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The Sonorous World Of Dante's Commedia



A Study Of All Musical References in Inferno, Purgatory and Paradise

Lobke Sprenkeling

Valencia, 2016


This book is an adaptation of a chapter in my 2016 PhD Thesis The search for a new multidisciplinary language at the crossroads of Antiquity and Contemporaneity, within the Doctorate Music program of the Universitat Politècnica de València. My thesis was focussed on the question of how the work methods taken from Historically Informed Performance practice of Early Music contribute to the creation of a Contemporary Music Theatre performance, which I realized through a mise-en-scene of Dante’s Commedia. Therefore, I had to dive into Dante Studies as deeply as I had to done with Early Music Studies and Contemporary Theatre Studies. In my historical-musically directed investigation of the Commedia I discovered that it lit up aspects of Dante’s sonorous references that had not come to the surface in other studies, as far as I am aware of. Thus, I have been so bold as to consider it of interest to publish my work on Dante and Music as a separate book, and surely hope it is received as such.

I would like to give special thanks to Margaret Bent, who has been most kind to answer any questions I had and to give me feedback after having read this book with a critical eye.






The ineffable and its interpretation: beyond polyphony



Much has been written on the Commedia by Dante Alighieri, but the relationship of this magnificent work with the subject of music has been assessed in only a few articles and books. Considering the fact that the Commedia is full of references to music, this might seem surprising, but we should take into account the fact that it combines the quite distinct disciplines of Medieval Literature Studies and Musicology. The Sonorous World of Dante’s Commedia aims to give a comprehensive insight into Dante’s sonorous references, turning not only to Medieval Literature Studies and Musicology but also historically informed performance practice of Medieval chant. This enables us to gain a broader perspective and open up new information about Dante’s sonorous references.


The Commedia contains many references to both musical and non-musical sounds. In Inferno, there seem to be only non-musical sounds, at least at first sight. When we read more carefully, we can discover various references to chants and music, but only to reinforce the fact that all sonorous experience in Inferno is anti-musical. Francesco Ciabattoni, Associate Professor of Italian at Georgetown University, argues that this is part of the punishment in Hell: the damned souls and those who once were angels (the neutral angels and the disobedient devils) are denied any form of music. Ciabattoni calls it a perverted musical experience.^^1^^ In Purgatorio and Paradiso, there are many references to chants, as an important part of the Afterlife experience. Although the chants have already been listed and performed^^2^^, this performance was based on the 20th century standard versions of the Church, which are different from the Late-Medieval repertoire. We must go back to manuscripts from around 1300 and, if this is not possible, at least try to find a version before the Council of Trent (1545-1563) and certainly before the reform of the monks of Solesmes at the end of the 19th century. As far as is known, this research has not been undertaken yet, and as such it already contributes to knowledge of Dante’s Commedia. Furthermore, there will be composition of additional voices to the plainchant melody according to the rules that were valid at the beginning of the 14th century.


In his book Dante’s Journey to Polyphony^3^, Francesco Ciabattoni did considerable work by transmitting information from a great range of bibliography on Dante, among others works by Italian-writing authors that have not been translated into English. In this aspect it has served as a useful source of information for our study. Unfortunately, his book is not precise in its reasoning and conclusions, rather based on wishful speculations than facts, sometimes even using erroneous data^^4^^. Ciabattoni bases his hypothesis on the assumption made in a number of writings that Dante seems to be making a journey from Anti-Music in Inferno through monophonic music in Purgatory to polyphonic “hyper-music” in Paradise.^^5^^ However, the idea that music in Purgatory is monophonic and in Paradise polyphonic is not as evident as it may seem. Most references to music in the Commedia do not give any specified information about its performance. As we will see, Ciabattoni has interpreted certain poetical expressions as indications for either monophony or polyphony, but they are not that obvious. After all, improvised note-against-note organum could range from parallel movement in octaves and fifths to contrary motion, which makes the distinction rather blurry. And what about the possibility of Dante knowing the practice of shorter notes against a longer tenor as a kind of “fractio” ornamentation, beginning as an improvised practice which eventually was notated? What we do know is that there was no break between monophony and polyphony but rather a continuum in everyday liturgical practice. Organum or cantus planus binatim was a colouring of the sound, not a polyphonic form with different rhythmic patterns. Thus, it is perfectly possible that Dante might have thought of organum in Purgatory at some points. On the other hand, in Paradise many musical descriptions are of an incomprehensible, supernatural type of music while polyphony is only clearly implied in a few cases. Perhaps we should not take for granted that Dante imagined anything like human musica instrumentalis, even if such vocal, audible music produced by humans was thought to be a creation of God. Just as Inferno hosts Anti-Music, Paradise hosts Hyper-Music.


Definitions and suggestions of musical forms and performance have changed considerably over time. In order to understand what Dante is really describing, a study of Medieval definitions is essential. Margaret Bent wrote an excellent article on how Dante defines poetical and musical terms in De Vulgari Eloquentia. Bent shows herself very critical on a number of these musical and non-musical issues, confirming the problem of Medieval terminology. She poses the question why the bibliography on Dante and music is so scarce.


“One reason may be a disjunction between, on the one hand, Dante’s apparent expectation of musical or at least oral performance of his work and, on the other, the total absence of any near-contemporary musical settings of his poetry. Dante seems to imply that canzoni from his own poetic output were musically composed and performed, but no such settings survive. A second reason why Dante’s several striking reports of music in the Commedia have eluded comment could be that most do not inform us about music as such, but about its affective impact on listeners. However powerful in effect, the content of such reports is hard to pin down. Thirdly, there are serious problems of terminology, and ambiguities as to where the line falls between verbal poetry and what we would call musical settings or musical performance.”^^6^^


As to the first reason given by Bent, none of the texts of Dante have been used for a 14th century musical composition: “No musical settings of his poetry survive from the fourteenth century. This is the more surprising since polyphonic settings of other secular Italian poetry survive in large numbers from soon after Dante’s death” (Bent 2004, 162). In Purgatory 2 of the Commedia, the troubadour Casella sings a song with the text of one of Dante’s poems, but such a setting has never been found. Bent notes that the madrigal as a polyphonic musical form became only popular from around the 1340s.^^7^^ Indeed, Dante just mentions the poetic forms canzone, ballata and sonnet in his De vulgari eloquentia, adding that there are other forms that he has not yet discussed. Bent concludes that “there is thus a considerable disjunction between the surviving poetic genres and actual musical settings. Dante sets out a hierarchy which in no way correlates with whether forms were or were not set to music” (Bent 2004, 163). Nevertheless, the development of the new polyphonic genres probably came just at the end of Dante’s lifetime, after the propositions of binary rhythmic modes by Marchettus da Padova between 1317 and 1319. It is thus probable that Dante never knew the madrigal.


Bent mentions as a second reason the fact that the musical references in the Commedia are not informative about the actual music but rather its effect on Dante. She continues:


“musical references in the Commedia take their identity largely from the words attached to them, and are reported for rhetorical effect, usually praised as sweet [dolce] (…), a performative quality to which we have no access and which permits no reconstruction, even in those cases where we can point to the chant melody Dante would have had in mind.” (Bent 2004, 164).


She questions the idea that Dante had any technical musical knowledge:


“Such affective reporting of music has always been common for the great majority of music-lovers, of all degrees of culture, who are sensitive to its effects but who are not themselves musically trained. Isidore [of Seville, ca.560 – 636] attests to the universally moving effect of music, corresponding to Dante’s Aristotelian understanding of passio or effect in De Vulgari Eloquentia II.viii. I find nothing in Dante’s mentions of music to suggest that he was musically adept beyond an acquaintance with the somewhat abstract theory of Isidore and Boethius as the sources for his definitions of harmony.” (Bent 2004, 165).


Bent points out that Dante’s “impressionistic” way of describing the effects of music does not reveal any “authority of an ars or techne”, a craftsmanship, while specifying that “in addition to any aesthetic or emotional effect it produces, artful, composed music has its own inner logic or grammar, independent of words, hard but not impossible to hint at in verbal description” (Bent 2004, 166). This is a very interesting argument, although some caution is required, since the musical knowledge of Medieval professional and amateur musicians was very different from ours and we should get acquainted with their musical expressions. There is no certain knowledge of the musical education of Dante, even though modern flautist Mimi Stillman in her article suggests otherwise, basing herself on the musician Michele Croese and claiming that there were two stages in Dante’s musical education: in his early years Dante’s contact with music would have been through making music and working with musicians, and later on he would have explored the theory and philosophy of music. Croese bases this conclusion on the fact that high-born classes normally received practical musical training. However, there is no existent evidence for the suggestion that Dante made music himself. Stillman continues: “In this elegant, leisurely world described by Dante in his Vita nuova and by Boccaccio in the Decameron, aristocrats and intellectuals gathered to read poetry, perform music, and dance. In his Trattatello in laude di Dante, Boccaccio records that the young Dante played, sang, and composed skillfully”.^^8^^ This work was one of the first biographies of Dante, written by someone who had not known him personally. We have to be aware again of the fact that Medieval society and manner of self-expression were very different from ours. It is likely that the stories on Dante’s life that circulated in the 14th century were embellished or changed slightly through time. Bocaccio did not do any historical research for his biography but rather mentioned the information and personal ideas he had about Dante’s life and work.


As a third reason in Margaret Bent’s article for so little bibliography on the Commedia’s musical references she lists problems of terminology for verbal poetry versus musical performance. She specifies that


“it is sometimes hard to determine which of three possible levels Dante might be talking about [in De Vulgari Eloquentia]: music as we understand it; musical terms as metaphors or analogies for poetry; undifferentiated terminology common to both and transferable between them. (…) Some apparently musical terms did not have uniquely ‘musical’ connotations in the middle ages but were borrowed from grammar, rhetoric and other word-based disciplines.” (Bent 2004, 166).


She continues stating that “‘song’ and ‘music’ are not necessarily ‘sounding music’ in our sense; there are also many overlaps and much interchangeability in the medieval vocabulary of speech and song.” (Bent 2004, 171). To take the most obvious example, the three cantiche (cantica in singular) and the hundred cantos are not referring to sounding music but to poetical definitions. Furthermore, Bent confirms that “the Commedia is full of apparently interchangeable words for saying and singing” and that “dicere and canere seem to be interchangeable as words for authorship, for saying and singing, just as facere is used both for making and doing, composition and performance.” (Bent 2004, 178). She warns against an understanding of the word armonia solely as the modern concept of musical harmony:


armonia relates to the science of harmonics, the proportions, ratios or numerical relationships (ratio) both between the heavenly bodies and between the components of musical intervals. (…) At another level armonia is a qualitative word expressing the proportioned joining of diverse components, and for music the definitions are parallel to those used by Dante for words. Armonia denotes relationships between people, between words, between musical sounds (consonant intervals) as well as silent mathematical relationships, but the word had no compositional musical meaning in Dante’s time, and most certainly nothing like the idea of ‘musical setting’,‘musical accompaniment’ or harmonising in the sense familiar to us from recent usage” (Bent 2004, 174).


She warns that terms such as “musical” or “song” in the Middle Ages “might apply to some kind of chanted monotone with inflections, more so to an actual melody applied to the words, spontaneous or composed, and finally and most clearly to a composed polyphonic setting of those words” (Bent 2004, 178). As examples she refers to the declamatory performances of Sarah Berhardt (1844-1923) and the Comédie Française of the early 20th century, where speech and song are mingled into “a high, declamatory style of delivery inconceivable to modern theatre-goers.” (Bent 2004, 179). Finally, Bent concludes that “music, as Dante understands it, consists of internal relationships perceived by the mind and potentially transmittable to the mind of another person via the sense of hearing, but not necessarily realised in sound” (Bent 2004, 180). She refers to a kind of mental, inner listening that does not have to sound in order to be musical.


Keeping Bent’s statements in mind, we read Ciabattoni’s book with some caution when he writes enthusiastically about the musical references, stating that Dante meant a monophonic performance in Purgatory and a polyphonic performance in Paradise. When Ciabattoni writes that “historical and musicological evidence tells us that Dante’s exposure to polyphony was such that we should actually be surprised if he had not made polyphonic songs an important element in his poem”, it should be noted that this polyphony was the simple, note-against-note, improvised organum, which was generally not perceived as polyphony but rather as adding a musical colour to the plainchant melody. Ciabattoni in his introduction quotes Margaret Bent’s words on the matter:


“There are very few places in the Commedia that can be construed as referring to polyphonic music (…) Most of Dante’s references to sounding music lend themselves most readily to interpretations either of monophonic music or, if polyphonic, in a relatively simple style, such as Dante doubtless heard in Tuscan churches.” (Bent 2004, 162 and Ciabattoni 2010, 11).


We see that Medieval definitions of polyphony and monophony were quite different from ours, and it is wise to follow Margaret Bent’s caution in this matter as we discuss the Commedia’s musical and non-musical sonorous references. Thus, instead of polyphony in the modern sense, it is possible that Dante’s “polyphonic” references in Paradise were principally metaphors for the Trinity (using expressions such as “triple melodies”) and that a word such as armonia pointed to a poetical harmony rather than a musical one.





In Inferno there is no music. The souls are not only denied any form of music but they are also unable to express themselves musically. Their reason and will are so distorted that they are simply not capable of singing nor do they wish to do so. They are stuck in their sinful perspective, as Gragnolati has shown in his book on the aerial body in Dante’s Commedia^^9^^. We read in Chapter 1 that music in its Medieval understanding is in fact a reflection of Divine order by means of perfect numeric proportions. Since Inferno is a place of disorder and the souls themselves are internally discomposed without any possibility to return to their natural inner harmony, music has no place down here. Ciabattoni states that,


“as the orderly structure of the heavens is expressed in musical terms by the choirs of the blessed, so the chaos of hell produces a cacophonic mockery of the sacred songs. Such mockery, however, turns uniquely against the wretched and reminds them that their eternal damnation cannot be alleviated” (Ciabattoni 2010, 83).


The sounds emitted by the damned are expressions of negative emotions, principally anger and pain. Mostly, the souls express themselves by shouting or other aggressive behaviour. Some are not even able to verbalize their emotions, either because they are submerged in some substance or because they are babbling nonsense. This does not mean that there are no references to music. The sounds of Inferno together form a kind of Anti-Music, a term coined by writer and academic Edoardo Sanguineti (1930-2010).^^10^^ Apart from a lack of any audible music, Dante even goes further and includes non-musical parodies on liturgical music. The main audible characteristic of the sounds in Inferno is their cacophonic nature.^^11^^ In Ciabattoni’s words, “cacophony is a primary element of the landscape and an instrument of punishment” (Ciabattoni 2010, 78). Thus, musical disorder is not only a reflection of the damned souls’ distortion but also their punishment.


At the beginning of Inferno, Virgil appears when Dante’s path out of the wilderness is blocked by three beasts. Dante anxiously pleads to Virgil: “Miserere di me”, a translation into Italian of the Latin miserere mei. These words are the incipit of Psalm 50, meaning literally “have pity on me”^^12^^. They are the first spoken words in the cantica of Inferno. In the whole Commedia, the Miserere only appears two more times: in Purgatory 5.22, sung by the late repentants who have to wait in Ante-Purgatory, and in Paradise 32.12, only mentioned – but not sung – by Saint Bernard when he speaks about Ruth, the great-great-grandmother of David, “the singer who in remorse cried ‘Miserere mei’ ”^^13^^.


Ciabattoni tells us that


“the invocation miserere, as Sapegno warns, was used in its original Latin form even by the common people in everyday situations, but in the Psalms it recurs in specific association with the recognition of the condition of sinfulness and the plea for divine help. It is an invocatio peccatorum, a desperate cry for help in the darkest time of trouble when the soul is so burdened with sin that it cannot be lifted without God’s merciful intervention. It is a request to heal the soul and create a clean heart in the sinner. Such supplication for help can obviously only take place once the singer has become aware of his desperate condition and is alone before his sin” (Ciabattoni 2010, 67).


He argues that this is the reason why Dante himself is not singing: he cannot sing because he is in sin himself. However, Dante is a living man so he is still in time to change his destiny – at the moment of a man’s death, the Divine judgement will be unchangeable for the rest of times. “There is a defect of the pilgrim’s state that prevents him from singing it”, as Ciabattoni formulates it (Ciabattoni 2010, 67), who sees it as the deciding moment where Dante the sinner, heading towards his damnation, realizes for the first time that he has to change. Ciabattoni remarks that “Dante’s spoken word of desperation is a musicless anticipation of the reversal of sacred chants we shall find later on.” (Ciabattoni 2010, 73).


Ciabattoni also tells us that “music is programmatically made the herald of infernal reality because it introduces the landscape and character of Hell before images are added.” (Ciabattoni 2010, 76). Indeed, the choir of the neutral angels and souls is introduced by its sound rather than by its visual aspect (Inferno 3.22-30):


table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. Quivi sospiri, pianti e alti guai

risonavan per l’aere sanza stelle,

per ch’io al cominciar ne lagrimai.


Diverse lingue, orribili favelle,

parole di dolore, accenti d’ira,

voci alte e fioche, e suon di man con elle


facevano un tumulto, il qual s’aggira

sempre in quell’aura sanza tempo tinta,

come la rena quando turbo spira.

|<>. p<>{color:#000;}. Here heartsick sighs and groanings and shrill cries

re-echoed through the air devoid of stars,

so that, but started, I broke down in tears.

Babbling tongues, terrible palaver,

words of grief, inflections of deep anger,

strident and muffled speech, and clapping hands,

all made a tumult that whipped round and round

forever in that colorless and timeless air,

like clouds of sand caught up in a whirlwind.



The souls are not presented physically but audibly: “here he offers us only the sinners’ disembodied voices and a handful of whirling sand. We are, therefore, presented with an array of ghosts. (…) It is the racket that whirls around, rather than their bodies.” (Ciabattoni 2010, 77). Dante indicates the neutral angels with “wicked choir” (cattivo coro) in Inferno 3.37. This description and the sound of their eternal circular motion indicate a parodic version of the angelic choir. “A fitting form of symbolic retribution, their punishment is a lowly imitation of the angelic wheels: they are arrayed in a circle and must forever spin, fixing their attention on a meaningless and yet unreachable banner (…), instead of looking to God in whom all truth lies.” (Ciabattoni 2010, 78). After a while, Dante is able to see them as well (Inferno 3.52-57):


table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. E io, che riguardai, vidi una ’nsegna

che girando correva tanto ratta,

che d’ogne posa mi parea indegna;


e dietro le venìa sì lunga tratta

di gente, ch’i’ non averei creduto

che morte tanta n’avesse disfatta.

|<>. p<>{color:#000;}. And I, looking again, observed a banner

which, as it circled, raced on with such speed

it did not seem ever to want to stop;

and there, behind it, marched so long a file

of people, I would never have believed

that death could have undone so many souls.



