Magnum Mysterium (Great Mystery)

For your convenience I have provided an interlinear translation of the text below.  Please enjoy this acceptably dignified and sensitive performance by the Los Angeles Master Chorale, as Paul Salamunovich directs them on Morten Lauridsen’s well-known setting:

Source: youtube.com

O magnum mysterium,

Great mystery

et admirabile sacramentum,

And sacrament wondrous

ut animalia viderent Dominum natum,

That animals would see the newborn Lord

jacentem in praesepio.

Lain low in a manger.

Beata virgo, cujus viscera

O blessed virgin, whose womb

meruerunt portare

Became worthy to carry

Dominum Christum.

Christ the Lord.

Alleluia.

Alleluia.

 

Note: some overeager grammarians and Catholic theologians may take umbrage over the fact that I have translated meruerunt as an ingressive.  To all such people I offer my most humble and sincere apologies for this liberty.

How to Impress Girls

Dear Ernest,

Everyone loves a good anecdote, so I thought I’d tell you one: several years ago, while at a composition workshop, I had the privilege of meeting and befriending a fellow by the name of Ben Nakamura.  Ben’s English skills were intermediate at best, but as you and I both know, this put him on par with the upper percentile of all native speakers—a brief perusal of any blog like this one can reveal as much.  Employing such and aptitude for English, he once asked me why I began writing music.  I offered him in reply a lengthy exposition on the purpose of art, the human propensity for creativity, and other such kinds of pretentious philosophical ramblings.  When I had sufficiently despoiled from his mind any presumption of eloquence or compendiousness that he might have held for me in light of my life-long familiarity with our mother tongue, I stopped blabbering and returned to him with the same question.  His response was much simpler: “I started writing music,” he said, “to impress a girl.”  Then he laughed at himself before adding, “it’s okay though.  It turns out I like doing it anyway.”

In your last letter: “I fear you despise your own tongue at times”

In answer to your accusation, I must submit entirely.  I can hardly stand my accursed tongue!  It’s always sloshing around like an unwelcome guest, the umbrage of my mouth, all wet and gross, and always arguing with me.  I don’t care how amusing a scene it makes for passersby—my debates with my tongue are utterly infuriating!  Just the other day we were arguing about Dante.  My loquacious antagonist was of the opinion that the Divine Comedy can be read and appreciated much more deeply under the assumption that Beatrice was not a real person.  I opposed him directly.  If Beatrice were not an actual woman, it would mean that Dante has neglected to provided us with any real-world advice on how to impress girls.  Naturally, I would find this all rather disappointing, since arguing about Dante with my tongue already puts me at a disadvantage in that category.  In defence of my viewpoint, allow me to extrapolate evidence from one of his sonnets, quoting in a language that’s much more dear me by heart than native to me by birth:

“or voi di sua virtù farvi savere.  / Dico, qual vuol gentil donna parere / vada con lei, che quando va per via, / gitta nei cor villani Amore un gelo, / per che onne lor pensero agghiaccia e pere; / e qual soffrisse di starla a vedere / diverria nobil cosa o si morria.”

trans: Now let me make her [Beatrice’s] virtue known. I say that it behoves whoever longs to seem a gentle lady to walk with her, for when she passes by, Love casts a chill into the hearts of the villainous, so that their every thought freezes and perishes.  Whoever might endure standing beside and beholding her—he would either become something noble or die.

(Vita Nuova XIX)

As this sonnet implies, the main point that Dante will try to make in the Divine Comedy is simply this: the best way to impress a girl is not to compose music for her but to write immortal Italian love poetry.  All throughout the epic, the same question recurs.  Dante asks his readers and himself, ‘how does one become worthy?’  Worthy, that is, of so virtuous a lady as Beatrice, of so lofty a poetic theme as the salvation of the human soul, and of so glorious a kingdom as that unending realm of Him who is from Everlasting to Everlasting.  The solution is always immortal Italian love poetry.  Live a life, Dante tells us, that is a love poem addressed to no less a muse than the very God whose name is Love.  Come as you are, base and villainous, and He will cast a chill into your heart so that your every vile thought vanishes into oblivion.  Perhaps this will begin somewhere quite superficial—perhaps you’ll begin ‘pursuing God’ only to impress others with your conspicuous virtues or specious magnanimity, both of which are among the many practical benefits of being a nominal Christian.  But by the time you find yourself ‘midway through the journey of our life’, you just might realise that God has been using all those trivialities to cultivate his own radical vision for you.  He has been pursuing you through all the stupid fancies, all the vanities and futilities that first inspired you to turn toward Him, and now, as the impetus and completion of everything that you are becoming, He has overwhelmed you with His grace and bereaved you of every source of pride, even the pride you might take in your own morality and righteousness.  When He has done all this, you may very well arrive at a solidarity with my friend Ben Nakamura: “it’s okay,” you’ll conclude, “it turns out I like doing this anyway.”

