David Bruce: Dante’s PURGATORY: A Discussion Guide — “Canto 22: Sixth Ledge — Gluttony (Statius)”

Canto 22: Sixth Ledge — Gluttony (Statius)

  • Which sin did Statius purge most recently?

Dante (with another P erased from his forehead), Virgil, and Statius climb up to the next terrace, the 6th, which is where gluttony is purged.

We find out that Virgil receives news from new spirits arriving in Limbo. For example, when the poet Juvenal arrived in Limbo, he let Virgil know just how much Statius loved him and his poetry.

Virgil, of course, knows that the terrace where Statius spent over 500 years was devoted to purging the sin of avarice, and he asks Statius how someone as intelligent as Statius could be guilty of the sin of avarice.

Statius explains two things:

1) He was actually guilty of the opposite extreme of avarice: prodigality or wastefulness.

2) The terraces purge both the sin and the opposite extreme of the sin.

Keeping in mind Aristotle’s Golden Mean, we can understand that both extremes (too much and too little) are both sins. When it comes to food and drink, it is sinful to eat and drink too much, but it is also sinful to eat and drink too little.

The same is true of handling money. It is wrong to save every penny you make and never spend money on necessities, and it is wrong to spend every dime you make and every dime you can borrow on things that you don’t need. Statius is guilty of overspending.

In the Inferno, the avaricious and the prodigal are in the same place, but they are in conflict, slamming huge boulders against each other. Here in Purgatory we have cooperation rather than conflict, as both the avaricious and the prodigal work together to purge their sins.

  • Dante adds fictional details to the historical aspects of Statius’ life. Which fictional details does he make up?

Dante is not afraid to add details where he thinks that details will help his poem. In the Inferno, we saw that he changed the way that Ulysses (Odysseus) died. In the Inferno, Ulysses takes a trip to the Southern Hemisphere, and he drowns when he reaches sight of the Mountain of Purgatory. In Homer’s Odyssey, Odysseus learns that he will live a long life and die at home with an easy death.

Here Dante changes Statius’ religious life. According to Dante, Statius became a Christian; however, absolutely no historical evidence exists that that is true. Dante completely made that up.

  • Who influenced Statius to become a Christian?

Interestingly, Virgil is aware of Statius’ poetry, although Statius lived after Virgil did. (Apparently, a library exists in Limbo.) Virgil refers to Statius’ Thebaidwhen he remarks that Statius did not appear to be a Christian in what he wrote:

“From that which Clio there with thee preludes,

It does not seem that yet had made thee faithful

That faith without which no good works suffice.

(Longfellow 22.58-60)

Clio is the pagan Muse of History, and Statius invoked her at the beginning of the Thebaid.

In the above passage, Virgil is asking Statius how he happened to be saved.

If we were to guess where Statius would end up in the Afterlife, we would probably guess that he would end up in Limbo, where he would reside with Virgil, Homer, and the other virtuous pagans. Instead, he ends up among the saved.

Statius’ being here among the saved seems to be against everything that we saw earlier. Of course, in particular, it is against everything we have seen back in Inferno4, which is, of course, where Virgil himself has his permanent home. Therefore, Virgil asks Statius how he came to be saved:

“If this be so, what candles or what sun

Scattered thy darkness so that thou didst trim

Thy sails behind the Fisherman thereafter?”

(Longfellow 22.61-63)

As it happens, Virgil, although he was not a Christian, influenced Statius to become a Christian.

Statius tells Virgil,

And he to him: “Thou first directedst me

Towards Parnassus, in its grots to drink,

And first concerning God didst me enlighten.

(Longfellow 22.64-66)

In the first part of the quotation, Statius tells Virgil that Virgil inspired him “to drink Parnassus’ waters” (22.65) — that is, to become a poet.

In the second part of the quotation, Statius tells Virgil that Virgil inspired him to become a Christian. Virgil lived before the time of Christ, and Virgil now resides in Purgatory. How could Virgil, who was not a Christian, inspire Statius to become a Christian?

