Canto 19: Fifth Ledge — Avarice and Wastefulness
- Which three sins are purged on the final three ledges of purification?
The threesins purged on the final three ledges of purification are avarice (and wastefulness), gluttony, and lust.
- Interpret Dante the Pilgrim’s dream.
Dante has another prophetic dream here. Previously, in Canto 9 he dreamed that a Golden Eagle carried him through the air. When he woke up on Easter Monday, he was at the top of Prepurgatory. Sordello, their very kind guide, had been left behind, and Virgil told Dante that Saint Lucia had carried him in the night to the top of Prepurgatory.
Now it is Easter Tuesday and Dante has another prophetic dream. He sees an ugly woman:
There came to me in dreams a stammering woman,
Squint in her eyes, and in her feet distorted,
With hands dissevered and of sallow hue.
However, when Dante looks at her, she becomes transformed, and she reveals that she is a Siren:
“I am,” she sang, “I am the Siren sweet
Who mariners amid the main unman,
So full am I of pleasantness to hear.
I drew Ulysses from his wandering way
Unto my song, and he who dwells with me
Seldom departs so wholly I content him.”
Ulysses is the Roman name for Odysseus. In Homer’s Odyssey, Odysseus was able to hear the song of the Sirens and survive. He was tied to the mast so he could not jump overboard and swim to the Island of the Sirens. His crewmen, however, put wax in their ears so that they could perform their duties without hearing the song of the Sirens. In Homer, Odysseus/Ulysses did not “turn away / from his desired course” (Musa 19.22-23).
Fortunately, a heavenly lady appears to tell Virgil to act. Virgil does act, ripping the Siren’s clothing and releasing a hideous stench from her body:
He seized the other, ripped her garment off,
exposing her as far down as the paunch!
The stench pouring from her awoke me from sleep.
In Longfellow’s (incorrect) translation, it is the heavenly lady who rescues Dante the pilgrim:
She seized the other and in front laid open,
Rending her garments, and her belly showed me;
This waked me with the stench that issued from it.
This dream should be interpreted. Again, Virgil represents reason, and the heavenly lady represents grace. To be protected from some dangers, we need more than reason alone — we also need grace.
This information comes from the Wikipedia entry on “Grace in Christianity”:
In Western Christian theology, grace has been defined, not as a created substance of any kind, but as “the love and mercy given to us by God because God desires us to have it, not necessarily because of anything we have done to earn it”, “Grace is favour, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God, adoptive sons, partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life.” It is understood by Christiansto be a spontaneous gift from God to people “generous, free and totally unexpected and undeserved” – that takes the form of divine favor, love, clemency, and a share in the divine life of God.
Waking Dante from the dream was a difficult task. Virgil called him “Three times at least” (Musa 19.35).
One theme we see in the dream about the Siren is appearance versus reality. The Siren can appear to be attractive, but in reality she is repulsive. Similarly, sin can appear to be attractive, but in reality it is repulsive.
In his notes to Canto 19, Mark Musa refers to another critic who cited some lines from Alexander Pope’s Essay on Man(Musa 208):
Vice is a monster of such hideous mien
As to be hated needs but to be seen.
Yet seen too oft, familiar with her face,
We first endure, then pity, then embrace.
Pope is pointing out here that we can become accustomed to sin. An analogy can be made to smoking. Smoking one’s first cigarette is probably a horrible experience for everyone. It tastes awful, and the smoke makes you cough. However, if you force yourself to smoke a couple of packs of cigarettes over a few days, you can become addicted to nicotine and greatly desire cigarettes.
Of course, Alexander Pope lived centuries after Dante; Pope’s dates are 1 May 1688 to 30 May 1744.
The Siren symbolizes the sins on the next three terraces of the Mountain of Purgatory: Avarice, Gluttony, and Lust. Virgil specifically points that out:
“Didst thou behold,” he said, “that old enchantress,
Who sole above us henceforth is lamented?
Didst thou behold how man is freed from her?”
- What purgation is designed to drive away Avariciousness? (What is Avariciousness?) Why is this purgation fitting?
Avariciousness is greed. It can be greed for money or greed for material possessions.
The Angel of Zeal guides Dante and Virgil to the stairway up to the fifth level, and the angel refers to Matthew 5:4: “Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
Here on the fifth ledge Dante and Virgil find souls lying face down on the ground with their hands and feet tied. They are crying, and they are reciting a line from Psalm 118/119:25: ‘My soul cleaveth to the dust.’”
This purgation is just because the Avaricious turned their backs on Heaven, instead choosing to look toward money and material things. Now they are forced to look away from Heaven. Because they used their hands and feet to pursue money and material things, now their hands and feet are tied.
Pope Adrian V, a penitent here, explains,
“Even as our eye did not uplift itself
Aloft, being fastened upon earthly things,
So justice here has merged it in the earth.
As avarice had extinguished our affection
For every good, whereby was action lost,
So justice here doth hold us in restraint,
Bound and imprisoned by the feet and hands;
And so long as it pleases the just Lord
Shall we remain immovable and prostrate.”
- Do souls have to spend time on all seven terraces?
We find out that souls do not have to spend time on all seven terraces. If one’s sin of avariciousness was slight or nonexistent, then that soul can move past that terrace.
Pope Adrian V tells the pilgrims:
“If you have been exempt from lying prone,
and wish to find the quickest way to go,
be sure to keep your right side to the edge.”
- Write a short character analysis of Pope Adrian V. Who is he, historically?
Virgil asks a penitent where the next stairs are located, and the penitent advises him to “be sure to keep your right side to the edge” (Musa 19.81).
The penitent is Pope Adrian V, who was Pope when Dante was 11 years old. Pope Adrian V ruled for only 38 days.
Pope Adrian V “converted very late” (Musa 19.106) — only after he became Pope. Until then he was greedy.
Dante kneels by the Pope’s side, but the Pope requests that he stand up because both he and Dante are servants of God. He then requests that Dante leave so that he can continue the process of purging his sins.
Often, Dante sets up parallels. In Canto 19 of the Infernowe saw the Simoniac Popes in flaming holes. Here in Canto 19 of Purgatorywe see Pope Adrian V being purged of the sin of greed. Of course, the Simoniac Popes were greedy, but they did not repent their sins before dying.
Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved
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PURGATORY: CANTO 21 RETELLING
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PURGATORY: CANTO 24 RETELLING
PURGATORY: CANTO 25 RETELLING
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