Dante: The Divine Comedy

Purgatorio Cantos XV-XXI

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Contents


Purgatorio Canto XV:1-36 The Angel of Fraternal Love

As much of the sun’s course seemed left before evening, as we see between dawn and the third hour of the day, on the zodiacal circle that is always skipping up and down like a child: it was Vespers, evening, there in Purgatory, and midnight here. And the sun’s rays were striking us mid-face, since we had circled enough of the Mount, to be travelling due west, when I felt my forehead far more burdened, by the splendour, than before, and the unknown nature of it stunned me, so that I lifted my hands above my eyes, and made that shade which dims the excess light.

Just as when a ray of light bounces from the water’s surface towards the opposite direction, ascending at an equal angle to that at which it falls, and travelling as far from the perpendicular line of a falling stone, in an equal distance, as science and experiment show, so I seemed struck by reflected light, in front of me, from which my eyes were quick to hide.

I said: ‘Sweet father, what is that, from which I cannot shade my sight enough to help me, that seems to be moving towards us?’ He answered: ‘Do not be amazed if the heavenly family still dazzles you: it is a messenger that comes to invite us to climb. Soon, seeing these things will not be painful to you, but a joy as great as nature has equipped you to feel.’

When we had reached the blessed Angel, it said, in a pleasant voice: ‘Enter a stairway, here, much less steep than the others.’

Purgatorio Canto XV:37-81 The Second Beatitude: Dante’s doubts

We were climbing, and already leaving, and, behind us, ‘Beati misericordes: blessed are the merciful,’ was sung, and, ‘Rejoice you who conquer.’

My master, and I, the two of us, alone, were climbing, and I thought to derive profit from his words while we went, and I addressed him, saying: ‘What did the spirit from Romagna mean by mentioning division and partnership?’ At which he said to me: ‘He knows the harm of his great defect, and therefore let no one wonder if he condemns it, so that the harm, he mourns for, is lessened.

Inasmuch as your desires are centred where things are diminished by partnership, it is Envy moving the bellows, with your sighs. But if the love of the highest sphere drew your desire upward, envious fear would not be core to your heart, since each possesses that much more of the good by the measure of how many more say ours, and so much more love burns in that cloister.’ I said: ‘I am hungrier by being fed than if I had kept silent from the start, and I have added more confusion to my mind.

How can it be that a shared good makes a greater number of possessors richer by it than if it is owned by a few?’ And he to me: ‘Because you fix your eyes, again, only on earthly things, you produce darkness from true light. That infinite and ineffable good, that is up there, rushes towards love as a ray of light rushes towards a bright body. The more ardour it finds, the more it gives of itself, so that, however far love extends, eternal good causes its increase: and the more people there are up there who understand each other, the more there are to love truly, and the more love there is, and, like a mirror, the one increase reflects the other.

And if my explanation does not satisfy your hunger, you will see Beatrice, and she will free you completely from this and from every other longing. Only work, so that the other five wounds that are healed by our pain are soon erased, as two have been.’

Purgatorio Canto XV:82-145 The Third Terrace: Examples of Gentleness

As I was about to say: ‘You have satisfied me,’ I saw I had arrived on the next terrace, so that my eager gaze made me silent. There I seemed to be suddenly caught up in an ecstatic dream, and to see many people in a temple, and a lady about to enter, saying, with the tender attitude of a mother: ‘My son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold thy father and I sought thee sorrowing,’ and as she fell silent that which had appeared at first, now disappeared.

Then another woman appeared to me, with those tears on her cheeks, that grief distils, and that well up in someone because of great anger, saying: ‘O Pisistratus, if you are lord of Athens, the city from which all knowledge shines, and whose naming made such strife between the gods, take revenge on those audacious arms that clasped our daughter.’ And her lord, kindly and gently, seemed to answer her, with a placid look: ‘What shall we do to those who wish harm to us, if we condemn him who loves us?’

Then I saw people, blazing with the fire of wrath, killing a youth with stones, and calling continually and loudly to each other: ‘Kill him, kill him! And I saw him sinking to the ground in death, which already weighed him down, but he made of his eyes, all the while, gateways to Heaven, praying to the Lord on high, in such torment, with that look, that unlocks pity, of forgiveness towards his persecutors.

Gustave Doré Illustration - Purgatorio Canto 15, 103

When my spirit returned outwards, to find the true things outside it, I understood my visions did not lie. My guide who could see me acting like a man who frees himself from sleep, said: ‘What is wrong with you, that you cannot control yourself, but have come almost two miles, with your eyes covered, and your legs staggering, like someone overcome by wine or sleep? I said: ‘O sweet my father, if you listen, I will tell you what appeared to me, when my legs were pulled from under me.’

