David Bruce: Dante’s PURGATORY: A Discussion Guide — “Canto 12: First Ledge — Exempla of Pride” and  “Canto 13: Second Ledge — Envy (Sapia)”

Canto 12: First Ledge — Exempla of Pride

  • Which works of visual art can be found in Canto 12? What is their didactic (educational) purpose?

The huge stones the prideful sinners carry force them to look at the ground, where they see pavement sculptures. The sculptures give exempla of the sin of pride.

Three of the negative exempla of pride — which are carved on the rock floor of the terrace — include Niobe, Arachne, and the city of Troy.

  • Describing these examples, the next four stanzas begin (in Italian) with the letter V (U), the next four with O, and a final four with M. These letters create an acrostic based on the Italian word for “man.”

Dante, of course, is making the point that human beings are filled with pride. Pride is a sin that almost all human beings commit.

  • Explain the exempla of pride.

Three of the negative exempla of pride — which are carved on the rock floor of the terrace — include Niobe, Arachne, and the city of Troy.

  1. Niobe Boasted that She had 14 Children, while Leto had Only Two (Apollo and Artemis/Diana)

Niobe had seven sons and seven daughters, and so she boasted that she was more worthy of praise than Leto, who had given birth to only one son and only one daughter: the god Apollo and the goddess Artemis/Diana. Because of her pride, Apollo and Artemis/Diana killed all of her children in one day. In Book 24 of Homer’s Iliad, Achilles tells the story of Niobe to King Priam of Troy. He makes the point that Niobe ate after all of her children died, and therefore King Priam should also eat, although his son Hector is dead.

  1. Arachne — Athena/Minerva Turned Her into a Spider

Arachne was so proud of her weaving that she challenged Athena/Minerva to a weaving contest. Arachne produced a magnificent cloth without fault, but because of her pride, Athena/Minerva turned her into a spider.

In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, we read:

Bk VI:129-145 Arachne is turned into a spider

Neither Pallasnor Envy itself could fault that work. The golden-haired warrior goddess was grieved by its success, and tore the tapestry, embroidered with the gods’ crimes, and as she held her shuttle made of boxwood from Mount Cytorus, she struck IdmonianArachne, three or four times, on the forehead. The unfortunate girl could not bear it, and courageously slipped a noose around her neck: Pallas, in pity, lifted her, as she hung there, and said these words, ‘Live on then, and yet hang, condemned one, but, lest you are careless in future, this same condition is declared, in punishment, against your descendants, to the last generation!’ Departing after saying this, she sprinkled her with the juice of Hecate’s herb, and immediately at the touch of this dark poison, Arachne’s hair fell out. With it went her nose and ears, her head shrank to the smallest size, and her whole body became tiny. Her slender fingers stuck to her sides as legs, the rest is belly, from which she still spins a thread, and, as a spider, weaves her ancient web.

Source: http://etext.virginia.edu/latin/ovid/trans/Metamorph6.htm#480077258

Translator: A.S. Kline

  1. The City of Troy

Paris, a prince of Troy, stole Helen, the most beautiful woman in the world, from Menelaus, her lawful husband, in addition to stealing treasure from him. Because of Paris’s pride, and because the Trojan citizens would not return Helen to Menelaus, Troy fell to an Achaean army led by Agamemnon, Menelaus’ brother.

  • Why does the angel of Humility remove the first P from Dante the Pilgrim’s forehead, and why does Dante the Pilgrim find climbing easier now?

Dante and Virgil come to a stairway that leads to the next storey of the Mountain of Purgatory — the storey where envy is purged. Because Dante has purged the sin of pride (or at least learned about purging the sin of pride), an angel erases one of the P’s (symbols of sin — peccatumis Latin for sin) from his forehead.

Because pride is the source of all sin, when the P of the sin of pride is removed, all the other P’s grow fainter:

He [Virgil] answered:“When the P’s which have remained

Still on thy face almost obliterate

Shall wholly, as the first is, be erased,

Thy feet will be so vanquished by good will,

That not alone they shall not feel fatigue,

But urging up will be to them delight.”

(Longfellow 12.121-126)

The more sins that are purged, the easier climbing the Mountain is, so Dante and Virgil find climbing the Mountain easier now. Dante is less burdened by sin now. (When Dante touches his forehead, Virgil smiles.)

There is much music as well as much visual art in Purgatory. As the P is removed and Dante prepares to go up the Mountain to the next storey, he hears being sung “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3) — Christ’s first beatitude.

In Hell are heard the shrieks of the Damned; in Purgatory is heard the sound of music:

Ah me! how different are these entrances

From the Infernal! for with anthems here

One enters, and below with wild laments.

(Longfellow 12.112-114)

By the way, we learn later that Dante believes that when he dies, he will have to spend a lot of time purging his sin of pride. He believes that he has not sinned especially gravely in other ways; for example, he does not think that he is especially guilty of the sin of envy.

 Canto 13: Second Ledge — Envy (Sapia)

  • Which sin is purged on the second storey of the mountain?

Envy is purged on the second storey of the Mountain of Purgatory.

  • Which are the exempla of generosity?

When Dante and Virgil go up to the second storey of the seven-storey Mountain, they hear three voices naming the exempla of generosity, which is the virtue opposed to envy.

1) Mary: “They have no wine”

Jesus’ first miracle is turning water into wine so that the guests at a wedding can celebrate. This shows generosity on the part of Mary. She wants other people to be able to celebrate a wedding properly.

Clearly, the Bible is against drunkenness; however, it seems to be more accepting of wine drunk in moderation. Wine is used in the Jewish Sabbath, and it used to be used in the Christian Mass. Some medical doctors agree that wine in moderation can be a good thing for most adults. My own doctor advised me to drink a glass of red wine each day as a way to raise my good cholesterol. Of course, people who suffer from alcoholism should avoid drinking alcohol. Also, too much alcohol can raise one’s triglyceride blood levels.

