Movement And Stasis In The Divine Comedy

3985 words - 16 pages

Movement and Stasis : The use of dynamics in the Divine Comedy

Movement is a crucial theme of the Divine Comedy. From the outset, we are confronted with the physicality of the lost Dante, wandering in the perilous dark wood. His movement within the strange place is confused and faltering; `Io non so ben ridir com'io v'entrai'. Moreover, it is clear that the physical distress he is experiencing is the visible manifestation of the mental anguish the poet is suffering. The allegory of the image is one of mid-life crisis, but it is physically represented by the man losing his way in a dark wood. Such an observation may seem far too simple and obvious to be worthy of comment. However, I would argue that it is from this primary example of the deep connection between the physical and the mental, that one can begin to categorise and explain the varying types of movement in the work. The first section of this essay will be a close analysis of several important moments of physical activity or the absence of such. The final section will be an overview of the whole and a discussion of the general structure of the Comedy, how movement is governed and the implications of this.

To begin with, it is useful to summarise the different types of movement (or indeed stasis) that can be found in the Comedy. There is a full range - from the violent movements of the `bufera infernale' of Canto V, Inferno, through the slow, laboured movements of the proud in Canto X, Purgatory, to the frozen stasis of the prisoners in deepest Hell in Canto XXXIII. There is not a simple immediate explanation. Fast movement does not equate a greater sin than the frozen solidity of the treacherous nor vice versa. By analysing several key passages from all three books it will be possible to form some kind of overview of the use of movement in punishment and penance.

The first passage is probably the most famous in the whole work, that of Francesca da Rimini, in Canto V of the Inferno . Condemned for her inconstancy, that is to say her lust, Francesca is contained in the eternal whirlwind of the `bufera infernale', alongside her lover, Paolo. In a clear parallel to her sin, she is buffeted by the inconstant wind. Although unceasing, the wind changes direction and force, a movement which is mirrored by the language used to describe it:

Di qua, di là, di giù, di su li mena;

nulla speranza li conforta mai,

non che di posa, ma minor pena.

(43-45, Canto V, Inf.)

In addition to the basic rhyme of the terza rima, the internal rhyme is carefully manipulated to imitate phonologically the swirling of the wind. By balancing the repeated [a] of `di qua, di la' with the [u:] of the `di giù, di su', Dante is able to mimic the up and down movement of the air.

Francesca, then, is an extremely `mobile' sinner. Although pausing to speak to Dante (the significance of which will be later discussed), she is compelled to move - indeed, it is an...

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