Dante’s Purgatory: Canto 26 Retelling — Seventh Ledge — Lust (Guido Guinizelli and Arnaut Daniel)

Chapter 26: Seventh Ledge — Lust (Guido Guinizelli and Arnaut Daniel) (Purgatory)

The three poets continued walking, and Dante cast a shadow that touched the flame and changed its color, making it a deeper red.

The souls inside the flame noticed this and marveled, “His body seems to be made of flesh and blood!”

Some souls came close to Dante, but they were careful to stay within the fire and continue the purgation of their sin.

A soul said to Dante, “You who bring up the rear out of respect for the two souls ahead of you, please tell us how you are able to cast a shadow as if you had avoided death. All of us within the fire would like to know.”

Dante was about to answer, but he saw another group of souls approaching this group of souls — the two groups were walking in opposite directions on the ledge. One group walked the ledge clockwise; the other group walked the ledge counterclockwise.

The two groups of souls exchanged a brief, chaste kiss that reminded Dante that St. Paul wrote in Romans 16:16, “Salute one another with a holy kiss.”

The two groups of souls did not linger; they kissed and kept moving, intent on purging their sin.

Both groups shouted. The group that had just arrived shouted, “Sodom, Gomorrah.”

Dante thought, I can guess that this group of souls consists of people who misused homosexual sex in some way. Sodom and Gomorrah were cities that contained homosexuals, and in these cities homosexual rape — a clear misuse of sex — occurred. In Genesis 19:1-5, we read that two angels, who resembled human men, visited Lot in Sodom. That night, men of Sodom came to Lot’s house and ordered him to give them the two men who were visiting him so that they could “know” the two men. “Know” is used here in the Biblical sense: to have sex with. In addition, the men of Sodom don’t care about getting consent before having sexual intercourse. In other words, when the Sodomites say, “Bring them out to us so that we may know them,” they are really saying, “Bring them out to us so that we may homosexually rape them.” Of course, the angels are not raped. When the men of Sodom attempt to rape the angels, the angels blind them. This story concerns homosexual rape.

Other non-Biblical stories about Sodom and Gomorrah exist. The inhabitants of both Sodom and Gomorrah were suspicious of strangers. Anyone who was different from them in any way they treated badly. Strangers in Sodom and Gomorrah were placed on a bed. If they were too long to fit in the bed, their legs were chopped off so they would fit. If they weren’t long enough to fit in the bed, they were placed on a rack and stretched until they fit the bed. And so the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah forced anyone who was different from them to conform.

In addition, the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah were said to not allow beggars into the city. But when they did allow a beggar into the city, they would each give the beggar a coin. The beggar would be happy to get the coins because he thought that he could buy food with it. However, each coin had the name of an inhabitant of the city written on it. The sellers of food would look at the coins, see the names, and would not sell the beggar food. Also, the beggar was not allowed to leave the city. When the beggar starved to death, the inhabitants of the city would stop by the corpse and take back their coins.

The inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah did not love their neighbor and did not treat other people the way that the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah wanted to be treated.

The other group of souls shouted, “Pasiphaë and the bull.”

Dante thought, I can guess that this group of souls consists of heterosexuals. Pasiphaë was guilty of misusing sex. In particular, she was guilty of bestiality: having sex with an animal. She was a Queen of Crete who fell in love with a bull, so she commissioned Daedalus to create an artificial cow for her to creep into. The bull made love to the artificial cow (and to Pasiphaë), and Pasiphaë conceived and gave birth to the Minotaur, a mythical half-human, half-bull creature that feasted on human flesh. This story relates to an abuse of heterosexual sex, although it concerns a form of sodomy, which includes sex between human beings and animals. The heterosexual sinners acted like animals, giving in to lust instead of using human reason to control lust, and the Pasiphaë myth is an extreme form of acting like an animal.

After kissing, the two groups separated and continued walking, crying tears of mourning because of the sins that they had committed.

Dante then answered the question that the souls had asked him, saying, “You souls are destined for Paradise. Please know that my body and soul have not been separated. My body is here, walking beside you. My body has flesh, blood, and bones. I am climbing the Mountain of Purgatory because in my life I have been blind. A lady who resides in Paradise has won for me a great gift. In order that my eyes be opened, I am now allowed to walk while still alive through your world.

“Please, tell me who you are. Who is in this group? And who is in the group of saved souls who walk in the opposite direction? I will make known in the Land of the Living your answers to my questions.”

The souls were surprised at who Dante — still a living man — was, but the soul who had earlier spoken to Dante said now, “From the experience you are having now, you can die a better death than you would have suffered otherwise.

“The shades who move in the opposite direction to ours were guilty of the same sin that got Caesar called ‘Queen’ as he rode in triumph.”

Dante thought, When he was a young man, Julius Caesar was an ambassador to the court of King Nicomedes IV of Bithynia. Caesar supposedly had a homosexual relationship with the King, something that led to his political enemies calling him the Queen of Bithynia. As I thought, the other group of souls consists of homosexuals.

The soul continued, “Therefore, that group of souls shouts ‘Sodom’ as they walk around the ledge.

“The sin of my group of souls is the misuse of heterosexual sex. We did not act like human beings and use our reason so we could do the right thing; instead, we gave in to our lust and acted like animals. That is why we shout ‘Pasiphaë’ as we walk around the ledge.”

“Now you know our guilt. If you want to know our names, too many souls are here for me to name, and anyway, I don’t know everyone’s name.

“My name is Guido Guinizelli. I died in 1276, and I climbed so high up the mountain in only 24 years because I repented my sins early in life.”

Dante thought, I know the poetry of Guido Guinizelli. He was a forerunner of those of us who write in the sweet new style. He is a poet of genius.

Dante told him that he would be happy to help him in any way possible, and the poet said, “I am happy to hear that, but please tell why you are willing to help me in any way possible?”

Dante replied, “I have read, studied, and learned your poetry, which is and will be valuable as long as poetry is known.”

Guinizelli pointed to a soul and said, “This man is a poet who wrote in his native language better than I wrote in mine. Some people do not value him enough. They think that other poets are better, but they base their opinion on reputations, not on the actual poetry itself.

“But please say a Paternoster for me when you climb to Paradise — at least the part that applies to me.”

Dante thought, The Paternoster is the Lord’s Prayer: “Our Father who is in Heaven, holy be Your name. Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.” The part that does not apply to Guinizelli or any other of the saved souls on the Mountain of Purgatory is “lead us not into temptation.”

Guinizelli then left to make room for another soul. He vanished into the fire like a fish vanishing into deeper water.

Dante moved to the man whom Guinizelli had pointed out and said that he was pleased to meet him.

The man replied in Provencal, his native language. The man said, “I am Arnaut Daniel. I cry as I mourn having committed sins, but I feel joy as I think about the Paradise that is to come to me. Please remember my suffering here.”

Then he vanished into the flames.

Dante thought, The sin of lust is a burning sin — one can burn with lust — and therefore the sin of lust is purged with fire. The souls who need to be purged of lust do so by staying in a fire until the sin is purged.

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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