What are your thoughts on Purgatory?

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What are your thoughts on Purgatory?

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1Mithalogica
Feb 17, 2014, 5:27pm

We're finished with Inferno (taking the exam on Tuesday) and getting ready to move into Purgatorio. I have some real affinity for the terraces, and the earthly paradise, but the beginning of Purgatory has always been tough going for me.

What do you think?

2matthewmason
Feb 18, 2014, 1:11pm

Do you find the first few cantos of Purgatorio slow-going? It has been a breath of blue-skied fresh air in my lungs--the thick, claustrophobic weight of Inferno gradually washed away.

3anthonywillard
Mar 19, 2014, 11:18am

The Purgatory is my favorite section. It strikes me as the most similar to real life, and has some of the most sympathetic characters.

4matthewmason
Editado: Mar 19, 2014, 1:26pm

>3 anthonywillard: Are there any particular characters you find interesting or relatable?

5anthonywillard
Editado: Mar 20, 2014, 10:55am

>4 matthewmason: The one who comes to mind is Barbarossa. I also have long remembered the guys carrying the rocks. It's been a long time since I read it, that's why I'm rereading. On my initial reading about 40 years ago the Inferno was very slow going because of the historical and political allusions throughout. Now that I know the history a lot better, I'm hoping it will be more rapid. The real standout characters for me in the Inferno were Charon and Mohammed. The references in the Purgatorio and Paradiso were to people I was for some reason more familiar with. I will see how it goes this time. Overall I was most impressed by the variety and invention more than specific characters. The first time through, I read John Ciardi's version which was all the rage at that time, and I liked it a lot. I later reread about half the Inferno in the Dorothy Sayers translation which I liked at first but after a while found precious and annoying, though I liked her commentary. This time I am trying Mark Musa but may fall back on Ciardi if Musa doesn't work out.

6matthewmason
Mar 20, 2014, 11:11am

>5 anthonywillard: Tell me how the Musa goes for you. I think he over extends his translations a bit, and tries to outdo his own very maestro, though some might find that necessary. I've never read Ciardi, and I should: he catches me as a wholesome poet, and I doubt that he was not a wholesome translator as well.

7Count_Rapasso
Mar 20, 2014, 10:14pm

Hey! It's great to find a Dante discussion group, though it looks a little quiet here. The other one has been silent for years, though, and that makes me think it's not much like the magic gate/mouth that "speaks" to Dante. I find that the beginning of Purgatorio is tough for me, too (not to to mention "them"!), and I like the beginning of Inferno, which I cite above, much better.

8Mithalogica
Mar 20, 2014, 10:18pm

>2 matthewmason: Matthew - I seem to have missed another post - mea culpa. I am of mixed mind on Purgatorio, actually. After the vividness of Inferno, the shift to color and air is indeed a relief. I think dante sets himself quite a challenge in following up the intense realness of Inferno, though. The trials of the penitent don't *quite* evoke the same level of either pathos or recoil. I will say that without Purgatorio in between, the leap from Inferno to Paradiso (not theologically, though obviously, that too) would be impossible. One of the first comment my students had was that the mode of thought changed; we got math, science, astronomy, etc. I think it's a vital progression for the far more cerebral Paradiso....

9Count_Rapasso
Mar 20, 2014, 10:20pm

I'm still trying to understand why people reread multiple translations of the same document. It seems like this is really common for people who talk about Dante online. From my point of view, I've only read the free version at Project Gutenberg, http://www.gutenberg.org/files/8800/8800-h/8800-h.htm, translated by THE REV. H. F. CARY, M.A. Could someone explain to me why I should bother with another translation? I mean, isn't Italian to English translation pretty straightforward?

10Mithalogica
Mar 20, 2014, 10:22pm

>5 anthonywillard: Indeed, let me know what you think of the Musa. I agree he takes a bolder interpretive stance on translation, but he consistently offers sound reasons for doing so (and never hesitates to 'fess up when he does it, which I respect!) That's the version I"m having my students read - I think he's a bit more accessible for a first time read, especially for 20-something college students.

