight.
|↑10||Marco continues by admitting that–as noted above–the stars have some influence on some of our actions. However, he also points to the fact that wisdom (reason), which we also possess, and free will, always trump the influence of the stars. This is not to deny that we can choose bad things. The important thing is that we have the power to choose bad things–as well as good ones. But the point he wants to make, and this Dante would agree with, is that our wills grow ever stronger the more we choose the path of virtue. Freedom–in this case, free will–comes from God who created us to be free. This echoes St. Paul in his Letter to the Galatians (v. 1): “For freedom Christ set us free; so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.” One might think of the yoke of slavery here as willingly limiting ourselves to the influence of the stars. In the end, and willing to explain further, he begins by telling Dante outright, we ourselves are the cause of evil in the world–nothing else. Again, this is the case because we misuse our free will to make bad choices.
A passage from St. Thomas Aquinas, quoted by Charles Singleton here, offers several clear and precise points (items bracketed or in parentheses are Singleton’s):
“…acts of the free will, which is the faculty of will and reason, escape the causality of heavenly bodies. For the intellect or reason is not a body, nor the act of a bodily organ, and consequently neither is the will, since it is in the reason, as the Philosopher [Aristotle] shows (De Anima iii. 4[429n], 9[432b]). Now no body can make an impression on an incorporeal body. Wherefore it is impossible for heavenly bodies to make a direct impression on the intellect and will: for this would be to deny the difference between intellect and sense, with which position Aristotle reproaches (De Anima iii. 3[427a]) those who held that such is the will of man, as is the day which the father of men and of gods, i.e. the sun or the heavens, brings on. [Homer, Odyssey XVIII, 135-37.]
“Hence the heavenly bodies cannot be the direct cause of the free will’s operations. Nevertheless they can be a dispositive cause of an inclination to those operations, in so far as they make an impression on the human body, and consequently on the sensitive powers which are acts of bodily organs having an inclination for human acts. Since, however, the sensitive powers obey reason, as the Philosopher shows (De Anima iii. II [434a]: Ethic. i. 13 [ 1 102b]), this does not impose any necessity on the free will, and man is able, by his reason, to act counter to the inclination of the heavenly bodies (Summa Theol. II-II, q. 95, a. 5, resp.).”
Fundamentally, Nature is created by God, as are the starry heavens. We, too, are created by God, but we are given His most precious gift–our free will–the gift most like Himself (see Beatrice above). In the end, since Nature and the stars cannot make such a claim, we must be careful to limit the extent to which we might be tempted to say that we are guided by them.
|↑11||When we are born, Marco explains, our souls are as child-like as our baby bodies. Having watched small children at play, we can follow the image he uses: they are distracted by one pretty thing or another, and want whatever strikes their fancy at the moment. No doubt, these pretty things are good. But, innocent as they are, children need to be guided and taught to control their impulses. And, sadly, there’s a bite to what he says next: grown-ups are not much different from children in this regard. They also need virtuous guides and leaders if they are to follow the path toward the “Heavenly City.”
“Ah!,” Dante replies, “There are laws, there are guides.” And Marco agrees. But, he argues, no one enforces those laws and, we might be persuaded to say, (almost) no one keeps them. What follows is already clear from Dante’s own life and experience: the Emperor has not lived up to his responsibilities, and the Pope, who should be the leader of the faithful par excellence, is himself corrupt and lawless (behaving, at times, as though he were the Emperor). His example is worthless, and his greed is an evil incentive for others to follow. We ask with chagrin: if the following of Christ is the standard by which Christians should live, shouldn’t the Pope lead the way?
Another perspective from St. Thomas (Summa Theol. I, q. u5, a. 4, ad 3): “The majority of men follow their passions, which are movements of the sensitive appetite, in which movements heavenly bodies can cooperate: but few are wise enough to resist these passions. Consequently astrologers are able to foretell the truth in the majority of cases, especially in a general way. But not in particular cases; for nothing prevents man’s resisting his passions by his free will.”