Statius uses an important image here. He tells Virgil,

“Thou didst as he who walketh in the night,

Who bears his light behind, which helps him not,

But wary makes the persons after him,”

(Longfellow 22.67-69)

Virgil inspired Statius to become a Christian although Virgil was not himself a Christian. Virgil is like a traveler who holds a lantern behind himself for other people so that they may see better.

  • How did Virgil’s Fourth Ecologueinfluence Statius to become a Christian?

How did Virgil influence Statius to become a Christian? He did that in one of his poems: the Fourth Eclogue. (An eclogue is a pastoral poem. Often, it takes the form of two shepherds talking to each other.)

Statius quotes an important passage from the Fourth Eclogue:

“When thou didst say: ‘The age renews itself,

Justice returns, and man’s primeval time,

And a new progeny descends from heaven.’”

(Longfellow 22.70-72)

Virgil’s Fourth Ecloguewas taken by many people of the Middle Ages to be a prophecy of the birth of Jesus Christ. This poem was about the birth of a boy who would usher in a golden age. Scholars today do not think that the poem is about Jesus Christ, but people of the Middle Ages felt that Virgil — whether or not he was aware of it — was prophesying the birth of Jesus Christ in this poem.

Many historians would say that Virgil was writing about a male heir to the Emperor Caesar Augustus, but literate people in the Middle Ages would say that the poem is about the birth of Jesus Christ.

These literate people would say that they can see more in the poem than Virgil himself could. Virgil may not have realized that he was prophesying the birth of Jesus Christ, but with hindsight, the literate people of the Middle Ages would say that they know that Virgil was doing exactly that.

Virgil’s poem started the process by which Statius became converted to Christianity. Virgil was able to help Statius become a Christian — something that Virgil himself did not accomplish.

Similarly, I think that we can see that Dante’s Divine Comedylearns from Virgil’s Aeneid, but then goes on to accomplish a different purpose.

Eventually, Virgil will cease to be Dante’s guide. He will take Dante as far as he can, but then Dante will need another guide to take him higher. Soon, Beatrice will take over from Virgil and become Dante’s guide.

  • Why doesn’t history know that Statius was a Christian?

Statius kept his conversion hidden:

“And ere I led the Greeks unto the rivers

Of Thebes, in poetry, I was baptized,

But out of fear was covertly a Christian,

For a long time professing paganism;

And this lukewarmness caused me the fourth circle

To circuit round more than four centuries.”

(Longfellow 22.88-93)

The fourth storey of the seven-storey mountain is dedicated to purging the sin of sloth.

  • Why are so many pagans and pagan ideas present in The Divine Comedy?

Obviously, Dante’s Divine Comedyis a very Christian poem, and we can ask why so many pagans and pagan ideas appear in it. In the Inferno, we saw many mythological creatures — something that we probably did not expect in a Christian work. We can ask why these mythological creatures appear in the Divine Comedy. We can ask why Virgil — a pagan poet — is Dante’s guide through the Inferno and Purgatory. We can ask why Dante based much of his idea of the Inferno on Aeneas’ journey to the Land of the Dead in the Aeneid.

The answer is that the classical world can be guides for us, but that we need to be able to go beyond our guides. Statius was able to get more out of Virgil’s Fourth Ecloguethan Virgil thought he had put into it. Because we live in a Christian age, we are able to get more of the Classical age than the people who lived in it were able to get out of it.

  • Briefly describe the exempla (examples) of Temperance (the virtue that is opposed to Gluttony) that are presented in Canto 22.

The three poets are on the terrace of the gluttons. They encounter a tree that bears fruit and on which water falls, but a voice says, “This fruit and water is denied to you” (22.141). At this time the three poets hear the exempla of self-control in eating and drinking:

1) Christ’s Mother at the Wedding Feast of Cana; She Wanted the Wedding to be Properly Celebrated

Mary was worried because the wine ran out at the wedding feast in Cana. Mary did not care about the wine for the alcohol’s sake, but she did care about the marriage being celebrated properly. Of course, her son, Jesus, performed his first miracle, turning water into wine.

