Dante’s Purgatory: Canto 24 Retelling — Sixth Ledge — Gluttony (Bonagiunta da Lucca)

Chapter 24: Sixth Ledge — Gluttony (Bonagiunta da Lucca) (Purgatory)

The conversation of Dante and Forese Donati did not slow down their journey. They walked as they talked, and their speed was like that of a ship with favorable winds.

The saved souls marveled at Dante because they knew that he cast a shadow and was a living man.

Continuing to answer Forese’s question about the souls who were traveling with him, Dante said, “And this second soul could travel much faster up the mountain, but he is acting courteously as a companion to us.

“But please, tell me, where is the soul of Piccarda, your sister? Also, among these souls, is there anyone I should know?”

Forese answered Dante’s first question: “Piccarda, my sister, is already enjoying Paradise. She was both virtuous and beautiful.”

Then he answered Dante’s second question: “I can name the souls here — no reason not to.”

Dante thought, In the Inferno, souls in the lower circles did not want to be named. They did not want their names — and deeds! — to be remembered in the Land of the Living. Here in Purgatory, souls do not mind being named.

Forese pointed out several souls and named them: “Here is Bonagiunta Orbicciani of Lucca, a poet who was fond of drinking wine.

“Here is Pope Martin IV, who too much enjoyed eating too much of his meals of Lake Bolsena eels, which he ordered to be stewed in wine.

“Here is Ubaldino della Pila, a great entertainer and a great feaster. His son is in the Inferno. You may have seen him as you journeyed through Hell: he is the Archbishop Ruggieri, and Ugolino is gnawing his scalp. Another of his relatives is entombed with Farinata in the circle of the heretics. Ubaldino once played host — for months — to the Pope and entertained and fed him and his entourage lavishly.”

Dante thought, Your family does not determine where you end up in the afterlife. The same family can have damned souls and saved souls.

Forese continued, “Here is Boniface de’ Fieschi of Genova, a wealthy Archbishop of Ravenna who fed his entourage feasts but neglected to feed the multitudes spiritual food.”

Dante thought, Both Ubaldino della Pila and Boniface de’ Fieschi of Genova are so hungry that I see them before me trying to bite the air.

Forese finished, “Here is Milord Marchese, a member of the Argogliosi family. When people complained that he did nothing but drink wine, he said that he was always thirsty. Now he is thirstier.”

Dante looked around. One soul in particular seemed to want to speak to him: Bonagiunta Orbicciani of Lucca. Dante thought that he heard him say softly the name of a woman: “Gentucca.”

Dante said to Bonagiunta, “Soul, you seem to want to speak to me. Please speak so that I may better hear you.”

Bonagiunta said, “Let me prophesy to you. A woman has been born who, still not yet married, will soon give care to you and cause you to praise the city I was from in the Land of the Living, although that city is now reviled. Remember this prophecy. If it is not clear now, it will be clear later when it occurs.”

Virgil thought, This is a prophecy of Dante’s upcoming exile from Florence, about which other souls will tell him more clearly later and which he will experience soon.

Bonagiunta continued, “But aren’t you the poet who wrote a poem in the new style, a poem that began, “Ladies who have knowledge of love”?

Virgil thought, Lots of poets are present now. We wrote in various languages. I wrote in Latin, but these poets wrote in vernacular Italian. In addition, we wrote various kinds of poetry in various styles. I wrote epic poetry, Forese wrote comic poetic insults, and other poets, including Dante, wrote love poetry. In addition, Dante wrote in a sweet new style in which Bonagiunta did not write. Dante has something to learn here, or he would not be on this ledge having this conversation with this particular poet.

Statius read me, and he learned something from me that I did not know was in my own work. Statius learned enough from me that he was able to decide to become a Christian. Perhaps Dante will be able to learn something from these vernacular poets who wrote love poetry. Perhaps, like Statius did from me, Dante will be able to learn from these vernacular poets something about Christianity as well as about poetry.

The poem Bonagiunta mentioned is a different poem from the poem that Casella attempted to sing in Prepurgatory. That poem was a silly love song. The poem Bonagiunta mentioned marks an important shift not just in style, but in content. In this newer poem, Dante says that he realizes that his happiness lies not in love games but in praising Beatrice. This is a different, more spiritual kind of love.

Not all kinds of love are good. Remember Francesca da Rimini in the Inferno? Passionate and adulterous love got her an eternal residence in the Inferno. She blamed her problems on lots of things, including a book about an adulterous love affair between Queen Guinever and Sir Lancelot. Some kinds of love and some kinds of writing about love can be bad.