In the end, Marco answers Dante’s question: the cause of the poor state of affairs in the world is not our inner nature (though even that is in danger of corruption). No, it’s bad leadership.
|↑12||Marco looks back to an ideal time when Rome’s “two suns”–the Emperor and the Pope, lived in peace, each upholding their own responsibilities and each respecting the rights of the other. Unfortunately, as he noted already, the Pope has usurped what rightly belonged to the Emperor and, symbolically, the sword of the empire has melded with the shepherd’s crook of the papacy. The harmony between these two ruling entitles has been lost and, it seems, neither one cares. Dorothy Sayers, in her commentary here, notes that Dante is probably thinking here of the “great days of the Byzantine Empire, particularly, perhaps, under Justinian.” And, she adds, “The empire envisaged by Dante in his political writings is not the Holy Roman Empire of Western feudalism, nor is it the pagan empire of Augustus or Trajan.”
At Dante’s time, the Pope lived in and ruled from Rome, but the Emperor virtually never traveled south of the Alps, one of the causes of the civil strife between Guelphs and Ghibellines that ripped viciously through the social fabric of northern Italy. Dante’s exile is a direct result of this strife. And, of course, the papacy’s fraudulent claim that the empire was subject to it only made matters worse. Dante will come back to this theme in subsequent parts of the Poem.
At the same time, Marco’s noting of Rome’s “two suns” is actually Dante’s idea (and ideal), which he set out in De Monarchia (3.11.7-10; see this quote at the end of this canto’s commentary). Musa tells us here that “Dante objected to the idea that the empire could receive no light of its own but only that reflected by the papacy. Hence, he devised the unusual concept of “two suns,” while most of his contemporaries used the image of the sun and the moon, the sun being the Pope and the moon being the Emperor.
Ronald Martinez, in his commentary here, calls the “two suns” a “daring image” in the face of papal propaganda which claimed otherwise. He writes: “This is a passage of first importance, of course, and in terms of orthodox Church doctrine it is erroneous and smacks of Averroism, as was pointed out (after Dante’s death) in the bitter attack on the Monarchia by the Dominican Guido Vernani; the Monarchia was on the Catholic Church’s Index of Forbidden Books until the twentieth century.” Averroism (named after the Medieval Muslim philosopher Averroes (see Inferno Canto 4), is a complicated system, made more so, in my estimation, by those who attempt to explain it. In my humble explorations, I don’t see the “taint” of it in Dante’s Monarchia, but I claim no expertise here.
Finally, according to Singleton and Kantorowicz, by means of his two sun concept here, Dante puts the emperor back into his proper place, in full agreement with the thinking and language of his time. At the same time, he does so without lessening in any way the Pope’s role as the Vicar of Christ.
|↑13||Using the names of two different rivers, Marco echoes Guido’s image in Canto 14 of the banks of the Arno populated and contaminated by equally “disreputable” people. As it happened, Marco himself was from the regions of the Po and the Adige. That he mentions Frederick II is fascinating, because Dante put him in Hell with the heretics in Canto 12 of the Inferno. But, as Hollander remarks, “For Dante, Frederick was the last emperor to take his role as emperor of all Europe seriously.” Even though he fomented continual strife between papacy and empire.
In light of this, Musa notes: “Emperor Frederick II, last of the emperors from Dante’s point of view, was involved in successive conflicts with the papacy: he met resistance from Popes Honorius III, Gregory IX, and Innocent IV. Before he was forced into constant conflict with the Church, he was renowned for the high culture he brought to Italy. The ideals of chivalry peaked during his reign and began their decline with this discord.”
