Dante feels bad that he could not have spent more time talking with the penitent pope. As he and Virgil continue around the fifth terrace, a voice is heard honoring those whose virtue was praiseworthy. Dante goes to speak to this soul – Hugh Capet – who makes a long apostrophe against the wickedness of his heirs. Hugh then explains the punishment of the sinners on this level. Not long after Dante and Virgil take their leave, the entire mountain shakes violently, frightening Dante badly.
Though I would like to have stayed and talked with that penitent longer, I yielded to his desire to continue with his penance and moved on with Virgil. Keeping to the edge of the cliff, and walking wherever there was space, he was like one who walks closely along the edge of the battlements. Strewn along our path, those souls left little room for us to pass, as they wept for the sin that fills our world.In spite of his curiosity and desire to know more from Pope Adrian, Dante clearly understood his desire to stop talking and get resume his penitence. Back with Virgil and walking near the edge of the … Continue reading
Curse you and damn you, O ancient She-Wolf, who steal more souls to feed your unsated greed than any other beastly creature! O heavens, whose movements some believe rule our destiny, when will that one come to chase away this vicious beast?These lines are rich with allusions to Canto 1 of the Inferno. First is the ancient She-Wolf, the third of the wild beasts that sent Dante running down the mountainside and back into the dark forest. … Continue reading
As we moved along cautiously, I was preoccupied with all those weeping souls laying there around us. But soon, a voice somewhere ahead of us shouted out “Sweet Mary!” like a woman in labor. The voice continued: “Everyone knows how poor you were to have your precious child in such a place.” And then there was another exclamation: “O good Fabricius, you chose the virtue of poverty over a life of luxury and vice.”
I was so pleased by what I heard that I quickly walked to the place where that voice came from, hoping to know who it belonged to as he kept on, this time praising the compassionate St. Nicholas, whose generous gifts saved three young girls from a life of sin.Here we have three examples of poverty and generosity as the “whip” of avarice. More souls for Dante to interrogate. In keeping with the pattern of these examples of virtue, the first refers to … Continue reading
Coming upon him now, I said: “O good soul, proclaiming such praiseworthy deeds, who were you, and why does no one else join in your praises? Your answer will be rewarded if I return to finish my life in the world.”We will soon learn the identity of the soul Dante compliments here. He’ll reward the Poet with a very long answer to his first question, and an interesting fact regarding the second one. Note that, … Continue reading
“I won’t answer you in order to get your help,” he replied. “But simply because your living presence here shows me God’s loving grace. I was the root of an evil tree that spreads its shadowy boughs over all the Christian world so that good fruit rarely grows in its shade. If only Douai, Lillle, Ghent, and Bruges were stronger, then they could reap the vengeance that is theirs – and for this I beg of Him who is the judge of all!This as-yet-unidentified soul begins speaking with a reply that evinces the progress of his penitence for the sin of avarice. He doesn’t seek something for himself, namely, Dante’s offer of a … Continue reading
“On earth, I was known as Hugh Capet, father of the Louises and Philips who rule France to this very day. My father was a butcher from Paris. When the ancient kings had all died, except for the one who became a monk, the reign passed over to me. That new power made me rich in wealth and friends, so that the French crown was eventually given to my son and all his anointed heirs.At last, the speaker identifies himself as the founder of the Capaetian Dynasty in France. But, as will be pointed out below, there was most likely confusion on Dante’s part as to which Hugh Capet … Continue reading
“Most of them were worth little and did little harm, until their plot to get Provence by marriage – and by fraud and force. Later, they captured Ponthieu, Normandy, and Gascony. Then Charles of Anjou marched to Italy and defeated Conradin. Later he is said to have sent Aquinas off to Heaven by poison.Before his death in 1245, Raymond Berengar was the Count of Provence. After his death, Louis IX (the Saint) married Raymond’s eldest daughter (Margaret), and his brother, Charles of Anjou, married … Continue reading
