David Bruce: Dante’s PURGATORY: A Discussion Guide — “Canto 14: Second Ledge — Envy (Guido del Duca, Rinier da Calboli)”

Canto 14: Second Ledge — Envy (Guido del Duca, Rinier da Calboli)

  • Why doesn’t Dante state his name when asked?

Two penitents overhear Dante, and they realize that he is alive because he has told Sapia that he is alive.

And so Dante talks with two penitents named Guido del Duca (unknown dates) and Rinier da Calboli (circa 1200-65?): Both are from the Romagna district north of Tuscany, which includes Bologna, Ravenna, and Rimini.

They have overheard him taking with Sapia, and they now ask him who he is.

Dante only vaguely identifies where he is from, and he does not state his name because he is not yet famous:

And I: “Through midst of Tuscany there wanders

A streamlet that is born in Falterona,

And not a hundred miles of course suffice it;

From thereupon do I this body bring.

To tell you who I am were speech in vain,

Because my name as yet makes no great noise.”

(Longfellow 14.16-21)

Of course, Dante has just come from the storey that is devoted to purging the sin of pride, and so he attempts to be modest here by not saying his name. However, Dante’s attempt at humility seems to be only partially successful. Dante says that “I have not yetwon fame on earth” (Musa 14.21, with emphasis added), so he does seem a little too preoccupied with fame.

  • What do Dante, Guido del Duca, and Rinier del Calboli talk about? How does Rinier criticize the people who live along the Arno River?

We do not find out the names of the two penitents until later in the canto, but one penitent (Rinier da Calboli) is puzzled by Dante’s omission of the name of the river, although Rinier is able to guess that he means the Arno River. So why he did not mention the name of the river? Is the name of the river something bad?

And said the other to him: “Why concealed

This one the appellation of that river,

Even as a man doth of things horrible?”

(Longfellow 14.25-27)

This leads Guido Del Duca to severely criticize the region of land that the river runs through. The people who live there are so evil that the name of the river ought to be forgotten forever.

As so often, Dante criticizes what needs to be criticized. He is not afraid to act the part of an Old Testament prophet. Of course, he is criticizing the people of his own city: Florence.

According to Guido Del Duca, people of that region will continue to be evil. He prophesies that Rinier’s grandson will be evil. In fact, Rinier’s grandson, Fulcieri da Calboli, was podesta of Florence in 1303, and he committed atrocities against Dante’s party (the White Guelfs) as well as against the Ghibellines.

  • Why do the two penitents tell Dante their names when Dante would not tell them his name?

In Purgatory, souls are helpful. When Dante asks them to reveal their names, one of the penitents tells him,

Whereat the spirit which first spake to me

Began again: “Thou wishest I should bring me

To do for thee what thou’lt not do for me;

But since God willeth that in thee shine forth

Such grace of his, I’ll not be chary with thee;

Know, then, that I Guido del Duca am.”

(Longfellow 14.76-81)

Guido then tells Dante his story. Of course, he used to be envious, and so he is on this storey to be purged of the sin of envy. He tells Dante,

“My blood was so with envy set on fire,

That if I had beheld a man make merry,

Thou wouldst have seen me sprinkled o’er with pallor.”

(Longfellow 14.82-84)

Guido then tells Dante the name of Rinier. Guido then criticizes Romagna, where the two penitents are from.

  • Guido del Duca criticizes the people who live along the Arno River, and then he criticizes the current citizens of Romagna. How does such criticism make him feel?

The souls in Purgatory are saddened by the evil of living men in Romagna. Such evil does not make them happy. Guido tells Dante,

“But go now, Tuscan, for it now delights me

To weep far better than it does to speak,

So much has our discourse my mind distressed.”

(Longfellow 14.124-126)

Evil makes Guido weep.

Apparently, Guido has come a long way in being purged of the sin of envy. We know this for two reasons:

1) Envious people are saddened when other people have good fortune, and they are made happy when other people have bad fortune. If Guido were still envious, he would be made happy by the bad fortune of living people — being evil is bad fortune because evil people run the risk of eternal damnation unless they repent.

2) Guido is not envious of Dante, to whom God is showing special grace by allowing him to travel through Purgatory although he is still alive.