And he said: ‘If you had a hundred masks on your face, your thoughts, however slight, would not be hidden from me. What you saw was to prevent you having an excuse for not opening your heart, to the waters of peace, that are poured from the eternal fountain. I did not ask “What is wrong” for the reason one does, who only sees with the eye, that cannot see when the body lies senseless, but I asked in order to give strength to your feet: so the slothful, who are slow to employ the waking hour when it returns, have to be goaded.’

We were travelling on, through the evening, straining our eyes ahead, as far as we could, against the bright sunset rays, and behold, little by little, a smoke, dark as night, moving towards us, and there was no space to escape it. This stole away our sight, and the clear air.

Purgatorio Canto XVI:1-24 The Wrathful and their Punishment

The gloom of Hell, and a night deprived of every planet, under a scant sky, darkened by cloud, as far as it could be, did not make as thick a veil for my sight, or as harsh a texture to the touch, as the smoke that enveloped us there, since it did not even allow the eyes to remain open, at which my wise and faithful escort came near, and offered me his shoulder.

As a blind man goes behind his guide, in order not to wander, and not to strike against anything that may harm him, or perhaps kill him, so I went, through the foul and bitter air, listening to my leader, who kept saying: ‘Be careful not to get cut off, from me.’

I heard voices, and each one seemed to pray to the Lamb of God, who takes away sin, for peace and mercy. ‘Agnus Dei,’ was their only commencement: one word and one measure came from them all: so that every harmony seemed to be amongst them. I said: ‘Master, are those spirits, that I hear?’ And he to me: ‘You understand rightly, and they are untying the knot of anger.’

Purgatorio Canto XVI:25-96 Marco Lombardo: Free Will

A voice said: ‘Now, who are you, who divide our smoke, and talk of us, as if you still measured time by months?’ At which my Master said to me: ‘You, answer, and ask if we should go upwards by this path.’

Gustave Doré Illustration - Purgatorio Canto 16, 23

And I said: ‘O creature, who purge yourself to return to him who made you, beautified, you will hear a wonder if you follow me.’ He answered: ‘I will follow you, as far as is allowed me, and if the smoke prevents us seeing, hearing will allow contact between us, instead.’ So I began: ‘I am travelling upwards, with those garments that death dissolves, and came here through the pain of Hell, and if God has so far admitted me to his grace, that he wills I should see his court, in a manner wholly outside modern usage, do not conceal from me who you were before death, but tell me, and tell me, also, if I am heading straight for the pass: and your words will be our escort.’

Gustave Doré Illustration - Purgatorio Canto 16, 32

He answered: ‘I was called Mark, and I was a Lombard: I knew the world, and loved that worth, at the sight of which every one now unbends their bow: you go the right way to ascend,’ and he added, ‘I pray you to pray for me, when you are above.’

And I to him: ‘By my faith, I promise you, to do what you ask of me, but I am wrung within by doubt if I cannot free myself of it. First it was simple doubt, and now it is re-doubled by your speech, strengthening it in me here, along with that which I couple to it from elsewhere. The world is indeed so wholly destitute of every virtue, even as you say, and covered and weighed down with sin: but I beg you to show me the cause, so that I can see it, and tell others, since some people place the cause in the sky, and others here below.’

He first gave a deep sigh, which grief shortened to ‘Ah!’ and then began: ‘Brother the world is blind, and you come from there, indeed. You, the living, refer every cause to the heavens, as though they carried all along with them by necessity. If it were so, free will would be destroyed in you, and there would be no justice in taking delight in good, and lamenting evil. The heavens initiate your movements: I do not say all, but even if I said it, you are given a light to know good from evil: and you are given free will, which gains the victory, completely, in the end, if it survives the stress of its first conflict with the heavens, and is well nurtured.

Free, you are subject to a greater force, and a better nature, and that creates Mind in you, that the sky does not have control of. So if the world today goes awry, the cause is in yourselves, search for it in yourselves, and I will be a true guide to you in this.

From His hands, who loves her dearly before she exists, issues the soul, in simplicity, like a little child, playing, in laughter and in tears, and she knows nothing, but that, sprung from a joyful Maker, she willingly turns towards what delights her. She savours, at the start, the taste of childish good, and is beguiled by it, and chases it, if her love is not curbed or misguided. That is why it was necessary to create Law as a curb, and necessary to have a ruler, who might at least make out the towers of the true city.’

Purgatorio Canto XVI:97-145 The Error of the Church’s temporal power

‘There are laws, but who sets their hand to them? No one: because the Shepherd who leads his flock may chew the cud, may meditate, but does not have a divided hoof, and confuses spiritual and temporal. So the people, seeing their Guide only aiming at that benefit he is eager for, feed on that, and do not question further. You can see clearly that bad leadership is the cause of the world’s sinfulness, and not that nature, corruptible within you.

