As the Ulysses reading club has taken some time off for Christmas and an unrelated project,1 I was paging through the Inferno to keep myself entertained and read the following Canto. It is not a particular memorable (or, in the heightened language of medieval studies, “celebrated”)2 passage, falling as it does between the first, in which Dante cannot escape the dark forest and is saved by Virgil, and the third, which contains the Hell Gate’s famous inscription (“Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”) It did however, provide some points of comparison between Joyce and Dante beyond the typical (both were exiles3, both made use of the vulgar,4 Dante and Joyce both appear as characters in their own epics,5 both of their masterworks are efforts to recast the past as part of a new worldview6). The translation and footnotes are my own, though I’ve relied on the following resources:
Hans Gabler’s purported hubris has not kept him from publishing a perfectly viable text for Ulysses; the nugatory kerfuffle surrounding the question of whether his edition is the authoritative text for scholars hasn’t served the book nearly so well as his insertion of line numbers, which make citation more exact, even as they preclude the excitement of spooring a thought through a page.7 My copy of Robert Pinsky’s translation (Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, 1994) proved useful, mostly because it I did not mind bending the spine out of shape and scrawling all over it. I also made use of the footnotes from same, provided by Nicole Pinsky and John Freccero.8 The Hoepli edition (ed. Giuseppe Vandelli, 21st edition, 1987) and its footnotes were useful, though not consummately so, leaving me to find recourse in the Rusconi Dizionario Etimologico (2004), Cassel’s Latin Dictionary (Macmillan, 1968), and the Pocket Oxford Italian Dictionary (2006), whose name is to me inexplicable as it refers to a book eight inches tall and two inches thick.
The day was leaving, and the dark air
taking the animals that are in earth
from their works; and I the only one
preparing myself to sustain the war
both of the journey and of pity,9 (5)
that will redraw the mind that does not err.
O Muses, O high genius help me now;
O mind which wrote that which I saw,
here will be shown your nobility.10
I began: “Poet who guides me, (10)
observe my virtue if it is sufficient
before to the difficult passage you entrust me.
You say of Silvius the father,11
corruptible still to the immortal
generation went and was sensible.12 (15)
But if the adversary of every evil
was to him courteous, thinking of the high effect
which had to come from him, and who and what type,13
it doesn’t seem undignified to a man of intellect;
he was of nourishing Rome and of its empire (20)
in heavenly empyrean for a father chosen:14
which and which, to mean the truth15
were founded in a sacred place
where sits the successor to Great Peter.
By this voyage, where you give your honor (25)
he learned things that were cause
of his victory and of the Papal Mantle.16
The vessel of election went there17
to bring back comfort for the faith
which is the principle of salvation.18 (30)
But I? Why come here? Who grants it
I’m not Aeneas, I’m not Paul;
myself worthy neither I nor others believes it.19
And so if to coming I abandon myself,
I fear that coming may be folly. (35)
You’re wise; teach me what I cannot reason.”
And like one who unresolves what he’d resolved
and by a new thought changes intention
so that from beginning he takes all of himself,
so happened to me on that dark coast20 (40)
because, thinking, I consumed the enterprise
that was in it’s start so immediate.
“If I’ve well your word understood,”
responded of magnanimity the shade,21
“your soul is by cowardice injured (45)
which many times a man blocks
so that from respectable undertaking he turns,
as a false sight does to a to a beast when it shadows.
From this fear so that you can free yourself
I’ll tell you why I came and that which I learned (50)
at the first point where I grieved for you.
I was among those who are suspended22
and a woman called me, blessed and beautiful
so that to command I requested her.
Shining her eyes were more than a star,23 (55)
and she began to tell smoothly, sweetly,
with an angelic voice in her speech:
‘O courteous Mantuan soul,
of whose fame still in the world endures
and will endure as much as the world will live,24 (60)
my friend, and not by fortune25
in the deserted plain is hindered26
so that in the journey he is turned around from fear;
and I fear that he may already be lost
that I late to his succor raised myself (65)
for that of him in heaven I heard.
Now move, and with your ornate word
and with that which has authority to his survival
help him so that I will be consoled of it.
I am Beatrice who makes you go; (70)
I come from a place to which I want to return;
love moved me, which compels me to speak.
When I am in front of my lord
you I will praise often to him.’