Again, we see that the souls in Purgatory are helpful to others. Virgil and Dante move away from these two penitents. Because the two penitents don’t say anything, Virgil and Dante know that they are moving in the right direction. If they were going in the wrong direction, the penitents would tell them. Of course, Virgil and Dante are looking for the next set of stairs that lead upward to the next storey of the seven-storey mountain.

  • Briefly describe the exempla (examples) of envy that are presented in Canto 14.

Virgil and Dante hear the disembodied voices of two sinners who were envious.

1) Cain, the Slayer of Abel

According to the story of Cain and Abel, both brothers gave offerings to God. Cain was a farmer, and his offering was “the fruit of the ground” (Genesis 4:3). Abel was a shepherd, and his offering was “the firstlings of his flock and the fat thereof” (Genesis 44). God liked Abel’s offering, but God did not like Cain’s offering. Out of envy, Cain killed Abel.

Of course, God knows that Cain killed Abel, and God punishes Cain by sending him into exile. Cain then says the words that appear here in Purgatory: “I shall be slain by all who find me” (Musa 14.133; see also Genesis 4:14). However, God is merciful, and marks Cain as a sign that no one should kill Cain.

Here is the King James version of the story of Cain and Abel (Genesis 4:1-16):

1: And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain, and said, I have gotten a man from the LORD.

2: And she again bare his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground.

3: And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the LORD.

4: And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the LORD had respect unto Abel and to his offering:

5: But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell.

6: And the LORD said unto Cain, Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen?

7: If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him.

8: And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him.

9: And the LORD said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper?

10: And he said, What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground.

11: And now art thou cursed from the earth, which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother’s blood from thy hand;

12: When thou tillest the ground, it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength; a fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth.

13: And Cain said unto the LORD, My punishment is greater than I can bear.

14: Behold, thou hast driven me out this day from the face of the earth; and from thy face shall I be hid; and I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond in the earth; and it shall come to pass, that every one that findeth me shall slay me.

15: And the LORD said unto him, Therefore whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold. And the LORD set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him.

16: And Cain went out from the presence of the LORD, and dwelt in the land of Nod, on the east of Eden.

2) Aglauros, Who was Envious of Her Sister, Whom Mercury Desired

The other voice says, “I am Aglauros, who was turned to stone” (Musa 14.139).

Aglauros was envious of her sister, Herse, who was beloved by the god Mercury. Aglauros attempted to keep Mercury from seeing her sister, and as a result Mercury turned her to stone. This myth appears in Ovid’s MetamorphosesII, lines 737-832.

Here is the Wikipedia summary of the version of the myth that appears in Ovid:

Ovid tells in Book 2 of his Metamorphoses that Erichthonius was born without a mother. Pallas Athena (better known as Athena, Minerva is her Roman name) placed him in a willow basket and told the sisters not to look on the mysteries. Two daughters, Herse and Pandrosos obeyed, but Aglauros looked and saw the child lying next to a great snake. Cornix, the crow, told Athena, who turned her feathers from white to black for her pains. Later in Book 2, Hermes (Mercury in Roman mythology) is in Athens and sees a festival to Athena. He falls in love with Herse and goes to her house to ask for her hand. Aglauros agrees to give Herse his message for the price of gold. Athena sees all of this and goes to the house of envy and orders the goddess to poison Aglauros. Aglauros, who begins to waste away with jealousy, blocks the passage to Herse’s room and refuses to move. Hermes, angry at Aglauros for breaking her promise, changes her into a black marble statue.

Source: “Herse.” Wikipedia. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herse>. Accessed 1 August 2013.

  • Of what does Virgil complain at the end of Canto 14?

Virgil is knowledgeable, and he laments Humankind’s envy:

And said he to me: “That was the hard curb

That ought to hold a man within his bounds;

But you take in the bait so that the hook

Of the old Adversary draws you to him,

And hence availeth little curb or call.

The heavens are calling you, and wheel around you,

Displaying to you their eternal beauties,

And still your eye is looking on the ground;

Whence He, who all discerns, chastises you.”

(Longfellow 14.143-151)

Virgil is pointing out that we human beings have examples of envy that we should learn from, yet we do not learn from them: “neither rein nor spur avails for you” (Musa 14.147). For this reason, God punishes us.


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