Love and Its Concretions

Volume 2 ~ 2004

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Solicitous Mothers and Gender-Bending Sons

Christopher L. Constas

In Purgatory 9 the Pilgrim makes a crossing. It is in this canto that he finally leaves Ante-Purgatory and arrives at Mount Purgatory proper. Until this point, the Pilgrim and his guide Virgil have been wandering on the shores of the island, seeking the way to the mountain itself.

This is not the first time the Pilgrim and his guide have difficulty making progress. In the Inferno, also in the ninth canto, they have difficulty entering the City of Dis. Only after the intervention of a heavenly being can their progress continue. A similar kind of help comes to them in Purgatory, though this time the Pilgrim is unaware of the help until after the fact, for he has been asleep, dreaming.

In his dream the Pilgrim finds himself “...là dove fuoro/ abbandonati i suoi da Ganimede,/ quando fu ratto al sommo consitoro.”1 Like Ganymede, the Pilgrim of the dream is swept up by an eagle and carried away. But where Ganymede is carried to Olympus to be the cup-bearer of Zeus and the other gods, the Pilgrim, in the dream, is carried by the eagle into the sun, where they both burn. The intensity of the heat awakens the Pilgrim, who finds that, in “reality,” he has, in fact, been swept up and carried away. As Virgil tells the Pilgrim after he awakens, while his soul slept within his body, St. Lucy came and carried him to the entrance of Purgatory.

Upon awaking from his dream, and still not knowing what has happened, the Pilgrim is

[n]on altrimenti Achille si riscosse,
li occhi svegliati rivolgendo in giro
e non sappiendo là dove si fosse,

quando la madre da Chirón a Schiro
trafuggò lui dormendo in le sue braccia,
là onde poi li Greci il dipartiro.
2

This allusion comes at a critical point in the Pilgrim’s spiritual life, namely, immediately after he has been enlightened by divine grace and thereby brought to the place where he will learn what and how to love. Moreover, the allusion itself carries connotations that reflect a radical understanding of what love demands of us, an understanding that situates renunciation of sexuality, violence and judgment within a broader understanding of gender identity. Dante’s Comedy, in keeping with the Christianity of the late Middle Ages, reflects the belief that one should strive to live a chaste, nurturing and compassionate life. The Comedy’s model for such a life is Mary, the mother of Jesus. The allusion to Achilles in Purgatory 9 reflects the understanding that imitation of Mary is not gender neutral in its effects.

Dante almost certainly derives the allusion to Achilles from  Publius Papinius Statius (c. 40-96). Statius is, of course, a character in the Comedy.3 It is well known that Dante takes substantial liberty with his biography, and actually promotes him to the full rank of Christian, though there is no evidence that Statius ever converted to Christianity. Nevertheless, his “baptizing” of Statius would not have struck Dante’s readers as outrageous, inasmuch as Statius was perceived in the Middle Ages as a proto-Christian poet, largely on the basis of allegorical readings of his Thebaid.4

The allusion to Achilles in Purgatory 9, however, is not taken from the Thebaid, but from Statius’s other epic poem, the Achilleid which, in its unfinished state (only the first and parts of the second book were completed) is almost entirely devoted to the story of Achilles on Skyros. There is little doubt that Dante knew the epic, for the Achilleid of Statius was among the most widely read classical works during the Middle Ages, owing to its inclusion in a widely used schoolbook, the Liber Catonianus.5 Thus, Dante could have a good deal of confidence that his readers knew the work as well. Moreover, because of the mode in which the Achilleid was presented in the Liber Catonianus­prefaced by an accessus and accompanied by extensive glosses- Dante could also have confidence in the connotations that an allusion to it would have.

In bare outline, Statius’s Achilleid is about Thetis’s attempt to keep her son from the Trojan war, where he will be killed. She takes him from Thessaly, where he is under the tutelage of the centaur Chiron, to the court of Lycodemes, king of Skyros. There he will live disguised as a girl. At first he balks, but changes his mind when he catches sight of the daughters of Lycodemes, especially Deidamia. While there he will rape her, and she will conceive and bear a child.

Achilles is unmasked, eventually, by the trickery of Ulysses, trickery that relies on firmly established gender traits. After he and Diomed land at Skyros (the Greeks have heard a prophecy that this is where Achilles is hiding), Ulysses brings to the court of Lycodemes feminine gifts, as well as a golden shield and spear. The gifts are displayed, and when Achilles chooses the spear and shield, he is discovered. In response to the cries of Deidamia, Achilles asks for her hand. They are married and spend their last night together. Deidamia weeps as he leaves the next day, but he promises to be faithful to her. Thus does the first book end.6 As Achilles, Diomed and Ulysses leave Skyros at the start of the Book 2, Achilles gazes back and thinks of his wife and son. Ulysses distracts him with thoughts of war, and then recounts the causes of the Trojan War. Diomed asks Achilles to tell them about his education in the cave of Chiron, and Achilles proudly relates his boyhood glories.

Such are the details of Statius’s account. Upon reading it one is struck by the decidedly heroic ethos that pervades it. The young Achilles is scarcely containable by Chiron, who senses that his young charge is destined to “some swift and violent deed.”7 Achilles is resistant to his mother’s plan and its insult to his masculinity, and only his violent lust for Diademia- on which he will eventually act- convinces him to stay on Skyros. For her part, Thetis is accused throughout the epic of fraud and cunning. The impression one gets is of a misbegotten attempt by a mother to deny the true nature of her son who is, despite her efforts to change him, a violent and passionate man.

In the hands of the Liber Catonianus glossator, the Achilleid is presented as illustrating themes that have a decidedly Christian resonance. As the accessus bluntly puts it, “moralitas enim concistit in solicitudine matris erga filium et in obediencia filii erga matrem” (the moral of the story consists in the solicitude of a mother for her son and in the obedience of a son to his mother).8 The medieval glossator seems to have a somewhat tendentious reading of the Achilleid. What the glossator sees as Thetis’s “solicitude” seems motivated mainly by resentment at her past treatment, especially her divinely sanctioned rape by Peleus; she will not stand for the gods to take one more thing from her. As for Achilles’s obedience, it is never anything but grudging, and is quite clearly motivated by lust for Deidamia.

Tendentious or not, that Statius’s Achilleid was about a solicitous mother and an obedient son would have been a widely held interpretation of the epic, and if it was not held by Dante it is hard to believe that the interpretation was not at least known to him. By likening the Pilgrim to Achilles newly found on Skyros, then, Dante could be seeking to evoke in his readers not only the image of a warrior temporarily deprived of his true identity, but the image of a son whose mother is trying to save him from death. This image is certainly not out of place in the Comedy, for we know already that the Pilgrim has a solicitous Mother: it was, after all, the Virgin Mary who initiated the series of events that led to his journey. And his obedience to her is reflected not only in his undertaking the journey, but in the education he is about to receive: the Virgin Mary is the only figure who is a consistent exemplar of virtuous behavior in Purgatory. Indeed, for Dante, to be virtuous is to imitate Mary. And unlike Achilles, the Pilgrim will listen to his Mother.

The allusiveness of the passage, however, does not stop there. Dante specifies details of the story of Achilles that carry the allusion beyond the themes of solicitude, obedience and preservation. Specifically, Dante mentions that Achilles has been in Chiron’s care, and that the Greeks would ultimately lure him from Skyros. As is often the case with Dante, these details draw us to other parts of the Comedy and, ultimately, back to where we started, but with a richer understanding of what has transpired.

Dante’s allusions to Chiron and the Greeks refer us to passages in the Inferno. Chiron appears in Inferno 12, where his tutelage of Achilles is presented as his defining characteristic.9 Now, however, he has care of the violent in Hell’s Seventh Circle, leading other centaurs in ensuring that the violent stay submerged in a river of boiling blood.

Ulysses and Diomed (the Greeks who lure Achilles from Skyros) appear in Inferno 26 , where they share a single flame in the eighth bolgia of the Eighth Circle, the pocket of the deceivers. Upon encountering them with the Pilgrim, Virgil identifies three deceptions they lament, among them “l’arte per che, morta,/ Deïdamìa ancor si duol d’Achille.”10

Purgatory 9, therefore, contains the second allusion both to Achilles’s care by Chiron and also to the trickery of Ulysses and Diomed. By the time they are mentioned in Purgatory, Chiron is already associated with control of the violent, and Ulysses and Diomed are condemned for luring Achilles away. Dante underlines these themes as a way to stress the precarious position of the Pilgrim as he awakens on the threshold of Purgatory.

Chiron is a curb on the violent in both Statius and Dante, but in Statius’s Achilleid he is having increasing difficulty controlling his charge. He is, in fact, somewhat relieved that Thetis will be taking Achilles away.11 By removing him from Chiron’s care—the detail that Dante stresses—Thetis takes Achilles from a check on his violent nature.12 Worse, by taking him to Skyros she puts a wolf among sheep. He can barely restrain himself when he first sees Deidamia: Statius compares him to a bull sighting a heifer.13 Eventually, Achilles’s violent nature wins out, and he rapes Deidamia. By the time the Greeks lure him away, then, the process of becoming violent is well underway. The lure is, after all, the lure of violence, barely contained and so close to the surface that a mere trumpet blast will make Achilles rise up in arms.

Crucially, Dante’s allusion to this story does not concern Achilles’s surrender to violence but rather to his awakening on Skyros. It is, as such, an allusion to a moment on the threshold of a hoped for life (hoped for, it should be added, by a Mother). Like Achilles, the Pilgrim has decided tendencies towards a way of life that will destroy him. In the case of the Pilgrim, it is not a tendency to violence that threatens him, but a tendency to lust—the sin, not coincidentally, for which Achilles is condemned in Inferno (5.65-6). But whether this tendency will win out, or whether the Pilgrim will be transformed and, more importantly, stay transformed as Achilles could not—these questions are not yet decided.

There is yet another detail of the allusion that is pertinent to the overall meaning of Dante’s Comedy, and it relates to the idea of transformation. Achilles will be transformed on Skyros, for it is as a girl that he will live his new life and, ostensibly, be saved from death. Is this, in fact, a detail to which the poet wishes to draw our attention? Apparently this possibility has not yet been suggested in Dante criticism, and yet there is some evidence that Dante does believe that some form of “gender crossing” is necessary for the Pilgrim’s salvation.

Gender is certainly fluid in Dante’s Comedy. Men are assigned feminine attributes and roles, and women are assigned masculine attributes and roles. Guido Guinizelli, for instance, is at first likened to the “lost mother” (Hypsipyle) found by “two sons” before the poet extols him as “father of me and father of my betters.14” Similarly, Virgil is sometimes likened to a protective mother.15 Beatrice is likened to an admiral in Purgatory 30, a canto where, as Jacoff has noted, “gender reversals pervade.”16

Other commentators have noted these and similar passages, and have seen in them a gloss on scripture: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28).17 It is doubtless the case that such gender reversals can be seen to suggest “the radical ways in which Christ himself can be thought to have called the status of gender into question,”18 but it is not at all clear that Dante has the issue of status in mind. Indeed, to the extent that the Comedy has issues of status as a concern, it is precisely to affirm hierarchies and distinctions of status. Nor is there corresponding to these gender reversals any analogous reversal of ethnicity or authority. To put it bluntly, nowhere in the Comedy does a Jew become a Greek or a slave become free (or vice versa).

It is not, then, gender status that Dante calls into question with his gender crossings. Rather, what he calls into question is gender identity, the assignment of particular dispositions and personality traits on the basis of sex. But it is not simply that Dante observes that men can act in ways that are traditionally considered feminine, or that women can act in ways that are masculine. His intent is also normative: Dante wants to extol and elevate those dispositions and traits traditionally associated with women, such as humility, powerlessness, compassion and forgiveness. Correspondingly, he also wants to criticize and demote those dispositions and traits traditionally associated with men: pride, power, judgments and vengeance. In short, Dante wants to embrace a characteristic of Christianity for which it is often criticized (by Nietzsche, for instance): its feminization of human character.

A Dante who recognizes and embraces the “feminizing” influences of Christianity would be reflecting what has been identified as a broad trend in late medieval spirituality, namely, the feminization of spiritual language.19 But while it seems that men such as Bernard of Clairvaux adopted images of themselves as women precisely because they sought to identify with images of weakness and utter dependence,20 Dante’s gender crossings seem motivated by the desire to find an analogy not for the ideal relation between God and human, but for the ideal relation between human and human. It is not her perceived inferiority as a human that recommends woman as an image of the Christian, but her superiority as a lover.

It is, of course, the Virgin Mary who stands as Dante’s model Christian. While he works through Purgatory and learns how to love, the Pilgrim is presented with numerous images of virtuous behavior. An image of Mary appears on every terrace of Purgatory, and she is the only person so honored. Of course, that Mary is given such prominence is not sufficient evidence that Dante believes that Christian conversion involves feminization, but when viewed in light of other details in the Comedy, it becomes reasonable to suspect that the “imitation of Mary” recommended by the images of Purgatory is not intended to be gender neutral in its effects, and that the allusion to Achilles’s transvestiture in Purgatory 9 is not incidental to the meaning of the poem.

In this context, perhaps one of the most striking details of the Comedy’s presentation of the afterlife is how overwhelmingly male it is in its infernal regions, and how increasingly feminized it becomes as it approaches Paradise. Of all the sinners to whom the Pilgrim speaks in Inferno, only one—Francesca da Rimini—is a woman. To be sure, there are other women in Hell, but they are almost entirely restricted to its first circles, and none of them speaks to the Pilgrim. The impression one gets is that the deeper one gets into Hell, the more male-dominated it becomes. The implication seems clear: an unrepentant sinner is more likely to be a man than a woman.

As the Pilgrim moves through Purgatory and Paradise, the gender of the population grows increasingly balanced and, eventually, predominantly female. It is noteworthy in this context that the first blessed soul to whom the Pilgrim speaks in Paradise is a woman—Piccarda Donati—who speaks to him of herself and of another woman, the Empress Constance. The stories of these women are strikingly similar, in that they exemplify the destructive influence of the masculine. Both were nuns, but had their pious lives disrupted by the overpowering influence of “[u]omini... a mal più ch’a bene usi.21

The Pilgrim’s salvation is, of course, explicitly attributed to the intervention of compassionate women: Mary, Lucia and Beatrice, his female trinity. Their introduction in the poem, in Inferno 2, stresses their compassion: Mary is a “donna e gentil” (gracious lady) whose compassion for the pilgrim breaks “duro giudicio” (stern judgment); Lucia is the “nimica di ciascun crudele” (enemy of every cruelty); Beatrice, moved by love, ends her plea to Virgil with tears.

The compassion of these heavenly ladies contrasts with the stern judgments that one finds among the heavenly men with whom the Pilgrim speaks in the lower regions of Paradise. Justinian, for example, speaks of God’s vengeance ( Paradise 6); Charles Martel, of the manner that humans ignore nature (Paradise 8). In the Sphere of the Sun, Thomas Aquinas condemns the shortcomings of present-day Franciscans (Paradise 11), while Bonaventure dwells on the shortcomings of the Dominicans (Paradise 12). In the lower regions of Paradise, where men do the talking, one finds little compassion. But as the Pilgrim ascends he finds a region dominated by Mary, in whom there is “misericordia… pietate… magnificenza…, quantunque in creatura è di bontate.”22 The ideal human, the one the Poet urges us to imitate, is the one who is noted not for her stern judgments, but for her compassion.

In the same way feminine compassion comes to supplant masculine acceptance of heaven’s stern decree, so is the militarized faith of the medieval Church replaced by a poeticized faith. The Sphere of Mars (fittingly) introduces the theme of militarized faith: the hymn sung there tells the Pilgrim to “Arise” and “Conquer,” but the poet admits that, at the time, he did not understand it. He is soon made to understand by his great-great grandfather Cacciaguida, martyred in the Second Crusade.23

The Pilgrim’s initial response to his ancestor was, the Poet tells us, pride in noble blood.24 But his pride is immediately tempered by the recognition that nobility is a “manto che tosto raccorce:/sì che, se non s’appon di dì in die,/lo tempo va dintorno con le force.”25 The Pilgrim will add to this nobility, with his ancestor’s encouragement:

…rimossa ogne menzogna,
tutta tua vision fa manifesta:
e lascia pur grattar dov’ è la rogna.