Another aspect to this parody on the angelic choir are the cacophonic, bizarre and senseless sounds they produce. There is nothing harmonious in their utterances and nothing proportional in their intervals and rhythm. Ciabattoni argues that “the hidden musical datum of this passage is revealed in all its technical implications if we skip ahead to Paradiso 10.139, which stresses the importance of measuring time for polyphonic singing by envisioning a clock made of singing souls. (…) The infernal mockery of angelic music has no rhythm, no accordance of tempo.” (Ciabattoni 2010, 78). The first commentator on the entire Commedia, Jacopo della Lana (1290-1365) wrote about the expression sanza tempo (Inferno 3.29):


“He says this because every sound that is musically attuned produces pleasure to the hearing, that tempo is the order in music, making the voices resound sweetly together. If that noise is without tempo, it means it lacks order, and, consequently, does not give any pleasure.”^^14^^.


Ciabattoni also points out that “the neutral angels in Inferno are presented in a position that forms a mirror image of the angels at the end of the poem, where Dante employs the same rhyme words ‘(co)loro’ / ‘coro’ / ‘fuoro’ (Inf. 3.35-9; Par. 28.92-6).” (Ciabattoni 2010, 79). In Paradise 28.118, all the angels sing a Hosanna, confirming the image of the choir of angels. Prof. Mazzotta suggests, as we saw in Chapter 3, that the “choir” of neutral souls and angels is linked to the end of Inferno, where the fallen angel Lucifer resides: “Inferno begins and ends with angels rejected from Paradise” (Mazzotta 2008, Lecture 9). Moreover, the neutral angels run eternally after a meaningless banner, while Lucifer is indicated by Virgil with the words Vexilla regis prodeunt inferni (“The Banners of the King of Hell Advance”) – a parody on the 6th century hymn Vexilla regis prodeunt^15^.


At the beginning of the circle of the lustful, it is again the sound rather than the image that introduces the scene (Inferno 5.25-27):


table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. Or incomincian le dolenti note

a farmisi sentire; or son venuto

là dove molto pianto mi percuote.

|<>. p<>{color:#000;}. Now the notes of suffering begin

to reach my hearing; now I am arrived

at where the widespread wailing hammers me.



The souls who inhabit this circle are compared to birds. First they are described as crying similar to the cranes’ song. Curiously, Dante uses the musical-poetical term lai for their song (Inferno 5.46-49):


table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. E come i gru van cantando lor lai

faccendo in aere di sé lunga riga

così vid’io venir, traendo guai,


ombre portate da la detta briga |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. And as the cranes fly over, chanting lays,

forming one long line across the sky,

so I saw come, uttering their cries,

shades wafted onward by these winds of strife |



When Francesca and Paolo descend, they are described as two doves (Inferno 5.82-87):


table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. Quali colombe dal disio chiamate

con l’ali alzate e ferme al dolce nido

vegnon per l’aere, dal voler portate;


cotali uscir de la schiera ov’è Dido,

a noi venendo per l’aere maligno,

sì forte fu l’affettüoso grido.

|<>. p<>{color:#000;}. Just as the doves when homing instinct calls them

to their sweet nest, on steadily lifted wings

glide through the air, guided by their longing,

so those souls left the covey where Dido lies,

moving toward us through the malignant air,

so strong was the loving-kindness in my cry.



The word lai refers to a poetical genre of which is known that it also appeared as a musical setting. There are no surviving Italian musical sources containing any lai, which was mostly a French form used in the 13th and 14th centuries. In the 12th century it gained popularity in France because of the works by Marie de France who claimed that they were adaptations of Breton narrative lais, and because of the variety in its form it came to define as a narrative poem in general at some point in history in England and France. The form of the more extensive lais of the early 14th century is similar to that of the sequence, both in its length and paired stanzas. Since the sequence was known in Italy, it may be possible that Dante used the lai as a kind of secular counterpart of the spiritual sequence. However, descort was the Provençal name for lai, which in Italy seems to have been translated into discordio (i.e. a poem of Jacopo da Lentino was defined with this word). It is thus surprising that Dante uses the Northern French name lai. Musicologist David Fallows in his article on the lai writes that “the very irregularity of the poetic form led to large metrical and rhyming patterns that have caused the lai and its German equivalent the Leich to be described as the major showpieces of medieval lyric poetry; and there is much truth in Spanke’s useful distinction (1938) between songs that are primarily metrical in their formal concept (i.e. nearly all medieval strophic song) and those that are primarily musical (the lai and the sequence), a distinction that almost inevitably brings with it the suggestion that the lai and related forms represent by far the earliest surviving attempts at continuous extended musical composition outside the liturgy.”^^16^^ So why would Dante use the North-French lai instead of discordio or descort? The term even reappears in Purgatory 9.13-15:


table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. Ne l’ora che comincia i tristi lai

la rondinella presso a la mattina

forse a memoria de ‘suo’ primi guai |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. At the hour nearing dawn when the swallow

begins to sing her mournful melodies,

perhaps remembering her former woes |


This is a reference to the mythological story of the sisters Procne and Philomela who were turned into a swallow and a nightingale. Procne’s husband Thereus had raped Philomela, cut her tongue off and hidden her from her sister, but Procne found out. She killed her own son, whom she cooked and served as food to her husband. When she told him whom he had just been eating, the outrageous Thereus wanted to kill the both of them but as a protection the gods turned all three into birds. Ciabattoni notes that “the lustful tinge of the story, the elements of aviary zoology, and the reference to the flesh in line 17 represent a thematic link to Inferno 5.” (Ciabattoni 2010, 89). Lais could be set to music but were a poetical genre in the first place. Perhaps Dante used the term lai to reinforce his criticism against certain types of written secular poetry, such as the love poetry that had led his characters Francesca and Paolo to believe that they could live just like the protagonists in the book. Ciabattoni argues that, “by portraying the cranes while they are ‘cantando lor lai’, Dante introduces a musical element into his critique of French love lyrics” (Ciabattoni 2010, 89) but in reality these souls are emitting a sound similar to that of cranes, which is rather non-musical. It also reflects the somewhat beastly state the damned souls are in.


In the next circle, where the gluttonous are lying on the ground and continuously flipping over under the polluted rain and hailstones, we encounter “the demon Cerberus thundering loudly against the souls who wish that they were deaf.”^^17^^ This is yet another indication that the chaotic and shrill non-musical sounds in Inferno are a punishment. Many of the unpleasant sounds in Inferno, though, are produced by the souls themselves. The yells in the circle of the avaricious and prodigals in Inferno 7.30 are a good example of those sounds, since they keep on screaming: “Perché tieni?” “Perché burli?” (“Why do you hoard?” “Why do you splurge?”). Their guard is Plutus, the Roman god of wealth, who can only try to warn Lucifer with a strange clacking voice and in a gibberish kind of language: “Pape Satan, pape Satan, aleppe!”. The god of wealth has become a powerless creature that cannot express itself very well.


The expression “perché?” (“why?”) reappears from time to time in Inferno, apparently expressing the confusion of these souls and at the same time showing that they are completely blind to their own accountability for the situation they are in. In the circle of heresy, the father of Dante’s best friend and poet Guido Cavalcanti^^18^^ asks anxiously for his son: “Mio figlio ov’è? E perché non è teco?” (“Where is my son? Why is he not with you?”, Inferno 10.60). The suicidal soul of Pier della Vigna^^19^^ in the form of a tree puffs and cries: “Perché mi schiante? (…) Perché mi scerpi? (“Why do you break me? (…) Why do you rip me?”, Inferno 13.33-35). In the lowest circle of Hell, trapped inside the frozen lake except for his head, Bocca degli Abati^^20^^ screams through his tears when Dante kicks him by accident in the face: “Perché mi peste? (…) Perché mi moleste?” (“Why do you kick me? (…) Why do you pester me?”, Inferno 32.79-81).


Most damned souls express themselves either with aggressiveness (shouting, screaming, yelling, hitting, biting) or with deep sadness (weeping, wailing, moaning). Yet there are some that simply cannot express themselves. We have already seen the choir of the babbling neutral angels and souls. From the ditch of thieves in circle 8 arises “a voice that seemed incapable of forming words.”^^21^^ The giant Nimrod, whose body is so large that it connects circles 8 and 9, “for which no sweeter psalm is better suited”, can only babble with his beastly mouth the words “Raphèl maì amècche zabì almi” (Inferno 31.67-69):


table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. “Raphèl maì amècche zabì almi”,

cominciò a gridar la fiera bocca,

cui non si convenia più dolci salmi.

|<>. p<>{color:#000;}. “Raphèl maì amècche zabì almi”

began to shout the savage mouth,

for which no sweeter psalms were fit.^^22^^ |


We saw already in chapter 3 that Mazzotta reads these words as an imperfect anagram of “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani” (“My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”), the fourth saying of Jesus on the Cross. Nimrod built the tower of Babel in order to ascend toward God through his own effort, instead of having the humility to wait for the Divine descent. God’s punishment was the confusion of language, which is exactly what Nimrod is representing. Interpreting Nimrod’s phraseas an imperfect anagram of the fourth saying of Jesus on the Cross, we understand the indication of “psalm” for Nimrod’s intent to express himself as a most suitable description for a parodic version of a liturgical psalm. Nimrod’s enormous physical size is not in balance with his powerless state, something that is also seen in Lucifer himself.


The souls that are below the surface of the mud are the sullen.^^23^^ They always carried around a great unexpressed internal anger and now their opportunity of self-expression has been taken away from them completely (Inferno 7.121-126):


table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. Fitti nel limo dicon: “Tristi fummo

ne l’aere dolce che dal sol s’allegra,

portando dentro accidïoso fummo:


or ci attristiam ne la belletta negra”.

Quest’inno si gorgoglian ne la strozza,

ché dir nol posson con parola integra.

|<>. p<>{color:#000;}. Mired in slime, they moan, “We were morose

in the sweet air made cheerful by the sun;

we bore within ourselves the torpid vapors:

now morbid we are made in this black mud.”

This hymn they gurgle in their gullets

since they can’t sound it with full syllables.



Just like in the case of the ironic term of psalm for Nimrod’s babbling, here the word hymn is used for the gurgling: “a hymn that enacts a reversal of the liturgy that cannot be performed in Hell but will be properly celebrated in Purgatory by the penitents” (Ciabattoni 2010, 82). Ciabattoni argues that the plural verb indicates various souls gurgling this “hymn” and calls the result a “poly-cacophony”. Cacophony in itself is already a multitude of sounds. It is what pervades the entire soundscape of Hell, except the soft sighs of Limbo and the silent processions we will discuss below. Other souls unable to express themselves are the ones in the lowest circle, captured within the ice like straws (Inferno 34.10-15):


table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. Già era, e con paura il metto in metro,

là dove l’ombre tutte eran coperte,

e trasparien come festuca in vetro.


Altre sono a giacere; altre stanno erte,

quella col capo e quella con le piante;

altra, com’arco, il volto a’ piè rinverte.

|<>. p<>{color:#000;}. I was now — and with fear I set it down

in verse — where the shades were wholly sealed

and yet showed through like straws in glass.

Some of them lie flat, some stand upright,

one on his head and one upon his soles;

another, like a bow, bends face to foot.



The ultimate inhabitant of Inferno who cannot express himself is Lucifer. We also saw in chapter 3 the reason for his muteness: angels do not use language and he represents evil defeated in Dante’s narration.


Silence also plays a special role in Inferno. Limbo is a relatively silent place but its air is filled with sighs. However, the way the sorcerers and foretellers walk – with their heads 180º turned around so that they are forced to walk backwards – is compared to a “silent litany” (Inferno 20.7-9):


table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. e vidi gente per lo vallon tondo

venir, tacendo e lagrimando, al passo

che fanno le letane in questo mondo.

|<>. p<>{color:#000;}. When through the valley’s circling I descried

people coming hushed and weeping, at the pace

followed by procession [litanies] in this world.



As Ciabattoni informs us, “letane are properly the supplications and chanted litanies intoned by the priests and the congregation during slow-paced processions” (Ciabattoni 2010, 80). In a further ditch of the same circle, the hypocrites walk very slowly under the weight of their lead-filled cloaks, similar to a procession, while their capes are compared to the shiny mantles of the monks of Cluny. They trample Caiaphas, crucified on the floor, a fallen version of the Crucifixion. These are parodies on liturgical events, just as Nimrod’s “psalm” is a parody on a liturgical chant. Ciabattoni claims that,


“through the frequent quotations of, and hints at, liturgical songs, Dante constructs the first musical cantica as a musical parody of the other two. (…) In Dante’s time certain parts of the sacred scriptures were commonly understood as inherently musical. Everybody, for example, would think of a hymn or a Psalm in conjunction with its manner of intonation.” (Ciabattoni 2010, 44).


Also the silent litanies are clearly a parody on real litanies, where there would be chant accompanying the processions.


Before encountering the babbling Nimrod, there is the sound of a horn, much louder than Roland’s Olifant^^24^^ when he was in danger. It might be the only musical note sounding in all Inferno, it is too loud so it is unpleasant to the ear. Furthermore, the horn can only produce one note, which makes it unsuitable for melodic use.^^25^^ Ciabattoni is correct in pointing out that the only real musical instrument in the whole Commedia precedes Nimrod’s incomprehensible “psalm” (Ciabattoni 2010, 83).


Parodic “instruments” are found in the passage of the devils, for example in Inferno 21.136-139:


table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. Per l’argine sinistro volta dienno;

ma prima avea ciascun la lingua stretta

coi denti, verso lor duca, per cenno;


ed elli avea del cul fatto trombetta.

|<>. p<>{color:#000;}. They turned around upon the left-face bank,

But first each pressed a tongue between his teeth

To sound a signal to their commandant,

And with his ass he blew a bugle-blast.



The trombetta that the devil Malacoda blows with his ass as a kind of signal, according to Ciabattoni, is the degraded imitation of the military trumpet, while cenno means a raspberry.^^26^^ (Ciabattoni 2010, 51) Indeed, in the subsequent canto (Inferno 22.1-12), the walking devils are compared to a chaotic and bizarre army:


table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. Io vidi già cavalier muover campo,

e cominciare stormo e far lor mostra,

e talvolta partir per loro scampo;


corridor vidi per la terra vostra,

o Aretini, e vidi gir gualdane,

fedir torneamenti e correr giostra;


quando con trombe, e quando con campane,

con tamburi e con cenni di castella,

e con cose nostrali e con istrane;


né già con sì diversa cennamella

cavalier vidi muover né pedoni,

né nave a segno di terra o di stella.

|<>. p<>{color:#000;}. I have seen horsemen in the past break camp,

muster their army and open assault,

and at times even beat a quick retreat;

I have seen outriders roam your countryside,

o Aretines, and seen raiding-parties charge,

tournaments clash and jousters galloping,

some called by trumpets and some by bells,

by drumrolls and by flares from castle-walls,

by homemade and imported instruments;

but never before have I seen horsemen,

footsoldiers, or ships that sail by sighting

of land or stars move to a stranger bugle.



Ciabattoni comments on the specific symbolism of this scene that


“the entire scene employs musical and military elements to build a perfect mockery of a regular army: trumpets, bells, local and foreign customs, even the strangest behaviours to which the poet testified on real battle grounds are not as ridiculous as the team of improvised soldiers. And they will indeed prove incapable of discharging a soldier’s most elementary duty when they disobey orders and start a fight among themselves”, which will be in 22.91-151 (Ciabattoni 2010, 51-52).


Ciabattoni also points out that “the devil’s trumpet and raspberries (…), most improper ‘wind’ instruments are a hybrid of musica artificialis and musica naturalis, as theorized by tenth-century chronicler Regino of Prüm” (Ciabattoni 2010, 53). Musica artificialis, instrumental music, represent the devices created by human beings instead of the voice, given by Divinity. The “bugle-blast” by Malacoda is a perverted and inverted version of the human voice, since it is produced by the human body. “A perverted quality of both types, artificialis and naturalis, this ‘music’ is the reversal of the breath employed in real singing and stands in sharp contrast to the melodious vocal harmony of heavenly music” (Ciabattoni 2010, 53). Thus the music of the devils is the opposite of the music of God, as suggested by Dante specialist Gian Sarolli.^^27^^


In the ditch of the fraudulent speakers, the voices within the flames are sputtered out when they wish to speak. They have difficulty expressing themselves, because their voices have to pass the obstacle of the flame itself. The sound of the flame is perfectly noticeable in the onomatopoetic speech of one of these souls, characterized by the repetitive use of the consonant “s” (Inferno 27.58-66):


table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. Poscia che ’l foco alquanto ebbe rugghiato

al modo suo, l’aguta punta mosse

di qua, di là, e poi diè cotal fiato:


“S’i’ credesse che mia risposta fosse

a persona che mai tornasse al mondo,

questa fiamma staria sanza più scosse;


ma però che già mai di questo fondo

non tornò vivo alcun, s’i’ odo il vero,

sanza tema d’infamia ti rispondo.

|<>. p<>{color:#000;}. After the flame had roared on for some time

in its unique way, the pointed tip swayed

back and forth and then released this breath:

“If I thought that my answer was to someone

who might one day return up to the world,

this flame would never cease its flickering;

however, since no one ever turned back, alive,

from this abyss — should what I hear be true —

undaunted by infamy, I answer you.



In the circle of the falsifiers resides Master Adam, distorted physically by dropsy which gives his body the shape of a lute (Inferno 33.49-51):


table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. Io vidi un, fatto a guisa di lëuto,

pur ch’elli avesse avuta l’anguinaia

tronca da l’altro che l’uomo ha forcuto.

|<>. p<>{color:#000;}. I saw one sinner there shaped like a lute

if only he’d been cut off below the belt

at the groin where the body forks in two.



The “false Sinon” (a pun on si/non, yes/no) lying next to him^^28^^, reacts to this adjective given to him by punching Master Adam in the stomach. Surprisingly, the lute-shaped Master Adam sounds like a drum. The lute, a popular instrument with its origins in the Arabic culture as the ud, appears here as a corrupt version of the cithara, mentioned by Dante in his Paradise. The cithara, psaltery, lyre and zithern were all stringed instruments which were not always clearly easy to distinguish. As Ciabattoni writes, “given the salvific associations of the cithara with David’s psaltery, the lute fittingly plays its comic dark-world counterpart.” (Ciabattoni 2010, 61). Although instruments in general were considered worldly and man-made objects, with a certain danger of mundane seduction through wordless music, the cithara was an exception due to the following section from Samuel 16:


table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. 6 “iubeat dominus noster et servi tui qui coram te sunt quaerant hominem scientem psallere cithara ut quando arripuerit te spiritus Dei malus psallat manu sua et levius feras”


23 igitur quandocumque spiritus Dei arripiebat Saul tollebat David citharam et percutiebat manu sua et refocilabatur Saul et levius habebat recedebat enim ab eo spiritus malus |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. 16 “Let our lord command his servants here to search for someone who can play the harp [cithara]. He will play when the evil spirit from God comes upon you, and you will feel better.”


23 Whenever the spirit from God came upon Saul, David would take his harp [cithara] and play. Then relief would come to Saul; he would feel better, and the evil spirit would leave him.




The word cithara has been translated into harp^^29^^ or lyre^^30^^. In the Spanish Sagradas Escrituras of 1569 it is called arpa (harp) as well, but in the 1649 Italian version of Giovanni Diodati it surprisingly appears as cetera (cithara). In the 1907 Riveduta version it is arpa. We can assume that at a certain moment in history the term “cithara” fell out of use because the instrument itself was not known anymore. Ciabattoni uses the term “psaltery”, and although this is not correct, he does mention the very similar historical descriptions of psaltery and cithara (Ciabattoni 2010, 60). The cithara existed in similar forms, both with or without neck, so a general confusion between the instruments is not surprising. Nevertheless, even if the lute could resemble the cithara, their symbolic meaning were very different.


The fact that the lute-body of Master Adam sounds like a drum when he is hit in the stomach, is an accentuation of the perverted musical symbolism. The drum is a martial instrument, and as Ciabattoni points out,


“it is no accident that a martial instrument underscores the fight. The dull sound is synaesthetically rendered by the rhymes tamburo / duro, all dark vowel, and , above all, by the word oscuro, in which the signifier itself expresses the acoustic obscurity of the signified. Thus, Master Adam’s body undergoes a change in the rhetorical unfolding of the canto, and what was initially presented as resembling a lute gives out a much duller drum sound instead” (Ciabattoni 2010, 65-66).


The symbolic representation of falsifying money is double: “Not only is Adam’s body altered to look like a lute, as repayment for altering coins, but its sound is altered as well! When hit, his body resonates like something else, the way a counterfeit coin would ring differently from an authentic one.” (Ciabattoni 2010, 66).


Master Adam and Sinon continue arguing, to which Edoardo Sanguineti has attributed an “amoebaean character”^^31^^. Amoebaean singing was a kind of competition between two singers in Greek antiquity. One singer would choose a topic of his own election, and the other singer would contest with either an opposed view, a similar topic or additive information, trying to surpass his opponent.^^32^^ Virgil’s Eclogue VII gives a good example of this genre.^^33^^


As we saw, Lucifer himself is a representation of the defeat of Evil. Additionally, he is a parody on the Crucifixion:


“Lucifer’s threefold nature, his being stuck and planted at the middle of the earth, even his winged form with a disproportionate three-headed body, are the constitutive elements of a tragic parody of the Crucifixion as well as a parody of the Trinity. His tears, streaming down his three chins, and the dribble mixed with blood are a perpetual, distorted version of the weeping and bleeding of Christ on the cross. Lucifer’s three mouths are busy chewing three sinners, and are therefore unfit for singing. Thus the hymn, here evoked in a merely verbal disguise, marks the frustrated desire for the liturgical songs that will appear in the following cantica. (…) Thus, the last of the songs of Hell (…) [the spoken Vexilla regis prodeunt Inferni,] crowns the underworld’s unholy racket with a reversal of the kingly song of the Holy Cross (…)” (Ciabattoni 2010, 84-85).


Once having climbed Lucifer’s body – the fact that he serves as an object for Dante’s ascent is another aspect of his defeat – Dante and Virgil come in a subterranean cave. Ciabattoni suggests that there is a connection of this last step before Purgatory with the wall of fire which separates Purgatory from the Terrestrial Paradise: “the sound of a stream, not the sight of it, guides the pilgrim out of the tunnel that connects the Inferno to the shores of Purgatory, the same way as, in Purgatorio XXVII, the song of the guardian angel of Eden will lead a blinded Dante through the thick wall of flames into the Earthly Paradise.” (Ciabattoni 2010, 46-47).


In the poetic words of Sarolli,


“even the lowest words or ugliest lines, not ugly anymore but tragic, are indispensable and even central to the gigantic structure of the Divina Commedia, since they clearly belong to the Inferno as musica diabolica, to the tragic and disharmonic anti-Trinitarian kingdom of Lucifer, where everything is antithesis, reversed and opposed (…) to the Triune God.”^^34^^





While in Inferno the sonorous disorder and the musical absence are both an expression of the souls’ state and their punishment, music in Purgatory serves as an aid in cleansing or even healing the soul. This idea is a very ancient one and was already expressed in a Christian framework by St. Augustine:


“With an appropriate voice and harmony in our hearts we seek a physician so as to be healed. Our salvation is not within our power, though it is within our power to wound ourselves. Our soul alone is capable of sinning, but we must pray for God’s healing hand to cure the wound of sin. Whence it is said, in another Psalm: ‘I said, Lord, be merciful unto me: heal my soul; for I have sinned against thee.”^^35^^


Ciabattoni comments on St. Augustine’s expression “the sick invokes the physician”^^36^^ that the healer is God and the psalms are a cry for help.” He adds that “Augustine proposes the Psalter as a way of treating the soul’s sickness by invoking the help of Christ, because he associates healing with the Psalms as the most musical texts in the Bible.” (Ciabattoni 2010, 113).


As we discussed in our introduction, Ciabattoni’s hypothesis is that all music sung by the penitent souls is monophonic, while polyphony is only reserved for celebration. This makes sense if we think of the rhythmically more complex Parisian polyphony: on feast days the plainchant melody was to be sung slower, more solemnly. There, the note-against-note practice developed into an extended plainchant melody with faster notes above it. The improvised note-against-note organum, however, was a kind of “polyphony” that was not specially reserved for feast days. We can imagine that suffering souls in Purgatory do not take the trouble to improvise a second voice, since they are completely focussed on their pain or discomfort. Ciabattoni points out exactly this aspect, basing himself on the conclusions by Gianni Vinciguerra: “Here in Purgatory there is no time or place for joyful celebrations; all the musical effort is aimed at purging sins and repairing the dead poetry and the dead songs of Hell” (Ciabattoni 2010, 93). The churchgoers would not improvise organum, only some of the clerics. Ciabattoni’s conclusion is that polyphony only exists in Paradise.


However, there are some moments in Purgatory that would allow for organum. All terraces are preceded by an angel at the gate, singing one of the Beatitudes monophonically. Sometimes, it is not the angel who sings, but “voices”. They are angelic and according to Ciabattoni’s reasoning, they would thus sing in polyphony. Another possibility would be Ante-Purgatory, where the souls have plenty of time because they have to wait years before they can start their purging. On the other hand, the music in Paradise is clearly described by Dante as a kind of perfect music that he has difficulty to comprehend. We imagine that it is musica mundana, only comprehensible by the souls and angels that reside there. How would this music sound to them? As mere polyphony? There are thus various reasons showing the gaps of Ciabattoni’s hypothesis. One could even state the opposite: going from polyphony to monophony because the Divine unity is translated into sound.


Beside the healing chants sung by the penitent souls and the angelic music in the Terrestrial Paradise, Ciabattoni indicates a third type of music present in Purgatory, which are the deceptive songs. This category includes the song of Casella on the words of a poem by Dante, “Amor che ne la menta mi ragiona” (Purgatory 2.112), and the siren’s song in Dante’s dream (Purgatory 19.19). Both of these will not appear in Incipit, because they are the protagonist’s own personal experiences, thus we will not discuss them here. For the healing chants, specialist in Italian literature Erminia Ardissino identified two groups of chants. The first are penitential ones from the Easter liturgy and the others have a rejoicing character.^^37^^ Many of the penitential chants are psalms, which according to Ciabattoni represent “a particularly fitting aesthetic choice since the Book of Psalms has an inherently penitential connotation.” (Ciabattoni 2010, 110).


The Beatitudes that mark the transitions between the different terraces are the eight declarations of blessedness spoken by Jesus at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5). They describe the ideals of the teachings of Jesus in the form of a number of short phrases beginning with the word Beati, “Blessed are…”. They illustrate those who have learnt the teachings of Jesus and their rewards. In Matthew 5 there are nine Beatitudes but Augustine acknowledged only eight of them and the scholastics just seven. Dante expert Chiavacci Leonardi suggests that Dante followed the scholastic ordering, but omitted Beati mites (“Blessed are the meek”) so that he could split in two Beati qui esuriunt et sitiunt (“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after justice”).^^38^^


Ciabattoni claims that “the musical and liturgical facets of the Beatitudes are less easy to evaluate than might be expected. All we know is that three of them were employed in the communion antiphon on All Saints’ Day. There was probably no tune specifically associated with any of them, but they must have been chanted on a psalm tone.”^^39^^ Historical manuscripts suggest that Ciabattoni might be wrong: all six Beatitudes can be found in existing 14th century chant books as antiphon or responsory verse.


Now that the general aspects of both the “healing” chants and the angelic chants have been discussed, all musical references of Purgatory in their chronological order of appearance shall be reviewed.


At the shore of Purgatory Dante observes over a hundred souls arriving in a boat, singing monophonically the psalm In exitu israel (Purgatory 2.46-48):


table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. ‘In exitu Isräel de Aegypto’

cantavan tutti insieme ad una voce

con quanto di quel salmo è poscia scripto.

|<>. p<>{color:#000;}. ‘From exile Israel came out of Egypt’

they all intoned together with one voice

right through the psalm as it had been composed.



Basing himself on an article by Charles Singleton, Ciabattoni writes that “the penitential phase on the shore of Ante-Purgatory represents the transition from the age of darkness to the age of light. In fact, ‘In exitu Israel de Aegypto’ was sung in the Proprium for the Nativity, announcing the liberation of humankind from the captivity of sin.” (Ciabattoni 2010, 116). Indeed, the commentaries by Prof. Mazzotta in his Yale lectures already showed us that the theme of exile is essential to Dante: not only his own exile but in its generalization into man’s exile from Heaven. Furthermore, this psalm symbolizes their journey toward Paradise (Mazzotta 2004, Lecture 10). These souls sing psalm 113 (114)^^40^^ ad una voce (monophonically) and right through the psalm, without any antiphonal treatment of the chant.


In Purgatory 5.22-27 the Miserere sung by the late repentants is psalm 50 (51):


table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. E ’ntanto per la costa di traverso

venivan genti innanzi a noi un poco,

cantando ’Miserere’ a verso a verso.


Quando s’accorser ch’i’ non dava loco

per lo mio corpo al trapassar d’i raggi,

mutar lor canto in un “oh!” lungo e roco; |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. And meantime all across the mountainside

came people slightly ahead of us, singing

the Miserere, verse answering to verse.

When they had noticed that the rays of light

did not pass through my body, they soon changed

their chant into a hoarse and drawn-out “Oh!” |


Just like Dante in the first canto, they are asking for forgiveness:


table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. Miserere mei deus

et a delicto meo mundame

quia tibi soli peccavi.

|<>. p<>{color:#000;}. Have mercy on me, God

and cleanse me from my delict

because to you alone I have sinned.



Supposedly, they sing this during all the years they have to wait for their real cleansing. Ciabattoni directs our attention on verso a verso, asking himself if this means “line by line”, suggested by the early commentators Benvenuto (ca.1320-1388) and the Anonymous Florentine (14th century), or “verse by verse” as Ottimo thought (first half of 14th century). If it is the last case, then Dante refers to responsorial chant, in which two groups are singing the verses in alternatim, each group one verse. Ciabattoni comments that “other chants that had many verses were also performed this way, for the sake of variation and inclusion. (…) The most frequent practice was just two half-choirs singing monophonically in alternation.” (Ciabattoni 2010, 117). He also claims that there was a practice in which the congregation or one half of the choir sang a verse and then the soloists sang the next verse in polyphony: “responsories, in thirteenth-century ordinals, are often mentioned among the sections containing polyphony; see, por example, the ordinal of S. Maria Patavensis” (Ciabattoni 2010, 117 footnote). The Paduan polyphony he refers to is actually a late 15th century addition, but at least the Notre Dame ordinals do indicate such a practice.^^41^^ In this part of Purgatory, Ciabattoni considers the souls as newcomers and concludes that therefore they can only sing monophonically, but this is a assumption that is not necessarily true: the souls have to wait the number of years they waited until they repented, which was almost the duration of their entire life. Surely, one can learn to sing organum in those years and embellish the praise to God and moreover, some of them could just as well have had this practice when they were still alive. Thus, this section is open to multiple interpretation.


As we saw in chapter 3, the Valley of Princes is a locus amoenus, a beautiful place such as a garden or a green valley which makes the visitor feel safe. The souls here have to wait for their cleansing but their “waiting room” is beautiful and pleasant. The Salve Regina is sung, apparently not by all souls (Purgatory 7.82-4):


table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. ’Salve, Regina’ in sul verde e ’n su’ fiori

quindi seder cantando anime vidi,

che per la valle non parean di fuori.

|<>. p<>{color:#000;}. ‘Salve Regina’ — I saw the souls who sang

this hymn seated on the flowering green:

they had been hidden till then in the valley.



He then describes the souls: one sits highest and refuses to sing (lines 91-93), with a soul next to him comforting him. There is a snub-nosed one (nasetto) “thick in talk” (stretto a consiglio) with another (103). One beats his chest (106). There is also one that cradles his cheek in the palm of his hand while he sighs (107-108). Then there is a strong-built soul who chimes his singing (s’accorda, cantando) with the big-nosed shade (maschio naso, “male nose”) (112-113). Finally, there is one gazing upward (115), who sits with them on lower ground. He depicts nine souls of which at least 3 to 5 are actually singing. We do not know if others are singing too (which would be probable) or if they are simply further away. Ciabattoni writes about this group of souls that “the general impression is of a Babel of different performances, in which each soul is singing on his own, or (…) in small groups. The ‘Salve, Regina’ prayer was adopted by the Cistercians as a daily processional chant as early as 1218, and, shortly after, it became the ending hymn of Compline.” (Ciabattoni 2010, 118). Its text is perfectly suitable to the situation, including both “exiled children of Eve” and “this valley of tears”:


table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. Salve, regina, Madre di misericordia

vita, dolcezza e speranza nostra, salve.

A te ricorriamo, esuli figli di Eva;

a te sospiriamo, gementi e piangenti

in questa valle di lacrime.

|<>. p<>{color:#000;}. Hail, Queen, Mother of mercy

Our life, our sweetness and our hope, hail.

To thee we cry out, exiled children of Eve;

to thee we sigh, mourning and weeping

in this valley of tears.



In this valley, every night just before sunset, the same song precedes a kind of angelic representation in which two angels come to chase away a serpent. The chant is the ancient hymn Te lucis ante, a chant to ask for God’s protection against the dangers of the night:


table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. Te lucis ante terminum,

rerum Creator, poscimus,

ut solita clementia,

sis praesul ad custodiam.


Procul recedant somnia,

et noctium phantasmata:

hostemque nostrum comprime,

ne polluantur corpora.


Praesta, Pater omnipotens,

per Iesum Christum Dominum,

qui tecum in perpetuum

regnat cum Sancto Spiritu.



|<>. p<>{color:#000;}. To thee before the close of day,

Creator of the world, we pray

That, with thy wonted favour, thou

Wouldst be our guard and keeper now.


From all ill dreams defend our sight,

From fears and terrors of the night;

Withhold from us our ghostly foe,

That spot of sin we may not know.


O Father, that we ask be done,

Through Jesus Christ, thine only Son,

Who, with the Holy Ghost and thee,

Doth live and reign eternally.





First it is sung by a solo singer who stands up, asks for attention with some gestures, and begins to sing as if he were leading a kind of liturgical service. Then, the choir joins him after his solo (Purgatory 8.8-18):


table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. (…) una de l’alme

surta, che l’ascoltar chiedea con mano.


Ella giunse e levò ambo le palme,

ficcando li occhi verso l’orïente,

come dicesse a Dio: ’D’altro non calme’.


’Te lucis ante’ sì devotamente

le uscìo di bocca e con sì dolci note,

che fece me a me uscir di mente;


e l’altre poi dolcemente e devote

seguitar lei per tutto l’inno intero,

avendo li occhi a le superne rote.

|<>. p<>{color:#000;}. (…) one of the souls there

who had stood up and gestured to be heard.

He folded his hands in prayer and lifted them,

with his eyes fastened on the east, as if

saying to God, “I care for nothing else”.

“To You before the light is done” — devoutly

came from his lips with such melodious tones

that it made me step straight out of myself.

Then the rest with sweetness and devotion

harmonized with him through the whole hymn,

fixing their eyes on the spheres of heaven.




Ciabattoni writes about this scene:


“in a reconciling climate that reminds us of the meeting with the Wise Men of limbo, their courteous conversation is intermingled with scenes from a full-fledged liturgical drama. The action of the play takes its direction from the inherently visual, theatrical nature of the gestures, as was custom of the time in many areas of Italy. Historian of liturgy Antonio Lovato notes how a ‘strong dramatization of liturgy’ characterized the celebrations of an ‘ecclestiastical community which continuously prays through singing, accompanied by definite stage-direction.’ ” (Ciabattoni 2010, 119).


Ciabattoni follows the commentarist Jacopo della Lana (1324-28) who interprets the word seguitar as “to follow”, and he concludes that they sing in monophony. However, as we already stated, simple organum was not seen as an entirely polyphonic genre, it was rather still seen as singing the same song, only with adding a colour to the sound. In such a ceremony meant to ask for God’snocturnal protection, repeated at every sunset, one could imagine the use of organum just as well as monophony.


Precisely after this hymn and representation, Dante has his first dream. While he is asleep, Saint Lucia takes him up and put him in front of the entrance gate of Purgatory proper. When Dante enters through the entrance gate, a Te Deum sounds in a peculiar manner (Purgatory 9.133-145):


table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. E quando fuor ne’ cardini distorti

li spigoli di quella regge sacra,

che di metallo son sonanti e forti,


non rugghiò sì né si mostrò sì acra

Tarpëa, come tolto le fu il buono

Metello, per che poi rimase macra.


Io mi rivolsi attento al primo tuono,

e ’Te Deum laudamus’ mi parea

udire in voce mista al dolce suono.


Tale imagine a punto mi rendea

ciò ch’io udiva, qual prender si suole

quando a cantar con organi si stea;


ch’or sì or no s’intendon le parole.

|<>. p<>{color:#000;}. And when the pivots of that holy entrance,

which were round rods of ringing and strong steel,

turned within the sockets of their hinges,

they made a louder and more resonant clangor

than Tarpeia did, when the good Metellus

was snatched from it, the treasure gone forever.

I turned around at the first thundering sound

and thought I heard “Te Deum: Praise to God”

chanted by voice(s) mixed with that sweet strain.

The notes I heard conveyed to me the same

exact impression which we have at times

when people sing in concert with con organi

and now and then we just make out the words.



The Te Deum is an early hymn of praise to God. It will return in Paradise 24 sung by “the saintly court on high”. From the text in Purgatory there are some translations, like the one of James Finn Cotter who translates cantar con organi as “with an organ”. However, the expression is more ambiguous than it seems. Ciabattoni indicates its three possible interpretations. The first is singing organum, which is a simple improvised polyphony. The second is singing it in alternatim with an organ. The third is “that some songs have sections of voice singing above the sound of the opening door, which to the pilgrim resembles the sound of an organ.” (Ciabattoni 2010, 124). He does not believe that the first option is the correct one because


“everywhere else [Dante] describes polyphony as sweet and harmonious, so how can this thundering blast accompanied by screeches be interpreted as polyphonic? Moreover, (…) there is no explicit indication here that allows us to read this song as polyphonic.” (Ciabattoni 2010, 124).


It is true that in organum the words would have been perfectly understandable, at least in the note-against-note type. The incertitude about the meaning of Dante’s words is amplified by the knowledge that organs were not used yet in service as in later centuries and they would certainly not be played simultaneously with the singers as an accompaniment. The organetto, a small hand-organ, was a much more common instrument which was played instead of a singer and could be used in alternatim with singers. Interestingly, Ciabattoni reports the discovery in 1931 by A.M. Vicentini of the first church organ brought to the Florence Church of Ss. Annunziata in 1299 (Ciabattoni 2010, 124 footnote), just in Dante’s time. This raises several questions about its construction, sound and use. Ciabattoni states that “organ-making methods in Europe remained primitive in many ways until the fifteenth century, and the sound of these instruments was more disconcerting than uplifting.” (Ciabattoni 2010, 124). He adds that some very large organs did exist, with pipes made of copper, “which were built for the purpose of grandiosity.” We are not sure if Dante knew such an organ, if the Ss. Annunziata was such an organ and if he visited the church, but Ciabattoni has a point when he writes that the sound of the screeching hinges is reminiscent of these organs. It is not even necessary for Dante to have known these organs: he could have read descriptions of the early organs. The St. Gall monk Notker Balbulus (ca.840-887) described an organ that was a gift to Charlemagne by a Byzantine delegation in 812:


“An outstanding organum of the musicians which with vessels cast in bronze and bellows of bullhide blowing magnificently through the bronze pipes, matched the very roar of the crash of thunder, the chattering of the lyre, or the sweetness of bells”^^42^^


So even if these organs were not a usual practice in liturgical services, such a thundering organ would suit a Divine gate very well. Ciabattoni therefore proposes the option of voices together with the organ, not because it was a habitual practice or a practice at all, but because of its symbolical nature (Ciabattoni 2010, 127). All this information, however, does not take away the possibility that the voices sing in polyphony, except if it is only one voice. The expression in voce mista al dolce suono does not give us certainty about this issue. This is actually the only chant in the Commedia considered by Margaret Bent as an example of polyphony, but she notes that “it is unclear whether this refers to vocal polyphony, to organ or to other instruments, but the fact that the words are obscured may suggest some kind of elaboration” (Bent 2004, 162).


Not all prayers in Purgatory seem to be sung, and indeed an exception might be the following one (Purgatory 21.1-24):


table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. “O Padre nostro, che ne’ cieli stai,

non circunscritto, ma per più amore

ch’ai primi effetti di là sù tu hai,


laudato sia ’l tuo nome e ’l tuo valore

da ogne creatura, com’è degno

di render grazie al tuo dolce vapore.


Vegna ver’ noi la pace del tuo regno,

ché noi ad essa non potem da noi,

s’ella non vien, con tutto nostro ingegno.


Come del suo voler li angeli tuoi

fan sacrificio a te, cantando osanna,

così facciano li uomini de’ suoi.


Dà oggi a noi la cotidiana manna,

sanza la qual per questo aspro diserto

a retro va chi più di gir s’affanna.


E come noi lo mal ch’avem sofferto

perdoniamo a ciascuno, e tu perdona

benigno, e non guardar lo nostro merto.


Nostra virtù che di legger s’adona,

non spermentar con l’antico avversaro,

ma libera da lui che sì la sprona.


Quest’ultima preghiera, segnor caro,

già non si fa per noi, ché non bisogna,

ma per color che dietro a noi restaro”.

|<>. p<>{color:#000;}. “Our Father, who art in heaven, not bound there,

but dwelling in it for the greater love

Thou bearest toward thy firstborn works on high,

hallowed be thy name and be thy worthiness

through every creature, as it is most fitting

to thank thee for the sweet breath of thy wisdom.

Thy kingdom come to us in peacefulness,

because we cannot reach it by ourselves,

unless it come, for all our striving effort.

And as the angels do thy will in heaven

by sacrificing theirs, singing hosanna,

so let the men on earth do with their wills.

Give us this day our daily manna, since

without it, through this bitter wilderness

he retreats who tries hardest to advance.

And as we pardon all for the trespasses

that we have suffered, so in loving kindness

forgive us: do not judge by our deserving.

Our strength so easily fails: lead us not

into temptation through our ancient foe,

but deliver us from the evil he provokes.

This last petition, dearest Lord, we make

not for our sake, since now we have no need,

but for those people who remain behind us.” |


It is an altered version of the Pater Noster, Our Father, adapted to these souls. The proud souls, weighed down under their stones, seem to say the prayer rather than singing it. This is logical because the Pater Noster was always said or murmured but not sung. Only at one other point in the Commedia there is such a spoken prayer: in Paradise 33.1-21 by Saint Bernard to Mary for Dante’s beatific vision. We can imagine the proud souls lowered by the immense weight of the stones and only being able to murmur the prayer.


At the gate to the second terrace, the first Beatitude sounds (Purgatory 12.109-111):


table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. Noi volgendo ivi le nostre persone,

’Beati pauperes spiritu!’ voci

cantaron sì, che nol diria sermone.

|<>. p<>{color:#000;}. When we turned ourselves to that direction,

“Blessed are the poor in spirit” voices sang

more sweetly than words ever could describe.



It is not the angel who sings Beati pauperes spiritu, but voci, “voices”; they could either sing monophonically or polyphonically. The text of the Beatitude is a comment on the proud:


table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. Beati pauperes spiritu

quoniam ipsorum est regnum celorum.

|<>. p<>{color:#000;}. Blessed are the poor in spirit

because theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.



On the terrace of the envious, there are flying bodiless voices crying out examples of gentleness to the envious, who have their eyelids sewn and cannot see. The souls themselves cry out – it is not sure if they sing – what seems to be the Litany of All Saints (Purgatory 13.49-51):


table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. E poi che fummo un poco più avanti,

udia gridar: ’Maria òra per noi’:

gridar ’Michele’ e ’Pietro’ e ’Tutti santi’.

|<>. p<>{color:#000;}. And when we went straight forward a short space,

I heard cried out “ Mary, pray for us!”:

cried out “Michael” and “Peter” and “All saints.” |


The melody of the Litany is very simple and repetitive, so it could well have been chanted. The Litany is very long, invoking practically all holy beings. The selection of its text that is mentioned in the Commedia is shown below:


table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. (…)


V. Sancta Maria.

R. Ora pro nobis.


V. Sancta Dei Genitrix.

R. Ora pro nobis.


V. Sancta Virgo vírginum.

R. Ora pro nobis.


V. Sancte Michael.

R. Ora pro nobis.




V. Sancte Petre.

R. Ora pro nobis.




V. Omnes Sancti et Sanctæ Dei.

R. Intercédite pro nobis. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. (…)


V. Holy Mary.

R. Pray for us.


V. Holy Mother of God.

R. Pray for us.


V. Holy Virgin of virgins.

R. Pray for us.


V. Saint Michael.

R. Pray for us.




V. Saint Peter.

R. Pray for us.




V. All Holy Saints.

R. Intercede for us.



The “V” stands for the verse sung by the soloist, while the “R” represents the responsory sung by the choir or congregation. We can well imagine that these souls have all day long to recite the entire text; Dante the pilgrim is just passing by so he only captures a part of the text. It seems that these souls are not reciting continuously, since they must be interrupted regularly by the disembodied voices that come hurtling again. After the fragment of the Litany, these ghostly voices are shouting examples of envy in a more aggressive manner.


When Dante crosses the gate to the next terrace, the second Beatitude sounds (Purgatory 15.34-39):


table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. Poi giunti fummo a l’angel benedetto,

con lieta voce disse: “Intrate quinci

ad un scaleo vie men che li altri eretto”.


Noi montavam, già partiti di linci,

e ’Beati misericordes!’ fue

cantato retro, e ’Godi tu che vinci!’.

|<>. p<>{color:#000;}. When we had come up to the blessed angel,

he said with a glad voice, “Enter here

to stairs that are less steep than were the others.”

We left him there and we then climbed beyond,

until “Blessed are the merciful” rang out

in song behind us, and “Conqueror, rejoice!” |


“Beati misericordes” is sung behind Dante, and “Godi tu che vinci!” The latter probably refers to Gaudete et exultate (“rejoice and be glad”), the last phrase of the Beatitudes. Musical sources^^43^^ give almost the exact melody for both and it is logical that the voices sing one unified or similar melody rather than two completely different ones. The two texts are shown below:


table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. Beati misericordes

quonim ipsi misericordiam consequentur




Gaudete et exultate

quoniam merces vestra copiosa est in caelis |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. Blessed are the merciful

for they shall obtain mercy




Rejoice, and be exceeding glad

for great is your reward in heaven |


The terrace of the envious is thus concluded with the Beatitude of the merciful followed by this expression which previews the reward of Paradise.


On the terrace of wrath, in the cloud of anger where the souls cannot see anything, they sing perfectly together Agnus Dei (Purgatory 16.16-21):


table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. Io sentia voci, e ciascuna pareva

pregar per pace e per misericordia

l’Agnel di Dio che le peccata leva.


Pur ’Agnus Dei’ eran le loro essordia;

una parola in tutte era e un modo,

sì che parea tra esse ogne concordia.

|<>. p<>{color:#000;}. Voices I heard and each one seemed to pray

the Lamb of God who takes away our sins

to grant his mercy to us and his peace.

“Agnus Dei” their response began,

as if one word and measure were in all

so that full harmony appeared among them.



Ciabattoni interprets their way of singing as monophonic: “As Sapegno points out, ‘modo’ refers to the way they sing and therefore means ‘intonazione’, ‘pitch’ or ‘intonation’. Hence every soul is singing the same words and the same melody.” (Ciabattoni 2010, 129). We have already seen in the article of Margaret Bent that “concordia” does not mean polyphony, but rather “being harmoniously together” without any further specification. It does not tell anything about performance but, if combined with una parola in tutte era e un modo, it does seem to suggest monophony. The Agnus Dei, whose placement at this terrace “is a perfect example of the law of symbolic retribution”, contrasts the sin of these wrathful by focussing on the lamb, symbol of humility and peacefulness (Ciabattoni 2010, 129):


table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis. (2x)

Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, dona nobis pacem.

|<>. p<>{color:#000;}. Lamb of God, you who take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.

Lamb of God, you who take away the sins of the world, give us peace.



To reinforce this opposite of wrath, the angel at the gate to the next terrace “says” the Beati pacifici (Purgatory 17.67-69):


table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. senti’ mi presso quasi un muover d’ala

e ventarmi nel viso e dir: ‘Beati

pacifici, che son sanz’ira mala!’.

|<>. p<>{color:#000;}. near me I felt the brush as of a wing

fanning my face, and I heard said, ‘Blessed are

the peacemakers, those free of wicked wrath.’ |


He declaims the following text:


table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. Beati pacifici

quoniam filii Dei vocabuntur.

|<>. p<>{color:#000;}. Blessed are the peacemakers

for they shall be called the children of God.



Although the word is “dire” (speak) and not “cantare” (sing), we read at the beginning of this chapter that both were used interchangeably for either singing, cantillating^^44^^ or speaking. It would be strange if this were the only Beatitude to be recited with a speaking voice. However, if it is sung, should the end of the text be changed? After all, this angel adds “those free of wicked wrath” to the first part of the Beatitude. We can imagine a Divine reign where total freedom of melodies and texts form part of a ludic theology^^45^^. We could even think of a Divine trope^^46^^, where the angel inserts new text with its own melody (che son sanz’ira mala) behind the words Beati pacifici in order to continue with quoniam filli Dei vocabuntur afterwards.


At the end of the terrace of the slothful, who are running around and shouting examples of religious vigor in tears, the next angel “affirms” Beati qui lugent (Purgatory 19.49-51):


table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. Mosse le penne poi e ventilonne,

’Qui lugent’affermando esser beati,

ch’avran di consolar l’anime donne.

|<>. p<>{color:#000;}. Then he moved his feathers and he fanned us

as he affirmed that “they who mourn” are blessed

for they shall have their souls richly consoled.




The text of this Beatitude is:


table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. Beati qui lugent

quoniam ipsi consolabuntur.

|<>. p<>{color:#000;}. Blessed are those who mourn

for they will be comforted (consoled).



Although mourning and sloth apparently do not match, making this Beatitude seem a bit awkward in this moment, they correlate in two possible ways. The first was suggested by Federigo Tollemache based on Thomas Aquinas’ definition of accidia (sloth) as tristitia de spirituali bono (“sadness over one’s spiritual health”) (Summa theologiae, IIa-IIae q.35 a.2). The second was pointed out by Nicola Fosca basing himself on Augustinian and Thomistic explanations of the Beatitude, where knowledge and weeping are associated with each other. Thomas Aquinas wrote that “omnia peccata quae ex ignorantia proveniunt, possunt reduci ad acediam” (“all the sins that are due to ignorance can be reduced to sloth”) (Summa theologiae, Ia-IIae q.84 a.4). Augustine had stated that those who obtain knowledge, realize that the things and actions they thought to be good were actually a sin, and they mourn over it, which is a first step towards salvation (Augustine, De sermone Domini in monte, I.iv.11). The slothful were once ignorant but now they comprehend, so their mourning signifies their liberation from sloth and finally their salvation. (Ciabattoni 2010, 142).


The avaricious and prodigals on the next terrace murmur their psalm due to their posture (Purgatory 19.70-75):


table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. Com’io nel quinto giro fui dischiuso,

vidi gente per esso che piangea,

giacendo a terra tutta volta in giuso.


’Adhaesit pavimento anima mea’

sentia dir lor con sì alti sospiri,

che la parola a pena s’intendea.

|<>. p<>{color:#000;}. When I stepped out into the fifth circle,

I witnessed people on it who were weeping,

lying on the ground with faces downward.

‘My soul cleaves to the dust,’

I heard them say with sighs so deep and gasping

that scarcely could the words be understood.^^47^^ |


These souls “are forced to stare at the ground as a punishment for not lifting their eyes to lofty matters during their lives on earth”( Ciabattoni 2010, 131). The psalm phrase they sing has associations with the tendency of the avaricious and prodigals to cling to earth and its worldly goods (Psalm 118 (119): 25):


table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. Adhaesit pavimento anima mea;

vivifica me secundum verbum tuum.

|<>. p<>{color:#000;}. My soul clings to the ground;

revive me according to thy word.



Dante witnesses the moment that one of the souls is liberated in order to go to Paradise. The mountain trembles and “Gloria in excelsis Deo!” is sung by all souls (Purgatory 20.136-138):


table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. ‘Glorïa in excelsis’ tutti ’Deo’

dicean, per quel ch’io da’ vicin compresi,

onde intender lo grido si poteo.

|<>. p<>{color:#000;}. “Glory to God in the highest” they all cried,

by what I understood from those close by,

where the crying could be comprehended.



Again the word “dicere” is used for what could be crying (“lo grido”). It could be loud singing or cantillating. It is the purging souls themselves who are pronouncing these words, apparently interrupting their purgation.


At the gate there is an angel singing a Beatitude, but not wholly (Purgatory 22.1-6):


table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. Già era l’angel dietro a noi rimaso,

l’angel che n’avea vòlti al sesto giro,

avendomi dal viso un colpo raso;


e quei c’ hanno a giustizia lor disiro

detto n’avea beati, e le sue voci

con ’sitiunt’, sanz’altro, ciò forniro.

|<>. p<>{color:#000;}. By now the angel had been left behind us,

the angel who’d turned us to the sixth circle,

having erased a letter from my face,

and he’d told us that those who crave for justice

are blessed, and his words had accomplished this

with “they that thirst” and no more of the text.




Sitiunt, thirst, forms part of the Beatitude of hunger and thirst for justice:


table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. Beati qui esuriunt et sitiunt

quoniam ipsi saturabuntur.

|<>. p<>{color:#000;}. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice

for they will be filled.




The section of esuriunt, hunger, is sung after the terrace of the gluttonous. Ciabattoni connects the sitiunt part of the Beatitude to the avaricious because “thirst for justice is an exemplary virtue that the angel points to for those who must unshackle themselves from the thirst for gold and earthly wealth. (…) It is for justice that we should thirst” (Ciabattoni 2010, 143). The musical difficulty is that the word esuriunt comes before sitiunt in the Beatitude. A solution is simply skipping the esuriunt and going directly to sitiunt. If Divinity can add a trope, it can also move flexibly through its own musical and textual material.


The gluttonous sing while crying (Purgatory 23.10-12):


table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. Ed ecco piangere e cantar s’udìe

’Labïa mëa, Domine’ per modo

tal, che diletto e doglia parturìe.

|<>. p<>{color:#000;}. And suddenly in tears and song we heard

“Open my lips, O Lord,” sung in such tones

that it gave birth to gladness and to grief.



Labia mea is a phrase in psalm 50 (51). The mouths of these souls were used as a instrument for their own gluttony, whether literal or metaphorical for gluttonous poetry as Prof. Mazzotta proposes (Mazzotta 2004, Lecture 14), but now they ask for it to be a means of praise to God:


table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. Domine labia mea aperies

et os meum adnuntiabit laudem tua |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. Lord, open my lips

and my mouth will declare your praise |


The angel at the gate can now complete the Beatitude by quoting the first section of the Beatitude: “Beati qui esuriunt” (Purgatory 24.151-154):


table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. E senti’ dir: “Beati cui alluma

tanto di grazia, che l’amor del gusto

nel petto lor troppo disir non fuma,


esurïendo sempre quanto è giusto!”.

|<>. p<>{color:#000;}. And I heard say: “Blessed are they whom grace

enlightens so, the love of taste enkindles

no overindulgent longings in their breasts,

hungering always only after justice!” |


At the terrace of lust, “Summae Deus Clementiae” is sung by the souls within the fire (Purgatory 25.121-123):


table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. ’Summae Deus clementïae’ nel seno

al grande ardore allora udi’ cantando,

che di volger mi fé caler non meno


e vidi spirti per la fiamma andando;

per ch’io guardava a loro e a’ miei passi,

compartendo la vista a quando a quando.


Appresso il fine ch’a quell’inno fassi,

gridavano alto: ’Virum non cognosco’;

indi ricominciavan l’inno bassi.


Finitolo, anco gridavano: “Al bosco

si tenne Diana, ed Elice caccionne

che di Venere avea sentito il tòsco”.


Indi al cantar tornavano; indi donne

gridavano e mariti che fuor casti

come virtute e matrimonio imponne.


E questo modo credo che lor basti

per tutto il tempo che ’l foco li abbruscia:

con tal cura conviene e con tai pasti


che la piaga da sezzo si ricuscia.

|<>. p<>{color:#000;}. “Summae Deus Clementiae” I heard then,

sung in the heart of the huge burning blaze,

and this made me more ardent to turn to it


And I saw spirits walking through the flames,

so that I looked at them and at my steps,

dividing my gaze between one and the other.

After that hymn had gone on to the end,

they cried in a loud voice, “I know not man!”

Then quietly began the hymn again.

When it was once more done, they cried, “Diana

kept to the woods and chased out Helice

for having felt the poison lust of Venus.”

Then they returned to singing; then they cried

in praise of wives and husbands who were chaste,

as virtue and the marriage vows require.

And this way, I believe, they stir themselves

during all the time the fire burns them:

with such a searing cure and songful diet

must the last wound of all be finally healed.




The text of Summae Deus clementiae, as Ciabattoni informs us, was modified in 1632 (Ciabattoni 2010, 135). The Solesmes standard version of 1983 uses the text from before 1632:


table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. Summae Deus clementiae

mundique factor machinae,

qui trinus almo numine

unusque firmas omnia,


Nostros piis cum canticis

fletus benigne suscipe,

quo corde puro sordibus

te perfruamur largius.


Lumbos adure congruis

tu caritatis ignibus,

accincti ut adsint perpetim

tuisque prompti adventibus,


Ut, quique horas noctium

nunc concinendo rumpimus,

donis beatae patriae

ditemur omnes affatim.


Praesta, Pater piissime,

Patrique compar Unice,

cum Spiritu Paraclito

regnans per omne saeculum. Amen.

|<>. p<>{color:#000;}. God of great mercy,

creator of the world’s machine,

you who as three persons and one God

make everything strong by your nurturing will,


our tears and pious prayers:

receive them in kindness

so that with hearts free from impurity

we may the more fully enjoy you.


Set our loins on fire

with the proper flames of charity

so that they may be girt up at all times

and ready for your coming,


so that we who interrupt the hours of the night with singing

may all be made utterly rich

with the gifts of our blessed heavenly home.


Grant this, most merciful Father and Only Son, the Father’s equal,

together with the Spirit,

the Comforter, reigning for ever and ever. Amen^^48^^ |


The third paragraph is perfectly suitable to these souls. The words they shout in between are representing three levels of laws according to Teodolinda Barolini, expert in Late-Medieval Italian literature: “Mary and Diana are examples of a ‘divine law’, Pasiphaë of a ‘bestial law’, while ‘human law’ is upheld by the chaste husbands and wives who preserve marriage and society.”^^49^^ Ciabattoni claims that a monophonic performance is suggested by the text, because shouts and cried-out words are alternated with the singing and they sing all at once with the same intensity. (Ciabattoni 2010, 137). Although this does not exclude the possibility of organum, a monophonic performance indeed seems more plausable.


At the last stage, just before the curtain of fire separating Purgatory from the Terrestrial Paradise, the angel sings the last Beatitude for all the souls that must cross the fire, including Dante (Purgatory 27.7-9):


table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. Fuor de la fiamma stava in su la riva,

e cantava ’Beati mundo corde!’

in voce assai più che la nostra viva.

|<>. p<>{color:#000;}. He stood upon the bank, outside the flames,

and sang aloud, “Blessed are the clean of heart!”

in a voice far more alive than ours.



The text of this Beatitude is:


table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. Beati mundo corde

quoniam ipsi deum videbunt.

|<>. p<>{color:#000;}. Blessed are the pure in heart

because they will see God.



Only those that have a clean heart, purified from the sin of lust, can cross the fire and enter the Terrestrial Paradise. Once in the fire, the eyes will not see anything and the voice of an angel will be the only guidance to the other side. The song that Dante hears when he is in the fire is Venite, benedicti Patris mei (Purgatory 27.55-60):


table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. Guidavaci una voce che cantava

di là; e noi, attenti pur a lei,

venimmo fuor là ove si montava.


’Venite, benedicti Patris mei’,

sonò dentro a un lume che lì era,

tal che mi vinse e guardar nol potei.

|<>. p<>{color:#000;}. A singing voice, beyond, was guiding us;

and we, while listening all the time to it,

came outside at the point which starts to climb.

“Come, you who are blessed of my Father,”

resounded from within a light, so bright

it overcame me, and I could not look.



The text as it appears in Matthew 25:34 of Venite, benedicti Patris mei is as follows:


table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. Venite benedicti Patris mei

possidete paratum vobis regnum

a constitutione mundi |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. Come, ye blessed of my Father,

possess you the kingdom prepared for you

from the foundation of the world |


Ciabattoni tells us that this text actually appears in a mosaic in the Florence Baptistry (Ciabattoni 2010, 144). However, all musical settings beginning with Venite benedicti Patri mei paraphrase the original text:


table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. Venite benedicti Patris mei

percipite regnum

quod vobis paratum est ab origine mundi |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. Come, ye blessed of my Father,

inherit the kingdom

prepared for you since the foundation of the world |


The only place where we have encountered such a text is in St. Augustine’s sermon 77 on the New Testament, commenting on the meaning of these words.^^50^^ It seems that Augustine knew an alternate translation from the original Greek, which must have been well known if it became the text of the chant. The only historical chants with the exact words of the version of Matthew 25:34 as we know it are those that start with the words of Matthew 25:1, not with Venite itself.


When Dante has crossed the fire, he arrives to a beautiful forest which has its own musicality (Purgatory 28.7-18):


table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. Un’aura dolce, sanza mutamento

avere in sé, mi feria per la fronte

non di più colpo che soave vento;


per cui le fronde, tremolando, pronte

tutte quante piegavano a la parte

u’ la prim’ombra gitta il santo monte;


non però dal loro esser dritto sparte

tanto, che li augelletti per le cime

lasciasser d’operare ogne lor arte;


ma con piena letizia l’ore prime,

cantando, ricevieno intra le foglie,

che tenevan bordone a le sue rime |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. A sweetly scented breeze, which did not vary

within itself, struck me across the forehead

with no more force than would a gentle wind;

the branches quivering at its touch all bent

spontaneously in the direction where

the holy mountain casts its shadow first;

yet the trees weren’t so swayed from standing straight

that little birds among the topmost boughs

had to leave off the practice of their art,

but with their song they welcomed, full of joy,

the early morning hours among the leaves

which kept up an accompaniment to their rhymes |


This rustling is one of the quotations of Virgil’s writings before he disappears, which is the phrase illice, sic leni crepitabat brattea vento (“The leaves there rustled to the light breeze”, Aeneas VI.209). Ciabattoni describes the connection between Virgil’s and Dante’s writings: “at this point in Virgil’s poem, Aeneas is preparing to descend into Hell and meet his long lost wife Creusa. The pilgrim of the Commedia is, therefore, in a similarly liminal position, about to cross the threshold that will reveal to him a dead lover” (Ciabattoni 2010, 146 footnote). Ciabattoni adds that “the allegorical scenes that follow celebrate a liturgy whose musical component is integrated with the textual, the visual, and the gestural” (Ciabattoni 2010, 146).


When Dante meets Matelda, a beautiful young woman who seems to be representing the innocence of mankind before the fall, she is dancing and singing on the other side of the river (Purgatory 28.79-81). When she is close enough, she tells him the following:


table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. maravigliando tienvi alcun sospetto;

ma luce rende il salmo Delectasti,

che puote disnebbiar vostro intelletto.

|<>. p<>{color:#000;}. “A doubt of some kind keeps you wondering,

but the psalm ‘You made me glad’ sheds light

that can clear up the mist that clouds your minds.



The psalm she refers to is the first part of psalm 91 (92):


table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. Bonum est confiteri Domino et psallere nomini tuo Altissime

ad adnuntiandum mane misericordiam tuam et veritatem tuam per noctem

in decacordo psalterio cum cantico in cithara


quia delectasti me Domine in factura tua et in operibus manuum tuarum exultabo |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. It is good to praise the Lord and make music to your name, O Most High

to proclaim your love in the morning and your faithfulness at night,

to the music of the ten-stringed lyre (psaltery) and the melody of the harp (cithara)

For you make me glad by your deeds, O LORD; I sing for joy at the works of your hands.




Then she continues her jubilant singing (Purgatory 29.1-3):


table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. Cantando come donna innamorata,

continüò col fin di sue parole:

’Beati quorum tecta sunt peccata!’.

|<>. p<>{color:#000;}. Singing like a woman who is in love,

she — after finishing her speech — continued,

“Blessed are they whose sins are covered over!” |


The text she is singing is a blend of the two original phrases in Psalm 31:


table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. Beati quorum remissae sunt iniquitates:

et quorum tecta sunt peccata.

|<>. p<>{color:#000;}. Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven: and whose sins be covered. |


From this point on there will be a Divine procession introducing Beatrice to Dante. The enchanting music they sing precedes their colourful sight, but only when Dante discerns the candles as the banners of the procession (literally called as such – insegne – in Purgatory 29.154), he discerns the text: “the voices sang the word Osanna’ ” (Purgatory 29.51). This could refer to the HosannaOsanna filio david: benedictus qui venit in nomine domini, rex israel, osanna in excelsis (“Hosanna to the son of David: Blessed is he who cometh in the name of Lord, the King of Israel, Hosanna in the Highest”). Although it could also refer to a Sanctus, which contains the expression Osanna in excelsis, a Hosanna is more plausible because Dante does not mention the word sanctus.


The next song soon afterwards (Purgatory 29.85-87) seems to be referring to the Ave Maria:


table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. Tutti cantavan: “Benedicta tue

ne le figlie d’Adamo, e benedette

sieno in etterno le bellezze tue!”.

|<>. p<>{color:#000;}. They all were singing, “Blessed are you among

the daughters of Adam, and blessed be

your beauties throughout all eternity!” |


As we can observe in the text of the Ave Maria, only the first part matches the original chant:


table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. Ave Maria, gratia plena,

Dominus tecum.

Benedicta tu in mulieribus,

et benedictus Fructus ventris tui, Iesus.

Sancta Maria, Mater Dei,

ora pro nobis peccatoribus,

nunc et in hora mortis nostrae. Amen.

|<>. p<>{color:#000;}. Hail Mary, full of grace,

the Lord is with thee.

Blessed art thou amongst women,

and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.

Holy Mary, Mother of God,

pray for us sinners,

now and at the hour of our death. Amen.



There is a thunderclap in Purgatory 29.152, the only one in the whole Commedia besides the blast in Inferno 4.1 when Dante regained conscience in Limbo. This time the thunderclap functions as a signal for the procession to stop. If we add Dante’s definition of the candles as banners and of the procession being a divine army, we could even associate it with a military order to stop. They all turn to the chariot carrying Beatrice and one of them sings Veni sponsa de Libano (“Come, my spouse, from Libanon”) three times, followed by the others. All the songs by the procession are for the grand annunciation of Dante’s meeting with Beatrice.


After Beatrice’s harsh reprimand at Dante’s tears when Virgil has disappeared, the angels sing straightway In te, Domine, speravi until the words pedes meos (Purgatory 30.83). They do not sing any further because the next words in the chant text are miserere mei, and Dante expert Robert Hollander states that mercy is not necessary here anymore because Dante is rewarded for his hope^^51^^. These words derive from Psalm 30:


table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. in te domine speravi; non confundar in aeternum in iustitia tua liberame


inclina ad me aurem tuam adcelera ut eruas me esto mihi in Deum protectorem et in domum refugii ut salvum me facias


quoniam fortitudo mea et refugium meum es tu et propter nomen tuum deduces me et enutries me


educes me de laqueo hoc quem absconderunt mihi quoniam tu es protector meus


in manus tuas commendabo spiritum meum redemisti me Domine Deus veritatis


odisti observantes vanitates supervacue ego autem in Domino speravi


exultabo et laetabor in misericordia tua quoniam respexisti humilitatem meam salvasti de necessitatibus animam meam


nec conclusisti me in manibus inimici statuisti in loco spatioso pedes meos |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. In you, O Lord, I hoped; let me not be confounded into eternity, liberate me in your justice


Turn your ear to me, come quickly to my rescue; be my rock of refuge, a strong fortress to save me.



Since you are my rock and my fortress, for the sake of your name lead and guide me.



Free me from the trap that is set for me, for you are my refuge.


Into your hands I commit my spirit; redeem me, O Lord, the God of truth.


I hate those who cling to worthless idols; I trust in the Lord.


I will be glad and rejoice in your love, for you saw my affliction and knew the anguish of my soul.



You have not handed me over to the enemy but have set my feet in a spacious place.



The angels sing it as a kind of consoling Dante after Beatrice’s hard words, and their singing has the desired effect on Dante (Purgatory 30.91-99):


table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. così fui sanza lagrime e sospiri

anzi ’l cantar di quei che notan sempre

dietro a le note de li etterni giri;


ma poi che ’ntesi ne le dolci tempre

lor compartire a me, par che se detto

avesser: ’Donna, perché sì lo stempre?’,


lo gel che m’era intorno al cor ristretto,

spirito e acqua fessi, e con angoscia

de la bocca e de li occhi uscì del petto.

|<>. p<>{color:#000;}. so was I senseless without tears or sighs

before I heard the song of those whose notes

are ever in tune with the eternal spheres;

but when I sensed how in their sweet harmonies

they took my part, almost as if to say,

“Lady, why do you shame him in this way?”

The ice that was packed tight around my heart

turned into breath and water, and with anguish

poured from my breast out of my mouth and eyes.



The word tempre has been translated here into “harmonies”, but the literal translation would be “temperaments”. Its etymologic origin is the Latin temperamentum, which means “proper mixture” (temperare means “to mix”).^^52^^ Literary scholar Leo Spitzer points out in his book Classical and Christian Ideas of World Harmony that many early Christian writers used the term temperare or its Italian version tempra to refer to something similar to the English word “chord”.^^53^^ Again, the difficulty of interpreting Medieval definitions of musical harmony or monophony makes it problematic to formulate a precise modern definition. Perhaps temperare just referred to harmony in the sense of being together in balance, as Margaret Bent’s article indicates. This section in the Commedia does not really specify with certainty if they sing monophonically or polyphonically, in spite of Spitzer’s and Ciabattoni’s conclusions about the word tempra.


Singing and dancing is something inherent to this heavenly procession appearing in the Terrestrial Paradise and it will actually be a characteristic of all souls in Dante’s Paradise. In Purgatory 29.128 the dancing women are symbolizing the theological and cardinal virtues^^54^^, and dal canto di questa l’altre toglien l’andare e tarde e ratte (“from their leader’s song the others took the measure fast and slow”). Also they dance in Purgatory 31.131-138: danzando al loro angelico caribo (“dancing to their angelic roundelay”) while singing the petition to Beatrice to take away the veil covering her mouth: la sua canzone (“their song”). Indeed, Margaret Bent points out that canzone as a general term was understood as “song”, although it could also mean a poetic genre (Bent 2004, 172).


The washing of Dante in the two Divine rivers (Lethe and Eunoe) is a ritual of purging so that Dante’s soul will be pure enough to meet Beatrice and, under her guidance, continue his journey to Paradise (Purgatory 31.94-102):


table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. Tratto m’avea nel fiume infin la gola,

e tirandosi me dietro sen giva

sovresso l’acqua lieve come scola.


Quando fui presso a la beata riva,

’Asperges me’ sì dolcemente udissi,

che nol so rimembrar, non ch’io lo scriva


La bella donna ne le braccia aprissi;

abbracciommi la testa e mi sommerse

ove convenne ch’io l’acqua inghiottissi.

|<>. p<>{color:#000;}. She plunged me in the stream up to my neck

and, pulling me behind her, passed along,

lighter than a shuttle, on the water.

When I had nearly reached the sacred shore,

I heard “Asperges me” so sweetly sung

that I cannot recall, much less describe it.

The lovely woman opened her arms wide;

she clasped me by the head and dipped me under,

so deep that I was forced to swallow water.



The ritual is thus accompanied by voices singing Asperges me, Psalm 50:9 (51:9), which is also sung at baptism:


table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. Asperges me, Domine, hyssopo et mundabor,

Lavabis me, et super nivem de albabor.

Miserere mei, Deus, secundum magnam misericordiam tuam.

|<>. p<>{color:#000;}. Sprinkle me with hyssop, Lord, and I shall be cleaned,

wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

Pity me, Lord, according to thy great mercy.



Purgatory 32.16-24 gives us other military references for this heavenly procession, apart from the fragments where the candles are called “banners” and where the procession comes to a halt at a thunderclap:


table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. vidi ’n sul braccio destro esser rivolto

lo glorïoso essercito, e tornarsi

col sole e con le sette fiamme al volto.



Come sotto li scudi per salvarsi

volgesi schiera, e sé gira col segno,

prima che possa tutta in sé mutarsi;


quella milizia del celeste regno

che procedeva, tutta trapassonne

pria che piegasse il carro il primo legno.

|<>. p<>{color:#000;}. I saw that the magnificent army there

had wheeled round to the right, and was now turning

with faces toward the sun and the seven flames.

Just as a squadron, underneath their shields,

turn to retreat and, with the standard, wheel

around before the rest can swing about,

so the militia of the celestial realm

in the advanced guard passed in front of us

before the chariot circled on its pole.



This heavenly army moves to “an angelic tune” (Purgatory 32.31-33). We can compare it to the way the devils moved in Inferno 22.10-12: né già con sì diversa cennamella cavalier vidi muover né pedoni, né nave (…). (“But never before have I seen horsemen, footsoldiers, or ships (…) move to a stranger bugle.”) Clearly, the heavenly procession and the diabolic march are the total opposite of each other.


table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. Sì passeggiando l’alta selva vòta,

colpa di quella ch’al serpente crese,

temprava i passi un’angelica nota.

|<>. p<>{color:#000;}. So pacing through the soaring forest, empty

because of her who trusted in the serpent,

our steps kept time to an angelic tune.



The heavenly creatures sing a hymn that exceeds Dante’s mortal comprehension (Purgatory 32.61-63):


table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. Io non lo ’ntesi, né qui non si canta

l’inno che quella gente allor cantaro,

né la nota soffersi tutta quanta.

|<>. p<>{color:#000;}. I did not understand — it is not sung

on earth — the hymn that company sang there,

nor could I hear the music to the end.



This Divine music that is too perfect to be understood by mortal ears will reappear constantly in Paradise. As we pointed out in chapter 3, in Paradise Dante’s body will be improved gradually so he will be able to understand the perfect music better than at this point in Purgatory.


A dramatization of the chariot symbolizing the corrupted Church follows and the procession sings Deus venerunt gentes in Purgatory 33.1-3, “one of invocation of righteous vengeance and contempt against those who have defiled the temple of God” (Ciabattoni 2010, 152):


table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. ’Deus, venerunt gentes’, alternando

or tre or quattro dolce salmodia,

le donne incominciaro, e lagrimando |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. “O God, the Heathen Come,” alternating

now three, now four, melodic psalmody,

the weeping women now began to sing |


Ciabattoni suggests that this is a clear indication for singing in alternatim by the Theological Virtues on one side and the Carnal Virtues on the other. He adds that “the way this song is introduced connects back to the last song of Hell, the perverted version of ‘Vexilla regis’: not only do both songs appear in the very first line of the last canto of their canticas, but they were both designated for the liturgy of Good Friday” (Ciabattoni 2010, 152).




In her article on Dante’s definitions of musical and poetical terms, Margaret Bent enumerates the fragments that might refer to polyphonic music:


“possible candidates include Paradiso VI.124, XXVIII.94, 118, XXVIII.4, and probably most explicitly in Paradiso VIII.16-18. For Paradiso XXIII John Stevens rightly warns against interpreting «la circulata melodia» as a polyphonic reference. E dicemo bello lo canto, quando le voci di quello, secondo debito de l’arte, sono intra sé rispondenti (Convivio I v. 13) could be construed as a reference to polyphonic voices.”^^55^^


The last sentence in English would be: “And song is beautiful, when its voices, according to the debt of the art, within themselves are responsive”. These somewhat enigmatic words explain that when a melody is circulata, “circulated”, it refers to an inner coherence rather than a polyphonic form.


Before discussing all heavenly musical references, we shall list the five references which are considered by Margaret Bent as possible candidates for polyphony. The first fragment Bent refers to is expressed by Justinian in the sphere of Mercury (Paradise 6.124-126):


table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. Diverse voci fanno dolci note;

così diversi scanni in nostra vita

rendon dolce armonia tra queste rote.

|<>. p<>{color:#000;}. Assorted voices make sweet melody:

and so the varied ranking of our lives

renders sweet harmony among these gyres.



Bent considers Paradise 8.16-18 as the most explicit reference to possible polyphony, but it is not about an actual sound in the Commedia, only a metaphor:


table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. E come in fiamma favilla si vede,

e come in voce voce si discerne,

quand’ una è ferma e altra va e riede, …

|<>. p<>{color:#000;}. And as we see a spark within a flame

or as a voice sounds in a voice when one

holds steady while the other comes and goes, …



Bent lists Paradise 28.4 as the fourth option in her article, but she has confirmed that this should be Paradise 12.4:^^56^^

table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. e nel suo giro tutta non si volse

prima ch’un’altra di cerchio la chiuse,

e moto a moto e canto a canto colse |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. And it had not yet turned completely when

a second circle closed around the first,

motion matched with motion, song with song |


In fact, a little more ahead, Dante refers to the effect of an echo in the singing (Paradise 12.13-15):


table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. nascendo di quel d’entro quel di fori,

a guisa del parlar di quella vaga

ch’amor consunse come sol vapori, |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. The outer band formed by the inner one:

the way the words were of the wandering nymph

whom love consumed as sunlight consumes vapors |


Dante here mentions the nymph Echo, who wasted away in a mere voice because her beloved Narcissus did not love her back since he was in love with his own reflection (Metamorphoses III, 305-411).


The following fragment is where the entire choir of angels sings (Paradise 28.94-96):


table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. Io sentiva osannar di coro in coro

al punto fisso che li tiene a li ubi,

e terrà sempre, ne’ quai sempre fuoro.

|<>. p<>{color:#000;}. From choir to choir I heard Hosanna sung

to the Still Point that holds them fast forever

to that one spot where they have always been.



Finally, in Paradise 28.118-120 Beatrice speaks about the angelical circles mentioning the same Hosanna:


table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. perpetüalemente ’Osanna’ sberna

con tre melode, che suonano in tree

ordini di letizia onde s’interna.

|<>. p<>{color:#000;}. unceasingly in birdsong sings Hosanna

with triple melodies that warble from

the three degrees of bliss that form the triad.




These are the sections in which Margaret Bent recognizes a possible reference to polyphony. She does stress, however, that the main polyphony that Dante might have had in mind was the simple improvised organum, not the rhythmically independent lines of what we understand as polyphony. Furthermore, as we mentioned before, Dante’s descriptions are not technical indications of how the music must have sounded, but rather of the impact it had on him (Bent 2004, 164-166). It is important to keep this information in mind as we will discuss the musical references chronologically.

Music in Paradise has a different function than in the other cantiche. While in Inferno the lack of music served as a punishment, in Purgatory music was a means of purgation and healing. Now, in the representation of Paradise that the protagonist Dante is witnessing, music expresses the harmony among the souls that live in it, or in the words of Ciabattoni: “musical metaphors (…) act as a symbolic allegory of the reconciliation of the multiplicity of human nature in the unit of God”. He adds that,


“as an expressive means of low semanticity, music is employed to accompany the more mystical and mysterious steps of the pilgrim’s ascent. Indeed the exact meaning of the songs’ words becomes incomprehensible to the pilgrim, (…) [an] extraordinary spiritual experience, (…) who is incapable of recollecting it rationally or transcribing it.” (Ciabattoni 2010, 155).


Nonetheless, the final moment of Dante in Paradise is seemingly a non-musical, visual experience – or at least his memory has not preserved any musical aspect.


The music of Paradise is not comprehensible for mortal ears, a fact that Dante already prefaces at the end of Purgatory. Dante’s body gradually becomes more perfect throughout Paradise, as Gragnolazzi has pointed out (see chapter 3). Dante uses the neologism trasumanar (“transhumanize”, in Paradise 1.70) to describe this phenomenon. One of the new abilities of his perfected body is that it will allow him to comprehend most of the heavenly music. His physical progression is gradual and does not always reach the level of understanding of the music at every stage. For example, in the sphere of Saturn, Dante only hears silence because the singing would have been too much for his senses (Paradise 22.10).


Another important issue is Dante’s adaptation of the theory of musica universalis, the Harmony of the Spheres (see chapter 1). The music of Paradise is musica mundana, which is about perfect proportions among the heavenly spheres. It was Cicero in his Dream of Scipio (Somnium scipionis, ca.51 BC) who had actually argued that each planet sounded in a different tone of the scale because of their different vibrations. He based himself upon the argument of Pythagoras that the planets made a humming sound. Cicero added the idea of one tone for each planet: the faster the planet, the higher the pitch of the note. This sound depended on the speed of their orbit. The Moon would sound lowest and the Fixed Stars the highest, while Mercury and Venus would sound at the same tone because they were thought to move at the same speed. The only problem with Cicero’s argument was the fact that all planets together would sound as one great dissonance. The Roman writer Macrobius in his Commentary on the Dream of Scipius (early 5th century) added Plato’s mathematical conception of the world soul to Cicero’s argument, stating that the notes had to be consonant together. In Plato’s Timeo the planets are numbered by their distance from the Earth, taking as a measurement unity the distance between Earth and Moon, which would be 1. This results in the following number series: 1 (Moon), 2 (Sun), 3 (Mercury), 4 (Venus), 8 (Mars), 9 (Jupiter), 27 (Saturn). Philosopher Luc Brisson, specialized in Plato, comments that


“there are three types of intervals that correspond to musical ratios, already known in Plato’s time: the fourth 4:3, the fifth 3:2 and the whole tone 9:8. (…) Seen from a strictly musical point of view, the mathematical structure of the world soul would thus include 4 octaves, one fifth and one whole tone: 2:1 × 2:1 × 2:1 × 2:1 × 3:2 × 9:8 = 27. But it must be noted that Plato did not intend to apply the theory to the type of music that the celestial bodies could emit.”^^57^^


As Guy P. Raffa tells us, 12th century Alan of Lille distinguishes the slow, low tones of the Moon (Anticlaudianus 4.347-55), the ‘sweet and finer sound’ of the Sun (4.386-88), the ‘treble voice’ of Venus (matched by Mercury’s song [4.408-13]), the ‘Siren of thundering Mars’ (4.434-36), Jupiter’s ‘sweet song’ (4.458-62), and the ‘matured harmony’ of Saturn’s voice (4.478-81).”^^58^^


Long before the Commentary by Macrobius, Aristotle had expressed severe criticism of the theory of Plato, arguing that the idea of the planets emitting sound is impossible. In the first part of the Middle Ages, however, many of Aristotle’s writings had not been conveyed. In early Medieval Europe ancient Greek was no longer studied, so only his Organon was known due to the translation into Latin by the 6th century philosopher Boethius. Boethius had planned to translate all of his works into Latin, but his death sentence ended with his life at the age of 44. In the 12th and 13th centuries Aristotle’s works were introduced in Christian Europe through Arabic translations and because of a renewed study of the original Greek. It was only then that Aristotle’s ideas began to enter European thinking. Dante had knowledge of both Platonic and Aristotelian ideas. In his Commedia, there is one reference to a strange new sound he hears at entering Paradise, which implies that, in a poetic way, he is referring to the Platonic idea of the Harmony of the Spheres. This is the only reference to the sound of orbiting planets; in general only the souls themselves and the angels are singing. There is even silence in the sphere of the contemplatives, which clearly contradicts the Platonic idea. Guy P. Raffa states that “Dante does not treat the celestial harmony systematically in the Paradiso, but he conceives of God as both the composer and conductor of the heavenly music (Par. 1.76-85).”^^59^^


When Dante just arrives in Paradise he is surprised by la novità del suono e ‘l grande lume (“the strangeness of the sound and the bright light”, Paradise 1.82) of the revolving planets, which is the only explicit Platonic-inspired idea about the Harmony of the Spheres (Paradise 1.76-84):


table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. Quando la rota che tu sempiterni

desiderato, a sé mi fece atteso

con l’armonia che temperi e discerni,


parvemi tanto allor del cielo acceso

de la fiamma del sol, che pioggia o fiume

lago non fece alcun tanto disteso.


La novità del suono e ’l grande lume

di lor cagion m’accesero un disio

mai non sentito di cotanto acume.

|<>. p<>{color:#000;}. When that revolving, which you make unending

by longing for you, captured my attention

with the harmony you tune and modulate,

so much of heaven then seemed to me aflame

with fire from the sun that rain or river

never formed a lake that spread so wide.

The strangeness of the sound and the bright light

inflamed in me an ardor to know their cause,

sharper than I had ever felt before.



He speaks of la novità del suone: the newness or strangeness. Here he refers to the kind of sound that the imperfect human hearing cannot capture. Now that he is “transhuminized”, for the first time he can hear their sound.


The sphere of the Moon is the only one where the souls still appear in the form of shades, but they are more beautiful than when still alive. They seem specchiati sembianti, “mirrored semblances” to Dante. The Ave Maria that is sung by one of the souls is supposedly still a “human” version (Paradise 3.121):


table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. Così parlommi, e poi cominciò ’Ave,

Maria’ cantando, e cantando vanio

come per acqua cupa cosa grave.

|<>. p<>{color:#000;}. So she addressed me, and then began to sing

Ave Maria, and singing, disappeared,

just like a solid weight down through deep water.



Ave Maria gratia plena dominus tecum, benedicta tu in mulieribus et benedictus fructus ventris tui, Iesus, “Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus”. She does not need to sing more, because the following part of the Ave Maria is a petition for Mary to pray for “us sinners, now and at the hour of our death”. This soul already perfectly happy in Paradise and does not need Maria to pray for her anymore. The Ave Maria is a suitable symbolization of these souls who broke their vows to God.


The next musical reference, in the sphere of Mercury, is one of Bent’s candidates for polyphony. It is what the political ruler Justinian tells Dante (Paradise 6.124-126):


table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. Diverse voci fanno dolci note;

così diversi scanni in nostra vita

rendon dolce armonia tra queste rote.

|<>. p<>{color:#000;}. Assorted voices make sweet melody:

and so the varied ranking of our lives

renders sweet harmony among these gyres.



As Ciabattoni argues, “the different voices, the sweet harmony, and the verb rendere – in its implication of ‘to respond’, ‘to sing against’ (…) also appearing in Paradiso X.146 – are all elements that suggest polyphony” (Ciabattoni 2010, 157) but at the same time they refer to a political harmony. Paradise 10.146 is about the wise men dancing around the sun and contains the same verb: render voce a voce in tempra (“answer voice to voice with harmony”). Dante did not indicate a specific chant here.


Justinian himself sings the next song (Paradise 7.1):


table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. «Osanna, sanctus Deus sabaòth,

superillustrans claritate tua

felices ignes horum malacòth!».

|<>. p<>{color:#000;}. “Hosanna to the holy Lord of Hosts,

relighting by your brightness from above

the blissful burning fires of these kingdoms!” |


He sings a mixture of Latin and Hebrew and although it seems to be a Sanctus, it starts with the word osanna instead of sanctus. The regular Sanctus is as follows:


table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus

Dominus Deus Sabaoth.

Pleni sunt cæli et terra gloria tua.

Hosanna in excelsis.

Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini.

Hosanna in excelsis.

|<>. p<>{color:#000;}. Holy, Holy, Holy

Lord God of hosts.

Heaven and earth are full of your glory.

Hosanna in the highest.

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.

Hosanna in the highest.




The first part of the Sanctus comes from Isaiah 6:3, et clamabant alter ad alterum et dicebant sanctus sanctus sanctus Dominus exercituum plena est omnis terra gloria eius (“And they were calling to one another: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.’ ”). The part from Benedictus on comes from Matthew 21:9, turbae autem quae praecedebant et quae sequebantur clamabant dicentes hosanna Filio David benedictus qui venturus est in nomine Domini hosanna in altissimis (“The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David!’ ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’ ‘Hosanna in the highest heaven!’ ”) As we can see, Dante has not taken his fragment from the Bible, but from the Sanctus and has placed Hosanna in front of it, while the second part of his song is newly invented.


In the sphere of Venus a Hosanna is sung (Paradise 8.28-31):


table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. e dentro a quei che più innanzi appariro

sonava ’Osanna’ sì, che unque poi

di rïudir non fui sanza disiro.

|<>. p<>{color:#000;}. And from the midst of those appearing foremost

Hosanna sounded in such strains that I

have always craved to hear it once again.



This time it is probably a different chant containing Hosanna than the one forming part of the Sanctus. This Hosanna focusses on the above mentioned phrase from Matthew 21:9. In fact, there are many Medieval manuscripts that contain the Hosanna, which has a slightly different text but still conveys the same meaning as in Matthew 21: Hosanna filio David benedictus qui venit in nomine domini rex Israel hosanna in excelsis.


Paradise 10, the sphere of the Sun, is full of nonspecific musical references. In 10.66 più dolci in voce che in vista lucenti, “with voices sweeter than their looks were bright”. In 10.70-81 Ne la corte del cielo…molte gioie…e ’l canto di quei lumi era di quelle. Poi, sì cantando, quelli ardenti soli si fuor girati intorno a noi tre volte, donne mi parver, non da ballo sciolte, ma che s’arrestin tacite, ascoltando fin che le nove note hanno ricolte. (“In the courts of heaven…are myriad jewels…it was of them these radiances sang. When, singing in this way, those flaming suns three times had circled round about us both, they looked like ladies pausing in the dance to listen to the music silently until they catch up to the tune anew”). In canto 10.106 one of the souls talks of them as il nostro coro (“our choir”).


The last fragment of Paradise 10 uses the image of a clock for the dance of the wise men (Paradise 10.139-148):



table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. Indi, come orologio che ne chiami

ne l’ora che la sposa di Dio surge

a mattinar lo sposo perché l’ami,


che l’una parte e l’altra tira e urge,

tin tin sonando con sì dolce nota,

che ’l ben disposto spirto d’amor turge;


così vid’ ïo la gloriosa rota

muoversi e render voce a voce in tempra

e in dolcezza ch’esser non pò nota


se non colà dove gioir s’insempra.

|<>. p<>{color:#000;}. Then, like a clock that chimes us at the hour

when the Bride of God rises to sing

her matins to her Spouse to make him love her,

with one part pulling and the other pushing,

sounding ding-dong with notes so dulcet that

the true-devoted spirit swells with love,

just so I saw the wheel of glory rotate

and answer voice to voice with harmony

and sweetness that can never be conceived

except where joyfulness is everlasting.



The souls are turning around Dante and Beatrice just like the hands of a clock, which was actually a relatively recent invention from the 13th century. As mentioned before, the verb rendere of canto 6.124-126 is used here as well. The image of the clock corresponds well with the rhythmical pulse of music, as Dante expert John Freccero has implied^^60^^, but also with the rhythmic dance these Franciscans and Dominicans perform in harmony. Moreover, the relationship of the clock with the Sun is evident, which marks time every day on Earth. Ciabattoni observes an extension of this theme into the sphere of Mars, arguing that “the measurement of time is associated with the Trinity because the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are brought together in the incarnation, and consequently the eternity of time enters contingency. Indeed, the thematic transition in Canto 15 [sphere of Mars], where the Cross and Christ’s victory over death are protagonists, hinges, in Solomon’s words, precisely on this connection: God’s eternal time is shared with man through Christ’s death on the cross and resurrection. The pilgrim is still mired in the coils of mortal tempo, and his confusion about time and songs is underscored by the passing references to Beatrice’s superiority to and independence from time”.^^61^^


Paradise 12.4-15 is considered by Margaret Bent as the most explicit reference to polyphony. As mentioned before, in the last lines, Dante is referring to the nymph Echo:



table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. e nel suo giro tutta non si volse

prima ch’un’altra di cerchio la chiuse,

e moto a moto e canto a canto colse


canto che tanto vince nostre muse,

nostre serene in quelle dolci tube,

quanto primo splendor quel ch’e’ refuse.


Come si volgon per tenera nube

due archi paralelli e concolori,

quando Iunone a sua ancella iube,



nascendo di quel d’entro quel di fori,

a guisa del parlar di quella vaga

ch’amor consunse come sol vapori,



|<>. p<>{color:#000;}. And it had not yet turned completely when

a second circle closed around the first,

motion matched with motion, song with song


song that surpassed in those sweet-sounding pipes

the music of our Muses or our Sirens

much as a ray surpasses its reflection.


Just as, across the thinned-out clouds two rainbows,

parallel and alike in color, bend

when Juno gives the order to her handmaid —


The outer band formed by the inner one:

the way the words were of the wandering nymph

whom love consumed as sunlight consumes vapors |


Dante describes the effect of an echo, which immediately makes us think of a canon. The secular canon was called chaçe in France, caça in Spain and caccia in Italy. Later on it would be known internationally as fuga, which would be the name for the canon until at least the 16th century. It could be called rota in Latin, meaning literally “wheel”. While the English version of the rota was already present in 13th century manuscripts, the French chaçe is only mentioned for the first time at around 1350. It was not yet listed in Paraisian musical theorist Johannes de Grocheio’s compendium of secular genres (Ars musice, ca. 1300). In Italy, the earliest known caccia was found in the Rossi Codex, whose music dates from 1325 to 1355. This secular genre became popular between 1340 and 1360.^^62^^ No earlier written evidence has been found, but possibly it was an improvised practice before becoming a notated one. Johannes de Grocheio listed it as a secular genre but did not write about existing practices in church. However, Dante’s words can be interpreted in another way as well, especially if he had no technical musical knowledge. The exchange of voices, sometimes sounding similar to the structure of a canon, is a characteristic of earlier liturgical music. Ciabattoni gives the example of a Nôtre Dame organum such as Perotinus’ Sederunt (ca.1200), a conductus^63^ such as Procurans odium, or a motet^^64^^ such as S’on me regarde / Prenez en garde / Hé mi enfant (Ciabattoni 2010, 177). Rather than being a canon, there is an exchange of melodic material to the extent that the audible effect of echo can be heard by non-musicians. This does not take away the possibility of a canonic improvised practice. Moreover, it makes sense that the genre of rodellus, chaçe, caça or caccia co-originated in an existing practice.