Your servant,

TWM

P.S.  Everything I told you about Ben is true…except his name.  He didn’t really go around using a pseudonym as far as I know.

Sucking the Blood out of a Mosquito

I considered titling this post ‘On Surrealism’, but ‘Sucking the Blood out of a Mosquito’ sounded less stodgy, so I went with that.  Sorry if it grosses you out a little.  Anyway, here it is:

It was one of the primary goals of the surrealist movement to astonish its audience.  I believe the surrealists have succeeded wonderfully in that regard, but I am not sure to what end.  In terms of the impact, there is little difference between a hare getting a tortoisecut and an apple crawling out of a worm—both are surreal and astonishing, but neither one communicates to us a particular truth or wonder.  It seems that in trying desperately to liberate his expressive palette, the surrealist has actually restricted it and very nearly reduced it to utter meaninglessness.  Instead of reconciling fantasy with reality, he has rejected reality altogether, turning inward to the more vivid but even less satisfying world his of imagination.

Salvador Dalí (1904 – 1989) was a Spanish surrealist painter, and at times, a devout Catholic.  He is probably most famous for painting this:

The_Persistence_of_Memory
The Persistence of Memory

Perhaps, considering how iconoclastic a movement he followed, it might astonish us that Dalí was ever a Catholic.  But I think this only reflects how greatly our modern society tends to misunderstand what it means to be Christian.  Unlike Surrealism, Christianity is an ideology with no preference for either novelty or convention.  The Surrealist movement has existed entirely for the sake of revolution—take away the radicalism and the astonishment dies.  But Christianity makes no comment on either the radical or the obvious, and if it harbours any implicit affiliation with tradition, it is that religious tradition exists for the sake of Christianity and not the other way around.  However, while the novelty of Surrealism then poses no incompatibility in itself, there still seems to be a conflict between the Surrealist movement as it originally began and Christianity.  That conflict is the alleged rejection of reason.

As I’ve argued elsewhere, there really is no such thing as illogical thought.  One can believe in the irrational but not experience it.  And this belief is what fuels conventional surrealist art, while also providing its greatest shortcoming.  What I find so uninteresting about an apple crawling out of a worm is not the situation itself, but its implied context.  Surrealism cannot help but take place in a world with no rules, a world with no limitations or conflicts.  But these adversities are the very things that make earthly life interesting in the first place, and to exclude them from an imitation of nature is to overlook the most beautiful thing on this side of eternity: the resolution of dissonance.  Good art doesn’t astonish merely for the sake of astonishment; instead it imitates nature, and that is astonishing in itself.  Perhaps making that kind of art might entail hares getting tortoisecuts or sucking the blood out of mosquitos, but at the same time, every incongruity ought to be rationally explained, and that will make it all the more beautiful.

Sometimes as Christians we can forget how astonishing the world really is.  We too might think that the only recourse from the dull vexation of this revolving planet under the sun is some kind of escape.  But in actuality, we need no compensation for the truth.  There is in fact nothing more astonishing than the most fundamental reality of our lives:

Dalí's painting of the Passion of Christ.
Dalí’s painting of the Passion of Christ.

 

There is nothing illogical about God’s creation, but everything about it is astonishing.  For we could not imagine something more beautiful or surreal than what Our Saviour has done for us in reality.  And what is the purpose of art or even of fantasy if not to reinvigorate once again our astonishment with that truth?

Incidentally, Dalí was also fascinated with rhinoceroses.

Cenabis Bene, You Shall Eat Well

A translation will follow this Latin poem.

