It is late in the afternoon and the three travelers continue walking carefully along the edge of the seventh terrace. Dante is conscious of spirits within the flames commenting on his living body, and one of them comes close to the edge of the flames to ask him how he could be here and still be alive. Before he can answer, another group of spirits comes from the opposite direction. At once both groups of souls quickly embrace and kiss. Then, as they move on they shout out their sins. Dante explains how he comes to be here, and asks the spirit he is talking with to tell him who the spirits were who just rushed off, and to identify himself as well. After explaining how their punishment works, the spirit identifies himself as the poet Guido Guinizelli. Dante is stunned with admiration to meet a man he holds in such high esteem. Before he recedes back into the flames, Guido introduces the famed Provençal poet, Arnaut Daniel, who explains why he is here and asks Dante to pray for him when he reaches heaven.
We continued walking single file along the edge of that high cliff, Virgil reminding me now and then to be careful. The late afternoon sun shone to my right now, and the blue sky was slowly becoming paler. I could also see that my shadow against the flames made them darker, and it made the souls within more curious as they passed by me.The segue between the previous canto and this one is quite smooth and puts us exactly where we left off, with Dante peering into the flames and Virgil warning him to be careful. Again, it is the … Continue reading
I heard someone say: “That one there seems to be alive, and with a real body.” Then more of them moved toward me, careful to remain within the flames. One of them spoke to me: “O you there, walking behind those two – out of reverence, I’m sure – would you mind stopping to speak with me as I suffer thirst and these flames? As it happens, all of us here are thirsting to hear your words – thirsting more than those who crave a cool drink in India or Ethiopia. Please let us know how it is that you’ve avoided death and come here among us very much alive.”Our Poet has definitely aroused the curiosity of the lustful sinners who realize that he is there among them as one very much alive. Note also that the mention of Dante’s “real” body contrasts … Continue reading
I was ready to explain myself, but another unusual sight caught my eye. Coming down the middle of that road of flames was another group of souls approaching those who had spoken to me. As I watched, both groups rushed to greet each other with a brief hug and kiss. I was reminded of how ants nose up to each other when they meet, as though to find out which way to go, or how they have fared. So it was with these souls, and after they shared greetings each group shouted at the other. Those who had just arrived shouted: “Sodom and Gomorrah!” The ones who were already there responded: “Pasiphaë enters the false cow so that the bull might satisfy her lust!”Dante doesn’t disappoint, as he presents us here with an unusual scene that arouses his (and our) curiosity as much as he had aroused the curiosity of the lustful sinners. Bear in mind that we have … Continue reading
Then, like cranes in flight, one group heading for the Riphean mountains, and another heading toward the desert, so these two groups of souls went off in opposite directions. In tears, they began their hymns and chants again, fitting for their different atonements.Obviously, cranes (or other birds, for that matter) do not migrate to the north and the south in the same season. However, Dante may be making a connection here between these “birds”(the lustful … Continue reading
Those who had questioned me earlier now came near again to hear my reply, their faces red from the flames. And knowing what they wished to hear, I began: “O fiery souls, certain of attaining Heaven’s glory at the appointed time, I didn’t die and leave my flesh on earth below. No, I am here before you alive – flesh and blood and bones. I climb to be healed of my blindness because a blessed lady has gifted me with the grace to travel through your world with my living body. But tell me, please, so that you may quickly find yourself within the loving realm of Heaven, who are you? Tell me, also, who those were who ran off in that other group. I will write what you say in my book.”After the two groups of souls separate, the original group, still curious, come back to the edge of the flames to hear Dante answer their earlier question about how he came to be here. The Poet’s … Continue reading
Hearing my reply, those burning spirits stood there amazed, like a rustic from the mountains who comes to town and gapes at everything he sees.There is a certain comedy here in this stereotype, and Dante will use it again in the Paradiso (31:103ff) in reference to himself. One can easily imagining the souls here gaping in wonder at what … Continue reading But when their amazement passed, which lasts only a short time in noble hearts, that soul who had spoken to me at first spoke again. “You are indeed blessed, for you can take back what you have learned up here and later die a holier death. To answer your first question, those souls who came and left us quickly were sodomites. They suffer here for the same sin that caused Caesar to be called ‘Queen’ as he passed along in triumph. That is why you heard them reproach themselves, crying out “Sodom!” as they ran off. They burn with shame to quicken their burning within the flames.The reference to the awed souls as “noble hearts” is another gracious gesture of respect on Dante’s part. And this is reciprocated by the soul’s blessing on him, assuring him that what he … Continue reading
“Unlike them, the nature of our sin was hermaphroditic, because in yielding to lust, we behaved more like animals than men and women. And so, when we encounter the other group, in shame we shout out the name of that woman who became a beast within the wooden beast. And this is the answer to your first question.Now, the speaker explains the shout made by his group of sinners. In contradistinction to the homosexuality of the sodomites, the sexual sins of this group are heterosexual. This is the only meaning … Continue reading As for your second question,” he continued, “my name is Guido Guinizelli, and I’m here because I began my repentance long before I died.”Guido (1230-1276) was the most illustrious poet in Italy just prior to Dante, and direct forerunner of the “sweet new style” of which Dante became the not-to-be-exceeded master. Robert Hollander … Continue reading
In ancient times, King Lycurgus raved madly at the death of his young son, while the two sons of that dead boy’s nurse rejoiced to discover that she was their lost mother.The source for Dante’s very condensed reference to King Lycurgus here is Statius’s Thebaid (V:499-730). The reader will recall how Dante and Virgil encountered the famous mythological argonaut, … Continue reading And when that spirit told me his name I was likewise filled with powerful emotions because he was my poetic father, and the sire of far better poets than me who wrote that gracious poetry of love.