“A time will come soon when France will have a second Charles and a chance to see how he and his family behaves. Called alone to Italy, he will carry only the spear of Judas and thrust it into the belly of Florence! His only reward for this treachery will be shame. He will think nothing of his crimes and accept no blame for his wicked deeds.In this prophecy Hugh is referring this time to Charles of Valois, brother of Philip IV (the Fair). In terms of how “he and his family behaves,” the outcome is not good. In 1301, he came to Italy … Continue reading
“Then will come a third Charles, once taken captive, who stopped at nothing to satisfy his greed, even selling his daughter – haggling over her price as do pirates with their female slaves! O Avarice! Can you cause more harm? You have so captivated my heirs that they care nothing for their own children!This third Charles (the Lame) is Charles II, King of Naples and son of Charles of Anjou. Hugh is referring to an incident during the war of the “Sicilian Vespers,” where Charles, against the … Continue reading
“But to make these crimes, and more, seem like child’s play, I see our fleur-de-lis assault the papal palace and, like brigands, attack Christ Himself in the person of the pope! They imprison Him, give Him gall to drink, mock Him yet again, and murder Him between two thieves! I see a new Pontius Pilate, so filled with wickedness that in his greed he proceeds to attack the Templars to usurp their power and wealth. How long, O Lord, must I wait to see your vengeance against such evil which, for now, lies hidden in the depths of Your will?The first of the crimes Hugh notes here was committed against Pope Boniface VIII, instigated at the behest of King Philip IV (the Fair) who had been excommunicated by Boniface. This came about in … Continue reading
“The words I spoke earlier about Mary – which brought you here seeking an explanation – these prayers we recite all day long. At night, we do the opposite: we recall Pygmalion and how his thirst for gold turned him into a traitor, a thief, and a murderer. We recall Midas, whose foolish greed left him starving and a lasting object of ridicule; Achan, who kept some of the spoils of Jericho, which led to his family’s death and his own. We accuse Sapphira and her husband, who sought to defraud the Apostles; we praise the horses that kicked Heliodorus, who came to rob God’s Temple. The entire mountain knows the shame of Polymnestor, who killed his friend’s son, Polydorus; and finally we shout to Crassus, asking him about the taste of gold!
“Sometimes we cry out, at other times we pray softly, depending on how our feelings move us – sometimes more, sometimes less. So, you see, I wasn’t the only one crying out the words of praise you heard; it was simply by chance that no one else cried out at the same time.”At last, Hugh answers Dante’s second question about why no one else seemed to be joining his praises of great examples of generosity (the Virgin Mary, the Roman Fabricius, and St. Nicholas). Hugh … Continue reading
Virgil and I then took our leave of him, hoping to make as much progress as we could, given all those prostrate souls on our path. But suddenly… the entire mountain shook with such force I thought it would collapse! Feeling that I would die at any moment, I felt my body go numb and cold. The island of Delos, before Latona went there to give birth to Jupiter’s children, never shook like this. Then a great shout rose up from everywhere on the mountain and Virgil came quickly to my side, reassuring me: “You needn’t fear anything as long as I am your guide.”
Gloria in excelsis Deo everyone sang, at least this is what I heard from those close by us. And like the shepherds who first heard that heavenly hymn, we stood there, suspended in that moment, until the hymn ended and the shaking stopped.The dramatic and suspenseful ending to this canto stands in contrast to the long (tedious?) recitation by Hugh Capet about his royal lineage. And from the murmuring of the penitents here it shocks … Continue reading
We continued along that holy path where the prostrate souls had returned to their weeping. But I will say this: unless my memory fails me, I never experienced such an overwhelming desire to know the truth as I did then – I was consumed by it! Yet I also knew not to slow our journey down with more questions since I could see that there would be no explanations forthcoming. And so I continued to walk along, uncertain, lost in my thoughts.The two Pilgrims continue along the “holy path” on this terrace, consecrated by the song of the angels and the shout of the souls, consecrated, even, by the continuous tears and prayers of the … Continue reading
Notes & Commentary