We read this story in John 2:1-10 (King James Version):

1:And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there:

2:And both Jesus was called, and his disciples, to the marriage.

3:And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine

4:Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come

5:His mother saith unto the servants, Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.

6:And there were set there six waterpots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews, containing two or three firkins apiece.

7: Jesus saith unto them, Fill the waterpots with water. And they filled them up to the brim.

8:And he saith unto them, Draw out now, and bear unto the governor of the feast. And they bare it.

9:When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and knew not whence it was: (but the servants which drew the water knew;) the governor of the feast called the bridegroom,

10:And saith unto him, Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good wine until now.

2) Pylades: “I am Orestes”

This is a myth about the House of Atreus, whose members included both Agamemnon and Menelaus. When Agamemnon returns home to Greece after fighting the Trojan War for 10 years, his wife, Clytemnestra, kills him. She has taken a lover during the years that he has been away from home. Orestes kills her because she killed his father, and Orestes is sentenced to die. His friend Pylades is willing to die in Orestes’ place, although Orestes does not want him to, so both tell the executioners, “I am Orestes.”

We read this story in Cicero’sDe AmicitiaVII:

What cheers there were, for instance, all over the theatre at a passage in the new play of my friend and guest Pacuvius; where the king, not knowing which of the two was Orestes, Pylades declared himself to be Orestes, that he might die in his stead, while the real Orestes kept on asserting that it was he. The audience rose en masseand clapped their hands. And this was at an incident in fiction: what would they have done, must we suppose, if it had been in real life? You can easily see what a natural feeling it is, when men who would not have had the resolution to act thus themselves, shewed how right they thought it in another.

Source: http://ancienthistory.about.com/library/bl/bl_text_cicero_deamic_7.htm#7

Translator: E. S. Shuckburgh

Here is more information:

LUCIAN, The History of Orestes and Pylades
from Amores (Second Century A.D.)

Translated by W. J. BAYLIS

Phoeis preserves from early times the memory of the union between Orestes and Pylades, who taking a god as witness of the passion between them, sailed through life together as though in one boat. Both together put to death Klytemnestra, as though both were sons of Agamemnon; and Aegisthus was slain by both. Pylades suffered more than his friend by the punishment which pursued Orestes. He stood by him when condemned, nor did they limit their tender friendship by the bounds of Greece, but sailed to the furthest boundaries of the Scythians-the one sick, the other ministering to him. When they had come into the Tauric land straightway they were met by the matricidal fury; and while the barbarians were standing round in a circle Orestes fell down and lay on the ground, seized by his usual mania, while Pylades ‘wiped away the foam, tended his body, and covered him with his well-woven cloak’ acting not only like a lover but like a father.

When it was determined that one should remain to be put to death, and the other should go to Mycenae to convey a letter, each wished to remain for the sake of the other, thinking that if he saved the life of his friend he saved his own life. Orestes refused to take the letter, saying that Pylades was more worthy to carry it, acting more like the lover than the beloved. “For,” he said, “the slaying of this man would be a great grief to me, as I am the cause of these misfortunes.” And he added, “Give the tablet to him for (turning to Pylades) I will send thee to Argos, in order that it may be well with thee; as for me, let any one kill me who desires it”.

Such love is always like that; for when from boyhood a serious love has grown up and it becomes adult at the age of reason, the long-loved object returns reciprocal affection, and it is hard to determine which is the lover of which, for-as from a mirror-the affection of the lover is reflected from the beloved.

Source: https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/pwh/lucian-orest.asp

As always, Dante hears a Beatitude: “Love those who do you harm” (Matthew 5:43).

  • Why have the eyes of the Envious been sewn shut? Why is this fitting?

The Envious are made sad when they see other people having good fortune, so their eyes are sewn shut with iron wire. That is why they hear voices rather than see art on this storey of the Seven-Storey Mountain.

In Purgatory, people help and support each other, and that is true of those being purged of envy. They lean on each other for support.

The Envious also wear cloaks made of haircloth, which is very uncomfortable.

  • All the penitent sinners here are citizens of which city?

They are all citizens of the City of the Saved. Being a citizen of Siena or of Florence is not important here. After Dante asks if anyone is an Italian here, we read:

“O brother mine, each one is citizen

Of one true city; but thy meaning is,

Who may have lived in Italy a pilgrim.”

(Longfellow 13.94-86)

We will not see destructive factionalism in Purgatory.

  • Write a short character analysis of Sapia of Siena.

As we would expect, Sapia of Siena is envious. She envied her nephew, Provencal Salvani, and she rejoiced when he was killed.

She has climbed this far up the Mountain because of the prayers of a seller of combs.

She wants Dante to pray for her — and to let her relatives know where she is.

Dante talks to only two women in Prepurgatory and Purgatory Proper. They are La Pia (Prepurgatory) and Sapia of Siena (Purgatory Proper).

One thing that they apparently have in common is that both want Dante to pray for them. La Pia does this implicitly when she asks Dante to remember her after he has rested. Sapia does this explicitly when she says, “Yes, help me with a prayer from time to time” (Purgatory13.147).

  • After he dies, will Dante have to spend much time among the repenting Envious? How about among the repenting Prideful?

Dante says that he will not have to spend much time among the envious, but that he will have to spend much time among the Prideful:

“Mine eyes,” I said, “will yet be here ta’en from me,

But for short space; for small is the offence

Committed by their being turned with envy.

Far greater is the fear, wherein suspended

My soul is, of the torment underneath,

For even now the load down there weighs on me.”

(Longfellow 13.133-138)


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved





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