The Language of Faith: Messengers and Idols [Giuseppe Mazzotta]

Dati bibliografici

Autore: Giuseppe Mazzotta

Tratto da: Dante poet of the desert. History and allegory in the Divine Comedy

Editore: Princeton University Press, Princeton

Anno: 1979

Pagine: 275-318

The practice of reading, as has been seen in the previous chapters, leads the reader into the center of an imaginative maze, to the awareness of an impasse where the primary plot ot the pilgrim's ascetic experience harbors within itself a counterplot, the sense that the explicit moral weight of the text is drawn within the possibility ot error. The question must now be asked whether this view of the poet, and the reader, cast in a condition of exile, where everything appears uncertain, open-ended and tentative, is simply the reflection ot too modern a critical temper suspicious of firm answers, an interpretative heresy of sorts in projecting on to the text strictly subJective preoccupations, The question is not a gratuitous exercise of the mind doubting, as it were, its own doubts. It must be raised because the dramatic action of the Divine Comedy depends, to a large extent, on the persistent presence ot guides and the occasional intervention of messengers who point the way to the pilgrim, remove obstacles from his journey, and whose primary role is to dramatize the fact that this is not the journey of a man entirely left to himself. The pilgrim is ostensibly unlike Ulysses whose mad flight is the emblematic story of a voyager who relies exclusively on his own intellectual powers and leads himselt and his companions to a tragic end.
What is true for the pilgrim is equally true for the poet's own sense of history, shaped, as it is, by the steady acknowledgments of guides, prophets and mediators who bear and interpret God's Word to man. The readers are reminded that they have the Old and New Testament and “’l pastor de la Chiesa che vi guida; / questo vi basti a vostro salvamento” (Paradiso V, ll. 76-8); in spite of the contingent crisis of authority, pope and emperor ideally ought to be guides to the world (Purgatorio XVI, Il. 91 ff.); and if these two “suns” have eclipsed each other and have left the world in a state of blindness, St. Francis and St. Dominic are the two “princes” of the Church, “che quinci e quindi le fosser per guida” (Paradiso XI, I. 36), veritable angels who herald and preach God's love and wisdom. Dante himself frequently takes a prophetic posture and calls for the reform of the Church: at the top of Purgatory, Beatrice, for instance, promises the imminent advent of a “messo di Dio,” the “cinquecento, diece a cinque” (Purgatorio XXXIII, ll. 43-4) who will come to kill the Whore dallying with the Giant.
To suggest, therefore, as I have done, that the reader is left alone in a space of contradictory and indeterminate choices, is, on the face of it, to lapse into what might be called a heresy of reading, the doctrinal error of extrapolating, unaided, one's own truth from the poem, In Inferno IX and X, where heresy is punished, Dante dramatizes precisely this error and juxtaposes to it the virtue of faith in God's Word as the perspective from which the spiritual interpretation of the poem can be attained. The question of interpretation, thus, must be recxamined from the point of view of the language of faith: by focusing on the messengers and interpreters of God's Word (without giving, however, a full inventory ot their role and occurrence in the poem), this chapter will map out first the relation between heresy and faith, and secondly it will describe the prophetic content of Dante's own message. Prophecy is, in a real sense, the language of faith, the way faith speaks; but I shall also argue that, for Dante, prophecy itself is vulnerable to the possibility of turning into blasphemy. He systematically opposes heresy to faith, idolatry to prophecy, and yet he is also aware that the line which separates belief from unbelief is precarious, that metaphoric language ìs never impervious to those interpretive errors which he unequivocally condemns in his treatment of heresy.
In Inferno IX, on the threshold of the city of Dis, the pilgrim is about to enter the circle of the heretics, but experiences what to him is a veritable impasse. The three Furies, handmaids of Hecate (ll. 43-4) and guardians of the gates, obstruct his passage by calling on Medusa to appear and, by the power of her gaze, transform him into a stone (ll. 52-4). Vergil, who in the preceding canto had failed to persuade the devils to allow them to enter Dis, now quickly instructs his disciple not to look, turns his head backward and shuts the pilgrim's eyes with his own hands (ll. 55-60). An angel, “da ciel messo” (l. 85), comes and, by a touch of his wand, opens the gates for the pilgrim and his guide. In the middle of this action, the poet interrupts the narrative and urges the readers to look under the veil ot the “strange verses.”

O voi ch'avete li ‘ntelletti sani,
mirate la dottrina che s'asconde
sotto ‘l velame de li versi strani.
ll. 61-3

(O you who are of sound understanding, look at the doctrine that is hidden bencath the veil of the strange verses.)