Rome, that made the civilised world, used to have two Suns, that made the two roads visible, that of the world, and that of God. One has quenched the other: and the sword and the shepherd’s crook are joined: and the one linked to the other must run to harm, since, being joined, one will not fear the other. If you do not believe me, look closely at the crop, since every plant is known by its seed.

Worth and courtesy used to be found, in Lombardy, that land the rivers Po and Adige water, before Frederick faced opposition. Now it can only be crossed, in safety, by those who, through shame, have ceased to talk to good men, or live near them. True there are three elder statesmen, in whom the ancient times reprove the new, and it feels a long time to them before God takes them to a better life: Corrado da Palazzo, and the good Gherardo da Camino, and Guido da Castel, who is better named in the French way, the honest Lombard. As of now, say that the Church of Rome, confusing two powers in herself, falls in the mud, and fouls herself and her charge.’

I said: ‘O my Mark you reason clearly, and now I see why the priests, the sons of Levi, were not allowed to inherit. But who is that Gerard, who you say remains as an example of the vanished race, to reprove this barbarous age?’ He answered: ‘Your speech is either meant to deceive me or to test me, since, speaking in Tuscan, you seem to know nothing of the good Gherard. I know him by no other name, unless I were to take one from his daughter Gaia. God be with you, since I come, with you, no further. See the light, whitening, shining through the smoke: the Angel is there, and I must go before he sees me.’

So he turned back, and would no longer listen.

Purgatorio Canto XVII:1-39 Examples of Anger

Reader, if a mist has ever caught you in the mountains, through which you saw as a mole does, through the skin, remember how the sun’s sphere shone, feebly, through the dense, damp, vapours as it began to melt away, and your imagination will easily understand how I saw the sun again, which was now setting. So, measuring my steps by my faithful Master’s, I issued from that cloud to the sunlight, already dead on the low shore.

O imagination, that takes us out of ourselves, sometimes, so that we are conscious of nothing, though a thousand trumpets echo round us, what is it that stirs you, since the senses place nothing in front of you? A light stirs you, which takes its form from heaven, by itself, or by a will that sends it downwards.

The traces of Procne’s impiety appeared in my imagination, she, who changed her form to a nightingale’s, the bird that most delights in singing, and here my mind was so absorbed in itself, that nothing from outside came to it, or was received in it.

Then in my high fantasy a crucified man, scornful and haughty of aspect, appeared, and it was Haman, so dying. Round about him were the great Ahasuerus, Esther, his wife, and the just Mordecai, who was so sincere in speech and actions.

And, as this imagining burst like a bubble does, when the water surface it is made of breaks, a girl, Lavinia, weeping pitfully, rose to my vision, saying: ‘O Queen Amata, why have you willed yourself to nothingness, through anger? You have killed yourself in order not to lose me: now you have lost me. I am she, who mourns, Mother, for your loss, rather than for his.’

Purgatorio Canto XVII:40-69 The Angel of Meekness: Third Beatitude

As sleep is broken, when a new light suddenly strikes on the closed eyelids, and hovers, brokenly, before it completely vanishes, so my imaginings were destroyed, as soon as light struck my face, light far greater than that which we are used to. I was turning about to see where I was, when a voice which snatched me from any other intention, said: ‘Here, you can climb’, and it made me want to see who it was who spoke, with that eagerness that never rests till it confronts the other.

But my powers failed me there, as at the sun that oppresses our vision, and veils his form, through excess of light. My leader said: ‘This is a Divine Spirit, that points us towards the path to climb, without our asking, and hides itself in its own light. It does towards us what a man does towards himself: since he who sees the need, but waits for the request, has set himself malignly towards denial. Now let our feet fit the invitation: let us try to ascend before nightfall, since we cannot, then, until day returns.’ I turned my steps, with him, towards a stairway, and as soon as I was on the first step, I felt something like the touch of a wing, and my face was fanned, and I heard someone say: ‘Beati pacifici: blessed are the meek, who are without sinful anger.’

Purgatorio Canto XVII:70-139 Virgil explains the structure of Purgatory

Now the last rays, that night follows, were angled so high above us that the stars were appearing, on every side. ‘Oh, my powers, why do you ebb away from me like this?’ I said inside myself, since I felt the strength of my legs vanish.

We stood where the stairway went no further, and were aground, like a boat, that arrives at the shore: and I listened for a while to see if I could hear anything in the new circle: then turned to my Master, and said: ‘My sweet father, say what offence is purged in this circle, where we are? Though our feet are stopped, do not stop your speaking.’ And he to me: ‘The love of good, that fell short of its duties, restores itself just here: here the sinfully lazy oar is plied again. But so that you might understand more clearly, turn your mind on me, and you will gather some good fruit from our delay.’

He began: ‘Son, neither creature nor Creator, was ever devoid of love, natural or rational, and this you know. The natural is always free of error: but the rational may err because of an evil objective, or because of too much or too little energy.