|↑1||In spite of his curiosity and desire to know more from Pope Adrian, Dante clearly understood his desire to stop talking and get resume his penitence. Back with Virgil and walking near the edge of the cliff, they must pick their way among the weeping penitents whose prone bodies lay strewn over the ground. Thick with bodies, the passage here is dangerous, just as the sin of avarice is dangerous – so dangerous that it fills the world. The Poet here may have had in mind a passage in the First Letter of Timothy (6:9f): “Those who want to be rich are falling into temptation and into a trap, and into many foolish and harmful desires, which plunge them into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all evils, and some people in their desire for it have strayed from the faith and have pierced themselves with many pains.” Recall how, in Inferno 7:25 Dante was filled with amazement to see so many souls condemned eternally for this sin.|
|↑2||These lines are rich with allusions to Canto 1 of the Inferno. First is the ancient She-Wolf, the third of the wild beasts that sent Dante running down the mountainside and back into the dark forest. Vicious and hungry, she symbolizes the ravenous greed that has been the downfall of so many. It is the same here as Dante apostrophizes the sin of greed. And raising his voice to the heavens for some divine intervention, “that one to come” is a reference to the Greyhound – also in Canto 1 of the Inferno – who will drive the wolf away and heal the world of greed. The Poet’s curse of the She-Wolf is reminiscent of Virgil’s rebuke of Plutus, early in Canto 7 of the Inferno: “Be quiet, cursed wolf of Hell: feed on the burning bile that rots your guts.” Plutus is the god of wealth and guardian of the circle of the misers and hoarders.|
|↑3||Here we have three examples of poverty and generosity as the “whip” of avarice. More souls for Dante to interrogate. In keeping with the pattern of these examples of virtue, the first refers to the Virgil Mary who was so poor that she gave birth to Jesus – the Son of God – in a stable. Note that the voice that cries out this example actually sounds like a woman about to give birth. The second example is from Roman history. Gaius Fabricius Luscinus, a general and consul who spurned a life of greed and luxury, and later refused to be bribed in exchange for betraying Rome. Though a hero, he eventually died in such poverty that he had to be buried by the state. And the third example comes from the story of St. Nicholas, a wealthy fourth-century bishop of Myra in Turkey during the reign of Constantine. He gave away his money to the poor. Known to us as “Santa Claus,” he saved the three young daughters of an impoverished friend from lives of prostitution because they were too poor to marry. One night he threw bags of gold through their window so that they would have dowries and be able to marry respectably. Thus the tradition of filling stockings on the night before Christmas. Another tradition has it that the three gold balls over a pawn shop’s door represent St. Nicholas’ three bags of gold. And in Medieval heraldry, the three gold balls represented wealth and prosperity.
As we will learn later in this Canto, the avaricious sinners cry out these examples of virtue (the “whip”) in the daytime, and at night they call out the “rein,” opposite examples of the virtue of generosity and poverty.
|↑4||We will soon learn the identity of the soul Dante compliments here. He’ll reward the Poet with a very long answer to his first question, and an interesting fact regarding the second one. Note that, unlike his earlier conversation with Pope Adrian, Dante doesn’t first seek the approval of his mentor to speak. Mark Musa notes here that answering Dante’s questions will be rewarded makes his offer sound almost like “a commercial exchange, albeit spiritual.” There is also, perhaps, a brief comic irony here as Dante remarks about finishing the rest of his (brief?) life, while at the same time anticipating the very long recitation (almost 75 lines) his interlocutor is about to make.|
|↑5||This as-yet-unidentified soul begins speaking with a reply that evinces the progress of his penitence for the sin of avarice. He doesn’t seek something for himself, namely, Dante’s offer of a “reward.” Rather, he graciously acknowledges the action of God’s grace in the fact that Dante is standing there alive and speaking with him. Furthermore, he senses the goodness within Dante, which is also evidence of God’s activity.
Building obliquely – and opaquely – toward the revelation of his identity, this soul first presents a negative image of himself as the root (as we shall see) of an evil family tree whose branches cover and darken all of Europe and the Near East, and stifle much good growth beneath them.