Since the early commentators, the passage has been subjected to the allegorical reading the poet calls for. lacopo della Lana, for instance, interprets Medusa as the emblem of heresy; Boccaccio sees her as the image of obstinacy that blinds man; by virtue of her etymology, “quod videre non possit,” she has been taken to be the allegory of invidia; other critics gloss the Furies and the threatened apparition of Medusa as abstract figurations of remorseful terror and despair; some others explain Medusa as the sin of malitia and the angel as the allegory of imperial authority. From this political perspective, since the immediate context of the scene is the civil war ravaging Florence, one might infer that Dante is dramatizing the crisis of what has come to be known as an Averroistic political vision. The scene, actually, is so complex that no single critical formula can account for its metaphoric and doctrinal density. Its primary concern, I would like to suggest, is heresy, a sin that for Dante involves the failure of understanding and imagination, and which he equates with the madness of those who produce poetic and philosophical discourses but have no faith in God.
The phrase “intelletti sani,” I submit, calls immediate attention to what might be called the heresy of reading and translates a commonplace of biblical exegesis. The Church Fathers, denouncing the error ot the heretics who expounded the doctrine of the Bible in any sense but that imparted by faith and the Holy Ghost, consistently use the formula “sanus intellectus” to qualify a faithful interpretation of Scripture. The heretics apply their own “sensus proprius” or “bovinus intellectus.” and fall into an illusory subjectivism which disrupts the prophetic integrity ot the biblical text. Those with a ‘’sanus intellectus,” on the contrary, interpret the doctrine for what it is and do not hold false opinions in matters pertaining to Christian faith. The same phrase, “intelletto sano,” is emploved in this precise sense in Convivio. In the fourth treatise, while giving a systematic critique of Frederick the Second's false opinion that nobility resides in fine manners and wealth, Dante appeals to those with “intelletti sani” who would discern the talseness of the emperor’s doctrine, In the subsequent commentary on the line, the phrase is glossed as meaning that “tempo è d'aprire li occhi a la veritade,” and “sano intelletto” means a mind which is not petrified and knows “quello che le cose sono.” This particular meaning, and the metaphor of opening the eyes, clearly carried over in Inferno IX, has an extraordinary dramatic aptness because heresy, as we shall now see, is a sin that forfeits and darkens the sanity of the intellect.
Indeed, even at first glance the circle of the heretics appears to be literally the gravevyard of that philosophy that believes in the perishability of the soul along with the death of the body. The sinners, Epicurus and his followers, “che l'anima col corpo morta fanno” (Inferno X, l. 15), Frederick the Second (and the irony of the name, Federico, is transparent), Cavalcanti and Farinata, by a stark contrappasso are buried in tombs to live out, as it were, the eternal death they upheld in life. In a real sense, this is the exact reversal of the value that Dante assigned to the Epicureans in Convivio. In its fourth treatise, Dante describes, using Cicero as his source, the philosophical schools of active life (namely the Stoics, the Peripatetics and the Epicurcans) as the three Marys who go to the tomb, the receptacle of corruptible things, where the Savior, that is to say, beatitude, is buried. But the “monimento” is empty, and an angel ot God, who had rolled the stone away, tells them that Christ has risen and has gone before them into Galilee where those who seek can find him. Quite overtly, this is the story of understanding seeking faith, an explicit turning around of the formula fides quaerens intellectum which in che philosophical context of Convivio is viewed as a legitimate and positive undertaking. But in Inferno X, Epicurus, instead of seeking the risen Christ in Galilee, has remained at the tomb, the “imonimenti,” as Dante, echoing the passage of Convivio, calls it (Inferno IX, l.131), and he literally dwells in it.
We can, perhaps, account for this shift of views from Convivio to the Divine Comedy. If in Convivio, where philosophy is celebrated as the sovereign source of authority, Athens is the celestial city, in the Divine Comedy, Dante juxtaposes Jerusalem to Athens. There is a great deal of irony in Vergil's words, ‘Tutti saran serrati / quando di losaat qui torneranno / coi corpi che là sù hanno lasciati” (Inferno X, ll. 10-2). From this perspective of the valley in Jerusalem, where the Last Judgment and the resurrection of the flesh will take place, phi losophy leads as far as the tomb and no further. In Convivio philosophy may even offer consolation to death; in Inferno X, the tomb is the scandal against which philosophy stumbles.
Dante's way of experiencing the opposition between Athens and Jerusalem is by no means unusual. When St. Paul preaches in Athens that God is not like gold or stone, a representation by the art and imagination of man, and announces the resurrection of the dead, the Athenians laugh at him (Acts 17:22 ff.). Later on, his belief in life after death is dismissed as sheer madness: “Paul, you are mad; much learning is turning you mad” (Acts 26:24). The distance that separates philosophical reason from the madness of faith is also the brunt of Tertullian's De Praescriptione Haereticorum. When Tertullian asks “quid ergo Athenis et Hierosolymis? quid academiae et ecclesiae? quid haereticis et Christianis?” he answers that the two have nothing to do with cach other. Tertullian's position, to be sure, depends largely on the assumption that faith believes what is rationally impossible; for Dante, it is not that reason is insignificant or absolutely inept in matters of faith. Reason, left to itself, is found wanting because it can grasp neither the mystery which belongs to faith nor the wisdom of God who chooses foolish things, in the language of St. Paul, to confound the wise. Confronted with death conquered, the empty tomb of Christ, Epicurus remains entrenched in his own unbeliet, and Inferno x bears witness to the wreckage of his philosophy: his philosophical quest of Convivio is exposed as madness, the doctrinal error that litters the path to God's wisdom.
It has not been clear to scholars, however, why heresy, a philosophical error, should be punished in the sixth circle of Inferno, between the sins of incontinence and those of mad bestiality. The critical confusion stems from the fact that in his exposition of the moral structure of Hell, Vergil says nothing about heresy, and also from the fact that in Aristotle's ethical system there is no rationale to view it even as a sin. In his pagan frame of reference, heresy is simply a perversion of the speculative intellect, which results neither from any infirmity of the will nor from the impulses of the flesh. On the other hand, for Dante it must be stressed that sin always involves the various functions of the will. Because of the apparent contradiction, W.H.V. Reade concludes his examination of the problem by stating that Dante “did not know what to say about the moral causes of heresy.” In effect, Dante develops his figuration of heresy along the broad lines of Thomas Aquinas' conception. In an elaborate passage of the Summa, Aquinas views heresy as a sin of choice (the word comes, he says quoting Jerome and Isidore, from the Greek hairesis meaning choice); as a misinterpretation of Scripture, it is a denial of the truth on which faith is founded and, in this sense, it designates an intellectual error. But it is also more than a sin of opinion: it is an act that involves the flesh and arises, as Aquinas puts it, “from pride or covetousness or even some illusion of the imagination which according to Aristotle is a source of error.” A more careful reading of the pattern ot allusions and metaphors obliquely woven in the folds of Infemo IX and X will show that Dante gives an essentially Thomistic account of heresy, one in which the affections are engaged, much as the intellect was, and like the intellect, they are threatened by a veritable madness.
The Furies’ call for Medusa to appear dramatizes in a primary way a case of madness: the epithet “sani” (Inferno IX, l. 61) signals that whatever we are witnessing verges on insania. Medusa’s own story, as told by Ovid, is an experience of mad love. Among the early commentators on the passage, Boccaccio and Buti rightly recall the Ovidian account of the myth: once a beautiful maiden, Medusa was raped by Neptune in the temple of Minerva, the goddess of wisdom, who avenges the violation by turning Medusa's golden curls into snakes and, eventually, by giving Perseus the mirrored shield by which he can kill her. In several mythographic glosses, the Gorgons (1. 56) are interpreted as women who disrupt the sanity of the mind. In Fulgentius’ Mythologicon, the first of the three sisters stands for “mentis debilitas”; the second, “terrore mentem spargit”; the third, “mentis intentum, vero etiam caliginem ingerit visus.” Further, both John of Garland and Arnulf of Orleans explain the metamorphosis into stone by Medusa as the allegory of the stuper that she engenders in the mind; this gloss, it may be pointed out, is obliquely picked up by Benvenuto da Imola, who interprets the pilgrim’s threatened petrification as meaning to be “stupidum.”
A number of other dramatic elements in Inferno IX suggests this motif of madness. The three Furies are conventionally etymologized as the three aftections, namely, wrath, cupidity and lust, which “stimulis suis mentem feriant”; Tisiphone (1. 48), Juno's messenger, is also said to bring “insania.” But there is a more compelling allusion that gives madness a central place in the canto: the fearful summons to Medusa to appear. Medusa, to be sure, does not appear; nonetheless, her name is to the pilgrim a shock of recognition, literally a ghost issued from his own past, and her name reenacts the amor insanus that Dante celebrated in his Rime Petrose, In a powerful piece of literary criticism, John Freccero has recently shown that the Rime Petrose are textually recalled in the rhyme scheme, “alto... smalto... assalto” (ll. 50-4), to dramatize the memory of the pilgrim’s erotic fascination with the stonelike woman of that poetic sequence. The myth of Medusa, I would like to add, explicitly governs one of those poems. In “Così nel mio parlar voglio esser aspro,” the poet, installed in an cerie spiritual landscape, recounts the tortures of his obstinate passion for the Donna Petra and the condition of his mind which has been shattered by the madness of his vain pursuit.

Non trovo scudo ch'ella non mi spezzi
né loco che dal suo viso m'asconda:
chè come fior di fronda,
così de la mia mente tien la cima.
ll. 14-7

(I cannot find a shield that she does not shatter, nor a place to hide from her look; like the flower on the stalk, she occupies the summit of my mind.)