Paradise 13.25-30 is the next musical reference, also a nonspecific one:


table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. Lì si cantò non Bacco, non Peana,

ma tre persone in divina natura,

e in una persona essa e l’umana.


Compié ’l cantare e ’l volger sua misura;

e attesersi a noi quei santi lumi,

felicitando sé di cura in cura.

|<>. p<>{color:#000;}. They sang no Paean there nor hymn to Bacchus,

but to Three Persons in the Godhead’s nature,

and God and human nature in one Person.

The song and circling ran to their full measure,

and then those holy lights attended to us,

Happy to pass from caring to new care.



Ciabattoni gives the suggestion that three-part organum would suit a song for the Trinity perfectly well (Ciabattoni 2010, 159). Although it is an artistically interesting thought, it has no basis in Dante’s exact words.


In the same canto (Paradise 14.23-24) li santi cerchi mostrar nova gioia nel torneare e ne la mira nota (“the saintly circles in their gay gyrations and marvellous melodies displayed new joy”). A little bit further ahead Dante picks up the theme of the Trinity again, poetically reinforcing his description of the subject of their song (Paradise 14.28-33):


table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. Quell’ uno e due e tre che sempre vive

e regna sempre in tre e ’n due e ’n uno,

non circunscritto, e tutto circunscrive,


tre volte era cantato da ciascuno

di quelli spirti con tal melodia,

ch’ad ogne merto saria giusto muno.

|<>. p<>{color:#000;}. The One and Two and Three that lives forever

and ever reigns in Three and Two and One,

uncircumscribed and circumscribing all,

three times was sung by each one of the spirits

of those two rings, with such a melody

as would be fit reward for every merit.



The last reference to music in Paradise 14 is to an apparently existing chant (Paradise 14.118-126), for the first time mentioning the arpa (harp) and giga (viol) instead of the cithara.


table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. E come giga e arpa, in tempra tesa

di molte corde, fa dolce tintinno

a tal da cui la nota non è intesa,


così da’ lumi che lì m’apparinno

s’accogliea per la croce una melode

che mi rapiva, sanza intender l’inno.


Ben m’accors’ io ch’elli era d’alte lode,

però ch’a me venìa «Resurgi» e «Vinci»

come a colui che non intende e ode.

|<>. p<>{color:#000;}. And as a viol or harp that is strung

with many cords for harmony chimes sweetly

on ears that cannot catch the melody,

so from the lights appearing to me there,

a music swelled throughout the cross and held me

enraptured though I could not tell the hymn.

I firmly marked it was a song of praise

because “Rise up,” and “Conquer” came to me

as one who hears but does not understand.



Ciabattoni argues in his article “Dante and Music” that the chant belonging to the words resurgi and vinci (“rise up”, “conquer”) has not been identified satisfactorily, with the exception of a suggestion by Romanist and Italian scholar Charles Hall Grandgent (1862-1939), later proposed again by Robert Hollander, who writes that there is a sequentia (“sequence”) in the missal for Thursday of Easter week which includes the phrase Resumpta carne resurgit victor die in tertia. Ciabattoni explains in this article the background of this sequence:


“Sequences were poetic texts originally composed by local authors for local rites and differed from town to town. Sequences held a rightful place in the liturgy until the Council of Trent banned almost all of them due to their often-unorthodox content. Manuscript evidence, however, shows that the words quoted by Dante and highlighted by Grandgent belong to a sequence that begins Concinat orbis cunctus, found in sixty-nine manuscripts of English and northern French origin. Of these, nineteen date before or during Dante’s lifetime. (…) Sequences were non-biblical liturgical texts, originally composed as aids to memorize the long melodies of melismatic Alleluias. Sequences originated from melismas on Alleluias because such embellishments had become too long and elaborate to remember. New words were interpolated into the melisma, one note to one syllable, in order to make it easier to commit to memory the most flourished melodies. The golden age of the sequence as a poetic genre was from the ninth to the twelfth century. Sequences were perceived as a creative space within liturgy that monks and Christian poets could fill with their own original and often-innovative compositions” (Ciabattoni 2013, 25-26 and 39).


Here follows the entire text of the sequence Concinat orbis cunctus:


table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. Concinat orbis cunctus

Alleluja, votis, voce solemnia

Celebrando Paschalia.

Insontum tenera congaudeat turma, sacro

fonte nivea,

Spernens Phlegethontis undas.

Nos quoque laxas aptemus fibras arte


Voce sonora modificantes prosis aneumata


Voce satis tinnula

Christus namque mitis hostia

Factus nostra ob remedia,

Crucis pertuli probra

Et jugis vita manens subiit lethalia.

Fellis amara passus praelibare pocula

Vulnera satis toleravit dira, tranfixus clavis et lancea

Sic tolerando, mala gerens nostra,

descendit ad ima tartara.

Hostis antiqui quo defringens arma,

revehit potens ampla ovando tropaea

Sicque devicta morte ac resumpta carne,

resurgit victor die in tertia.

Unde jam jocundas ipsi canamus odas,

Per quem nobis vita redit aeterna et caeli clara nobis patescit aula;

Cui sit laus preclara.

|<>. p<>{color:#000;}. The whole world sings

Alleluia, with vows, with solemn voice

Celebrating Easter.

Let the young multitude rejoice white as snow at the holy spring

Fleeing the waters of Phlegethon.

And we draw taut the loosened strings with musical art

We change the notes to the lyrics with aneumata melodious voice

With a tinkling voice

Christ, example of meekness, became our Host

As a remedy he bore the infamy of the cross

And, while still alive, suffered the supplice of the yoke.

He drank the bitter chalice of gall

He endured cruel wounds, pierced by nails and lance.

Thus having suffered for us, he took on himself our sins and descended to Hell.

There he defeated the army of the old enemy and returned rejoicing in his great victory.

And thus, having defeated death and taken back his flesh, He rose victorious on the third day.

Therefore we raise joyful praises to him

Who gave us eternal life and opened the gates of the palace of Heaven;

High praise to him.^^65^^ |


Ciabattoni reports not only the relation of the words la carne glorïosa e santa / fia rivestita with the references to Christ’s resurrection in Canto 14, but also the fact that both texts use the image of plucked instruments used as a metaphor for the various voices. “We find, as Grandgent noted, almost identical words for Christ’s resurrection and victory over death (‘Resurgi’ e ‘Vinci’ / resurgit victor), along with the explicit mention of praise (alta lode / laus preclara)” (Ciabattoni 2013, 38). He also comments on the remarkable coincidence of di molte corde fan dolce tintinno with voce satis tinnula. Although Ciabattoni claims that the sequence Concinat orbis cunctus is not found in Italian collections, at this moment there are three 12th century Italian manuscripts in Madrid Biblioteca Nacional that contain the incipit of this sequence.^^66^^ Sequences usually remained of local diffusion, and depite the fact that we don’t have any sources from central or northern Italy, the Sicilian sources suggest that this particular sequence was indeed known in Italy.


At the beginning of Paradise 15, Dante resumes the image of a multi-stringed instrument, this time played by God himself (Paradise 15.4): Benigna volontade (…) silenzio puose a quella dolce lira, e fece quïetar le sante corde che la destra del cielo allenta e tira. (“Gracious will (…) hushed to silence the sweet-sounding lyre and stilled the sacred strings that the right hand of heaven either slackens or sets tight”).


In Paradise 18 there are also various nonspecific musical references. Paradise 18.50: mostrommi l’alma che m’avea parlato qual era tra i cantor del cielo artista (“the soul who’d spoken to me let me hear his art among the singers of that heaven”). Paradise 18.79-81: Prima, cantando, a sua nota moviensi; poi (…) un poco s’arrestavano e taciensi. (“At first they moved in rhythm with their song, but then (…) they stopped for a brief interval in silence.”) Paradise 18.99: lì quetarsi cantando, credo, il ben ch’a sé le move (“come to rest there, singing, I believe, the Good that draws them”).


In this Divine dramatical representation, the souls of the sphere of Jupiter first spell out the words diligite iustitiam qui iudicatis terram and then form the figure of an eagle, which sings a melody that Dante does not comprehend (Paradise 19.97-99):


table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. Roteando cantava, e dicea: «Quali

son le mie note a te, che non le ’ntendi,

tal è il giudicio etterno a voi mortali».

|<>. p<>{color:#000;}. Wheeling it sang, and said, “As are my notes

to you who do not comprehend them, such

is the eternal judgment to you mortals.” |


Paradise 20.11 confirms that Dante’s human senses, including his memory, have their limitations: cominciaron canti da mia memoria labili e caduci, “each began to sing hymns that have slipped out of my memory”. The supernatural music was comprehensible to him during his journey through Paradise due to the fact that his body was granted qualities of a resurrected body, but once back on Earth he has returned to his limited human abilities.


In Paradise 21.58-63 Dante’s body is not ready yet to understand the celestial music of the contemplative souls, so the souls keep silence just as Beatrice does not smile:


table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. «e dì perché si tace in questa rota

la dolce sinfonia di paradiso,

che giù per l’altre suona sì divota».


«Tu hai l’udir mortal sì come il viso»,

rispuose a me; «onde qui non si canta

per quel che Bëatrice non ha riso.

|<>. p<>{color:#000;}. “And tell me why within this wheeling sphere

the sweet symphony of paradise is silent,

which through the spheres below sounds so devoutly.”

“You have the sight and hearing of a mortal,”

he answered me; “there is no singing here

for the same reason Beatrice has not smiled.



When they utter a collective shout, Dante is bewildered (Paradise 21.139-142):


table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. Dintorno a questa vennero e fermarsi,

e fero un grido di sì alto suono,

che non potrebbe qui assomigliarsi;


né io lo ’ntesi, sì mi vinse il tuono.

|<>. p<>{color:#000;}. They flocked around this spirit and stood still

and lifted up a shout so deep in sound

that nothing heard on earth resembles it;

the thunder dashed me so, I could not grasp it.




Beatrice explains to him the reason for the silence in this sphere, the same reason why she has not smiled (Paradise 22.10-15):


table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. Come t’avrebbe trasmutato il canto,

e io ridendo, mo pensar lo puoi,

poscia che ’l grido t’ha mosso cotanto;


nel qual, se ’nteso avessi i prieghi suoi,

già ti sarebbe nota la vendetta

che tu vedrai innanzi che tu muoi.

|<>. p<>{color:#000;}. Now you can comprehend how they by song

and I by smiling would have changed your soul,

when just this shout has moved you so profoundly.

By this cry, had you understood their prayers,

you might have known already of the vengeance

which you shall see down there before you die.



Thus, not only is this music incomprehensible but it can even be harmful to Dante’s human body. In fact, Beatrice explained to Dante that he would turn into ashes if she were to smile at him, and in canto 25 Dante becomes temporarily blind because he looks too intensely to Saint John’s light. We could even speculate that this might be the reason why Dante’s vision at the end of Paradise is without music, or at least he does not remember any musical experience afterwards.


Paradise 23.97-111 seem to be mentioning a kind of Regina coeli:


table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. Qualunque melodia più dolce suona

qua giù e più a sé l’anima tira,

parrebbe nube che squarciata tona,


comparata al sonar di quella lira

onde si coronava il bel zaffiro

del quale il ciel più chiaro s’inzaffira.


«Io sono amore angelico, che giro

l’alta letizia che spira del ventre

che fu albergo del nostro disiro;


e girerommi, donna del ciel, mentre

che seguirai tuo figlio, e farai dia

più la spera supprema perché lì entre».


Così la circulata melodia

si sigillava, e tutti li altri lumi

facean sonare il nome di Maria.

|<>. p<>{color:#000;}. The sweetest-sounding melody on earth,

which draws the soul the closest to its strains,

would seem to be a thunder-shattered cloud

compared to the tuned music of the lyre

that crowns the most beautiful of sapphires

by which the brightest heaven is bejeweled.


“I am angelic love who wheels around

the exalted gaiety breathed from the womb

which was the inn of all the world’s desire;

“And, Lady of Heaven, I will wheel until

you follow your Son to the highest sphere

to make it more divine by entering it!”

In this way the encircling melody

came to a close, and all the other lights

rang out with echoes of the name of Mary.



We saw already in Margaret Bent’s article that musicologist John Stevens warns against la circulata melodia as a reference to polyphony, stating that it rather refers to inner melodic coherence. In this case it is even logical, because he is singing alone. The text of Regina Coeli is as follows:


table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. Regina cæli, lætare, alleluia:

R. Quia quem meruisti portare, alleluia,

Resurrexit, sicut dixit, alleluia,

R. Ora pro nobis Deum, alleluia.

Gaude et lætare, Virgo Maria, alleluia.

R. Quia surrexit Dominus vere, alleluia.



Deus, qui per resurrectionem Filii tui, Domini nostri Iesu Christi,

mundum lætificare dignatus es:

præsta, quæsumus, ut per eius Genitricem Virginem Mariam,

perpetuæ capiamus gaudia vitæ.

Per eundem Christum Dominum nostrum.

R. Amen.

|<>. p<>{color:#000;}. Queen of Heaven, rejoice, alleluia.

R. The Son whom you merited to bear, alleluia.

Has risen, as He said, alleluia.

R. Pray for us to God, alleluia.

Rejoice and be glad, O Virgin Mary, alleluia.

R. For the Lord has truly risen, alleluia.


Let us pray.

O God, who through the resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ

gave rejoicing to the world,

grant, we pray, that through his Mother, the Virgin Mary,

we may obtain the joy of everlasting life.

Through Christ our Lord.




A Regina Coeli would be the most natural choice, at least if we assume that at this point the music that Dante hears is still connected with the liturgical music he knows.


Paradise 24.13-24 uses again the image of the clock to indicate the movement of the dancing souls. While he remembers perfectly well the visual aspect of their dancing in different velocities, it has been impossible for him to remember the music they sing:


table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. E come cerchi in tempra d’orïuoli

si giran sì, che ’l primo a chi pon mente

quïeto pare, e l’ultimo che voli;


così quelle carole, differente-

mente danzando, de la sua ricchezza

mi facieno stimar, veloci e lente.

Di quella ch’io notai di più carezza

vid’ ïo uscire un foco sì felice,

che nullo vi lasciò di più chiarezza;


e tre fïate intorno di Beatrice

si volse con un canto tanto divo,

che la mia fantasia nol mi ridice.

|<>. p<>{color:#000;}. And as wheels turn within the works of clocks,

so that the largest seems, to the observer,

to stand still while the smallest seems to fly,

just so those singing rings, to different measures

dancing in swift circles and in slow,

enabled me to judge their wealth of joy.

From the one I observed to be the richest

I saw burst out a flame so joyful that

none ever shone with sharper brilliancy.

And three times it revolved around Beatrice

with so divine a song, there is no way

for my imagination to record it.



Although Ciabattoni is convinced that the souls are singing in different rhythms (Ciabattoni 2010, 186), the text actually only specifies that they are dancing faster or slower, but not if they are also singing different rhythms simultaneously.


A Te Deum is sung in Paradise 24.113:


table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. Finito questo, l’alta corte santa

risonò per le spere un ’Dio laudamo’

ne la melode che là sù si canta.

|<>. p<>{color:#000;}. This ended, through the spheres the saintly court

On high resounded “Te Deum,” praising God

With melodies such as they sing up there.



We already encountered a Te Deum in Purgatory 9.140-141 (e ’Te Deum laudamus’ mi parea

udire in voce mista al dolce suono, “And thought I heard “Te Deum: Praise to God” chanted by voices mixed with that sweet strain”), where these voices blended with the clangor of the gate to the next terrace. Perhaps this Te Deum sounds different since Dante points out that its melody is “as they sing up there”, but Dante seemingly did not comprehend very well the first Te Deum when he had still a more imperfect body.^^67^^


Sperent in te sounds in Paradise 25.97-99:


table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. E prima, appresso al fin d’este parole,

’Sperent in te’ di sopr’ a noi s’udì;

a che rispuoser tutte le carole.

|<>. p<>{color:#000;}. First, as these words were coming to an end,

“Let them find hope in Thee,” rang out above us,

And to it all the choirs around re-echoed.




Dante continues his description of the singing in Paradise 25.130-132:


table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. A questa voce l’infiammato giro

si quïetò con esso il dolce mischio

che si facea nel suon del trino spiro |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. While this voice spoke, the flaming gyre grew still

together with the sweet mixed harmony

made by the singing of the three-part breathing |


Dante tells us it is trino spiro (“three-part breathing”) referring to the three saints singing together (Peter, James, and John), and calls it dolce mischio (“sweet mixture”). This does appear to refer to organum. Sperent in te comes from Psalm 9:11, et sperent in te qui noverunt nomen tuum quoniam non dereliquisti quaerentes te Domine (“And let them trust in thee who know thy name: for thou hast not forsaken them that seek thee, O Lord”). It is the happy response of the heavenly souls to Dante’s success in his “exam” on faith, hope and charity. This chant appears in neumed manuscripts, but does not seem to have been present in many pitch-specific manuscripts. On the internet site www.cantusdatabase.org only one example is listed, as early as the 11th century^^68^^, but no later version appear.


In Paradise 26.67-69 Dante regains his eyesight after having been blinded by the light of Saint John, accompanied by Sanctus, sanctus, sanctus:


table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. Sì com’ io tacqui, un dolcissimo canto

risonò per lo cielo, e la mia donna

dicea con li altri: «Santo, santo, santo!».

|<>. p<>{color:#000;}. As soon as I grew still a most sweet song

Resounded through the heavens, and my lady

Sang with the others, “Holy, Holy, Holy!” |


Now his eyesight is able to withstand all heavenly visions. The only information on the chant is that it is the beginning of a Sanctus and does not seem to be continued beyond those words. After Adam’s intervention, the next song that Dante hears is a Gloria Patri et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto (Paradise 27.1-3):


table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. ’Al Padre, al Figlio, a lo Spirito Santo’,

cominciò, ’gloria!’, tutto ’l paradiso,

sì che m’inebrïava il dolce canto.

|<>. p<>{color:#000;}. “Glory to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit!”

the whole of paradise at once poured forth,

so sweet a song I felt inebriated.



The last two references mentioned by Bent to be possible candidates for polyphony are 28.94-96 and 28.118-120:


table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. Io sentiva osannar di coro in coro

al punto fisso che li tiene a li ubi,

e terrà sempre, ne’ quai sempre fuoro.




perpetüalemente ’Osanna’ sberna

con tre melode, che suonano in tree

ordini di letizia onde s’interna.

|<>. p<>{color:#000;}. From choir to choir I heard Hosannah sung

to the Still Point that holds them fast forever

to that one spot where they have always been.




unceasingly in birdsong sings Hosannah

with triple melodies that warble from

the three degrees of bliss that form the triad.



Ciabattoni reasons that


“if there are three different melodic lines and they are sung perpetually, there will necessarily result a polyphonic performance. In fact, some early commentators understood these three melodies as a tripartite song that recalls a three-voice organum. Benvenuto of Imola [ca.1320 – 1388] expresses it in the clearest way: the angels sing ‘a threefold song, because every triad makes its own distinct song according to their different offices, and still they all resound and harmonize in magnificent intervals.’” (Ciabattoni 2010, 167).