The mention of the four chief cities of Flanders is an allusion to the wars of the treacherous King Philip IV (the Fair) against Flanders. The French were finally defeated by the Flemish forces (this “the vengeance that is theirs”) at the Battle of Courtrai (also known as the Battle of the Golden Spurs) in 1302. Since the Poem is set in 1300, this “wish” is more of a prophecy here.
|↑6||At last, the speaker identifies himself as the founder of the Capaetian Dynasty in France. But, as will be pointed out below, there was most likely confusion on Dante’s part as to which Hugh Capet he was actually referring to. That he was the father of kings is borne out by the fact that all the kings of France from 1060 to 1300 (the year in which this Poem is set) were either Philips or Louis’. Many of their nicknames have stayed with them throughout history: “the Fat,” “the Young,” “Augustus,” “the Lion,” “the Saint,” “the Bold,” “the Slothful,” “the Fair,” etc. When he notes that these kings ruled France “to this very day,” Dante is undoubtedly referring to the evil Philip IV (“the Fair”), whose brother, Charles of Valois, betrayed the Florentine White Guelphs (Dante) into the hands of the Black Guelphs in 1301. Robert Hollander notes here that of the ten kings who followed Hugh to the throne between 996 and 1314, four of them bore the name “Philip” and four “Louis. But it is the last in each of these groups who may be of greatest interest. “Louis IX (1225-1270) is one of the major figures of the Middle Ages, a great crusader, king, and saint. Of him Dante is – perhaps not surprisingly, given his hatred of France – resolutely silent; of Philip IV (the Fair – 1285-1314), he is loquacity itself, vituperating him several times in this canto, but also in a number of other passages [in all three Canticles of the Poem].”
King Louis IX was canonized by Pope Boniface VIII in 1297, apparently as a good-will gesture toward Philip IV (the Fair), both of whom had been seriously at odds over matters of Church vs Empire authority. Louis IX is the only French king to be canonized. In later history, he is noted as one of the most accomplished of the French kings, a saintly figure, and a good example of honorable kingship – most likely aimed at Philip IV. Quoting from her paper (“Boniface VIII, Philip the Fair, and the sanctity of Louis IX”), Cecilia Gaposchkin notes that “In the bull of canonization, Boniface emphasized Louis’ good kingship as an element of his sanctity.” And she quotes from the Bull Gloria Laus:
“Indeed, for a long time, he exercised the rule of this kingdom, and he guided his rule, full of care and foresightful consideration. Doing neither wrong, nor injustice, nor violence to anyone, he respected and honored with great care the limits of justice without relinquishing the path of equity. He checked the evil deeds of the perverse by means of the sword of due punishment, wasting the efforts of the evildoers, reining in the illicit daring of the depraved. He emerged as an excellent and zealous advocate of peace, ardent lover of concord, solicitous promoter of unity, shunning troubles, avoiding scandal, and abhorring dissensions. On account of this, in the time of his happy reign, with a calm tide on all sides, with crime having been subdued, with all winds having been routed, the dawn of sweet flowing tranquillity shone upon the inhabitants of his kingdom, and the happy serenity of prayed-for prosperity smiled.”
Back to Hugh: That his father was a Parisian butcher or cattle-dealer was a popular legend in Dante’s time. The “ancient kings” refers to the dynasty of Charlemagne, which ended with Louis V in 987. His heir was Charles of Lorraine, but he was ousted by Hugh. As for “the one who became a monk,” Dante seems to be referring to Charles, Duke of Lorraine, the son of Louis IV, and the last of the Carolingians. He did not become a monk. Dante seems to be confusing him with Childeric III, the last of the Merovingians, who, after he was deposed, was kept in a monastery where he became a monk until his death in 754.
The complicated narrative here and that follows, woven by Dante from aspects of French history, is, in my estimation, best explained by Mark Musa and Robert Hollander in their commentaries, whom I quote at length here and beg the reader’s indulgence. The line numbers referred to are lines in the verse text of this Canto. First, Musa:
“In these lines the speaker is introducing himself to the Pilgrim and telling him something of his career, but his identity has not yet been clearly established. Some scholars believe that the speaker is Hugh I (usually called Hugh the Great), the powerful nobleman who was the de facto ruler of France during the reign of Louis IV (936-954) and for the first two years of the reign of Lothair (954-986). He died in 956. Others believe that the speaker is Hugh II (usually called Hugh Capet), son of Hugh I, who in 987, on the death of Louis V (who had succeeded Lothair) became the first king of France of the Capetian line. All are agreed that Dante, like many of his contemporaries, had confused the two figures and also that his knowledge of late tenth-century French history was inadequate.
