In this Canto we find ourselves with Dante and Virgil in the circle of the violent. There are the blasphemers and the sodomites. Those who hate God (blasphemers) and those who hate Nature the instrument of deity, as Esolen reminds us. We learn about the origin of the five rivers in Hell made from the tears of the suffering.
But what I want to focus on is the Old Man beneath Mount Ida described in lines 94-114. Tony Esolen reminds us this is an image related to King Nebuchadnezzar dream of the statue whose head is made of gold, arms of silver, belly of bronze , legs of iron and part clay.
This is an image of the degeneracy of culture. “As we grow older as a race, the more we degenerate, lapsing from sin to sin moving from innocence of the Gold Age to the frailty of terracotta” (Esolen 460).
In certain mythology Saturn waits beneath the earth and rises at the end of the age. Ushering in the end of all time. The end of all things. The Last Day. Saturn the bringer of destruction. Or does he only sound the trumpet of the End that we bring upon ourselves.
Tony Esolen also reminds us that the Old Man refers to what Paul talks about in his epistle. The old man that longs to die in the baptismal waters. The man of sin. The man who cannot sustain himself in his own power. There must be an end to what harms all the world and the self.
The end. Every story has one. Well, every good story. Every good song. There is music that ends without completion, but it doesn’t make for a good song. We long for completion. History has an end. How can there not be and end? Can we go on forever the way things are? The violence, the hate, the lust, the harm of ourselves and others. Is there no justice?
Can man continue his entire life without turning back from the way he is going? Can man continue to sin without effect upon him (or her)? We all die. How do we want to leave this life? In dishonor, deceit, and corruption? Or in peace, joy, and goodness?
Saturn will usher the end of history. The “old man” must die, if we are to have new life. Let not your tears form the rivers of Hell. Let your tears be washed away in peace, life, and joy.