While it is directed towards the primary virtues, and moderates its aims in the secondary ones, it cannot be the cause of sinful delight, but when it is turned awry, towards evil, or moves towards the good with more or less attention than it should, the creature works against its Creator. So you can understand, that love is the seed of each virtue in you, and its errors the seeds of every action that deserves punishment. Now, in that love can never turn its face away from the well being of its object, everything is safe from self-hatred. And, because no being can be thought to exist apart, standing separate in itself, from the First Cause, all affection is prevented from hating Him.

It follows, if I judge well in my classification that the evil we desire is due to the presence of our neighbours, and this desire has three origins, in your clay.

There are those who hope to excel through their neighbour’s downfall, and because of this alone want them toppled from their greatness. This is Pride.

There are those who fear to lose, power, influence, fame or honour because another is preferred, at which they are so saddened they desire the contrary. This is Envy.

And there are those who seem so ashamed because of injury, that they become eager for revenge, and so are forced to wish another’s harm. This is Wrath.

This three-fold desire is lamented, below. Now, I want you to understand the other desires which aim towards love in an erroneous manner.

Everyone vaguely apprehends a good, where the mind finds rest: and desires it: so everyone labours to attain it.

If inadequate love draws you on to sight or attainment of that good, this terrace torments you for it, after just repentance. This is Sloth.

There is another good, which does not make men happy: it is not happiness: it is not the essential good, the root and fruit of all goodness.

The love that abandons itself to it, excessively, is lamented above us, on three terraces: but how it is separated into three divisions, I will not say, in order that you search it out for yourself.’

Purgatorio Canto XVIII:1-48 Virgil on the Nature of Love

The high-minded teacher had ended his discourse, and was looking at my face, attentively, to see if I was satisfied, and I, who was tormented by a new thirst, was outwardly silent, but inwardly said: ‘Perhaps the extent of my questions annoys him.’ But that true father, who noticed the hesitant wish, that did not show itself, gave me courage to speak, by speaking himself.

At which I said: ‘Master, my vision is so invigorated, by your light, that I understand, clearly, what all your reasoning means and describes. I beg you, therefore, sweet, dear father, to define Love for me, to which you reduce every good action and its opposite.’ He said: ‘Direct the keen eyes of the intellect towards me, and the error of the blind who make themselves their guides, will be apparent to you.

The spirit, that is created ready for love, is moved by everything pleasing, as soon as it is stirred into action by pleasure.

Your sensory faculties take an impression from real objects, and unfold it inside you, so that the spirit turns towards those objects. And if it is attracted to them, being turned, that attraction is Love: that is Nature, newly confirmed in you by pleasure.

Then, as fire rises, because of its form, whose nature is to climb to where it can live longest in its fuel, so the mind, captured, enters into desire, which is a movement of the spirit, and never rests until the object of its love gives it joy.

Now it may be apparent to you, how deeply truth is concealed from those people, who say that every act of love is praiseworthy in itself, since love’s material may always be good, perhaps, but every seal is not good, even though the wax is good.’

I replied: ‘Your words, and my wits following you, have made Love clear to me, but it has made me more pregnant with doubts, since if Love is offered to us from outside ourselves, and the spirit has no other foot of her own to walk on, it is no merit of hers whether she walks straight or slantwise.’

And he said to me: ‘I can tell you merely what Reason sees: beyond this point, wait only for Beatrice, since it is a question of Faith.’

Purgatorio Canto XVIII:49-75 Virgil on Freewill

‘Every living form, which is distinct from matter, but is united to it, has a specific virtue, contained in it, that is not seen except in its operation, or manifest except by what it effects, as life is manifest in a plant in the green leaves.

Therefore human beings do not know where knowledge of primary sensations comes from, or attraction to the primary objects of appetite: they are in you, as the drive in bees to make honey: and this primary volition merits neither praise nor blame.

Now, in order that every other volition may be related to this one, the virtue, which allows judgement, is innate in you, and ought to guard the threshold of assent. This is the source from which the cause of merit, in you, derives, according to how it gathers and sieves good and evil desires.

Those who went to the foundations in their reasoning, recognised this innate freedom, and so left their Ethics to the world.

Therefore, even if you suppose that every love, which burns in you, rises out of necessity, the power to control it is within you. Beatrice takes Freewill to be the noble virtue, so take care to have that in mind, if she sets herself to speak of it, to you.

Purgatorio Canto XVIII:76-111 The Slothful and their Punishment

The moon, almost at midnight, shaped like a burning pail, made the stars appear fainter to us, and her track across the heavens, in the east, was on those paths, in Sagittarius, that the sun inflames, when in Rome they watch its setting between Sardinia and Corsica. And that noble shade, whose birthplace, Andes, is more renowned than any other Mantuan town, had laid down the burden I had put on him, so that I who had gathered clear, plain answers to my questions, stood like one who wanders, drowsily.