Cenabis bene, mi Fabulle, apud me
paucis, si tibi di favent, diebus,
si tecum attuleris bonam atque magnam
cenam, non sine candida puella
et vino et sale et omnibus cachinnis.
haec si, inquam, attuleris, venuste noster
cenabis bene; nam tui Catulli
plenus sacculus est aranearum.
sed contra accipies meros amores
seu quid suavius elegantiusve est:
nam unguentum dabo, quod meae puellae
donarunt Veneres Cupidinesque,
quod tu cum olfacies, deos rogabis
totum ut te faciant, Fabulle, nasum.

Translation:

With me you shall eat well, my Fabullus,

If the gods will favor you a day or so,

If you will bring a good and great dinner–

Not without a fair guest, a lady–

Along with wine, the salt of wit, and jest

Of every immoderate kind. And if you bring

These things, my charming friend you shall eat well,

I say.  For your Catullus has a full purse

Of fine spider’s webs.  But amity

Of a pure kind shall be your recompense–

Or whatever else more sweet or elegant;

For I shall give to you a fragrant perfume,

The ambrosial scent of heaven, a gift divine,

And when you smell it, you will entreat the gods

That they might make you entirely a nose.

(Catullus 13)

A few notes on my translation: I have bowdlerized the text here and there, removing the obscene insinuations.  I believe that expurgation has left us with nothing more or less than a charming little poem.  My favorite line is probably the last, simply because it’s so bizarre.  But I also like line eight (which crosses lines eight and nine in my translation).  I have taken special care to preserve the ambiguity here; it is unclear whether Catullus has a purse filled with money but made out of a material like spider’s webs, or if his purse is simply filled with cobwebs, since he is poor.  This ambiguity is what makes the whole poem funny and clever.  It is rude of him to ask his guest to bring their dinner for the evening, but rude in a charming way. He is not embarrassed either to admit how poor he is to so dear a friend–or else to make fun of how inhospitable a host he is.

Miserere mei, Deus

This is very beautiful.  If you are able to find fifteen minutes of quiet today, I would recommend following along in the text as you listen.  Here it is:

source: youtube

The text is from the Vulgate, Psalm L, Psalm 51 in most English Bibles:

Miserere mei, Deus

Have mercy on me, O God

Secundum magnam misericordiam tuam

According to your great compassion

Et secundum multitudinem miserationum tuarum

And according to the multitude of your mercy.

Dele iniquitatem meam

Remove my iniquity.

Amplius lava me ab iniquitate mea

Wash me entirely from my iniquities,

Et a peccato meo munda me

And clean me from my sin,

Quoniam iniquitatem meam ego cognosco

For I am familiar with my iniquities

Et peccatum meum contra me est semper

And my sin is always in opposition of me.

Tibi soli peccavi

I have sinned against you alone,

Et malum coram te feci

And in my heart I have done evil before you,

Ut iustificeris in sermonibus tuis

So that you were justified in your words

Et vincas cum iudicaris

And vindicated with justice.

Ecce enim in iniquitatibus conceptus sum

Behold, for I have been born in iniquities,

Et in peccatis concepit me mater mea

And in sin my mother conceived me.

Ecce enim veritatem dilexisti incerta

Behold, for you delight in the truth.

Incerta et occulta sapientiae tuae manifestasti mihi

You have shown me the hidden and secrete parts of your wisdom.

Asparges me hysopo et mundabor

May you purify me with hyssop and I shall be clean;

Lavabis me et super nivem dealbabor

You shall wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.

Auditui meo dabis gaudium et laetitiam

Grant that I hear joy,

Et exultabunt ossa humiliata

And my humble bones will exult.

Averte faciem tuam a peccatis meis

Turn your face from my sins

Et omnes iniquitates meas dele

And remove all my iniquities.

Cor mundum crea in me Deus

Create in me a cleansed heart, O God,

Et spiritum rectum in meis visceribus innova

And renew your righteous spirit in my guts.

Ne proicias me a facie tua

Do not turn me from your face,

Et spiritum sanctum tuum ne auferas a me

And take not your holy spirit from me.

Redde mihi laetitiam salutaris tui

Give me again the joy of your salvation,

Et spiritu principali confirma me

And strengthen me with your high spirit.

Docebo iniquos vias tuas

I will teach sinners your ways

Et impii ad te convertentur

And the impious shall be turned toward you.

Libera me de sanguinibus Deus

Free me from blood, O God,

Deus salutis meae

God of my salvation.

Exultabit lingua mea iustitiam tuam

My tongue shall exult in your justice.

Domine labia mea aperies

O Lord, you shall open my lips,

Et os meum adnuntiabit laudem tuam

And my mouth shall declare your praise.

Quoniam si voluisses sacrificium dedissem utique

Since if you had wanted a sacrifice, I would have given it,

Holocaustis non delectaberis

But you will not be delighted with offerings.

Sacrificium Deo spiritus contribulatus

The sacrifice before God is a contrite spirit.

Cor contritum et humiliatum

A contrite and humble heart,

Deus non spernet

God will not despise this.

Benigne fac Domine in bona voluntate tua Sion

Act benevolently before the Lord, O Zion, for he is good,

Et aedificentur muri Hierusalem

And the walls shall be built around Jerusalem.

Tunc acceptabis sacrificium iustitiae

Then you shall accept a sacrifice of justice,

Oblationes et holocausta

Offerings and sacrifices.

Tunc inponent super altare tuum vitulos.

Then they shall place bulls on your alter.

Is Love Irrational?

More specifically, could love be radical without being irrational?

Ever since the mystical romanticism of nineteenth century western culture, it has become fashionable to regard love as an irrational human sentiment.  People seem to like this notion because it gives love a special place in philosophy: love is not the sort of thing you can write a long philosophical treatise on (or can you?), but instead it is a subject for great poems and works of art.  Of course, this understanding completely disregards any art that may be inherent in the genera of boring treatise writing, which is entirely surpassed, it is supposed, by the capacity of an ardent poet.  Indeed, this superior position seems to be where such a notion of love is placed; it is not merely irrational but super-rational, transcending and exceeding the limits of the human intellect into some supposedly higher, metaphysical realm of unintelligible emotion.

Some readers might think this notion is less novel than I have made it out to be, and perhaps a brief look at gothic love poetry—by which the romantics were allegedly inspired—would reveal so much.  But let me respond to all such objectors with the position that the culmination of that poetic school is actually the dolce stil nuovo—a highly rational understanding of love.  Indeed, there is very little mystical about medieval mysticism.  But enough arguing with my imaginary antagonists; let’s look at an early renaissance passage.  This comes from John Milton’s Paradise Lost, wherein Eve has just eaten the forbidden fruit and Adam is now throwing a mild hissy-fit over the matter:

“Should God create another Eve, and I

Another Rib afford, yet loss of thee

Would never from my heart; no, no, I feel

The Link of Nature draw me: Flesh of Flesh,

Bone of my Bone thou art, and from thy State

Mine never shall be parted, bliss or woe.”

(Milton, Paradise Lost IX.911-6)

The last two lines might seem irrational.  Why would Adam ever pursue a state of woe?  That doesn’t make any rational sense; hence, Adam’s love must be irrational.  But such a reading completely overlooks Adam’s own rationale, which he provides quite clearly: ‘I feel the Link of Nature draw me’.  Milton is referring to the classical metaphor for marriage as a chain (people have been complaining about ‘the old ball and chain’ since antiquity).  So entering into a state of woe is something that Adam would do by compulsion, and thus, he violates no rational principles.  But Adam’s first premise is the most puzzling part of his logical argument: ‘Should God create another Eve … loss of thee / Would never from my heart’.  What does that mean?  If God could make another version of the same thing that Adam holds dear, why on earth would Adam pursue the broken one rather than being satisfied with a replacement?

We could easily imagine this question posed in much a more personal way.  Suppose after thirty-five years of marriage, when the children are fully grown and left the cave, Eve turns to Adam in a moment of personal dissatisfaction and asks him that enduring question which has baffled the mind of every lover since the dawn of mankind: ‘why did you choose me?’  Adam would hardly have found himself in a tighter spot if she had instead asked, ‘does this sheep skin make me look fat?’  But he has an easy way out, a simple, rational answer that has been available to no man since: ‘I frankly had no other options.’   However, much to our amazement and stupefaction, Adam utterly refuses this obvious answer and favours a romantic and seemingly mystical one.  He goes out of his way to create a hypothetical situation in which there are other Eves and then still decides to stick with his particular wife.  Why?