“As for the first three bits of evidence discussed, the first two seem to clearly support the choice of Hugh II as speaker (though not actually excluding Hugh I as a possibility); the third, if we trust Villani, points exclusively to Hugh II. But since the last passage can apply to neither of the two candidates, I think it is pointless to try to choose between them.”
Here Robert Hollander offers additional perspectives correctives on this initial identification of Dante’s interlocutor:
|↑7||Before his death in 1245, Raymond Berengar was the Count of Provence. After his death, Louis IX (the Saint) married Raymond’s eldest daughter (Margaret), and his brother, Charles of Anjou, married the youngest (Beatrice). Actually, Raymond had promised her in marriage to Raymond of Toulouse, not to Charles. The two brothers then claimed Provence as their own (“…by fraud and force”), saying it was their wives’ dowry. Charles Singleton notes here what Dante would not have known because he died in 3121: “In 1246, through the marriage of Charles of Anjou, brother of Louis IX of France, with Beatrice, heiress of Raymond Berenger of Provence, Provence became a dependency of the royal house of France, and it remained in the possession of the house of Anjou until 1486, when it was formally annexed to the French crown by Charles VIII.” What both Dante and Hugh seem to be implying, without actually saying it, is that these actions were evil and brought shame upon the royal house. Ronald Martinez notes here: “Violence and fraud account for all of lower Hell. Hugh’s account of his family is a kind of precis of Hell.”
As for Ponthieu, Normandy, and Gascony, all three of these were English territories. Philip II took Normandy in 1202, and in 1292 Ponthieu and Gascony were taken by Philip IV (the Fair).
Charles of Anjou was called to Italy after Manfred, King of Sicily, had been excommunicated (see Purg. 3). Charles became king in his place, but Manfred did not go easily. Unfortunately, he was defeated and killed by the forces of Charles at the Battle of Benevento in 1266. Manfred’s nephew and rightful heir, Conradin, was later defeated and beheaded by Charles.
Finally, Hugh tells Dante that Charles of Anjou also poisoned St. Thomas Aquinas, the most brilliant theologian of the Middle Ages. Actually, this was a legend in Dante’s day but it is completely unfounded. According to the story, Aquinas knew some grave secret about Charles that he was going to reveal. Thus the poisoning. The author of the Anonimo Fiorentino notes that before he left for Lyons, Aquinas was asked by Charles what he would say if anyone asked about him. Aquinas said that he would tell the truth. Shortly after he left, Charles sent two doctors to catch up with him, apparently with poison. Telling Thomas that they were sent by Charles to attend to his safety during his journey to Lyons, they later poisoned him with some medication. According to Robert Hollander, this was “a rumor that appears to have been made out of whole cloth as part of Italian anti-French propaganda, but which Dante seems only too willing to propagate.” As for the truth, Aquinas had been summoned from Naples to the Second Council of Lyons by Pope Gregory X . On the way, he apparently hit his head on a large tree branch near Monte Cassino. Recovering, he continued on his way, but later became ill because of the wound to his head and stopped at the Trappist monastery in Fossanova between Naples and Rome. It was there that he later died (March 7, 1274), apparently from a swelling of the brain.
|↑8||In this prophecy Hugh is referring this time to Charles of Valois, brother of Philip IV (the Fair). In terms of how “he and his family behaves,” the outcome is not good. In 1301, he came to Italy with the intention of recovering the Kingdom of Sicily for France. Already in thrall to Pope Boniface VIII (Dante’s nemesis), he came to Florence as a supposed peace-maker (intending to destroy those who opposed Boniface’s expansionist – read Florence – policies). Instead, he backed the coup whereby the Florentine Black Guelphs ousted the White Guelphs (Dante’s party) and with this betrayal thrust “the spear of Judas…into the belly of Florence!” This led to Dante’s exile. Of this event, Benvenuto da Imola writes: “In that time Florence had grown fat, full of citizens and bursting with pride. And this Charles ripped her belly open so that he made her guts burst out, that is to say, her principal citizens, among whom was this famous poet.”
Charles’ “reward” of shame for this treachery was that he lost Sicily and ended up with the nickname “Lackland.” His countrymen jeered: “”…son of a king, brother of a king, uncle of three kings, father of a king, but never a king.” Charles Singleton notes here: “…he unsuccessfully aspired to no less than four crowns: those of Aragon, of Sicily, of Constantinople (through his second wife, Catherine, daughter of Philip de Courtenay, titular emperor of Constantinople), and of the Empire.”
