The evening prayer is intoned and two angels take up their posts on either side of the group of noble souls. The serpent appears, but the angels chase it away. Dante converses with two of the souls there.
This was that hour when, on the first day out, a sailor becomes homesick as he thinks of his loved ones. At that same hour a new pilgrim is filled with love when he hears the sad tolling of distant bells announcing the end of day. And so, Sordello’s words faded into the background of my thoughts as I gazed down upon a soul who had risen to his feet and was calling the others to attention. Facing the East, his hands were raised in prayer as though to say: “Nothing else matters to me but You alone, my God.”This is one of the loveliest canto openings in the Poem, and Dante the Poet captures the deep sentiments of longing as the day comes to an end and travelers–whether sailors or pilgrims–ache with … Continue reading
That pious soul now intoned the Te lucis ante terminum so beautifully and so reverently that I lost all sense of myself as I listened. All the other souls there joined that lovely hymn in harmony with their gaze directed toward the heavens.The hymn, Te lucis ante terminum is traditionally attributed to St. Ambrose of Milan, and is sung at the beginning of the service of Compline at the end of the day: Before the ending of the … Continue reading
Now, if you’re following me, pay careful attention here because the truth should be fairly clear, and its meaning easy to grasp.Dante the Poet addresses the reader directly seven times in the Purgatorio. This is the first time. Dante the Pilgrim has already given himself over completely to what is about to happen, and we’re … Continue reading In silent, humble expectation, all those noble souls now looked up to the heavens. I, too, looked up and saw, floating down from the sky, two great angels, each holding two flaming swords whose tips were broken off. Their billowing robes were bright green and flowed behind them, fanned by their green wings. One of them came to rest above us on our side of that little valley, while the other stood on the opposite side, with all the souls there between them. I could see their long golden hair, but their faces were so dazzling I would have been blinded if I looked at them directly.Keep in mind that Sordello, Virgil, and Dante are still on their “balcony” at the edge of the valley. Recall the first appearance of the angel-pilot guiding the ship of souls in Canto 2. This is … Continue reading
Sordello said quietly: “These two come from Mary’s merciful bosom, and they descend now to guard us from the great serpent who will come here soon. You will see it.”We tend to think that angels come from “Heaven,” but Dante had a great love of the Virgin Mary, and calls heaven “Mary’s bosom,” reminding us of another appellation, “Abraham’s … Continue reading
Suddenly, I was horrified! I didn’t know where that creature would appear, and in a panic I turned around and pressed myself close up against Virgil.This little scene is cleverly designed. Dante the Pilgrim’s sudden fright at the mention of a great snake contrasts wildly with the deep sense of calm the Poet has taken pains to create. We’ve … Continue reading Sordello said, “The time has now come for us to go down among that noble company below. They will be pleased to have you among them.”Standing on our “balcony” overlooking the Valley of the Kings we’ve been cleverly distracted both by the evening ritual and the mention of the serpent. Only now are we brought back to point … Continue reading
With just a few steps, it seemed, we reached that group of souls, and one of them stared at me intently, seeing if he recognized me. Though it was getting dark now, we were so close that I could see what I couldn’t make out before. We approached each other–Oh, what a grace! It was that noble judge Nino de Visconti, and how pleased I was that he was here and not among the damned! After many affectionate greetings, he asked me: “How long has it been since you died and sailed to this mountain’s shore?”What earlier seemed like quite a distance (the view of a small valley, the gathering of the kings, the descent of the angels) is actually only a few short steps for the threesome to find themselves … Continue reading
“Oh!” I replied. “I’m still alive. Only this morning did we leave the kingdom of eternal grief, and I hope this road will lead me to the other kingdom.”
