Eagle-eyed viewers of Code Geass R2‘s first episode may have spotted that Lelouch is reading Dante’s Divina Commedia while Rollo gives him a lift. (As a child, I never loved anyone enough to give them my last Rolo.)
Slightly more obsessive viewers will have discovered that he is in fact reading the Purgatorio Canto XXII.
In Sisson’s translation, these lines run:
Already the angel was left behind us,
The angel who had shown us the sixth circle,
Having erased a scar on my face;
And declared those who hunger and thirst after righteousness
To be blessed, and he had accomplished that
With no other words than a sitiunt.
And I, lighter than when going through the other openings,
Went on, so that without any effort,
I was following the swift spirits as they went up;
When Virgil began: ‘Love, set alight by virtue,
Has always set alight another love
If only its flame appeared outwardly.
And so forth (the interested can hunt down a translation for themselves, since I’m not going to type out tercets till my fingers tire). Evidently the text that appears on the screen is a real translation of Dante, although it appears to be arranged very oddly. Translators usually either attempt to retain the tercets or dispense with verse altogether and plump for prose, but this one seems to have gone for a rather unpleasant mixture of verse and prose, two verse lines to every printed line. Looking closely, it seems that Lelouch’s text might be a paraphrase, as it covers ground much faster than Sisson does. Then again, Sisson was trying to translate into blank verse, so he may have padded around the edges.
Furthermore, there’s no way that even the Purgatorio would fit, with that print size, into the relatively slim volume that Lelouch is wielding. It must be an abridged, paraphrased or study-excerpt copy; perhaps Stadtfield Academy’s library is understocked – or maybe it was blown up at the conclusion of the previous season, and the librarian hasn’t got around to replacing the full edition yet?
Lelouch is reading a slim pamphlet in the first episode of the first series too, but we never see what it is.
I’m sure you can make some connections between Purgatory and Lelouch’s state for most of the episode (this is an amusing instance of the ‘Everyone Is Jesus In Purgatory‘ trope, I suppose). And, indeed, C.C. might act as a kind of Virgil, leading Lelouch back to himself.
Sadly, the detail of Purgatorio XXII doesn’t seem to have any conveniently obvious parallels to Code Geass. It features a conversation between Virgil and Statius regarding Statius’s conversion to Christianity. There are also some pithy words from a tree (this incident in itself is probably itself a reference to the third book of the Aeneid) regarding moderation, with various examples from history and scripture: ‘Daniel / Despised food, and he acquired wisdom.’ [I'm afraid to say I fail to imitate my biblical namesake on both counts.] Lelouch could do with exercising a little moderation but something tells me that if there is a message here, it’s not that.
This is probably a good example of fairly blunt symbolism, rather than a truly subtle allusion. But it’s a nice piece of intertextual fanservice for English-speaking viewers with the right combination of bookishness and fanboyish obsession. Or rather, it’s fanservice for me. I think you should see now why I sometimes feel this show’s written just for my pleasure.
Symbolism and fanservice aside, this also shows me a more sympathetic side of Lelouch – he may be a siscon Machiavelli, but he’s well-read, which excuses a multitude of sins. [It's like the standard otaku reaction to Lucky Star's Konata ('She's just like me!'), except with poetry instead of doujinshi and eroge.]
- Interested in more symbolism speculation? Give Kaioshin-sama’s observations on the Tower of Babel a try (it’s the penultimate paragraph in his post).
- Stripey also remarks on the Tower of Babel.
- If, on the other hand, you want some speculation as to what happened at the close of the first season, Ubu has had a go at reconstructing events. (But what happened to Nunally?)