David Bruce: Dante’s PURGATORY: A Discussion Guide — “Canto 25: Seventh Ledge — Lust (Body-Soul Relationship)”

Canto 25: Seventh Ledge — Lust (Body-Soul Relationship)

  • How does Statius explain the relationship of the body and the soul?

The penitents whom Dante sees are emaciated, which surprises him because the souls have no body. Statius explains the relationship between the body and the soul to him.

In brief, Statius asserts three basic Christian beliefs:

  1. God directly creates the human soul.
  2. Body and soul, when joined, become one unified person.
  3. Even after death, the soul continues to exist and be matter-oriented. (Gallagher 109)

These beliefs are Christian, and they are based on the thought of such Christian theologians as Thomas Aquinas. Because these beliefs are Christian, the pagan Virgil has Statius explain these beliefs to Dante.

Statius believes that at the point of quickening — when the baby can be felt moving in the womb — that God gives the baby a soul. If we were to accept Statius’ reasoning, we would agree, I think, that no abortions would be performed after quickening because at that time the baby would have a soul. Before quickening, we would probably refer to embryos and fetuses rather than babies.

Statius believes that each human being is given an individual soul. The Muslim philosopher Averroes taught differently; he believed that each human being borrows from some supersoul.

The individual soul of each human being continues to exist after death. It is matter-oriented, and thus the souls take on the appearance of starving, emaciated bodies on the ledge of the Mountain of Purgatory that is devoted to purging Gluttony.

  • Briefly describe the exempla (examples) of Chastity and Faithfulness that are presented in Canto 25.

Near the end of Canto 25, Dante and his two guides have mounted to the 7th and final ledge of the Mountain of Purgatory. Here they see the souls of the lustful engulfed in flames. Only a narrow area of the ledge is free of flames. These souls call out the exempla of chastity and faithfulness:

1) The Virgin Mary Declared, “I Know Not Man”

In Luke, chapter 1, we read the Annunciation to Mary (King James Version):

26: And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth,

27: To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.

28: And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.

29: And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be.

30: And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God.

31: And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS.

32: He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David:

33: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.

34: Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?

2) The Chaste Moon-Goddess, Diana/Artemis, Dismissed Her Seduced Attendant, the Nymph Helice

Diana is the Roman name of the Greek goddess Artemis, who was one of the three virgin Greek goddesses. The other virgin goddesses are Minerva (Greek name Athena) and Vesta (Greek name Hestia). Diana was particularly a militant virgin. When Jupiter (Greek name Zeus) seduced one of her attendants, the nymph Helice, Diana dismissed her. Helice gave birth to Arcas. Juno (Greek name Hera) was Jupiter’s jealous wife. She turned Helice into a she-bear, and Jupiter placed her into a constellation: Ursa Major. “Ursa Major” means “Big Bear” or “Great Bear.”

Diana/Artemisisamilitantvirgin,asshownbythestoryofActaeon.She getsveryangrywheneveramortalmanseemstothreatenhervirginity.OnestoryaboutDiana/ArtemisinvolvesthehunterActaeon,whogoeshuntingwithhisdogsoneday.Actaeoncomestoaplacewhereapoolofwateris,andunfortunatelyforhimDiana/Artemis is bathing naked in the pool of water. Even more unfortunately for him, Diana/Artemis noticesthatActaeonispresentandhasseenhernaked.Therefore,sheturnsActaeonintoastagamaledeer.Hisdogsaretrainedtohunt,andthedogshuntthestag,andthedogsteartopiecesActaeon,whostillhasahumanmindandknowswhatishappening.

In this story, Diana/Artemis acts immediately. Actaeon has seen her naked, and therefore he must pay with his life. Diana/Artemisdoes not care that Actaeon saw her naked by accident — he did not know that she was bathing naked in the stream. Actaeon saw her naked, and therefore Actaeon must pay for that with his life.

3) Husbands and Wives Who Practiced Chastity

Chastity can mean refraining from sex, but another definition of chastity is refraining from immoral sex.

Not all husbands and wives have sex. Some voluntarily refrain from having sex. A modern example of this is Mahatma Gandhi and his wife late in their marriage. By the way, it is a heresy to believe that sex is sinful. Used properly, sex is far from sinful and is one of the great pleasures of life.

Another way to interpret these lines is that they are referring to being chaste before marriage. In other words, these couples refrain from having premarital sex. In addition, they have refrained from having affairs. This interpretation is most likely best because of the reference to the vow of marriage. Certainly, married couples are allowed to have sex with each other.

The lines in question are these:

Then to their song returned they; then the wives

They shouted, and the husbands who were chaste.

As virtue and the marriage vow imposes.

(Longfellow 25.133-135)

Then came the hymn again; then came their shout

Praising those married pairs who had been chaste,

As virtue and the marriage laws require.

(Musa 25.133-135)

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