David Bruce: Dante’s PURGATORY: A Discussion Guide — “Canto 16: Third Ledge — Anger (Marco the Lombard)”

Canto 16: Third Ledge — Anger (Marco the Lombard)

  • What purgation is given to the wrathful, and why is it fitting?

Here the wrathful are enveloped with a thick smoke as part of their purgation. Mark Musa writes, “The smoke on this terrace, the Terrace of the wrathful, symbolizes the bitter, smoky passion of wrath, which blinds the mind of Reason” (175).

Sinners can be blinded with anger, and so these penitents are being purged of the sin of wrath by being blinded with smoke.

Wrathful people fight each other, but here the penitents being purged of wrath work together. They pray and sing the Agnus Dei, the Lamb of God (16.19).

This is a translation of theAgnus Dei, which appears in the Catholic Mass:

Agnus Dei, qui tolis peccata mundi,

Lamb of God, who take away sins of world,

miserere nobis.

have mercy on us.

Agnus Dei, qui tolis peccata mundi,

Lamb of God, who take away sins of world,

dona nobis pacem.

grant us peace.

Source: http://classicalmusic.about.com/od/theordinaryofthemass/f/agnusdei.htm

Date Downloaded: 2 November 2008

The purgation is working. These penitents are singing together in harmony; they are not angry at each other.

  • Can angry sinners be blinded to reason?

The wrath of sinners can blind them to reason. Here Virgil — the symbol of human reason — can see through the smoke and guides Dante, who is blinded by the smoke:

For not an eye it suffered to stay open;

Whereat mine escort, faithful and sagacious,

Drew near to me and offered me his shoulder.

E’en as a blind man goes behind his guide,

Lest he should wander, or should strike against

Aught that may harm or peradventure kill him,

So went I through the bitter and foul air,

Listening unto my Leader, who said only,

“Look that from me thou be not separated.”

(Longfellow 16.7-15)

Peter Gallagher, author ofA Modern Reader’s Guide to Dante’sThe Divine Comedy, writes,

Not even in Hell was Dante’s sight ever so impeded as by the harsh and heavy smoke that punishes, on this third ledge, sinners who once fumed in rage on earth. Since the poet must close his eyes, the presumably smokeproof Virgil offers his shoulder as an escort. “See that you are not cut off from me” is the voice of reason speaking to a man who undoubtedly succumbed at times to irrational wrath. (91)

  • Write a short character analysis of Marco the Lombard.

Here Dante meets and talks with Marco the Lombard. We know little about him, other than he had a quick temper and served at court. Many of the people who appear in The Divine Comedyare remembered only because they appeared in The Divine Comedy.

  • If you have taken an introductory Philosophy course (or want to do research), explain the concept of Determinism.

According to Determinism, nothing is free to move in any other way than the way it moves. Everything follows natural laws. For example, planets orbit the Sun because of natural laws. Planets are not free to stop orbiting the Sun. Planets are not free to stop revolving. We will never have a day in which the Earth stops revolving for an entire day, meaning that one side of the planet is light for 24 hours, and the other side is dark for 24 hours, and then starts revolving again. Using the laws of physics, we can accurately predict where a planet will be 100 years from now.

Of course, Determinism as applied to planets is not controversial. However, people who are Hard Determinists say that human beings are also determined. We are alive, however, and therefore it is much more difficult to predict our behavior, but everything we do is caused by our environment and heredity. For example, if you have an IQ of around 100 and no major physical disabilities, and if you grew up in Southeast Ohio, you will probably speak English (or at least American English).

According to the Determinists, Humankind does not have Free Will. Whenever we make a decision, we are making the decision in accordance with the kind of character we have. For example:

Let’s say that I have decided to attend class today. (One quarter I did not miss any classes and received straight A’s on my report card!) A Determinist would say that my character made me decide not to miss class today. Further, the Determinist would say that my character was created by heredity and environment. I was born with an above-average IQ, and I grew up in a household filled with books. (I recommend that you always tell other people that you have a high IQ — lie if you have to.) Since my heredity and environment are beyond my control (I did not choose to be born, and if I had chosen to be born, I would have picked richer parents — just kidding, Mom and Dad), I am not free. Whatever I choose to do, such as attending my class today, is not the result of a free act — it is the result of conditions beyond my control. Therefore — according to the hard Determinists — I am not free.

