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Dante Alighieri,
Purgatorio
(completed cir. 1321)
prose paraphrase for Microsoft Internet Explorer
TM by Dr. Goëtes
 

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Contents

Note: the contents headings and footnotes are editorial additions, in no way originally part of Dante's poem.

Canto 1:  Dante on the shore 
the guard Cato  
Dante washed up 

Canto 2: Dante procrastinates 
Casella's distracting song  
Cato's rebuke 

Canto 3: Virgil reflects on his limitations 
At the bottom of the mountain 
Sheepish Manfred 

Canto 4: the climb  
Lazy Belacqua   

Canto 5: the unburied    
Jacopo, Buonconte & Pia   

Canto 6: the beggars for prayers 
Sordello and Dante's digression on politics  

Canto 7: nightfall in the waiting room       
the valley of the stalled out kings  

Canto 8: matins    
Snake Attack   
Currando Malaspina  

Canto 9: pilgrim's first dream (Ganymede) 
the gate of Purgatory  

Canto 10: the first terrace   
the images of humility 
the burdens of arrogance     

Canto 11: the Lord's Prayer  
Umberto the proud Aldobrandesco
Oderisi the illuminator  
  

Canto 12: bumps in the road of arrogance      
surmounting arrogance      

Canto 13: the second terrace  
Sapia Salvani
     

Canto 14: the Arno Valley 
  Guido del Duca on the bastards of Romagna  
 what the thunder said  

Canto 15: the second angel     
 rising above the second terrace  
 Dante's visions of peace

Canto 16: the third terrace 
Marco Lombardi on free will  
Marco's imperialism  

Canto 17: the fourth terrace 
the third angel 
Virgil on the structure of Purgatory 

Canto 18: Virgil on love 
 the sloth racers

 Canto 20: cursing the ancient wolf 
  Hugh Capet 
  the quake 

  Canto 21: the ghost of Statius 

  Canto 22: the unthriftiness of Statius 
  the Christian poet and the pagans 
  circle six and the tree of temptation 

   Canto 23 Forese Donati  

   Canto 24: Companions of Forese  
   Bonagiunta of Lucca  
   Forese's prophecy  
   a second tree  
   the sixth angel  

Canto 25: Climbing to the seventh terrace   
  Statius on the facts of life  
  The bank of flames  

Canto 26: Chastising fire 
the shame of Guido Guinizelli and Arnaut

Canto 27: Passing through the fire 
  Dante's dream of Leah and Rachel 
  Virgil departs 

Canto 28: Lethe    
  Matelda  

Canto 29: Procession of Heavenly Visitors 
 

Canto 30: Beatrice rebukes Dante  

Canto 31: Beatrice judges Dante  
 Immersion in Lethe 

Canto 32: Dante's apocalypse  
Rebirth of the tree of life  

Canto 33: Immersion in Eunoe 

 

Dante texts

Inferno

 

Commentary on Dante:

Dante and the medieval invention of the self.

Hell: Dante goes deeper than you think!

Purgatory: Dante's Cosmology

 

 

 PURGATORY

Canto I

 Canto I: 1-30 Dante on the shore

Heading for calm water now, I raise my mind to sail away from raging seas behind.  I sing a second creation, a place of purification where souls are fitted out for flights into the sky! Take me now, holy Muses! Lift up my verses from the grave! Soar, Calliope, a little more: hit those highs above despairing cries of all squawking magpies.

From that dead gloom that had darkened my view and broken my heart I rose to be greeted by a clear eastern sky. Sapphire dawn cheered the radiant horizon up to middle heaven. The planet of love twinkled rays of laughter as she swam among the faded Fishes. Four stars shone behind me on the right. Our hemisphere now is widowed of that constellation, last seen in the time of the very first lovers, but there the heavens rejoice in it.
 

 
 

 

 

 

 

 

Blake,
Cato

 

 

Cato

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Turning back to the dawn again, I saw that the Wain had vanished, but drawing near was a lone old man, more demanding of respect, more reverend than any father. Long and silvery was his beard, and also his hair, flowing across both shoulders down his chest. His face was lit as with glorious sunlight by those four shining stars.

He slowly shook a stern brow from side to side as he spoke: "Escape from the endless prison? Climb the secret stream? Who taught you how? What light down there could show you the way? Can eternal laws be broken? Can heaven change them? Are the damned now being transported to me here on these shores?"

Mumbling, my leader made signs and pushed me down, to make me kneel and be covered, and then he answered: "Sir, it was not my idea to come up here. No, it came from the prayer of a heavenly lady. Yes, she wanted me to help this man and show him the way. I'll hide nothing from you: I'll tell you as much as you want to know about it. He was not dead yet, but very little time remained to turn him from his madness.

"That was my job. There was no other way to go. I showed him all the bad sorts below, and now I hope that he can see the spirits purifying themselves here under your care. It's a long story to tell how we got up here, but as I say a higher power wants him here, to see you and to hear you. Your death stripped you for the perfect liberty to come, Cato. This fellow now looks for the same liberty, which is precious to all who lose their lives for it, and so please welcome him.

"We have broken no laws. He still lives, and I am no subject of King Minos. I belong to the same circle as your innocent-eyed Marcia. Knowing her as I do, I am very sure that she still wants you to think of her as your own. For her love, then, please let us climb your seven-storied mountain. When I return I will tell her of your high kindness, if you will permit me to praise your name down there."

He answered: "Save your flattery! There was a time when Marcia pleased my eyes, so that I gave her anything she wanted, but now she sleeps on the bad side of the river. She is no longer permitted to touch me since I rose up here. But you say that a heavenly lady calls you up here to see me, and I can do whatever you ask in her name!

"So you may pass, but first robe this fellow with a smooth rush and mop the smoke off his face. He must not look dirty before any minister from paradise! In the soft mud down along the shore, you will find rushes that he can wear. No other plant can stand the pounding where the surf batters this little island. After you finish at the beach, don't return this way. The best way to take the mountain will be shown to you by the sun now rising."

Leaving these directions, he vanished.
 

 

Dante is reconciling. Wain had vanished = Holy Roman Emperor is dead. Old man Cato = a figure for Republican Florence.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cato has been freed in the Harrowing of Hell; ref to Jesus and Magdalene?

 

I got up speechless and with fixed eyes drew near my leader. "Let's go, son" he said. "We will walk down this slope all the way to the sea."  I could just make out the trembling waters far in the distance, for the darkness now was beginning to fly before the dawn.

We tracked down the empty hillside like strangers sure that they have missed the road and are headed the wrong way, until at last we came to a place where the dew was not dried by the sun and wind. There my master cupped his hands gently and spread them over the tender leaves of grass. I understood what he meant to do, and raised my tear-stained face to him. He scrubbed away the dirt of the inferno and restored my natural color.

When we reached the deserted shore that no sailor ever saw and lived to tell of, he dressed me as instructed, and a miracle happened! The humble plant that he picked sprouted back up again in the same place where he had uprooted it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ref washed up Odysseus

Golden Bough regenerates when broken Aen 6:143

 

 

 

 

 

Blake,
Dante & Virgil

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Angel Airlines


Canto 2

Already the evening sky must have been rising over Jerusalem. Ganges must have been encircled by night, lit by the rising Scales that outlast the daylight. Where I was, time was slowly turning fair rose-cheeked Aurora into gold. We lingered on the shore like travelers whose plans to hit the road move their hearts but not their legs.

Low on the western ocean as Mars was shedding a red glow in the morning haze, there appeared to me a sight that I hope to see again one day. It began as a light advancing toward us faster than any ship across the sea. I briefly turned away to ask my guide about it, and when I looked again, it was bigger and brighter, and I saw that something white extended from both sides of it, with another white object growing bit by bit beneath it.

While we watched, Virgil spoke no word until at last we could see that the side-extensions were great wings. "Down on your knees," he cried, "It's God's angel. From now on you are going to see a lot of these ministers from the high kingdoms. Look how he needs no oars or sails, nothing but uplifting wings fanning the air to cross between such distant shores! Their feathers do not age; they are not organic."

I averted my eyes from the glare of the heavenly bird approaching the shore, but I glimpsed a boat so swift and light that it did not rest in the water. A sky pilot standing at the helm seemed to have blessedness written all over him, and there appeared to be more than a hundred souls aboard with him.  "In exitu Israel de Aegypto" all of them were singing as if with one voice, and they went on through the whole psalm. On arrival, he made over them the sign of the holy cross, they flung themselves on the beach, and then he departed as fast as he had arrived. 

Curious as tourists, they began looking all around. After a while, sunlight with its unfailing arrows in all directions shot down Capricorn from mid-heaven and brought on the day, and then they looked up and saw us. They called out: "Hey, if you know, which way up the mountain?"

 

 

 

Libra

dawn

inertia: the lower areas of Purgatory are full of procrastinators

 

 

Move over, Leonardo. A pretty good 14th century description of an airplane!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Remember the Can Grande allegory.

Psalm 113 was sung in vespers (it is vespers time in Jerusalem)

 

 

Dante sees them better than they see him; the light at first blinds them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blake,
angel & new
arrivals

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Casella

 

Virgil answered them. "You must think that we know this place, but we are pilgrims here, like you. We arrived only a little before you by a rough road so painfully steep that the climb ahead of us now will seem like pleasure."

They saw my breath. They realized I was still alive. Focused on me, they forgot the journey ahead of them. All pale with wonder, they were like a crowd that gathers around to hear the news from a messenger with an olive branch.

A friendly one came forward to hug me, and I wanted to respond in kind. Ah! but it was merely a ghost! It seemed to be, yet was not! Three times I put my arms around it only to find myself embracing only myself! I must have looked shocked. He smiled and drew back, but I kept after him.

He spoke gently to me, to tell me to try no more, and that's when I knew him. I asked him to stay and talk. "Yes, of course," he said. "Even as I loved you when I was in the flesh, so I still love you now after I have been released from it. But why have you come here?"

"My Casella," I said, "I'm here early so that I'll know how to make this trip again another time, but why are you so late? Why has it taken you so long to get here?"

He said to me: "No harm came to me, but several times I was denied passage by the one who selects his passengers in the spirit of justice. For three months he has taken on board all those who wanted to go with him, without exception, but I was graciously gathered in by him only now, when I remembered to return to the waters where the Tiber mixes with salt. As we speak, he has flown back there again because that's where all are supposed to meet who do not go to Acheron."

I replied: "Well, I hope you still remember how to sing those love songs that used to calm my thoughts! Can you comfort my soul now a little? It is so weary traveling all the way here with the body."

He then began to sing "Love that speaks to me in my mind," and he sang it so pleasingly that the sound still haunts me. My maestro and I, and the others, were all contented as if nothing else crossed anyone's mind. 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Aen 6:792, 2:700 (Aeneas and dead wife Cruesa)

 

 

 

 


Casella has procrastinated, not willed his passage and so he has been kept off the ship.

 

 

 

Singing has a physical function, calming the thoughts to relax the body. Dante is distracted by the need to attend to his physical needs.

 

We were all absorbed in the song when suddenly here came the straight old watchman again shouting: "What is this, idle souls? What dawdling! Why do you lag here? Run up the mountain! Shed those old scaly skins! They keep you from the presence of God!"

Those souls immediately fled from the concert toward the cliffs above, not knowing where they were going, like doves that have gathered meekly to glean oats and seeds, no preening or primping themselves there, when suddenly something spooks them, and they all take wing from the feast. Our own departure was hardly less abrupt.
 

 

 

snake skin; reptilism

Compare Charon at Acheron, threatening the malingerers with his oar.

 

Canto 3

All across the open terrain, those ghosts were scattering, turning their backs to the mountain and to introspection, but I kept a close eye on my faithful companion--for how could I have run without him? Who else would have taken me to that mountain? He was filled with regret, his conscience bitter for even a small taste of fault!

Running always robs us of our dignity, and it stalled my thoughts until he stopped. Only then did they break free, as I stood before that tallest of all water-shedding mountains that rise from sea to sky. The ruddy sun behind us cast before me a long shadow of my shape. Beside it on the ground, however, there was no other shade! 

He was watching me. "Why don't you believe?" he asked. "Don't you see that I am here guiding you? My body used to make shade, but now it's already time for vespers at the tomb where it rests. Naples has those remains--they were moved there from Brindisi. So if you see no shadow in front of me, is it any more mysterious than the heavenly spheres, which do not block each other's light?

"Our bodies are made to experience pain, heat, and cold, but who knows why? The designer does not want his reasons unveiled. Anybody's crazy who thinks that human reasoning can explain the trinity. Humans must accept that questions have no answers. If people had been able to understand everything, there would have been no need for Mary to conceive. For those who want  to know, their yearning is vain. It brings them only unhappiness. I am talking about Plato and Aristotle and the rest . . ."  Here he broke off but hung his head and remained in troubled thought.
 

 

 

 

Reflecting the general insecurity of the landscape, Virgil regrets his poor guidance and doubts his ability to lead the expedition.  He  backslides into an anti-intellectual pose

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Canto 3: 46-102 At the bottom of the mountain

We had reached the base of the mountain cliff, so steep that it seemed no legs could scale it. By comparison, any of the forsaken and impassable landslides between Lerici and Turbia is an open and gracious staircase. 

My maestro was muttering: "Where is the slope less steep, so that one without wings may pass?" He stuck on this question, turning it over in his mind, but I glanced along the wall to the left and saw a flock of ghosts making their way toward us. Or should I say their feet were aimed in our direction. They were making almost no progress!

"Maestro, look up!" I said. "Here comes a party that can give us advice--I mean, if you have not already solved the dilemma in your mind."

He looked and replied with a confident air: "We will have to go to them, they approach so slowly. Well, have good hope, dear son."

We walked a thousand paces toward them, but we were still a strong throw apart when they all shrank back against the hard rock of the high bank. There they huddled, crowded together and staring out at us as if in fear.   

Virgil addressed them. "You happy dead, spirits already chosen, for the sake of that peace which I believe awaits you, tell us where it's possible to climb this cliff. Wasted time is most unwelcome to the wise."

They were like little lambs that come out of the fold singly, then by twos and by threes, while the rest stand timid with eyes and muzzles to the ground, and what one does the others copy, pressing up against the one ahead if it stops, simple and quiet, and they know not why. One at the head of that fortunate flock come forward, shame fast in face and modest in walk. Others followed, but when those in front saw my shadow, extending from my right side to the cliff, they halted and drew back a little, and all the others that came after stopped too, without knowing why.

"No need to ask. It's a human body that you see here stopping the sunlight. Don't be surprised. A power from heaven wants him to find a way to climb over this wall."

They replied by waiving the backs of their hands at us.  "Turn back. Lead the way and go before us."

 

 

 

 

 

A resonance of the opening image of the Comedy with the three frightening animals on the mountain of joy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Manfred

 

 

 

 

Canto 3: 103-145 Sheepish Manfred

One of them began: "Whoever you are, as we walk, take a look at me and ask yourself if you ever saw me back there."

I eyed him closely. He was blonde, handsome and noble-looking, but a horrible gash from a blow split one of his brows. When I denied ever having seen him, he said "Now look at this!" He exposed another wound high on his chest. "I am Manfred, grandson of the Empress Constance" he smiled. "I beg you, when you return, go to my lovely daughter, mother of the most honored of Sicily and Aragon, and tell her the truth, if the truth is not being said. After my body was broken by two mortal blows, I gave myself up, weeping, unto him who freely pardons. My sins were terrible, but infinite goodness accepts with open arms whoever turns to it. If the shepherd of Cosenza, the bishop sent by Clement to hunt me then, had read a page of God correctly, my bones still would lie by the bridge to Benevento, under the protection of heavy stones. But with candles extinguished he exported them out of the kingdom, near the Verde, where they blow around in the wind and rain. 

"Yet a curse cannot extinguish eternal love, as long as any hope is still alive. It is true that whoever dies excommunicated from the holy church, though he repents at the end, must remain outside these walls for thirty times longer than he rebelled, but good prayers can reduce that waiting period. See whether you can help me. Tell Constance how you have seen me, and what I have said, for here we can get relief from those back there."  
 

 

 

 

 

 The shepherd destroys the lamb.  Manfred is almost Christlike in showing his wounds, but he is too concerned about his body and events back in the mortal sphere. Waiting for help from the living, he is a sheepish believer in superstitious nonsense. As he procrastinates, he and his followers make no progress up the mountain.

 

Canto 4

When focused on a pleasure or a pain, we concentrate on it alone, and ignore everything else, and so time can pass without our notice. It's as if our power to perceive time shuts off for that duration. I had this experience while listening to that marvelous ghost, for the sun had risen a full fifty degrees, but I was not aware of it. Suddenly at that moment we had come to a place where the whole flock cried as one: "Here's what you asked for."

They went on by themselves. My leader and I were left to crawl through a space smaller than a hedge-hole that a farmer would patch with a single pitchfork full of thorns when his grapes are darkening to ripeness. On foot you can walk up to San Leo or down to Noli or climb to the peaks of Bismantova or Cacume, but here you had to fly with great wings and feathers of will power. You also needed a guide who gives hope, and you needed light. Down on all fours, we squeezed through a crack in the rock. Walls of stone pressed us on both sides.

Finally reaching the upper end of that crevice, we came out into an opening. "Maestro," I asked, "now which way should we go?"

"Don't fall back even by a single step," he warned. "Stay right behind me until some guide appears who knows the way."  The high summit was far up beyond out of sight, the slope much steeper than 45 degrees. I was beat.

"Dear padre, can't you stop?" I complained. "If you don't stop, when you turn around you will see how you have left me behind!"

He pointed to a higher ledge encircling that part of the hillside and said: "Just drag yourself up there, my son."

The prospect of rest prodded me, and I hauled myself on up until finally somehow that ledge was under foot. There we sat and idled, facing east, where we had begun our climb. Usually it seems satisfying to look back and see how far you've come, but I was startled when I looked from the shore down below to the sun up above. The sunlight was striking us from the left! The sun was in Aquilo!

The poet understood my surprise at the sun's location, so different from that in our northern hemisphere. He explained. "The sun is not off course. It moves its light above and below the equator. If it were now in Castor and Pollux, it would lie even closer to the Bears. You must think of Zion and this mountain positioned opposite to one another on the globe, in opposite hemispheres. If you picture this situation right, you will see how unfortunate Phaeton's driveway looks different on this mountain than in Zion."

"Yes, maestro, I see. The equator is as far to the north of here as the Israelites saw it to the south. But, please, what I really want to know is how much farther do we have to go? There seems to be no end in sight."

He answered: "The shape of the mountain makes the hardest part of the climb here at the beginning. The higher we go, the easier the slope becomes until the going will seem like drifting downstream with a lazy current. Then the trail ends, and you rest your weariness. Yes, it's true. I'm sure of it, but say no more."

 

 

 

 

Dante is wasting time traveling at sheep speed: trip time 3 hr 20 mins: it's now about 9:20 am.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Virgil is on unfamiliar terrain  and does not know the way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dante's journey began in spring but now it seems to be fall.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Belacqua

Canto 4: 97-139 Lazy Belacqua

Nearby another voice called out: "You may want to rest long before that!" We both turned and saw to our left a huge boulder that neither of us had noticed. We started over toward it, and there were people lying around under it, as if they had been put there to depict all of the various forms of idleness. One who looked the most sluggish was on his bum with his arms draped around his knees, and his head hung down on them.

