My Seven Deadlies class is making its way through Purgatorio, and today we talked a bit about Virgil’s speech in Canto XVIII about love. In the previous Canto, he explains to Dante that love is both the basis of all good (when properly directed to the Theos) and of all sin. Perverse love of self spawns Pride, Envy, and Wrath. Insufficient love leads to Sloth. Excessive/unreasonable love of earthly pleasures breeds Greed, Gluttony, and Lust. (These are ideas the kids encountered earlier in the term as we waded through Aquinas.)
But there were lines in Canto XVIII that stuck with me last night as I read them once again. I share them with you. My text is Allen Mandelbaum’s Everyman’s Library edition.
The soul, which is created quick to love,
responds to everything that pleases, just
as soon as beauty wakens it to act.
Your apprehension draws an image from
a real object and expands upon
that object until soul has turned toward it;
and if , so turned, the soul tends steadfastly,
then that propensity is love — it’s nature
that joins the soul in you, anew, through beauty.
Then, just as flames ascend because the form
of fire was fashioned to fly upward, toward
the stuff of its own sphere, where it lasts longest,
so does the soul, when seized, move into longing,
a motion of the spirit, never resting
til the beloved thing has made it joyous. (XVIII: 21-33)