When Dante returns to the Land of the Living, he must be careful to write about love carefully and accurately. Perhaps Dante needs to Christianize the love he writes about. Statius was able to read me and Christianize my Fourth Eclogue. Perhaps Dante needs to Christianize his love poetry when he writes new poetry after he returns to the Land of the Living.

Dante replied to Bonagiunta, “I am a poet who, when Love inspires me, pays attention and writes down what I have learned.”

Dante thought, This is true. I have learned and advanced as a poet. The poem that Casella wanted to sing in Prepurgatory is much earlier and much worse than the poem that Bonagiunta just mentioned. The poem that Casella wanted to sing appeared in Convivio, an early work of mine. The poem that Bonagiunta mentioned just now appeared in Vita Nuova, a more recent work of mine. Maybe when I return to the Land of the Living, I can write an even better work. Maybe I can write about the love of God, both the love He has for us and the love that good people have for Him.

Bonagiunta said, “Now I see what I was missing when I wrote poetry. My poetry never reached the high level that your poetry has achieved. My lack of paying close attention to Love held me back, and it held back poets like me. If I had continued learning, I could have written better about Love and I could have written better poetry.”

The emaciated saved souls, except for Forese, left Dante, Virgil, and Statius, seeming to take off like birds.

Forese was like a runner who, tired, slowed down and let the other runners pass him. Forese asked Dante, “When will we meet again?”

Dante replied, “When I return to the Land of the Living, I do not know how long I shall stay there. Even if I die soon thereafter, my heart will already have reached this island because Florence loses virtue each day and is ruining itself.”

Forese said, “Here is one good thing that will happen soon. The worst citizen of Florence will end up in the Inferno. The justice that is in Paradise will make itself known. If you do not understand me now, you will later.”

Virgil thought, This is a prophecy about Forese’s brother, Corso Donati. He is the leader of the Black Guelfs in Florence, and he will persuade Pope Boniface VIII to send Charles of Valois to Florence to kick out the White Guelfs. Corso will be responsible for Dante’s upcoming exile. Corso was also cruel to Piccarda, his sister. She entered a nunnery to serve God, but he forced her to leave the nunnery and marry someone who would help Corso achieve his political goals. Corso will attempt to gain complete control over Florence, but the Black Guelfs will stop him and condemn him to death. Corso will attempt to escape, but the Black Guelfs will kill him during the escape attempt.

One’s family does not determine where one ends up in the afterlife. Of the Donati family, Piccarda is in Paradise, Forese is climbing the Mountain of Purgatory, and Corso will end up in the Inferno.

Forese continued, “Now it is time for me to leave you. We have spoken a long time, and time is precious to souls who are purging their sins.”

Forese then quickly left, running after the other emaciated saved souls.

Dante walked with Virgil and Statius. Before them soon appeared another tree that had fruit. The emaciated saved souls were under the tree, arms reaching high, asking for fruit, but being denied. Eventually, the souls gave up and continued their journey on the ledge.

The three poets came close to the tree, and a voice came from among its leaves, saying, “Don’t stop walking. Don’t come close. At the top of the mountain is a tree, and the tree you see here is an offshoot of that higher tree.”

Dante, Virgil, and Statius stayed close to the cliff and passed the tree.

As they passed the tree, the voice called out examples of gluttony: “At the wedding of Pirithous and Hippodamia, the Centaurs got drunk and tried to rape the bride and other women at the wedding. Theseus and the Lapithae defended the women and killed many Centaurs.

“Gideon had many soldiers. When they arrived at a river, they were very thirsty. Gideon, following the advice of God, watched his soldiers. Some put their faces in the water and drank greedily. This was a mistake because they were not on the lookout for danger. Other, more cautious, soldiers cupped the water in their hands and brought the water up to their faces, thus remaining vigilant. Gideon led these vigilant soldiers to victory.”

The three poets continued walking, and suddenly heard a voice: “You three who are alone, what are you thinking?”

The voice came from a fiery-red angel who had noticed that three figures were walking together in a place where saved souls gathered in much larger groups.

The angel said to them, “If you are looking for the way up, here it is. This is the path used by those who seek peace.”

The brilliance of the angel blinded Dante. By using the sense of sound, he followed Virgil and Statius.

The angel touched Dante’s forehead and erased another of the P’s, leaving just one remaining. Dante smelled something sweet, and he heard these words that were spoken by the angel: “Blessed are they who hunger after righteousness instead of after excessive amounts of food.”

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce

This is an excerpt from Dante’s Divine Comedy: A Retelling in Prose by David Bruce, available here:

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