And, finally, accepting “no blame for his wicked deeds” is, according to Mark Musa here: “…significant because in this canto assuming personal responsibility becomes an issue, the individual penitent taking charge of his own atonement.”
|↑9||This third Charles (the Lame) is Charles II, King of Naples and son of Charles of Anjou. Hugh is referring to an incident during the war of the “Sicilian Vespers,” where Charles, against the orders of his father, set out to engage the fleet of Peter III of Aragon near Palermo. Charles’ forces were defeated and he was taken prisoner. Hundreds of his retainers were captured with him and executed in revenge for the murder of Conradin by Charles’ father, Charles of Anjou, after the defeat and death of King Manfred of Sicily at the Battle of Benevento (see above).
Highlighting his greedy sins, Hugh recalls a deplorable act where, like a pirate, this Charles shamelessly married his youngest daughter, Beatrice, to the cruel Azzo VIII d’Este (reputed by Dante in Inf. 18 for having murdered his father) for an enormous sum (51,000 florins). Hugh’s brief apostrophe against Avarice is that of a grief-stricken father whose heirs “care nothing for their own children.” It echoes the earlier curse(s) against the greedy she-wolf and mirrors Aeneas’ curse as he mourns the death of Polydorus: “To what do you not drive human breasts, O cursed hunger for gold” (Aeneid 3:56f).
|↑10||The first of the crimes Hugh notes here was committed against Pope Boniface VIII, instigated at the behest of King Philip IV (the Fair) who had been excommunicated by Boniface. This came about in papal retaliation for the King’s attempt to tax the French clergy. In addition, Boniface claimed that his papal authority outranked Philip’s authority as king. But Philip had his revenge by sending his chief minister, William of Nogaret, accompanied by Sciarra Colonna (whose family had opposed Boniface for the papacy), to confront the Pope. They were advised by Guido da Montefeltro whom we met in Inferno 27. The elderly pope was at his summer palace at Agnani (east of Rome) when Nogaret and Colonna, accompanied by armed soldiers, burst in, assaulted and imprisoned him, and then sacked the palace. William of Nogaret is said to have slapped the Pope. When the local citizens got word of this, they rose up and freed the Pope. Boniface went back to Rome so shaken that he died a month later on October 12, 1303.
Charles Singleton fills out the above picture:
And Robert Hollander notes here: “Dante was no admirer of Boniface. The French attack upon the person of the pope, however, was an attack upon the holy office itself, and thus upon the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church. And thus Boniface is compared to Christ betrayed by Pontius Pilate and crucified, while the agents of Philip become the two thieves present at that event, but now represented as part of the torture administered to their victim.”
The “new Pontius Pilate” is still Philip IV (the Fair). This time the target of his avarice is the wealthy and powerful Knights Templar. Paget Toynbee writes in his Dictionary:
“The Knights Templars were one of the three great military orders founded in the 12th century for the defense of the Latin kingdom of Jerusalem (the other two being the Knights Hospitallers or Knights of St. John, and the Teutonic Knights). The original founder of the order was a Burgundian knight, Hugh de Paganis, by whom it was instituted, with the approval of Pope Honorius II, early in the 12th century. The Templars derived their name from the circumstance that they were quartered in the palace of the Latin Kings on Mount Moriah, which was also known as Solomon’s temple.”
Mark Musa adds here:
And Toynbee concludes: “The French king’s motive in aiming at the destruction of the Templars was, it can hardly be doubted, a desire to get possession of the immense wealth of the order.”
Hugh’s second apostrophe against avarice at the end of this passage echoes Dante’s earlier apostrophe against the ancient she-wolf. And it also echoes a line in Psalm 58 (v10): “The just man will be glad when he sees vengeance.” Mark Musa offers an unusual perspective here: “Dante may be prophesying (through Hugh Capet) the death of Philip the Fair, which was the result of a hunting accident in 1314. He was much hated in Italy at the time, and his death must have seemed to Dante to be providential, so much so that Dante may have revised this passage in the Purgatorio to hint at its nature.”
