Your Favorite Canto?

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Your Favorite Canto?

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1Mithalogica
Jul 12, 2013, 12:57pm

At the risk of proposing a rather mundane prompt, what canto of the Commedia stays with you? Perhaps 'favorite' isn't the right word; some of the most powerful and evocative cantos are rather disturbing, after all....

I'll weigh in, but not right off; I'm curious to see what other have to say.

2brunolatini
Jul 15, 2013, 2:33pm

I have considered this question since you posed it and I am finding it difficult to come up with an answer. I agree with you that favourite probably isn't the right word , but if I had to pick one that was probably the most memorable it would be the first.

The reason I say that is when I first came to the poem many years ago , other than knowing Dante's name and a vague notion of what it was about , my ignorance was complete. Those were still the days when one could see a movie or a play , or discover a poem or an author for oneself without a barrage of noise and interference telling you what to think. Oh happy days ! To read Anna Karenina for the first time and be unaware of the ending, or War And Peace and not know the Prince Andrei dies. I was in such shock that he was dead and still 300 plus pages to go. To adapt a Wordsworth line “Bliss it was in that dawn to be alive. But to be young and IGNORANT was very heaven''.

So to pick up that book and read those first 140 lines or so ( actually the first 3 were sufficient) I was intrigued enough to continue . So armed only with the outstanding notes and diagrams in the Dorothy l.Sayers 1949 Penguin translation and the meagre resources of a provincial library coupled with my own ignorance and conceit I ventured forth.

So now many years later , less ignorant and more humble (I hope) I still recall that first canto as the doorway to one of the great pleasures of my life.

Possibly the only comparison might be http://youtu.be/xSbDhdAg4aE The opening prelude to Rheingold and the whole Ring Cycle of Wagner and the orchestra comes at you out of the e-flat depths of the Rhine to the shimmering surface and those Rhine maidens and you are either hooked to a whole new world or you Walk On By as Dionne Warwick used to say . Such is life and the choices we make .

3Mithalogica
Jul 15, 2013, 8:04pm

>#2: Given your introduction, I am not entirely surprised. And I will admit, as opening lines go, Dante crafted a winner. I'm never sure if I have more fondness for the opening lines, or the last line of Inferno: "E quindi uscimmo a riveder le stelle." "When we came forth and once more saw the stars." (Pinky) From beginning in the dark wood, then to end not only Inferno, but each of the sections with the stars...breathtaking. As I first read the Comedy, and noticed that each section ended with the stars, I was reminded of Carl Sagan (who I adored as a kid; I was always a nerd, I suppose), saying "The sky calls to us. If we do not destroy ourselves, we will one day venture to the stars."

I am in complete agreement with your observation about the clutter of 'knowing' something before we can truly come to know it. (One of many, many reasons I think Cliff Notes/Spark Notes are a travesty, but I digress.) Sadly, my first time getting to know Dante myself began with Purgatorio; an awkward place to begin, but happily, I was hooked nevertheless. After that, I read La Vita Nuova. On the one hand, it really added depth and perspective to the journey Dante (both author and pilgrim) makes in the Commedia, but it did take something from that mysterious and compelling opening. I knew who the pilgrim was, and, in as much as Vita tells us, I knew how he'd become lost.

And you're a fan of the Ring Cycle! Splendid! On a completely irreverent note (I do those a lot, please don't think it makes me less...well, serious is a poor word, less earnest, perhaps?), are you familiar with Anna Russell's 'analysis' of the Ring Cycle? It's brilliantly done, and very, very, funny, though not in a way that is funny to anyone who doesn't know Wagner. If you haven't heard it, do! (http://www.amazon.com/The-Ring-Nibelungs-analysis-Live/dp/B00137RQAQ)

4Mithalogica
Ago 8, 2013, 1:19pm

Since the discussion here seems to be, er, finished, I'll weigh in. The canto that I find the most...memorable, powerful, or whatever word is better than 'favorite,' is Inferno 33.

The haunting tale of Count Ugolino della Gherardesca's brutal demise locked in the tower by Bishop Ruggieri (which is introduced in the final lines of the previous Canto), to me represents Dante's talent at its most profound. In this tale Dante evokes the Passion of Christ with tenderness and horror in equal measure. The echoing of the hammer blows, the heartbreaking words of Ugolino's son, Gaddo, which echo those from the cross; these encapsulate the pathos of the crucifixion.

But at the same time, Dante juxtaposes that pathos with the horror of Ugolino's depravity (hinted at, but never stated in line 75). In this juxtaposition he expresses the fundamental horror of the Eucharist, by no means unknown in the Middle Ages. After all, Christ, the sacrificed son, seen as a babe in arms, and consumed ritually is, in itself, a dizzying paradox of salvation and monstrosity. (One scholar, Price, suggests this same contradiction underlies the prevalence of 'blood libels,' where Jews were accused of the ritual murder and consumption of a Christian child. What is this but a reflection of the sacrifice of Christ?)

He also underscores one of what I think is the least discussed themes of the Comedy: the theology of eating. He uses alimentary metaphors everywhere, from the very 'mouth' of Hell, its gate (which speaks in first person), through Purgatorio and into Paradiso where he refers often to the 'eternal bread,' the 'nourishment' and 'feast' he offers. But nowhere does he pack in more layers of meaning or more gut-level emotional impact than he does with Ugolino's tale. And then, when we have almost come to sympathize with Ugolino, even as his final choice is left uncertain, Dante brings us back to our senses, but reminding us that Ugolino remains at his feet, trapped in the frozen lake of Caina, chewing mindlessly on the head of his jailer. Powerful stuff, and for me, Dante at his most sublime.

5brunolatini
Ago 12, 2013, 9:11pm

Indeed Dante had a fascination with 'eating' right from the off-

To every captive soul and gentle heart

into whose sight this present speech may come,

so that they might write its meaning for me,

greetings, in their lord’s name, who is Love.

Already a third of the hours were almost past

of the time when all the stars were shining,

when Amor suddenly appeared to me

whose memory fills me with terror.

Joyfully Amor seemed to me to hold

my heart in his hand, and held in his arms

my lady wrapped in a cloth sleeping.

Then he woke her, and that burning heart

he fed to her reverently, she fearing,

afterwards he went not to be seen weeping.

For some reason that sonnet always reminds me of La Belle et La Bete by Cocteau- figure that one out !

And on the whole Eucharistic theme John Freccero has a brilliant essay 'Bestial Sign and The Bread of Angels' on Ugolino's constant misreading of signs both in this life and the next , published over 25 years ago now so perhaps it may be a bit dated, but good interpretations always last don't they ? At least as foundations for the next wave.

What a piece of literature this canto is though, ''the horror,the horror '' as Kurtz uttered at his death. But we could say the same about the Ulysses canto ,or Farinata or Cacciaguida in Paradiso , just in a different way.

So when all is said and done starvation killed poor Ugo, but did he have a bite or not first ?

6King_Lear
Mayo 23, 2017, 4:40am

Old thread, but I'll add my new thought:

Many cantos of the Commedia are memorable, but one of my favorites is Inferno Canto XXVI in which Dante and the poet encounter Diomedes and Ulysses. I find the story of Ulysses' last voyage moving—the idea that, by pushing forward to the last, this most cunning of Greek heroes could bring himself within sight of the Mount of Purgatory incredibly poignant. Sure, the storm that arises from the peak sank his ship, and yes, it cost him his life. But the notion that he nearly reached a holy place where he was forbidden to go—and did it out of sheer courage and force of will—makes him for me a noble and admirable spirit.