Gabriels redemption, p.20
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       Gabriels Redemption, p.20

         Part #3 of Gabriels Inferno series by Sylvain Reynard
Page 20


  “Francis was not a thief. He was not deceptive or fraudulent, and he made no attempt to use vain words to further his cause. If anything, Guido captured the essence of Francis’s nature by describing him as being present but silent.

  “It’s surprising, perhaps, that someone so skilled in fraud would be so adept at painting a picture of virtue. But when we reflect on the stories Francis’s followers told about his life and works, we see that that’s exactly what Guido does, even though he attempts to overshadow the picture with his skillful use of rhetoric.

  “In conclusion, I think that the two historical interpretations of this passage are mistaken. Francis appeared at the death of Guido, but not to steal his soul.

  “Francis’s appearance contrasts true Franciscanism with the false Franciscanism of Guido da Montefeltro. If anything, Dante uses Guido as a foil to praise the piety of St. Francis by providing a stark contrast between the two men. Thank you. ”

  Julia nodded at the audience as they offered her a respectable level of applause. She noticed several of the academics whispering to one another before her eyes found the faces of Professors Picton, Marinelli, and Emerson.

  Gabriel winked, and her face broke into a relieved smile.

  “Are there any questions?” Julia asked, turning to the audience.

  There was a moment that in Julia’s mind seemed to last forever, in which no one spoke. She found Christa’s face and watched her conflicted expression, and believed that she had escaped unscathed.

  Then, as if in slow motion, Christa’s expression changed and hardened. She scrambled to her feet.

  Out of the corner of her eye, Julia saw Professor Pacciani take hold of Christa’s elbow somewhat roughly, trying to pull her back into her seat. But Christa wrenched her arm free.

  “I have a question. ”

  Julia bit her lip unconsciously, her heart leaping into her throat.

  As if it had been choreographed, every member of the audience turned to look at Christa. Several conferencegoers whispered to their neighbors, their eyes alive with anticipation. Christa’s conflict with the Emersons was well known now by almost every attendee. Indeed, the room began to buzz with a kind of nervous energy as everyone wondered what she was going to say.

  “There are so many holes in your paper, I don’t know where to begin. But let’s start with your research, such as it is. ” Christa’s tone was contemptuous. “The majority of papers on this passage accept the fact that Francis came for Guido. A few recent papers deny that Francis appeared. But no one”—she paused for emphasis—“no one thinks that Francis appeared but not for Guido’s soul. Either Guido is lying or he isn’t. It can’t be half and half, like cream. ”

  She smirked as a few members of the audience laughed.

  Julia swallowed hard, her eyes darting around the room, reading everyone’s reaction before returning to Christa’s.

  “Furthermore, you don’t even mention the beginning of canto twenty-seven, when Guido explains to Dante that he’s telling the truth because he thinks that Dante will spend the rest of eternity in Hell and therefore won’t be able to tell anyone what really happened. That passage demonstrates that Guido is telling the truth about Francis’s appearance.

  “Finally, if you’d bothered to read Professor Hutton’s seminal work on the organization of the Inferno, you’d know that he thought the demon’s speech was reliable because his words were historically accurate. So Hutton thought that Francis appeared for Guido’s soul, too. ”

  With a proud smile, Christa sat down, waiting for Julia’s response. She was so proud of herself, so self-satisfied, she missed the look that Professor Picton gave to Professor Pacciani. The look indicated very clearly that Katherine was holding Pacciani responsible for the flamboyant behavior of his guest, and that she was not pleased with that behavior. In response, Professor Pacciani whispered in Christa’s ear, gesticulating wildly.

  Julia simply stood there, blinking rapidly, while every single person in the room waited for her answer.

  Gabriel moved forward in his chair, as if he were going to stand. He thought better of it, however, when Professor Picton narrowed her eyes at him. The expression on his face was thunderous as he glared in Christa’s direction.

  Paul muttered an expletive and folded his arms across his chest.

  Professor Picton simply nodded at Julia, her face a picture of confidence.

  Julia raised a shaky hand to push her hair behind her ear, the diamonds in her engagement ring catching the light.

  “Um, let’s begin with your point that some interpreters believe that Francis came for Guido’s soul and that this can be shown by his opening lines to Dante. ”

  Julia read the lines in Italian, her pronunciation sure and musical,

  “‘S’i’ credesse che mia risposta fosse

  a persona che mai tornasse al mondo,

  questa fiamma staria stanza più scosse;

  ma però che già mai di questo fondo

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

  sanza tema d’infamia ti rispondo. ’”

  Julia began to stand a little taller.

  “In this passage, Guido says he’s willing to tell the truth since he believes that Dante is one of the damned and thus wouldn’t be able to repeat the story. But Guido’s tale is self-serving. He blames everyone—the pope, the demon, and by implication, St. Francis—for his fate. There’s nothing in his account that he should be embarrassed about. If anything, the story he tells is one he would want to have repeated. He simply doesn’t want to tip his hand by saying so, which is why he gives the speech I just quoted.