I downloaded the below information from http://www.bartleby.com/65/de/determinsm.html on December 11, 2005:


Philosophical thesis that every event is the inevitable result of antecedent causes. Applied to ethics and psychology, Determinism usually involves a denial of Free Will, although many philosophers have attempted to reconcile the two concepts.

Source: The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. Copyright © 2001-05 Columbia University Press.

  • If you have taken an introductory philosophy course (or want to do research), explain the concept of Free Will.

Free Will is what it sounds like. Planets may be determined, but human beings have the ability to make choices. You can choose which university to attend and which career to pursue. This is up to you.

We tend to think of freedom in terms of Free Will and Determinism. According to Determinism, everything we do is caused. If Determinism is correct, we have no Free Will because all of our desires have been determined by our heredity and environment. On the other hand, if we have Free Will, and if some of our actions are not caused by our heredity and environment, then Causal Determinism is incorrect and we have freedom.

I downloaded the below information from http://www.bartleby.com/65/fr/freewill.html on December 11, 2005:

Free Will

In philosophy, the doctrine that an individual, regardless of forces external to him, can and does choose at least some of his actions. The existence of Free Will is challenged by Determinism. […] Advocates of Free Will have usually begun with the overwhelming testimony of common practice and common sense: people do believe they in some way determine their actions, and hold each other accountable for them. Therefore advocates of Free Will have argued that the human will, unlike inanimate things, can initiate its own activity.

Source: The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. Copyright © 2001-05 Columbia University Press.

  • Why is the distinction of Determinism and Free Will important in ethics?

Determinism and Free Will are important in ethics because we punish people who commit crimes. If I rob a liquor store to get money, get caught, and am found guilty in a court of law, I can go to jail. I have Free Will, I used my Free Will to decide to rob a liquor store, and I am responsible for my crime.

However, what if I am not responsible for my actions. What if I am insane and I am unable to tell right from wrong? In that case, I will be found not guilty by reason of insanity, and I will be sent to a mental institution to get the help I desperately need.

Suppose that Determinism is a true theory. Suppose that I really don’t make any choices in my life. Suppose that all of what seem to be choices are actually the result of my heredity and my environment. If I don’t have Free Will, then I am not responsible for my actions. If I am not responsible for my actions, then how can I be found guilty of robbing a liquor store?

  • Is the world sinful because of the stars? Do we lack Free Will because other things determine what we shall do? Or does the cause lie on the earth?

Dante has a question to ask Marco Lombardo, one of the sinners being purged of the sin of wrath. Marco Lombard complains about sin on Earth.

Dante observes,

“the world, indeed, as you have just declared,

is destitute of every virtue known,

swarming with evils, ever breeding more.

What is the cause of this? Please make it clear

that I may teach the truth to other men;

some see it in the stars, some on the earth.”  

(Musa 16.58-63)

This is a very important question: Why is the world so sinful?

Dante offers two possibilities for why the world is so sinful:

  1. One possibility is that that stars determine our actions. Astrologers may agree with this. We act the way we act because the stars determine the way we act.
  2. One possibility is that the cause is on earth. We ourselves are responsible for our actions because we have Free Will.
  • What is Marco Lombardo’s reaction to the idea that the stars determine our actions?

Marco Lombardo makes it clear that he rejects the possibility that the stars determine our actions.

By the way, although Dante is talking about astrology here, I think that it is fair that we also talk about heredity and environment. Dante’s main question is whether human beings are determined or free. In his day, many people believed in astrology and believed that the stars determined the way we act. In our day, many people still believe in astrology, but the Determinists of today believe that heredity and environment determine how we act.

