Canto 6 – Divine Justice: “Are Your Righteous Eyes Turned Elsewhere?”

“And if it is lawful to ask, O Jove on high,

you who were crucified on earth for us,

are your righteous eyes turned elsewhere,

or, in your abyss of contemplation,

are you preparing some mysterious good,

beyond our comprehension? ”  (VI, 118-126)

Salvador Dali: Purgatorio, Canto VI: "Men Who Died Violent Deaths"

In this canto, Dante deals with many issues.

The sixth canto, “Ante-Purgatory: Those who Died by Violence,” opens with Dante’s speculation about the crowding shades all about him, pushing, shoving, imploring. Why do these souls bother him so, to pray for them?

He dwells on how people gamble so foolishly with their lives, when only the winner seems to profit from it.

He then questions Virgil about the power of prayer for others.  He wonders why the poet now states prayer for others is effective (lines 25 – 28), when, in the “Aeneid,” Virgil had written: ”prayer may not alter Heaven’s fixed decree.” It would seem the poet clearly stated prayer has no effect on Heaven.  Virgil prevaricates a bit, but notes that he wrote the epic before he knew the Christian era.  The question here arises, how can Justice be served, when prayers of others are credited to the soul of one who has passed beyond the test of life?

But, then, in the final section of the canto, Dante moves into an extended rant and lament.  Justice is certainly a central question here.   Dante feels his ‘beloved Italy’ has been betrayed.  Betrayed “by Caesar” [Holy Roman Emperor Albert], and, even by God.

Dante was a supporter of a united Italy, under rule of the Holy Roman Emperor.

So, he asks: “My Caesar, why do you not keep me company?”  [Cesare mio, perchè non m’accompagni?].

In doing so, he echoes Christ calling in despair from the cross:

“My God, why have you abandoned me?” (Matt. 27:46)

And then, Dante launches into a full diatribe:

“O German Albert, who abandon her

now that she is untamed and wild,

… In that far land, both you and your father,

dragged along by greed, allowed

the garden of the empire to be laid waste.

… Come, cruel one, come and see the tribulation

your nobles suffer and consider their distress.

… Come and see your Rome and how she weeps,

widowed and bereft, and cries out day and night:

My Caesar, why are you not with me?’

Come and see your people, how they love

one another, and, if no pity for us moves you,

come for shame of your repute.” (VI, 97 – 117)

But, Dante ventures further.  The Emperor alone is not to blame.  Dante dares to question whether or not God is any longer paying attention to His “Roman” Christians.  Has Christ, perhaps, like The Father before Him (in the case of Jerusalem: The Babylonian Captivity), turned away from His people?  {see opening verses, above)

“For each Italian city overflows with tyrants

and every clown that plays the partisan

thinks he is the new Marcellus .“ (VI, 118 – 126)

In fact, Dante’s lament reminds one of those found in the Book of Lamentations (the only Book in the Bible that consists entirely, and solely, of laments).

“Lamentations”   bemoans the horrors of the Babylonian seizure of Judah and the destruction of Jerusalem. This Book’s recital of the tragedies is an intricately woven fabric of “poetic wrestling” with “the ways of God,” as well as a description of His method of dealing with wayward people.  Dante sees many parallels between Judah’s fate and conditions of his beloved Italy.

“How deserted lies the city, once so full of people!

How like a widow is she, who once was great among the nations!

She who was queen among the provinces has now become a slave.

Bitterly she weeps at night, tears are upon her cheeks.

Among all her lovers there is none to comfort her.

All her friends have betrayed her; they have become her enemies.

After affliction and harsh labor, Judah has gone into exile.

She dwells among the nations; she finds no resting place.

All who pursue her have overtaken her in the midst of her distress.”

[Lamentations 1, 1-3]

What have the Italian Christians done to be treated so?

One suspects that Dante is treading a very fine line here – he is approaching blasphemy.    These passages show how, at the nadir of his political despair [similar in some ways to that of Machiavelli some two centuries later), Dante questions even God.

He KNOWS that Italy has been abandoned by its Caesar [Albert /

Henry VII].

But, why also by Divine Providence?

Indeed?

Is there a message here for our time and place?

Advertisements

About bobsinner

I am a retired educator: Administrator [Academic Dean; Director of Admissions] and History Teacher [Grades 9-Graduate School]. Recently of The Montclair Kimberley Academy, NJ. Presently a ruling elder of The Lawrenceville Presbyterian Church, NJ . View all posts by bobsinner

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: