Lelouch’s Little Light Reading

Nothing like a good book

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.

A Closer Look

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?

Previously On Code Geass
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?)

29 responses to “Lelouch’s Little Light Reading

  1. I wished I noticed details like these =( I didn’t even think to consider that was a real book @_@

  2. @IcyStorm: Your literature and history teachers have failed you miserably. =P

  3. Doh, this is why SD (as opposed to HD) viewers are at a disadvantage at looking up stuff like these. Anyway, I have a question: Do you know what scene exactly is being alluded to during the scene where the casino’s burning in purple flames? The camera focuses on what appears to be Greek-influenced carvings of some sort. I heard that it was Jupiter, but I’d like to know if you noticed that.

  4. Blunt symbolism or blatant advertisement? Code Geass is clearly in the pockets of the Classic Literature Publishers.

  5. @ IcyStorm: No, be glad you’re not the kind of obsessive who goes back and stop-motions through sequences to spot little details!

    @ Owen S: I’ve just gone back and had a look at those. They’re definitely Classical in inspiration but they don’t exactly resemble anything I’ve seen. There’s a group of people scrambling up and over each other to reach a prize, which seems like a good representation of Britannia’s survival-of-the-fittest ethos.

    In the second set of carvings there’s also a chap whose pose reminds me strongly of the barbarians seen being trampled on by the Roman Emperor’s horse, or just a soldier’s horse, in triumphal friezes. The sword and shield he’s cast aside might be related to Lelouch’s speech about power, which is playing over the top of the sequence. It’s not entirely Classical, though, as the camera shifts to the right to show an angel carrying a harp – which may even be a post-medieval idea, I don’t know – descending to help him. (C.C.?)

    I suppose I should mention that purple is both Lelouch’s colour in the show, and the Imperial colour in real life.

    @ bakaraptor: Perhaps there’s a tie-in edition of the Purgatorio in Japan? ‘As seen on TV.’

  6. I can’t say as I noticed the book. I did notice the prominent “Pizza Hut” logo on the side of one building, though.

    I suspect I was supposed to notice that one.

    As for Nunnaly, a guest of her father perhaps? Or the Martian Successors have her?

  7. This is a pretty good example of “anime character reads classic literature”, but not quite at the level of Straight Cougar reading War and Peace. Really fast, of course, because he’s Straight Cougar.

    I think, upon further reflection, perhaps Taniguchi Goro just likes throwing these things into his series for the hell of it.

  8. The translation is the Hollanders’. Robert and Jean Hollander published their translation of the Purgatorio in 2003, but I’ve never seen anything like the edition pictured. This past summer they published their Paradiso, completing what is far and away the best translation of the Commedia into English. The language: strong, simple, faithful–and poetry. The notes–the clearly written distillation of Robert Hollander’s lifetime of teaching and writing about the Poet.
    Terrill Soules

  9. …. whah??? I really AM JESUS??? =3

  10. Other than Kimikiss, who alluded to Galsworthy to describe the morbid sensibility of Yuumi, I never found much allusions to literature in anime.

    And the use of The Apple Tree was purely to describe Yuumi’s literary tastes. This was why some people suggested a School Days redux when this was mentioned.

    (The farm girl committed suicide after being deserted by her lover who wanted someone of a higher social status.)

    I’m sure Lulu doesn’t have anything to do with Purgatorio. Although I’ve read only Inferno, I also can’t seem to establish a connection between Lulu’s attitude and the poem.

    I’ve never seen ROD TV, so maybe you’ll find your allusions there.


    Yeah, just for the hell of it. I’d be amazed if Taniguchi used something like All Quiet on the Western Front, though, or The Wars. That would fucking make me wow and immediately would make Code Geass awesome. Lulu somehow embodies the protagonists of these novels.

  11. @ ubu roi: I’m hoping the Pizza Hut product placement is made as prominent as possible, as the more noticeable it is, the less effective it will be (hence, I think, the ridiculously overt pizza presence in the first season). As for Nunally, I think I prefer the Martian Successors solution.

    @ OGT: Tolstoy in s-CRY-ed? I hope to see it soon: by coincidence, a box set of said series is meant to be delivered to me tomorrow. Here’s hoping Amazon.co.uk doesn’t screw up.

    And yes, I do sometimes wonder if Taniguchi sits at his desk going ‘Heads it’s a giant mecha, tails it’s great literature. Tails? Tolstoy it is, then.’

    @ Terrill Soules: Thanks for clearing that up – I’m glad someone who’s intimately familiar with the Commedia was passing. I’ll have to check the Hollanders’ translation out (Sisson is fun but feels a little stuffy to me).

