Thursday, November 15, 2007

Don Juan in Hell

Reading from one entry to the next in the Wikipedia, as one does, I land on Don Juan and am intrigued by the summary of the legend:
Don Juan either raped or seduced a young woman of noble family, and killed her father. Later, he encountered a statue of her father in a cemetery and impiously invited it home to dine with him, an invitation the statue gladly accepted. The ghost of the father arrived for dinner, as the harbinger of Don Juan's death. The statue asked to shake Don Juan's hand, and when he extended his arm, the statue dragged him away to Hell.
So far, so good: this the story as we know it. However, in the Wikipedia's version, the legend has a second act:
In Hell, the Devil meets Don Juan. The Devil tells him that everyone in Hell is cast in a role, and then presents him with a Jester's suit, telling him, "You'll make an excellent fool." Don Juan is insulted by this, protesting that no other man was his equal, "I am the man who made a thousand conquests!" Intrigued by that claim, the Devil tells him that if he can correctly name one conquest, he would not have to wear the suit. Thus began the parade of women. Not one could Don Juan name correctly. Finally, a woman stands before him, tears on her face. "Yes," the Devil says, "this is the one woman who truly loved you". Helpless, Don Juan looks into her eyes, then turns to the Devil and says, "Give me the suit".
Wonderful. (Assuming, of course, as I do, that he means "Yes, you're right, I concede that I was a fool.")

One of the things I like best about Mozart's (which actually means Lorenzo da Ponte's) Don Giovanni is that he remains true to himself and the way he has lived, even in the moment of his death. He knows perfectly well that the ghost of the Commendatore has come to end his life, and that to refuse to repent consigns him to Hell, and goes consciously, willingly, unrepentantly to his doom:
Statue of the Commendatore: To supper you invited me, you know a host's obligation. So answer: will you in turn come and sup with me?
Leporello: For God's sake, no! He is not free, excuse him.
Giovanni: Never will I be accused of cowardice.
Commendatore: Make your decision.
Giovanni: I am decided.
Commendatore: You'll come?
Leporello: Tell him "no"!
Giovanni: My heart is firm within me, I know no fear. I'll come.
I have always found the Christian tradition of a deathbed repentance washing away all sins to be repugnant: One may be the worst bastard on earth, breaking commandments and rules and hearts, spreading misery and despair in all directions—but just whisper a "yes" to the priest and shed a tear or two and your soul goes to Heaven? Bah. What an insult, what a slap in the face to the rest of us, to the miserable victims of this bastard, that he should be permitted to repent. Hooray for Giovanni, a man with the courage of his convictions.

Fifteen down, fifteen to go.

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Blogger zhoen said...


November 15, 2007 at 4:22:00 p.m. GMT+1  
Blogger alan said...

yes, i tend to agree with you udge. and george bernard shaw (a great lover of the opera) took it all a step further:

November 15, 2007 at 5:48:00 p.m. GMT+1  
Blogger JoeinVegas said...

A noble thought. Someone that really believes and follows through.

November 15, 2007 at 6:32:00 p.m. GMT+1  
Blogger pohanginapete said...

Yes, I can respect that kind of courage. However, sticking to one's beliefs is often the easier course of action. In this respect, Nietzsche — many aspects of whose philosphy I detest — provided food for thought when he claimed the courage of one's convictions is a popular error; he argued instead for the courage to challenge one's convictions. Zealots disturb me.

November 15, 2007 at 10:29:00 p.m. GMT+1  

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