Hearing this, both Nino and Sordello moved back in amazement and utter disbelief. Sordello looked at Virgil and Nino turned to a nearby soul and cried out: “Rise up, Corrado! Come here quickly! Look how God’s grace has been manifested!”This is great fun, and it’s the first time Dante has spoken since the middle of Canto 6. Obviously, since it’s almost dark in the Valley of the Princes, neither Nino nor Sordello could have seen … Continue reading
Then he turned to me and said: “In the name of God Whose grace brings you here–for reasons too deep to understand–I beg you, when you return to the world, please go to my daughter, Giovanna, and ask her to plead for me because prayers from those who are clean of heart are heard above. I think her mother no longer loves me, because she has changed her widow’s clothes for those of a bride–which she may soon regret. You can learn from her conduct how the flame of love in a woman’s heart needs constant signs of attention lest it go out. Her tomb will now be less splendid with its serpent-emblem than it would have been with my family’s emblem of the cock.” As he told me this, and his face showed the zeal that stirred within his heart.This request of Nino de’Visconti is both long and heart-felt, and it momentarily interrupts the evening prayer ritual. Nino died in 1296 and four years later his wife (whom he never names), … Continue reading
In the meantime, I was staring at the evening sky toward the South where the stars move slowest around the pole, as an axle moves the slowest within a wheel. Seeing this, Virgil asked me: “My son, what are you staring at out there?”
I answered: “Look there–those three bright stars lighting up the entire sky there near the pole.”
“Yes,” he said. “And if you recall the four great stars you saw this morning when we emerged from Hell, they are now beneath us. These three have taken their place.”Dante hasn’t been ignoring Nino as “in the meantime” might sound. Nino has finished what he had to say to Dante and the Pilgrim now focuses his attention on the southern sky. Early this first … Continue reading
Sordello, however, cut him short. Clutching Virgil’s arm and pointing to the place, he said: “Look! Over there. Our adversary is coming!”
Slithering along the open side of that small valley a great snake moved quietly–perhaps the very one that offered the bitter fruit to Eve! That evil streak glided ever so smoothly among the flowers and grass, stopping here and there to turn its head and lick its back to make itself sleek.At last the serpent makes its appearance. We’ve been distracted by moving into the Valley of the Princes, meeting and speaking with Nino de’Visconti, and looking at the new stars in the evening … Continue reading
I didn’t see how the two great angels took to flight, but I saw how both of them flew down at once causing that serpent to flee in fright! Their duty completed, they turned and flew back to their posts in perfect order.With Dante’s focus on the great serpent, everything around him happens so fast that he almost misses the last part of the drama–the quick action of the angels, who come into his view at the last … Continue reading
During that whole scene, the soul whom Nino had called over to us never took his eyes off of me. “I hope the lamp that guides your ascent up this mountain will find enough fuel within your heart to bring you right to the top,” he began. “I would be happy to hear any news of my homeland around the region of Val di Magra, for in my lifetime there I was held in high esteem. I was Corrado Malaspina the younger, and I’m here to cleanse from myself the pride I had in my family.”First, a humorous note: if Dante had his eyes focused on the serpent during the drama of its appearance–so much so that he didn’t even see the angels begin to move until they crossed into his … Continue reading
“Oh!” I replied. “I have never been to your part of our country, but everyone in Europe knows about that wonderful place. Even people who have never been there speak well of your honorable family. I swear to you, by my hope to reach the top of this mountain, that your noble family still maintains its honor, both in its wealth and its soldiery. You and your family have been shaped by the habits of virtue. And while that evil Shepherd of the Church fouls the world, you and your family alone have never followed his wicked ways.”If we know the story of Dante’s travels when he was exiled from Florence, we know that it’s not true that he was never in the territory of the Malaspinas. However, if we remember that Dante sets … Continue reading
“Then let me tell you this:” he said in reply, “the sun will not cross the constellation of the Ram seven times before your kind words about my family shall, in fact, come back upon you–if God’s justice is not diverted.”Once again, shifting back and forth between real and poetic dates, Corrado reciprocates Dante’s gracious words about his family in a kind of prophecy that assures him that in seven years (1306) he … Continue reading
Notes & Commentary
|↑1||This is one of the loveliest canto openings in the Poem, and Dante the Poet captures the deep sentiments of longing as the day comes to an end and travelers–whether sailors or pilgrims–ache with yearning to be with those they have left behind. Dante also touches lightly on the image of a ship (the sailor) to which he will later compare his great Poem. Eight cantos into the Purgatorio, he also reiterates the pilgrim motif that bonds us together with Dante the Pilgrim as we journey together toward Heaven and the vision of God. At the same time, and on a deeper level, beautiful as all of this may be, there is a yearning for the past that is incompatible with the ever-forward and upward movement demanded by very nature of Purgatory. The souls here are not in any danger of sinning, but their actual purgation has not begun which will take all their concentration.