"Dear God," I said, "Look at him! He looks more slack than if sloth had been his sister!"

He lifted his face a very little way and managed to roll his eyeballs up toward us. "If you're so quick, you can run on up ahead!"

I realized who he was, and I overcame my own shortness of breath long enough to go to his side. A bit more then came from the laggard's barely raised head. "So, you were saying? The sun drives his car over your left shoulder?"

He was so relaxed that I had to smile. "Belacqua, I will worry no longer for you. But tell me, what keeps you so well glued  to the planet here? Do you have helpers who slow you down, or are you still relying entirely on your own inertia?"

"And the point of climbing is?" he replied. "God's own angel sits at the gate, and I think he is not going to let me in for a while yet. I'll hang out here for as long as I put off my groans of penance--and obviously I waited right to the very end. I suppose there may be hope that I will get some prayers from somebody whose heart lives in grace. Heaven pays no attention to other prayers of any kind, you know. They're a total waste of time."

Not waiting any longer, the poet began up the path, saying: "Come on! Look, the sun now touches the meridian, and night now steps on Morocco's shore!"
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Belacqua like Manfred underachieves due to his beliefs as to his own unworthiness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Unburied

 

 

 

 

 

 

Canto 5

I was following in my guide's footsteps, leaving those ghosts behind, when one back behind called out. "Look at the lower one, to his left on the ground! The sun's rays are broken! He moves like one who's alive!"

Hearing this, I looked back and saw him pointing a finger at me. They were all staring in surprise at me--or at my shadow.

"Why are you so slow?" my maestro asked. "Are you so easily distracted? How can it matter what they say? Just follow me and let them talk all they want. A good tower does not bend in the breeze, no matter how hard it blows. Let one of these thoughts into your mind and others then follow, until you forget where you were going!"

What could I answer but "I come"? I said it and blushed as if shame might make me worthy of pardon.

All this time, another group of shades had been advancing across the slope ahead of us. They were chanting Miserere line by line, but when they saw that my body stopped the sun's rays from shining through, their chant faded away into a hoarse and drawn-out "Oh!" Two of their number came forward, like messengers, to meet us.

"Identify your condition for us," they demanded.

My maestro answered them. "Report back to your friends who sent you that this man is real flesh. I suppose they know it already. That's why they stopped when they saw his shadow. They thought he might help them."

Falling stars never streaked across a placid sky, lightning never flashed within August clouds at nightfall, as fast as those two bolted back to the others, and the whole unbridled troop then galloped back toward us. "These are coming to beg favors from you, but just keep walking. Listen but keep walking," the poet advised.

Calling they came on to me:  "You, soul going to blessedness in the body you were born with, stop a while! See if you recognize any of us! You will be able to take the news back with you when you return to the living. Why do you keep going? Why don't you stop? Sinners to our final hour, we were at the point of violent death before a light from heaven gave us understanding. Repenting and forgiving, at peace with God, we left our lives, and now our hearts want to be in his presence someday."

I answered them: "You spirits born for happiness, as hard as I stare into your faces, I can't identify any of you. But if there is anything I can do to help you, I will. I swear it by the peace I seek from world to world following this guide."

 

 

 

The group in this canto died by violence but were unburied; in terms of ancient hero religion they could not have found peace; with the coming of Christianity this view should have changed, but here in Purgatory it hasn't entirely. This group excuses inertia with belief that the dead need help of others' prayers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jacopo del Cassero

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Buonconte

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pia

Canto 5: 64-136 Jacopo del Cassero,
Buonconte da Montefeltro
and Pia (de' Tolomei?) 

One of them began: "Let me be the first to tell you that your oath is unnecessary. None of us doubts your good intentions. But can you, in fact, help? Will you ever again see the region between Romagna and the Kingdom of Charles? If you do, help me purge my horrible sins. Go to Fano and get heartfelt prayers for me. That's where I was born and always felt safe, until I saw my blood and spirit spilling out through deep wounds given to me by Antenor's sons. They were ordered to do it by Este, furious against me beyond all justice. If only I had left Oriago and stayed on the road to La Mira, I would still be back among those who breathe. I ran into the marsh and fell entrapped in weeds and mire where I watched my soul pour from my veins in a pool of blood."

A second one spoke: "May the desire that draws you to this mountain be satisfied! Please in turn have gracious pity on me, Buonconte da Montefeltro. I go with these downcast spirits because neither Giovanna nor anybody else can care for me."

I asked: "What carried you so far from Campaldino that your body was never found?"

"Ah," he replied, "Above the Hermitage among the Apennines there's a stream called Archiano, at Casentino's border. Just above there, the stream has no name. That's where I escaped on foot, dripping blood from a wounded throat. I went blind. Then I lost speech, as I ended on the word Mary, fell and left my flesh. And there's more to the story--you tell it to the living. When God's angel took me, one from hell shouted: 'You from heaven, why do you rob me? Because of a tiny little tear of his, you carry off his eternal part? Well, I'll deal with the rest of him my way!' You know how a column of moist air rising to colder heights condenses to water? That evil one, with malicious mind, had the power to raise such a fog! By the end of the day he had shrouded the entire valley in mist, from Protomagno to the Alps, and then he overcast the sky with dark clouds. Soon the air filled with so much water that the earth could not swallow it. It rushed through the gullies, gathered into surging torrents, roared headlong down the royal river with such rage that nothing could stop it. It took my stiff corpse and flushed it down the Arno. Undoing the cross my arms had made when I was overcome with pain, it spun me away from the banks and plunged me down to the bottom, where it covered and encased me with debris."

A third spirit followed the second: "After you are back among the living and rested from your trip, will you remember me, your Pia? Siena made me, Maremma undid me. He is the only one who knows how, the one who married me when he first gave the ring that held his gem."

 

 

These share the ancient belief that because they were not properly buried, they still need help from the living to make progress up the mountain.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Canto 6

Canto 6: 1-57 the beggars for prayers

At the end of the game, the loser is left alone, dejected, to rethink every throw of the dice and sadly to review his bad luck. The whole crowd presses from all directions around the other player. In front, in back, on both sides, that throng will not disappear until words with handshakes have been thrust in all directions. So it was with me among those ghosts, as I turned one way and twisted back the other, with promise after promise to make them go away.

I saw the Aretine who met his death at the hands of fierce Gino di Tacco.  Frederico Novello was pleading with outstretched hands, so was the Pisan who made the good Marzucco show his strength. Count Orso was there, too, as was Pierre de la Brosse, not cut off for any crime, he said, but only because of spite and envy. Let the Lady of Brabant be careful during her time on earth, or she may be forced to join a flock worse than this! All of them begged only one thing, that others pray for them, to speed them on their way to happiness.

When at last I was rid of them, just one question remained. "O my light, I thought you wrote that prayer cannot alter the judgments of heaven. Yet this troop here has prayed to me for nothing else. Was this mob deluded, or do I misinterpret your words?"

"My writing is clear," he answered. "And their hopes are not misplaced. Consider this issue intelligently. Which better serves the purposes of heaven? that the dead are stuck struggling here? or that the fire of love speeds them on their way? I never wrote that prayer itself is futile. I wrote that prayers not addressed to God are futile. You doubt me? You will not doubt her. She will light your mind to the truth--Beatrice, I mean. On the peak of this mountain above, you are going to see her laughing and joyful!"

I replied: "Signore, let's go! Although this mountain now is casting a shadow, I am not as tired as I thought!"

He answered: "While we have daylight, we will go as far as we can, but the truth is farther off than you suppose. The one whose rays you no longer stop has gone behind the mountain, and he will need to return before you can go very far toward your destination."
 

 

 

 

False promises dispel these ghosts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Virgil is vain. His poem is not clear. He is trying to claim prophetic power that he does not have. Yet he plants the idea that Dante will see Beatrice, and he will see her as he prays for her to be, and this is enough to motivate Dante.


 

 

 

 

Sordello

 

 

 

Canto 6: 58-151 Sordello
and Dante's digression on politics

"Maybe we can learn of a shortcut by asking that soul over there, the one sitting all alone and watching us."

So we came to you, Lombard soul! how royal and aloof you looked, how noble and unblinking your eyes!

He said no word to us, but watched like a lion at rest as Virgil drew near to ask for directions to the best path. He did not answer that question, but asked who we were, starting with where we were born. "Mantua--" my dear leader began, but suddenly that shade jumped.

"Mantuan! I am Sordello from your city!" Instantly the two were hugging each other.

Vile Italy! Unskippered ship in a nasty storm! Hotel of Pain! That soul was so patriotic that at the first mention of his city, he ran to embrace his fellow citizen--but all that's civil in your people living nowadays is civil war!  You're no motherland. You're a bordello! One moat and wall hold your children together to gnaw each other! Wretched woman, take a look from shore to shore, check into your heart, and see if you can find peace anywhere.

Why did Justinian bridle you, if the saddle was to be empty? Better to have no bridle, for your shame would be less. When nobody holds the reigns the beast is neither corrected nor spurred! Heed God's words to you, be firm in your devotion, and let Caesar sit in the saddle.

And who sits on his can that should be riding in that saddle? You, Herr Albert! Why have you let your mount run untamed  like a wild beast? May justice fall from the stars upon your blood and lay a doom upon you so strange and unforgettable that your heirs will live in terror of it!

Staying away, led by greed, you and your father have let the garden of the empire be destroyed! Come on down and see the Montagues and Capulets, the Monaldi and the Filippeschi; see all who have been ruined and all who live in fear of ruin. You have forsaken all of them! You piece of cruelty, come down and see the misery of your people. Understand their suffering, and you will know the darkness of Santafiora. See how your Rome is widowed grieving day and night, "My Caesar, why are you not with me?" If you have no pity for those of your people who love one another, then come down to just avoid further embarrassment to your reputation.

And you, Jove on high, you who were crucified for us, am I permitted to ask why your righteous eyes are turned aside? Or are you, in your abyss of contemplation, preparing some mysterious surprise for us? The cities of Italy overflow with tyrants! Every political clown thinks he's the new Marcellus!

Lastly you, my Florence, maybe you are enjoying this digression? How could it refer to you, given the outspokenness of your people? Others may have justice in their hearts, even if arrows are slow to shoot from their mouths, but your people always have their tongues ready to fire. Others may refuse to take up public office, but your people don't even wait to be asked. "I'll take it on my shoulders," they all shout. And you count yourself happy because you are so rich and wise and peace-loving! To tell the truth, which facts bear out, Athens and Sparta had almost no laws compared with yours! Your leaders' promises are spun so fine in October that they are broken by mid-November. Do you happen to remember how many times you have changed laws, fashions, coins, officers, or even your own membership? If you ever look at yourself by daylight, you see what a sick lady you are, sleepless even on the softest bed of down, constantly twisting and turning to ease your pain.
 

 

 

 

Sordello is anything but an  imperial figure. As darkness begins to descend on the mountain Dante begins to speak irresponsibly.

 

 

Dante is upset and digresses into a tirade against the lack of political leadership in Italy. No Augustus has emerged to allow for peace and progress. (Dante is acting helpless like the spirits he is encountering in this part of the island.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dante's rant
takes on God. Thinking prayer is ineffective, he grows careless with his words.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Virgil

 

 

 

Canto 7

Canto 7: 1-63 nightfall
in the waiting room

Once greetings had been exchanged three or four times, Sordello pulled back and asked, "So, then, who are you two?"

My leader answered him. "Octavian buried my bones a time long ago, before worthy souls were drawn to this mountain to ascend to God.  I lost heaven only because I did not believe. I am Virgil."

For a moment the other was stunned with wonder at what he beheld. He seemed like one who believes and believes not, who says to himself, "It surely is, but no it can't be." Then he bowed low, humbly drew near to my guide again, and opened his arms like a vassal to embrace him.

"You glory of the Latins!" he declared. "You eternal honor to my hometown! Through you our language showed what it can do. What chance or reason brings you here to me? Tell me, if you trust me with your secrets. Have you come from the inferno? from what secluded part of it?"

"I had no sight of the sun, but a heavenly power brought me here out of that land of suffering, through all of the circles," he answered. "I am free of torment, but my place is there in the dark among those who mourn. I'm there not because of anything I did but because of what I did not do. I failed to have true belief. I am placed with infants seized by the jaws of death before they could be baptized. I am placed with those who practiced all of the virtues, except for the three saintly ones. . .  But if you know the way to the start of Purgatory, can you give us any directions to help us go there by the quickest route?"

"We are not stuck in one place here," he answered. "I can range around. I'll walk with you and guide you, within my limits, but day is passing already, as you can see. There's no climbing in the dark. We'll have to find a good place to rest. Off to the right there are some hidden souls that you guys may find amusing enough to know about. If you like, I can take you to see them."

"What? Why can't we climb at night?" came the reply. "Is darkness itself the problem? Or the climber's tiredness?"

The good Sordello drew a line with his finger through the dust and said:  "After sundown, you won't even be able to cross this line. Night binds the will in helplessness. While the horizon keeps the daylight under its lid, you can go nowhere, except back to the shore to wander around down there."

"Well then," my signore said, wondering, "if you know a place where our rest will be pleasant, lead on."  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Virgil lived in a time of false religion, for which he blames his consignment to the darkness of limbo, but his real problem was lack of faith. Dante similarly must have faith, even though he lives in an age when religion is failing to bring people to heaven. In Dante it is not necessary to be Christian to gain Paradise.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Princes of Europe

 

 

 

Canto 7: 64-136
the valley of stalled out kings

We did not go too far until I saw a kind of lap, as if folds in the hillside hid part of it in a hollow. "Let's go down there to wait for the new day," said the shade.

We hiked over an uneven path, steep down at times, toward the upper rim of a bowl surrounding a dell full of grasses and flowers more colorful than gold and fine silver, cochineal, white lead, indigo, polished lignite, and emeralds just after splitting. Nature had painted there with all her hues, and a thousand sweet scents were blended in one strange, unearthly fragrance. As we came to the edge, I spotted several souls seated down in that field. They were singing Salve, Regina

"Don't ask to go down there before sunset," began that Mantuan who led us. "I'll be able to point them out to you more clearly here, if we keep our distance, than if we go down into the mix among them.

"You see the one who sits the tallest, the one who looks so irresponsible? the one who does not even move his lips while all the others sing? That's Emperor Rudolph, who could have healed the wounds that have brought Italy so near death. Now it seems too late for others to revive her.

"The other supporting him there, seeming to comfort him, held the land where the waters of the Moldau flow into the Elbe and where the Elbe flows down to the sea. Ottocar was his name. He was better while he was wearing baby clothes than that son of his who wears a beard now, I mean Wenceslaus the good at nothing except lust and sloth.

"Next to him, the one with the small nose who seems in council with the one so gracious in appearance, he deflowered the lily by running away. Look how he beats his chest, and look at the other one, sighing with his head in the palms of his hands. They are the father and the father-in-law of the French disease whose foulness and vice make even the pair of them sick of heart.

"Next, the one who seems so tall and strong, and who sings in time with the one of the big nose, he bound himself with the cord of every virtue. It would have passed down from vessel to vessel too, if the youth who sits behind him were sitting on his throne. But nobody can say that about the heirs, James and Frederick, who now divide the kingdom.

"Merit often degenerates with the branches in a family tree. It arises from the will of him who wills it, so that it must come from the self. That is true of the big-nosed one, who is less than Peter, who sings with him, and the son for whom Apulia and Provence are now in grief. As the seed is much poorer than the plant, Beatrice and Margaret cannot boast as much of their husband as Constance praises hers.

"Yet one king sits there all alone, Henry of England. He lived simply, and today he has branched better issue.

"Lowest among them sitting on the ground, and looking up to them, is Marquis William, who came to grief in Alessandria, the city that now makes Monferrato and Canavese weep."
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The recent Princes of Europe have a monkish piety but make no progress toward heaven as they appear helplessly stuck in a lap of the hillside.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Provencal politics of interest to Sordello, Peter III is greater than his son Charles of Anjou (Charles I of Provence, the big nosed one) who is greater than his son Charles II. Beatrice and Margaret were wives of Charles I, while Constance was the wife of Peter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Angelic guards

 

 

 

Canto 8

 Canto 8: 1-42 matins   

Already it was the longing hour when a weary sailor's mind drifts back to the shore where he sadly said farewell to his love, the hour that strikes even a new traveler's heart with tenderness as a distant tolling bell mourns the dying daylight.  I began to focus on one soul that stood and signaled for attention. He joined his palms, raised them and fixed his eyes eastward, as if to say, Unto You, Lord, I commit myself completely.

Te lucis ante sounded from his voice, the pleasing notes so true that I lost all self-awareness. Others joined him and sweetly sang the whole devotion, their eyes turned to the wheels of heaven. And you, reader, here you also should fix your eyes on the truth, for now the veil is spun so fine that you shall easily see through it.

As I watched the whole noble gathering, eyes raised, grow silent, humble and pale with expectation, two angels soon descended from above, their gowns green as new leaves, softly swirling and billowing behind them fanned by green wings. They held flaming swords with the tips broken off. One lighted just above and behind us while the other flew to the far bank so that the whole company stood between them. Their hair shown with gold, but their faces were too bright for the power of my dazzled vision.

"They have flown from Mary's bosom," Sordello said. "They are here to guard this glen from the serpent that comes."

From which direction? I looked around me with fear. As I wondered, I huddled closer to the trusted shoulders.

 

 

 

Night comes to an Eden in which the inhabitants know they will be attacked but think that they must rely on divine aid to keep them safe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Judge Nino

 

 

 


 Canto 8: 43-108 Snake attack   

Sordello continued, "Now let's go in and speak with those great shades. They will be glad that you have come."

It seemed I had taken only three steps down when I saw one of them staring, as if trying to recognize me. It was growing dark, but his eyes and mine saw well enough after we moved closer together. Noble Judge Nino, what a joy it was to find that you were not among the outcasts!

After all fair greetings had been exchanged, he asked: "So when did you land on this mountain?"

"This morning. I came up from the house of tears. I am in my first life, though by coming here I hope to gain a second one."

When they heard my answer, Sordello and he drew back, suddenly afraid. One turned to Virgil, and the other called to someone seated there, "Hey, Currado, come and see what God by his grace has done!"

Then he addressed me, "You owe special thanks to Him whose primal purpose is so deep we cannot fathom it! When you cross the ocean again, ask my little Giovanna to say prayers for me, for the prayers of innocents are heard. I think her mother has not loved me since she stopped wearing the widow's wimple. In her coming misery, she will wish she had never taken it off! Her example shows you how the fire of love dies in a woman as soon as sight and touch no longer kindle it. The snake under which Milan makes camp will not adorn her tomb so well as the rooster of Galluria would have done." He spoke these words, his face stamped with a righteous zeal that cooled a burning heart.