    @ Jesus159159159: Well, quite. It seems to suit Lelouch’s megalomania (and some of his statements at the Battle of Narita).

    @ Michael: A Nice Boat ending for Kimikiss would certainly have been brave. Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence is full of allusions and quotations, but they’re just irritating. I’d recommend the second and third parts of the Commedia, as I think they’re better than, or perhaps a fulfilment of, the Inferno.

  12. Ergo Proxy alluded to philosophy. IIRC, Lacan, Derrida and Husserl were the wise ones. (God, such pretension.)

  13. >> “And yes, I do sometimes wonder if Taniguchi sits at his desk going ‘Heads it’s a giant mecha, tails it’s great literature. Tails? Tolstoy it is, then.’ ”

    In the case of Scryed, the coin landed on its edge.

  14. Ergo Proxy’s allusions were utterly pointless; I didn’t see even a remote connection between the story and its ideals and these.

    On the topic as to why he’s reading such a small, probably abbreviated version, I must say that it’s obviously because having the whole Commedia in one’s lap while riding a bike would be impractical and uncomfortable to say the least.

  15. @ Michael/Kaiserpingvin: Of the three I’d champion Derrida, but I suppose not having seen Ergo Proxy I couldn’t say how relevant they were. (My literature department seems to teach us to raid rather than read philosophers, which is a little unfortunate, in my opinion.)

    If the translation’s in prose, you might fit it into a volume small enough to handle in a sidecar like Lelouch is. Indeed, my verse copy of the whole thing can be held up and open in one hand, although not for too long. In real life, though, the wind would probably play merry hell with the pages. I guess Lelouch is too cool for that kind of rule to apply.

    @ OGT: I look forward to watching the results (though the deliveryman hasn’t come yet, so perhaps the shipment’s been delayed).

  16. No, no, your literature department is right. Ours has the same disdain for philosophers. I have disdain for them, too. Literature is philosophy made human. ;)

  17. Ahem.

    Daniel did not despise food, he had issues with his food (they had been idol offerings those Chaldeans really loved their king enough to give him their food.). he instead asked for him and his companions to be given vegetables and water while his peers had the tainted food. He became a wise man and helped the Chaldeans to honor God and survived a few dangerous situations, while his 3 friends miraculously survived being thrown into a furnace.

    I’m just saying.

  18. @ Michael: That’s a nice way to put it. I just have this fear that raiding gives students too utilitarian (hah-hah) an attitude to philosophy, which can and should be interesting in its own right (if only I could summon the energy to read some more . . .).

    @ drmchsr0: Fair point (and perhaps one I should have made within the entry itself, as I do know the Book of Daniel – even the visionary bits – fairly well). I suspect Dante knew this, and knew that his audience knew it too, and so thought he could get away with referring to it in a compressed poetic form (rather than ‘Daniel despised food that had been offered to idols’). But thanks for saying.

  19. My friend misidentified it as Dante’s Inferno while we were watching, but yes it did look like Virgil to me.

    If only there were more bloggers like you and me who go looking for these kinds of things I wouldn’t be as discontent and surly as I usually am when blogging. This is the kind of interesting topic I just love to see and why I have a respect for you that I don’t for many other bloggers.

    Hell if some other bloggers would open their eyes to these kinds of things instead of overlooking them and making a beeline for the first thing to bash they’d realize that Sunrise’s writers and brainstormers are far far more clever than people give them credit for it dropping little hints and details throughout their stories. Heck just even running over some of the dialogue lines a few times will garner some really interesting things.

    For example I notice a certain parallel in Lelouch’s dialogue with Suzaku when he is brought before the emperor with Caesar and Brutus’ final exchange in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Suzaku’s plea for position in the next make up the Empires elite and Lelouch’s outrage at the betrayal of his “best friend” and the whole pitfall of betraying your friend for power with the noble intention of changing the empire screams Brutus even if Lelouch wasn’t the emperor, the best friend part still stands as does the betrayal. Et Tu Suzaku indeed. And we all know what happened to Brutus now don’t we?

    Then there’s the whole Babel Tower coming down thing. Of course the play here was that the confusion inflicted on Lelouch (Nimrod) by the Emperor (God) as punishment for his Hubris in challenging his authority was lifted with the fall of the tower as opposed to cast upon him. It’s a sort of reversal of the classic tale of The Tower of Babel which I find kind of clever.

    Too bad people like DarkMirage fail to notice this and instead we get lots of complaining about having trouble taking the series instead, something about outsourcing Gundam to Kyoani (A notion I find so ridiculous that now I have as much trouble taking him seriously as he apparently has taking Code Geass seriously….mindboggling) along with a reference to Evangelion. Real smooth there DM. For a guy who’s supposed to be a genius and enlightened thinker I take the opposite away from him. He comes across as obtuse and low brow in his discussion of Code Geass and pretty much everything.