And so, here we are at the end of the first day on the Mountain of Purgatory and the image of the tolling bell recalls to Dante’s mind the hour of Compline–the last daily prayer of the Church. And, as we shall see, this canto is filled with ritual. We have already heard the hymn Salve Regina sung by the souls in the Valley of the Kings as we listened to Sordello’s narration at the valley’s edge in the last canto. Now, with both the hymn and Sordello’s account of those souls finished, Dante, in a kind of dream-state, no longer hears Sordello but watches the kings as one of them (unnamed) stands and calls the others to rise with him in prayer. His hands, lifted toward Heaven, recalls the first verses of Psalm 134 which opens the service of Compline: “O come, bless the Lord, all you servants of the Lord. You who stand in the house of the Lord throughout the nights, lift up your hands toward the sanctuary and bless the Lord.” They all follow him and face East, the sacred direction of both sunrise (a symbol of Christ) and the grace of God. Medieval churches were often constructed on an east-west axis so that the Sacred Liturgy was always celebrated facing east. Interestingly, Medieval maps were laid out with east at the top. With the dying of the day, we join the souls in recalling that our journey toward ultimate salvation requires a dying (no longer listening) to those earthly things that hold us back as we look forward in hope to the glory of a new day illuminated by God.
|↑2||The hymn, Te lucis ante terminum is traditionally attributed to St. Ambrose of Milan, and is sung at the beginning of the service of Compline at the end of the day:
Before the ending of the day,
Note how Dante and all the souls here are so completely absorbed, and note again how they all sing in harmony–a characteristic of Purgatory we’ll observe again and again. One is also reminded of when Casella sang in Canto 1 and everyone listened with rapt attention. While the souls in Purgatory aren’t in need of protection against temptation or evil dreams, in this hymn they join in solidarity with those on earth who still need that protection. This is part of what the Church calls “the Communion of Saints,” the community of the Saints in Heaven, the souls in Purgatory, and the faithful on earth.
|↑3||Dante the Poet addresses the reader directly seven times in the Purgatorio. This is the first time. Dante the Pilgrim has already given himself over completely to what is about to happen, and we’re urged here to do the same so that we can enjoy to the fullest extent what happens–overtly and subtly–in the rest of this canto.|
|↑4||Keep in mind that Sordello, Virgil, and Dante are still on their “balcony” at the edge of the valley. Recall the first appearance of the angel-pilot guiding the ship of souls in Canto 2. This is the second appearance of angels and it has two parts. Here in the first part, the evening liturgy of Compline has already begun with the singing of the Salve Regina. Now, all the souls in this place stand, facing east as they join in prayer singing the Te lucis, and reciting the Psalms of the Church’s evening prayer. An aura of sacredness comes upon the souls including Sordello, Virgil, and Dante, and it goes without saying that we are also invited to participate. This ritual is repeated every evening.
Two great angels descend from the heavens and take their places at either side of the valley. They are dressed in gorgeous green robes symbolizing the virtue of hope, and each carries two flaming swords with blunted tips. The swords symbolize the justice of God tempered by His mercy, the flames symbolizing the love of God. Broken as they are, these swords aren’t intended to do any harm. In his commentary, Musa suggests that the blunted swords may represent that inability to move upward during the night that Sordello spoke of earlier. He also notes that golden hair was often used in icons and paintings as a symbol of blessedness. That the swords are flaming reminds us of the scene in chapter 3 of the Book of Genesis where Adam and Eve are driven from the Garden of Eden. An angel (perhaps two) is stationed at the entrance with a flaming sword which turns in every direction to prevent them from returning.