The Serial Lover

Dear Ernest,

As I read your letter, I fell, almost involuntarily, into a state of thorough introspection, a consideration of my own habits wherein I examined the ramifications of my efficiency, as you described it, and of each particular mannerism that I possess.  I shortly realised that these subconscious habits you mentioned, these mindless expressions of virtues and of vices, could take place in even least conspicuous expressions of morality—in mere thought—and insofar as they were notions arising at random, could provide, escaping all notice and control, some of the most troublesome and unknowable sources of intellectual sin.  Upon realising this, I began examining my thoughts, searching them for whatever may be of ill report, and finding, much to my dismay, that as I so examined, my thoughts contained nothing more than a contemplation of my thoughts themselves, which left me confused and frustrated by the vain attempt.  Needless to say, I soon directed my attention to a cogitation of recursive systems and fractals.

And indeed, this seems to me to be the fundamental shortcoming of the Freudian age.  Psychology is prefaced, unlike all other sciences, by a philosophy of introspection, not of nature.  Here man does not observe the natural universe outside of himself, using the scientific method from the age of reason, but rather, he observes himself and the inner-selfs of those around him, taking his means instead from the romantic and mystical age that followed.  But the romantics, in all their zeal for formless intuition, and in all their commendable appreciation of the complexity of natural phenomena, appear nonetheless to have overlooked an essential issue that, in a simpler fashion, any adherent of formal reasoning and academic proceedings could have never failed to notice: namely, that the scientist always perceives in the third person only, and that a mirror is not the self, but a false image or resemblance.  Consciousness is, like the speed of light, a cosmic limit, always trailing off in front of an observer at the same rate.  Indeed, the moment man considers his own thoughts, he is no longer thinking them.

In your last letter: “[Love] is not a set of scripts we can write to program ourselves to imitate Christ – it is a continuous choice, an expression of our thoughtful, creative self in ways that show love to others and to God.”

In any case, it remains a question for the ages whether Hamlet loves Ophelia when he says ‘get thee to a nunnery’.  Perhaps the to be or not to be speech is really a demonstration not of suicidal gothicism nor of manic depression, but of prudent foresight and planning for a certain fate; for who could ever imagine such treachery as Hamlet’s dread command going unpunished, even with death itself?  How could he ever hope for a better future than ‘that sleep of death’, his only ‘consummation’—perhaps with some dark but revealing allusion to la petite mort?  If this is so, then there is no more passionate expression of love devised in all of English poetry than the scene that follows.  But it is a very strange kind of love.  One not of intimacy and affection, nor of any warm sentiment that would betray the serial-killer illusion under which our Hamlet is so often typified, but it is a love that exists in thoughts, a love that operates, much like the programming of a computer, by systematic planning and calculated proceeding.  This is the kind of love that submits, in the most dire of circumstances, even to surrendering its very object for the sake of her own good.

 

Your servant,

TWM

A Pointed Purpose

Yo, Ernest,

The informal greeting is an indication that, unfortunately, I do not anticipate this letter being the sort of thing I’ll be copying onto parchment any time soon—which is a real shame, considering how many other things there are that I copy onto parchment on a regular basis.

Well, here’s a quotation and a translation:

At pius Aeneas, quamquam lenire dolentem

solando cupit et dictis avertere curas,

multa gamens magnoque animum labefactus amore

iussa tamen divum exsequitur classemque revisit.

 

But pious Aeneas,

although he longs to sooth her pain with solace

and turn her from her cares with gentle words,

Much grieving,

and labefied, his soul, With great desire,

he nonetheless pursues the god’s commands

And returns to his fleet.

Aeneas heroically carries his father, Anchises, out of troy as the city burns behind him.

Pious is a common epithet that Vergil uses to describe Aeneas.  It had broader implications in the context of ancient Rome than it does today, including a dutifulness not only to the gods, but also to one’s family and one’s state.  In the excerpt which I have so translationally quoted, it seems to bring out the purpose for which Aeneas is leaving Dido.  He is choosing to serve the gods, his family, and his future state.  By pursuing Rome instead of remaining in Carthage with Dido he is providing his son with a perspective principality—however unfulfilled that prospect may end up—while serving also his father by making a legacy of his bloodline.

In your last letterThey serve to point.