  “You’re also forgetting this line:

  “‘Ora chi se’, ti priego che ne conte;

  non esser duro più ch’altri sia stato,

  se ‘l nome tuo nel mondo tegna fronte. ’”

  Growing in confidence, Julia resisted the urge to smile, choosing rather to meet Christa’s gaze gravely.

  “Dante tells Guido that he intends to repeat his tale in the world. It’s only after Dante says this that Guido recounts his life story. Also, we know that Dante doesn’t resemble the other shades physically. So it’s likely that Guido recognized that Dante wasn’t dead. ”

  Christa began speaking, but Julia lifted a patient hand, indicating that she wasn’t finished.

  “There’s textual evidence for my interpretation. There’s a parallel passage in the fifth canto of Purgatorio, in which Guido’s son talks about how an angel came for his soul at his death. Perhaps it’s the responsibility of angels and not saints to ferry souls to Paradise. Thus, Francis appears at Guido’s death for quite a different purpose.

  “As for your last point, about Professor Hutton’s work. If you’re referring to Fire and Ice: Desire and Sin in Dante’s Inferno, then your characterization of his position is incorrect. Although I don’t have a copy of the book with me, there’s a footnote in chapter ten in which he states that he believed that Francis appeared, because he thinks the words of the demon were directed at someone other than Guido, himself. But Professor Hutton says he has doubts as to whether Francis appeared for Guido’s soul or for some other reason. That’s all he says on the matter. ”

  Christa stood up as if to argue, but before a word could exit her mouth, an aged professor dressed entirely in tweed turned around to face her. He looked at her contemptuously through his tortoiseshell glasses.

  “Can we move on? You’ve asked your question and the speaker answered it. Adequately, I might add. ”

  Christa was taken aback, but she quickly regrouped, protesting that she should have an opportunity to ask a supplementary question.

  Once again, the audience reacted with whispered words, but Julia noticed that the expressions on their faces had changed. Now they were looking at Julia with a kind of muted appreciation.

  “Can we move on? I’d like the opportunity to ask a question. ” The aged professor turned away from Ch
rista and directed his gaze to the moderator, who stepped forward, clearing his throat.

  “Ah, if there’s time we’ll come back to you, miss. But I believe Professor Wodehouse has the floor. ”

  The aged man in tweed muttered a thank-you and stood up. He removed his glasses and waved them in Julia’s direction.

  “Donald Wodehouse of Magdalen. ” He introduced himself.

  Julia’s face paled, for Professor Wodehouse was a Dante specialist whose standing rivaled that of Katherine Picton’s.

  “I’m familiar with the footnote you’re referring to in Old Hut’s book. You’ve summarized it correctly. A different view is taken by Emerson in his volume. ” At this, Wodehouse gestured in Gabriel’s direction. “But I see you haven’t been swayed by him, despite the fact that you two share a last name. ”

  Laughter erupted from the crowd, and Gabriel winked at Julia proudly.

  “As you point out, it’s perplexing to see why Francis would appear at the death of a false Franciscan, but we need to posit Francis’s appearance in order to make sense of the demon’s speech. So we’re left with half-and-half as the woman behind me mentioned. I don’t find that problematic. Half-truth, half-falsity seems to pervade all of Guido’s words. The ambiguity and rhetorical sophistry is what one would expect in a person guilty of fraudulent counsel. So I tend to agree with much of what you’ve said, and although I can’t speak for him, I surmise that Old Hut would too, if he were here. ”

  Julia exhaled slowly in relief, her fingers loosening their iron grip on the lectern. Her mind was bracing for his next words, but she felt vindicated by the professor’s remarks.

  Professor Wodehouse glanced at his handwritten notes before continuing.

  “You’ve provided an interpretation that’s certainly as good a theory as any, and better than those accounts that would attribute ignorance or injustice to Francis. But let’s be clear. It’s speculation. ”

  “Yes, it is. ” Julia’s voice was low but determined. “I’d welcome suggestions of alternative interpretations. ”

  Professor Wodehouse shrugged. “Who knows why Francis did anything? Perhaps he was supposed to meet another soul in Assisi and was merely waylaid by an opportunistic fraud. ”

  At this, the audience laughed.

  “I do, however, have a question. ” He replaced his glasses on his face and looked down at his notes. “I’d like you to say more about the agreement that existed between Boniface and Guido. You rather glossed over that part in your paper, and I think the matter merits more attention. ”

  And with that, he sat down.

  Julia nodded, frantically trying to gather her thoughts.

  “My thesis was on the interpretation of Francis’s appearance, not Guido’s sin. Nevertheless, I’m happy to expand on that part of the paper. ”

  Julia began a short but fluid summary of Guido’s encounter with Pope Boniface VIII and its aftermath, which seemed to satisfy the professor. However, she mentally made note of the fact that he’d thought her paper lacking in that respect. She’d attend to his worry in her revision of the paper for potential publication.

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