|↑5||We tend to think that angels come from “Heaven,” but Dante had a great love of the Virgin Mary, and calls heaven “Mary’s bosom,” reminding us of another appellation, “Abraham’s bosom.” But there is a subtlety in Dante’s choice here, and we were reminded earlier to pay careful attention to what is both obvious and subtle in this canto. That these angels come from Mary’s bosom connects us to Canto 2:96 in the Inferno, where Beatrice told Virgil that the Virgin Mary (“whose compassion can bend the laws of Heaven”) saw Dante’s precarious spiritual condition and sent Lucia (light) to Beatrice, who came to Virgil and commissioned him to be Dante’s guide. Furthermore, if we explore chapter 3 in the Book of Genesis again, verses 14-15 are a veiled prophecy that scholars use to point to the Virgil Mary:
In Christian theology, Mary is seen as the opposite of Eve. Her “Yes!” to the angel’s message that she would be the mother of Jesus cancelled once and for all the effects of Eve’s sin in the Garden of Eden. Hollander, in his commentary, takes his cue here from the earliest commentary we have on the Commedia, written in 1340 by Pietro di Dante, Dante’s second son. He quotes from that commentary: “‘And the holy men say that, just as sickness was born from that most prideful one, that is, Eve, just so its cure springs from that most humble one, that is, Mary.’ And thus, Pietro continues, the ‘Ave” of the ‘Hail Mary’ counters the effect of Eve, whose name it spells backward.’”
As for the serpent, Sordello’s almost matter-of-fact announcement adds to the fact that what is taking place in the Valley of the Kings is a nightly ritual/drama that includes the arrival of a real snake, which they will see, but that the angels stand guard against it. Recall the second verse of the Te lucis above which names it as “our ghostly foe.” “From all ill dreams defend our eyes, / From nightly fears and fantasies; / Tread under foot our ghostly foe, / That no pollution we may know.”
|↑6||This little scene is cleverly designed. Dante the Pilgrim’s sudden fright at the mention of a great snake contrasts wildly with the deep sense of calm the Poet has taken pains to create. We’ve been attentive to the beautiful scenery, the fascinating mini-stories of the kings, the pious devotion of the “congregation,” and the lovely sacred music of this evening prayer. Enter the snake! Again, Sordello is almost humorously matter-of-fact with what most people share with the Pilgrim: fright. “You will see it,” he says with no further explanation as to when or where. Dante’s panicked reaction is spot-on. In line 42 in the Italian, he describes himself as tutto gelato, utterly frozen. Hollander points out: “There is only one other occasion in the poem in which Dante has been gelato (chilled): when he looks upon Satan (Inf. 34:22).” I love his postscript: “This serpent is indeed Satan in his ‘serpent suit’ in the garden (Genesis 3:1 and passim).” And this is the first time we have such a reaction from him in the Purgatorio. Pressing himself close to Virgil is most likely instinctive on Dante’s part as he recalls the first time he saw Satan frozen in the ice at the bottom of Hell.|
|↑7||Standing on our “balcony” overlooking the Valley of the Kings we’ve been cleverly distracted both by the evening ritual and the mention of the serpent. Only now are we brought back to point zero, as it were, with Sordello telling Virgil and Dante that it’s time to go down into where the real action is. And while we don’t know exactly what Sordello’s relationship with the kings is, it definitely seems to be a friendly one as he foretells that they will be happy to have new company.|
|↑8||What earlier seemed like quite a distance (the view of a small valley, the gathering of the kings, the descent of the angels) is actually only a few short steps for the threesome to find themselves amid those they had been watching moments before. Immediately, Dante is recognized, and soon enough he recognizes his good friend Nino de’Visconti from Pisa. Nino, short for Ugolino, was a grandson of Count Ugolino della Gherardesca whose tragic death is immortalized in Canto 33 of the Inferno. He was a leader of the Guelf party in Pisa and a judge for the region of Gallura in Sardinia which was at that time a possession of Pisa. The reader will recall him from the story of Fra Gomita in the Inferno (22:81ff). Gomita was a monk and Visconti’s chancellor in Gallura. Gomita was notorious for his bribe-taking and was eventually hanged by Visconti. Nino and his grandfather, Count Ugolino fell out politically in 1288 (Guelf vs Ghibelline) and he was expelled from Pisa. He lived for a time in Lucca and Genoa, most likely became friends with Dante in Florence, and died in 1296 in Gallura.