But Dante, who we know to be more clever than he’s, took advantage of the change in meaning that this word underwent over the thirteen centuries between their lives.  In his Comedy, pietate refers to pity.  Dante understands that all these reverences that Vergil thought of as shows of piety are really earthly passions—cares for the vicissitudinous and the mortal, which can be nothing else but sorrows and depravities.  The fact that Dido’s curse comes true, that Aeneas son, Ascanius dies before he can inherit the throne, demonstrates the shortsightedness of these investments.  And for Dante, even his reverence for the ‘gods’ is a folly.

How can an earthy purpose point to a heavenly one?

 

Your servant,

TWM

Star Gazing

Ernest,

Your letter reminded me of a beautiful moment in Dante’s Divine Comedy, when just before entering the dooming gates of hell, Dante, the literary character, addresses Vergil, his guide, who tells him that Beatrice  has advised their journey.  What’s particularly moving about this passage, which I have quoted below, is the hope that Dante displays even in the face of what lies before him.  Just a few short paces off lie the gates of hell itself, with that infamous inscription carved into stone above the top: LASCIATE OGNE SPERANZA VOI CH’INTRATE, “ABANDON ALL HOPE, YE WHO ENTER HERE!”

But Dante doesn’t do this, instead he finds all the more hope in what Vergil has told him:

 

“Oh pietosa colei che mi soccorse!

e te cortese ch’ubidisti tosto

a le vere parole che ti porse!

Tu m’hai con disiderio il cor disposto

sì al venir con le parole tue,

ch’i’ son tornato nel primo proposto.

Or va, ch’un sol volere è d’ambedue:

tu duca, tu sengore, e tu maestro.”

Così li dissi; e poi che mosso fue,

intrai per lo cammino alto e silvestro.

 

“O compassionate, she who thus availeth me!

And courteous, thou who hast obeyed so prompt

The truthful words that she hath put to thee!

Thou hast inclined desire in my heart

For venture, with thine words, that I renew

To mee the primal purpose as before.

Now go, for to us both a single will:

Be thou the leader, thou the lord and master!”

And even so I said to him.

When he had moved,

I entered by the journey deep and cruel.

 

Seeing through all the brutal devastation that lies directly in front of him, Dante is able to hope in something glorious that comes long after it.  By God’s grace and love, symbolised in the figure of Beatrice, ‘who availeth’ him, this woeful journey though the land of tears serves, even by its very ugliness, to but highlight the profound beauty and eternal splendour of a salvation yet to come.

Dante says he is moved with disiderio, ‘desire’, which comes from the Latin, desiderare, a word composed of two parts: de, meaning ‘concerning’, and sidera, meaning ‘the stars’ or ‘the heavens’.  So Dante is foreshadowing the last moment of the Inferno, when he and Vergil come forth out of hell—a place of unbearable darkness, where even the stars neglect to shine—to see once more, in the very last line of the book, something truly awe-inspiring:

 

E quindi uscimmo a riveder le stelle.

We thence went forth to rebehold the stars.

 

This line inspired a moment in my twelfth symphony (2012):

 

 

I think life is a lot like this.  Gratitude for God’s small gifts in the present is a way of desiring; that is, a way of regarding the stars, our ultimate destiny in Christ.  By giving thanks for something like a familiar cup of tea, a good grade on a blog post, or a book consisting of something other than meaningless numbers and names, we are able, by an ironically short sighted act of thanks, to transcend all of our present despairs and adversities, liberated, by God’s grace, to live with an ever present hope in our eternal beatitude, to endure, even through the fiery pains of hell itself, with a perpetual and imminent longing for that ineffable vista of the stars.

 

Your servant,

TWM

Thanks in Hell

I have decided that the three best expressions of thanks in literature all take place in hell.

In a very specifically insignificant order, they are:

(1) When the devils of Milton’s Paradise Lost praise Satan for designating himself to go and tempt man (Milton Par. II.476-485)

(2) When Dante thanks Virgil for renewing his courage just before entering limbo (Dante Infer. II.133-142)

(3) When Odysseus makes sacrifices to ingratiate the dead (Hom. Od. 11.23-33)

I think the notion of thanks in hell creates a very strange paradigm.  Milton does a good job exploiting the bizarreness of it when he writes ‘for neither do the Spirits damn’d / lose all their virtue’.  Of course, he is making a pun off the etymology of the word ‘virtue’, which, in the Latin, virtus, had also a connotation of mere strength, not necessarily associated with any moral standard.