2) Ancient Roman Women were Pleased with Water

The ancient Roman women did not feel the need to drink wine; instead, they drank water. Saint Thomas Aquinas mentions this briefly in his Summa Theologica, Part II-II (FOURTH ARTICLE [II-II, Q. 149, Art. 4]):

Hence, according to Valerius Maximus [*Dict. Fact. Memor. ii, 1] among the ancient Romans women drank no wine.

Source: http://pge.rastko.net/etext/18755

Translator: Province, Fathers of the English Dominican

3) Daniel, Who Could Fast for a Good Reason

Because Daniel would not eat the food of the king or drink the drink of the king, he was given prophetic powers. This is the story as it appears in the King James Version of Daniel 1:3-20:

3: And the king spake unto Ashpenaz the master of his eunuchs, that he should bring certain of the children of Israel, and of the king’s seed, and of the princes;

4: Children in whom was no blemish, but well favoured, and skilful in all wisdom, and cunning in knowledge, and understanding science, and such as had ability in them to stand in the king’s palace, and whom they might teach the learning and the tongue of the Chaldeans.

5: And the king appointed them a daily provision of the king’s meat, and of the wine which he drank: so nourishing them three years, that at the end thereof they might stand before the king.

6: Now among these were of the children of Judah, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah:

7: Unto whom the prince of the eunuchs gave names: for he gave unto Daniel the name of Belteshazzar; and to Hananiah, of Shadrach; and to Mishael, of Meshach; and to Azariah, of Abed-nego.

8: But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s meat, nor with the wine which he drank: therefore he requested of the prince of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself.

9: Now God had brought Daniel into favour and tender love with the prince of the eunuchs.

10: And the prince of the eunuchs said unto Daniel, I fear my lord the king, who hath appointed your meat and your drink: for why should he see your faces worse liking than the children which are of your sort? then shall ye make me endanger my head to the king.

11: Then said Daniel to Melzar, whom the prince of the eunuchs had set over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah,

12: Prove thy servants, I beseech thee, ten days; and let them give us pulse to eat, and water to drink.

13: Then let our countenances be looked upon before thee, and the countenance of the children that eat of the portion of the king’s meat: and as thou seest, deal with thy servants.

14: So he consented to them in this matter, and proved them ten days.

15: And at the end of ten days their countenances appeared fairer and fatter in flesh than all the children which did eat the portion of the king’s meat.

16: Thus Melzar took away the portion of their meat, and the wine that they should drink; and gave them pulse.

17: As for these four children, God gave them knowledge and skill in all learning and wisdom: and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams.

18: Now at the end of the days that the king had said he should bring them in, then the prince of the eunuchs brought them in before Nebuchadnezzar.

19: And the king communed with them; and among them all was found none like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah: therefore stood they before the king.

20: And in all matters of wisdom and understanding, that the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and astrologers that were in all his realm.

4) John The Baptist, Who Ate Locusts and Wild Honey

John the Baptist lived in the desert, where he ate locusts and wild honey, as we find out in Matthew 3:4 (King James Version):

4: And the same John had his raiment of camel’s hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey.

Mark 1:6 (King James Version) gives us the same information:

6: And John was clothed with camel’s hair, and with a girdle of a skin about his loins; and he did eat locusts and wild honey; 

By the way, insects are a good source of protein, as you will learn if you take a wilderness survival course in the United States military. In one version of the course, students graduate by eating a live insect in front of the other students. In a more advanced version of the courses, students parachute into the wilderness with a few tools (but no food) and survive on their own for a few days. One of my students once told me that he and a few other soldiers parachuted into the wilderness, where they made good use of their problem-solving skills. As they parachuted into the wilderness, they looked around and noticed a road in the distance. After they had dropped to the ground, they used their compasses to find the road, and then they walked into a town and ate pizza.

  • How long has Statius been in Prepurgatory and Purgatory?

In the year 1300, Statius has been dead for 1204 years. We have learned that he spent 400 years on the 4th ledge of Purgatory because of lack of zeal and over 500 years on the 5th ledge of Purgatory not because of avariciousness, but because of its opposite, prodigality. No doubt he also spent time on the 1st ledge purging the sin of pride.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved





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