My Blog List

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Inferno is In-Vernal

Inferno is In-Vernal


Canto 32

And after that I saw a thousand faces

made doglike by the cold; for which I shudder-

and always will when I face frozen fords.

And while we were advancing toward the center

to which all weight is drawn-I, shivering

in that eternally cold shadow-I

know not if it was will or destiny

or chance, but as I walked among the heads,

I struck my foot hard in the face of one.

One thing that often surprises students of Dante when the come to the end of the Inferno, as it surprised me when I first read these canti, is that Dante's lowest depths of Hell are cold, frozen, not hot. The souls at the bottom of Hell are frozen nearly inanimate in a lake of ice, the worst of them all entirely submerged.

Dante has us understand that this coldness results as a product of the distance these souls are from God, the source of all light and heat.

While this answer is theologically satisfying, as is his description of Lucifer's wings functioning as a huge swamp cooler at the bottom of Hell, I have come to learn another way in which frozen Inferno makes sense.

Have you ever spent a winter in Tuscany? Under the Tuscan Sun, especially in Arezzo, becomes "Within the Tuscan Frozen Fog." This place is bone-chillingly cold during Winter, and it lasts a long time--October to April. Now let's imagine it in the Middle Ages with no heat, refrigeration, and antibiotics. A uncomfortable existence today was miserable, precarious, and isolating in 1300. Winter is the time of death, disease, and, if you our lucky, survival.


So how great a relief it is that Spring has arrived in Tuscany, a little late. Because easter was early (Pasqua bassa), it was not a seasonal re-birth, only a spiritual one. However, an April Easter, which Dante surely had in mind in his Commedia, means the arrival of Spring. So, when Dante arrives at the top of Purgatorio, having left Hell a few days earlier on Good Friday, he finds Spring waiting for him, the eternal Spring of the uncorrupted Garden of Eden:

Purg 28

A gentle breeze, which did not seem to vary

within itself, was striking at my brow

but with no greater force than a kind wind’s,

a wind that made the trembling boughs—they all

bent eagerly—incline in the direction

of morning shadows from the holy mountain;

but they were not deflected with such force

as to disturb the little birds upon

the branches in the practice of their arts;

for to the leaves, with song, birds welcomed those

first hours of the morning joyously,

and leaves supplied the burden to their rhymes—

just like the wind that sounds from branch to branch

along the shore of Classe, through the pines

when Aeolus has set Sirocco loose.

The Locus amoenus, the pleasant place, is decidedly springlike in its gentility and freshness. Rebirth is metaphorical but only after it is actual and practical.

Summer (Minor)

But we have Summer to arrive, and that brings more misery to the Tuscan micro-climate. Just before Dante enters the terrible cold of lower Inferno, he passes through the stifling humidity of the last ditch of the malebolge, where the alchemists and other falsifiers are punished. Here all are misshapen by diseases of purification, like leprosy and dropsy. He compares this too the summers in Tuscany, and the area around Arezzo, the Val di Chiana.

When we had climbed above the final cloister

PL of Malebolge, so that its lay brothers

were able to appear before our eyes,

I felt the force of strange laments, like arrows

whose shafts are barbed with pity; and at this,

I had to place my hands across my ears.

Just like the sufferings that all the sick

PL of Val di Chiana's hospitals, Maremma's,

PL Sardina's, from July until September

would muster if assembled in one ditch-

so was it here, and such a stench rose up

as usually comes from festering limbs.

Things are better now. The swamp has been drained and malaria eradicated. But I am certainly going to enjoy Spring while it lasts.

No comments:

Post a Comment