 

Their rising all at once was as the sound

Of thunder heard remote. Towards him they bend

With awful reverence prone; and as a God

Extol him equal to the highest in Heav’n:

Nor fail’d they to express how much they prais’d,

That for the general safety he despis’d

His own: for neither do the Spirits damn’d

Lose all their virtue; lest bad men should boast

Their specious deeds on earth, which glory excites,

Or close ambition varnisht o’er with zeal.

 

(Milton Par. II.476-485)

 

Milton goes on: ‘lest bad men should boast / Their specious deeds on earth, which glory excites, / Or close ambition varnisht o’er with zeal.’  So for Milton thanks, in hell, is an end in itself.  The damned are virtuous, or strong, not for the sake of being virtuous, but in order that they might be praised for it.

But Dante understands that gratitude can also be a means to an end.  It can move someone to do something good—like ascending to paradise—for which they only lacked sufficient motivation.

 

“Oh pietosa colei che mi soccorse!

e te cortese ch’ubidisti tosto

a le vere parole che ti porse!

Tu m’hai con disiderio il cor disposto

sì al venir con le parole tue,

ch’i’ son tornato nel primo proposto.

Or va, ch’un sol volere è d’ambedue:

tu duca, tu sengore, e tu maestro.”

Così li dissi; e poi che mosso fue,

intrai per lo cammino alto e silvestro.

 

Pardon my horrific translations; I was having a little too much fun this morning:

“O compassionate, she who availeth me!

And courteous, thou who hast obeyed so prompt

The truthful words that she hath put to thee!

Thou hast inclined desire in my heart

For venture, with thine words,

That I renew to mee the primal purpose.

Now go, for to us both a single will:

Thou the leader, thou the lord and maestro.”

Even so I said to him; and when he had moved,

I entered by the journey deep and cruel.

 

However, I mostly included the Homer quote to motivate people to keep reading.  I thought it was funny in its obscurity.  Odysseus it trying to motivate the dead souls to speak to him, using a technique that we may call ‘pre-thanks’

 

ἔνθ᾽ ἱερήια μὲν Περιμήδης Εὐρύλοχός τε

ἔσχον: ἐγὼ δ᾽ ἄορ ὀξὺ ἐρυσσάμενος παρὰ μηροῦ

βόθρον ὄρυξ᾽ ὅσσον τε πυγούσιον ἔνθα καὶ ἔνθα,

ἀμφ᾽ αὐτῷ δὲ χοὴν χεόμην πᾶσιν νεκύεσσι,

πρῶτα μελικρήτῳ, μετέπειτα δὲ ἡδέι οἴνῳ,

τὸ τρίτον αὖθ᾽ ὕδατι: ἐπὶ δ᾽ ἄλφιτα λευκὰ πάλυνον.

πολλὰ δὲ γουνούμην νεκύων ἀμενηνὰ κάρηνα,

ἐλθὼν εἰς Ἰθάκην στεῖραν βοῦν, ἥ τις ἀρίστη,

ῥέξειν ἐν μεγάροισι πυρήν τ᾽ ἐμπλησέμεν ἐσθλῶν,

Τειρεσίῃ δ᾽ ἀπάνευθεν ὄιν ἱερευσέμεν οἴῳ

παμμέλαν᾽, ὃς μήλοισι μεταπρέπει ἡμετέροισι.

τοὺς δ᾽ ἐπεὶ εὐχωλῇσι λιτῇσί τε, ἔθνεα νεκρῶν,

ἐλλισάμην, τὰ δὲ μῆλα λαβὼν ἀπεδειροτόμησα

ἐς βόθρον, ῥέε δ᾽ αἷμα κελαινεφές:

 

Then Perimedes and Eurylochus held the victims;

And I, drawing a sharp blade from my side, [presumably, on which a sheath was hanging],

Dug a trench, deep and long on this side and that,

And on both sides of it I poured a libation to all the dead,

First with honey-milk, then with a redolent wine,

And third, again, with water; and on it, I sprinkled light barely-groats [because, apparently, dead souls like that sort of thing]

And to the many wandering heads of the dead souls, I vowed

That when I had come to Ithaca, a barren ox, whichever is the best one,

I would sacrifice it in my halls, and would fill a pyre with goods,

And to Tiresias, alone and afar, I would sacrifice a black ram,

Which distinguishes itself from our sheep.