As I have shown earlier in chapter 4, the lover is an unsuccessful Perseus, without a shield and unable to sustain the lady’s glance. This myth of the woman as Medusa is countered by another myth that runs through Dante’s imaginative contrivance. The poet obliquely casts himself as Pygmalion: like Pygmalion, who, by the intervention of Venus, breathes life into the statue, the idol he wrought with his own hands, the poet wishes to instill life into the loved lady, who is a “dura petra / che parla e sente come fosse donna.” The lady, however, will remain an unresponsive stone, and the pocet's love is a hopeless obsession which borders on death.
This effort to give life to what is only a stone is placed in Inferno IX within a context of magic and witchcraft. It ought to be remarked that Pygmalion's transformation of the statue into a human being is understood by the Ovidian mythographers as a magic mutation. More importantly, Inferno IX opens with an allusion to Erichtho, the sorceress, who, as it is told by Lucan, conjures the shades from Hades to foretell the future events in the civil war at Pharsalia, and whose necromancy involves Vergil himself. The Furies, the grim shapes howling in the night, are identified as the handmaids ot Hecate (Il. 43-4), the goddess of the lower world, who presides over demons and phantoms, and who is said to have taught sorcery and witchcraft. In Latin love lyrics, where the focus is the enchantment of love, it may be added, Hecate's magic spells are invoked to engender or cure the incantations and delusions of love. Even the angel “da ciel messo” (l. 85), who opens the gates of Dis with his wand, bears overtones of magic. Ever since the carly commentators, he has been identified as Mercury, Jupiter's faithful messenger from Statius’ Thebaid. In Inferno IX, to be sure, the angel is the emblem of divine cloquence, the bearer of God's message, who defeats the devils and lets the pilgrim continue his journey. Dante, in effect, alludes to and revises his source, the Thebaid, where the messenger's function is to summon back the dead soul of Laius to foment the civil war of Thebes.
These allusions in the canto to magic heighten the sense of rhe madness of the pilgrim’s experience. Like madness, which violates the rigor of the intellect and mistakes one thing for another, magic creates deceptive semblances and false figments ot the mind. This metaphoric link between magic and madness did not escape Isidore of Seville, who, quoting the same passage of Erichtho in Lucan's Pharsalia which Dante recalls in lines 22 to 27, views magic precisely as the practice in which ‘the mind, though polluted by no venom of poisoned draught, perishes by enchantment.” For Dante the links between the two are such that they invest the very substance of Inferno IX. As magic designates the tampering with the natural order, it discloses Dante’s madness and unnatural passion for the Donna Petra; as the demonic art of conjuration of the dead, it further discloses as pure illusion the poets idolatrous attempt in his past to give life to what is only a stone and an insubstantial form.
In the case of Epicurus, who is blind to the fact that Christ’s empty tomb is a sign of his resurrection from the dead, philosophy goes mad; in Inferno IX it is the poetry of the Rime Petrose, which attempts to give life to a stone, that retrospectively is seen to suffer the same fate. This is not the classical madness of poetry, the powerful frenzy that is traditionally said to possess and engender poetic divinations. It is the spiritual derangement of the imagination, as Aquinas understands it, that operates all sorts of “magic” changes: it believes it can transform death into immortality, and make ot a stone the monument for one's own self. These errors of the imagination are given an ironic twist in the two cantos of the heretics: the monument is an illusory and hollow emblem of death; the poet’s attempt to give life to the Donna PetraMedusa is reversed into a threat to reduce the pilgrim to a veritable tomb, like the one inhabited by the heretics, to petrify his intellect and make him blind.
The metaphor of blindness is erucial. actually, to the question of heresy, and it sustains the unfolding of both cantos IX and X of Inferno. In canto IX, Medusa herself blinds those who gaze at her; Vergil shuts the pilgrim’s eyes; the poet enjoins his readers to open their eyes. In canto X, Hell is reterred to as “cieco carcere” (ll. 58-9), and the sinners, we are told, see the faraway future, but are blind to the present. The question of blindness figures so prominently in the exchange between Cavalcanti and the pilgrim that we must look at it closely in order to assess its exact significance for the problem ot heresy.
The passionate partisan exchange between Farinata and Dante about the civil war ravaging Florence (Inferno X, ll, 22 ff.) is interrupted by Cavalcanti’s anxious query about his son Guido:

Dintorno mi guardò, come talento
avesse di veder s'altri era meco;
e poi che ‘l sospecciar fu tutto spento,

piangendo disse: “Se per questo cieco
carcere val per altezza d'ingegno,
mio figlio ov’è? e perché non è teco?”

E io a lui: “Da me stesso non vegno:
colui ch'attende là, per qui mi mena,
forse cui Guido vostro ebbe a disdegno,”

Le sue parole e ‘l modo de la pena
m’avean di costui già letto il nome;
però fu la risposta così piena.

Di subito drizzato gridò: “Come?
dicesti “elli ebbe”? non viv' elli ancora?
non fiere li occhi suoi lo dolce lume?”

Quando s'accorse d'alcuna dimora
ch'io facea dinanzi a la risposta,
supin ricadde e più non parve fora.
ll. 55-72

(He looked round about me as if he had a desire to see whether someone was with me, but when his expectation was all quenched he said weeping: “If you go through this blind prison by height of genius, where is my son and why is he not with you?” And I answered him: “I come not of myselt; he that waits there is leading me through here perhaps to that one whom your Guido held in disdain.” His words and the nature of his punishment had already told me his name, so that | replied thus fully. Suddenly erect, he cried: “How did you say, “he held”? Does he no longer live? Does not the sweet light strike his eves?” When he perceived that I made some delay before replying he fell back again and was seen No More.)