    Anyway, I just want to say thank you for backing me up in my desire to see some good thoughtful discussion come out of anime, whether you know you are or not. I pretty much consider this blog Animehistory’s sister blog at this point as we have similar interests, desires and goals.

  20. While I’d never claim that Code Geass‘s script is poetry, the writing is not, as some seem to think, done by idiots.

    There’s definitely a lot of theatricality and Shakespearean drama about the plot, and I like your Suzaku – Brutus comparison. They’re both well-intentioned, and I think Code Geass and Julius Caesar are both very careful not to judge their characters. In fact, I’ve seen arguments in English seminars between people who sympathised more with Caesar and those who preferred Brutus which rather resembled the heated internet debate over Suzaku and Lelouch. Although the literature students used longer words.

    Picking up on the Babel idea of challenging the gods, I noticed that the Emperor referred to the Sword of Akasha as a ‘weapon to defeat the gods’.

    As for blogging generally, while I do love picking little details apart, I can appreciate that most people watch anime to have fun rather than to make literary allusions. And while personally I like to look for the good in what I’m watching, there is some value in nitpicking and criticism; I’m always hesitant to declare what I’m doing to be the best way to do it. DarkMirage can be very funny when he’s on form, and while personally I don’t think non-Sunrise Gundam is a good idea at all, it was interesting (and thought-provoking) to hear someone suggest it, even if it was tongue-in-cheek.

    I doubt Code Geass will get as rough a ride from the otakusphere generally as Gundam 00 did, because Geass is much more likeable than 00; not necessarily better, but definitely much more willing to play to the gallery.

    In any case, thank you very much for the kind words and encouragement. (I suppose the very names of our two blogs are quite similar in meaning.) Though it’s probably best not to talk too loudly about ‘goals’: if people realise I’m trying to convince them that ‘not everything made by Sunrise is rubbish’, they might be less willing to listen!

  21. This could be another one of those ‘Japan is obsessed with America and the English language’ things. Since, as you said, there was no way that was the real version of Purgatorio.
    Proceeding to find the correlation with Code Geass itself – well, it could and couldn’t have been done. Even the most outlandish interpretation is still an interpretation.

    But hey, look at me, I’m trying to sound smart. And… I… I don’t think I like your blog anymore. You’re making me think too much. q_q

  22. Pingback: A Librarian’s Lament: Watching Anime, Thinking Critically « Anime wa Bakuhatsu da!

  23. @ Nagato: According to TS (comments above) it is a real translation of the Purgatorio – though much of Code Geass‘s English is a little mangled, though it’s still better than most.

    As for interpretations, certainly the most outlandish interpretations still have some value. Yet the best ones have an elegant fit with whatever it is they seek to interpret – not so dissimilar to they way a physicist told me he was always seeking a more elegant explanation of empirical phenomena.

    Anyway, don’t worry about trying to sound smart. It’s my writing technique in a nutshell . . .

  24. Pingback: Mahou Meido Meganekko » Blog Archive » More Code Geass

  25. I initially thought the scene with the flames surrounding Lelouch and C.C., followed by C.C. kissing Lelouch, was referencing to Der Ring des Nibelungen, when Sigfried kissed Brunhilde while they were in the ring of fire. It seemed rather plausible, since the fires of Loge would eventually lead to the Twilight of the Gods (or Ragnarok for those of you more familiar with it), and at the same time Loge is also (supposedly) synonymous with the name Loki, the great god of deceit and mischief. The motif of Ragnarok was, if I remember correctly, brought up in Code Geass’ first season (and if it’s not, then my apologies), while Lelouch’s behavior seems roughly parallel with Loki’s, as he uses deceit and trickery to get things his way. This seems to connect with a few themes present in Code Geass, though I think that this line of thought would need further inspection.

    As for why I was reminded of Der Ring des Nibelungen, I have eroge to blame.

  26. Sorry, but I meant to say “…I think that this line of thought would need further inspection before it becomes plausible.”

  27. While it’s not overtly shoving a copy of Der Ring in our faces, it’s possible – I can’t remember any specific references to it in the first season, but I’m not too hot on ‘Northern’ Epic – I’m hoping to do a course on it next year to remedy that, though. I like the Lelouch – Loki comparison, even if it is barking up the wrong tree. And there was that ‘sword to use against the gods’ thing, too.

    As for finding things out from eroge, I applaud you. I remember I only read The Man Who Was Thursday because I kept finding copies of it in the game Deus Ex

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