For the moment, I heard nothing else, nor could I speak. I simply walked along, lost in thought, as I looked with deep affection on this spirit whom I would have embraced, but for the flames. When I had embraced him long enough with my eyes, I then told him that it was my deepest desire to be of service to him in whatever way I could.Here, Dante lets us into his soul. The depth of his love and respect for Guido–his “poetic father”–stands in sharp contrast to the unbridled “love” of both groups of lustful sinners. And … Continue reading
“What you just said,” he replied, “has touched me so profoundly that even Lethe will not wash it away..Lethe, the river of oblivion and forgetfulness. And if what you said is true, then tell me what it is that caused you to show such love for me in your looks and your words?”
I answered: “The sweet verses that fill your poetry will make even the ink you used precious for as long as our language will be used for poems.”Dante is quite lavish with his praise here, and the image of the lasting ink highlights the power of poetry. Words take on the character of sacred relics. Without saying so directly, his Comedy … Continue reading
“Ah, my dear brother,” he said, pointing to another nearby spirit, “let me introduce you to an even better artist in his own mother tongue. He was the best among love poets and prose writers – better than all of them! And those who think the poet from Limoges is better are fools! They listen to hearsay and neglect the truth because they are ignorant of the rules and the principles of our art. This was the case with Guittone when so many praised him above all others. Now, though, most see the truth.Dante’s words of praise for Guido’s poetry lead Guido to deflect them onto an even greater poet than himself and whom he will allow to introduce himself shortly. Guido praises this poet as Dante … Continue reading
“And so, let me end now by asking a favor. If this grace of yours should take you all the way to Heaven’s cloisters, where Christ is the Abbot of that community of the blessed, then please say an Our Father for me when you get there – at least the first part, because we are already delivered from evil.” Then, perhaps to allow someone else to take his place, he faded into the depths of those flames the way fish will fade as they seek deeper waters.Recognizing again the miracle/grace of Dante’s presence here on the Mountain, Guido asks him, should his journey take him all the way to Heaven, to say the first part of an Our Father for him. The … Continue reading
I stayed there for a moment and then moved toward the soul he had just pointed out. Greeting him, I told him that my desire to meet him had already made him welcome in my heart. And he replied with such grace: “Your kind words please me so much that I could never hide myself from you. I am Arnaut Daniel. Like the others here, I weep and sing my way along this fiery path. I grieve for my past folly and I rejoice at what lies ahead. And so I beg you by that Power which guides you to the top of the stairs to remember the pain I suffer when you get there.” And with that, he disappeared back into the flames that refine them.As Guido fades into the flames, the soul of Arnaut Daniel (1150-1210) comes to the fore, already warmly welcomed in Dante’s heart. His poetry was, at the same time, elegant, intricate, and … Continue reading
Arnaut Daniel’s words to Dante:
139 He of his own free will began to say:
140 ‘Tan m’ abellis vostre cortes deman, (‘So pleases me your courteous demand,)