My starved eyes turned up toward the region of the sky where the stars move slowest, like the part of a wheel that is close to the axle.

"What are you staring at, son?" my leader asked.

"Three little torches set the pole on fire," I answered.

He explained: "They have risen where you saw the four bright stars this morning. Those four are now low over there. . ."

Sordello interrupted and pulled him close, saying: "There is the enemy." He pointed a finger at where to look.

In the place where the little valley had no bank for protection, there was a snake, perhaps the one that gave Eve the sour fruit. It slid like an evil streak through the grass and flowers. From time to time it turned its head to lick its back, like a beast that tries to clean itself.

How those celestial hawks started up, I did not see and so I can't tell, but I did see them in action. Hearing the green wings beat the night air, the serpent fled. The angels then wheeled around together and flew back to their perches.

 

 

 

Distraction

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

He is looking back.

 


Blake, angels and serpent

 

 

 

 

Currado

 

 

 

 Canto 8: 109-139 Currado Malaspina  

The shade summoned by the judge had been staring at me ever since, even during the attack, and now he spoke. "May the lantern lighting your way have enough candle to show you to the jeweled summit. If you know any news of Val di Magra or that vacinity, please tell me, for I once had power there. I was called Currado Malaspina, not the old Currado but descended from him. To my family I bore a love that is here refined."

"I've never been there," I answered. "But where in all of Europe is there anyone who has not heard of it?  Fame crowns with honor your house, its lords and lands alike. Everybody knows it--even those who have never been there. I can tell you, as I hope to rise, your honored family is thought worthy in purse and sword. They are favored by nature and custom so that they go straight and avoid evil ways, even when the wicked head of the world twists astray."

"Enough!" he said. "In time, this courteous opinion of yours will stick in your mind by more than mere hearsay. It should happen before the sun rests seven times where the four feet of the Ram bestride the sky." 
 

 

 

 

 

looks back

 

 

 

 

 

Aries

 

 


Blake, Dante carried to the gate of purgatory
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lucia

Canto 9

Fresh from her doting lover's arms, the consort of ancient Tithonus glowed white on the balcony of the east. Her forehead glittered with gems shaped like that cold-blooded creature that strikes people with its tail.  Where we were, night already had taken two of its ascending steps, and the third was on the wing. There was enough Adam in me that I grew sleepy, and I lay back in the grass where the five of us were sitting.

Near morning, when the swallow begins her sad song, remembering her first sorrows perhaps, our minds fly farthest from our bodies and farthest from bodily worries. That's when our dreams can seem almost prophetic. At that hour I thought I saw an eagle hovering in the sky, gliding on open wings with golden feathers, intending to swoop, and I thought I was in the place where Ganymede was carried up from his people to the highest assembly. I thought to myself, maybe the eagle strikes only here, maybe it refuses to seize in its claws prey from any other place. Then it seemed to me that it wheeled a little, dove terrible as lightning, and carried me off up into the fire. There it and I burned in flames so hot that the whole vision vanished.

As Achilles shook himself, his awakened eyes casting all around in a circle, not knowing where he was, his mother having  fled with him sleeping in her arms from Chiron to Skyros, the place from which the Greeks would later take him, so as soon as sleep left my eyes I shook myself and turned pale, frozen in terror. The sun was already more than two hours high, and I was facing the sea. My only comfort was at my side.

"Have no fear," my good Signore said. "We are in a good place for sure now. Stop shaking--summon up your strength. You have now reached Purgatory. That's the bank around it, and there's the gate, where the bank seems to divide. Earlier in the dawn before this day, when your spirit was sleeping in the flowers adorning the earth down there, a lady came and said: 'I am Lucia. Let me take up this sleeper and help him on his way.' Sordello and the others in that group stayed behind when she took you, but I followed her footsteps and arrived here when the day was bright. She put you down here and her lovely eyes showed me the open entrance. Then in the same instant she and your sleep vanished."

Like one reassured when the truth is revealed, my fear changed into strength. When my leader saw that  my fears were gone, he started up the bank, and I after him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ganymede seizure by Jupiter = Dante taken by his dream of Empire

 

 

 

 

 

 



Blake, the gate of purgatory

 

 

Reader, my story rises, as you can see, so don't be surprised if I use more art to bolster it. We approached what at first seemed to me to be a break or crack in a wall, but then I saw a door with three steps of different colors leading up to it. There was a gatekeeper, too. He said nothing, but the more I opened my eyes the more clearly I could make him out. I could tell he was sitting on the top step, but I could not see his face because it was too bright. A naked sword in his hand reflected the sunlight at us, so at times I could not look at it.

"Stop right there! Speak from where you are!" he began. "What do you want? Where is your guardian? Be careful! Coming up here could be harmful to you."

My master answered him. "A lady from the sky, who knows things, just now told us: 'Go in there, there's the gate.'"

"And may she help your steps in goodness," the guard replied courteously. "Come up the stairs!"

We started up. The first step was white shining marble, so polished that I could see myself in it just as I am. The second step was rough baked stone, cracked both lengthwise and across, darker than purple. The third, holding the other two down, was flaming as blood spurting from a vein, and it seemed to me to be made of porphyry. The angel of God had both feet on this step as he sat on the threshold, which seemed to me to be made of diamond. As he led me up these steps, my leader whispered: "Humble yourself and ask him to open the lock."

I knelt at those holy feet, struck my heart three times and begged him to have mercy and open the door for me. With the point of his sword, he wrote seven P's on my forehead. Then he said, "Be sure to wash these wounds inside." 

From his coat, the color of ashes, or dry dug earth, he pulled two keys, one of gold, the other of silver. First with the white, then with the yellow he unlocked the door, to my great relief. "Whenever one of the keys fails to turn, this passage will not open. One is more precious but the other requires more skill because it's the one that unbolts the more complicated lock. When he gave me these keys, Peter told me to open whenever I could to anyone who kneels before me."

He opened the gate with an instruction: "Enter but don't look back. Whoever looks back must go back outside." When the pins turned in the hinges, pins made of heavy metal, they rang louder than the Tarpeian rock  when the temple vault was robbed, the good Metellus having been removed. As I listened to its thundering, I seemed to hear blended within it Te Deum laudamus. It was like hearing a choir accompanied by an organ so that sometimes you understand the words, and then sometimes don't.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Blake, Dante marked with seven Ps

 
 


Canto 10

 Canto 10: 1-33  the first terrace (arrogance)

We crossed the doorway never used by souls that love evil which makes crooked ways look straight. The gate resounded after us, so that I did not have to twist my head to know that it had closed. How could I have ever forgiven myself if I had looked back?

We began climbing through a narrow crevice in the rock that bent one way, then the other, like a wave ebbing and flowing back and forth again and again. "It takes  a bit of skill here," my leader started. Move in the way the rock is skewed." 

Our progress was so slow that the waning moon had gone to bed before we emerged from that needle's eye. Once free, I was tired, and the two of us were unsure of our direction. We had come out to a deserted terrace, flat and open. It stretched in front of me as far as the eye could see to one side and the other, but the distance was only three body lengths between the edge of the cliff below and the foot of the steep embankment rising above us. That wall was white marble, carved with art that would put Polycletus and even nature herself to shame.

 

 

 

 

 

Matthew 19:24

 

 

recognizing crookedness

 

 

Mary,
mother of Jesus

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

David

 

 

 

Trajan

 

 Canto 10: 34-96  images of humility

Before us appeared the angel who announced the opening of heaven, the ending God's long ban, the peace that had been yearned for all those tearful years. He was vivid in his gracious expression, unlike any carved and silent image. You would swear he said Ave, for she was there, too, the one who turned the key to heavenly love. In her scene were the words Ecce Ancilla Dei, properly imprinted as if sealed in wax.

My sweet maestro had me to the side of him where we wear our hearts. "Don't let your mind become too attached to any one place," he said.

As he prompted me, I looked beyond Mary and saw another story imposed on the rock.  I crossed past Virgil and went close so that my eyes could gain a better view. Carved in the marble was the oxcart drawing the holy ark that made men fear to perform duties to which they had not been called. In the foreground were seven choruses that made one of my senses say "No," and another one "Yes, they are singing." Likewise, the incense smoking there made my nose and eyes say no and yes. Dancing in his robes before the blessing pot was the humble Psalmist, not king but more than a king on that occasion.  Opposite him, staring down in mischievous thought from a high window of the palace, was Michal.

I kept walking to get a close-up view of another story behind Michal. There was the glorious Roman prince raised by Gregory, I mean Trajan the emperor. At his bridle a poor widow woman stood in tears and grief.  All around them was a great troop of cavalry, and in the gold above were eagles flying on the wind, but in the midst of it all the wretched woman seemed to say: "Sir, my heart is broken! Give me justice for my son who is dead!"

To which he seemed to say: "Wait until I return."

But she, as a person persists when sorrow is urgent, "My lord, if you do not return?"

And he, "Whoever takes my place will take care of you."

But she: "What will another's good be to you, if you forget your own?"

Then he: "Be comforted. It is right to fulfill my duty before I go. Justice demands it. Compassion holds me here."

He to whose sight nothing is new produced this visible speaking. It seemed new to us because we had never seen it before.

 

 

Luke 1:26-38.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2 Samuel 6:13-16

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

the word
becomes real

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blake,
images of
humility

 

 

 Canto 10: 97-139 
the burdens of arrogance

My eyes had been fascinated by the images of humility, precious to see in themselves and also because of their creator, but the poet murmured, "all of these people inching along in our lane will force us to take the stairs!" I wanted to keep looking at the novelties, but I quickly glanced over toward him.

Reader, I hope you will not lose heart when you hear how God debts are repaid. Don't consider the suffering itself. Think only about what follows it. In the worst case, it can't last beyond Judgment Day.

"Maestro," I said, "these things that approach us don't look human. I don't know what they are. I can't believe my eyes."

He answered: "They are crushed under the weight of their torment so that it's hard to see them at first. But  look closer, under their loads. You'll see them beating themselves."

You proud Christians, tired wretches, your faith is backward. You can't look ahead! Don't you see that we are worms born to become angelic butterflies that flutter defenseless to justice? You poor bugs, crooked  worms, how will your spirits ever float so high?

To support a ceiling or roof there are corbel figures that touch knee to breast, unreal images that give real discomfort to those who see them. So were these I saw, when I looked carefully. There were compressed according to the weight upon their backs. Some carried more and some less, but even the one whose weeping showed the most patience seemed to say, "I can bear no more."   

 

 

 

Dante's nontraditional vision of human destiny

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blake,
proud
penitents

 

 

Canto 11

 Canto 11: 1-36  the Lord's prayer

"Our father in the sky, not confined but more at home there among the first creations, praised be your name and goodness! All creatures rightly owe you thanks for your sweet being. Let the peace of your kingdom come to humankind, if they cannot attain it through their ingenuity alone. Let them like angels sing hosanna and sacrifice their desires to your will. Give them manna this day and every day, so that they may work to gain progress through the harsh wasteland. And as they pardon others for every evil they have suffered, so kindly pardon them without regard for their deserving, and free them from temptations so that they are not destroyed by their ancient adversary. We ask these last things, dear father, not for ourselves but for those that we have left behind."

As these shades prayed, they hauled burdens as huge as can be imagined. Grieving and exhausted as they worked around and around that first ledge, they were asking blessings upon us back here to purge the world's darkest clouds. Back here what should those who are serious say and do for them? Should we not help them to wash away their marks so that they can go clean and light to the starry wheels?

 

 

 

from Matt 6:9

2 Thess. 1:3

Manna through Sinai Exodus 16:13-35, John 6:30-40

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Omberto
Aldobrandesco

 

 

 

 

 Canto 11: 37-72 
Omberto Aldobrandesco

"May justice and mercy soon relieve you of your load so you can spread your wings and fly just as you wish! Please, which is the fastest way to the stairs? And if there are several routes, which one has the easiest slope? My traveling companion here would like to climb the hard way, but he is not dressed for it right now. He still bears the weight of Adam's flesh."

These words spoken by my leader, a response came from a source unseen. "Keep right along the bank, and there's a place where a living lad could climb, maybe. Come with us! This load on my stuck-up neck blocks me from looking up, so I can't see this fellow that you say lives. I wonder if I know him? I wonder if he pities me? I was Latin, son of the great Tuscan Guglielmo Aldobrandesco. Maybe you have heard his name? Ancient blood of famous ancestors made me so aristocratic that I forgot our common mother. I pretended to look down on everybody. Indeed I died for it. The Sienese know. The children in Campagnatico know. I am Omberto. Self-importance killed me and ruined my companions. When I lived, I did not carry my share--so now I bear this weight until whenever God pleases!"

 

 

 

The arrogant assign great value to that which is trivial, especially their power, popularity, and reputation. The scheme of eternity makes these things irrelevant. They do not contribute to human progress.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oderisi da Gubbio

 

 

 

 

 Canto 11: 73-142 
Oderisi the illuminator

To listen, I had bent over so far that my face almost touched the ground. One of the laborers, not the one speaking, twisted himself under his load to get a glimpse of me. Straining to keep his eyes on me, as I crept along beside them, he recognized me and called out.

I said, "Aren't you Oderisi, the master of Grubbio, the foremost of the art that the Parisians call 'illumination'?"

"Brother," he said, "the happy brushes of Franco Bolognese are more favored today. The mastery now is all his, or only a little is left to me. While I lived I would not have spoken so generously of him, because all I cared about then was to be the best, but excellence has heavy consequences. If I had not turned to God while I still was able to brag, I would never have reached this place. How vain we are to take pride in our skills! They stay green at the peak only briefly, unless cruder ages happen to follow us. Cimabue thought that he held the field in painting, but now his fame retreats as Giotto is all the rage. Likewise, the glory for poetry has passed from one Guido to another, and perhaps already one is born who will push both of them from the nest. The praises of the world are mere gusts: the names blow one way and then another. A thousand years from now, how much more acclaim will you have if your flesh falls off when it is old, than if if you had died while saying 'pappo' and 'dindi'? Compared to eternity or the slowest orbit in the sky, a thousand years is quicker than the blinking of an eye! Look at the guy taking those tiny steps ahead of me. All Tuscany used to resound with his name, but now you hardly hear a whisper of him, even in Sienna where he once led the charge to destroy Florence which was then as proud as now it is sluttish. Renown is grass. He makes it wither who made it sprout from the earth. I know my words are obscure but I will say no more. Not much time will pass before your neighbors will act so that you will understand me."

I replied: "No, you have lanced a great swelling on me. The truth you speak promotes good humility in my heart. But tell me, who is the one ahead of you?"

He answered: "Provenzano Salvani. He dared to seize control of all Siena, but ever since he died, he just creeps along the way you see now. That's the price we pay for daring too much back there."

And I: "Why is he allowed to be here? Shouldn't he be down below in the waiting area? Isn't that the place for those who fail to repent until the end? Don't they stay there unless they have help from good prayers?"

He replied: "When he was living in his prime of power, he was not too proud to beg voluntarily in the public square in Sienna. He set aside all humiliation in order to raise a ransom to free a friend of his who was suffering in Charles' prison. He brought himself to shudder in every vein. This deed set him free from those confines below us."
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dante is being arrogant in belittling Oderisi

 

 

 

Dante can't leave rivalry

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Canto 12

 Canto 12: 1-72 
bumps in the road of arrogance

We went along, that burdened one and I, like oxen under the yoke, until my sweet teacher would have no more of it. "Leave him and pass on," he said. "Insofar as they can, all should speed their boats as fast as sails and oars allow." I tried to stand up straight to walk normally, but in my mind I remained bowed down and humbled.

Happily I was able to keep pace with my maestro, and we were both moving along well when he said to me: "Look down. Watch the roadbed under your feet. It will do you good. It can help to see what lies in your path."

I saw carvings buried in the mountain path there, like graves of the dead. What they had been in life was there inscribed with letters preserving their names, like words on tombs that spur our memory to make us often weep again. But the artistry made the images appear to stand out more vividly than on any tomb.

On one side I saw the greatest of all created creatures fall like lightning from the sky. On the other side Briareus lay heavy on the earth, frozen in death, pierced by the celestial bolt. I saw Thymbraeus. I saw Pallas and Mars still in armor around their father inspecting the broken limbs of the giants. I saw Nimrod in Shinar overseeing the proud builders at the foot of his great tower.

O, Niobe, with grieving eyes I saw you carved on that road with your dead children, seven and seven! And you, Saul, throwing yourself on your sword at Gilboa where neither rain nor dew was found ever after! And mad Arachne, you, already half-spider, wretchedly sitting on the remains of what you spun to your destruction. Rehoboam, your once-dreaded chariot flees away with you in retreat and nobody in pursuit.

Also shown on the hard pavement were Alcmaeon making the unlucky ornament seem costly to his mother; the sons of Sennacherib falling on him in the temple and leaving him there dead; Thamyris' cruel slaughter of Cyrus after telling him, "You thirsted for blood, and now drink you fill!"  It showed Holofernes' murdered remains, and how the Assyrians fled in a rout when he was killed. I saw Troy in ashes and cavernous ruin. Ilion, how low and vile that carving there showed you to be!

What master of the brush or stylus could draw such subtle shadings and outlines to make so much wonder in a receptive mind? The dead appeared dead and the living living. Witnesses to the actual events could not have seen them better than I who trod upon them while bent over. Be proud, strut on with lifted brows, never lower your eyes to take account of your bad ways, you sons of Eve!

 

 

 

The fall of Lucifer and the giants, and other examples of worldly vanity, are spurs to proper action.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blake,
images of pride

 


 Canto 12: 73-136 
 surmounting arrogance

My spirit had been too absorbed to notice how much of the mountain we had circled and how much of the sun's course for the day had been used up. The one always intent on what was ahead began to speak. His subject was familiar: I was used to his warnings about never losing time.

"Raise your head now. There's no more time to walk bent over. Think to yourself that this day will never dawn again! Now the sixth handmaid returns from serving the day, and an angel comes to meet us, as you see. Look and act with reverence so that he may be pleased to send us up."

Clothed in white, his face like the twinkling morning star, a lovely creature came toward us. "The steps are close by, and the climb will be easy," he said, opening his arms, spreading his wings, as he led us to a place where the rock was cut. "Why do people so seldom respond to this invitation? You are born to fly, so why fall down in a little wind?" 

Promising me safe passage, he brushed his wings against my forehead. The stair fell steep from the next terrace high above us, and it closed in tight on both sides, but the ascent was easy, like the climb to the right up the hill toward the church that dominates the well-guided city above Ponte Rubaconte. The sharp thrust of the slope is broken by the stairway made there long ago, when record books still were true and measurements fair. 

As we turned and entered, voices sang in a way that words cannot describe: Beati pauperes spiritu! How different are these passages from those in the inferno! Here you enter to song, down there to terrible howls. 

As we began up the saintly steps, I felt much lighter than before. The climb seemed almost like walking on level ground! "Maestro," I said, "What heavy thing has been lifted from me so that I go up with so little exertion?"

He answered: "When the Ps that still remain on your forehead are almost all erased, your legs will feel no strain at all. In fact, you will be energized by your will to go  forward."