|↑14||Again, echoing Guido del Duca in Canto 14, Marco makes note of noble characters whose virtue contrasts with the present state of affairs. Currado da Palazzo was a Guelph nobleman from Brescia. He represented Charles of Anjou in Florence, and was Podestà of both Florence and then Piacenza. His bravery and courage are noted by Benvenuto da Imola, who wrote that in a certain battle Currado was the standard bearer. In an attempt to confuse his troops, an enemy soldier is said to have hacked off both his hands so he would drop the flag. Currado, however, continued to lead his soldiers forward, embracing the flag with both arms. Gherardo da Camino was a nobleman, a supporter of the White Guelphs, and captain-general of Treviso for more than 20 years. He was apparently generous and hospitable to poets, including Dante when he was in exile. Guido da Castel was yet another unassuming, but generous and hospitable, nobleman from Reggio Emilia who also honored Dante with his generosity and hospitality. Note how all three men are examples of nobility and virtue in contrast to the corruption that Marco points out.|
|↑15||At the beginning of this conversation, Dante asked Marco to tell him the truth about why the world is lacking in virtue and filled with wickedness. His purpose in asking this question was so that he could understand what Marco would explain and then enlighten others with this same truth. And so Marco sums up here and tells Dante this is the message he needs to share with others: by trying to usurp the role of the Empire, the Church (papacy) has slopped herself in filth and perverted her true mission.|
|↑16||We are accustomed to Dante’s tangling one or more items together along the way of his Poem. On the one hand, this is a simple “Thank you!” for the breadth, length, and depth of Marco’s explanation throughout this canto. But what, we might ask, does this have to do with the biblical rules governing the Levites? It becomes clear enough when we explore a passage in the Book of Numbers (18:20-24):|
“Then the Lord said to Aaron: ‘You shall not have any heritage in their land nor hold any portion among them; I will be your portion and your heritage among the Israelites. To the Levites, however, I hereby assign all tithes in Israel as their heritage in recompense for the labor they perform, the labor pertaining to the tent of meeting…this is a permanent statute for all your generations. But they shall not have any heritage among the Israelites, for I have assigned to the Levites as their heritage the tithes which the Israelites put aside as a contribution to the Lord. That is why I have said, they will not have any heritage among the Israelites.’”
Basically, then, they were forbidden to own property. Instead, they lived off a portion of the offerings brought to the Temple. Dante’s point, of course, is that in amassing great wealth and power, the Church lost its spiritual integrity. Later Church Councils did away with practices that led to such abuses.
|↑17||As noted above, Gherardo da Cammino, was a nobleman from Brescia, captain-general of Treviso, and noted for his generous hospitality to poets. He is known to have entertained Dante during his exile. Marco, of course, thinks Dante is joking not to know who Gherardo was. Yet, ironically, Dante already uses Gherardo’s virtuous life to identify him. Like the other men Marco singled out, Gherardo stands out nobly among a cast of otherwise corrupt characters.
The mention of Gherardo’s daughter, Gaia, seems strange, however, and commentators throughout the centuries have differing opinions to offer about her being mentioned here. Some of the earliest suggest that she was a wanton woman, and that she is mentioned here as another one of Marco’s examples of corruption. Others suggest the opposite, that she was noted for her beauty and virtue. Others, still, claim there is simply not enough evidence to make an accurate judgment.
|↑18||As noted above, Gherardo da Cammino, was a nobleman from Brescia, captain-general of Treviso, and noted for his generous hospitality to poets. He is known to have entertained Dante during his exile. Marco, of course, thinks Dante is joking not to know who Gherardo was. Yet, ironically, Dante already uses Gherardo’s virtuous life to identify him. Like the other men Marco singled out, Gherardo stands out nobly among a cast of otherwise corrupt characters.|
|↑19||“Thus God’s ineffable Providence set before man two goals to pursue: the beatitude of this life, which consists in the operation of human virtue and is figured by the Earthly Paradise; and the beatitude of eternal life, which consists in the enjoyment of the vision of God, to which we cannot ascend by virtue of our powers unless aided by God’s light, and which is signified by the Heavenly Paradise. To these beatitudes, as if to different conclusions, we must come by different paths. For we come to the first by the teachings of philosophy, following them by operating according to the moral and intellectual virtues; but to the second we come by spiritual teachings that transcend human reason, following them by operating according to the theological virtues, namely faith, hope, and love…. For this reason man needed double guidance, according to his double goal: namely the pope, who should lead humankind to eternal life, according to the things revealed, and the emperor, who should direct human kind to temporal happiness according to the teachings of philosophy.”|