***

Questo tuo grido farà come vento,
Che le più alte cime più percuote;
E ciò non fa d’onor poco argomento
26

His ancestor, who fought and died for the faith, exhorts his descendant to pursue his poetry despite the fact that it will make him enemies. He goes on to assure him that his poetry will bring him honor. As Limentani observes, “[t]he old crusader has invested his descendant with the insignia of a new crusade.”27 But it will be a crusade fought with poetry. Violence has been supplanted by art. Achilles’s violence has been tamed by poetry.

To be sure, it is not immediately clear why a turn to poetry should be seen as specifically feminine. To be sure, violence was and remains a decidedly masculine pursuit, so that the renunciation of violence by Dante can be seen as the renunciation of a masculine tendency.28 Indeed, it is through transvesiture that Thetis tries to preserve Achilles from violence. But is there any sense in which the replacement of the soldier’s uniform for the poet’s mantle can be seen in terms of gender crossing?

There is, in fact, a passage in the Comedy that can be seen to support the idea that poetic inspiration entails a transformation of masculinity. At the start of the Paradise, the poet invokes Apollo and asks for the god’s help with this last labor, and prays to be a vessel for his power so that he might wear the laurel crown:

O buono Appollo, a l’ultimo lavoro
fammi del tuo valor sì fatto vaso,
come dimandi a dar l’amato alloro
.29

Already there are suggestions of feminization. The Poet refers to his work as “labor,” and prays that he might be made receptive to the divine power. Here again is the idea of imitating Mary, the voluntary receptacle of the divinely inspired Word.30

The next six verses bear even more intriguing connotations:

Infino a qui l’un giogo di Parnaso
assai mi fu; ma or con amendue
m’è uopo intrar ne l’aringo rimaso
.

Entra nel petto mio, e spira tue
sì come quando Marsïa traesti
de la vagina de le membra sue
.31

Parnassus has two peaks: one associated with the Muses, one with Apollo. The poet says that he needs them both to enter the remaining arena (l’aringo rimaso). Again, nothing seemingly out of the ordinary, except that in the very next tercet the poet refers to his breast (petto). The poet first writes of needing two peaks, and then writes of his breast. Could he be asking for female breasts?

As already noted, it was not unheard of for religious men in Dante’s time to imagine themselves as women, and to do so in the understanding that becoming a woman would make them better Christians and thereby make them better suited to enter heaven (the poet’s remaining arena). The taking on of breasts, however, should not be construed as the taking on of an erotic characteristic. Rather, the breast was associated with maternal nurture. Thus, when an abbot such as Bernard of Clairvaux would imagine himself with breasts it was because he recognized himself as responsible for the nurture of the men under his charge.32 Similarly, Jesus is sometimes conceived as a mother, and explicit visual parallels are sometimes made between the bleeding wound in his side and the lactating breast of his mother.33

But Dante’s invocation at the start of Paradiso continues, and with it continues the theme of transformed masculinity. For the poet asks Apollo to breath into his breast such as when Marsyas was pulled “de la vagina de le membra sue.” The connotations of this line—“from the vagina his member”—are fairly obvious, yet they have gone practically unnoticed.34 To be sure, the connotations have been noticed rather indirectly. Many commentators on the Comedy go out of their way—protest too much—to note that “vagina “ means either “sheath” (guaina; fodero) or “skin” (pelle).35

The point is not that vagina does not mean “sheath” or “skin,” for the context of the Marsyas myth makes it clear that these meanings are certainly intended. Moreover, the word “vagina” in both Italian and English comes from the Latin word for “sheath.”36 But why use vagina—why refer to Marsyas’s skin as a “sheath”—unless one also wants to connote the female genitalia? Similarly, the use of “membra” for “limbs” is also common enough, but that it can also connote “penis” is, in fact, exploited by Dante earlier in the Comedy.37

The poet’s invocation in Paradise 1, then, might be glossed as follows: “Apollo, so that I might be a worthy poet and thereby enter heaven, give me breasts and, like you did to Marsyas, remove my member from the vagina.” Poetry, the crusade of the Pilgrim and his path to salvation, is thereby associated with feminization and with the renunciation of male sexuality. The Pilgrim at the threshold of Purgatory begins a crossing along the continuum of gender that continues even after his pilgrimage is completed. He is, indeed, like Achilles, but it is the not Achilles in armor, but Achilles in a dress. And unlike the Achilles of Statius, who gives in to lust and violence, the Pilgrim will be chaste and nurturing. He will make love concrete in the way Mary made love concrete. He will love more like a woman, which means that he must live more like a woman.38