I felt my forehead with the fingers of my right hand, like one using his fingers for eyes searching for something on his head, something that he can't see but that others appear to notice. Watching me, my leader laughed.

I felt only six of the seven letters that the gate keeper with the keys had engraved there. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Florence is now seen from above

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blake
angel

 

Canto 13

 Canto 13: 1-72 
the second terrace (Envy)

We reached the top of the stairs where the mountain of cures is terraced a second time. That cut back is like the first ledge, but its arc turns more sharply, and everything there is the same livid color as the rock, so the bank and road seem empty. No shades or signs appear.

"If we wait around here to ask for directions," the poet said, "I'm afraid that we will wait too long." He studied the sun and then swung himself around to the right, pivoting on his left side, and spoke: "You sweet light, I trust you to guide us on the way that we should enter this new path. You warm the world and shine above it, and your rays should always lead us, unless there is some reason to the contrary."

We had walked about a mile very quickly, for we were eager, when we heard flying toward us words like gracious invitations to the table of love. The first invisible voice winging past said loudly Vinem non habent! and it kept repeating the words as it retreated behind us. Before those words were too distant to be heard any more, another passed crying I am Orestes! and it also did not stop.

"Wow, padre," I said, "what were those?" And before I could finish the question, there was a third one saying,  Love those from whom you have had evil! 

The good maestro answered: "The fault of envy is whipped here, so the cords of the whip are braided with love. As I understand it, bridled restraint develops by listening to opposed voices, and so I think that you must hear warning sounds like these before you can reach the place of pardon. Look carefully now up ahead of us, and you will see people sitting along the side the cliff."

I opened my eyes wider than before, and before us I saw shades wearing coats of no different color from the rock. A little further on, I began to hear them crying, Mary, pray for us! Michael! Peter! All saints!

I don't think that many people who walk the earth today can be so hard-hearted that they would not be struck with compassion at the vision that awaited me. When I had come close enough, the clear sight of them milked my eyes with heavy grieving. Clothed in what seemed to be poor horsehair cloth, they leaned their shoulders against one another and all against the cliff. They looked like blind beggars at Pardons who lean their heads on one another so that pity may be quickly instilled from not only their words but their pose. And as the sun does not reach the blind, so the light of heaven is not granted to those shades I saw, for their eyelids were pierced and sewn together by metal wire, like the eyelids of untrained falcons that must be kept shut to hold them still.
 

 

 

 

No signs=road signs, signs of spirits, miracles, statues. The souls learn by hearing, not by sight.

 

 

Virgil begins to shine as a guide

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sapia Salvani

 

 

 Canto 13: 73-154  Sapia Salvani

I turned to my sage advisor to ask whether it might be improper for us to watch them when they could not see us. He knew my question before I asked it, and he said: "Speak to them but be brief and to the point."

Virgil was on the side of me toward the unguarded ledge where one can fall, but the devout shades were on the other side, tears dribbling through their horrible sutures and washing their cheeks. I turned to them and began: "You people are sure to see the upper light that is your only wish! May grace soon take the froth from your consciences, so that the springs of your minds can run clear. Tell me, for it will mean much to me, is there is any soul here among you who is Latin? It may be good for such a one if I know."

"My brother, all of us are citizens of the one true city. Did you mean to ask whether anyone here once made the pilgrimage of mortal life in an Italian city?"

This answer seemed to come from a little way ahead of where I stood, so I moved further along and asked again. One shade among them appeared to be waiting for me. As the blind often do, she squarely held up her chin, as if to ask "How so?"

I addressed her: "Spirit preparing yourself to rise, if you are the one who answered me, tell me your name and position."

She replied: "I was Sienese, and like these others here I now repair my ruined life with tears for him who gave himself for us. My name was Sapia, but I was not wise. I delighted more in others' harms than in my own good fortune. When you hear my story, you will think I'm kidding or I must have been crazy. Listen. When my fellow citizens went out to fight their enemies on the field at Colle, I prayed to God to do whatever he wanted to do, but when they were being hunted down as they fled in bitter retreat, I took more joy from their rout than from any other pleasure I had ever known. Like the blackbird at the first sign of a little sunshine, I turned my face upward and shouted to God: 'Now I fear you no more!'  It was not until the end of my life that finally I wished peace with God, and my debt would not yet be paid by penance, except that Pier Pettinaio took pity on me with his great love and remembered me in his saintly prayers. But who are you that ask me about my condition? You seem to have your eyes unsewn and to breathe as you talk."

I said: "I will not be blinded here for long. My eyes have not offended much with envy. I have a lot more fear about the torment below here. Already the burden down there weighs on me."

And she to me: "So who brought you up here among us, if you belong down below?"

And I: "One who does not say a word brings me here, chosen spirit, and I am still alive in body. Perhaps I can use my feet for you. Tell me if I can help you in any way when I go back among the living."

"What a strange new thing to hear! It must be mean that God loves you," she said. "Please use your prayers to help me now and then, and I beg you by what you most desire, if you're ever on Tuscan soil, restore my good name among my relatives. You will find them among the people who vainly place their hopes in Talamone--which will end in bigger losses than they took when digging for the Diana."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pride is Dante's most besetting sin.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blake,
Sapia

 

 

 

Guido del Duca
and Rinieri da Calboli

 

 


Canto 14

 Canto 14: 1-72  the Arno Valley

"Who circles our mountain before death lets him fly? Who opens and closes his eyes as he wants?"

"I don't know, but he's not alone. Why don't you ask him. You're closer. Speak nicely so that he'll answer."

Two spirits huddled together off to my right with lowered faces. They discussed me and then one of them said: "Soul still embodied as you go up to the sky! For charity, comfort us by telling where you come from and who you are. The grace you receive is as marvelous as anything that has ever been known before."

And I: "There's a little stream born in Falterona that flows through the heart of Tuscany and runs a hundred miles without having enough. I bring my body of mine from its banks, but my name would not be meaningful to you. It has not been heard very much."

The shade who had spoken earlier replied. "To flesh out your words, if I understand them, you mean the Arno."

The other one interrupted him. "But why did he hide the name of the river? Is it such a horrible thing?"

He answered saying, "I don't know what he meant, but the name of that valley should die forever!  From the very pregnant water source in the high mountain chain that beaks at Pelorus, all the way down the falls to the mouth where the sea swallows everything for the sky to evaporate, virtue is resisted as an enemy or avoided like a snake. Maybe it's the low valley itself that has base influence, or maybe the local customs are to blame. In any case, the people there are transformed from humaneness, as if they live in Circe's pasture.

"The little brook begins among brutish swine more to attracted to acorns than any food fit for humans. Dropping lower it streams past dogs whose bark is worse than their bite, and it twists its own snout away from them in contempt. Then the dogs become wolves as the ditch keeps falling and swells into a cursed evil river. Finally descending through many deep lagoons, it comes to foxes so full of fraud that they never fear to be caught in any trap.

"I will not shut up, Rinieri. I don't care if somebody hears me. This man needs to understand the truth that a spirit can reveal.  Your nephew will become a hunter of those wolves along the bank of that fierce river. I can see him. He terrorizes them. He puts an end to all of his praises with their lives. He slaughters them like mature cattle and sells their living offspring. When he emerges from the woods all bloodied, he leaves them so mutilated that they will now grow back in a thousand years."

 

 

 

Dante as the falcon without blinds views the whole region of Florence from above. It is a fallen paradise where virtue is avoided like a snake.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Arno is a version of the infernal river system in Inferno. It passes Arezzo (whose coat of arms features a snippy little dog), Florence the wolf, and lastly Pisa the fox. The region is where Odysseus' crew were transformed magically to beasts. 

 

 

 

 

 

 Canto 14: 73-126  Guido del Duca
 on the bastards Romagna
 

The speech of that one and appearance of the other one made me ask their names.

The one who had spoken before answered. "You ask me to tell you what you will not tell me, but since God's grace shows so clearly in you, I will not begrudge you. I am Guido del Duca. My blood was so hot that I envy that I envied any man having a good time! That's the chaff I reaped from my planting. Humankind, what's wrong with sharing? Why do you set your hearts to forbid it?

"This fellow here, Rinieri, was head of the honorable Calboli family, but his house has no noble heir. His is not the only bloodline that has turned sterile of virtues that improve the mind and body. Between the Po and the mountains and the Adriatic and the Reno, the whole region now is so overgrown full of poisonous bushes that it's too late to cull them out.

"Romagna now is led by bastards! Where are the good Lizio and Arrigo Mainardi? Piero Traversato and Guido di Carpegna? When will Bologna see a Fabbro take root there again? when in Faenza a Bernardino di Fosco, that noble shoot of humble grass? Do not be surprised, Tuscan, if I weep to remember Guido da Prata, Ugolino d'Azzo who lived in our midst, Frederigo Tignoso and his friends, both the Traversari and Anastagi families heirless. All of the ladies and lords, labors and leisures that love and courtesy once desired are no longer there, where hearts have become so wicked."

You Bertinoro, why don't you just disappear, now that your good family and so many others have fled from you to escape corruption? It is great that Bagnacavallo breeds no more, for Castrocaro is wrong and Conio worse to produce such sons as they have begotten. Maybe the Pagani will do better if their devil departs, but not so well that they will leave clean record. Ugolino de' Fantolini, your name is safe, now that no more degenerate sons can be expected ever to darken it. You can leave now, Tuscan, for I would rather weep than speak, our talk has so pained my mind!"

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Canto 14: 127-151 
 what the thunder said

We thought that those troubled spirits heard us leave because they went silent as we continued on the path alone. Suddenly a voice descended on us like lightning when it splits the air. "Whoever finds me shall slay me," it blasted, and it fled fading like thunder after the breaking of a cloud.

As soon as our ears had recovered somewhat from that noise, there came another flash, followed after a brief delay by the thundering: "I am Aglauros turned to stone!" I jumped to the right to be closer to the poet.

When the air had quieted around us again, he said to me: "Those were bits and bridles that keep people within bounds, and you are afraid of them because you are caught by the deception of the ancient adversary. The skies call to you and turn all about you, and they reveal their eternal beauty to take you in, but your eyes are fixed on the earth down below. One who can see this knows why you fear punishment."
 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Canto 15

 Canto 15: 1-39  the second angel

There was as much of the sun's course remaining before dusk as the length of time  between the playful young third hour and the dawn. It was vespers there, though midnight here. We had come around the mountain so far that we were heading due west, and the gleam was hitting us in the nose. I felt my forehead pushed down by the splendor, more than ever in my life before, dazzled by something unknown, so I raised my hands over the top of my eyebrows to make shade to screen my vision.

Experience and science have shown that when a beam of light is deflected from water or a mirror, it rises away in the opposite direction at the same angle as it fell.  So it seemed to me that I was being struck by reflected light ahead of me, as I tried to turn away. "Dear padre, what is this? I can't shield my eyes from it," I said. "And it seems to be moving toward us."

"It is not surprising that you are still blinded by the family of the sky." he answered. "Another messenger invites us to rise again. Soon you will be more accustomed to these sights, and they will bring you natural delight."

When we reached the happy angel, he spoke with a joyful voice: "Enter! The climb here is less steep than other paths."

We were rising, having parted from him already, when Beati misericordes! was sung behind us, and "Rejoice, you that overcome."

 

 

 

 

At 3:00 pm at Mt. Purgatory it is 3:00 am in Jerusalem and midnight in Florence.

 

 

 

 

 Canto 15: 40-81 
 rising above terrace two

Climbing with my teacher, to gain benefit from his words as we ascended, I turned to him and asked: "What did that spirit from Romagna mean when he said that human hearts forbid sharing?"

He answered this way. "He knows the damage that was done by his greatest fault, and so he thinks that all of humanity shares  the same problem, but he means only that you should be careful to avoid these sorrows. Your desires on earth make you think that sharing reduces everybody's portion, and so envy pumps the bellows to fan your emotions, but if instead your desires were turned upward to the heavens, your hearts would rise above the fear of sharing. Up there, the more that we desire, the more each of us possesses, and the more that charity burns among us."

"Now you have made me more hungry for a satisfactory answer than if you had not said anything," I said. "My mind is full of doubt. How can one thing distributed among many make them richer than when it is shared only by a few?"

And he to me: "You are still thinking in earth terms, so you focus on the darkness, not the light. There is infinite, celestial good up there. It makes love just as surely as a beam of light makes bodies appear. As it finds love, it generates even more, and as it is asked for love, it also gives more of itself, so that the eternal totality of love always keeps growing. The more people intend for one another up there, the more love there is to be mirrored back to them. Is my explanation satisfactory to you now? If not, you will see Beatrice soon, and she will help you to understand all that you want to know. Now let's go so that your five remaining wounds can be erased as quickly as the first two, though their healing may be painful."

 

The sky is an infinite treasure house of riches

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Canto 15: 82-145 
Dante's visions of peace

I was about to say "I am satisfied" when I noticed that we had arrived at the third ledge, and what I saw made me silent. I seemed to be drawn into an ecstatic vision of a group of people in a temple and one woman in the entrance acting sweetly like a mother, saying: "My child, why have you done such a thing to us? Your father and I have been searching for you! Look at our grief!"

All that had appeared then disappeared as she fell silent, and another woman with tears streaming down her cheeks, like one grieving from some great outrage, was saying "Peisistratus! If you are the master of this city whose naming caused such a brawl among the gods, this city that sparkles with knowledge of everything, take vengeance on those bold arms that embraced our daughter! "

And the lord replied mildly and calmly with a temperate look: "If we condemn to death one who loves us, what shall we do with those who wish us ill?"

Then I saw people on fire with anger, stoning a young man to death and crying to each other: "Kill! Kill!" I saw him fall to the ground with death already upon him but his eyes still opened to the gates of the sky. With a pitiful look amid the strife, he prayed to the highest father to forgive his enemies.

Then my soul came back to me and to things that are real, and I recognized the truth of my errors. My leader saw me acting as if awakening from sleep. "What's the matter?" he asked. "You can't seem to hold yourself up on your legs. For the last half of a league you have been stumbling around with your eyes closed, like some drunk or sleep walker!"

"Sweet padre," I said, "listen and I'll tell you what appeared to me when my feet were not under my control."

And he: "Your smallest thoughts would not be hidden from me, even if you wore a hundred masks. You have seen that which will keep your heart calmed by the waters of peace flowing from the eternal fountain. I did not ask what's the matter? like someone who sees only with his eyes when somebody lies unconscious. I asked the question to strengthen your feet, as one who prods sleepy people who are slow to awaken."

We walked toward the sunset, looking ahead as far as our sight would reach into the bright setting rays. And there we saw, a cloud of smoke dark as night coming little by little toward us. There was no place to turn aside from it. It took away our vision and the purity of the air.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Third terrace:
anger

 

 

 

Canto 16

 Canto 16: 1-24  the third terrace (anger)

The darkness of the inferno or a night with its stars hidden by masses of shadowing clouds never covered my sight so thick as the smoke that surrounded us. I never felt such harsh stinging that my eyes could not stay open. My wise and faithful companion came near and offered me his shoulder, and I followed him through the bitter, dirty air like a blind man after his guide, trying not to be lost or to bump into something that could hurt or even kill him.

I could hear my leader repeating: "Be careful! Don't get cut off from me!" And I heard voices, each one clearly praying for peace and mercy to the Lamb of God who takes away faults. Agnus Dei was their opening hymn. All of them sang the same song, with the same melody, so that only harmony came from them.

"Are these spirits that I hear, Maestro?" I asked.

"Yes, indeed," he answered. "They are untying the knots of anger."

 

 

Marco Lombardi

 

 

 

 Canto 16: 25-96  Marco Lombardi
on free will

A voice sounded. "You there! You, cutting through our smoke and talking about us just as if you still tell time according to a calendar: who are you?"

My maestro spoke: "Answer him. Ask him if this is the way up."

"Creature, as you clean up to be fair for your return to your maker, follow me and you will hear something marvelous."

"I will go with you as far as I can" was the reply. "If the smoke does not let us see each other, we will keep together by listening to our voices."

So I began: "I'm on the way up, but I'm still tied in the knots to be untied by death. I've come here through the trials of the inferno. Perhaps God in his mercy singles me out in this way because he wants me to see his court in a new way, beyond the modern style. So don't try to hide from me who you were before you died, and tell me if I am going in the right direction. Your words will be our guides."  

"I was named Marco, a Lombard. I knew the world and loved that valor to which every man nowadays aims an unstrung bow. The way to climb up is straight ahead." That's what he said, and then he added: "Please pray for me once you get up there."

"Sure, I'll do that, I promise," I responded to him. "But first I'll explode with a question unless I can get free from it. I heard it said once before, and now your words seem to reinforce it, that the world is barren of virtue. I wonder why? Please tell me the reason so that I'll know, and I'll be able to explain it to others. Some blame the problem on the skies, and others put it down on the earth."

First he uttered a deep sigh, which sorrow dragged out into "uhi!" Then he began. "Brother, the world is blind, and you surely are a part of it. However, you living people keep blaming the skies above, as if the heavens necessarily make everything on earth go along with them. If that were the case, you would have no free will, and so there would be no just reward for the good and no just punishment for the bad.

"Sure, the heavens influence what you do, but they do not control you. Indeed, they give the light that lets you see good from bad. You have free will. If it survives your anguish about the sky, and if you nurture it, it can conquer all. Yes, you are subject to higher forces, stronger than yourselves, but still you are free to create thought all by yourselves, without any help from above.

"So if world now goes off course, the reason and the remedy lie within you. Overcoming the world is not easy: I will not hide the truth. You long to take from the hand of the one that existed before you. Like a little girl who cries one minute and laughs the next, your giddy know-nothing infant soul is attracted by whatever joy-maker pleases it. At first it adores the desired plaything. It's charmed and chases in pursuit unless some rein holds back its craving. That's why laws were enacted, as necessary curbs, and a king was needed to show at least a tower above the city.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Eden question was raised once before by Guido del Duca who mentions the impossibility of sharing earthly goods (Purg 14:88-126).

 

astrology

 

Canto 16: 97-145  Marco's imperialism

"So there are laws, but whose hand enforces them? Nobody's! The shepherd who should be manly instead chews the cud, though perhaps he has not yet developed cleft hooves. Seeing their leader feeding, the people hunger for the same stuff, and so they graze like him and want nothing better.

"It's plain to see that the world lacks virtue because it lacks the right leadership, not because of your corrupt inner nature. Rome used to shape the world for good. Its two lights lit the ways to heaven and earth. But now one snuffs out the other. The sword is stuck to the crook, and as long as they are joined together both will go wrong, since neither respects the other.  If you don't believe me, take a look at a grain of wheat, for it's by the seed that the plant is known.

"The land watered by the Adige and Po once was full of valor and courtesy, until Frederick began to be opposed. Now anybody can cross it freely from end to end without meeting or even coming close to anybody who is virtuous. Left now on earth are only three men in whom the ancient times lecture the new, and those three are old and ready for a better life when it pleases God to take them. They are Currado da Palazzo and the good Gherardo, and the honest Lombard Guido da Castel, better known to the French as "the simple." So spread the word that the Roman Church confounds itself with two governments, stumbles in the mud, and befouls herself and her load."

