Lectura Dantis: Purgatorio

Lectura Dantis: Purgatorio

Lectura Dantis: Purgatorio

Lectura Dantis: Purgatorio

Synopsis

This new critical volume, the second to appear in the three-volume Lectura Dantis, contains expert, focused commentary on the Purgatorio by thirty-three international scholars, each of whom presents to the nonspecialist reader one of the cantos of the transitional middle cantica of Dante's unique Christian epic. The cast of characters is as colorful as before, although this time most of them are headed for salvation. The canto-by-canto commentary allows each contributor his or her individual voice and results in a deeper, richer awareness of Dante's timeless aspirations and achievements.

Excerpt

Ezio Raimondi

Translated by Charles Ross

The Purgatorio opens with a solemn exordium, rich in anticipation and tension, that develops in three stages (1–12). First we are given the graceful but exultant image, dear to the mannerist tradition, of the “waters” and the “little vessel” that will “course” even as it “lifts her sail.” Next, the first-person narrator dramatically (“and what I sing”) offers the firm, clear definition of the theme. Finally, there is an invocation to the Muses recalling, like some mysterious legend, a famous episode in Ovid’s Metamorphoses.

One understands that this exordium is rhetorical, and that the principal voice is that of the poet who stands outside the story. But whoever listens closely will not miss that it anticipates the action of the canto by calling into account the persona, or protagonist, of the whole poem before he is named. and this perception of the narrative voice occurs, one notices, not so much because of the passion of the introductory tercets that glances, like a state of mind, at the Dante who has emerged from Hell, but because—with those multiple suggestive registers that make Dante’s symbolism so genial and inventive—the discourse of the poem runs on two planes, one rhetorical and the other, one might say, existential. the “sea so cruel” that has been left behind is not only the sea of “harsh and scrannel rhymes,” the “sea” of poetry that will be mentioned later in the Paradiso, but also the “dangerous waters” of Hell (Inf. I, 24) and what Dante in the Convivio calls the “ocean of our life” that every Christian must traverse to reach his final haven. It is also the same sea that the Hebrews crossed from Egypt—a symbolic sea that gets transformed into “better waters” because . . .

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