141 Que jeu nom’ puesc ni vueill a vos cobrire; (I cannot and I will not hide me from you.)
142 Jeu sui Arnaut, que plor e vai chantan; (I am Arnaut, who weep and singing go;)
143 Consiros vei la passada folor, (Contrite I see the folly of the past,)
144 E vei jauzen lo jorn qu’ esper denan. (And joyous see the hoped-for day before me.)
145 Ara vus prec per aquella valor, (Therefore do I implore you, by that power)
146 Que vus condus al som de la scalina, (Which guides you to the summit of the stairs,)
147 Sovenga vus a temprar ma dolor.’ (Be mindful to assuage my suffering!’)
Notes & Commentary
|↑1||The segue between the previous canto and this one is quite smooth and puts us exactly where we left off, with Dante peering into the flames and Virgil warning him to be careful. Again, it is the Pilgrim’s shadow that arouses a reciprocal curiosity among the burning souls. And, as he does in other locations, the Poet is careful to give us a time and location marker–in this case it’s about 4:00pm, on his third day in Purgatory (Tuesday after Easter), and the three travelers are moving toward the west where the sun will set in a few hours.
It’s difficult to know whether or not Dante expected us to do the math here because his description seems perfectly simple. But here is John Ciardi’s commentary, which offers us some amazing information: “The sun is in about the same position in the sky and getting low (perhaps a bit less than 30°), and Dante says its rays are almost level. In point of fact, the mean distance of the sun from the earth is approximately 93,000,000 miles and to be level with it at one-third of its altitude, Dante would have to be about 30,000,000 miles up: an altitude that makes it a considerable mountain even as hyperbole goes.” But why not. And the flames, which might seem lighter in the pale afternoon light, definitely take on their real color as Dante’s shadow passes across them, revealing in greater detail both the burning souls and the Poet himself.
|↑2||Our Poet has definitely aroused the curiosity of the lustful sinners who realize that he is there among them as one very much alive. Note also that the mention of Dante’s “real” body contrasts with the sinners’ aerial bodies. And also note how it is the sinners who look at Dante’s body here as opposed to the terrace below where it was he who looked (with horror) at the bodies on the gluttons. This will be the last time in the Poem that Dante’s shadow will be referred to.
In addition to Dante and the sinners walking in the same direction (to the right), our attention is also drawn to the care taken by the sinners not to transgress the boundary of the flames. About this, Mark Musa notes here in his commentary that the sinners’ caution has to do with their penance which is self-maintained. “The point is made so that it reinforces the lessons of the last canto about the shade’s desire to purify itself of sin. In this case, the sinful desire of the Lustful is answered by the will of the shades to burn wholly and cleanly in God’s fire, for the duration necessary to atone for that sin.” Charles Singleton writes in his remarks here: “It must be noticed that in Purgatory the spirits not only submit willingly to the chastisement imposed upon them, but they actually love it.”
When the most curious of the souls speaks to Dante from the flames he suspects that the Poet is walking behind Virgil and Statius out of respect. This singles Dante out for more attention because he’s the last in line, but there’s also an irony here. The conversation about to take place will include the mention of poets and poetry. But the speaker here doesn’t realize that it is the great classical poets Virgil and Statius who walk in front of Dante. And, as we will see, Dante doesn’t identify them, most likely because the subject at hand will be contemporary poetry and poets.
Like the gluttons below, and perhaps more reasonably so, these burning lustful spirits suffer from thirst. But, and already playing with words, Dante is told they thirst most to hear him speak. Perhaps behind this gesture of great admiration on the sinners’ part is also a bit of self-advertising on Dante’s part. And to know how the Poet has “avoided death and come here among us” might also be taken to mean that his poetry is so far superior to theirs and others that it lives–very much so–while theirs has faded. I will refrain from giving the name of the sinner who speaks with Dante here, but as we will see, he was himself very important, and will receive very high praise from Dante.
|↑3||Dante doesn’t disappoint, as he presents us here with an unusual scene that arouses his (and our) curiosity as much as he had aroused the curiosity of the lustful sinners. Bear in mind that we have been walking to the right along the terraces–counterclockwise. The fiery sinners have been walking in the same direction. But now another group arrives going in the opposite direction, to the left. These are the only souls in Purgatory to do so. The implication should be obvious: they have sinned against nature. As they meet, they all embrace and kiss each other. Obviously, this has to do with reinforcing virtuous love as much as the flames cleanse the sinners from its opposite, which probably also involved hugging and kissing. In his Letter to the Romans, St. Paul urges his community to “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” While there is a reference to ants in the Aeneid (IV:402ff), where Virgil compares Aeneas and his men loading their ships to ants, the scene of crowds meeting and mingling would have been common in Dante’s time as it still is in our own. At the same time, ants are noted for their diligence, a virtue that the lustful sinners observe carefully as they carry out their purging.