As Beatrice will tell Dante in the Paradiso on several occasions, the will of God is unfathomable, and as Hugh (Dante) suggests here, for now the vengeance of God against Philip and others is simply a matter of (God’s) time. Dorothy Sayers notes here: “God’s wrath, being pure of fear or passion or impatience, is without the haste, bitterness, and violence which we associate with human anger.” And finally, Charles Singleton quotes from Dino Compagni’s contemporary Cronica here: “Those who have been injured by the powerful receive great solace in their hearts when they see that God has not forgotten. How well they recognize the vengeance of God, even when He has put it off and tolerated it for a long time. But when God puts it off, it is only to make the punishment greater” (III,37).
It might interest the reader to know that among some of the royal houses of Europe to this day there are members who can trace their lineage back to the original Capetians.
|↑11||At last, Hugh answers Dante’s second question about why no one else seemed to be joining his praises of great examples of generosity (the Virgin Mary, the Roman Fabricius, and St. Nicholas). Hugh gives a simple answer: “these prayers we recite all day long,” though they’re actually only recited by him. This, by the way, is the only time the positive examples of virtue used by the penitents are called “prayers.”
But then, he goes on at some length telling Dante that at night they call out famous names (examples) of the wicked as the “rein” of avarice, designed to lead the penitents away from this sin. Here, he uses the plural “we,” and lists eight individuals, each of whom has a back story. Mark Musa notes here: “That one set of examples should be recited in the day, another set at night, represents a striking exception to the general practice of the mountain, which is that all activity stops at nightfall. Moreover, the reader receives the impression that the prostrate penitents recite all day and all night, individually or together, and that an extraordinary effort is made by them to keep in mind these figures of virtue and vice.”
The first wicked example of avarice is Pygmalion, taken from Virgil’s Aeneid. (This is not the Greek Pygmalion who fell in love with a statue.) He was the king of Tyre and brother of Dido, queen of Carthage (and lover of Aeneas). Pygmalion murdered Dido’s wealthy husband, Sychaeus, in order to steal his wealth. But he was foiled in this when Sychaeus appeared in a dream to Dido and exposed the plot, enabling her to escape with her dead husband’s wealth.
The next example refers to the famous story of King Midas of Phrygia in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Having done a favor for Bacchus, he was granted one wish. Being so in love with gold, he asked that everything he touched would be turned to gold. This became a problem when he sat down to eat, and he was forced to ask that his wish be reversed.
The third example is from the Book of Joshua in the Old Testament. When the ancient city of Jericho was captured and destroyed by Joshua and his army, Joshua commanded that any valuables recovered afterward were to be collected and consecrated to God. Achan disobeyed Jericho and took some of the loot for himself. As a result, he and his family were stoned to death.
The fourth (and fifth) example comes from the Acts of the Apostles in the New Testament. The early Christians converts in Jerusalem formed a kind of commune in which they held all things in common. Ananias and his wife, Sapphira, sold some property but gave only part of the proceeds to the Apostles saying it was all. Their lie was uncovered and they fell dead at the feet of St. Peter.
The next example comes from the Second Book of Maccabees in the Old Testament. There, Heliodorus, the chief minister of King Seleucus, went to rob the treasury of the Temple in Jerusalem for the king. But he was stopped by the appearance of a terrifying divine figure clad in golden armor and mounted on a great horse who rushed at him and kicked him with his front feet. Then two strong men (angels?) appeared and beat him senseless.
The seventh example is also from the Aeneid and involves the story of Polymnestor, the King of Thrace. In order to save his youngest son, Polydorus, from the war, Priam, King of Troy, sent his son to Polymnestor for protection with a great sum of gold. When Troy fell, Polymnestor murdered Polydorus and kept the gold.
The last example is presented sarcastically by Hugh and involves Crassus, known as the richest man in Rome, who joined with Julius Caesar and Pompey in the First Triumverate. Later, as governor of Syria he waged war against the Parthian Empire and defeated. Killed in battle and beheaded, his head was delivered to the Parthian king, Hyrodes. Knowing his love for gold, the king poured molten gold down his throat, saying: “You thirsted for gold, drink gold!”