The word Hosanna is derived from the Aramaic “save” or “saviour”. It is a word of praise to Divinity’s rescuing facet. In fact, in the Bible it appears in the story of Jesus’ entering in Jerusalem and the people are praising him exclaiming Hosanna (Mark 11). Ciabattoni suggests that it could be seen as the final glorious moment of a journey from the musicless Miserere uttered by Dante in the beginning, through the Miserere sung by the souls in Ante-Purgatory, resulting in this chant which is a song of praise but etymologically means “saviour” or “save (us)” (Ciabattoni 2010, 168).


Paradise 31.4-5 speaks of the angels volando vede e canta la gloria di colui che la ’nnamora “singing the glory of him who fills them with his love”. Their song must be without words , since according to Dante they do not use verbal language (see chapter 3). Paradise 31.133 speaks of lor giochi quivi e (…) lor canti, “their sports and songs there”. This is the culmination of the aesthetic and joyous Divine representation.


There is a reference to an Ave Maria in Paradise 32.94-99:



table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. e quello amor che primo lì discese,

cantando ’Ave, Maria, gratïa plena’,

dinanzi a lei le sue ali distese.


Rispuose a la divina cantilena

da tutte parti la beata corte,

sì ch’ogne vista sen fé più serena.

|<>. p<>{color:#000;}. And that same Love who first flew down to her,

singing there, “Hail Mary, full of grace,”

now spread his wings out wide in front of her.

From every side the blessed court responded

so warmly to the canticle of heaven

that with the song each face grew more serene.



Here is a re-enactment of the Annunciation, so it would be plausible that the Archangel Gabriel actually sings the Ave Maria. We can imagine that the response of the “blessed choir” might be the final Amen of the Ave Maria. It is also the last reference to any chant in Paradise.





The ineffable and its interpretation: beyond polyphony


We have seen that the Anti-Music of Inferno is both an expression of the souls’ mental state and their punishment: they are not able nor allowed to produce music and must listen eternally to chaotic and unpleasant sounds. The general soundscape of Inferno is one of cacophony and lack of harmonious music.


Purgatory’s music consists of three types. First of all, there are a few examples of seductive music (i.e. Casella, the Siren in Dante’s dream). Second, at each gate to the next terrace there is a Beatitude sung by an angel or by immaterial voices. And finally, the souls themselves sing liturgical chants as an means of purgation and healing. The Beatitudes and the healing chants reflect perfectly the sins of each terrace. In the Terrestrial Paradise at the top of Purgatory, both Matelda and the heavenly procession give a foretaste of the abundant singing and dancing in Paradise. Most chants in Purgatory can be performed from late-Medieval sources, so historically and musically this cantica is a very interesting one.


The music of Paradise is of a supernatural nature. It is the cantica where less can be said about the sounding music itself, leading to most speculation in writings on the subject. There are only a few definable chants in Paradise, whereas most are lyrical descriptions of how the protagonist Dante perceives the music of Paradise. If we assume that Paradisal music is unlike human chant, then this makes perfect sense. Sometimes a chant appears to be a known liturgical version, but then suddenly the soul or angel changes its text, a phenomenon that we could observe already slightly in some songs of Purgatory’s angels. Ciabattoni’s conclusion is that Paradisal music must be polyphonic because of some of its descriptions. However, he bases himself on the premise that it functions like musica instrumentalis even if it is musica mundana. Indeed, musica instrumentalis is an inferior reflection of musica mundana, and perfect proportions are essential to both, but still such supernatural music might function in a way we cannot imagine. If Dante tells us that he does not comprehend what he hears – because his human body has not yet reached the perfection in order to grasp it – the question arises if polyphony is enough to cover the Paradisal sound Dante had in mind. In this perspective, the conclusion that Purgatory is about monophony while Paradise is about polyphony drawn by Ciabattoni and others is a somewhat simplistic view which does not take into account that the Paradisal music is of a complete different order than any kind of human music. We should rather say that Purgatory is about human music while Paradise is about angelic music, and the rest can only be vaguely imagined, just as Dante must have done. However, as a basis of inspiration for a performance, this hypothesis is of interest, because in performance we can only express Dante’s references with our imperfect musica instrumentalis.

1Ciabattoni, F., Dante’s Journey to Polyphony (Toronto, 2010), p.43-84

2This is the only setting known to the author at this point: http://www.worldofdante.org/music.html [accessed 19-10-2014], a monophonic choice of the Liber Usualis chants

3 Ciabattoni, F., Dante’s Journey to Polyphony (Toronto, 2010)

4 Two notable erroneous statements in Ciabattoni, F., Dante’s Journey to Polyphony (Toronto, 2010): p. 17: “ The Chapter Library of Padua preserves two early thirteenth-century manuscripts (signed C 55 and C 56)”. These are the Padua Biblioteca Capitolare C 55 and C 56 and date from the early fourteenth century. p.48: “Although instruments often appear appear in similes or metaphors, they embody the first of Boethius’s three categories: musica instrumentalis, musica humana and musica mundana”. This is incorrect: musica instrumentalis is the audible music for the human ear and involves both vocal and instrumental music, while musica humana is about the proportions within the human soul and body.

5 Among the writings with this assumption are “Dante’s musical progress through the Commedia” (2004) by William Peter Mahrt and “The Music of Dante’s Purgatorio” (2005) by modern flutist Mimi Stillman.

6 Bent, M. “Songs without music in Dante’s De vulgari eloquentia: cantio and related terms”, in “Et facciam dolçi canti”. Studi in onore di Agostino Ziino in occasione del suo 65° compleanno . ed. Bianca Maria Antolini, Teresa M. Gialdroni, Annunziato Pugliese (Lucca: LIM- Libreria Italiana Musicale, 2004), vol. I, p. 161

7 This musical genre is not to be confused with the later Renaissance madrigal.

8 Stillman, M., “The Music of Dante’s Purgatorio”, in Hortulus: the Online Graduate Journal of Medieval Studies Vol.1, No.1 (2005)

9 See Chapter 3. Gragnolati, M., Experiencing the Afterlife: Soul and Body in Dante and Medieval Culture (Indiana, 2005)

10 Mentioned in M. A. Roglieri, “La dolce Sinfonia di Paradiso: Can Mere Mortals Compose It?”, Braida, A. and Calè, L., Dante on View (Ashgate: Aldershot, 2007), p.66, referring to Sanguineti, E., “Infernal Acoustics: Sacred Song and Earthly Song”, Lectura Dantis, 6 (1990), p.69-70.

11 Cacophony is a combination of dissonant or harsh sounds with no obvious relationship between them.

12 This is Psalm 50, translating as “Have mercy on me, o God, according to thy steadfast love; according to thy abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.”

13 “cantor che per doglia / del fallo disse ’Miserere mei’ ”

14 Quoted in Ciabattoni 2010, 79

15 The opening stance of this hymn is: “Vexilla regis prodeunt, fulget crucis mysterium, quo carne carnis conditor suspensus est patibulo” (“The banners of the king issue forth, the mystery of the cross does gleam, where the creator of flesh, in the flesh, by the cross-bar is hung.”)

16 David Fallows. “Lai.” Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, [+ http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/15841+] [accessed July 27, 2015]

17 “(…) lo demonio Cerbero, che ’ntrona / l’anime sì, ch’esser vorrebber sorde”, Inferno 6.32-33

18 Guido Cavalcanti was still alive in 1300, but at the moment of writing he had already died in exile, as a consequence of a decision in which Dante had taken part.

19 The former chancellor to Emperor Frederick II in the 13th century.

20 A Florentine nobleman from the 13th century whom Dante regarded as a traitor.

21 “una voce uscì de l’altro fosso, / a parole formar disconvenevole”, Inferno 24.65-66

22 Here I have followed Ciabattoni’s translation.

23 Not the slothful, as Ciabattoni calls them.

24 As narrated in the late 11th century Chanson de Roland and mentioned by Dante in this part of his Commedia.

25 Mentioned by Ciabattoni (Ciabattoni 2010, 83). Commentary by Claudio Bacciagaluppi, “La ‘dolce sinfonia di paradiso’: Le funzioni delle immagini musicali nella Commedia”, Rivista di studi danteschi 2, no 2 (July-December 2002), p.279-333, at. p.298.

26 The “rude” sound made by pushing one’s tongue outside the lips and blowing air out of the mouth.

27 Mentioned in Ciabattoni 2010, 53: Saroll, G.R., “Musical Symbolism: Inferno XXI, 136-139, Exemplum of musica Diaboli versus musica Dei.” In Sarolli, Prolegomena alla ‘Divina Commedia.’, 363-380. (Florence: Olschki, 1971).

28 “l’altr’è ’l falso Sinon greco di Troia: / per febbre aguta gittan tanto leppo” (“The other is false Sinon, the Greek from Troy. Their burning fever makes their bodies reek.”), Inferno 30.98-99

29 For example in the New International Version and generally in American, Spanish, German, Dutch, French versions.

30 For example in the English Standard Version and generally in all British versions.

31 Mentioned in Ciabattoni 2010, 66: Sanguineti commented this during the convention called “Dante Studies in the Nineteen Hundreds”, held in Turin on 18 May 2004.

32 Pearce, J.B., “Theocritus and Oral Tradition”, Oral Tradition, 8/1 (1993): 59-86, p.63, [+ http://journal.oraltradition.org/files/articles/8i/4_pearce.pdf+] [accessed 11-8 2015]

33 As suggested by Ciabattoni (Ciabattoni 2010, 66). An English version can be found here: http://classics.mit.edu/Virgil/eclogue.7.vii.html [accessed 11-8 2015]

34 Mentioned in Ciabattoni 2010, 84: Sarolli, G.R., “Musical Symbolism: Inferno XXI.136-139, Exemplum of musica Diabolica versus musica Dei”, in Sarolli’s Prolegomena alla ‘Divina Commedia’ (Florence: Olschki, 1971), 363-380.

35 Psalm 40:5, Augustine, Sermones ad populum, classis prima: Sermo XX.1 (PL, vol. 38, col. 137), as found in Ciabattoni 2010, 112.

36 “Clamat aeger ad medicum”

37 Mentioned in Ciabattoni 2010, 110: Ardissino, E., “I canti liturgici nel Purgatorio dantesco”, Dante Studies 108 (1990): 39-65.

38 Mentioned in Ciabattoni 2010, 138: Chiavacci Leonardi, A.M., “Le beatitudini e la struttura poetica del Purgatorio”, Giornale storico della letteratura italiana 161, no.513 (1984): 1-29.

39 He adds a bibliographic source to compare his findings with: Birge-Vitz, E., “The Liturgy and Vernacular Literature”, in The Liturgy of the Medieval Church, ed. Heffernan, T. and Matter, A. (Kalamazoo: TEAMS, 2001), 551-618, at p.592

40 The first psalm number refers to the number in the Vulgate, the number in between brackets indicates versions that do not base themselves on the Vulgate but on the Hebrew version and thus have a slightly different numbering.

41See, for example: Wright, C., Music and Ceremony at Notre Dame of Paris, 500-1550 (Cambridge, 2008)

42 Quoted in Ciabattoni 2010, 127; translation taken from P. Williams, The Organ in Western Culture, 750-1250 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993).

43 To give two very different examples, both an early 12th century French manuscript as well as a late 16th century German manuscripts contain the same melody for the Gaudete et exultate: Antiphonarium ad usum Sancti Mauri Fossatensis, 1101-1125 (France), [+ http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b6000531z/f404.image+] and DK-Kk 3449 8o XII, Date: 1580 c., Provenance: Augsburg, [+ http://www.uni-regensburg.de/Fakultaeten/phil_Fak_I/Musikwissenschaft/cantus/microfilm/copenhagen/vol12/images/210.jpg+], while yet again 14th century manuscripts give the same melody for Beati misericordes, like the 14th century antiphoner in two volumes (29 and 30) from the Abbey of Sankt Lambrecht (Steiermark, Austria) or the 14th-century antiphoner from the monastery of Einsiedeln, Switzerland.

44 A kind of singing speech.

45 Prof. Mazzotta speaks about the idea of the ludic theology (Mazzotta 2004, Lecture 12).

46 The insertion of new text on a melisma, or even of both text and melody, in a chant.

47 I have followed the translation of Ciabattoni since the James Finn Cotter translation is not as precise (Ciabattoni 2010, 131).

48 Slightly adapted version of translation by David Kovacs, [+ http://www.worldofdante.org/docs/chanttexts_translations.pdf+] [accessed 3-8 2015]

49 Barolini, Teodolinda. “Purgatorio 26 : Human Sexuality.” Commento Baroliniano, Digital Dante. Center for Digital Research and Scholarship. New York, NY: Columbia University Libraries, 2014. [+ http://digitaldante.columbia.edu/dante/divine-comedy/purgatorio/purgatorio-26/+] [accessed 3-8 2015]

50 Augustinus, Sermones, 11, 77 – SERMO LXXVII. De verbis Evangelii Matthaei, cap. XXV, 34-43, Venite, benedicti Patris, etc. . [+ http://www.monumenta.ch/latein/text.php?tabelle=Augustinus&rumpfid=Augustinus,%20Sermones,%2011,%20%20%2077&nf=1+] [accessed 3-8 2015]

51 Mentioned in Ciabattoni 2010, 149: Hollander, R., “Dante’s Use of the Fiftieth Psalm”, p.148.

52 Douglas Harper, [+ http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=temperament+] [accessed 4-8 2015]

53 Mentioned in Ciabattoni 2010, 150: Spitzer, L., Classical and Christian Ideas of World Harmony (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1963), p.80

54 The three theological virtues are Faith, Hope and Charity. They were called as such from the Middle Ages on in order to distinguish them from the four cardinal virtues: Prudence, Justice, Temperance and Fortitude. While the cardinal virtues are important in both Classical and Medieval Christian writings, the theological virtues are specifically Christian, centred around the understanding of the Divine (Mazzotta 2008, Lecture 21)

55 Bent, M. “Songs without music in Dante’s De vulgari eloquentia: cantio and related terms”, in “Et facciam dolçi canti”. Studi in onore di Agostino Ziino in occasione del suo 65° compleanno . ed. Bianca Maria Antolini, Teresa M. Gialdroni, Annunziato Pugliese (Lucca: LIM- Libreria Italiana Musicale, 2004), vol. I, p. 161 footnote 4

56 Personal e-mail correspondance.

57 “trois types d’intervalles correspondent à des rapports musicaux, déjà connus à l’époque de Platon : la quarte 4/3, la quinte 3/2 et le ton 9/8. (…) Considérée d’un point de vue strictement musical, la structure mathématique de l’Âme du monde comprendrait donc 4 octaves, une quinte et un ton : 2/1 × 2/1 × 2/1 × 2/1 × 3/2 × 9/8 = 27. Mais il faut bien remarquer que Platon n’a pas du tout l’intention de faire la théorie du type de musique que pourraient émettre les corps célestes”. Plato, Timée/Critias (Garnier-Flammarion, 1996), p. 287

58 Guy P. Raffa, [+ http://danteworlds.laits.utexas.edu/paradiso/07saturn.html#harmony+] [accessed 4-8 2015]

59 Guy P. Raffa, [+ http://danteworlds.laits.utexas.edu/paradiso/07saturn.html#harmony+] [accessed 4-8 2015]

60 As mentioned in Ciabattoni 2010, 163: J. Freccero, Dante, The Poetics of Conversion, p. 221-244.

61 Ciabattoni, F., “Musical Ways around Ineffability (Paradiso 10-15)”, Dante Studies, CXXXI, 2013, p.30

62 Oxford Music online: Alfred Mann, et al. “Canon (i).” Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed August 8, 2015, [+ http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/04741+]. Ernest H. Sanders. “Rondellus.” Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed August 8, 2015, [+ http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/23785+]. Virginia E. Newes. “Chace.” Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed August 8, 2015, [+ http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/05352+]. Kurt von Fischer and Gianluca D’Agostino. “Caccia.” Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed August 8, 2015, [+ http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/04517+].

63 Sacred, but non-liturgical vocal composition for one or more voices, originating in Aquitaine at the end of the 12th century and assimilated by the Notre Dame school. See Chapter 1.

64 A genre of the Notre Dame school in which one or more texted voices move rhythmically above a tenor with extended notes, taken from a melismatic segment of plainchant. See Chapter 1.

65 Appears in Ciabattoni, F., “Musical Ways around Ineffability (Paradiso 10-15)”, Dante Studies, CXXXI, 2013, p.25-49. Translation Ciabattoni, original text from Sequentiae ineditae. Liturgische Prosen des Mittelalters, Analecta Hymnica Medii Aevi 40 (1902): 39–40. Also to be encountered directly in historical sources such as Missale ad usum insignis et praeclarae ecclesiae Sarum, available on [+ http://www.archive.org/stream/missaleadusumin00cathgoog/missaleadusumin00cathgoog_djvu.txt+] and Liber Ecclesiae Beati Terrenani de Arbuthnott; missale secundum usum Ecclesiae Sancti Andreae in Scotia. [Edited by A.P. Forbes, Bishop of Brechin], available on [+ http://archive.org/stream/liberecclesiaebe00cath/liberecclesiaebe00cath_djvu.txt+] [accessed 6-8 2015].

66The sources are: E-Mn 19421 (52v 30), E-Mn 288 (83r 21), and E-Mn 289 (50r 24). The provenance of all three is Sicilia (Palermo and Catania). Source: http://cantus.uwaterloo.ca/content/633817 [accessed 21 June 2016]

67 “Io mi rivolsi attento al primo tuono, / e ’Te Deum laudamus’ mi parea / udire in voce mista al dolce suono. / Tale imagine a punto mi rendea / ciò ch’io udiva, qual prender si suole / quando a cantar con organi si stea; / ch’or sì or no s’intendon le parole.” (“I turned around at the first thundering sound / and thought I heard “Te Deum: Praise to God” / chanted by voice(s) mixed with that sweet strain. / The notes I heard conveyed to me the same / exact impression which we have at times / when people sing con organi / and now and then we just make out the words.”) Purgatory 9.139-145, see above in Chapter 3.

68 http://cantusdatabase.org/id/850365 [accessed 10-8 2015]

The Sonorous World Of Dante's Commedia

This work investigates exhaustively the musical references in Dante's Commedia. It is a critical survey of their literal and symbolical significance within Dante's narrative. Although Inferno, realm of Anti-Music, apparently only contains noises, there are several parodic referrals to music. Purgatory, where music is a means for purgation, is the canticle which is most specific in its description of actual chants and the way they are sung by the souls. In Paradise reigns superhuman music, therefore it contains numerous musical references, but very few of them are specific and indicate an existing chant: they are above human music. This investigation of the sonorous references in the Commedia has taken into account a historical-musical perspective, as is applied by musicians and musicologists specialized in Early Music.

  • Author: Lobke Sprenkeling
  • Published: 2016-09-03 22:35:20
  • Words: 27305
The Sonorous World Of Dante's Commedia The Sonorous World Of Dante's Commedia