Footnotes

  1. Dante, Purgatory, 9.22-24: "...there where Ganymede abandoned his own, when he was rapt for the high assembly."
  2. Ibid., 9.34-39: "No different than Achilles roused, his eyes awake and turning around, not knowing where he was, when his mother from Chiron to Skyros took him sleeping in her arms, from where later the Greeks would take him."
  3. As pointed out to me by Timothy Duket, in Dante's Comedy, Statius is a significant character, serving as a bridge between the pagan poet Virgil and the Christian poet Dante. He is able to go with the Pilgrim to a place that Virgil cannot go. However, a more thorough investigation of his role in the Comedy is beyond the scope of the present work.
  4. There is at least one extant example of such a reading, the Super Thebaiden of Fulgentus. For his part, Dante seems rather dubious about the possibility of such a reading for the entire epic, as he has Statius confess to being baptised "E pria ch'io conducessi i Greci a' fiumi/di Tebe..." (Before I led the Greeks to the streams of Thebes) (Purg. 22.88), that is, before he had completed the second half of the epic. By seeing the second half as more "Christian" than the first half, Dante is perhaps thinking most of the "Altar of Clemecy" in Thebaid XII, a detail that many saw as particularly Christian. See J.-H. Whitfield, "Dante and Statius," in Dante Soundings, David Nolan, ed., (Dublin: Rowman and Littlefield, 1981), 127.
  5. Paul M. Clogan, The Medieval Achilleid of Statius (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1968). To be sure, there is no direct evidence that Dante knew the Achilleid through its inclusion in the Liber Catonianus, though it is interesting to note that the title page of the manuscript mistakenly identifies Statius as being from "Tolosa," a mistake that Dante also makes at Purgatory 21.89. Clogan speculates that this is precisely the origin of Dante's mistake, as well as the origin of the same mistake in Boccaccio's Amorosa Visione and Chaucer's House of Fame (ibid., 9n.1). Also, Dante's version of Achilles's leave-taking at Skyros notes that the Greeks take him (il dipartiro ), an implication of passivity that agrees with the glossator, who notes (tendentiously) at the start of Book V that Achilles is "ducitur ad bellum Troianum" (led to the Trojan war) (ibid.,, 118), and in the accessus that "in quinto adducionem ad Troiam" (in the fifth [book] they lure him to Troy) (ibid., 22).
  6. This is the end of the first book in the earliest manuscripts of the Achilleid. In the medieval Statius of the Liber Catonianus, the first book of the original is divided into four books, with the fragment of the original second book renumbered as the fifth book.
  7. Statius, Publius Papinius, Achilleid, translated by J.H. Mozley (New York, G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1928), 1.149-52.
  8. Clogan, op. cit., 21.
  9. Dante, Inferno, 12.71.
  10. Ibid., 26.61-2: "the trick for which, in death/ Deidamia still weeps for Achilles."
  11. Statius, op.cit., 1.143-58.
  12. Daniel Mendelsohn, in "Empty Nest, Abandoned Cave: Maternal Anxiety in Achilledi 1" (Classical Antiquity, 9/2/Oct 1990, 295-308), offers an interpretation of Thetis's act that is slightly different than the one being offered here. For him, "the first book is the chronicle of Thetis's doomed effort to retain control over her son's life in order to thwart the martial, 'paternal' influence that will ultimately claim it" (296). If this is an accurate reading, then what Statius is indicating is Thetis's misunderstanding of Chiron's role. Statius is quite careful to note Chiron's pacifism and unique (for a centaur) aversion to homicide (Achilleid, 1.110-118). In any event, Dante's presentation of Chiron suggests that he saw him as a curb against violence. Nevertheless, Mendelsohn's intepretation of Statius is, in an important sense, consistent with the reading that is here be attributed to Dante: the transportation of Achilles to Skyros represents an attenpt to diminish the influence on him of the paternal/masculine.
  13. Ibid., I.314.
  14. Dante, Purgatory, 26.94-99.
  15. Dante, Inferno. 23.38; Idem, Purg atory, 30.43-4.