By the way, Dante has not stated that this is his own opinion. He has merely said that this is a possibility that some people believe. If the stars (or our heredity and environment) determine everything we do, then we have no control over what we do and therefore no freedom and no Free Will.

Exasperated, Marco responds, “The world, brother, is blind, / and obviously the world is where you’re from!” (Musa 16.65-66).

Some people on Earth believe that the stars determine all our actions, but this idea, according to Marco Lombardo, is definitely an insult.

“Ye who are living every cause refer

Still upward to the heavens, as if all things

They of necessity moved with themselves.”

(Longfellow 16.67-69)

Marco points out that this belief means that human beings have no free will:

“If this were so, in you would be destroyed

Free Will, nor any justice would there be

In having joy for good, or grief for evil.”

(Longfellow 16.70-72)

  • If Free Will is just an illusion, are we responsible for our sins and for our good deeds?

If everything we do is determined, then no one would deserve to be rewarded for good deeds and punished for bad deeds.

According to the Determinists, if Mother Teresa does much good in her life, so what? She was born with a set of genes and lived in an environment that made her do much good in her life. She did not freely choose to do good because no human being has Free Will and therefore no human being freely chooses to do anything.

If Free Will does not exist, this means, of course, that Dante’s — and God’s — afterlife does not make sense. Why should there be an Inferno if sinners are not responsible for their sins? Why should there be a Paradise if sinners are not responsible for their good deeds? Why should there be a Purgatory if sinners are not responsible for the sins they have repented — and are not responsible for their repentance, which is also determined?

  • Is it possible that other things influence us, but that we still have Free Will?

Yes, it is possible. In Dante’s day, nearly everyone would have agreed that the stars have an influence on people. An astrologer would tell us that you are born with certain predispositions because of the influence that the stars have on you.

Today, we would say that our heredity and our environment have an influence on people. It matters whether you are born with an ID of 130 or an IQ of 70. It matters whether your parents are employed professionals with a good education and a high income or are unemployed, low-IQ alcoholics.

However, it is possible that we still have Free Will, but we have Free Will in a certain situation. If I am born in the United States, I will most likely grow up speaking English, but I can use my Free Will to also choose to study French. If I am born in France, I will most likely grow up speaking French, but I can use my Free Will to also choose to study English.

Why did Dante put astrologers in the Inferno?

Of course, we saw that Dante put astrologers in the Inferno. Why would he do that?

Let’s take astrology seriously and to an extreme. Most people nowadays, of course, don’t do that. They may read their horoscope in a daily newspaper, but they think of astrology as an entertainment rather than as a way to live their life.

But suppose you did regard astrology as a way to live your life. What then? Then you would regard the stars as exerting control over your life. You would not make an important decision without consulting an astrological chart, and then you would decide in accordance with what the stars told you.

By doing this, of course, you would be denying your Free Will. You would be controlled by what you think the stars are telling you. A strong belief in astrology can lead to a denial of Free Will. A denial of Free Will can lead to an abdication of responsibility. Repenting your sins means acknowledging that you are responsible for committing sins and for regretting your sins. Unless you take responsibility for your sins, you cannot repent your sins. Unless you repent your sins, you cannot achieve Paradise.

The astrologers are in the Inferno because they have kept people from taking responsibility for their actions, including their sins. Sinners can say, “It’s no wonder I sinned. It is all predetermined by the stars. It is not up to me whether or not I sin. Therefore, I don’t have to take responsibility for my sins.”

Of course, we have seen that many of the sinners in the Inferno avoided taking responsibility for their sins. Francesco da Rimini blamed Love and a book for her sins.

Unless you take responsibility for your actions, how can you change your life for the better?

Dante wants us to reject astrology and to affirm Free Will and responsibility.

  • Is freedom simply a given that we all have and can exercise however and whenever we want?

Is freedom is simply a given that we all have and can exercise however and whenever we want? No.