"Yes, good point, my Marco," I said. "Now I see why the sons of Levi were disinherited. But which Gherardo are you talking about? You say he remains as a last example of the extinct people, an earful to this impolite age."

"Am I wrong about your dialect or are you kidding?" he answered. "I thought you were speaking Tuscan, and yet you know nothing of good Gherardo? I can't think of another name to call him, unless I make one from his daughter Gaia. Well, God be with you, for I can go no further with you. The white light already brightens the smoke, so the angel must be up there ahead. I've got to leave before I appear to him."

So he turned back and would hear me no more.
 

 

 

 

 

Marco's beliefs follow the  separation of powers from On Monarchy which Dante composed in the darkest hours of his life: temporal and spiritual must be separated; the church cannot assert political authority

fasces, wheat

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The angel will not allow Marco to pass. Marco is stuck with his anger. He has unfinished business on earth with Guelph politics.

 

 Canto 17: 1-33  the third angel

Reader, if you ever have been trapped by fog in the mountains so that you cannot see, except as moles do through their eyelids, you may remember when those dense mists started to clear so that the disk of the sun began to glimmer through, and so you may imagine how the sun now reappeared to me, though it was on the verge of setting. Following my leader's trusted steps, I walked out of that haze into sunlight that already had departed from the shores down below in twilight.

O imagination, sometimes you take away all external things so that we pay no attention even if a thousand trumpets are sounding all around us! Why do you keep running, when our senses are shut down? You must be set in motion by light in the heavens or else by a will that sends that light down here.

In my imagination, a picture formed of her whose shape turned into the bird who most delights to sing. My mind had so withdrawn into this image that nothing from the outside could alert my senses.

Then another fantasy rained down on me: one crucified and scornful, fierce-looking in death with the great king Ahaseuerus and his wife Esther by him, and with the just Mordecai, so upright in his words and deeds, but then this image burst like a bubble floated to the surface of the water that made it.

Then in my vision arose a girl bitterly weeping: "O queen, in your anger why have you killed yourself? Not to lose Lavinia? You have lost me now, mother, and you have left me to mourn yet again."

Suddenly, as when light abruptly striking eyes covered in sleep shatters a dream before it ends, my imaginings became frail within me. A light far brighter than the light we know lit my face, which I had turned to find where I was, when a voice said: "Here is the way up!" And I was drawn from all other thoughts, except the overwhelming desire to see the one who had spoken, but as the sun veils itself in its excess of light, so he before my eyes was concealed in shining, my power of sight falling short.

My leader said: "As we care for ourselves, so he cares for us and does not wait for us to ask for help. Let's accept his invitation and try the climb now. If we wait until night we will not be able to move again until the day returns."

Together we turned our footsteps to the stairs. No sooner had I touched the lowest step than something like the motion of a wing fanned my face, and I heard the words Beati pacifici, blessed are the peaceful, those untouched by anger.

Already the stars were showing here and there, as the sun's last rays before night were slanting up high above us.

 

 
 

 

Terrace four: sloth

 Canto 17: 34-139
Virgil on the structure of purgatory

"O my strength, why do you drain away?" I said this to myself, as I felt my legs losing their power, and just then we reached the top of the stairs and slowly came to a stop, like a boat that runs aground.

For a little while I listened to hear any sounds that might be heard on this new terrace. Then I turned to my maestro and asked what wrong was purged there?

He answered: "Love deficits are fixed here. The slackers are here learning to dip their oars more vigorously. Let me expand so that you may gather some fruit from our stay here.   

"My dear son, as you know, neither the creator nor any creature was ever without love, whether natural or voluntary. Natural love never errs, but the other kind can go wrong, either in the object of its desire or in its excessive or deficient strength of desire. When moderate in strength toward lesser goals, there is no problem: deficient love does not lead to wrongful pleasure. But when love bends to wrong or when it pursues the ultimate good with less energy than is required, then the creature works against the creator. 

"Love is the seed of every virtue in you, and it is the origin of every misdeed, too. Since love normally does not turn against itself, creatures normally do not hate themselves, nor do they hate the creator, since they do not conceive of themselves as severed from creation or as self-created. So it must follow that wrongful love in general is love of others' harms. 

"There are three ways that this defect of neighborly love forms itself in your clay. First, one may hope to excel by bringing down a neighbor, so one loves to see a great neighbor brought low. Second, one may fear to lose power, favor, honor or fame, in competition with others, so one loves to see neighbors losing. Third, one may take offense and hunger after revenge and contrive another's harm. These are the forms of unhappiness on the three terraces below us.

But there is another type to be considered now, a love that does not pursue the good with sufficient measure. Everyone at least vaguely understands the good in which the mind can find peace, and everyone can strive to reach that goal. But if the motivation is weak, then peace is not attained, remorse eventually comes of it, and you find yourself on this terrace where we are now.

"Happiness can also fail in the pursuit of goods, when they are not the ultimate good, not the essential good, and not the root happiness. These excesses are regretted on the three terraces higher above us on this mountain. I will not name the three exactly for you now, so that you can draw your own conclusions."     

 

 

 

Virgil's lecture maps the seven storied mountain

 

 

 

Canto 18

The thoughtful mind ended there, but he studied my face with great concentration to see if I was content. Though more doubt swelled within me, I thought that asking too many questions might annoy him, so I said nothing, outwardly.  He read my mind and encouraged me to speak up, true father that he was.

 "Maestro," I said, "what you see in your light brightens me so that I understand clearly each point and every emphasis made by your words. You say that love causes all good deeds and their opposites, so please, sweet kind padre, expand more on this."

"Shine the light of your intellect on me," he replied, "and I will show you the error of the blind who only claim to be seers. From its creation the mind is influenced very easily by anything that happens to please it, and it soon is conditioned to seek that thing for pleasure. The image of this object grows in your mind and captivates it, so that the attraction which first held you turns to natural love arising like fire to the heights where its essence outlasts the thing itself. So the mind possesses its desire, and the spirit never stops enjoying the thing it loves. Therefore you can see how the truth escapes those who claim that all pleasure is praiseworthy. Perhaps they say this because every pleasure seems good, and yet not all seals are as good as they seem, even if they are imprinted with good wax."

"Your words and my understanding have made love's nature clear to me," I responded, "but another question leaves me  confused. If love is kindled by something outside ourselves, and if our souls are moved in no other way, then how are we responsible for going right or wrong?"

"I can answer that only as far as I can reason. Beyond that, faith is required, and you will have to ask Beatrice. Forms have substance: they hold within them and are composed of specific virtues. These are not known unless they act. They are seen only in their effects, just as life in plants is seen when leaves are green.  Nobody can see where our original behaviors come from or why we begin life with desires for certain things. These are inborn in you, like the urge in bees to make honey, And these first desires are neither praiseworthy or blameworthy.

"However, also innate in you is a counseling power that ought to guard the threshold of consent. From this inward faculty derives merit, responsibility and discernment of good loves from bad.  Those deepest in reasoning who recognized this innate freedom of the will have bequeathed ethics to the world. So let's just say that delights  necessarily arise in you, but the power to constrain them also lies within you. Beatrice understands this freedom of the will, so be prepared. Be mindful of it if she she speaks about it."

 

 
 

 

The runners

It was now past midnight, but the gibbous moon like a fired copper kettle made the stars seem fewer than they were. It ran along the tracks of the sun which as seen from Rome was aflame between Sardinia and Corsica. That noble shade who makes  Pietola the village of most renown in Mantua was relieved of the weight of the argument with which I had burdened him, and I having such clear and direct answers to my questions, I became rowsy in mind . . .

Suddenly my sleepiness was disrupted. A group was approaching from behind us. I saw them galloping around the circle, as once the rivers Ismenus and Asopus saw rowdy bands of revelers crowd their banks on whatever night the Thebans felt the need for Bacchus.

The whole crowd came running upon us. Powerful devotion and strong will seemed to drive them. Two in front wept aloud: "Mary ran with haste into the mountains," and "Caesar, to subdue Lèrida, hit Marseilles and raced on to Spain." The mob running behind them shouted: 'Faster, faster, there's no time to lose for lack of zeal! Our speed will make grace grow again.'

"O you who are so quick to make amends, for negligence or maybe sloth in the past, this man, who is alive--indeed I do not lie--this man here is eager to ascend at day's first light. Tell us, then, where the nearest opening is." These were my leader's words.

A spirit answered: "Follow us and you will find the hole. We must keep moving--we cannot stop. Sorry to seem rude! I used to be Abbot of San Zeno in Verona in the time of worthy Barbarossa who made Milan sorry. Soon one with a foot already in the grave will regret his power over that monastery, because in the place of its true shepherd he put his son, lame in body, deformed in mind, and base of birth."

I don't know if he said more, he had already raced so far beyond us, but this much I heard that I care to remember.

He who was my help in every need said: "Two more come nipping at the heels of sloth! Turn around!"

Coming behind the rest they chanted: "The people for whom the Red Sea parted were dead before they ever saw Jordan" and "Those who chose not to work with Anchises' son lived without renown."

When all of them had run away so far from us that we could no longer see them, a new thought rose within me, from which others, many and diverse, were born. And I rambled from one notion to another as my eyes closed in drowsiness, and my wandering thoughts turned into a dream.

 
 

 

 

the Siren


CANTO 19

There came to me a dream before dawn, at the hour when the day's warmth is so lost by the earth that it no longer keeps off the chill of the moon or even Saturn, when geomancers see major fortune rise in the east, which does not remain dark for long thereafter.

I saw a female figure stammering, cross-eyed, splayfooted, with deformed hands and a sickly white complexion. As the sun revives limbs made numb by cold night, however, so as I gazed at her she gradually gained a ready voice, and in a while her crooked features grew straight, and her face became the color that love desires. 

Her tongue set free, she started singing a song that held me from turning away from her. She sang: "I am the sweet siren who enchants sailors on distant seas. Great is their delight in hearing me. Ulysses was anxious to return, but I drew him with my song. Those who come to live with me seldom leave, I content them so well."

Her lips had not yet closed when a lady pious and vigilant appeared at my side to embarrass her. "Virgil, Virgil, who is this?" she asked, indignant. With eyes fixed on that righteous one, he came forward, and he seized the other and tore her skirts, which laid her bare and exposed. A powerful stink that came from there awoke me.
 

 

 

the fourth angel

I saw the good maestro who was speaking to me: "Three times at least I have called you. Get up and let's go find the entry way."

I stood. All the terraces of the mountain already were filled with the advancing light of the new day. We walked with the rising sun at our backs, I following with a furrowed forehead and a body bent over like the half-arch of some bridge.

Then I heard words spoken in such gentle, gracious tones as are never heard in the land of mortals: "Come, this is the way."  Like a swan, he that spoke opened wings to show the way up between two walls of flinty rock.  He stirred his feathers to fan us, affirming those who mourn to be blessed, for their souls will be full of consolation.

"What's the matter that you keep staring at the ground?" my guide asked. We were on our way now, just having left the angel below.

I answered: "I had a strange new dream. It weighs on me. I can't forget it."

"The ancient witch you saw is the sole cause of sorrow on the ledge above us. You saw how to be rid of her. Enough of that. It's your heels not your eyes that belong on the ground. Look up to the lure that the eternal king spins with his majestic spheres." 

I was like a falcon that at first checks its claws, and then turns to the call and stretches up with desire to take the food that it wants. I climbed as high as the cleft rock allowed until I came to where the circling started again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Matthew 3.5: the third beatitude from the Sermon on the Mount.

 

 

 

 

Terrace five
(greed)

 

 

 

 

 

Pope Adrian

 

 

 

 

When I came out on the fifth terrace, I saw people mourning, lying around face down on the ground: "My spirit sticks to the dust." They murmured so deeply that the words could hardly be understood.

The poet spoke to them: "You chosen of God, your sadness eases hope and justice. Can you give us directions to the stairs that lead up?"

An answer came from a short distance  ahead: "If you do not have to lie flat here and you want to find the fastest way up, then keep your right side to the outer rim."

I saw but did not know who spoke because his face was hidden. I wanted to speak to him. I turned to my lord, who looked pleased, and he consented. So I went and stood above the one whose words had made me aware of him, and I said: "Spirit, tears are the only way to prepare you to return to God, but take a break for just a minute for my sake. Please tell me: who are you? And why do you lie face down? And tell me: can I help you somehow back there among the living, where I come from."

He answered me:  "I will tell why heaven turns our backs to it, but first know that I was a successor of Peter Between Sestri and Chiàvari runs the beautiful stream that my family shows on its coat of arms. In little more than a month I learned how heavy the mantle weighs on one who keeps it from the mud, making any other burden seem light as a feather. My conversion came late, I am sorry to say. It was not until I was made the Roman shepherd that I discovered the lies of life, the restlessness and frustrations of the heart, and only then was my love kindled for a higher state. Until that moment I had been a wretched soul, cut off from God, full of greed. Now, as you see, I am punished for it here, in the purging of the face-down souls. The mountain is nowhere more bitter than right here. In life we failed to lift our eyes above earthly things, so justice here now keeps our vision attached to the earth. As greed prevented us from loving high things, it wasted our chance to do what we should have done, and so justice here now binds our hands fast and our feet still. And here we lie fixed and prone for as long as it shall please the righteous Lord."

I was going to say something, but as soon as I began, he could tell from the sound that I had kneeled next to him.

"Why are you bent down now?" he asked.

And I: "As I stood, I was overwhelmed by the dignity of your high office."

"Straighten your legs, stand up, brother," he replied. "Make no mistake, man. I am a fellow-servant with you, and others, of a single Power. On earth I have a niece who is called Alàgia--she is still virtuous, if indeed our house has not by its example made her wicked, and she is the only one left to me back there. If you know the holy Gospel where it says "Thou shalt not marry," you may understand me. Now go away. I would not keep you here longer. You are interrupting the tears that you described as my way to God . . . "

 

 

The greedy lie embracing the earth.

 

 

 

Canto 20

 Canto 20: 1-15 cursing the ancient wolf

Against a stronger will, what will can resist? I did not want to withdraw the sponge, for it could have absorbed more of that water, but I did as he wished. I moved on.

My leader picked his way, keeping close to the rock like one walking on ramparts. His course stayed tight against the wall because the rest of the ledge, out to the edge of the outer rim, was crowded with all those from whose eyes the evil of the world must be washed away, drop by drop.

Curse you, ancient wolf! No beast eats as many victims as you! Will your hunger never end? O heavens, if your wheels turn everything on earth, as they say, when will he come that shall chase this terror away?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rome the evr-famished
wolf of the world.

 

 

 

 

Hugh Capet

 Canto 20: 16-123 Hugh Capet

We slowly made our way with careful steps. My attention was fixed down upon those sorry shades, but as I listened to their pathetic cries, I happened to hear one up ahead call out 'Sweet Mary!' He wept it out through tears, like a woman in labor. Then I heard him continue: "So great was your poverty that you delivered your holy child in a stable."

After that I heard: "O good Fabricius, you chose poverty with virtue rather than riches with wickedness."

These words gave me so much comfort that I went to find the one that I thought had spoken. I found him telling of the generous gifts that Nicholas gave the innocent young maids to guide them to honor.

"Soul, you speak of great goodness! Tell me who you were," I said. "And tell me why you are the only one praising these deeds so fit for praise. My brief life's journey soon will end, but your words will not go unrewarded if I can return in time to finish it."

He replied: "I'll tell you who I am--not because I want anything in the world but because grace shines in you even before your death. I am the root of the evil tree that shades all Christian lands so that good fruit seldom can be gathered there. If Douai, Lille, Ghent, and Bruges only had the power, vengeance soon would fall--and this I beg of Him who judges all. On earth I was known as Hugh Capet. I am the father of the Phils and Lous who have ruled France lately, but I was the son of a Paris butcher. The ancient line of kings were all entombed as consecrated bones, except for one gray-robed monk, so I took the reins to the kingdom firmly in hand, and soon I gained such power and so many friends that my son's head was put forward to wear the widowed crown. As long as the great dowry of Provence had not yet stripped my house of feeling shame, it counted little, and seemed to do little harm. Then, with fraud and pillage, the rape began. My heirs took Ponthieu, Normandy and Gascony. Then Charles came into Italy and killed Conradin. Then he sent Thomas to Heaven. Now I see a time, not very long from now, that will bring another Chuck from France to make himself and his kin more familiar. He will come armed only with the lance that Judas used to joust, and with one thrust he will burst the swollen belly of Florence. From that wound will issue no land, but sin and shame that will grow heavier for him the more lightly he considers his disgrace. I see also still another Charles, one led prisoner from his ship, and I see him sell his daughter after haggling, as pirates do for sex slaves. O greed, what more harm can you do us, since our blood is so attached to you it has no care for its own flesh? That past and future evil may seem less, I see the fleur-de-lis proceed into Anagni and, in His vicar, make a prisoner of Christ. I see Him mocked a second time. I see more vinegar and gall--between two living thieves I see Him slain again. I see this new Pilate so brutal that this killing does not satisfy him, so he spreads his sails to take the Temple treasure. Dear sweet Lord, when shall I be gladdened by the sight of your vengeance?  Why does your anger remain concealed, hidden in your mind? This is our refrain all day long with the Holy Spirit, but when night falls we then intone the opposite. Then we should recall Pygmalion, whose all-devouring lust for gold made him a traitor, thief, and parricide. We should remember the misery of greedy Midas that came on him for his intemperate demand and must always be a cause for laughter. Each then must remember reckless Achan and how he stole the spoils, so that the wrath of Joshua seems here to strike at him again. Then we must accuse Sapphira with her husband. We must celebrate the hoof-blows that Heliodorus bore. In disgrace the name of Polymnestor, for slaying Polydorus, should circle all the mountain. Last, the cry must be: "Tell us, Crassus, since you know, what is the taste of gold?" Sometimes one speaks loud, another low, according to the zeal that spurs our speech. Sometimes the noise is louder, and at times the sound is less, but we give voice to goodness here every day. I so not speak alone, even though no other voice was raised nearby just now."

 Canto 20: 124-151 the quake

We already had left him there behind us and we were trying to pick our way ahead as nimbly as the narrow trail allowed, when I felt the mountain tremble as though it might collapse. It was like the chill of death that makes me shiver. Surely Delos was not so shaken before Latona built her nest and there gave birth to the twin eyes of heaven.

A great cry rose up all around us so that my master drew closer to me, saying: 'Have no fear while I'm your guide.' 'Gloria in excelsis Deo' all nearby seemed to be shouting, from what I could understand. Stock still and awed, we stood like the shepherds who first heard that song. Finally trembling ceased, and the song ended.

We continued on our way, our eyes cast down to see the shades along the ground. They had returned to their former weeping. We had to hurry. What happened? I never remember my ignorance of anything else ever causing such anxiety. My need to know was never stronger than then, and I fell deep into my thoughts. I went on, full of questions but afraid to ask and unable to imagine any answer. 

