David Bruce: Dante’s PURGATORY: A Discussion Guide — “Canto 26: Seventh Ledge — Lust (Guido Guinizelli and Arnaut Daniel)”

Canto 26: Seventh Ledge — Lust (Guido Guinizelli and Arnaut Daniel)

  • What does Dante see on the 7th ledge?

Dante must walk a narrow path here. On one side of him are flames, and on the other side of him is air. He must watch his step so that he does not fall off the side of the mountain or be burned by the flames.

On the ledge, Dante sees penitents walking around the mountain in two different directions. Some penitents walk clockwise, while other penitents walk counterclockwise. In this canto, he notices that when the penitents meet, they exchange a brief and chaste kiss.

Note that in Romans 16:16, St. Paul writes, “Salute one another with an holy kiss. The churches of Christ salute you”(King James Version).

The shades keep moving — the lustful are restless.

  • Does Dante know why he is climbing the Mountain of Purgatory?

Dante has steadily been learning as he goes through the afterlife. Early in the Inferno he seemed to think that he was there because of his merit, but now he realizes that he is making this journey to save his soul:

“I climb to cure my blindness, for above

a lady has won grace for me, that I

may bear my mortal burden through your world.”

(Musa 26.58-60)

  • Briefly describe the exempla (examples) of lust that are presented in Canto 26.

The two groups call out different names. One group, composed of the homosexuals, calls out the names of Sodom and Gomorrah. The other group, composed of heterosexuals, calls out the name of Pasiphae, who misused sex.

Sodom and Gomorrah

The cities Sodom and Gomorrah are associated with homosexual rape, which is a clear misuse of sex. For example, in Genesis 19:1-5, we read (King James Version):

1: And there came two angels to Sodom at even; and Lot sat in the gate of Sodom: and Lot seeing them rose up to meet them; and he bowed himself with his face toward the ground;

2: And he said, Behold now, my lords, turn in, I pray you, into your servant’s house, and tarry all night, and wash your feet, and ye shall rise up early, and go on your ways. And they said, Nay; but we will abide in the street all night.

3: And he pressed upon them greatly; and they turned in unto him, and entered into his house; and he made them a feast, and did bake unleavened bread, and they did eat.

4: But before they lay down, the men of the city, even the men of Sodom, compassed the house round, both old and young, all the people from every quarter:

5: And they called unto Lot, and said unto him, Where are the men which came in to thee this night? bring them out unto us, that we may know them.

Note: “Know” is used here in the Biblical sense: “to have sex with.” In addition, the men of Sodom don’t care about getting consent before having sexual intercourse. In other words, when the Sodomites say, “bring them out unto us, that we may know them,” they are really saying, “bring them out unto us, that we may homosexually rape them.” By the way, the angels are not raped. When the men of Sodom attempt to rape the angels, the angels blind them. This story concerns attempted homosexual rape.


Pasiphae is guilty of misusing sex. In particular, she is guilty of bestiality: having sex with an animal. She was a Queen of Crete who fell in love with a bull, so she commissioned Daedalus to create an artificial cow for her to creep into. The bull had sex with the artificial cow (and with Pasiphae), and Pasiphae conceived and gave birth to the Minotaur, a mythical half-human, half-bull creature that feasted on human flesh. This story concerns an abuse of heterosexual sex, although it also concerns a form of sodomy, which includes sex between human beings and animals. This is called bestiality. The reasoning appears to be that the heterosexual sinners acted like animals, and the Pasiphae myth is an extreme form of acting like an animal:

Guido Guinizelli, a heterosexual says that “we did not act like human beings, / yielding instead, like animals, to lust” (Musa 26.83-84). For that reason, the souls in his group call out the name of Pasiphae.

Human beings need not act like animals, which breed when a female is in heat. Human beings can use reason to determine when sex is ethical and when sex is unethical. Animals do not use reason. Human beings can use reason to restrain lust; animals cannot.

  • Write a short character analysis of Guido Guinizelli.

Guido Guinizelli (Longfellow spells the name “Guinicelli”) is a poet who tells Dante the names of the other poets in the fire that purges the Lustful. (Because of the fire, they are difficult to recognize.) Like the other souls in Purgatory, Guido Guinizelli is helpful. He says to Dante,

“Thy wish to know me shall in sooth be granted;

I’m Guido Guinicelli, and now purge me,

Having repented ere the hour extreme.”         

(Longfellow 26.91-93)

Here we see that repenting early is a very good idea. If you keep God waiting, God will keep you waiting. If you do not keep God waiting, God will not keep you waiting.

Before telling Dante his name, Guido Guinizelli explains the kinds of lust that are purged here. One is the kind that Julius Caesar was supposed to be guilty of: homosexuality, or in Julius Caesar’s case, bisexuality:

“The folk that comes not with us have offended

In that for which once Caesar, triumphing,

Heard himself called in contumely, ‘Queen.’”

 (Longfellow 26.76-78)

Supposedly, when Julius Caesar was young and an ambassador to Bithynia, he had a homosexual relationship with King Nicodemus of Bithynia. This led to Julius Caesar later being called the Queen of Bithynia. Suetonius writes in his biography of Julius Caesar in his The Lives of the Twelve Caesars:

The only stain upon his chastity was his having cohabited with Nicomedes; and that indeed stuck to him all the days of his life, and exposed him to much bitter raillery. I will not dwell upon those well-known verses of Calvus Licinius:

Whate’er Bithynia and her lord possess’d,

Her lord who Caesar in his lust caress’d. [73]

Source: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/6400/6400.txt

Translators: The Translation of Alexander Thomson, M.D.; Revised and corrected by T. Forester, Esq., A.M.

Guido Guinizelli, however, is a heterosexual. He says that “we did not act like human beings, / yielding instead, like animals, to lust” (Musa 26.83-84). For that reason, the souls in his group call out the name of Pasiphae.

Interestingly, Guido Guinizelli refers to heterosexual sin as “hermaphroditic sin” (Musa 26.82). The word “hermaphrodite” means “having both male and female sex organs.” In Greek mythology, Hermaphroditus was the two-sexed child of the union of Hermes and Aphrodite. His name combines the names of his parents.

We notice that a lot of love poets are on the ledge that is devoted to purging lust. The kind of poetry that Dante writes may promote love, but it ought not to promote lust.

Guido Guinizelli points out to Dante some other poets who were early masters of the vernacular poetry and who wrote about love.

  • Write a short character analysis of Arnaut Daniel.

Guido Guinizelli then points out the Provencal poet Arnaut Daniel. Like other souls in Purgatory, Guido readily acknowledges when someone else is better than he. Guido calls Arnaut Daniel “a better craftsman of his native tongue” (Musa 26.117).

Arnaut Daniel speaks to Dante, but Arnaut uses his own language. Because Arnaut Daniel is a vernacular poet, this is appropriate. Most of the speakers in the Divine Comedyspeak their own language, which is Italian. Arnaut Daniel is the only non-Italian to speak his own language in the Divine Comedy.

Mark Musa leaves Arnaut Daniel’s words untranslated in the body of his translation, but he translated those words in his notes on Canto 26:

“Your elegant request so pleases me,

I could not possibly conceal my name.

I am Arnaut, singing now through my tears,

Regretfully recalling my past follies,

And joyfully anticipating joy.

I beg you, in the name of that great power

Guiding you now to the summit of the stairs:

Remember, in good time, my suffering here.”

(Musa 289)


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved





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