Looking back, Ronald Martinez comments on the order of these examples: “The order of the examples is important: the first and next to last are from the Aeneid, regarding Carthage and Troy respectively, Ovid furnishes the second. Within this Roman envelope are three moments from sacred history: first, the post-Exodus struggle for Jericho; last, the post-exilic Maccabean period; at the center, the post-Ascension scene from Acts, where avarice sins against the Holy Spirit.”
In the end, Hugh explains another interesting feature about the penitents on this terrace. Depending on how they feel, they cry out their prayers loudly or whisper them softly…but not all at the same time. As it happened, when Dante came upon him he simply heard Hugh’s prayers because no one else was praying at the same time. Robert Martinez offers a fascinating thought on this: “The implications are rich: since they cannot walk, the souls migrate with their voices, and the examples move from mouth to mouth, … girdling the mountain with edifying gossip.” One might imagine standing still or walking along this terrace and hearing murmured prayers coming from all directions at different times, some soft, some loud. The fact that the souls here don’t “pray” in unison isn’t a bad thing. Rather, it highlights the individuality of the sinners who, contrary to Hugh’s royal examples, take personal responsibility for their penitence.
|↑12||The dramatic and suspenseful ending to this canto stands in contrast to the long (tedious?) recitation by Hugh Capet about his royal lineage. And from the murmuring of the penitents here it shocks Dante into a new reality about the Mountain of Purgatory that will be revealed in the next canto. Furthermore, the terrifying earthquake, during which Dante fears he will die, is accompanied by a shout from every soul on the Mountain. The point Dante wants to make here is that if the shepherds in the Bethlehem hills were stunned into something totally new by the heavens opening and the angels singing Gloria at the birth of Jesus (Luke 3:15), he and Virgil (and the reader) are likewise ushered into a new (apocalyptic?) reality about the nature of Purgatory, a reality we can look forward to with much anticipation because the entire Poem is only half over.
With this in mind, let us stop for a moment to consider Robert Hollander’s observations here about the uniqueness and significance of what has just happened:
“[This] is the only genuine event that occurs involving a damned or a saved soul in the entire Commedia. … All else in the poem that passes for narrative action pertains to demons or angels interacting with Dante, Virgil, or the souls whom they help to punish or serve, to Dante’s own difficulties or successes in moving on, or else represents some form of ritual performance by the souls in the afterworld for the benefit of on-looking Dante. Dante, still a stranger on this magic mountain, responds by feeling like a man in fear of death. We shortly learn that he is witness to a moment of completion, of resurrection. It takes a while for this to become clear.”
The mention of the Greek island of Delos also adds a mythical flavor to this experience. Latona was pregnant by Jupiter, and fled from place to place, chased his jealous wife, Juno. To protect her (according to one version of the story), Jupiter caused a great earthquake and raised the island of Delos out of the sea and stabilized it. (It is the smallest of a chain of islands called the Cyclades off the southeast of the mainland of Greece. The word “Cyclades” means to encircle, and the sacred island of Delos sits in the middle of a group of more than 200 other islands.) Latona went there and gave birth to the twins Apollo and Diana – the Sun and the Moon. (We know from both ancient and modern history that that area of the Mediterranean world is often rocked by powerful earthquakes.)
The Gloria is a lovely prayer of praise in the Catholic liturgy echoing the angels’ song at the birth of Jesus and recited by the congregation just before the opening prayer. It begins, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people of good will.” By using the song of the angels from the Gospel and the liturgy, Dante is obviously consecrating this significant moment in his “sacred poem” as he calls it at the opening of Canto 25 in the Paradiso.
|↑13||The two Pilgrims continue along the “holy path” on this terrace, consecrated by the song of the angels and the shout of the souls, consecrated, even, by the continuous tears and prayers of the prostrate souls. In spite of Virgil’s reassurance of protection, a frightened Dante (not unlike the original hearers of the Gloria) brings this canto to a close with a strong feeling of uncertainty infused with his insatiable curiosity, the likes of which he has never experienced before. This, of course, only heightens his and our anticipation o what is to come. All of this he has to set aside in frustration, realizing that at this moment questions would be inappropriate and answers will not be forthcoming – in this canto.|