Friday, August 14, 2015

Perga 1

Dante and Virgil Again Behold the Sun

From Pergatorio I:

"Marcia so pleasing in my sight was found,"

He then to him rejoin'd, "while I was there,
That all she ask'd me I was fain to grant.
Now that beyond the' accursed stream she dwells,
She may no longer move me, by that law,
Which was ordain'd me, when I issued thence.
Not so, if Dame from heaven, as thou sayst,
Moves and directs thee; then no flattery needs.
Enough for me that in her name thou ask.
Go therefore now: and with a slender reed
See that thou duly gird him, and his face
Lave, till all sordid stain thou wipe from thence.
For not with eye, by any cloud obscur'd,
Would it be seemly before him to come,
Who stands the foremost minister in heaven.
This islet all around, there far beneath,
Where the wave beats it, on the oozy bed
Produces store of reeds. No other plant,
Cover'd with leaves, or harden'd in its stalk,
There lives, not bending to the water's sway.
After, this way return not; but the sun
Will show you, that now rises, where to take
The mountain in its easiest ascent."
My master plac'd, in graceful act and kind.
Whence I of his intent before appriz'd,
Stretch'd out to him my cheeks suffus'd with tears.
There to my visage he anew restor'd
That hue, which the dun shades of hell conceal'd.

Then on the solitary shore arriv'd,
That never sailing on its waters saw
Man, that could after measure back his course,
He girt me in such manner as had pleas'd
Him who instructed, and O, strange to tell!
As he selected every humble plant,
Wherever one was pluck'd, another there
Resembling, straightway in its place arose.

From UTex Danteworlds
Cato. Cantos 1.31-108, 2.118-23 
Arrival In Purgatory Icon  Cato Icon  Cato Icon  Cato Icon   
A stern, father-like figure, Cato of Utica (95-46 B.C.E.) was a Roman military leader and statesman. Dante describes Cato as having a long grizzled beard and graying hair falling down over his chest in two tresses; his face is illuminated by starlight (as if he were facing the sun). As the warden or guardian of the mountain of Purgatory, Cato performs a role somewhat similar to that of Charon in Hell. Dante seems to have assigned this prominent role to Cato because he so valued freedom that he gave his life for it (1.71-2): the historical Cato chose suicide over submission to tyranny after he was defeated (along with Pompey) in the civil war against Julius Caesar. Classical authors, including Cicero, Seneca, and Lucan, considered Cato the embodiment of moral and political rectitude. Virgil, for instance, presents Cato as one who gives laws to the righteous (Aen. 8.670). Based on this reputation, Cato was thought to possess in full the four cardinal (moral) virtues, symbolized here by the four "holy" stars lighting his face (1.37-9). 

Dante follows this legacy of praise for Cato, despite his status as a pagan suicide who opposed Caesar, by calling him in an earlier work the human being best suited to represent God (Convivio 4.28.15) and by now imagining his spiritual salvation (freed from Limbo at Christ's Harrowing of Hell) and divinely-ordained function in the afterlife. 

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