But this drowsiness was suddenly snatched from me, by people who had already come round on us, from behind our backs. And just as the Rivers Ismenus and Asopus, saw, a furious rout, at night, along their banks, when the Thebans called on the help of Bacchus, so, along that terrace, quickening their steps, those were approaching, who, by what I saw of them, good will and just desire rode. They were soon upon us, since all that vast crowd was moving at a run, and two in front were shouting, tearfully: ‘Mary ran with haste to the hill country,’ and: ‘Caesar lanced Marseilles, and then raced to Spain, to subdue Lerida in Catalonia.’

The rest shouted, after that: ‘Hurry! Hurry! Do not let time be wasted, through lack of love, so that labouring to do well may renew grace.’

My guide said: ‘O people, in whom an eager fervour now makes good, perhaps, the negligence and tardiness shown by you, in being lukewarm at doing good, this one who lives wishes to climb, if the sun only shines for us again, and indeed I do not lie to you, so tell us where the ascent is nearest.’

Gustave Doré Illustration - Purgatorio Canto 18, 87

Purgatorio Canto XVIII:112-145 The Slothful: Examples of Sloth

One of the spirits said: ‘Come behind us, and you will find the gully. We are so full of desire for speed, we cannot stay: so forgive us if you take our penance as an offence. I was the Abbot of San Zeno in Verona, under the rule of the good Barbarossa, of whom Milan still speaks with sorrow. And one I know, Alberto della Scala, who already has one foot in the grave, will soon mourn because of that monastery, and will be saddened at having held power there, because he has appointed his son there, Giuseppe, deformed in body, and more so in mind, and born of shame, instead of a true shepherd.

I do not know if he said more, or was silent, he had raced so far beyond us, already, but I heard that and was pleased to remember it. And he who was my help when I needed it, said: ‘Turn this way, and see two that come, showing remorse at Sloth.’

Last of them all, they cried: ‘The people for whom the Red Sea opened, were dead before Jordan saw their heirs,’ and: ‘Those who did not endure the labour with Aeneas, Anchises’s son, until the end, gave themselves to an inglorious fate.’

Then a new thought rose in me, when those shadows were distant from us, so far they could no longer be seen, from which many other diverse thoughts sprang: and I wandered so much, from one to another, that I closed my eyes in wandering, and transmuted thought to dream.’

Purgatorio Canto XIX:1-36 Dante’s Second Dream: The Siren

In the hour, before dawn, when the day’s heat, lost by Earth, or quenched by Saturn, no longer offsets the moon’s coldness; when the geomancers see their Fortuna Major, formed of the last stars of Aquarius, and the first of Pisces, rise in the east, on a path which is only dark for a little while, a stuttering woman, came to me in a dream, her eyes squinting, her feet crippled, with maimed hands, and sallow aspect. I gazed at her, and my look readied her tongue, and straightened her completely, in a few moments, as the sun comforts the cold limbs that night weighs down, and her pale face coloured, as love wills.

When her tongue was freed, she began to sing, so that I could hardly turn my attention away. ‘I am,’ she sang, ‘I am the sweet Siren: I am so pleasing to hear that I lead seamen astray, in mid-ocean. With my song, I turned Ulysses from his wandering path, and whoever rests with me, rarely leaves, I satisfy him so completely.’ Her lips had barely closed, when a lady appeared, near me, saintly and ready to put her to confusion. She said, angrily: ‘O Virgil, Virgil what is this?’ And he came, with his eyes fixed on that honest one.

He seized the Siren, and, ripping her clothes, revealed her front, and showed me her belly, that woke me with the stench that came from it. I turned my eyes away, and the good Virgil said: ‘I have called you at least three times, rise and come with me, let us find the opening by which you may climb.’

Purgatorio Canto XIX:37-69 The Angel of Zeal: The Fourth Beatitude

I rose, and all the circles of the holy mountain were now filled with the high day, and we went with the new sun at our backs. I was following him, with my forehead wrinkled like someone burdened by thought, and who makes half a bridge’s arch of his body, when I heard words, spoken, in so gentle and kind a voice, as is not heard in this mortal world: ‘Come, here is the pass.’

Gustave Doré Illustration - Purgatorio Canto 19, 51

He, who spoke to us, directed us upwards, between two walls of solid stone, with his outspread wings, that seemed like a swan’s. Then he stirred his feathers, and fanned us, affirming that they who mourn, qui lugent, are blessed, whose spirits shall be richly consoled.

My guide began to speak to me, both of us having climbed a little higher than the Angel: ‘What is wrong with you, that you are always staring at the ground?’ And I: ‘A strange dream, that draws me towards it, so that I cannot stop thinking of it, makes me go in such dread.’ He said: ‘Did you see, that ancient witch, through whom alone those above us now weep? Did you see how man escapes from her? Let that be enough for you, and spurn the Earth with your heels, turn your eyes towards the lure, that the King of Eternity spins, in the great spheres.’

