Canto 13: I Liked Bob’s Post Better

…and Jake’s, and John’s and Gordon’s and Pier’s. They are such bloody good writers. And I…. You get the picture.

Envy. For Dante, the color is not green, it’s…well, I guess purple would be the closest to the word livido. Whatever is the color of a bruise. This is the color of the shades in this cornice of the Purg, and they are all wearing it this spring, along with the single mode of fashion, a hair cloak. The sin that is caused by making comparisons is healed by the thing that cannot bear comparison: mutual suffering. Those who were too busy comparing themselves to others to lean on them are healed of their woundedness by…leaning on each other.

I can hear music too…Bill Withers playing in the background.

“You just call on me brother…when you need a hand. We all need somebody to….” It’s the lesson the envious need to learn.

Dante is riffing on several levels here, as he continues some of the strands that he began in the previous cantos. First, there’s the riff on the senses: they can both cause our downfall, and effect our salvation, and in Purgatory the purification of the senses involves using one thing for the opposite (what’s seen is what’s heard; what’s heard is what’s seen). Here, it’s our sense of sight that is the culprit (literally): hence the color of bruising, as the envious eye wounds the soul of the envious by what it sees, by the mechanics of comparison. The cure? The envious have eyes sewn shut (as a falconer does to a falcon, to calm it down), in order to effect another, inner organ of sense: to cure the eyes requires the ear.

The “whip” here on Cornice Number Two does not consist of what’s seen, as in the previous canto (the bas relief that looked more real than reality). Here, the whip is what’s heard. (As Paul said, faith comes by hearing).

The healing of the soul requires the development of some other sense, that is in effect…beyond sense. That seems so clear in many of the references in the previous cantos: light too bright to perceive, images too real to understand. To “get” heaven, you have to develop a whole new set of senses, to be able to groc it.

I think somehow of Gloucester in King Lear, ambling along in mutual suffering with Lear along the fields of Dover. It’s only in losing his sight that Gloucester can actually see. “I see…feelingly.” Not to see enables these shades ultimately…to see clearly that sun that guides Dante and Virgil on their journey, whenever the “self-humbled” decide for themselves that they have had enough, and their will is pure enough to see what will allow them to continue.

And interesting isn’t it, the way Dante gives us an example we would not expect: instead of displaying someone who would typify the way we would obviously think of envy – desiring that of someone else’s we do not have – he gives us the negative space around which the vice subsists:  Shadenfreude. Leave it to the Germans to coin such a brilliant word to lay bare the darker but natural impulses of the heart: “harm-joy”. That Sapia rejoices at the downfall of Salvani shows the real trajectory of such a tendency: to abandon fear (and respect) for the ultimate power, that of God, which is indeed love; and to give ourselves over to love’s negative: desire for the other’s harm.

Vinum non habent. That’s for damn sure. But…it’s coming. It’s coming.

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About jeffvamos

Presbyterian Pastor. Dante Fan. See also my other blog, The Electronic Meetinghouse, at: http://pclawrenceville.blogspot.com/ View all posts by jeffvamos

One response to “Canto 13: I Liked Bob’s Post Better

  • bobsinner

    Well, personally i liked Jeff’s.

    It made me think [sigh]. And then it made me reflect. And then I was caught up in all the operatic thoughts of envy and unrequited love, and , well….

    Can envy be overcome by Love? I believe so. By God’s unconditional Love.
    I think of a lonely waif in the center of stage singing her heart out. Not Wagner, nor Verdi.
    Rather it is Eponine, in Schönberg and Boublil’s Les Mis. As sentimental as the story line, and the song [on My Own] are, I cannot get Eponine’s sacrifice out of my mind.
    Now, replace Marius. Unrequited and, now sacrificial, Love.
    Substitute “Him” for “him.” Wagner and Verdi, and, yes, Dante.
    The voices at the start of the Canto? The Sapia de’ Saracini’s plea at the end?
    Envy thinks it knows love, but love knows not it.

    … I love him
    But when the night is over
    He is gone
    The river’s just a river
    Without him
    The world around me changes
    The trees are bare and everywhere
    The streets are full of strangers

    I love him
    But every day I’m learning
    All my life
    I’ve only been pretending
    Without me
    His world would go on turning
    A world that’s full of happiness
    That I have never known

    I love him
    I love him
    I love him
    But only on my own
    – Eponine’s lament

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