She quieted then, and after began I: (75)
‘O woman of virtue, alone for whom
humankind exceeds each content
of that heaven that has the smallest of their circles,27
So pleasing to me is your command
that to obey it, if already done, to me is already tardy; (80)
more it is not to you needed to open to me your talent.28
But tell me the reason that you don’t avoid
the descent down here in this center
from the ample place where to return you long.’
‘Since you want to know so profoundly (85)
I will speak briefly,’ she to me responded,
‘why I don’t fear to come here inside.
Fear is given by only those things
that have the potential to do one harm;
by other things no, so that they are not fearsome. (90)
I am made by God, his mercy, such
that your misery doesn’t touch me
nor does the flame of this fire assail me.
A woman is kind in heaven who takes pity
on this impediment where I send you, (95)
so that the severe judgment there above she breaks.29
She asked for Lucy in her request30
and said “Now has need your faithful
of you, and I to you entrust him.”
Lucy, enemy of every cruelty, (100)
was moved, and came to the place where I was,
who was seated with the ancient Rachel.31
She said: “Beatrice, true glory of god,
Why don’t you succor he who loved you so
that he left behind for you the vulgar crowd?32 (105)
Do you not hear the pity of his cries?
Do you not see the death he’s fighting
above the flood over which the sea has no vantage?”33
To the world never were people so quick
to seize an advantage or to flee their danger (110)
as I after those words were made to me.
I came here below from my blessed seat
trusting in your honest speech
that honors you and those who hear it.”
After she had explained me this (115)
her eyes, lucent and crying she turned,
for which she made me in my arrival more rapid.
And I came to you as she wanted:
in front of that beast I lifted you
that of the beautiful mountain’s short path had robbed you. (120)
Therefore: what is it? Why, why do you stay?
Why so much cowardice do you entice in your heart?34
Why do you not have boldness and freedom?
Seeing that three such blessed women
take cares for you in the court of heaven (125)
and my speech such good promises you?”
Like flowers by nightly cold
bowed and closed, after the sun lights them up35
strand straight, all open, on their stems,
so I made myself of my tired virtue36 (130)
and much good courage to my heart ran,
that I began like a free man:
“O compassionate was she who succored me!
And you courteous who obeyed immediately
the true words that she put to you! (135)
You have with desire my heart disposed
with such success with your words
that I’ve come back to the first intention.
Now go, that one will only is of us both:
you leader, you lord, and you teacher.” (140)
So I spoke to him; and when he moved
I entered on that difficult and harsh path.
1Namely, the composition of Predator 2: the Musical.
2This is a usage that has always bothered me, evoking as it does images of long winded stuffbudgins on the shores of Lake Como taking breaks from speed boating, magnum bottles of Barolo and bites of truffled Taleggio long enough to fluff themselves with some lines of medieval poetry, or—worse—the spouse of some dot-com millionaire looking to confirm that Ravenna is indeed the “next Tuscany,” and so justify his/her latest venture in European real estate. Why not “well-known,” “well-regarded,” or just “famous?”
3Stephen consciously compares himself to Dante when he thinks, “Now I eat his salt bread” as he speaks to his English roommate Haines in the first chapter of Ulysses (I. ll. 631). The reference is to Tuscan bread, which is not made with salt, and which Dante could no longer eat after he was exiled from Florence in 1301.1,2 In Stephen’s case, he is suggesting that he is exiled even in his own home, which has been made a part of his interlocutor’s (Haines’) country. If you still doubt the reference, check out Canto XVII of the Paradiso, lines 58-60: “So you will taste how tastes of salt/another bread, and how hard a path/descending and ascending another stair.” (“Tu proverai si come sa di sale/Lo pane altrui, e com’e duro calle/Lo scendere e il salir per l’altrui scale”) D. was not one for understatement.
1 Granted that it is rather difficult to talk about D. without sounding like one of the stuffbudgins/dot-com spouses described supra.
2 It is admittedly entertaining to imagine Dante elbow deep in flour while kneading his own bread, but this is unlikely to resemble his life in exile.
4Dante is vulgar (meaning “of the people” or “common”) primarily because he wrote in Italian as opposed to Latin.1 Joyce wrote in the common language for sure, but people call him vulgar more for his content.2 I don’t imagine that the local peasantry were any more likely to actually read the Commedia on their day off than casual readers are to pick up Ulysses nowadays.
1 D. was also vulgar in the sense that many of the souls in hell were known figures from his era and would’ve been as recognizable to us as, say, Ethel Rosenberg, Bernie Madoff, or Marilyn Monroe. Nor is he above dipping into the middle school lexicon; Stephen Dedalus himself thinks of the line—“Ed egli avea del cul fatto trombetta.” (“And he’d made of his ass a trumpet,” Inf. XX 139), in “Scylla and Charybdis” (U. X. 34). A 22 year old Joyce tittering over Dante in the Trinity Library is not the most surprising or embarrassing image from Joyceana; my personal feeling is that said distinction belongs to the thought of him huffing his wife’s farts, as described in Joyce’s Selected Letters , ed. Richard Ellman.
2 D. may have written his epic in Italian, he may refer to contemporary political and popular figures, but he does not make explicit references to defecation, masturbation, and sex, as does Joyce.
5You could argue that other writers, even other epic writers like Valmiki, write themselves into their stories. This is a perfectly valid point, though I could argue that character-Valmiki doesn’t much affect the story of the Ramayana much, let alone provide the center of the action.
6Which observation formed the third and longest chapter of my near mortally dull undergraduate honors thesis, entitled “Marinetti, Svevo, and Joyce, Fathers and Sons: A Reading of Futurism, La Coscienza di Zeno and Ulysses.”
7A search for “Ulysses Gabler” on the New York Review of Books website, conducted on January 21st, 2011 turned up approximately thirteen articles and exchanges between Joyce scholars. The tone is that of people all the more passionate for a topic because so few people outside of their field care as much as they do about it.
8Which notes, it must be said, planted the seed for some of the connections I eventually draw between Dante and Joyce. I gotta hand it to that Freccero guy; I just wish he’d had a better translation to annotate.
9The Hoepli edition’s notes suggest that the Pilgrim must contend with the physical aspects of the journey and his own feelings of pity for the souls he encounters; any pity that the Pilgrim might feel for the damned is not in accord with divine justice, though Mary’s sympathy for the living Pilgrim is allowable, despite its going against heaven’s “severe judgment” (q.v. ll. 91).
10Invocations of the muses are a hallmark of classical culture, so it is a little strange that A) D. does not invoke Calliope, the muse of epic poetry, by name,1 B) that he invokes instead his genius and mind as if they were separate entities within himself, and C) that he ascribes “nobility” (nobilitate in the original) to his mind.2 It makes more sense when we consider that D. is engaging a poetry-as-battle metaphor (remember that D. and the Pilgrim are both getting ready to “sustain the war”). One became a noble by aiding a fellow political figure in battle, and D. enlists the service of his genius and his mind not only by flattery (“you have so much inborn, noble ability”), but also by offering some of the spoils of his upcoming battle (“and I’ll give you a chance to display that inborn ability by describing my journey”).This makes D. sound humble when, according the whole writing-as-battle metaphor, he’ll be the king.3
1 D. does get around to invoking Calliope by name in Purgatorio I, at which point he offers up a slightly more modest metaphor for his own ability: “The little boat of my genius,” ( “la navicella del mio ingegno ,” I. 2). The upshot may be that mind and genius are just fine bringing the P. through Hell, but he needs outside help, whether from Calliope or Beatrice to ascend Purgatory to Heaven. Some commentators think that he doesn’t want to sully Calliope’s name by mentioning it in relation to Hell.
2 Elsewhere, D. says that nobilitate means “Perfection of its own nature in each thing.” (“Perfezione di propria natura in ciascuna cosa,” Convivio, IV, XVI, 4).
3 Both the metaphor of battle and the word nobilitate are perfectly Dantescan, collocating as they do several related ideas (justly ascribed social prestige, supreme ability, innately good or noble character) in a way that gives him a patina of humility while indicating the amplitude of his endeavor. It’s not for nothing that they say D. invented Italian like Shakespeare invented English.
11That is, the father of Silvius (Aeneas)
12i/o/w, “Silvius’ father went to the immortal generation, (immortal in the sense that it won’t change), i.e. the land of the dead, and remained conscious.” There’s an interesting contrast here that hangs around the idea of what is changeable; Aeneas went to the land of the dead while still living (D. says he was sensibilmente and corrutibile, which terms have a specific meaning for an Aristotelian, especially one who is Christian). The suggestion to me is that change comes about through sense or sensory input; once the conduit for that input (the body) is lost, so is the capacity for change. But how then to the bodiless souls of the dead learn in the Commedia? N.B. that “generation” is translated from the Italian “secolo,” and so is unrelated to the Aristotelian idea of generation.
13Italian: “’l chi e ‘l quale,” meaning what/who? and what sort? It probably refers to Aeneas and not to “effect” in the previous line; the former interpretation would bring to mind the Scholastic quis et qualis—quis meaning the individual man with all his attributes and qualities and qualis meaning the circumstances of his birth and marriages.
14In the Ptolemaic astronomical system the Empyrean was the outermost of the heavenly spheres. In the medieval mind it was where God resided. D. gets to go to the Empyrean at the end of the Paradiso.
15“Which and which” referring to Rome and its empire, respectively.
16Dante’s beliefs were such that Pagan developments were good inasmuch as they furthered the progress of Christianity.1 Even Caesar, who trampled all of political rights that Dante held dear, gets something of a pass because he strengthened the Roman empire, which D. fully believed had been chosen by by Divine Provenance to become the seat of Catholicism on earth. Cf. Convivio IV, iv, 12-13.
1 As far as I know, the question of whether D. would agree with Christians who support Israel because they think its existence will hasten the end of days has not been addressed by current scholarship.
17“The Vessel of Election” is my attempt to keep something of D.’s word order; “the chosen Vessel” is closer to the actual text of Acts 9:15. Paul’s1 ascension to heaven is described in II Corinthians, 12:2; his journey to Hell is from popular myth and not any Biblical text. It becomes clear that D. is referring to Paul in line 32.
1 Confusingly Paul is called Saul until Acts 13:9. It’s easy enough to assume that the name change resulted from a comprimise reached during one of the many editing sessions that went into producing the Bible, though like any assumption it must be taken with a grain of salt. The slippery nature of names is something that Joyce exploits when he gives himself the name Dedalus.
18Faith is the principle of salvation because “Without Faith it is impossible to please him [God],” Hebrews 11:6; but faith is only the start, “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also,” James 2:26.1
1 The quote from James is interesting as it inverts what you’d expect the comparison to be: you’d think that body and works would be compared because they are both tangible things; instead it is works that animate the spirit. It is sort of a spiritual chicken-and-egg problem: which comes first, beliefs that inspire acts, or acts that animate belief?
19Again I am trying to keep something of the original here; the line reads “me degno a ciò né io né altri ‘l crede;” the verb doesn’t agree with either possible subject, unless altri is an antiquated form of the singular altro.
20There’s a thesis waiting to be written about D.’s descriptors for his surroundings in hell. Here coast is a fairly apparent choice for the Italian costa, which itself makes sense as many use the sea as a metaphor for death and transition to the afterlife,1 and yet some translators use “slope” or “hillside.” These would make sense if D. and Virgil were still next to the mount he couldn’t climb in Canto I, but they just don’t make any damn sense for costa.
1 Including D. (q.v. Purg. I).
21That is the shade of magnanimity, or Virgil. D. is likely referring to the root meaning of greatness and so contrasting his confidence with the Pilgrim’s own doubt and cowardice. Cf. Convivio, I. 11. 18: “Always he of noble sentiment exalts himself in his heart; and thus the pussilanimous by contrast holds himself less than he is.” (“Sempre il magnanimo si magnifica in suo cuore; e così lo pussillanimo per contrario sempre si tiene meno che non è.”)
22That is, in Limbo.
23As someone who studied in Italy recently I can report that the complements Italians pay to women have not significantly changed since the first century B.C. (it is Virgil who pays this compliment to Beatrice), perhaps because successful Casanovism is correlated with a certain lassitude, the immediate cause of which I’ll leave to your imagination.
24This line is a source of contention for textual debate to rival the “solid—sullied” imbroglio surrounding Hamlet; in my editions the line reads “e durerà quanto ‘l mondo lontana,” which, to my Italian means something like “and will endure as much as the distant world;” unless this is a reference to medieval astronomy that I don’t understand (a definite possibility), it doesn’t make much sense. In other codices the line reads “quanto ‘l moto lontana,” moto meaning motion. If we take “lontana” to be a Dantescan transformation of a noun into a verb (and he is not above such things), and assume that “’l” is a direct object and not an article, it could read “as long as motion makes it [the world] more distant.” It still doesn’t work that well for me, but it is closer to the other translations I found, which seem to take “lontana” as a word for “live on,” or “endure.” In any case the reference seems to be to the end of time, at which point eternal things like the stars, angels, and souls will continue to exist but at which point corporeal things like the world (and hence motion) will not.
25The Italian word for fortune here is ventura, not the usual fortuna. Ventura has the added nuance of being related to adventure, or a journey one would seek out deliberately.
26Again this is a strange descriptor; D. uses piaggia, which doesn’t not appear in my dictionary but is apparently related to spiaggia, (beach) via the Latin plaga, a flat surface. Again other translators use the antonymous “slope” for reasons that remain to me obscure.
27This refers to the smallest of the heavenly spheres, which contains the moon and represents mortality and time.1 The reference is interesting because, since the pre-Socratics, philosophy was viewed as a means to look beyond mutable stimuli and understand the eternal and unchangeable nature of the universe. For a Catholic philosopher circa 1300 this presents a problem, as philosophy would present a sort of back door out of mortality and time (and so into heaven), one that did not depend on Mary, Jesus, or the church. Perhaps this little section with Virgil and Beatrice is D.’s attempt to address the problem.
Vandelli argues in the Hoepli edition that Beatrice represents knowledge of God, through which man ascends to heaven. And yet Virgil says “alone for whom;” it is strange to think that she, a woman of virtue though she may be, would be the only carrier of God’s grace, especially as there was this other guy, you know, Jesus, who also had something to do with humankind’s salvation.2 In fact, Dante only mentions Jesus in the Commedia and in the Inferno obliquely, while Beatrice and Mary get lots and lots of the credit. Such a focus on motherhood and the love of Beatrice for D. (which wasn’t romantic love per se, but still), instead of the Son of God is suggestive, to say the least.
Freccero makes an interesting argument and says that Beatrice represents for Virgil Lady Philosophy, a figure from Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy (Boethius was a neo-Platonic philosopher from the 5th-6th centuries). Freccero wonders why Virgil should identify Beatrice as Lady Philosophy before suggesting that this is D. saying that “the wisdom of Antiquity [is] an anticipation of Christianity” (Pinsky translation, p. 308). It’s a little odd to have Virgil, who died before Christ was born, use an element of a work composed by a Christian 500 years after he died to express an aspect of his own, pre-Christian understanding of the world, but in general we have to accept such anachronisms as a part of D.’s aesthetic (one that we find in Joyce as well): people from disparate periods of history appear next to each other in the characters’ thoughts and words. More challenging to JF’s suggestion is that many of the souls in the afterlife (including Virgil) are well aware of a number of other important personalities and events that lived and took place after they died, and so there’s no reason Virgil shouldn’t know who Beatrice was. And so why equate her with with Lady Philosophy in particular? It does seem a leap, and JF seems to be in corner.
We might let JF out of this corner if we do something absolutely un-academic and imagine Virgil sitting in Limbo with nothing to do when a blessed and beautiful lady comes down to find him. Virgil remembers that Jesus harrowed hell and saved certain other pre-Christian souls after they had died, gets a little hopeful, and starts thinking: “Heaven and earth are not just different, but opposites; if earth is ephemeral and changing, then heaven must be eternal and unchanging. Philosophy allows its students (including, me) to see and understand what is eternal and unchanging, and so maybe I have access to the what is eternal and unchanging, i.e. heaven.” What’s more, Beatrice tells him that she’ll compliment him in front of her lord, God, which would be cold comfort if Virgil was doomed to stay in Limbo anyway.3 But Virgil’s salvation is not to be; Beatrice tells him that she has a mission for him that supersedes everything else, and there’s no mention of him getting out of Limbo as anything other than a temporary guide for the Pilgrim. She needs him not for what he has to say but the means he has to say it—for his honest/ornate/decorous speech.
1 q.v. Convivio, II, iii-iv for more of D. on the moon’s heavenly sphere,
2 q.v. Paradiso, XXXIII, ll. 17-18 for a Saintly exhortion of Mary in which St. Bernard says that she the origin of salvation that precedes the actual prayer for salvation.