I became like a falcon, that, at first, is gazing at his feet, then turns at the call, and spreads his wings, with longing for the food, that draws him towards it, and so I went, as far as the rock is split, to allow passage, to him who climbs up, to where the terrace begins.

Purgatorio Canto XIX:70-114 The Avaricious: Pope Adrian V

When I was in the open, in the fifth circle, I saw people around it, lying on the ground, who wept, all turned face downwards. I heard them say: ‘Adhaesit pavimento anima mea, my soul cleaveth unto the dust’ with such deep sighing the words were hardly understood. ‘O God’s elect, whose sufferings justice and hope make easier, direct us towards the high ascents.’ So the poet prayed, and so, a little in front of us, there was an answer: ‘If you come longing to find the quickest way, and are safe from having to lie prostrate, let your right hand be always towards the outer edge.’ At that I noted what was hidden in the words, and turned my eyes towards my lord, at which he gave assent, with a sign of pleasure, to what my look of longing desired.

When I was free to do what my mind wished, I went forward, standing over that creature whose previous words made me note them, saying: ‘Spirit, delay your greater business, a while, for me, you, in whom weeping ripens that without which one cannot turn towards God. If you would have me obtain anything for you, over there, where I come from, living, tell me, who you are, and why you have your backs turned upwards.’

And he to me: ‘You will know why Heaven turns our backs towards it, but first scias quod ego fui successor Petri: know that I was Pope Adrian V, a successor of Peter. A fair river, the Lavagna, flows down to the Gulf of Genoa, between Sestri and Chiaveri, and my people’s title takes its name from it.

For little more than a month, I learnt how the great mantle weighs on him, who keeps it out of the mire, so much so, that all other burdens seem light as feathers. Alas, my conversion was late, but when I was made Pastor of Rome, then I discovered the false life. I saw that the heart was not at peace there, nor could one climb higher in that life: so that love of this one was kindled in me. Until that moment I was a wholly avaricious spirit, wretched, and parted from God: now, as you see, here, I am punished for it.’

Purgatorio Canto XIX:115-145 The Avaricious: Their Punishment

‘Here, what Avarice does is declared, in the purgation of the down-turned spirits, and the Mount has no bitterer penalty. Just as our eyes did not lift themselves up to the heights, but were fixed on earthly things, so here justice has sunk them towards the earth. Just as Avarice killed our love for all good, so that our efforts were lost, so here justice holds us fast, taken and bound, by hands and feet, and as long as it is the good Lord’s pleasure, we will lie here outstretched and unmoving.’

I had knelt, and was about to speak, but he detected my reverence, merely by listening, and as I began, he said: ‘Why do you bend your knees?’ And I to him: ‘My conscience pricked me, for standing, knowing your high office.’ He answered: ‘Straighten your legs, and rise, brother: do not err: I am a fellow servant, of the one Power, with you and the others. If you ever understood the words of the holy gospel, neque nubent, there ‘they neither marry nor are given in marriage’ you will understand, clearly, why I say so.

Gustave Doré Illustration - Purgatorio Canto 19, 131

Now go: I do not wish you to stay longer, since your remaining disturbs my weeping, by means of which I ripen what you spoke of. I have a niece, Alagia by name, over there, who is good in herself, if only our house does not make her evil by example, and she is the only one left to me, over there.’

Purgatorio Canto XX:1-42 Examples of Poverty and Liberality

The will fights ill against a finer will: so, to please him, but against my pleasure, I drew the unsaturated sponge from the water. I went on, and my leader went on, also, through the free space, along the rock, as you go by the wall close to the battlements, because those people, who distil, from their eyes, drop by drop, the evil that fills the whole world, were too close to the edge for us to pass on the other side.

Accursed be you, Avarice, ancient she-wolf, who, to satisfy your endless hunger, take more prey than any other beast! O Heaven, by whose circling, it appears to be believed, conditions down here are altered, when will one come by whose actions Avarice will vanish?

We journeyed on, with slow, meagre paces, and I paying attention to the spirits, that I heard weeping piteously, and complaining: and, by chance, I heard one calling, tearfully, in front of us: ‘Sweet Maria’, like a woman in labour, and continuing to speak: ‘you were so poverty-stricken as can be seen by that inn where you laid down your sacred burden.’

Following that I heard: ‘O good Caius Fabricius, you wished to possess virtue in poverty, rather than great riches with vice.’ These words were so pleasing to me that I moved forward, to make contact with the spirit, from whom they seemed to emerge.

Gustave Doré Illustration - Purgatorio Canto 20, 17

It went on to speak of the gifts, that Bishop Nicholas gave to the young girls, to lead their youth towards honour.