11Count_Rapasso
Mar 20, 2014, 10:23pm

This is really interesting! Why do you say that it would be "impossible"? Isn't the whole thing "impossible"? Couldn't Dante have just come up with some other mechanisms for getting from Inferno to Paradiso? Why is Purgatorio, as it stands, so necessary?

12Mithalogica
Mar 20, 2014, 10:36pm

>9 Count_Rapasso: Wow - where do I begin? Yes, there are whole WORLDS of variation in differing translations, and I wholeheartedly recommend reading more than one. (In particular I find Cary to be somewhat stilted, especially to readers not used to 19th C poetry).

At the heart of it, any translation is essentially violence to the text. No translation is ever word-for-word; languages are different, and idioms rarely translate literally. Poetry only compounds this problem. If you've ever tried to write poetry with a strict rhyme and meter scheme, you know it's incredibly difficult to maintain such a scheme and still say what you want to say (even in your first language). Dante uses what is known as 'terza rima,' which means the line are in groups of three, or tercets, with lines rhyming as follows: ABA-BCB-CDC and so on. He also uses exactly 11 syllables per line.

The translator, however, has to essentially re-do the entire task, but he isn't free to shift around meaning or phrase. In fact, some translators choose not to maintain the rhyme scheme in favor of making a less awkward translation. Mark Musa, which we've referred to above, is one such translator. He elects to try and maintain a poetic rhythm, but not the rhyme, so his translation sounds a little less forced than some. But ultimately the choice of every word comes down to the translator, and you can find some really interesting variations. I tell my students to look up different translations of passages they might be struggling with, as sometimes just seeing something phrased differently makes all the difference. Seriously, do look at some other translations. Here are a few that are also free online:

Robert Hollander (2000-2007) 
http://etcweb.princeton.edu/dante/pdp/
Longfellow (1867), 
Cary (1805), and 
Mandlebaum (1980-84) 
can be viewed side by side, or alongside the Italian here: 
http://www.divinecomedy.org/divine_comedy.html

13anthonywillard
Mar 22, 2014, 2:26am

>11 Count_Rapasso: The system of Hell-Purgatory-Heaven was fundamental to the medieval religious world-view that Dante was describing. He couldn't have arbitrarily changed it in 1308. No one would have understood or appreciated it, but more important, he himself was unlikely to imagine it. Even if he had wanted to, his book would have gone nowhere with readers, to whom Purgatory was of critical importance. Secondly, the architecture of the Comedy, and it definitely has a very carefully worked out balance and architecture, requires the Purgatorio. Libraries have been written on this topic, and with an annotated translation like Ciardi's and others one can see how it works in detail.

14Mithalogica
Mar 24, 2014, 11:25pm

>11 Count_Rapasso: In addition to Anthony's excellent points above, the sense in which I meant my comment was that the move from the gritty, dark, chaotic world of Inferno to the thoroughly cerebral and light-washed spheres of Paradiso would be an incredibly awkward literary jump. Even absent theological precedent (which is significant, as #13 so clearly nailed!), the Comedy would have no flow; it would be two wildly different books stitched together. Purgatorio, however, bridges the two realms intellectually, literarily, and conceptually for the reader.

The Pilgrim emerges from dark and filth of Judecca, the innermost region of the lowest circle (having literally climbed past Lucifer's legs), into the predawn light of the shores of Purgatory. From there, in stages, like our eyes getting used to the light after a long time in the dark, the Poet returns color, light, and most importantly, reason to the narrative. More complex theological concepts are introduced. Math, geometry, and astronomy are used to describe or explain things. This is also a conceptual bridge between the reason offered by Virgil (who almost, but not quite grasps the full scope of the Christian truth suggested by the Comedy), and the complex Scholastic and metaphysical reason offered by Statius and later Beatrice and Bernard.

That's the sense in which I meant the leap from Inferno to Paradiso would have been impossible without Purgatorio. I hope that clarifies! :)