The Realm of the Inconstant

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The first person we have speak to us from the realm of the Inconstant (the lowest and slowest sphere of heaven) is a woman named Piccarda. She is consigned to this realm because of her "inconstancy" to her holy vows of a religious. However:

from Paradiso
notes by John Ciardi

Piccarda was already a nun and living in her convent when her brother Corso, needing to establish a political alliance, forced her to marry Rossellino della Tossa of Florence. Various commentators report that Piccarda sickened and soon died as aconsequence of having been so forced against her will and vows.

It is this kind of reasoning that throughout time has bred atheists. Circumstances that we do not will nor do we consent to force us to actions that we would not take for which God, who created and allowed these very circumstances, then punishes or demotes us.

Piccarda had no choice in this matter. For much of medieval time in many places women were just a step (and a very small step) above chattel. A few extraordinary women did rise above these circumstances--but for the most part your lot in life as a woman was to do what the men around you told you to.

But in Dante's mind, a woman who against her will is forced to marry and is basically raped, is inconstant to her vow. I'm surprised she isn't in The Inferno for being false to her vow. Instead God in his infinite love and mercy says--"you were trapped by circumstance and by the situations my will allows, and couldn't puzzle your way out of it--so off to the lowest circle of beatitude and be glad I don't kick you downstairs."

Yuck! This is what I constantly run up against in Paradise. A strange sort of paradise it makes it.

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Well, I should admit right off that the last two times I read the Commedia I ran out of time after Purgatory and didn't move on to Paradise. So it's been a good ten years since I've read it.

It is definitely more theological and thus a bit more period than the other two. However, a couple things that may help a bit:

1) It seems to me like the best way to understand the Divine Comedy is as a conversion on Dante's part from sin, to the virtue of natural reason, to divine virtue. As such, Virgil seems like a more likeable and earthly character that Beatrice, whose assigned role is to break Dante free from earthly thinking.

2) Although Paradise is seen in layers, I'm not sure if one is right to see it as strictly hierarchical in the sense that Inferno is. But to the extent that it is hierarchical, I think Dante's up against a difficult task, since saints of their natures are creatures rather out of the ordinary. I always kind of liked the story of Piccarda because she seems like a very real and understandable character. When forced into a horrible situation, she didn't become a martyr or something totally over the top like that. She just lived through it as best she could, and here she is in heaven. I guess in that sense, I found her one of the most sympathetic.



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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on March 4, 2008 7:54 AM.

Beatrice--Snide and Smug was the previous entry in this blog.

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