But there’s more: we have only seen the first part of this “Hail, and well met!” ritual. After the hug and kiss, the sinners shout at each other making what they say much more audible and adding to their shame. Those who arrived from the left shout first: “Sodom and Gomorrah!” reinforcing the nature of their sins. Those moving to the right then shout: “Pasiphaë enters the false cow so that the bull might satisfy her lust!” reinforcing the nature of their sins. The reader’s curiosity should be piqued by this strange and lurid ritual, but we will withhold further explanation of these shouts until the sinner who has been talking with Dante has a chance to explain them to him.
|↑4||Obviously, cranes (or other birds, for that matter) do not migrate to the north and the south in the same season. However, Dante may be making a connection here between these “birds”(the lustful souls) going off in different directions and the image of the lustful souls in Canto 5 of the Inferno, who were like birds being buffeted here and there by the winds of passion. Mark Musa offers a fascinating mythological insight here: “Dante probably uses the analogy to suggest more than a moral theme. In mythology, cranes are an ancient symbol for the origin of the alphabet. In flights to and from the Hyperborean Other World they were believed to carry the secrets of language, and their mating dance was said to trace the steps of the labyrinth.”Soon enough, the topic here will turn to poetry–the highest form of language.
The mythical Riphean mountains in classical geography were said to be a range in the generic far north of Europe. After the souls meet and move on, they begin the ritual singing of the hymn Summae Deus Clementiae (see the previous canto).
|↑5||After the two groups of souls separate, the original group, still curious, come back to the edge of the flames to hear Dante answer their earlier question about how he came to be here. The Poet’s reply is wonderfully gracious and fitting for this terrace where errant love is purged so true love can grow.
Note that Dante doesn’t identify himself by name but more by his condition: he’s definitely alive (note his list: flesh, blood, and bones), he’s climbing the Mountain to be healed of his blindness at the behest of a blessed lady (this may be Beatrice or the Virgin Mary), and it’s quite miraculous that he’s here. Then he turns their question back at the fiery sinners and, to satisfy his (and our) curiosity, he definitely wants to know who the other group of sinners were. And in a clear reference to his Poem, the Commedia, he tells them he will put their answers in his “book,” as though he’s taking notes and preparing his text. Recall that one of Dante’s purposes for including people’s names in his Poem is so that readers will remember them. And in the Purgatorio also, so that readers will be reminded to pray for them. Another loving gesture here on this terrace.
|↑6||There is a certain comedy here in this stereotype, and Dante will use it again in the Paradiso (31:103ff) in reference to himself. One can easily imagining the souls here gaping in wonder at what Dante has told them.|
|↑7||The reference to the awed souls as “noble hearts” is another gracious gesture of respect on Dante’s part. And this is reciprocated by the soul’s blessing on him, assuring him that what he writes in his “book” will also have a good effect on him.
Now we begin to get answers about the nature of the two groups of souls going in opposite directions. But before we proceed, let’s review for just a moment. Dante and the group of souls he was talking with were moving around the terrace to the right (in a counterclockwise direction). Soon enough, another group approached them from the opposite direction (going left, or clockwise). As they approached each other, the souls embraced and kissed. Then they began to shout. Those who had come from the left shouted “Sodom and Gomorrah!” And those going to the right shouted “Pasiphaë enters the false cow so that the bull might satisfy her lust!” Then they separated and went on their way.
We surmised rightly, and as the soul speaking to Dante tells him, those who came from the left were guilty of unnatural sins, and their shout of “Sodom!” showed this to be the case. They are sodomites. The reference comes from Chapter 19 in the Book of Genesis, where both the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed because of their notorious sexual immorality. But the soul speaking to Dante adds an interesting piece of information. He tells the Poet: “They suffer here from the same sin that caused Caesar to be called ‘Queen’ as he passed along in triumph.” Most modern readers will find this to be an obscure reference. The Roman historian Suetonius (ca 69-ca 122 AD) wrote in his Life of the Caesars (49) that after his conquest of Bithynia (Turkey) Julius Caesar had sex with King Nicomedes. The problem with this is, on the one hand, that it might be true, and on the other hand, it might be hearsay or scurrilous nasty talk that soldiers might have shouted at their leader during one of his Roman triumphs. Soldiers apparently had permission to do this and were notorious for shouting vulgar epithets at their generals during triumphs. And Suetonius might have been reporting this. And he quotes this three-line ditty that soldiers were singing: “All the Gauls did Caesar vanquish, Nicomedes vanquished him. / Lo! Now Caesar rides in triumph, victor over all the Gauls, / Nicomedes does not triumph, who subdued the conqueror.”