  16. Rachel Jacoff, "Models of Literary Influence in the Commedia," in Medieval Texts and Contemporary Readers, Laura Finke and Martin Shichtman, eds. (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1987), 172.
  17. Ibid.,173; Robert Ball, "Theological Semantics: Virgil's Pietas and Dante's Pieta " in The Poetry of Allusion: Virgil and Ovid in Dante's Commedia (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1991), 33.
  18. Jacoff, op. cit., 173.
  19. Caroline Walker Bynum, Jesus as Mother: Studies in the Spirituality of the High Middle Ages (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982), 129.
  20. Idem., Fragmentation and Redemption: Essays on Gender and the Human Body in Medieval Religion (New York: Zone Books, 1991), 178.
  21. Dante, Paradise, 3.106: "Men... to evil more than to good accustomed."
  22. Dante, Paradise 23.19-21: "…mercy… pity… munificence…, all that is good in God’s creatures."
  23. Dante, Paradise, 15.142-8.
  24. Ibid., 16.1-6.
  25. Ibid., 16-7-9: "[a] mantle that quickly shrinks: so that, if we do not add to it day to day, time will trim it with shears."
  26. Ibid., 17.127-9, 133-5: "Put away falsehood and all your vision make plain: and let them scratch where the itch is…. This cry of yours shall do as the wind does, which on the most high summits strikes the most; and this is not for honor a small argument."
  27. Uberto Limentani, "Paradiso XVII," in Cambridge Readings in Dante's Comedy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981), 173.
  28. One finds just such a renunciation of violence- and the vengeance that often motivates it- in the Ninth Bolgia of the Eighth Circle, among the sowers of discord (Inf 28-9).
  29. Dante, Paradise, 1.13-15: "O great Apollo, for this last task make me for your power a fit vessel as is demanded for the laurel crown."
  30. I am indebted to Anne Davenport for this insight.
  31. Ibid., 1.16-21: "Until now one peak of Parnassus has been enough for me; but now I need both to enter the remaining arena. Enter my breast, and breath as you did when Marsyas had pulled from the sheath his limbs."
  32. Bynum, Jesus as Mother, 168.
  33. Idem., Fragmentation and Redemption, 79ff. Bynum's thoughts on this topic are presented within the context of a critique of Leo Steinberg's The Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art and Modern Oblivion. For a rejoinder by Steinberg, see his chapter "Ad Bynum" in the 2nd revised edition of Christ's Sexuality (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996). Bynum's criticism is based upon the perception that, in drawing attention to the depiction of Christ's genitals in Renaissance art, Steinberg is affirming the masculinity of Christ. As is quite clear from Steinberg's text and reply, he sees the ostentatious display of Christ's genitals in Renaissance painting not as a representation of Christ's sexuality, but of his humanity.
  34. Marguerite Waller first drew my attention to these "sexually connotative terms." However, she interprets their use as a recognition of sex as an "integument," a recognition that makes possible genuine heterosexuality, that is, sexual desire that recognizes and respects its object as other. See Waller, "Seduction and Salvation: Sexual Difference in Dante's Commedia and the Difference it Makes" in Donna: Women in Italian Culture (Ottawa: Dovehouse Editions, 1989), 242.
  35. For guaina see, for example, Buti (1385-95); Chimenz (1962) and Boseo-Reggio (1979); for fodero see Bianchi (1868) and Boseo-Reggio; for pelle see Daniello (1568) and Fallani (1965). Longfellow (1862) translates vagina as "scabbard." Mandelbaum (1982) and Musa (1984) translate it as "sheath."
  36. Nevertheless, the Latin word for sheath-vagina-was extended metaphorically to the female genitalia as early as the second century BCE, in the Pseudolus of Plautus (4.7,85). Tufts University's "Perseus Project" was invaluable in finding this information.
  37. Purgatory 26.55-60. Here Dante is among the lustful, and he notes that he did not leave le membra mie on earth, but was allowed to bring that which is mortal (che 'l mortal) with him through the grace of a lady.
  38. This essay benefited greatly from the suggestions of the following people: Thomas Epstein, Anne Davenport, Susan Michalczyk (especially with the Italian) and Timothy Duket.