The phrase “cieco carcere” translates, as is generally acknowledged, “Carcere caeco” from Aeneid VI, l. 734. But the importance of the context which the phrase evokes has not, to my knowledge, been stressed. It occurs, in effect, at the very center of Anchises' exposition ot the theory ot the reimcarnation of the souls. The souls destined to return to the light, Anchises says, are held in a blind prison, but after their guilt is washed away, they drink of the waters of the river Lethe and return to the world. As the Vergilian context is evoked, it is ironically turned around. For these heretics do not believe in the immortality of the soul, and Cavalcanti is no Anchises speaking to a son who has providentially descended to Hades and will return back to the light; at the same time, from Dante’s Christian perspective the Vergilian notion of the eternal return of the souls is deflated and emptied of any validity.
This ironic twist of the passage of the Aeneid is not an isolated occurrence; actually, it is extended to cover the whole of Cavalcanti’s speech. The very phrase “altezza d’ingegno,” which is his humanistic perception of the pilgrim’s descent, shows the old man's peculiar blindness to the vanity of the intellect, a blindness which Dante dispels by replying that he is not undertaking the journey on his own but is guided by Vergil to that one whom Guido held in disdain. The use of the past absolute, as Pagliaro has shown, is mistakenly construed by the sinner as an intimation that his son has died. The mistake is primarily Dante's strategy to sanction Guido's spiritual death, or at least suggest the uncertainty of his future. For, ironically, Cavalcanti’s questions, which ostensibly ask whether Guido is alive, in reality allude to the philosophical reasons for his spiritual loss. Just as in Inferno IX Dante recalled the rhyme scheme of his own poetry, here he echoes the same rhyme scheme, “nome,” “come,” and “lume,” which Guido, with the important variation of “lome” for “lume,” had deployed in Donna me prega, his philosophical meditation on the nature of love.
Love, in Guido's formulation, proceeds from the darkness of Mars, the sphere of the irascible, and dwells, stripped of any moral quality, in the sensitive faculty. lf the Divine Comedy dramatizes the pertection ot love stretching from the Intellectual Light through the layers of Creation, Cavalcanti's poem projects love as a tragic experience, which robs the human self of any rationality and makes intellect and love radically heterogeneous entities. Practically following Isidore’s etymology, “A Marte mors nuncupatur,” Cavalcanti sees love as war, the activity of Mars, which ends in death, “di sua potenza spesso segue morte.” This view of love as war and death is heightened by Dante in both cantos IX and x of Infermo: in canto IX, the recall of the Petrose is framed within two allusions to civil wars, the Pharsalia (ll. 21 ff.) and the Thebaid (ll. 88 ff.). In canto X, the explicit focus is the civil war of Florence. In a sense, Dante draws the internal strife of the cities within the moral category of heresy, for civil war perverts the bond of love that alone orders the city. As such, the metaphors of civil war expose the tragic reality that lies under Cavalcanti's view that love shatters the intellect. The celebration of love as death is a veritable heresy, as the phrase “dolce lume” implies.
Editors of the Divine Comedy still debate whether “lume” or the variant “lome” is the proper lectio of the text. I contend that Dante deliberately changes Guido’s “lome” into “lume” in order to graft onto the allusions to Donna me prega an echo from Ecclesiastes, “dulce lumen ct delectabile oculis videre solem” (11:7). Together these allusions afford the perspective from which he indicts Guido’s intellectual errors. Taere are at least two medieval texts, I would like to suggest, which give cogency to this strategy. St. Jerome interprets the passage of Ecclesiastes as an invitation to man to rejoice in his youth, but warns not to think that the words of the preacher are meant “hominem ad luxuriam provocare, et in Epicuri dogma corruere.” More importantly, Ecclesiastes 11:7 is used by Aquinas in an article which probes whether blindness of mind (“caecitàas mentis”) is or is not a sin. His authorities are St. Augustine, who asserts that ‘“alllove to know the shining truth," and Ecclesiastes, which says that “light is sweet and it is delightful for the eyes to see the sun.” On the other hand, Aquinas acknowledges that Gregory places “blindness of mind among the vices originating from lust.” His conclusion is that blindness of mind is a privation of intellectual vision which can occur for three reasons. The most important one, for our purpose, is the first, which concerns the light of natural reason “of which a rational soul is never deprived, though its proper exercise may be hindered as in the insane and the mad.” Against what is possibly Cavalcanti's nostalgia for the delights of life, Dante obliquely insinuates, by the allusion to “dulce lumen,” that Guido and his poem are wrapped in the darkness of the Epicurean heresy and that the poem dramatizes a veritable madness of love which eclipses the mind.
In view of the foregoing, it is appropriate that heresy should be placed midway between the sins of incontinence and those of mad bestiality, for it is a sin that involves the passions and also implies a violence against the intellect. It is a sin that entails the bankruptcy both of that philosophical discourse which literally leads man to the tomb but cannot show him how to transcend it, and of that poctic imagination which erects illusory monuments to eternity. More important, heresy is an interpretive perversion: as Dante transposes the patristic commonplace “intelletti sani,” to his own text, he claims that his own poem demands the same interpretive discipline accorded to the Bible; by that phrase, the poet directs the readers to look beyond the blinding appearances of deceitful and insubstantial forms, which mask death. He asks that we read not with a human eye, which as St, Augustine already knew is always bound to doubt and contemptuous disbelief, but with a mind sustained by the light of faith. The messenger from Heaven, who in Inferno ix comes to open the gates of Dis, is precisely the faithful interpreter of God who removes the obstacles from the pilgrim's ascent and opens the way to God.
The centrality of faith to the allegorical interpretation of Scripture can hardly be exaggerated. Biblical exegetes state it succinctly by formulas such as “allegoria fidem aedificat” and “littera gesta docet, quid credas allegoria.” Accordingly, Dante makes faith the prerequisite for understanding and the virtue which is radically opposed to heresy. While in the symbolic world of heresy there is only death and the madness of illusory changes, faith ostensibly affords the perspective from which language can have a precise signification, and the contingent and the eternal are fused together. In this sense, Dante's indictment of heresy is not an arbitrary theological choice: he is bent, actually, to show that faith has a necessary value over and against the errors of heresy. We must look at the story of St. Dominic in Paradiso xu to probe Dante’s sense of faith further.
St. Dominic marries faith (ll. 61-3), and he appears as the knight ot faith who stands at the center ot the Church Militant to uproot the heretics and nurture the vimeyard ot the Lord (Il. 100-3). He achieves this by his being a preacher, a reliable messenger who proclaims God's Word to the end of the earth so that the whole world may be gathered into the truth of the Logos. In Paradiso xi, actually, both Francis and Dominic are introduced as the two guides ot the Church (ll. 31-6) and, by echoing Ubertino da Casale's definition, they are referred to as veritablé angels, “L’un fu tutto serafico in ardore; / l’altro per sapienza in terra fue / di cherubica luce uno splendore.” In the wake of St, Gregory, Aquinas defines the cherubim as fullness of knowledge and the seraphim as the zeal of charity. The two hagiographies of Francis and Dominic, in effect, enact the interdependence ot will and intellect and, from this point of view, retrospectively show and remedy the double ohduratio of heart and mind which heresy embodies.
The interdependence of Paradiso XI and XII is reflected, as is well known, in the rhetorical structure of the cantos. Each hagiography is recounted in exactly forty-six lines; in canto XI, at line 51, St. Francis’ birthplace is linked, by an etymological pun on Assisi, with the rising sun; in canto XII, line 52, Dominic’s place at Calagora is associated with the setting sun, as if to suggest that the whole world is held within the compass of their light. In Paradiso XI, the Dominican St. Thomas delivers the eulogy ot St. Francis, while in the successive canto the Franciscan Bonaventure celebrates the accomplishments of St. Dominic. Reversing the practice ot the two fratermal orders on carth, cach speaker praises the virtue ot the opposite order and attacks the moral erosion of his own, By such strategies, Dante elicits the picture of the genuine fellowship of the Church bent on questioning itself and contronting itsown need of spiritual retorm in order to carry out the providential mission with which it is invested.
If by focusing on preachers Dante implies the necessity for the proclamation of faith so that the Word of God may be heard, he also gives a representation in Paradiso XI of how language sustained by faith achieves its full sense. The canto is deliberately organized to evoke a significant and providential design of history:

Come si volgon per tenera nube
due archi paralleli e concolori,
quando lunone a sua ancella iube,

nascendo di quel d’entro quel di fori,
a guisa del parlar di quella vaga
ch'amor consunse come sol vapori,

e fanno qui la gente esser presaga,
per lo patto che Dio con Noè puose,
del mondo che già mai più non s’allaga:

così di quelle sempiterne rose
volgiensi circa noi le due ghirlande.
ll. 10-20

(As two bows, parallel and like in color, bend across a thin cloud when Juno gives the order to her handmaid, the one without born of the one within, like the voice of that wandering nymph whom love consumed as the sun does vapors, and makes the people here presage, by reason of the covenant that God made with Noah, that the world shall never again be flooded; so the two garlands of those sempiternal roses circled round us, and so did the outer correspond to the inner.)

The overt dramatic purpose of the passage is to describe the dance of the two garlands of saints in the shape of two concentric and equidistant semicircles of the rainbow. It also functions as an expedient to set apart and, at the same time, provide a smooth transition from one hagiography to the other, Yet, the mythological and biblical allusions to the rainbow are thematically relevant to the central topics of the canto. The rainbow appearing after the flood is the prophetic sign of history as the alliance between man and God. As a sign of the restored peace, it both contrasts with the motif of the war that St. Dominic will wage on the heretics and prefigures the final peace that will come at the end of that war. This techmque of pretiguration, of signs that foretell future events, invests the whole structure of the canto.
Critics have pointed out that the allusion to Iris echoes the first book of Ovid’s Metamorphoses (ll. 271 ff.) where she draws water from the teeming carth and feeds it into the clouds to produce the flood which will punish the wickedness ot the world. In this sense, one might add, there is an important symmetry at work in the passage: Iris prepares the food, while Noah's rainbow appears when the food is over to mark the covenant between man and God, But there is another reterence to Iris in Ovid's Metamorploses which critics. have neglected and which is also recalled in Paradiso XII. In book XI of Metamorphose, Ovid recounts the death of Ceix and his wife Halcyon’s prayer to Juno that the fate of her husband may be disclosed to her. Juno sends Iris to the House of Sleep:

“Iri, meae” dixit “fidissima nuntia vocis
Vise soporiferam somni velociter aulam
extintique tube Ceycis Imagine mittant
somnia ad Aleyonem veros narrantia casus.”