3 If a heavenly visitor came to find me in Limbo only to tell me that I had to work my way through Hell and Purgatory only to explain the meaning of which to someone else who was going to be saved for the hassle, I’d be less convinced, shall we say, than Virgil is by Beatrice’s exhortion, no matter how thoroughly it followed the rules of classical rhetoric. Perhaps we can assume that is why D. spends so much time describing the exchange between the two.
28The line means something like “there’s no more need for you to entreat me with you magnanimity,” or something like that. Interesting here is the use of the word talento, which can mean genius or tendency. I use magnanimity for this note because a sort of overriding beneficence seems to be Beatrice’s defining characteristic in this section of the poem.
29There’s that glimmer of hope for Virgil; maybe he’s thinking that they’ll break diving judgment for him as well; V. is less foolish than we’d assume for thinking this: other Pagan figures, such as Cato, are placed in parts of the afterlife other than Hell (q.v. Purg. I), and elsewhere1 it seems that the administrators of the afterlife, so to speak, are not always correct in their judgments; this should give the attentive reader pause w/r/t the Doctrine of Papal Infallibility, defined by the First Vatican council in 1870, especially if he’s a Catholic.
1 The gatekeeper between Ante-Purgatory and Purgatory proper, for example, tells D. that “[Peter] told me to err/more in opening than in keeping [the door] closed/so long as the people at my feet bring themselves to the ground,” “… e dissemi [Pietro] ch’i’erri/anzi ad aprir ch’a tenerla serrata,/pur che la gente a’ piedi mi s’atterri.”, Purg. IX, 127-129).
30Lucy is the patron saint of illumination and eyesight; by having the intercessional baton, so to speak, pass through her, D. is invoking her in a manner different from the explicit invocation at the beginning of the Canto. N.B. that D. and Joyce both had eye trouble, and that Joyce went so far as to name his daughter Lucia.
31q.v. Genesis 29:16-30. Here is a short version of Rachel’s story, told in the vernacular: Leban had two daughters, Leah and Rachel. Now Jacob wanted to marry Rachel, who was the more comely of the two, and to that end Laban made him work for ‘im for seven years, after which time he gave him Leah instead. Jacob asked what the deal was, Laban said that’s just how they do things in these parts. But if Jacob wanted he could work another seven years and then get Rachel. Jacob said ok, worked seven years, got Rachel, and then worked another seven years for Laban. The upshot seems to be that a man will work damn hard if there’s a woman up as a reward, which is in harmony with the inspirational role Beatrice plays for D.
32Here again D. is covering up for himself; he is not vulgar—in the sense of being common—but exceptional, thanks to the influence of Beatrice. As for the ways in which D. did remain vulgar, I’m not sure what Beatrice would make of him using words like cul’ (ass) and merda (shit).
33According to Vandelli, D. is using “flood” figuratively, that D. means to say that the dark wood is more dangerous than a sea in a storm. I am more inclined to follow Freccero’s note on the canto, which says that this is the river Jordan—the last obstacle the Jews faced after they crossed the Red Sea. If JF is right, this would mean that the Pilgrim is on his last step before being saved, but he needs Beatrice’s help.
34Another ambiguous line: “perché tanta viltà nel core allette?” the verb allette (entice) could have viltà (cowardice) as a subject (as in, “why does so much cowardice in your heart entice?”) or it could have the Pilgrim himself as a subject, meaning “why do you entice so much cowardice in your heart?” Vandelli suggests that allette here means si accoglie, or “gathers,” which would point towards the first reading of the line.
35The verb here is imbiancare, or to make white; this can refer either to morning light, as in Purg. IX, 2, or a figurative sense of becoming light or unstained by doubt or sin, as in Par. VII, 81.
36D. has already established the theme of illumination with his reference to Lucy; this metaphor may have something to do with that of the Sun in Plato’s Republic, 506d-509c. Plato, speaking via Socrates, says that the sun, light, and sight, are analogous to goodness, truth, and knowledge. D. adds flowers to the mix, suggesting that what is virtuous in man seeks sustenance from God as a flower responds to the sun. Note as well the relationship that Dante establishes between man and god; he does not deny that God is the motivating force of the universe, and yet central to the universe and his poetic work is his own ability to receive the knowledge God has to impart; a flower, after all, responds much more noticeably (and aesthetically) to the sun than does a rock or a pool of water. At the very least, this blurs the simple line that my high school history class drew between the Renaissance and the Middle Ages as periods of rational intellectual inquiry and devils spoiling the winter wheat stores, respectively.