 
 

 

 

 

 

Statius

Canto 21

 Canto 21: 1-135 meeting Statius

The water that the Samaritan woman begged to be given as a special grace, I thirsted for, as I hurried after my leader over bodies strewn along the way. I still was saddened by their punishment, though it was just.

“My brothers, the peace of God be with you!” Focused on those lying at our feet, we had not noticed him until he spoke. A shade had come up behind us, as in Luke’s story where two were walking alone on the road when Christ, newly risen from the cave that was his sepulcher, suddenly appeared to them.

Virgil greeted him: “Sir, I am sentenced to eternal exile by the highest judge, and rightly so, but may you find peace among the assembly of the blessed.”

He replied, even as we kept moving. “If God does not think that you are worthy, sir, then what brings you so far upstairs?'

My teacher answered: “This man. Those marks were put on him by the angel, so he is good to go. His spirit is akin to yours and mine, and yet he cannot climb without help because he does not see as we see.  In his case, the flax that Clotho weaves day and night is not yet spun completely. So I have been pulled from the wide jaws of the underworld to guide him as far as I can. But do you know what made the mountain quake so hard just now. Was it shaken by the sea? What made all that noise?”

His questions made my thirst less parching, if only because I had hope for answers.

The other explained: “This mountain never falls or erupts. Nothing ever changes it, except heaven, and no rain or hail or snow or fog or frost falls above the gentle rise of those three steps at the gate below. There are no clouds up here, no lightning-flashes, no Thaumas' daughter, who appears in so many places in the sky down there. There is no smoke in the air. Lower down, below the place where Peter's vicar sets his feet, there can be trembling, but earth has never shaken these parts above the gate as far as I know. This part of the mountain trembles for only one reason: it happens when when a soul feels pure and ready to rise, and it sets out on its ascent, and a great cry arises. A soul that wants to sin opposes the will to move, but once that wish is gone, and the soul is penitent, then the will is free to decide when it is ready to go higher. When that time comes, the soul may be surprised but it moves. I have been lying here in this pain for more than five hundred years, but just now I felt the will to rise. That was when you felt the shaking, and what you heard was the pious spirits on the mountain praising the Lord--may He soon raise all of them!”

That is what he told us, and since it is true that the greater the thirst the more the drinking pleases, I cannot begin to tell how relieved I was.

My wise leader said: “I understand the net that catches you here and how you get free of it, and why the mountain shakes and where the shouts come from, but please tell me who you were and why you sprawled here for centuries.”

The spirit replied: “I lived in notoriety on earth in the time when great Titus, aided by the highest King, avenged the blood that Judas sold. I was famous then but faithless. My poems were liked and thought fine enough that Rome brought me from Toulouse and adorned my head with myrtle. I was called Statius. People on earth know that name as belonging to a singer of Thebes and then of great Achilles (though I did not do so well with Achilles). My inspiration came from the sacred flame that has lit a thousand others--I mean the Aeneid. That poem was my mother and nurse. Without it, my poetry would not have any weight at all. I would have given a lot to have lived on earth when Virgil lived. I would have stayed pagan a whole year longer.”

Virgil turned to me with a look that seemed to say: 'Say nothing.'  But willpower cannot always control everything. Laughter and tears will follow the events from which they spring. And those who are most truthful can least control them.  So I smiled, hinting at the laughter in my spirit.

“May your great journey end in good if you tell me why you are amused,” he said.

Now I was caught between one side forbidding me to speak, and the other bidding it. My master understood my predicament. “Well, all right,” he said. “Speak. Tell him what he wants to know.”

So I began: “Ancient soul, you may wonder at my smile, but I have a much greater wonder for you. This guide of mine here, my eyes on high, this in fact is Virgil, the one from whom you drew the power to sing of men and gods. If you believed another reason caused my smile, forget it. It was only those words that you spoke of him."

Already he was stooping to embrace my teacher's feet, but Virgil said: “Brother, do not touch me now, for I am a ghost and so are you!”

The other rose. ”My devotion to you warms me so much that I forgot our emptiness; it makes me feel as if we are embodied.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

the fifth angel

Canto 22

Canto  22: 1-54 the unthriftiness of Statius     

Another mark had been erased from my forehead. Those who thirst for justice are blessed, the angel had announced, including the word “thirst” without adding the word “hunger.” He had shown the way to circle six and now he was left below. Climbing more lightly than on the other stairs, I easily followed the swift souls now.

Virgil was saying to the other: “To me our climb is going to seem short. Fondness, when it is based on virtue, always ignites fondness in return. I learned of your regard for me after Juvenal descended to Limbo and joined us. Since that time my fellow feeling toward you has been as close as anyone can feel for another that one has yet to meet. So forgive me now if like an old friend I speak with too much familiarly. Tell me, if you will: how could greed find any place in your heart, which you filled so carefully with so much wisdom?”

Statius smiled at him a little. “All of your words are welcome as they show your concern for me. It seems that because of the terrace where I lay, you assume that I must have been greedy. That assumption is incorrect. O cursèd hunger for gold, to what extremes will you not drive the human heart? I took to heart this line of yours in which you raged at greed. If I had been greedy, right now I would be down in inferno among the rolling weights and dismal jousts. In fact, I was punished here for thousands of months because I was so un-greedy! Yes, we can open our hands and spend too liberally, and that was why I was here. Here a fault directly opposite to another fault is grouped together with it, for both alike are cause for sorrow. So I lay here among those who wither for their former greed, even though unlike them I was prodigal. How many more shaved heads to come will be, as I was, ignorant of this evil? How many will remain financially irresponsible throughout life and in the hour of death!”

 

 

This Canto sets up complex relationships among Dante and Virgil (a pagan visionary) and Statius (a flawed Christian). A follower of the other two, can it be that Dante is more properly religious than the pagan and more properly moral than the Christian?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Terrace six
(gluttony)

 

 

 

 

Canto  22: 55-129 the Christian poet and pagans

The country poet asked a further question. “To write about Jocasta’s double sorrow, you invoked help of the goddess Muse. At that time, surely you had not yet found true faith? If you were faithless at that time, then what light later cleared away the darkness for you so that you could set sail and follow the fisherman?”

And the other answered: “You raised the veil for me. Because of you I became not only a poet but also a Christian. You led me to drink from the springs of Parnassus, and you lit my way toward God. You went before, like one by night that carries a light behind him so that his followers may see, though he remains in darkness. Let me add some color to this sketch. Your words were these: The centuries are renewed. Justice returns as in the first age of the world. The new child descends from heaven. These words agreed with the news growing in my lifetime, for already then the world was pregnant with the new faith, fathered by many messengers of the eternal kingdom. The more I heard them, the more holy these preachers seemed to me, so that when Domitian started to persecute them, I shared their tears, and I comforted them for as long as I lived. Their righteous ways made me despise all other sects. In fact, I had been baptized before I wrote my verses about the march of thirsting Greeks to the rivers of Thebes, but I always hid my Christian beliefs. Out of fear I pretended that I was still a pagan. For that weakness, I ran laps on circle four for more than four centuries! But tell me now, while we have time on our walk: where is our ancient Terence? Where’s Caecilius, Plautus, Varro? If they are damned, do you know where?”

My leader replied: “Those, Persius, and I, and many others are with that Greek who most suckled the Muses. We are all in prison below, in the first dark circle. Down there we discuss the mountain where our nurses live forever. Euripides is with us, Antiphon too, Simonides, Agathon and the rest of the Greeks who used wear the laurel crown. Some of the women you wrote about also can be seen there: Antigone, Deïphyle, Argia, and Ismene (still sad as ever), she that revealed Langìa, the daughter of Tiresias, Thetis, and Deïdamìa with her sisters.”

Both poets then were silent, but when freed from the constraint of stairs and walls, they again looked all around intently. Already four handmaids of the day were left behind and the fifth was at the chariot-shaft, guiding its gleaming tip still higher.

My leader said: “It might be better to turn our right shoulders to the outer edge, circling right around the mountain as usual.”

So we followed our custom and proceeded with some confidence because of that worthy soul’s encouragement: the two in front and, coming after, I alone. Their conversation gave me understanding of the art of verses.
 

 
 

 Canto 22: 130-155  circle six and the tree of temptation 

Soon, however, their pleasant talk was stopped by a tree in the middle of the path. Its fruits smelled savory and good, but apparently so that nobody could climb them, the branches of this tree tapered down from top to bottom, just the opposite taper of a fir. To one side, our way was blocked by clear water falling through the upper leaves from the rock high above.  

As the two poets neared the tree a voice from among the boughs called out: Of this food you shall not eat.

And then it said: Mary prayed briefly to complete the marriage-feast but she prays long for you.

Roman wives of ancient times were happy to drink only water.

Daniel despised feasts and grew wise.

The world’s first age was as good as gold. Hunger made acorns taste sweet. Thirst made every brook flow with nectar.

Honey and locusts nourished John the Baptizer in the desert, for which he is as glorious and great as the Gospel reveals.

 

 
 

Canto 23

   Canto 23: 1-133 Forese Donati 

I was searching the green branches, like one that wastes time hunting baby birds, when my more than father spoke. “Let’s go, son: the time we are given should be put to better use.”

I quickly turned my face and feet to follow the two sages whose words had made my steps so easy, but suddenly there were voices singing Open my mouth, Lord,” in tones of both joy and torment.

“Dear father, what am I hearing?” I asked.

“Shades,” he said. “They may be untying the knots that bind them.”

Just as pilgrims lost in fervor, when overtaking strangers on the road, examine them carefully, so coming up behind us at a quicker pace than ours and passing by, a group of souls, looked us over in silence and sanctimony. Their eyes were dark and sunken, their faces pale, their flesh so wasted that they seemed to be all bones. I do not imagine that Erysichthon had become so skinny when he was most in terror of starvation. I thought to myself: 'Here are the corps from the siege of Jerusalem where Mary scavenged on her son!'

Their eyes looked like rings from which the gemstones dropped out. One who tries to see the letters 'OVO' in people’s faces would have had no trouble in making out the beaks. I could not believe that the mere smell of the fruit and wet leaves would have led to their condition. I could not see anything there that would turn anyone so twiggy. I would not have understood more about them except that out of the recesses in his head a shade fixed his sights on me and loudly cried: “What grace is shown to me now!”

From his face I could not tell who he was, but the sound of his voice showed me the parts of it that starvation had erased. It sparked my memory, and I knew that I was looking at Forese.

“Never mind the color of the scales on my skin, or my lack of flesh, but tell me the truth about yourself!” He begged. “Who are your two companions? Why don’t you answer? Speak to me.”

“I am so shocked I cannot speak, Nobody can speak well when distracted,” I responded. “I wept for the loss of your face when you died, and now that I see your face in fact has lost so much flesh that my tears must flow again. Tell me in God's name what’s eating you away?”

He answered me: "From the eternal court a force in the water falls onto the tree there behind us. That is why I starve. All of us that cry here used to eat and drink too much in life, so we follow our guts here now. The aroma from the fruit and sprinkled leaves puts us in pain with hunger and thirst, and not only once but again and again each time we come circling back around. I say pain, but I should say ecstasy, for our torment at this tree is joyful like Christ’s, when he called upon Elì and freed us with the blood of his veins.”

And I to him: “Forese, not even five years have rolled by since the day when you left the world for better life remarried to God, and your good sorrow did not begin until almost your last hour, I believe? I supposed that I might find you down below, among those repaying time. How did you get up here so fast?”

He replied: “My dear little widow with her floods of tears! I did love her! Nell’s sighs and prayers lifted me from the slope of the waiting area and carried me above all of the floors below. She is precious and beloved of God as she is singular in good deeds. Yet the barbarian parts of Sardinia are home to many more modest women than the barbarous city where I left her. O dear brother, what should I tell you? In my vision right now I see a time, not long after this hour, when from the pulpit it shall be forbidden for the brazen ladies of Florence to flaunt their tits in public. What barbarian women, what Saracen women, have ever needed such a dress code? If these shameless creatures only knew what horror the swift heavens are preparing, their mouths would be spread wide open by howling. If my foresight is right they will be mad with sorrow before there is hair on the faces of the babes they now lullaby. But, cousin, you must hide your story no longer. Look, all of these people here gape in wonder at you as you veil the sun.”

At that I replied to him: “What you were to me and what I was to you, it is so painful to remember! Well, a few nights ago sister moon appeared full just around over there. That's when my leader brought me away. Through the deep darkness of the forever dead, he led me in this still-living flesh. Then with his guidance I left all that behind, and came climbing and circling all the levels of this mountain as they straighten the crooked of the world. He promises to stay with me until I find Beatrice, and then he must leave me. That’s what he says, and he’s Virgil. The other one with me is the soul for whom all the terraces of this kingdom quaked just now. It shook him from the ground and let him go.”

 

 

the reformed gluttons in circle six are anorexic

Both Dante and Forese have serpentlike characteristics in this canto, suggesting the Eden story in Genesis. Compare discussion of the reptilian brain in Lesson 19.

 

 

 

 

     
 

Canto 24

  Canto 24: 1-34  companions of Forese 

I continued: “Maybe he would like to travel faster but company slows him down.” We spoke and moved rapidly like ships driven by tail winds, but the things that looked dead twice over kept staring at me. Even with their hollowed sockets, they could see I was living.

“Where’s Piccarda? Do you know?”

He answered: “My sister? She already rejoices in her crown on high Olympus. Yet she was no more virtuous than beautiful, I think.”

“Well, who’s here that’s worth looking at?”

“Fasting evaporates our features, but names are not forbidden to us.” He began pointing his finger. “He there is Bonagiunta, Bonagiunta of Lucca, and that one just beyond him, the face more cracked and scaly than the rest, held Holy Church within his arms. He was from Tours. Just now he is purging Lake Bolsena eels served alla vernaccia.”

He named many, one after another, and they seemed pleased to be noticed. None actually turned out to be very frightening, except that I saw, gnashing his teeth on nothing in his hunger, Ubaldino dalla Pila, and Bonifazio, who with his crozier led and fed a multitude. I saw Messer Marchese, who used to drink in Forlì and could never get enough.

 
 
 

  Canto 24: 34-63  Bonagiunta of Lucca

But if any of them was more interesting than the rest, it was the one from Lucca. He was muttering at me, as if he knew me, but all I could make out was some word that sounded like “Gentucca.” His mouth was the part of him that justice most had wasted, but I tried to speak to him: “You want to speak? You must speak in a way that I understand so that both of us can know what you mean.”

“A woman shall make my city please you, even if men hate it,” he got out. “She already is born but she does not yet wear a wimple. If you don’t understand, time will tell what I mean. But look, are you are the one who wrote the new songs, starting with Ladies that have intelligence of love”?

I answered: “Well, I listen when Love talks and, what he says deep inside me, that is what I write.”

“O, now I get it, brother,” he said. “That’s what kept the Notary, Guittone, and me from writing sweetly in the new style! Your pens followed whatever Love happened to dictate, but ours didn’t! What separates one style from the other, those who come after will judge.” Then he went silent, as though he was satisfied.

 
 
 

  Canto 24:  64-102  Forese’s prophecy 

Soon, as birds that winter along the Nile sometimes flock high in the air and then, picking up speed, form a line, so all the souls gathered there turned from us and soared away, light as they were through skinniness and enthusiasm. Yet Forese let the holy ones pass and he came along behind with me, like one exhausted by running who lets companions race ahead while he ambles along until the gasping in his breast returns to normal.

“How long until I see you here again?” he asked.

“How long will I live?” I said. “I’ll think about coming back. I’ll give it lots of thought because goodness is lost every day in the place where I happen to live. I’m sure it must be coming to an end.”

“You’ve got that right,” he said. “And I see the one most to blame. A beast drags him toward the valley of the unforgiven. It goes faster and faster, until it throws him on the ground. His body is horribly mutilated. The wheels do not have long to turn until you understand what I am saying. Now I must go, for time is too precious here to loaf along at your pace.”

As sometimes a horseman canters ahead of a troop of riders to seize the honor of starting a fight, he leapt away with long strides, and left me with those two noble world leaders, and soon he had raced ahead so far that my eyes could not make out his body any better than my mind could conceive what he had meant.

 

 
 

  Canto 24:  103-132  a second tree 

In a short time a second tree came into view, its branches green and weighted down with fruit. As we came nearer. I could see a crowd beneath it. They were  raising up their hands toward the branches and calling—who knows what. They looked like foolish children begging as one teases them by dangling the thing they want just out of their reach. When they went away as if the wiser, it was our turn to approach the great tree of disappointments.

“Pass on. Come no closer. This is the child of that fruit tree from which Eve plucked and ate.”

The voice spoke out among the leaves. I do not know whose voice it was. Virgil, Statius, and I drew together and kept moving along beside the cliff.

“Remember those accursèd cloud-born centaurs, their breasts half beast half man. They made war on Theseus when they were drunk with wine.”

“Remember those Hebrews whose thirst showed them to be unfit for Gideon’s army in the assault on Midian.”

As we heard the ancient cases of gluttony recalled, we stayed close to the side of the path and kept moving until the road became empty again. Then we spread out a bit and for at least a thousand paces, each of us silent, deep in thought.

 

 
 

  Canto 24: 133-154  the sixth angel

“You three there by yourselves!” I jumped like a timid beast suddenly awakened. “What are you thinking as you walk?” I tried to make out where the voice was coming from, but never was glass or metal in a furnace so glowing and so red as the one I saw.

“If you want to go up, here is your turn. This is the way to find peace.”

The shining face had blinded me. I averted my eyes and followed behind my teachers like someone led only by what he hears. I felt striking my face a breeze like of May that stirs a fragrance of grass and flowers. I also sensed the moving of his feathers, with the scent of ambrosia, and I heard: 'Blessèd are they whose breasts are not filled with gross desires, but who hunger for what is just.”

 
 
 

Canto 25

    Canto 25: 1-33
Climbing to the seventh terrace
   

There was little time to waste. The sun had passed over the meridian, now in Taurus, with the Scorpion opposed in night. Determined to continue the climb without delay, we thrust into the entry, one before the other in single file, so narrow were those stairs. And yet I hesitated like a baby stork that raises its wings and then lowers them again. Just as it wants to fly and yet fears to leave its nest, I wanted to ask a question but then lacking confidence I held back.

Finally, when my mouth was open as if I were about to speak, my gentle father, despite our hurry, encouraged me: “The bow is bent back to the arrow’s iron tip. Shoot!”

“How can anyone grow thin here? Nobody here needs to eat!”

He answered: “Well, that may not be such a hard question if you recall how Meleager was consumed in the same amount of time that it took his log to burn. Or consider how within a glass your image moves at the same time as your body's slightest motion. But this seems to be a problem for Statius here to resolve. He can do it. I call on him to doctor this wound.”

Statius answered him: “If I tell him the facts of life, my excuse will be that I can’t deny you anything.”

 
 

The physical nature of the soul has the pilgrim perplexed. Statius is called upon to answer. 