Iris, “a rainbow through the skies,” descends to Morpheus, the artificer of dreams, who counterfeits a dream to reveal to Halcyon her husband's shipwreck. The story sheds considerable light on canto xn ot Paradiso. One could point cut the presence of “lube” in the passages of both Ovid and Dante (1. 12); moreover, like Iris, the messenger of Juno and her “nuntia vocis,” Dominic is “messo e famigliar di Cristo” (1. 73); like Iris, who is “fidissima,” Dominic is consistently linked to faith. Further, the Ovidian passage focuses on the prophetic powers of dreams and establishes the difference between Morpheus, who sends true visions, and Phantasos, who takes on deceprive shapes. In Paradiso XII, there are two prominent prophetic dreams. The first concerns the saint's mother who dreamt she would bear a black and white hound (ll. 58-60); the second concerns his godmother who reccives a prophetic dream disclosing Dominic’s future mission in the service of the Church (ll. 64-6). But in contrast to Ovid’s story, in which the dream reveals the widowhood of Halcyon, in Dante, the godmother, emblem of spiritual regeneration, dreams of the marriage between Dominic and Faith.
This pattern of prophetic signs is extended to two other characters in the canto. As St. Bonaventure points out from among the blessed “Natàn profeta” (l. 136) and Joachim “di spirito profetico dotato” (l. 141), Dante seems to imply that prophecy is the language of faith. Prophecy is not simply the prediction of events to come. The prophet, for Dante, is one who is engaged in reading the signs of the times and who, sustained by faith, bears witness to his own words with the reality of his life. This was exactly the conduct of the Hebrew nabi, who would, for instance, marry a prostitute in order to give credence to his denunciation that Israel was unfaithful to her God. Accordingly, faith is a condition whereby words are bound to things (1. 44) and, far from being obstacles obscuring their sense, they contain a univocal and proper meaning. The extensive presence of etymology in the canto explicitly dramatizes this fact of language. Dominic, for instance, is interpreted as the possessive of Dominus (ll. 67-70); his father is interpreted as “veramente Felice” (1. 79), and we are told that his mother Giovanna, correctly interpreted, was really what the word means (ll. 80-1). Words, as the metaphor of etymology and derivations suggests, are not equivocal designations prone to misunderstanding and entangling us in interpretative contradictions. There is the possibility of order and sense, and the presence in the canto of the grammarian Donatus reinforces this point. He is praised for deigning to set his hands on the “prim’ arte” (l. 138), grammar, which is to be understood as the effort to rescue language out ot the historical chaos into which it has plunged since the Fall, arrange it according to standards of order, and return it to the prelapsarian origin of history. This effort, it must be remembered, was Dante's own in his unfinished De Vulgari Eloquentia. In this sense, grammar is the first art, the ground in which the split between words and things, which characterizes the language of the fallen world, is healed and correct interpretation is envisioned.
This celebration ot order in the language of faith is ostensibly refracted in Dante’s own hagiographic representation in Paradiso XI and XII. The biographical mode which he deploys implies that the legends, for all the stylized features that conventionally characterize these narratives of sainthood, are not just empty words but point to, and are charged with, the reality of life. The preaching of the Word, it would seem, is “faithful” in the measure in which one’s own life is involved and Christ’s life is reenacted. This motif is the overt dramatic substance of the hagiographies of both Dominic and, even more explicitly, of Francis.
I have pointed out earlier in chapter 3 that Francis’ conversion (Paradiso XI, ll, 55 ff.) is marked by his moving away from the social structures to a liminal space, and that this metaphor of apartness is Francis’ mocking counterpoise to the institutional values of this world, But the canto’s central concern is to show Francis’ life as a mimetic representation of Christ’s own lite. The impressions of the stigmata on his body (ll. 106-8) are literally the seal by which he shares in the suffering of the Crucifixion. On the other hand, the wooing ot Lady Poverty, who had mounted the cross with Christ (ll. 64-72), completely realizes Francis’ imitatio Christi. This imitation is not a purely symbolic gesture, nor is the allegory of his marriage to Lady Poverty simply a moral abstraction. The canto opens, significantly enough, with the poet's attack against the senseless care of men embroiled in the emptiness of syllogisms and aphorisms (ll. 1-9). To these, Dante contrasts Francis’ experience in which the imitation of Christ and the representation of poverty, far from being mere fiction, are rooted in the reality of his lived life. From this point of view, it could be argued that the allegory of his marriage to Poverty is a thcological allegory: it Christ is the Word made flesh, Francis, stripped of clothes and wounded in the flesh, makes his own body into a word, a text in which the signs, literally inscribed on the flesh, are their own unambiguous allegorical meaning and reenact Christ's life.
Obliquely, a contrast is established between the canto of Medusa and the cantos of Francis and Dominic. In Inferno IX, Dante evokes, and discards, a version of the allegory of poets as he represents the illusory efforts of his past life to move and give life, like Orpheus, to empty stones, which, trom the perspective of the present, appear as the erection of a monument to the self. In the theological allegory of Paradiso XI, Francis is the image of Christ and gives life to that image; by the same token, in the representation of Dominic’s life, words are shown to be receptacles of reality and to contain within themselves their own referents.
This contrast is not accidentali: it is part of Dante's systematic attempt to set up a pattern of oppositions between faith and heresy. Thus, it heresy engenders petritication, the pilgrim’s examination on faith in Paradiso XXIV is conducted by Peter, whose own name is the stone on which faith is built.
Significantly, the line spoken by Farinata to Dante in Inferno X, “La tua loquela ti fa manifesto” (l. 25) echoes “loquela tua manifestum te facit” said of St. Peter in Matthew (26:73). If heresy is blindness of the mind, to have faith, the pilgrim says quoting St. Paul's Epistle to the Hebrews, is to assent to what is not visible, to what on earth is hidden and concealed truth: “fede è sustanza di cose sperate / e argomento de le non parventi” (ll. 65-6). These contrasts between heresy and faith are even more evident in Paradiso XII.
As I have shown earlier in the analysis of Inferno IX, heresy designates primarily the act of tenaciously adhering to interpretive errors; by an overt contrast, the canto of St. Dominic reverses this aspect of heresy by focusing on those biblical exegetes, such as Rabanus Maurus, Hugh of St. Victor and Petrus Comestor (ll. 133-40), who fathfully interpret the Word ot God. In Inferno IX there are some references to insubstantial magic apparitions; in Paradiso X, Dante alludes to prophetic dreams. Heresy is characterized by a rhetoric of love and war; there is also a decidedly martial strain in Dominic's activity: as the embodiment of the ideals of Christian chivalry, he is the “paladino” who leads the army of Christ (ll. 37 f.) and the “amoroso drudo” (l. 55) of faith. Finally, in Inferno IX, the allusion to Proserpina (l. 54) dramatizes the loss of the Garden, and the Gorgons, conventionally etymologized as “cultivatrices terrae,” are now emblems of the stoniness of the landscape without a hint of a possibly benign matural recurrence; in Paradiso XII, St. Dominic's faith is translated into work: he is the “agricola” (l. 71), chosen by Christ to tend his orchard and pluck its “sterpi eretici” (l. 100).
