David Bruce: Dante’s PURGATORY: A Discussion Guide — “Canto 11: First Ledge — Aldobrandesco, Oderisi, Provenzan”

Canto 11: First Ledge — Aldobrandesco, Oderisi, Provenzan

  • Describe the Prayer of the Proud.

The Prayer of the Proud is a paraphrase of the Lord’s Prayer. It emphasizes humility.In this canto, we will see sinners who had three types of pride:

1) Pride of blood (family).

2) Pride of talent.

3) Pride of power.

The Proud pray for protection against temptation — not for themselves because as saved souls they do not need it. They pray for protection against temptation for the living on Earth, who do need it.

  • Canto 11 can be divided into three conversations. What are the subjects of those three conversations?

The subjects of those three conversations are these:

1) Family.

Dante talks about family with Omberto Aldobrandesco.

2) Art.

Art here includes both poetry and visual arts such as painting.

3) Politics.

The third conversation is once again about politics.

Note that this is the pattern that we saw in the Inferno, Canto 10. Dante talked about family with Farinata (Farinata is proud of his family, which was higher socially than was Dante’s family), poetry with Cavalcanti (father of a poet), and then politics with Farinata (who was involved in Florentine politics).

  • Write a short character analysis of Omberto Aldobrandesco.

While he was alive, Omberto Aldobrandesco, who died in 1259, was very proud of all the accomplishments of his family. Now, however, he is humble and wonders whether anyone has heard of his father. He says:

“A Latian was I, and born of a great Tuscan;

Guglielmo Aldobrandeschi was my father;

I know not if his name were ever with you.”

(Longfellow 11.58-60)

Omberto started his political life as a Ghibelline, but he became angry with his political party, so he became a Guelf instead. Omberto lived in Siena, a city that was a rival to Florence.

We can see that Omberto was proud of his family — his blood — in what he says next:

“The ancient blood and deeds of gallantry

Of my progenitors so arrogant made me

That, thinking not upon the common mother,

All men I held in scorn […]”

(Longfellow 11.61-64)

Farinata, of course, focused on the differences between himself and Dante. For example, Farinata’s family was of a higher status than Dante’s family. Also, of course, Farinata and Dante belonged to different political factions: Farinata was a Ghibelline, while Dante was a Guelf.

Here in Purgatory, Omberto now focuses on the similarities that he has with all human beings. Omberto regrets his sin of pride, now, and he regrets it in part because it hurt his family. He says that the sin of pride ruined not just himself but all his family.

One thing we can learn here is to not have too much pride in family.

  • Write a short character analysis of Oderisi of Gubbio.

Oderisi of Gubbio (1240-99) illuminated — or illustrated — medieval manuscripts. He was very proud of his work while he was alive, but here on the Mountain of Purgatory, he praises another artist.

Dante recognizes him:

“O,” asked I him, “art thou not Oderisi,

Agobbio’s honour, and honour of that art

Which is in Paris called illuminating?”


Oderisi of Gubbio responds by praising a competitor:

“Brother,” said he, “more laughing are the leaves

Touched by the brush of Franco Bolognese;

All his the honour now, and mine in part.”

(Longfellow 11.82-84)

  • Why does Dante discuss family and art and politics in the part of Purgatory that is devoted to pride?

Obviously, people can be proud of all three: family, art, and politics.

Also obviously, both poetry and politics are of special interest to Dante, and obviously pride can play a role in both poetry and politics.

Dante does learn much about art here in this conversation with Oderisi of Gubbio.

Oderisi of Gubbio stresses that someone better will come along in art. This is something that we see in many forms of art:

1) In painting, Giotto (GOUGHT-TO) is better than Cimabue (KEE-MA-BOO-AAA).

2) In poetry, Guido Cavalcanti is better than Guido Guinizelli. And another poet — Dante himself? — may soon be better than both of them.

Oderisi of Gubbio says:

“Your earthly fame is but a gust of wind

that blows about, shifting this way and that,

And as it changes quarter, changes name.

Were you to reach the ripe old age of death,

Instead of dying prattling in your crib,

Would you have more fame in a thousand years?

What are ten centuries to eternity?

Less than the blinking of an eye compared

to the turning of the slowest of the spheres.”

(Musa 11.100-108)

It is true that almost everybody is forgotten after 1000 years; however, Homer is remembered, and Dante, who has been dead for 700 years, is likely to be remembered, as is Shakespeare, who has been dead for only 400 years. But 1000 years is nothing compared to eternity.

By the way, Virgil’s pagan view of fame is very much different from that of the Christian view of Oderisi of Gubbio. We read in Infernowhen Virgil is urging Dante to get a move on:

“Now it behoves thee thus to put off sloth,”

My Master said; “for sitting upon down,

Or under quilt, one cometh not to fame,

Withouten which whoso his life consumes

Such vestige leaveth of himself on earth,

As smoke in air or in the water foam.”

(Inferno, Longfellow 24.46-51)

In my opinion, fame does not have to be a bad thing, if it is regarded and used correctly. Both Martin Luther King, Jr., and Mother Teresa were able to use fame correctly.

If someone creates art for the wrong reason, fame will perhaps come — then go quickly. If one writes for the right reason, fame may be longer lasting.

However, I believe that someone can write for money yet tell the truth and achieve lasting art and lasting fame. William Shakespeare wrote plays so that his theatrical troupe would have new plays to perform. Mark Twain was happy to make lots and lots of money from writing Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Both made money from their writing, but both also told the truth in their writing, or at least part of the truth in part of their writing. The important thing, of course, is to write the truth. If you get money, too, then celebrate.

  • Write a short character analysis of Provenzan Salvani. Which great deed of humility did Provenzan Salvani perform while he was still alive?

Provenzan Salvani (1220?-69) is Sienese, like Omberto Aldobrandesco. He is also a famous political figure. He and Farinata, who is in the Inferno, were the victors at the Battle of Montaperti in 1260.

Provenzan Salvani wanted to destroy Florence following the victory at the battle of Montaperti in 1260. Farinata, of course, did not want Florence destroyed, apparently because he wanted to rule the city. Farinata prevailed in the dispute.

Provenzan Salvani was able to begin climbing the Mountain of Purgatory early because of an act of great humility. Charles of Anjou, who was holding one of Provenzan Salvani’s friends in prison, declared that he would kill the friend after a month unless the friend was ransomed for 10,000 gold florins. Provenzan Salvani got the money, although he had to beg in the marketplace of Siena for it.

 If anything is a sign of humility, begging is.

  • Which vague prophecy does Oderisi of Gubbio make about Dante at the end of Canto 11?

Oderisi of Gubbio prophesies that Dante will learn the humiliation of begging.

On the first ledge, Dante is walking stooped over; he is already learning to be humble. However, we will learn in Canto 13 that Dante is afraid that when he dies, he will have to spend a lot of time on this ledge purging his sin of pride.


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