 

   Canto 25: 34- 108 
  Statius on the facts of life 
  

And he began to me: ”Son, if you can hear my words and follow them, they will explain what you need to know. The generative power is a perfect fluid that does not travel through the veins like ordinary blood but instead it gathers from all parts of the body in your heart, like so much uneaten food on a table. When this meal is prepared, it flows into the male organs and from there it later drops into the natural vessel of the female. There it mixes with the corresponding fluid, one passive and the other active, owing to its perfection, and the mixture then begins coagulating and thickening and eventually quickening into its future form. Having become plant-like, it keeps developing—it begins moving like a sea-sponge, and from that stage it starts sprouting organs from the seeds. And so, my son, the generative power spread from the hearts of the begetters engender new individuals, but how do these new lives turn from animal to human? This is the point at which wiser men than you have stumbled through mistaken belief that the soul is completely separate from the body. They got this wrong only because they could not identify any particular body part as the place where soul resides. Open your heart now to the truth. Once the embryo is completed with the development of a human brain, the Creator rejoices and breathes into it a spirit, full of power to grasp all that it finds around it, and the result is the new human soul that senses, and emotes, and knows. If an analogy may serve, the whole process can be compared to the sun's radiance which, after blending with the juice of the mature vine, finally turns into a grape. Then comes the wine making. When Lachesis runs out of thread, the soul detaches from the flesh, taking away with it the higher properties of memory, intellect, and will, which indeed become more keen than ever. As if by miracle, the soul all by itself knows on which shore to fall. As soon as it arrives there, light shining through the atmosphere of the place gives it an image like its former body, including organs for each sense, even sight. This ghost is like a rainbow made by light projected through air full of rain drops, but it begins flickering and moving about like a flame, as its appearance changes with its desire. This commonly is called a shade, since the disembodied soul is a little like a shadow, but we speak, and we smile, and we cry and sorrow as you have heard here on the mountain. And, as our desires change, so do our forms, and that’s the short answer to your question.”
 

 

 

What Statius calls the soul, we might describe as human consciousness or sense of self, but it is immortal, and it can be displayed beyond death as an image projected by light radiating in an appropriate gas, such as the atmosphere in inferno or purgatory

 

 

 

 

 

Blake,
stair to level 7

 

 


 
Canto 25: 109-139 The bank of flames 

By now we had come to the last circling terrace and, though turned to the right, we were facing another problem. The bank was shooting flames. There was only one skimpy trail to follow at the outside rim, where blasts of wind blew back the flames a little from the ledge. That is where we went one by one, and I was sure that I would either burn or fall.

My leader said: “Watch closely, for missteps here are easy to make.”

Singing could be heard from the heart of that big fire. It was God of Greatest Mercies which made me no less anxious. And I saw spirits walking in the flames. They distracted my focus from my footsteps.

After the hymn was sung through to its end they shouted aloud: I know not man.  Then they began the hymn again, in softer tones. When it was finished, next they cried: “Diana stayed in the woods and drove Callisto out for having felt the poisoned sting of Venus.” Then they again began to sing, calling on wives and husbands who were as faithful as virtue and marriage require.

And so, I thought, this measure must go on for as long as the fire burns them. This must be their treatment until the last of all their wounds is healed.

 
 

 

 

 

 

 

Blake: level 7

 

Canto 26

  Canto 26: 1-72 Chastising fire   

As we edged along single file beside the rim, the good master often warned to heed him and take care. Striking my right side, the beams of the western sun seemed to be turning from blue to white, and so my shadow was growing in the flames. It made a stir among the ghosts that I could see walking along nearby. They told one another: “He seems to be more than air!” Some came over to me as close as possible without leaving the fire.

One was addressing me. “Hello there! You that follow the others! Is that how you show respect for them? Can you speak to me? I am burning to hear some words from you, and I am not the only one. All of us here in the flames, dried out more than Indians or Ethiops without drink, are thirsting to know you. Tell us how your body blocks the sun? Apparently death has yet to net you?”

I would have introduced myself, but my attention was drawn away by another strange sight. Ghosts had been approaching from the opposite direction in the middle of the flaming road, and when the two groups met there was not much greeting, but all of them suddenly started kissing one another, over and over again without stopping. It was like a meeting of ant columns, where the leaders on one side stick their faces into the faces of those opposite, as if their antennae could broadcast their travels and adventures. These meetings abruptly broke up, however, and the opposing ghosts then began screeching, each one trying to make more noise than the others.

Sodom and Gomorrah!” the newcomers shrieked.

Pasiphaë wants bulls to mount her!” the others bellowed.

Then, like cranes, some flying toward cold Riphaean mountains to beat the heat, the others flying toward desert sands to keep  warm, one flock went off and other stayed near, both groups in sadness returning to their former songs and respective calls.

I was approached by the same ghosts that I had attracted before, and they were still eager to hear me speak. They repeated the same questions as before, and I answered them: “All of you are sure to gain peace someday! May heaven soon take you up into its vastness and love! Yes, it’s true, I have not yet left my limbs behind on earth. They are neither dried nor green, but they are still attached--blood, joints and all--but there’s a lady above through whose blessing I have been allowed to enter your world, and I am climbing up from here to see her. But tell me, who are you? Tell me so that I may write it down. And who are those that fly from you, now that your backs are turned to them?”

For a moment each one of those ghosts seemed not less confused than a loner long in the mountains and new come to town, when he stares in every direction dumbfounded, dirty and wild.

 
 

 

 

Guido
Guinizelli

 

 Canto 26: 73-148
The shame of Guido Guinizelli and Arnaut

Shock is soon overcome in noble hearts, however, and the one that had first questioned me responded: “You are blessed indeed, for you will die a better death because of all that you learn here. The group behind us all did the deed by which triumphant Caesar earned the title of queen. They accuse themselves by shouting "Sodom," as you hear, and they fan the flames with their shame. We are different, too. We did not mate like humans, but like beasts, and so you heard us in our disgrace shout the name of the pervert that wanted to be screwed like a cow. So that’s our story, but if you want to know our names, there’s not enough time to tell. I don’t know any names anyway, except my own. I am Guido Guinizzelli, I have arisen this far only because I was truly sorry before the end.”

I then almost knew the feeling of those two sons who at last found their mother only after she had been sentenced to death by raging Lycurgus. For this spirit had been like a father to me, and to others better than me, in writing sweet and graceful love songs. For a long time as I gazed at him, I went on thinking, not listening, not speaking, and because of the fire not getting any closer to him. Having seen enough, I told him that I was his servant, and I tried to say it nicely so that he might believe it.

He answered: “Your words leave such a deep impression on me that Lethe cannot wash it out or smooth it over. But if you mean what you say, tell me why you said it. Why should you care about me?”

I replied: “For as long as the modern style lasts, even the ink in your songs will remain precious.”

“Brother,” he said, pointing to a ghost just ahead, “That one was better than me as a craftsman of the mother tongue. He surpassed everyone both in love lyrics and romances. Some think that fellow from Limoges was better, but they are fools whose opinions are based on hearsay; they do not judge with sense or reason. The same praise was heaped on Guittone long ago, until finally most people came to see the truth. Now, if you are ever authorized enter the cloister where Christ is abbot of the brothers, say a Paternoster there for me, as much of it as we need in this our world, where we no longer have the ability to sin.”

Then, perhaps to avoid being touched by another pressing near him, he vanished through the fire like a fish diving through the water to the bottom. I inched ahead toward the one who had been pointed out to me, and I said to him that if I knew his name I would try to prepare a place of welcome for it.

He readily answered: “Your kindness pleases me so much I cannot and would not hide my name from you. I am Arnaut, mourning and singing as I go. I grieve for my past stupidity, and I rejoice for the joy to come, I hope. Please swear, by the power that leads you to the top of the stairs, to remember my suffering.”

Then he also vanished in the chastening fire.

 

 

Dante is cured of his admiration for love poets

 

Canto 27

  Canto 27: 1-93  Passing through the fire

Now the sun’s first rays were lighting the ground where its maker’s blood once fell. The River Ebro lay under the high Scales, and noon burned down on Ganges’ waters, but day was ending on the terrace. Through the flames an angel sang Beati mundo corde! with a voice blissful, radiant and more than human. Then I heard him speak to us: “Come, do not stop your ears against the song, blessèd souls. There is no way to go higher, except through the stinging of the fire.”

I felt like a man being laid in his grave. I looked at the fire, and as I reached out to feel its heat with my hands, I remembered the burning human bodies that I saw one time.

My companions turned kindly to me, and Virgil said: “Son, this may be torment, but it won’t kill you. Remember how we passed safely even on the wings of  Geryon? Do you think that you will be hurt now that we are so much nearer to heaven? I promise you. Not a single hair on your head will be singed, even if you are stuck in the middle of this fire for a thousand years. If you don’t believe me, test it. See what happens when you try to burn the hem of your robe. Hold it to the flames. It’s time now to put away all fear. Come now! Let’s go in!”

Yet I could not move. I was stuck stock still.

He must have been disappointed in me when he saw that I stayed stubbornly frozen there, but he tried again: “Now imagine, son, that this wall stands between you and Beatrice.”

Hearing the name that ever blooms in my mind, I melted. It was as when Pyramus heard the name of Thisbe , when he opened his eyes to gaze once more upon her, when the mulberry turned red. My knowing leader shook his head and said: “Well, are we going to stay here all day on this side?” He smiled like someone tempting a child with fruit, and then he was gone into the fire. Statius, who for a long way had walked between us, now was to go in last.

As soon as I was inside, it was hot enough that I could have thrown myself into molten glass to cool down. My dear father kept trying to encourage me by speaking as if Beatrice was near: “Even now I can almost see her eyes.” However, we stayed attuned to the voice singing beyond the flames, and finally it led us out of the flames to the bottom of the stairway. Venite, benedicti Patris mei resounded there from a dazzling light. It blinded me and I had to look away.

“Day departs and night approaches fast,” the voice continued. “Do not delay. Hurry along before dark.”

The stairs went straight up through the rock, and my body blocked the last rays of daylight from falling on them. After we had taken only a few of the stairs my shadow began fading, and we knew that it was sunset. The mountain again seemed to take from us the power and desire to keep climbing.

Each of us made a bed of one of the steps, as night claimed all of the vast sky by turning it to a uniform shade of darkness. The two of them were above me like herdsmen with staffs overseeing a goat that has been quick and reckless on the heights and then has grazed busily but now chews its cud in peace and rests silent in the shade. Or as shepherds keep watch the whole night in the open beside their quiet flocks, to prevent beasts from scattering them, so the pair then seemed to me, all three of us closed up on all sides by walls of rock. In the little part of heaven that I could see beyond them, the stars appeared bigger and brighter than usual, and then I was overcome by sleep, which so often reveals things to come.

 
 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blake,
third night

 

 

 Canto 27: 94-120 
 Dante’s dream of Leah and Rachel
  

I dreamed. It was probably in the hour when the eastern slope first was being lit by Cytherea, flaming with love’s fire as always. It seemed to me that I saw a lovely young lady in a meadow gathering flowers, and singing: “Let anyone who asks my name know that I am Leah, and here I weave myself a garland with my own good hands. I may be happy with my looks after I have dressed myself, but my sister Rachel never leaves her mirror at all. She sits before it all day. She is as fond of gazing into her own fair eyes as I am to dress myself. Her delight is in seeing, mine in doing.”

As dawn becomes increasingly welcome to travelers as they return nearer to home, so I was then glad when the images all around were being put to flight and sleep with them. The great masters already were up when I awoke. “This is the day that you will have your wish. Among all the branches there’s only one sweet apple that mortals seek, and you are going to find it today.” Virgil was speaking to me, and no gift ever gave me as much pleasure as his promise.

 
 
 

 Canto 27: 121-142  Virgil departs   

With each step of the climb desire upon desire so seized me that I thought my wings must be growing. When all the stairs had run out below, we were on the top step of all, and Virgil looked me in the eye and spoke: “My son, you have seen both the earthly and eternal fires. It has taken all the wit and art in me to bring you this far along the steep and narrow ways. Now we have come to the point from which I am helpless to see farther. Now your own pleasure must be your guide. You may sit and watch the heavens shining before you here, or you may roam around looking at the fresh grasses, flowers, and trees which the earth produces. Your will is free, so do whatever it chooses—it would be unworthy of you to do otherwise. You are free, so govern yourself with your own crown and miter. Do not wait for any more words or signs from me. May the lovely eyes come to you rejoicing, which weeping came to me.”

 


Blake, earthly paradise procession

 

Canto 28

 Canto 28: Lethe   

While the broad blossoming canopy still sheltered my eyes from the new day's glare, I wanted to see the whole divine forest and its surroundings, so without waiting any longer I began to explore the fragrant grounds. I was caressed and cooled by a steady gentle breeze that also bent the trembling boughs in the same direction as the sacred mountain’s early morning shade. The joyous songs of small birds in the tall tree tops were attuned with the rustling leaves, as by the shore at Classe when Aeolus lets loose the sirocco wind and, one by one, every branch in all the pines resounds.

 My steps gradually had taken me so far into the ancient wood that I no longer could have found my way back, when I was stopped from going farther by a stream, its grasses waving to the left in the slow current. All of the purest brooks back here have at least some impurity, but that water is perfectly clear, even though it flows in perpetual dark shade that blocks the light by day and night.

 Canto 28: Matelda

 As I stood there, my eyes passed over the creek to see the great variety of fresh May flowers, when there appeared to me—as sometimes something so wonderful appears that it scatters all thoughts--a lady walking alone. She sang as she picked flowers from among the choice blossoms that colored her way.

 I spoke to her: “Please, fair lady, warming yourself in rays of love--if I may guess from appearances what lies in your heart. You make me imagine what and where Proserpina was, before her mother lost her, and the spring. Will it please you to come closer so that I may know the song that you sing?”

 As a lady turns in the dance keeping her feet together on the ground, hardly putting one foot before the other, she turned toward me. With eyes lowered in maiden modesty to the red and yellow flowers, she did as I asked. The sound and meaning of her sweet song reached me as she came nearer.

 When she had come so near that the grass beneath her was wet with water from the charming stream, she favored me by raising her eyes. I do not think that so much radiance can have blazed out from beneath the lids of Venus on that day when her son accidentally shot her with his arrow! Straightening up, arranging in her hands the many colors that grow, unplanted, on that high terrain, she smiled.

 Why didn’t those waters part? The Hellespont with its huge heaving waves between Sestos and Abydos—still a check to men’s hopes--was not more frustrating to Xerxes or Leander! The little rivulet kept us only three paces apart.

 “You that questioned me—yes, you standing nearest--you are new here,” she began. “This was the original home of human beings. Are you confused that I am smiling here? My song Delectasti should have enlightened all of you, but your minds remain clouded. Well, do you want me to sing something else? I have a good answer to any question that troubles you.”

 I responded: “This water, the sound of wind among the trees—everything here contradicts what I was told about this place, and what I used to believe!”

She answered: “The fog begins to lift. Supreme Goodness, pleased only in good, made people good so that only good would be done. This place was given to them for eternal happiness, but they did not stay very long because they made a bad choice. They gave up fun and pure pleasure to work and suffer pain. The storms down below rise up from both land and sea toward the heat of the sun, as far as they can rise, but they cannot reach up here to cause any harm because this mountain peaks above the gate so high toward the heavens. The winds here simply circle around until at some point they happen to brush the summit and make all the forest resound. So fertile are the plants here that whenever even the slightest breeze touches them they pollinate the air and scatter seed everywhere. Your earth below then conceives and brings forth various plants to the extent that your climates and soils allow. That is why vegetation takes root down there even when there are no apparent seed sources. You are standing on blessed ground, teeming with life of every kind, and not only those that fruit on earth. The water that you see here does not spring from condensation of moist air. It is not like your rivers that flood or dry up. It flows instead steady and unchanging, pouring out here on this side of the hill exactly as much as is being refilled over on the other side. Here the stream is called Lethe and it can wash away the evils in people’s memories. Over there it is known as Eünoè, surpassing all in sweetness, and after both waters have been tasted, good memory is restored. Well, you may not be thirsting to hear me speak longer than I promised, but I think you will be happy to learn one more thing. Those ancient poets on Parnassus who recalled the age of gold and sang of its pleasures seem to have dreamed of this very place where the first people were so innocent. Here it is always spring, with every fruit always in season. This is the nectar of the ancestors.”

The beautiful lady’s words left my poets grinning.

 
     


Blake, griffin & Beatrice

 

Canto 29

  Canto 29: the procession of heavenly visitors

After her lecture, she began to sing like a lady touched by love: 'Beati quorum tecta sunt peccata!' And along the bank against the current's flow, she wandered alone in the forest shade like a nymph sometimes seeming to seek the sun and sometimes hiding away from it, while on my side I tried shorter steps to match.

We had not gone a hundred paces between us when both banks bent back toward the east, and we had not gone far in that direction when the lady turned and faced me, saying: “My brother, look and listen.”

Suddenly a brilliant light shot through all the forest like lightning. But lightning is gone in a flash and this, whatever it was, gradually kept growing brighter.

And with the light there came a melody so sweet that I could not resist the temptation to curse Eve’s nerve. How could she all by herself, a freshly created woman, decide to disobey heaven? Why could she not stay beneath the cover here? If she had lingered here tamely under this veil, I already would have been tasting the most delightful fruits of this place for a long time, and I would be enjoying them for a long time to come.

The sweet sound of that music kept growing more distinct as we kept walking, enchanted with the foretaste of eternal beauty, and wishing for even greater pleasure beneath the green boughs. I could hear the chant Hosanna, and then it seemed there were fires in the air over the stream far ahead.  

O sacred virgins, if I have suffered hunger, cold, and sleepless nights for your sake, I am forced now to call upon you for my reward. Let the springs of Helicon gush. Let Urania and her choir help me to put into easy verses things hard to understand.

At first they seemed distant, and I thought that they might be trees of gold, but as I soon came close enough to get a definite view, I recognized that they were branches forming a common candelabra, their seven flames arrayed gloriously on high, much brighter than the moon at mid-cycle in a midnight sky. Nearer to these mysterious celestial objects, I could tell that they were moving over the far bank toward us very slowly, so slowly that any bride processing to the alter could have outpaced them. I turned to my good Virgil in wonder, but he looked no less amazed.

All aglow now, the water reflected my image as if in a shimmering glass. I stood so close to the edge of the bank that only the river flowed between us, and with that better view I could see that the slowly advancing flames were trailing painted air, as if each candle were a brush in a painter's hand. It gave the appearance that there were seven banners overhead in the colors of the rainbow. They stretched as far away behind the branches as far as I could see. They may have been about ten paces apart from each other.

“You seem to be so blinded by the lights that you do not see anything else,” the lady chided.

I could just make out, under the seeming spectral sky made by those moving candles, a band of twenty-four followers, two by two, chosen elders crowned with lilies and clad in gleaming garments of an unearthly whiteness. All of them were singing: “Blessèd are you among the daughters of Adam and blessèd is your loveliness forever!”

They passed on the opposite bank with its flowers and verdant grasses, and after them, just as one light succeeds another in the heavens, there followed four living creatures, each crowned with green-leaved wreaths, each with six wings, each with feathers so full of eyes that the eyes of Argus, were they to be alive, would be just like them.