By these contrasts, Dante makes faith the doctrinal opposite ot heresy; yet, by overhauling the same metaphors, Dante implies both that the moral oppositions are formally contiguous, and that, in purely rhetorical terms, the “madness” of faith bears a close and almost parodic affinity to the madness of heresy. That the line of division between the two is not very sharp is dramatized by the presence of Siger of Brabant in Paradiso X (l. 136), and Joachim of Flora in Paradiso XII. Joachim is pointed out as “il calavrese abate Giovacchino / di spirito profetico dotato” (ll. 140-1), a phrase which translates the formula “spiritu prophetico dotato,” used by Joachim's followers in the antiphon sung to commemorate his death. The phrase is the more interesting in that Bonaventura, the speaker in the canto, has dismissed Joachim’s views on the Trinity as heretical. Joachim’s views on the three stages of history, it may be added, and the announcement that history is about to enter the third stage, that of the Spirit, that would supersede and fulfill the preceding age of the Father and the Son, were, and still are, objects of heated controversy. Yet, while orthodox opinion holds that Joachim’s vision of a chiliastic spiritual age soon to come diminishes the role ot Christ in the economy of history and subverts the simultaneity of the three Persons of the Trinity, for Dante, Joachim is not a heretic, As the presence of other biblical exegetes and rtheologians of history implies, he appears to Dante to be a reader ot the Bible and an interpreter of the prophetic structure of history. Like Petrus Comestor (Paradiso XII, l. 134), and more radically than his Historia scholastica, which maps the history of the Church from the beginning to the time of the apostles, Joachim reads history as the place of an ongoing theodicy. As Dante reconciles the quarrels that divided the theologians on earth, he also shows that faith, far from speaking an absolute unequivocal language, has an inevitable proximity to heresy.
The possibility that the language of faith degrades into and engenders interpretive contradictions is more explicitly raised in the cantos of Dominic and Francis, the Wordbearers of the Lord. Francis’ own preaching to the sultan does not produce his conversion (Paradiso XI, ll. 99-104), as if this “text,” with the living and unambiguous signs of Christ carved on it, were illegible. Also, after Francis' death, a divisive struggle arises between Conventuals and Spirituals. The Spirituals, guided by Ubertino da Casale, interpret the Franciscan rule to the letter; the Conventuals, guided by Matteo d'Acquasparta, shun its observance (Paradiso XII, ll. 124-6). This interpretive crisis dramatizes, in a primary way, the moral degeneracy of both Franciscans and Dominicans: Dominic eats the “verace manna” (Paradiso XII, l. 84), in what is his own spiritual Exodus, but his followers are gluttonous of “nova vivanda” (Paradiso XI, l. 125); the followers of Francis have equally wandered off the path of their founder and have betrayed his message. Within the Joachistic speculattons on the new age about to dawn on history, the friars occupy a central role, but tor Dante the fraternal orders are themselves in need of reform. More generally, the split between literalists and spiritualists both shows that Francis’ followers have converted his message into half-dead significations, and exemplifies the inevitable error inherent in the interpretation of texts. The life and words ot St. Francis, emptied of the concreteness of his presence, have become an allegorical text generating contradictory modes of apprehension. In Inferno IX, the sin of heresy, which involves will and intellect, appears as an interpretive error; in Paradiso XI and XII, which dramatize the proper exercise of will and intellect, the hagiographies are only ticrions of lives, rhe language ot which, hollowed of its vital content, is prone to misunderstanding and is subject to interpretive quarrels. In Inferno IX, the faithful messenger comes to open the gate of Dis; in the two cantos of Paradiso, God's messengers of love and faith are misunderstood by their followers, and the two cantos ultimately enact the interpretive strife that Dominic intended to solve.
This sense of the contiguity between faith and heresy is extended by Dante to his own text, and in the remaining pages of this chapter I shall describe Dante's own prophetic message and the doubt which encases it. I shall argue, that is to say, that in strictly thematic terms Dante grants a special status to the language of faith as the virtue which gives coherence to the text and to life, but that he is aware that language, divorced from the reality of experience, is always open—as in the case of the account of Francis' lite—to misunderstanding. It must be clear, however, that faith, for Dante, is not a mere formal strategy to produce sense in his own poetic account. Faith has a historical content in his poetic vision, and the Church, founded on faith in the Word of God, is the carrier of a central prophetic message to the world. It is a fact, however, that this aspect ot the historical function ot the Church in the Divine Comedy is somewhat neglected by critics, Conventionally, Dante scholarship has attempted to view the role ot the Church only in relation to the Empire, usually simply to point out Dante’s strong persuasion that Empire and Church must be kept as distinct and autonomous structures, the “due soli” to the pilgrimage of human history to God. Otten, actually, scholars stress their beliet that the Empire is central to the redemptive pattern of history, and several lines of the poem are frequently extrapolated to suggest the notion that Dante hallows the secular world and judges it to be the instrument of God’s designs in history.
Yet, Dante’s sense of history cannot be limited simply to a process of canomzing the political world, of discovering and asserting the signs of God’s presence in the secular order. There is in Dante’s moral imagination another history which is not political, and which transcends the values of the political world. This other history might best be called an antihistory, which is embodied by the Church in its ideal function to negate and counter the myths and idols of the world. The tragic reality ot the Church, however, is that it espouses the very worldliness that it ought to subvert and denounce. We must look at the salient features of Inferno XIX where Dante exposes the worldlness and perversion of the Church.
This is the canto of the simonists, who, unlike St. Francis's commercium cum paupertate or St. Dominic’s refusal of “decimas, quae sunt pauperum Dei” (Paradiso XII, l. 93), sell spiritual gifts of prophecy upon which the Church is founded. The initial apostrophe, “O Simon mago, o miseri seguaci / che le cose di Dio, che di bontate / deon essere spose, e voi rapaci / per oro e per argento avolterate” (ll. 1-4), places the sin in the specific time of the origin ot the Church, the Pentecostal season when the tongues descend on the apostles. Simon the sorcerer of Samaria, according to Acts (8:9-13), offers Peter money in exchange tor his prophetic powers. It might be pointed out that Simon is the other name ot Peter before he was elected to be the cornerstone ot the Church: as in the case of heresy and faith, here, too, Dante seems interested in separating but also marking the threatening contiguity between prophecy and simony. Peter never asked for “oro e argento” (1. 94), yet these sinful popes are successors of Simon and have made “dio d'oro e d'argento; / e che altro è da voi a l'idolatre, / se non ch’elli uno, e voi ne orate cento?” (ll. 112-4). Like Tertullian, for whom the exercise of Simon’s sorcery “inter idolatrias deputabatur.” Dante views Simon as a magus and the practice of the simonists a magic, illusory change of the free flow of the Spirit into empty idols, a reduction of what is a spiritual gift into a market commodity.
As if to underscore the perversion of prophecy into idolatry, the canto is systematically organized around a series of inversions. In direct opposition to the abuses of the spiritual power by the popes, Constantine has alienated the property ot the Empire to the Church (ll, 115 ff.). Boniface, in spite of the etymology of the name, is an evil doer; the popes are turned upside down and in a grim inversion of Pentecost, the flames of fire are on their feet; the pilgrim stands near the hole where Pope Nicholas is planted like a stake, as it he were a confessor and the pope a “perfido assessin” (1. 50). The epithet “perfido” alludes to the pope’s infidelitas and prepares the motif of adultery, the canto's central notion that the mystical marriage of the popes to the Church has been profaned and the Church has become ecclesia camalis. It is precisely this awareness that the simonists have deceived the “bella donna” (1. 57) that prompts Dante to attack the popes for corrupting the purity of faith and turning the Church, the house of holiness, into the magna meretrix of the Apocalypse:

Di voi pastor s'accorse il Vangelista,
quando colei che siede sopra l'acque
puttaneggiar coi regi a lui fu vista;

quella che con le sette teste nacque,
e da le diece corna ebbe argomento,
fin che virtute al suo marito piacque.
ll. 106-11

(It was shepherds such as you that the Evangelist had in mind when she that sits upon the waters was seen by him committing fornication with the kings: she that was born with the seven heads, and from the ten horns had her strength, so long as virtue pleased her spouse.)

This view of the Church no longer taithful to the gifts of the Holy Ghost has become the focus ot much laborious and controversial exegesis. It is argued, for instance, that Dante embraces the central theme of Joachistic eschatological speculation which expects the present ecclesia camalis to be superseded by a renewed ecclesia spirituali in a chiliastic age, Joachim’s third status mundi, heralded by the preaching of the Franciscan and Dominican Orders. In the measure in which such a view entails both the dissolution of the Church as an institution, and the attendant expectation of a spiritual utopia to be realized in history, it is not Dante’s. To him, the Church in history is always and simultaneously spiritual and carnal, a casta meretrix, a paradox that will be resolved only at the end of time. The myth of Rahab is crucial to this conception.
In the heaven of Venus Dante encounters the troubador Folquet ot Marseilles, the poet who gave up his mad love and amatory poetry and joined the Cistercian Order. After explaining to the pilgrim his previous life as surpassing the passions of Dido and Demophon (Paradiso IX, ll. 97-101), Folquet points out Rahab:

Or sappi che là entro si tranquilla
Raab; e a nostr' ordine congiunta,
di lei nel sommo grado si sigilla.

Da questo cielo, in cui l'ombra s’appunta
che ‘l vostro mondo face, pria ch’altr’ alma
del triunfo di Cristo fu assunta.

Ben si convenne lei lasciar per palma
in alcun cielo de l'alta vittoria
che s'acquistò con l'una e l’altra palma,

perch' ella favorò la prima gloria
di losuè in su la Terra Santa,
che poco tocca al papa la memoria.
ll. 115-26

(Know then that within it Rahab is at peace, and, since she is joined by our order, it is sealed with her in its highest rank; by this heaven, where rhe shadow ends that is cast by your world, she was taken up before any other soul of Christ's triumph. It was indeed fitting to leave her in some heaven as a trophy of the lofty victory that was gained with the one and the other palm, because she favored Joshua's first glory in the Holy Land, a place that little touches the pope's memory.)

It might be stressed that this reference to Rahab’s assumption to Heaven symmetrically relates Paradiso IX to the ninth cantos of both Inferno and Purgatorio. In Purgatorio, the dramatic tocus falls on the pilgrim lifted, while he is asleep, to the gate of Purgatory by Lucy; in Inferno IX, in the context of the mad love Medusa represents, Vergil recalls being sent by the sorceress Erichtho to fetch a soul from the pit of Hell. More to the point, the passage in Paradiso IX tells the story of Rahab, the harlot, who, during the siege of Jericho gave shelter to the two spies sent by Joshua into the city. The two spies promised to spare her and her relatives from death when Jericho should fall and, as a sign, she was to bind a line ot scarlet thread at the window. As related in Joshua (6:17), “only Rahab the harlot shall live, she and all that are with her in her house, because she hid the messengers that we sent.”
Biblical commentators consistently gloss the series of events as prophetic signs of God's saving works in history. If in Pargatorio XX (ll, 109-11), Joshua is the type of the pertect king, here he is the figura Christi; Rahab is the Church and the two messengers are the two Testaments sent to her; Jericho is a figure of the world that at the end of time will be destroyed by the service of the Church. Hence, Rahab as the harlot who will be saved is the casta meretrix, a formula which in the Old Testament is applied to Jerusalem and in the New Testament to the Church. From Isaiah to Jeremiah to Ezekiel, Jerusalem, the Holy City, is a harlot whose infidelity makes her the equal of Babylon. In the New Testament, Rahab, who appears mentioned in the genealogy of Christ, is interpreted as both work and faith; in patristic cxegesis, she is the typological pretiguration of the Church, who fornicates with idols and is transformed into a virgin by Christ. The purification will be achieved at the end of time: her own name, actually, is taken to mean dilatatio or amplificatio, a description of the ongoing, fruitful process of transformation until the Church completely supplants Jericho, the fallen world; by her purification, those who were born strangers to the promise are called to share in it.
This typological pattern is suggested by Dante in our very canto IX of Paradiso. Folquet goes into an extended attack against the city of Florence, whose florin has waylaid “le pecore e li agni” (l. 131) and has changed the shepherd into a wolf. The canto ends by conjuring up a vision of pope and cardinals whose thoughts do not turn to Nazareth, “li dove Gabriello aperse l'al” (I. 138). A typological nexus is obliquely established between Rahab and the Virgin Mary by recalling the event ot the Word made flesh, the announcement that the new time of the promise has dawned on history. Yet, the Church is again meretricious (I. 142), and Folquet looks ahead to an imminent time when the unholy union of corrupt papacy and Church will be over.
Undoubtedly, the passage echoes the prophecy ot the advent of the “messo di Dio” (Purgatorio XXXIII, ll. 43-5), who will come to put an end to the wickedness of history. The critical debate in recent years has renewed its attempts to define the sense of this promised “cinquecento diece e cinque” (1 43), In R. E. Kaske’s reading, it refers to the final denouement of the temporal process with the second coming of Christ; for G. R. Sarolli, on the contrary, it is to be seen as referring to a Christomimetic emperor who will come to restore justice to the world, on the assumption that Dante actually secularizes eschatology and changes a religious chili astic myth into one of political messianism. Both the systematic correlation of sacred and secular events (the coextensiveness of a thematic thread of political retorm and apocalyptic impulse in Dante’s imagination), and the interchangeable rbhetoric in tradition to describe the advent of Christ and of a perfect emperor invested with the attributes of Christ make the meaning of this prophecy somewhat ambiguous.
The equivocation is made stronger by the fact that the political structure is drawn by Dante within the providential design of history and that it even partakes in the process of the consummation of history, Paradiso VI, for instance, opens with the famous allusion to Constantine's turning the imperial emblem ot the eagle against the “corso del ciel” (l. 2). This is, in a primary way, a violation ot the natural direction of the translatio imperit. But the violation possesses poignant eschatological dimensions. The theory of translatio imperii implies the necessary simultaneity and coincidence of time and space in the movement of history. The translatio follows the movement of the sun and is arranged by Divine Providence so that, as Hugh ot St. Victor puts it, “those things which happened ar the beginning ot time should happen in the East, as at the beginning of the world; and that then as time moved on toward the end, the climax of events should pass to the West, from which we might conclude that the end of time is approaching, since the course of events has now reached the end of the world.” The Roman Empire was placed at the end of the line of succession of empires to prepare the advent of Christ and, eventually, the end of the world. In this sense, Constantine s reversal of the unidirectional movement of the cagle is a disruption of the cosmic order and a delay ot the eschatological events. Understandably, in the cpistle to Henry VII, Dante describes the procrastination of the emperor to come to Italy as a postponement of the end of the day, a tvypological repetition of Joshua arresting the sun in the skies.
Jean Daniélou has fully documented the eschatological relevance of the biblical episode, and, as an instance, I transcribe Origen's gloss:

Until the father's promise be accomplished and the Church is built up from all the nations and the fullness of the peoples come in so that Isracl will then be saved, until then, the day is prolonged and the sinking of the sun delayed and it does not set; but it is ever risen while the sun of Justice sheds its light and truth in the hearts ot believers. When the full measure of believers is completed and the corrupt and exhausted time of the final generation has come, when as wickedness inereases and charity grows cold and the number of those who believe grows less and less, then the days will be shortened.