Dante’s immediate response on meeting Nino–great pleasure at seeing him here in Purgatory and not in Hell–might be misleading. The Pilgrim definitely met souls in Hell that he had cared about or admired when they were alive. But if we recall that the realm of Ante-Purgatory is for people who postponed their conversion till late, or repented at the last minute of their lives, and knowing him well, Dante might have had cause to wonder about the strength of Nino’s religious faith amid the numerous political struggles he was party to when he was in Pisa and afterward. Nevertheless, he is among the saved and he presumes that Dante is too.
Their affectionate greetings remind us of the reunion with Casella in Canto 2 with similar inquiries about their destinies. Except Dante’s answer to Nino’s query is going to lead to a shock the Poet has patiently reserved from the previous canto until this moment.
|↑9||This is great fun, and it’s the first time Dante has spoken since the middle of Canto 6. Obviously, since it’s almost dark in the Valley of the Princes, neither Nino nor Sordello could have seen Dante’s shadow. Of course, we can also imagine their shock–thunderstruck might be a good word here. One might wonder why Sordello was “in the dark” (pun intended) about Dante’s body, but going back to the previous canto (7:3), when he asked who Dante and Virgil were, it was in the plural (in Italian). Virgil simply answered for both himself and Dante and nothing more was said–or heard–about Dante. Neither Nino nor Sordello were prepared for this, and as Sordello turned questioningly to Virgil we can imagine Virgil shrugging his shoulders with a look that said, “I didn’t have a chance to warn you.” In the meantime, Nino spreads the good news to his friend Corrado Malaspina and calls him over to share in seeing the miracle of grace that Dante’s presence represents to them.
Dante knew Corrado through his cousin, Moroello Malaspina, with whom he was good friends. Early in his exile Dante was hosted by the Malaspinas in Lunigiana for whom he acted as a diplomat. Lunigiana is a mountainous region at the far northwestern tip of Tuscany stretching from the Apennines to the Mediterranean Sea. In modern times this ancient territory belongs partly to Tuscany and partly to Liguria.
|↑10||This request of Nino de’Visconti is both long and heart-felt, and it momentarily interrupts the evening prayer ritual. Nino died in 1296 and four years later his wife (whom he never names), Beatrice d’Este, married Galeazzo I Visconti, Lord of Milan–but not before jilting Alberto Scotti, the Lord of Piacenza. (The two Visconti families were not related.) Beatrice was the daughter of Opizzio d’Este (a notorious and violent man, who boils in the river of blood in Inferno Canto 12:111. Nino is right in prophesying that she would regret her marriage to Galeazzo. Two years after their marriage, he was driven out of Milan in abject poverty, having been ruined by his wife’s former lover, Alberto of Piacenza. Beatrice was forced to share his ruin, but after Alberto’s death she was later restored in 1328 by her son, Azzo, the new Lord of Milan. All of this “drama,” it would seem, reinforces Nino’s reflection that the flame of marital love will go out if it is not continually attended to. He speaks with experience, and thus asks Dante to go to his daughter, Giovanna, and ask her to pray for the salvation of her father’s soul (because her mother seems to have abandoned him from her prayers). The serpent and the cock were emblems on the Visconti coats of arms: a serpent swallowing a Saracen on Galeazzo’s and a rooster on Nino’s. (Interestingly, the cock/rooster is a symbol of Christ and his Resurrection which announces the dawn of hope and salvation.) Wives’ tombs had the coat of arms of their latest husband on them. However, Nino has the last laugh as his family’s emblems are much older than Geleazzo’s.|