Reader, I am not going to describe their appearance more fully because I have far too much more to tell you, but go read Ezekiel who describes these creatures as he saw them descending from the frigid zone in wind and cloud and fire. They were just as he says in his pages, except for the wings, which were more like those that John describes.

At a short interval after these four came a two-wheeled chariot, pulled in triumph by a griffin. It raised a wing on each side of the middle banner of rainbow above, with three banners outside each wing so that none of the seven banners was severed, and the griffin’s wings above were hidden in blue from my view. In its bird parts the griffin was gold, but the rest of it was white, with a bit of red.

No victor, not Africanus, not even Augustus, ever rode through Rome is such a triumphal vehicle. Compared to that chariot, indeed, the sun's seems poor, for under Jove’s inscrutable  justice the sun’s can go astray and scorch the earth even as she prays for mercy. Near the right wheel, three ladies danced in a round. One was so flaming red she might not be noticed in a fire; another’s body seemed to be emerald, while the third looked as white as new-fallen snow. Sometimes the white one, but now the red one, appeared to lead the dance, and from her song the others took their movements, fast or slow. By the left wheel, four ladies dressed in purple danced to the cadence of a three-eyed one in their midst.

Behind that group I could see two old men, alike in honor and gravity. One dressed like those who follow great Hippocrates, whom nature made to protect the creatures she loves most, while the attire of the other showed an opposite disposition, his sword so bright and sharp that it scared me even from across the stream. Then I saw four others, humble in their looks, and, after them, an old man alone who seemed to walk in his sleep, despite an intense look on his face. All seven were dressed like the elders that led the procession, except that the garlands around their heads were made of red roses or other red flowers. From a greater distance away, it might have looked as if their eyebrows were on fire.  

When the chariot had drawn up directly across the stream from me, a forbidding thunder-clap was heard and all of that worthy throng behind the banners that had flown before them abruptly halted.

Canto 30

 Canto 30: Beatrice rebukes Dante    

As the seven stars direct helmsmen steering for port, so it was that the dutiful procession was stopped by the Wain of heaven which hides from us only in the fog of sin. The chosen people ahead of the griffin turned back toward the chariot as to their happiness, and one of them, apparently dispatched from heaven, sang out aloud three times: 'Veni, sponsa, de Libano.' And the others echoed him.

As quickly as from their graves at the last trumpet the blessèd shall arise as their restored fleshly voices sing joyous Hallelujahs, there over the holy chariot rose up ad vocem tanti senis, one hundred ministers and messengers of life eternal. They were chanting: 'Benedictus qui venis' and, tossing flowers up into the air and all around them, 'Manibus, oh, date lilïa plenis!'

I have seen the sky at dawn, its eastern parts all rosy and the rest serene and clear, with the rising sun clad in soothing mist so that the eye can endure its sight for a time. Even so, within that cloud of blossoms tossed from angelic hands and fluttering back down all around the chariot, there arose a figure that had been hidden during the procession of heavenly ones. She was olive-crowned above a veil of white, and robed in a flamelike mantle of lively green.

It had been a long time since I had trembled in her presence. Her radiance had pierced me even before I had outgrown my childhood, and now I felt all the power of that former love once again, even though I could not see her flesh. Like a child running hurt to his mother I wanted to turn to my dearest of fathers and cry: “Every drop of my blood is on fire again!”

But Virgil was gone. Virgil, in whom I hoped to be saved, gone. Vanished. And not all of Eden then could stop the tears from staining my cheeks, that he had washed in dew.

“Dante,” she cried. (I’m sorry I must mention my name.) “Dante, don’t waste tears on Virgil. There’s another pain that you should howl for!”

I turned when I heard her call my name, and I saw her glaring at me from across the water. The veil crowned with Minerva's leaves did not cover her scorn. She had risen up there on the left side of her chariot like a captain jumping to the prow so that he can shout down at his crew on shore to order them back to work.

“Look at me!” She spoke like one hardly able to hold back the hottest words: “This is me. I am Beatrice. How do you dare to come up here? Are you not aware that this place is open only to those who are happy?”

It was a stern rebuke, a bitter taste. I lowered my eyes to the clear water, but when I saw myself reflected, such shame weighed on my head that I looked down into the grass. Slowly then I realized that the angels were singing, and their song was not “Lady, why do you torment him so?” They showed far greater care for me, for they were singing in perfect tune with the music of the spheres In te, Domine, speravi, up to pedes meos.

I had never truly sorrowed until then. I was like a flame that melts its candle, or like the icepack formed by freezing Slovak winds along the peaks in the spine of Italy, as the land that casts no shadow suddenly warms again.  The ice that had frozen my heart turned to water and vapor, and anguish poured from my eyes and mouth.

Standing still on the same side of the chariot, she turned her words to the merciful angels. “You watch all day, and you never sleep, for in the whole march of time you cannot miss even a single step day or night. Even so I watch him who weeps there, to assure that his regrets equal his sins. He had potential. The seeds of good disposition planted in him at birth should have grown marvelously. Just as the heavens urge each seed to grow to its fulfillment, according to the spheres that cluster over its nativity, so the plan of grace, abundant and divine, rains from clouds so high above that none can see them. But how has this one grown? The richest and most fertile soil, when left to go to seed, sprouts the most noxious weeds! For a time my face sustained him. I guided him with my youthful eyes, to lead him with me in the right direction. But then I came to my new life, and as soon as I crossed that threshold, he turned away. I rose from the flesh, enriched in the beauty and virtue of my spirit, but to him I was no longer lovable, and he lost interest. He gave himself to others chasing illusions that never can come true. I tried with dreams and other arts to call him back, but he paid no real attention, and so my inspiration was lost, and no means were left to save him, except to show him the suffering below. I went weeping to the doorway of the dead and begged the help of the one of them to lead him through hell and remorse, and so here he is at Lethe. It is decreed that he cannot cross to taste the life beyond unless he pays the price. He must pay in tears.”

Canto 31

Canto 31: Beatrice judges Dante

Without pause, she turned the sharp edge of her words straight at me. ''You there, you across the holy water, have I told the truth about you? Say it, tell everybody if my words are true!”

Confused replies struggled up to my mouth but died before they made their way out.

She waited for a minute, then continued: “What are you thinking? You must remember your sins. The memories have not been blurred in the water yet, have they? Confess yourself!”

As a crossbow breaks with too much tension from the over-stretching of the string, so that the arrow wobbles weakly toward its target and falls feebly short, so in the great strain of that moment I broke in a flood of tears. You would have needed sharp ears to detect the sound, but mixed up confusion and fear pulled from my mouth a little yes.

She was not finished: “If your desire for me guided you to love the ultimate good, then there would have been no end to your affection. What lesser goods can have attracted you to make such a display of yourself in pursuit of them?”

I hardly had the voice to answer, but between sighs I said: “After I could see your face no longer, false beauties remained before my eyes. They led me astray.”

She answered: “You could have kept silent or denied what you confess, and your faithlessness would still have been obvious to me as your judge. But stop crying and listen to your sentence. When a man confesses his sin with blushing cheeks in our high court, it can take the sharp edge off the sword. You may be able resist the next Siren’s call and the shame of straying, if you think how you ought to have responded to my death. You thought that my body was the most beautiful thing ever created in nature or in art, but then it was reduced to ashes and scattered. So if the highest beauty failed you in death, what other mortal thing ever again should move you to love? When attacked by transitory things, you should have risen up and followed me who was no longer one of them. You would have flown above the arrows of young girls and all passing novelties. A fledgling may be susceptible, but a full-fledged bird avoids repeat attacks by arrows, and nets too.”

I just stood there silent, like a guilty child ashamed, his eyes fixed on the ground, listening and recognizing his fault.

“Now that you are hurt by what you hear,” she added, “look up take more pain  from what you see.”

It was harder for me to look up than for a sturdy oak to be torn out of the earth by our northern wind, or by the gale that blows from Iarbas' lands, but when I managed to raise my head I could see that the angels had stopped strewing flowers, and I thought I could see Beatrice. Turning toward the creature that is one beast made of two, she seemed, even beneath her veil, even beyond the stream, more beautiful than her former self by as much as in life she had been more beautiful than all others. Remorse stung me. Others I had most loved now seemed to me most repulsive. Guilt ate my heart, and I was overcome.

Canto 31: immersion in Lethe

What happened next only she knows who I first had seen alone by the stream. Suddenly she was over me, and tugging me into the river up to my neck and saying: “Hold on fast!” She dragged me behind her through the water as lightly as a skiff until on the far side near the happy shore I heard 'Asperges me' sung so sweetly that I cannot find the words to describe it. There she let go, and plunged my head, and held it under in her hands for so long that I began to drown.

When she hauled me up, she took me into the dance of the four lovely ladies. Each one raised an arm above my head: “Here we look like nymphs to you, but in the heavens we are stars. We were created to serve Beatrice, before she descended to the world. We have come to bring you to her, so that you may receive all the joyous light of her eyes, but you will need the help of our three sisters, who see much deeper into things.” Thus they sang as they took me to face Beatrice who stood staring into the griffin's breast.

They said: “Do not look away. We bring you here before the emeralds which, long ago, pierced you with arrows of love.” A thousand desires hotter than any flame bound my eyes to those shining eyes, which still remained fixed on the griffin. Like the sun in two mirrors, the twofold beast shone in them, now with the one nature, now with the other nature.

Consider my wonder, reader, when I saw the thing itself remain as one but its image ever changing. While my soul was fed with this joy, but grew hungrier for it, the other three ladies, who appeared to be of a higher order, came forward, dancing to their angelic roundelay. “Turn, Beatrice, turn your holy eyes upon your faithful one, for he has come so far to see you. Be gracious, unveil your mouth to him so that he may see the second beauty that you still hide.”

O splendor of eternal living light, even a poet grown old in the shadow of Parnassus, or one completely drunk by its well, would not be so mad as to try to describe you as you looked, Heaven with its harmonies reflected in you, when in the wide air you unveiled yourself!

 
   


Blake, revelation of the harlot and giant

 

Canto 32

 Canto 32: rebirth of the tree of life

The old smile ensnared me in its familiar net. My fixed eyes were so intent to satisfy ten years of yearning that all my other senses were numb, oblivious to whatever was around them. Instinctively, however, I was forced to look toward the goddesses on my left when suddenly they cried out: “Let’s move!”

My eyes were blinded temporarily, as if smitten by the sun, but after they again became accustomed to lesser sights--lesser, I mean, compared to the greater from which they'd been forced to turn--I saw that the glorious procession had wheeled around on its right flank and now faced east, with the seven candles and the sun in front of it. As under cover of its shields a squadron turns to retreat, and follows its colors, before the rest of the army can rearrange its ranks, the soldiers of the heavenly kingdom who were marching in the front passed by before the chariot turned upon its yoke.

The ladies went back to their wheels and the griffin again pulled his blessèd load, but so gently that not a feather shook. Statius and I and the fair one who had dunked me were following the wheel that had made its turn in the smaller arc. We were marching slowly to an angelic hymn through the vaulting forest abandoned because of her fault who trusted the snake, but we had gone perhaps only as far as three arrow flights, end to end, when Beatrice came down from her carriage.

Murmuring about Adam, they circled a tree barren of foliage. The higher its branches, the wider they spread. The towering height to the top of the mighty tree would amaze even a native of the oldest jungle in India.

In the circle they were speaking. “Happy is your beak, griffin. It avoids this tree's sweet-eating fruit that makes the stomach ache.”

And the dual-natured animal replied: “So the good seed is saved.”

He pulled the pole of the car up next to the widowed trunk and yoked it there. As in the season when the sun hitches his steeds to the heavenly fish, and their rays combine so that our plants all begin to sprout their various colored buds, that tree then turned to a color less red than roses yet more blue than violets. All of the branches that had been so bare now lived again.

All of that company were chanting unearthly verses that I did not understand. I did not hear them out to the end, for consciousness left me, and I can’t explain why, although there might be some model for it in the story of those pitiless eyes whose long watch cost so much, those eyes that were lulled to sleep by hearing of Syrinx. But let others describe the onset of sleep, if they can paint it well. I must try to describe my awakening.

Canto 32: Dante’s apocalypse

The fabric of my sleep was torn by someone shouting. “Get up! What are you doing?”

As Peter, John and James were overcome by the sight of the apple tree blossoms that make the angels hunger for fruit and eternal marriage-feasts in heaven, but then their dream was broken by a word, which called them back to themselves, and they no longer saw Moses and Elijah, or their teacher's transfigured robe, so I awoke and saw, standing above me, only that same loving lady who had guided my steps along the river.

All confused I asked: “Where is Beatrice?”

She answered: “Beneath the new-sprung leaves at the root of the tree. Look there, and see. The company encircling her has ascended behind the griffin with a song more sweet and deep.”

I do not know if she said more, for now, before my eyes, appeared the one who had stopped me from thinking of any others. She was alone on the bare ground as if rooted and left behind to hold the wain that the dual natured beast had yoked. Seven nymphs surrounded her. In their hands they held lights never extinguished by Aquilon or Auster.

And she said: “You will not stay long in the wood. Soon you will be with me forever in that Rome where Christ is Roman. So watch the chariot, and for the good of a bad world, when you have gone back there, be sure to write down what you have seen here.” 

I was overwhelmed by her commands and lay prostrate at her feet. While I watched as she had ordered, I saw Jove’s bird swooping down through the tree, ripping its bark, shredding its flowers and fresh leaves. Never did lightning fall so fast out of thick cloud banks high in the atmosphere. The chariot rocked and reeled like a ship tossed by great waves in a tempest, now leeward, now windward.

Then came a fox that seemed to be starving, and it threw its skinny bones into the chariot as if to ride it in triumph, but my lady, calling out its crimes, forced it to slink away in retreat.

Then, from the perch where it had landed before, the eagle dropped to the chariot's floor and left it piled with feathers.

A grieving voice broke forth from heaven, crying: “O my little ship, how are you burdened!”

Next the earth seemed to split apart between the chariot wheels. The backside of a dragon rose from the rift, its poisoned tail thrust up through the platform, and as a wasp withdraws its sting, so it pulled back and tore out part of the floor.

As the dragon slithered off on its errant way, falling feathers covered all that was left. Both the pole shaft and the wheels were covered completely, like fertile soil with weeds, in less time than it takes to sigh.

Thus transformed, the structure grew three heads on the pole shaft and one at each of the four corners. The three had horns like oxen, but the four had only single horns upon their foreheads, altogether making such a monster as hardly ever seen before.

I saw a loose woman sitting secure as a fortress on a towering mountain. She cast provocative glances this way and that. A giant stood beside her, as if to keep her from being taken from him. They kissed each other a number of times, but when she turned on me her lustful, roving eye, that savage lover beat her from head to foot. Then, still full of jealousy and cruel rage, he unhitched the monster and dragged it and her so far into the wood that they were hidden from my view.

 
     
   

Blake, born to fly

 

Canto 33

Canto 33: immersion in Eunoe

Beginning their sweet psalm in tears, the ladies sang alternately by threes and fours 'Deus, venerunt gentes.’ Beatrice listened, sad and compassionate like Mary at the cross, but when they stopped their song so that she could speak, she rose to her feet and answered blazing like a fire: 'Modicum, et non videbitis me; et iterum, my beloved sisters, modicum, et vos videbitis me.'

She sent the seven off in order before her and gestured to me, the lady, and a last remaining sage to follow her. And so she went, but I do not believe that she had gone ten steps when her piercing eyes turned back to me with a somewhat calmer look, and she said: “Come along more closely so that, if I speak to you, you will hear me better.”

I obeyed and drew up near her, and she asked: “My brother, since we are together now, do you dare to ask me any questions?”

Like those who are too shy to speak to their betters, I could not form many words distinctly with my lips, but feebly I tried to say: “You know my questions and the answers, my lady.”

“Stutter no longer like a man in his own dream,” she commanded. “Stop being afraid and ashamed. Understand, there was once a vessel that the serpent broke but it exists no longer. Let those at fault beware: God is not afraid to take vengeance. The eagle that left its feathers on the car, as predator and prey, will have offspring someday. I see it clearly. I can predict: stars already near at hand promise us a time without more waiting, without delay, when a Five Fifteen sent by heaven shall kill the thieving wench and the giant that sins with her. If my words are obscure as those of Themis or the Sphinx, so that they cloud your mind, events soon to occur will be the Naiads that solve the riddle without the loss of flocks or ears of corn. Watch for them. Mark my words. Tell the living as they scurry toward death. And while you are writing, don’t leave out the story of the tree that has been robbed here not once but twice. Whoever takes from the tree blasphemes the creator who put it here for a reason that remains secret. The first soul to taste its fruit longed in pain for five thousand years and more until the rescuer arrived. You are still asleep if you do not see why it towers inverted, wider at its top. If useless ideas had not poured like Elsa through your brain, and your delight in them like red mulberries to Pyramus, you might have understood the justice of God in forbidding this fruit. But I see your mind is stone, petrified, so everything I say to you is hard and dark. Well, if you can’t write down what I am saying to you, then maybe you can try to sketch out a few parts of it—or just carry it back within you, like a pilgrim’s staff that returns covered with palm.”

I replied: “My brain is stamped with your image, like wax with a seal, but your words soar far higher than I can grasp, and the harder I try, the less I seem to be able to reach them. I don’t know why.”  

“You have not learned your lesson well from me,” she said. “Your thought has been as far from me as the farthest heaven, which spins the fastest, is far from earth.”

To that I answered: “As far as I remember I never could forget you. My conscience seems very clear about that.”

“You have even forgotten that you drank today of Lethe,” she answered with a laugh. “If from seeing smoke men know there must be fire, then your forgetfulness may be proof that your mind has wandered elsewhere. But from now on my words will be as plain as you will need to take their meaning.”

Now more bright and slow, the sun was at the meridian, which appears at different points from one perspective to another. Just then, like a man escorting others who halts abruptly as soon as he comes upon something unexpected, the seven ladies suddenly stopped in shade like that cast beneath green leaves and dark branches on icy mountain streams. In front of them it seemed to me I may have seen Tigris and Euphrates issuing from a single source and slowly parting from one another like old friends.

“O light, O brilliance of humanity, what is this that pours from a single source and runs off in both directions?”

“Ask Matelda,” she replied.

The fair lady spoke up immediately, as if to avoid being blamed. “I already told him about this water and Lethe. I don’t see how one drink could make him forget.”

And Beatrice: “The eyes of his mind are veiled in darkness. Maybe he is preoccupied with some more important matter that makes him absent minded! Dunk him like usual. Eunoe may awaken whatever still sleeps in him.”

Like a gentle spirit making no excuses but immediately following directions, she took me by the hand and led me, while ordering Statius, as if she owned the place, “You come, too.”

In that sacred spring I was remade, like a young plant with new leaves, clean and ready to poke up to the stars. Believe me, reader, if I had any more pages on which to write, I would tell you a little about the sweetness of that drink, for I never could have swallowed enough to be full of it, but unfortunately all the sheets that were prepared for this second canticle now are full of words, so the nature of my art keeps me from going on past this point.

 -THE END-


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