But for Dante history has come to a complete standstill as the two “suns” of Rome, rather than guiding the world, have eclipsed cach other and have left the world blind (Purgatorio XVI, ll. 64-114). The cause of the crisis ot both religious and secular institutions is attributed to the cursed “old wolf” ot avarice (Purgatorio XX, ll. 10 ff.), on account of which Boniface VII was seized and humiliated by Philip the Fair. In this very context of radical disillusionment with both Church and State, the two vehicles in the redemptive process of the world, Dante voices his hope that the heavens send a savior ro restore justice to the cartà (“O ciel, nel cui girar par che si creda { le condizion di qua giù transmutarsi, / quando verrà per cui questa disceda?” ll. 13-5).
The very rhyme scheme of this prophetic expectation recalls the rhyme scheme in the announcement of the “messo di Dio” (“Non sarà tutto tempo sanza reda / l'aguglia che lasciò le penne al carro, / per che divenne mostro e poscia preda,” Purgatorio XXXIII, ll. 37-9). I side with Kaske's view that the DXV is the prophecy of the messenger who will come at the end of history, the announcement of the eschaton, which is the irrevocable promise in the Christian vision of history. This “sense of the ending” of history is the perspective from which the process of history is given a “finality” and becomes an intelligible totality. But this view of a closed structure should not imply, I hasten to add, a dehistorization, as it were, of history swallowed up in an apocalyptic eschatology; nor should it be construed as a reduction of the temporal eschatological dialectic of Dante’s vision to a myth of a monastic millennium. History, tor Dante, is undoubtedly a history of failures of both Church and State, but it preserves for him an enduring hope and promise that both Church and State can regain their vital function in the conduct of human attairs.
The structural paradox ot history as a closed totality and process finds a correlative in the simultaneous closed and open-ended form ot the poem, which was described in chapter 6. Dante sees that the end ot history has already appeared: the Incarnation has anticipated it and has brought history to a closure— “noi siamo già ne l'ultima etade del secolo, è attendiamo veracemente la consumazione del celestiale movimento.” But he would also agree that the time of the end cannot be calculated (Luke 17:21-3 and ff.) and that the Father alone knows the hour when the plot of history will reach its denouement (Matthew 24:36). In Paradiso XX, the eagle warns men to restrain in judging, for “noi, che Dio vedemo, / non conosciamo ancor tutti li eletti” (ll. 134-5).
The promise of the end, I would suggest, provides the conditions which make it possible to envision a theological scheme of history, but it does not abolish the sense of historicitvy, of the ongoing temporal process of events. The tension of the poem, as has been argued throughout this study, lies precisely in the coextensive presence ot what is partial and problematic in the order of contigency with the closedness and totality sub specie aetemitatis, and in the simultaneously retrospective and proleptic structure of the poem, which at the very end is oriented toward the future, the “futura gente” (Paradiso XXXIII, l. 72). This paradox ot eschatology and history in the Divine Comedy is exemplified by the respective roles that Church and Empire play in the economy of history: the action of the Empire belongs to the world ot time; the Church enacts the eschatological hope in time, and is envisioned as the structure that is both inside and outside the structures of the world, whose mission is to transform rhe “world” into God’s sanctuary. Only when the change is completed, will the end come.
Above and beyond this description of the prophetic content of history, we must raise the problem of Dante’s own poctic stance. In the foregoing pages I have argued that Dante juxtaposes the madness of heresy and idolatry to faith and prophecy, and that the juxtaposition hinges on metaphors (blindness, petrification, magic, etc.) which draw the explicit moral oppositions within an arca of figurative contiguity. The language of faith, however, has a special value because it provides a world of sense, and actually, Dante's own language constantly strives to reach an unambiguous state where words and their reality coincide in a clear articulation. At the very opening of Paradiso X, for instance, we are told that the song of the heavenly spirits exceeds the beauty of “nostre muse, / nostre serene in quelle dolci tube” (ll. 7-8). Critics have variously tried to determine the exact tenor of the comparison, whether the muses and sirens are to be understood as referring to mythic symbols of harmony, or, on the contrary, to the acutal practices of poets and singers. It seems hardly to be a matter of choice: the repeated possessive “nostra” decisively implies that the myth ot poetry and poetic practices fall short of the heavenly language. The motif is resumed in Paradiso XIII, where Dante contrasts the content of pagan songs to the theological hymn of the blessed: “Lì si canté non Bacco, non Peana, / ma tre persone in divina natura, / e in una persona essa e l'umana” (ll. 25-7).
In effect, after all the ambiguities which punctuate his sense of the value and power of literature in both Inferno and Purgatorio, Dante reverses in Paradiso the conventional humanistic defense of fiction, whereby the tables and poetic myths are upheld as vehicles to truth. There are no poets in Paradiso, with the excepuon ot Folquet, who has given up the mad poetry and mad love of his past to join the Cistercians and fight the heretics. In Paradiso, both the heavenly language of the blessed and the truth of the faith become the single perspective from which secular poetry is found wanting and deceptive. From this standpoint, it is understandable why Dante should assume a prophetic posture, should speak in the language of faith which would produce, in turn, faith. Yet, this deliberate posture is never exempt from the awareness that it might be another mad gesture, a lapsing into the very madness which he systematically indicts.
Madness, actually, constitutes the constant boundary of Dante's discourse, a threat which he steadily discards, but which steadily reappears in the movement of the text. Like Folquet in Paradiso IX, in Inferno IX the poet eschews the madness of heresy and idolatrous poetry. The threat, and the memory of petrification, however, are never completely effaced. In Purgatorio XIV, the canto of the sinners blinded by envy, Dante puts among the examples of punished envy the story of the petrification of Aglauros of Athens. Dante drew the account from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, where we are told that Minerva, to punish Aglauros, descends to the house ot Envy and orders her to instill her poison into the girls breast. Aglauros becomes envious of her sister Herse’s love for Mercury, and, as she tries to block the god’s entrance to Herse's chamber, she is metamorphosed by Mercury into a lifeless statue of stone. The Ovidian fable is allegorized both by Arnulf of Orléans and John of Garland to mean that divine eloquence, Mercury, rescues what is memorable from the threat ot oblivion. For Dante, the blindness and petritication of Aglauros are literally an enduring monument, a veritable metaphor of memory: as the story of Aglauros is recalled, he draws close to Vergil and remarks that “in destro feci, e non innanzi, il passo” (Purgatorio XIV, I. 141). In Paradiso XXXIII, memory was seen to be endangered by torgettulness; now, the terms are reversed: the threat of petrification and blindness in Inferno IX has been transcended, but their memory lingers and, in effect, forever reenacts the previous impasse.
The possibility that Dante's own prophetic voice is encroached upon by madness is more directly dramatized in Inferno XIX. As his language quickens with prophetic urgency agamst the simonists, he obliquely acknowledges the madness of his posture: “lo non so s’l’ mi fui qui troppe folle, / ch’i’ pur rispuosi lui a questo metro: ‘Deh, or mi dì: quanto tesoro volle...” (Inferno XIX, ll. 88-90). And, as if to stress the awareness that prophecy is vulnerable to error, Inferno XX features the false prophets and soothsayers. By the strategy, Dante ostensibly implies that he is not a fortuneteller, like Tiresias and Manto, nor an idolater like the simonists; but he also implies, as the allusion to his breaking of the baptismal font indicates (Inferno XIX, ll. 19 f.), that his gesture borders on blasphemy and must be freed from the suspicion to which it is liable.
Undoubtedly, the poet asks that we believe and that we interpret sustained by belief. He also tells us that only those words filled with reality are worthy ot belief and that pure signs, voided of reality, and even the life of St. Francis, inevitably engender a crisis in allegorical interpretations. The poem is a metaphor that maps these constant oscillations between prophecy and idolatry and gropes to be taken for reality, urges the readers into a performance whereby words may be translated into life. Whether this metaphor is taken to be a symbolic transaction endorsed by God, or an illusory, magic act of poetic mythmaking; whether we believe that the poem is a stone that edifies our faith, or is an artifice that barely conceals the grave—is a question Dante poses, but it remains necessarily an open one.

Date: 2022-01-13