Additionally, Dante may have had another source, namely Uguccione da Pisa, who wrote in his Magnae derivationes: “On such a day anyone could say anything he wished to the person who was having a triumph. Thus the story is told that when Caesar was being led into the city in triumph, someone said: ‘Open the gates for King Baldy and the Queen of Bithynia!’ This referred to the fact that he was bald and that he had lain with the King of Bithynia. Another, with the same vice in mind, said: ‘Hail, King and Queen!’”
A further difficulty here has to do with whether Dante actually believed this, or was simply reporting an off-color comment by the soul who was explaining this to him. Remember that Caesar is, in fact, among the great souls in Limbo and not with the Sodomites.
Finally, as noted earlier, the sinners shout these epithets as part of their penance which, in this case, induces shame and adds to the pain of their punishment.
|↑8||Now, the speaker explains the shout made by his group of sinners. In contradistinction to the homosexuality of the sodomites, the sexual sins of this group are heterosexual. This is the only meaning of the word“hermaphroditic” here, and it’s an unusual choice of words–most likely because there wasn’t in medieval vocabulary a specific word for “heterosexual.” In Ovid’s Metamorphoses (IV:285-388), Hermaphroditus was, as his name suggests, the son of Hermes and Aphrodite. He was loved by the nymph Salamcis but he did not return her advances. Once when he was swimming, she embraced him. Though he resisted, her wish to be merged with him was granted and the result was a creature that retained both sexual characteristics–half-man, half-woman.
Interestingly, the speaker doesn’t repeat the shout his group of sinners made, though he does explain it briefly. The story of Pasiphaë is found in several places in classical literature, and Dante’s use of the story probably raised eyebrows for quite a long time. In his commentary here, Robert Hollander calls this Dante’s “unsurprisingly elastic and eclectic reading of classical material.” Pasiphaë was the wife of King Minos (Inf. 5) of Crete. Poseidon had sent Minos the gift of a great black bull to offer in sacrifice, but Minos kept the bull as part of his herd instead. To punish him, Poseidon caused Pasiphaë to fall in love with the bull. She had the famed craftsman, Daedalus, fashion a wooden cow that she could enter and have sex with the bull. The result of this bestial encounter was the Minotaur (Inf. 12) who was later imprisoned in the great labyrinth until he was killed by Theseus.
The heart of the matter here is that these heterosexual sinners in their lust “behaved more like animals” than human beings with reason and intelligence. Thus the reference to Pasiphaë’s bestial sex with the bull. The heterosexual encounters of this group of sinners were excessive, one might say, but not “unnatural.” Commentators throughout the ages have had much to say about this section of the canto.
|↑9||Guido (1230-1276) was the most illustrious poet in Italy just prior to Dante, and direct forerunner of the “sweet new style” of which Dante became the not-to-be-exceeded master. Robert Hollander tells us: “His most famous poem is the canzone ‘Love always finds shelter in the noble heart.’ It sets out the doctrine, embraced by Dante…that true nobility is not determined by birth but by inner virtue.” Dante echoes this at various points in both the Purgatorio and the Paradiso. Guido was born and lived in Bologna, and like Dante he was exiled later in his life. As we will see, Dante held him in the highest esteem.|
|↑10||The source for Dante’s very condensed reference to King Lycurgus here is Statius’s Thebaid (V:499-730). The reader will recall how Dante and Virgil encountered the famous mythological argonaut, Jason, among the panders and seducers in Canto 18 of the Inferno. Jason seduced Hypsipyle, daughter of the king of Lemnos, and then abandoned her, leaving her pregnant with twin boys. Later, she was the nursemaid for the son of King Lycurgus of Nemea. One day, while caring for the boy out of doors, she left him for a moment to show some warriors (the Seven against Thebes) where to find a pool of water. In the meantime, the boy was bitten by a snake and died. Lycurgus was ready to kill Hypsipyle when her long-lost twin sons, now in the employ of Lycurgus, happened upon the scene and saved her.|
|↑11||Here, Dante lets us into his soul. The depth of his love and respect for Guido–his “poetic father”–stands in sharp contrast to the unbridled “love” of both groups of lustful sinners. And his humility to place himself at the back of the line of his poetic contemporaries says a great deal about the effect his experience on the Mountain has had on him (recall quite the opposite in Canto 4 in the Inferno when he was included (or included himself) among the world’s greatest poets). In his commentary here, John Ciardi tells us: “One must also recognize that Dante distinguished between poeti (poets) and rimatori (versifiers, rhymers). Here, ‘better poets’ could mean ‘as versifiers’.”