I said: ‘O spirit, who speaks of good so much, tell me who you are, and why you alone repeat this praise of worthiness? If I return, to complete the short space of a life that flies to its end, you words will not be un-rewarded.’ And he: ‘I will tell you, not because I expect any comfort from over there, but because so much grace shines in you before your death.’

Purgatorio Canto XX:43-96 Hugh Capet and the Capetian Dynasty

‘I was the root of the evil tree, that overshadows all Christian countries, so that good fruit is rarely obtained there. But if Douay, Lille, Ghent and Bruges can, they will soon take revenge on it, and I beg this of Him who judges all. I was called Hugh Capet, over there: from me the ‘Philip’s and ‘Louis’s derive by whom France is ruled of late.

I was the son of a Paris butcher. When the line of ancient kings was ended, except for one who was clothed in the grey robe, I found the reins of the kingdom’s government held tight in my hands, and had so much power in new acquisitions, and was so rich in friends that the widowed crown was placed on my son’s head, he, with whom the Capetian dynasty’s consecrated bones begin.

Before the dowry of Provence, took away all sense of shame from my race, the line was worth little, but did little harm. Its rapaciousness began there in force and fraud, and then to make amends, Ponthieu, Normandy and Gascony were seized. Charles of Anjou came to Italy, and to make amends, made a victim of Conradin: and then sent Thomas Aquinas back to heaven, to make amends.

I see a time, not far distant from now, that will bring another Charles, of Valois, out of France, rendering him and his people better known. He comes alone, without an army, and with the lance of treachery Judas jousted with, and couches it so as to make the guts of Florence spill. From that he will gather sin and shame, not land, so much the more grave for him, because he treats such wrongs so lightly.

I see the other Charles, the Lame, who was once taken captive in his ship, selling his daughter Beatrice, and haggling over her, as pirates do over other hostages. O Avarice, who more can you do to us, since you have so attracted my tribe to you, that it does not care about its own flesh and blood?

To make the ill that is past and to come, seem lesser, I see the fleur-de-lys enter Anagni, and Christ taken captive in the person of Boniface, his Vicar. I see him mocked for a second time: I see the gall and vinegar renewed, and see him killed, between living thieves. I see the new Pilate, Philip the Fourth, acting so cruelly, that even this does not satisfy him, but he must carry his sails of greed, lawlessly, against the Temple. O my Lord, when will I rejoice to see the sweet vengeance, which, hidden, your anger forms in secrecy?’

Purgatorio Canto XX:97-151 Examples of Avarice: The Earthquake

‘What I was saying, concerning the only Bride of the Holy Spirit, that made you turn towards me for explanation, such is the burden of all our prayers as long as daylight lasts, but when the night comes, we adopt a different strain instead.

Then we rehearse the history of Dido’s brother Pygmalion, whose insatiable lust for gold made him traitor, thief and parricide, and avaricious Midas’s misery, that followed on his greedy wish, for which he must always be derided.

Then each remembers foolish Achan, who stole the consecrated treasure, so that Joshua’s anger still seems here to rend him.

Then we accuse Sapphira and Ananias her husband; we praise the kicks from the hooves that struck Heliodorus: and the whole Mount echoes with the infamy of Polymnestor who murdered Polydorus.

Last of all, here, we cry out: “Crassus, tell us, since you know, what does gold taste like?”

Sometimes one speaks high and another low, now with greater or lesser force, according to the impulse prompting us to speak: so I was not alone, before, in speaking of the good, as we do, by day, but no one else was raising his voice near here.’

We had already left him, and were labouring to conquer the path, as far as it was in our power to do, when I felt the mountain tremble, like something falling, at which a coldness seized me, as it seizes him who goes to death. Surely Delos was not shaken as violently, before Latona, there, made her nest give birth to the twin eyes of Heaven.

Then a shout went up on every side, so that the Master drew near me, saying: ‘Have no fear, while I am your guide.’ All were saying: ‘Gloria in excelsis Deo: Glory to God in the highest,’ from what I understood of those nearby, whose words I could hear. We stood, immobile, still as those shepherds who first heard that hymn, till it ceased when the quake ended. Then we took up our holy path again, gazing at the spirits lying on the ground, already returned to their usual laments.

If my memory makes no mistake in this, no lack of knowledge ever assaulted me with such a desire to know, as I appeared to feel then, as I reflected, and because of our haste, I was not keen to ask, nor could I see any cause for it there, myself: so I went on, fearful, and thoughtful.

