The Divine Comedy by Dante ALIGHIERI · Digital Dante Edition with Commento Baroliniano · MMXV ·   Columbia University

Purgatorio 11


After 1000 Years?

Coordinated Reading: The Undivine Comedy, Chapter 6, “Re-Presenting What God Presented: The Arachnean Art of the Terrace of Pride,” entire. Chapter 6 is devoted to the three canti of the terrace of pride: Purgatorio 10-11-12. Dante’s Poets, pp. 127-29.

As discussed in the Introduction to Purgatorio 10, there are three canti devoted to the terrace of pride and they are symmetrically and neatly arranged: Purgatorio 10 treats the examples of the virtue of humility; Purgatorio 11 treats meetings with three souls who exemplify three kinds of pride; and Purgatorio 12 treats the examples of the vice of pride.

As the central of the three canti devoted to pride, Purgatorio 11 begins with the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer, the only prayer inscribed fully into the Commedia. It is interesting to note the ways in which Dante effectively “rewrites” the Lord’s prayer, making it in some way a Dantean gloss of the Scriptural verses. Although the glosses are exhortations to humility, the poet’s act of rewriting the Lord’s Prayer seems precariously close to prideful, another form of the “Arachnean art of the terrace of pride” discussed in Chapter 6 of The Undivine Comedy.

The pilgrim meets three souls in Purgatorio 11, who exemplify three kinds of pride: Omberto Aldobrandeschi, a great noble who exemplifies pride of family and lineage (see Purgatorio 8 and especially the encounter with Currado Malaspina); Oderisi da Gubbio, a miniaturist who exemplifies pride in art and in human endeavor; and Provenzan Salvani, a Sienese man of power and head of the Ghibellines, who exemplifies pride of power.

Below is a chart of the terrace of pride that maps the three types of pride—pride of family, pride of art, and pride of power—onto the three structural components: the examples of the virtues, the souls, and the examples of the vices.

The core of Purgatorio 11, and thus the core of the terrace of pride, centered in Oderisi at the mid-point among the three souls who make up the middle canto of the triad devoted to this vice, is vainglory or pride in art.

Before considering what Oderisi has to say, let us note that he constitutes another of the “friends” of purgatory, following Casella, Belacqua, and Nino Visconti, and looking forward to Forese Donati. Oderisi sees Dante and recognizes him, displaying his passionate desire to speak with him:

  e videmi e conobbemi e chiamava,
tenendo li occhi con fatica fisi
a me che tutto chin con loro andava. (Purg. 11.76-78)
  he saw and knew me and called out to me,
fixing his eyes on me laboriously
as I, completely hunched, walked on with them.

Oderisi speaks on the vanity of all earthly things, including artistic supremacy. There is no point in being prideful as an artist, he says, because ultimately everything passes, no human art endures, and all great artists are eclipsed by their successors. As his examples of surpassed artists, Oderisi offers first visual artists, Cimabue who is eclipsed by Giotto, and then verbal artists, Guido Guinizzelli who is eclipsed by Guido Cavalcanti in the “gloria de la lingua” (glory of our tongue [Purg. 11.98]). And both Guidos will in turn be eclipsed by one “who will chase both out of the nest”:

  Credette Cimabue ne la pittura
tener lo campo, e ora ha Giotto il grido,
sì che la fama di colui è scura:
  così ha tolto l’uno a l’altro Guido
la gloria de la lingua; e forse è nato
chi l’uno e l’altro caccerà del nido. (Purg. 11.94-99)
  In painting Cimabue thought he held
the field, and now it’s Giotto they acclaim—
the former only keeps a shadowed fame.
  So did one Guido, from the other, wrest
the glory of our tongue—and he perhaps
is born who will chase both out of the nest.

Who is the one who will chase Guido Guinizzelli and Guido Cavalcanti from the nest? Oderisi’s lesson in humility is here compromised by what is certainly a veiled reference to Dante himself: the poet who will supersede and surpass both Guido Guinizzelli and Guido Cavalcanti.

And so, matters are not quite so simple as a straightforward lesson in humility. The dialectical thrust of the above passage is replicated in this next passage, where the vanity of all earthly achievements is proposed again, framed in a linguistic fashion this time, through the following rhetorical question:

  Che voce avrai tu più, se vecchia scindi
da te la carne, che se fossi morto
anzi che tu lasciassi il ‘pappo’ e ’l ‘dindi’,
  pria che passin mill’anni? ch’è più corto
spazio a l’etterno, ch’un muover di ciglia
al cerchio che più tardi in cielo è torto. (Purg. 11.103-08)
  Before a thousand years have passed—a span
that, for eternity, is less space than
an eyeblink for the slowest sphere in heaven—
  would you find greater glory if you left
your flesh when it was old than if your death
had come before your infant words were spent?

To the question—what glory will you have in 1000 years?—the correct answer in the key of humility is “none”: in 1000 years it will no longer matter whether you die an infant, whose only words are “pappo” and “dindi” (Purg. 11.105), or whether you live to old age.

And yet, and yet . . . I write this on the verge of 2015, which will be the 750th anniversary of Dante’s birth in 1265: already three-quarters of the way to 1000 years. And Dante’s words still live. And, despite Oderisi’s claim that “La vostra nominanza è color d’erba, / che viene e va” (Your glory wears the color of the grass that comes and goes [Purg. 11.115-16]), Dante’s nominanza—his name, his cultural Q score—remains, in Ovid’s word, indelebile.

Recommended Citation

Barolini, Teodolinda. "Purgatorio 11 : After 1000 Years?." Commento Baroliniano, Digital Dante. Center for Digital Research and Scholarship. New York, NY: Columbia University Libraries, 2015.

Coordinated Reading