For example, I am free to devote all my time and effort into becoming the center for the Boston Celtics, but that does not mean that I am free to be the center for the Boston Celtics. Because I am over 60 years old, because I am 5-foot-6, and because my career total number of points in my basketball career is 3, I doubt very much that the Boston Celtics will draft me as their center.

Similarly, you are free to try to become an attorney, but unless you actually pass the bar exam, you will not become an attorney.

Marco Lombardo says,

“The heavens your movements do initiate,

I say not all; but granting that I say it,

Light has been given you for good and evil,

And free volition; which, if some fatigue

In the first battles with the heavens it suffers,

Afterwards conquers all, if well ’tis nurtured.”

(Longfellow 16.73-78)

According to Marco Lombardo, other things have an influence on us. He would say the stars — we would say heredity and environment. However, it is only an influence; it is not Determinism. We still have Free Will, and we can still choose how we will act.

We also have the ability to tell right from wrong, and we can use that to determine how to act.

For example, you may have a tendency to really, really like pancakes as well as a tendency to gain weight. You may, however, use your Free Will to moderate your intake of pancakes. (To me, pancakes are the food of the gods, but because of my tendency to gain weight quickly, I seldom eat pancakes.)

Of course, I am aware that the gluttons are in the Inferno, and because I have both Free Will and the knowledge that gluttony is a sin, I can choose not to be a glutton even though I really, really like pancakes. (As a young tennis player, Martina Navratilova was skinny, but when she began to go on international tours, she discovered pancakes and acquired a new nickname. Instead of being called “Stick” in her native language, people began to refer to her as the “Pancake Champ.” Later, of course, she lost the weight that she had gained by eating pancakes.)

Free Will can grow weak, or it can grow strong. Free Will must be nourished.

What does this mean? Think of habits, which can be good or bad. If you give in to your desires, your Free Will will grow weak. Let’s say that you like pancakes, and you eat them every time you can, despite your tendency to gain too much weight. You keep ordering them and keep ordering them, and eventually you can lose your Free Will to say no to eating pancakes — or to smoking tobacco, or to drinking alcohol, or to not being a couch potato, or whatever. On the other hand, if you use your Free Will to not eat pancakes, your Free Will can grow stronger. You will find it easier not to eat pancakes if you keep on ordering some other option from the menu. (This doesn’t mean that you never eat pancakes, but that you eat them rarely, as a special treat.)

In order to be free, you have to work at it. Instead of giving in to your desires and saying that what you do is determined by stars (or by heredity and environment), you work at controlling your desires. Instead of taking the easy way out and giving in to every desire, you decide what it is that you ought to do, and you do it.

This is something that all of us ought to be working for. In fact, it is what the souls in Purgatory are working for. Instead of giving in to feelings of anger, or envy, or pride, the souls in Purgatory want to rein in these feelings and to substitute instead feelings of meekness, generosity, and humility.

Let me say that there are things we have to do, things we ought to do, and things we want to do. For example, we have to pay our bills, we ought to take care of our health and act morally, and we want to enjoy entertainment once in a while. If what we want to do does not conflict with what we have to do and what we ought to do, then go ahead and do it. If you are a grown adult who enjoys reading Harry Potter books, then go ahead and read Harry Potter books.

  • Why are things messed up here on Earth?

So why are things messed up on Earth? Marco Lombardo has the answer:

“You are free subjects of a greater power,

a nobler nature that creates your mind,

and over this the spheres have no control.

So, if the world today has gone astray,

the cause lies in yourself and only there!”

(Musa 16.79-83)

We should blame only ourselves for the way that things are messed up here on Earth.

  • What is the importance of just laws?

We may be free, but we still have aids to help us do the right things.

Children have teachers to help them, and those teachers include parents. A good teacher and a good parent will help the children to do the right thing.

Another guide is just laws. We need good lawmakers to come up with just laws to be a guide for us. (Here, as so often, we have a discussion of politics, a subject of great importance to Dante.)

We need just laws to help us restrain our excessive desires. For example, I may have a great desire for alcohol, but laws against public drunkenness can help me restrain my excessive desire for alcohol. The same applies to laws against operating a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol.