Purgatorio Canto XXI:1-33 The Poets meet Statius

The natural thirst for knowledge that is never quenched, except by that water’s grace the woman of Samaria asked for, troubled me, and haste was driving me along the impeded path behind my leader, and I was grieving at the spirits’ just punishment, and behold, just as Luke writes that Christ, already risen from the mouth of the tomb, appeared to two who were on the road, so a shade appeared to us, and came on behind gazing at the prostrate crowd at its feet, and we did not see it until it spoke, saying: ‘My brothers, God give you peace.’ We turned quickly, and Virgil gave the appropriate sign in reply, then said: ‘May the true Court, that holds me in eternal exile, bring you in peace to the Council of the Blessed.’

As we went forward, strongly, the spirit said: ‘How is this: if you are shadows that God does not allow here above, who has escorted you as far as this, by his stairways?’ And my teacher said: ‘If you look at the marks this man carries on his forehead, and which the Angel traced, you will see clearly that it is right for him to reign among the good. But since Lachesis, she who spins, night and day, had not yet drawn out the thread, fully, that Clotho places and winds on the distaff, for each of us, his soul which is sister to yours and mine, coming up here, could not come alone, since it does not understand as we do: so I was sent from the wide jaws of Hell to guide him, and as far as my knowledge can lead, I will guide him upwards.’

Purgatorio Canto XXI:34-75 The Cause of the Earthquake

‘But, if you know, tell us why the Mount shook so much before, and why everyone appeared to shout with one voice, right down to its soft base.’ So by asking he threaded the true needle’s eye of my wish, and my thirst was less fierce through hope alone.

That spirit began: The sacred rule of the mountain allows nothing without purpose, or beyond what is customary. Here we are free from earthly changes: Here, what Heaven accepts from its own self can operate as a cause, nothing else: and rain, hail, snow, dew, and frost cannot fall higher than the brief stair with three steps. Thin or dense cloud does not appear, nor lightning, nor the rainbow, Iris, Thaumas’s daughter, who over there often changes zone. Dry vapours rise no higher than the top of the three steps I spoke of, where Peter’s vicar has his feet.

Perhaps it trembles lower down, more or less, because of the winds hidden underground, I do not know, it never trembles here. Here it quakes when some soul feels itself purged so that it can rise, or set out to soar above, and such shouting follows it. The will alone gives evidence of the purging, seizing the soul, completely free to change her convent, and helping her in willing. True, she had will before, but the eagerness that Divine Justice creates for the punishment, where before there was eagerness for the sin, counters the will, inhibiting it.

And, only now, I, who have undergone this torment for five hundred years and more, feel free will towards a better threshold. So, you felt the earthquake, and heard the pious souls around the mountain render praise to the Lord, that he might soon send them above.’

So he spoke to us, and since we enjoy the drink more, the greater the thirst we have, I could not convey how much he refreshed me.

Purgatorio Canto XXI:76-136 Statius and Virgil

And the wise leader said: ‘Now, I see the net that traps you here, and how one breaks through it; why the mountain quakes; and why you rejoice together at it. Now may it please you to tell me who you are, and let me learn from your words, why you have been here so many centuries.’

The spirit answered: ‘When the good Titus, with the help of Heaven’s King, avenged the wounds, from which the blood, that Judas sold, issued, I was famous, with the name of poet, that endures longest, and gives most honour, but not yet of the faith. The music of my words was so sweet, that Rome drew me, from Toulouse, to herself, where I merited a myrtle crown for my forehead. The people, there, still call me Statius: I sang of Thebes, and then of great Achilles: but I fell by the wayside with the second burden.

The sparks that warmed me, from the divine flame, which has kindled more than a thousand fires, were the seeds of my poetic ardour: I talk of the Aeneid, that was a mother to me, and a poetic nurse, without which I would not have been worth a drachm. And I would agree to endure one sun more than I owe, before coming out of exile, to have lived over there when Virgil was alive.’

These words made Virgil turn towards me with a silent look that said: ‘Be silent.’ But the virtue that wills is not all-powerful, since laughter and tears follow the passion, from which they spring, so closely, that, in the most truthful, they obey the will least. I merely smiled, like someone who signals, at which the shade fell silent, and looked me in the eyes, where the soul is most present. And he said: ‘So that great effort might achieve its aim, say why your face just now showed me a flash of laughter?’

Now I am caught on both sides: one forces me to stay silent, the other demands I speak: at which I sigh, and am understood by my master, and he says to me: ‘Do not be afraid to speak, but speak and tell him what he asks with such great desire.’ At which I said: ‘Ancient spirit, perhaps you wonder at the laugh I gave, but I wish a greater wonder to seize you. He, who leads my vision on high, is that Virgil from whom you derived the power to sing of men and gods. If you think there was any other reason for my laughter, set it aside as untrue, and believe it was the words you spoke about him.’

He was already stooping to embrace my teacher’s ankles: but Virgil said: ‘Brother, do not, since you are a shadow, and it is a shadow that you see.’ And Statius, rising, said: ‘Now you can understand the depth of love that warms me towards you, when I forget our nothingness, and treat shadows as solid things.’