Canto 19 Purgatory: Siren

Before Dante sees the Avaricious, he has a dream about the stammering woman. The Siren. Anthony Esolen has excellent commentary on this: “In herself she is hideous and crooked, but the imagination of man transforms her: she cannot be alluring but for the crooked will of man, the ‘love that makes the crooked way seem straight’. Almost instantly under man’s gaze she becomes the beautiful woman out of many a lyric of love. She is the sweet Siren… who in the Odyssey lure sailors to their destruction….”

The most important understanding of the Siren is “she cannot be alluring but for the crooked will of man… ‘makes the crooked way seem straight’.” When our loves are out of order. When we love something more than God. Making someone or something an idol, our imagination, our intellect will transform something forbidden and what will hurt another into something that seems good and true and right. Making excuses, justifications that if my love is true, then something will change or if this, then that will happen. We deceive ourselves. Sin is alluring like this. Professor Moser reminded me sin is always a bait and switch.

Sin is this bright and silvery shining thing, but truly destructive. Our imagination and wishes turning it into something seemingly good.

Esolen goes on to say that the Siren suggests the calm of the starry sky, but offers the exact opposite. Meaning our hearts, imaginations, wills, eyes look downward instead of upward toward God. The Siren is the promise of worldly pleasures and wealth. This is an appropriate dream in the realm of the avaricious. They had their hearts and minds set on things of this world. Power and greed. Forgetting where power truly lies and where all good gifts come from.

The avaricious lie face down, never looking up, clinging to the dirt. Reminding them of what they loved in life, things of this world that pass away. In a similar way, they made this sin of greed seem like the straight way. They saw something that was crooked and justified is as being good. Sin is always a Siren’s allure. It is present, but our heart is the thing that makes sin seem good, making it alluring.

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