Friday, February 04, 2005

Inferno: Canto 26 -- Circle 8, Bolgia 8

"The bard inspired of heaven took up the story at the point where some of the Argives set fire to their tents and sailed away while others, hidden within the horse, were waiting with Ulysses in the Trojan place of assembly. For the Trojans themselves had drawn the horse into their fortress, and it stood there while they sat in council round it, and were in three minds as to what they should do. Some were for breaking it up then and there; others would have it dragged to the top of the rock on which the fortress stood, and then thrown down the precipice; while yet others were for letting it remain as an offering and propitiation for the gods. And this was how they settled it in the end, for the city was doomed when it took in that horse, within which were all the bravest of the Argives waiting to bring death and destruction on the Trojans. Anon he sang how the sons of the Achaeans issued from the horse, and sacked the town, breaking out from their ambuscade. He sang how they over ran the city hither and thither and ravaged it, and how Ulysses went raging like Mars along with Menelaus to the house of Deiphobus. It was there that the fight raged most furiously, nevertheless by Minerva's help he was victorious." (The Odyssey, Book VIII)

As the bard tells the story of the wooden horse and then turns the tale over to Ulysses to complete the story of his travels since, so we find Ulysses with a rather short-flamed account of his last journey -- trapped within a dual flame with Diomede (a kind of Paulo and Francesca sort of punishment, and we'll see it again in the ninth circle when another pair of sinners add to each other's torment), Ullyses is asked by Virgil for his final resting place since history never recorded it. He states, and this is entirely Dante's invention to foreshadow that which will be coming up quite soon, that he gathered a final band of aged men (experienced and hardened sailors, but old, nonetheless) and sailed out of the Mediterranean, turning southwest (toward Brazil), exhorting his men by telling them they "were not born to live like brutes,/ but to press on toward manhood and recognition!" (110-11). The ship passed the Equator and arrived at the base of Mount Purgatory where an angel of G-d pulled it underwater, drowning the crew so that Ulysses's death by water precipitated an eternity in fire.

Why is Ulysses in hell as an evil counselor, then? Because it was his plan to build the Wooden Horse. His counsel is what caused the downfall of Troy, the ancestors to the Romans. We already know that Dante the poet assigns people to hell who served their proper function in bringing about the Resurrection (we saw Caiaphas earlier, crucified beneath the weight of the hypocrites), and here we see Ulysses burning for his role in bringing about the Roman Empire, both of which were ordained by G-d and would have, naturally, had to have their instigators. As Alexander Pope writes in his Essay on Man, every partial evil is universal good; consequently, Troy falls, and Aeneas, about whom Virgil has written, travels to Italy and plants the seed of Troy, from which springs the Roman Empire, bringing about a global government and infrastructure through which Christianity, when it comes about, might spread. None of this, of course, has anything to do with why the angel drowns Ulysses and his crew. That has more to do with what we're about to find -- Nimrod, who built the tower of Babel and tried to invade heaven. Without grace, no man can enter heaven, much less by invasion, and even lesser when heaven was a thousand years from opening to him.

While I'm on this theme, most Western European civilizations trace their founding back to Troy -- the British, to take one example, are so named from Brutus, the grandson of Ascanius, who was the son that Aeneas led from the flames of his city. Brutus accidently killed his father Sylvius while hunting and was banished by his people. After sailing to Greece and freeing a bunch of enslaved Trojans, he met an oracle and learned that he'd found a great nation on the Thames, so he sailed out of the Mediterranean and went north (instead of southwest), skirmished in France and settled in Albion. Albion at the time was so called because of Albyna, the leader of a group of thirty daughters of Emperor Diocletian, who exiled all of them for an abortive attempt (according to some accounts, they succeeded) at killing all their husbands (for the emperor had married them to lesser nobles than he was himself). Pride, then, got Albyna and her sisters thrown onto a ship without rudders or oars and set loose upon the Mediterranean where it miraculously (after bypassing the rest of Greece, all of Italy, Spain and Morocco, and after hugging the coast north all the way to the ends of the earth (for that was where England was)) landed them ashore in an unpeopled land. Albyna named the land after herself, and she and her sisters decided to live there without men until the day they became desirous of male company. Some demons in the air mated with them (sound like Lilith?) and they gave birth to giants, who were still there when Brutus landed. It fell to him and his band to rid Albion of the giants, after which they renamed the land Britain. Fee-fie-foe-fum -- the next canto beckons, and I smell the blood of an Italian.