After all the sinners had embraced and kissed, Dante would have done the same with Guido had it not been for the flames that separated them. Of course, he’s afraid of the fire, as he was in Canto 16 in the Inferno when he would gladly have joined the trio of Florentine sodomites he regarded so highly. Instead, he offers whatever help he can give to his poetic father, probably in the form of prayers.
|↑12||Lethe, the river of oblivion and forgetfulness.|
|↑13||Dante is quite lavish with his praise here, and the image of the lasting ink highlights the power of poetry. Words take on the character of sacred relics. Without saying so directly, his Comedy itself is written with that ageless ink. The fact that the Comedy is a poetic journey through the afterlife, with great spiritual and theological underpinnings, and culminating in the eternal realm of Paradise, also shows us Dante pointing the mirror at himself, as it were.|
|↑14||Dante’s words of praise for Guido’s poetry lead Guido to deflect them onto an even greater poet than himself and whom he will allow to introduce himself shortly. Guido praises this poet as Dante praises Guido: this as-yet-unnamed poet is “better than all of them,” the love poets and the writers of verse.
Perhaps because Guido is a poet with such fame, Dante allows him to act the critic for a moment as he downplays “the poet from Limoges.” (Limoges is a city in central France about 100 miles from the coast, and about the same distance northeast of Bordeaux.) This is a reference to the famous Provençal poet Guiraut de Bornellh (1175-1220). During his lifetime he was known as “master of the Troubadours,” with a technically simpler style than many of his contemporaries. Dante praised him highly in both his De vulgari eloquentia and his Convivio. And Guido’s remarks are really directed at Guiraut’s technique rather than at him personally. As one can see, Guido is concerned primarily about “the rules and principles of our art.”
The Guittone Guido refers to here was the poet Guittone d’Arezzo (1240-1294, see Canto 24). He was a member of the Jovial Friars mentioned in Canto 23 of the Inferno, lived most of his life in Florence, and was probably known by Dante. The harsh tone here is explained by Robert Hollander in his commentary:
“Dante, surely unfairly, is getting even, less perhaps with Guittone than with his admirers, who were many (and continue to exist today). It was not enough for him to have Bonagiunta (Purg. 24:56) include him, along with himself, among those who failed to come up to Dante’s measure. Now Dante uses the great Guinizzelli (who had indeed come to dislike Guittone’s poetry in reality) to skewer Guittone a second time, and much more harshly. As early as his De vulgari eloquentia, Dante had been deprecating Guittone. One may sense a certain ‘anxiety of influence’ at work here, especially since Guittone did so many of the things that Dante himself took on as his own tasks: love lyrics, moral canzoni, and eventually religious poems.”
|↑15||Recognizing again the miracle/grace of Dante’s presence here on the Mountain, Guido asks him, should his journey take him all the way to Heaven, to say the first part of an Our Father for him. The second part of the Lord’s Prayer includes the phrase, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” which, here in Purgatory, has already come to pass. And then he disappears into the depths of the flames.|
|↑16||As Guido fades into the flames, the soul of Arnaut Daniel (1150-1210) comes to the fore, already warmly welcomed in Dante’s heart. His poetry was, at the same time, elegant, intricate, and technically difficult. He is credited with inventing the sestina, a six-stanza form with six lines in each stanza, ending with a short three-line stanza.
In perhaps the most extraordinary linguistic moment in the Poem, Arnaut speaks with Dante entirely in his native Provençal language–the only place where this happens and a testimony to Dante’s high esteem for him. Not only that, keep in mind that Dante wrote the entire Comedy in the vernacular Italian–a first. His happy inclusion of Arnaut here in his own language is yet another way for Dante to show his great regard for the vernacular as a vehicle for high poetry. Is it too much to suggest that Dante spoke and understood the language of Provence? Arnaut’s actual words and a translation are included at the end of this commentary.
In spite of his greatness as a poet, Arnaut humbly admits his lustful past to Dante and, like so many others, begs our Poet to remember him when he reaches his goal. Already assured of salvation, notice how he doesn’t say a word about his own genius, his poetry, or the technical bravura his work was known for. It’s enough that Dante simply quote him in his own native tongue. At the same time, Dante had a great admiration for Arnaut and in his own way imitated and improved on his technical skill. This is the last time Dante will speak with a soul in Purgatory.