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quartan (KWORT-n) adjective

Occurring every fourth day, counting inclusively, or every 72 hours. Used of a fever.


A malarial fever recurring every 72 hours.

[Middle English quartaine, from Old French, from Latin quartana, from quartanus, of the fourth, from quartus, fourth.]

"`From here on we descend such stairs as these. You mount in front and I will take the middle so that the tail may do no harm.' As a man in a shivering-fit of quartan fever, so ill his nails have lost all color, trembles all over at the sight of shade, so was I stricken at his words." Inferno XVII.82-88.

"Virgil, Dante's guide, warns him that the descent to lowest hell will be accomplished by the aid of such terrifying creatures as the monster Geryon. In simile, a device that Dante much employs, the poet compares his behavior to that of a man entering the first stages of the quartan fever."

Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) wrote his great poem, 14,233 verses in rhymed tercets, between 1307 ca. and 1321. He called it "The Comedy" (the adjective "Divine" was added by a Venetian editor in 1555 and has "stuck"). Its narrative is based on a journey through the afterworld at Easter time in the year 1300 undertaken, at Heaven's prompting, by our narrator himself -- or so he would have us believe. In almost precisely one week he visits hell (the 72 hours recorded in the first part of the poem, "Inferno"), purgatory, where saved souls cleanse themselves of the memory of their former sins (precisely 3.5 days spent on the mountain of Purgatory, situated at what we would call the South Pole), and paradise, visiting the nine "starry spheres" above the earth and culminating in the Empyrean, beyond space and time, where God and all the blessed souls exist in continual bliss (approximately 1.25 days--the time-telling function is much reduced in this part of the poem).

This week we are going to look at some words from "Inferno," drawn from a new English verse translation done by my wife, the poet Jean Hollander, and me and published three weeks ago by Doubleday. These words are not "key words" in Dante's text, for these are generally words in common use, for instance, "justice," which I would argue is as important as any other word in the poem, but, like all the words collected by Anu for AWAD in recent years, words that we are less likely to recognize. They all appear in an excerpt from our translation, to give the reader some sense of their context and of Dante's way of writing. -Robert Hollander, bobh@princeton.edu

(This week's guest wordsmiths: Robert is a professor of European Literature at Princeton University, and his wife Jean is director of The Annual Writers' Conferences at The College of New Jersey. They will appear in an online chat on Jan 16, 2001. Details here.)


A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds. -Ralph Waldo Emerson, writer and philosopher (1803-1882)

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