The just laws will not annihilate my excessive desire, but just laws can help me restrain my excessive desires.

Marco Lombardo says,

“Men, therefore, needed the restraint of laws,

needed a ruler able to at least

discern the towers of the True city.”

(Musa 16.94-96)

The Italy of Dante’s time had Roman law, but nobody was enforcing it. In Dante’s time the Holy Roman Emperor is not in Italy, and the current Pope, Boniface VIII, is more interested in playing power politics than in ruling justly and enforcing just laws, so the Roman law is not doing Italy any good.

The people who should be enforcing just laws are instead more interested in gaining wealth and power. The bad behavior of their leaders has a bad influence on the common people.

Marco says that “the laws there are, but who enforces them?” (Musa 16.97).

He adds,

“And so the flock, that see their shepherd’s greed [the pope’s and the bishops’ greed]

for the same worldly goods that they have craved

are quite content to feed on what he feeds.”

(Musa 16.100-102)

The Pope and the bishops are pursuing wealth and power. The common people see that, and they feel free to pursue their own base desires. Just leadership is important if you want a just society.

Of course, pursuing our base desires is not a good idea. The people in the Inferno are in the Inferno because they did exactly that. They had Free Will, and they used their Free Will to do what they wanted to do, and what they wanted to do put them in the Inferno. Truly, the people who ended up in the Inferno chose their own fate.

Note that the laws we follow must be just. Some laws are not just. For example, slavery was once legal, and at one time, blacks and whites could not marry each other, even if they fell in love. Martin Luther King, Jr., argued that we ought not to follow unjust laws; instead, we should break them lovingly, openly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. By doing that, you can draw attention to unjust laws and have them replaced with just laws.

  • What is Marco’s further answer to the question of why things are so messed up on Earth?

Why are things so messed up on Earth? Marco’s further answer — other than that we should blame only ourselves — is that we have bad leaders.

Certainly, we notice that many of the people we read about in The Divine Comedyare very important people. For example, we read about Popes and Holy Roman Emperors and famous generals.

True, once in a while we run across a common person such as Ciacca, the glutton in the Inferno. However, most of the people in The Divine Comedy— including the Inferno— are leaders.

For example, in Inferno 19, which is about the sin of Simony, we read about bad Popes, including the then-alive Pope Boniface VIII who will soon be punished in this section of Hell.

There we find out that having bad leaders at the top results in corruption lower on the hierarchy. If the Pope is corrupt, then the Bishops under the Pope can also be infected by the corruption. And then Priests can be corrupted. And then the congregation can be infected.

Bad leaders result in bad followers.

We do see the interconnection of the political and the personal here. Freedom of the will is a very personal thing, but we are free in a situation. If we live in a corrupt society with corrupt leaders, we are likely to become corrupt, too. When Jesus prayed, “Lead us not into temptation” (Matthew 6:13 King James Version), he knew what he was talking about. Yes, we do have freedom of the will, but it is best not to be tempted to do evil in the first place. Bad leaders can create a society in which temptation reigns.

The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah realized that his society was corrupt, and so he decided to seek the leaders, but when he saw the leaders, he realized that they were corrupt and so he realized why the society was corrupt.

This is why Dante places emphasis on leaders in The Divine Comedy. They are important because they can lead people well or they can lead people astray.

Of course, many people can be leaders, not just politicians. Dante himself became a leader by writing The Divine Comedy. He wants to lead people well; he does not want to lead people astray. When Dante talks to people, he has something to learn from them. In the Inferno, when he talked to a sinner, that sinner had something to say that Dante could learn from. Here, Marco Lombardo is teaching Dante that he needs to be a good leader when he writes The Divine Comedy.

Conclusion of Canto 16

The gleaming angel of ascent arrives. Marco Lombardo has not yet purged his sin of wrath, and so he is not yet ready to ascent the Mountain of Purgatory. He tells Dante and Virgil, “God be with you!” (Musa 16.141), and then he leaves.


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