|↑11||Dante hasn’t been ignoring Nino as “in the meantime” might sound. Nino has finished what he had to say to Dante and the Pilgrim now focuses his attention on the southern sky. Early this first day in Purgatory, the travelers saw the four great stars in the dawn sky as they emerged from Hell. They represent the Four Cardinal Virtues: Prudence, Temperance, Justice, and Fortitude. In the course of the day, these morning stars never really set in Purgatory. They slowly moved to the other side of the Mountain and now Dante sees a different group of three rising, which represent the Three Theological Virtues: Faith, Hope, and Love. On the spiritual level we see the theological virtues replace the moral virtues as the ancient world was eclipsed by the Christian era in which these three virtues have the power to lead a soul directly to God. And given where we are on the Mountain, these three virtues point to the end of Ante-Purgatory and entrance into Purgatory proper.|
|↑12||At last the serpent makes its appearance. We’ve been distracted by moving into the Valley of the Princes, meeting and speaking with Nino de’Visconti, and looking at the new stars in the evening sky. Note how, once again, Dante seems to be slighted by Sordello: it’s Virgil’s arm he clutches to warn him of the serpent’s arrival. On the spiritual level, the use of the possessive pronoun in “our adversary” is designed to caution not just the souls in the valley, but Dante, Virgil, and ourselves, the readers. The Poet used the same inclusive device in the first line of the Poem: “In the middle of the journey of our life…”
Dante’s description of the serpent as la mala striscia–an evil streak–is masterful. No reaction from the Pilgrim Dante is mentioned. Our focus is completely on this strange creature that slithers quietly along, stopping once in a while–and here I think Dante is delightfully over the top–to preen itself. This is no ordinary snake! And then just the slightest hint that this might be the same serpent that tempted Eve to eat the fruit of our downfall. Singleton quotes the venerable Scartazzini to great effect: “The viper licking and sleeking itself represents the wile of the tempter, who comes with an air of nonchalance toward everything about him. He does not even look at those he already contemplates attacking, so that his evil intention may not be revealed at all.”
Like so many of his scenes, Dante gives us a tightly compacted sponge that, once moistened with the imagination, blooms out in size. We forget, of course, that for the residents of this valley, this is a nightly occurrence. And yet this is all a dramatized version of what happens in the Church’s daily ritual of Compline: we gather at the end of the day to pray that the night will bring us a peaceful rest undisturbed by the intrusion of our adversary the devil. Instead of happening in a church or a monastery chapel, Dante brings it to a lovely valley open to the cosmos gloriously above the worshipers. What an awesome confluence!
|↑13||With Dante’s focus on the great serpent, everything around him happens so fast that he almost misses the last part of the drama–the quick action of the angels, who come into his view at the last minute to scare the serpent away. There’s a contrast not to be missed here between the languorous and furtive movement of the serpent and the flashing speed of the angels to drive it away. At the same time, we can see that there has never been any real danger from the serpent. Nevertheless, it is a reminder–even to these saved souls and we the readers–of both the danger of temptation which led them into sin and the nearness of God to save us. In the Italian, Dante calls these angels li astor celestïali, heavenly falcons. In art, the falcon often represents Christ, and the astor (the northern goshawk) was said to be particularly aggressive against snakes.
Mark Musa offers an excellent commentary here as the main drama of this first evening in Purgatory draws to a close. He writes: “The serpent appears in the artificial setting of the valley, and we are reminded of the beauty representing the vanity of all the sensual pleasures of the world. This is a representation of the worldly locus of temptation. The motion of the serpent is sinuous, calculated, yet oddly ineffectual. The angels, on the other hand, are pure movement and energy–the image of grace in action. The confrontation of the angels and the serpent resumes in concrete dramatic action the dualism of light and darkness in the cantos of the valley; and the naive simplicity brings into play the mild mercy of Mary as intercessor.”
