Inferno 3.60: Who DID make "the great refusal?"

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Inferno 3.60: Who DID make "the great refusal?"

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Apr. 7, 2014, 12:48pm

Before he even enters Inferno proper, Dante sees the souls of the 'cowards' in the vestibule. Indecisive and weak-willed, they now chase after a banner with all the longing they failed to show in life. Unable to choose a side, they are now rejected by both heaven and hell. Among them, Dante recognizes one of then, but declines to name him:

"When some among them I had recognized.
I looked, and I beheld the shade of him
Who made through cowardice the great refusal." (Inf. III 58-60, Longfellow)

Among the candidates for who this soul might be, perhaps the two most prominent suggestions are Pontius Pilate (put forth by Musa, among others), and Pope Celestine V (supported by Raffa, et. al)

Who do you think the shade is meant to be (if anyone)? Why?

Apr. 7, 2014, 8:37pm

I believe it was Celestine, relying mainly on the opinion of the early commentators, including Dante's son, who were closer to the action and to Dante's mentality. Celestine's abdication put Boniface VIII into the Papacy, and Boniface was one of Dante's greatest opponents.

I surmise that Dante's refusal to mention names is based on the fact that around the time he was writing Celestine was canonized a saint. Was Dante's passage an attempt to head off the canonization? Or was it a sub rosa contradiction of Celestine's reputation for sanctity? At that point it might not have been politically judicious to come out openly against Celestine, since his cause for canonization was instigated by King Philip IV of France.

Another possibility: since the Inferno was probably completed around 1314, perhaps Dante had originally mentioned him by name, then still had time to revise the line after the canonization in 1313.

Bearbeitet: Apr. 7, 2014, 9:34pm

I, too, had always lent best credence to the earliest conjecture of Celestine. (The problem I have with Musa's suggestion of Pilate is that the poet's personal recognition of a figure is usually a device Dante uses for the recently deceased, rather than the great names of ancient and Scriptural history.)

I don't know if this carries much weight, but the idea that it's Celestine was generally accepted among the commentators a year ago when we all had to drag our history books to freshen our memories on papal resignations. Recall that in April of 2009, Pope Benedict visited the tomb of Pope St. Celestine V and left there the pallium with which he was invested at his installation as pontiff in 2005:

(Ironically, the week of the interregnum, my students were reading the Rule of St. Benedict; and then the next week of the conclave, they were reading selections from Thomas of Celano's Lives of St. Francis.)

Apr. 7, 2014, 10:56pm

I tend to agree with both of you, and you have all offered excellent reasons! I never considered the political ramification of Dante naming Celestine as the 'refuser,' but it makes some sense. I don't see it as a last minute edit though - the idea of not granting these souls even the fame of naming them is too embedded in his description of them and their sins.

I absolutely agree that the opinions of his contemporaries carry more weight. It is also the case that several early manuscript editions (Giovanni diPaolo's for one) show a figure in a papal mitre among the souls in the vestibule.

And of course, Dante's loathing of Boniface seems to add weight to that choice, though one could as easily see Celestine as a pawn in Boniface's schemes. Although, were that the case, it seems he'd have been mentioned when the Spiritual Franciscans are discussed in Paradiso, as they adored Celestine ("Angel Pope' and all that), so again, the evidence seems to support Celestine over Pilate.

The issue of Dante recognizing the person has always bugged me, too, though doesn't he recognize some of the notable personages in Limbo, at least? I'll have to look....

I didn't know about Benedict's visit - that IS fascinating! I had a lot of fun with his resignation, as I had just taught that section of History of Christianity at the time. My students got a kick out of being able to be the ones to offer details on the last Papal resignations....

Nathaniel, this is a bit off topic, but it'a personal interest of mine. What to you make of Celano's Francis? As far as I know, the "fiery chariot" in which Giotto so famously depicted Francis' ascension was Celano's 'invention.' But the Ezekiel typology has never rung true for Francis; he's just not an apocalyptic figure. I have my own theory (though not a popular one), but I'm curious: what do you make of the fiery chariot a la Celano?