|↑14||First, a humorous note: if Dante had his eyes focused on the serpent during the drama of its appearance–so much so that he didn’t even see the angels begin to move until they crossed into his line of sight, how did he know that Corrado Malaspina never took his eyes off him after being introduced? Once in a while Dante the Poet does this like this–to the chagrin of some commentators. And, perhaps, a second question is in order here: what happened to all the Kings and others like them in this last section of Ante-Purgatory, who put more into their affairs of state than the state of their souls? With the exception of Nino and Corrado, they seem somehow to have disappeared from Dante’s narrative. We know that, while these souls are all technically saved, it was the long neglect of their souls when they were alive that has placed them here. But, judging from their seeming indifference to what has just happened (and understanding that the same thing happens every night), that indifference still holds them back from fully and attentively participating in the prayer drama that we readers, along with Dante, Virgil, and Sordello, have witnessed. Once they begin their actual purgation, participation will be mandatory. So, on the spiritual level, it may well be that this entire scene in the Valley of the Kings has been presented for Dante the Pilgrim and the reader to reflect on.
Nevertheless, with all the excitement we’ve been witness to, Corrado took a back seat to the drama of the serpent and the angels. When Nino de’Visconti first introduced him to Dante there was no time for exchanges of greetings. Now there is time for conversation and Corrado greets Dante elegantly with words of hope and encouragement that he will find his way to the top of the Mountain. And he wants to know about his homeland. Recall how, on several occasions already in the Comedy, souls have asked Dante about families or their homeland, or sought remembrance/prayers from their families.
Corrado’s homeland is the Val di Magra, sometimes spelled Valdimagra (Valley of the Magra River). The valley lies about 20 miles down from the rising of the Magra River from which it gets its name. The river itself rises in the mountains about 40 miles to the northeast of La Spezia and empties into the Ligurian Sea below La Spezia (about midway between Genoa and Pisa. Part of the valley – the region of Lunigiana – lies in Tuscany and part in Liguria. This was the territory of the Malaspina family whose castle was in Villafranca. Corrado’s statement that he was held in high esteem might be taken with tongue in cheek since he is most likely here in Purgatory – as he actually admits – because he paid too much attention to his family’s titles and fortunes and not as much as he should have to his own soul.
|↑15||If we know the story of Dante’s travels when he was exiled from Florence, we know that it’s not true that he was never in the territory of the Malaspinas. However, if we remember that Dante sets the Commedia in the spring of 1300, then his statement is true. (Does Dante want to make sure we’re paying attention?) As a matter of fact, Dante’s more than gracious words to Corrado are really a homage of thanksgiving to the noble Malaspina family for their generous hospitality to him in the early years of his exile. During his time with them he acted as an ambassador for the Malaspina family in their dispute with the Bishop of Luni and settled what is known, even today as La Pace di Dante – the Peace of Dante. Perhaps of the highest importance is the debt of gratitude Dante owed to Corrado’s cousin, Moroello, who is said by Boccaccio in his Life of Dante to have received the first seven cantos of the Inferno, which were locked in a family trunk for a few years after Dante was exiled. They were found by one of Dante’s nephews and given to an esteemed poet named Dino Lambertucci. This man, knowing that Dante was in the Lunigiana, gave the manuscript to Moroello and asked him to beg Dante to finish what he had started several years earlier. While some scholars claim that Boccaccio’s account is unreliable, it is, nevertheless, amazing and entertaining.
Finally, it’s time to make another kick at Pope Boniface VIII, Dante’s nemesis, and the Poet does just that by calling him”that evil Shepherd of the Church [who] fouls the world.” The context here is really a compliment: that Corrado and his family were never tainted by any association with Boniface. It should also be noted here that for some scholars, depending on how Dante is translated, this may also be a reference to Satan or the devil–or all of the above.
|↑16||Once again, shifting back and forth between real and poetic dates, Corrado reciprocates Dante’s gracious words about his family in a kind of prophecy that assures him that in seven years (1306) he will enjoy the deep hospitality of the Malaspinas he only refers to here as part of his (Dante’s) poetic construct: namely, that the Poem is a kind of poetic prophecy set several years earlier than the events it actually narrates.|