Dante: The Divine Comedy
Purgatorio Cantos XXIX-XXXIII
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- Purgatorio Canto XXIX:1-36 The Divine Pageant
- Purgatorio Canto XXIX:37-61 The Seven Branched Candlesticks
- Purgatorio Canto XXIX:61-81 The Seven Banners
- Purgatorio CantoXXIX:82-105 The Elders: The Four Beasts
- Purgatorio Canto XXIX:106-132 The Chariot: The Grifon: The Virtues
- Purgatorio Canto XXIX:133-154 Luke, Paul and others
- Purgatorio Canto XXX:1-48 Beatrice
- Purgatorio Canto XXX:49-81 Virgil has left: Dante is filled with Shame
- Purgatorio Canto XXX:82-145 Her Mission to help him
- Purgatorio Canto XXXI:1-42 Dante confesses his guilt
- Purgatorio Canto XXXI:43-69 Beatrice rebukes him
- Purgatorio Canto XXXI:70-90 Dante’s remorse
- Purgatorio Canto XXXI:91-145 Lethe: Beatrice unveiled
- Purgatorio Canto XXXII:1-36 The Pageant moves eastward
- Purgatorio Canto XXXII:37-63 The Mystic Tree
- Purgatorio Canto XXXII:64-99 Dante sleeps: Beatrice guards the chariot
- Purgatorio Canto XXXII:100-160 The Church’s Past, Present and Future
- Purgatorio Canto XXXIII:1-57 Beatrice’s prophetic words
- Purgatorio Canto XXXIII:58-102 The Tree of Empire
- Purgatorio Canto XXXIII:103-145 Dante and Statius drink from Eunoë
Purgatorio Canto XXIX:1-36 The Divine Pageant
She continued, from the end of her words, singing, like a lady in love: ‘Beati, quorum tecta sunt peccata: Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven.’ And, like the nymphs who used, alone, to wander through the woodland shadows, one wishing to see the sun, another to flee it, she moved then, walking along the bank, against the stream, and I across from her, one small step answering the other.
Her steps, with mine, were not a hundred, when both banks curved alike, so that I turned eastwards. And our journey was not far yet, when the lady turned completely to me, saying: ‘My brother, look and listen.’ And see a sudden brightness flooded, through the great forest, on every side, so that I was unsure if it was lightning. But since lightning vanishes, as it comes, and that shone brighter and brighter, lasting, I said, in my mind: ‘What is this thing?’
And a sweet melody ran through the glowing air, at which righteous zeal made me condemn Eve’s boldness, who a woman, alone, and newly created, there, where Heaven and Earth were obedient, could not bear to be under any veil, which if she had borne, devoutly, I would have known these ineffable delights earlier, and for longer.
While I was moving among such first fruits of the eternal bliss, enraptured and still longing for greater joys, the air turned to blazing fire, under the green branches in front of us, and the sweet sound was distinguished as a song.
Purgatorio Canto XXIX:37-61 The Seven Branched Candlesticks
O sacred, virgin Muses, if ever I endured hunger, cold or vigil for you, the occasion spurs me on to ask my reward. Now I need Helicon to stream out for me, and Urania to aid me with her choir, to put into words, things that are hard to imagine.
A little further on, the illusion of seven golden trees appeared, caused by the great space still between us and them: but when I had come nearer, so that the common object, that can deceive the senses, had not lost any of its details, the power that creates matter for reasoning, realised that branched candlesticks were what they were, and the content of the singing was: ‘Hosanna.’ The lovely pageant was blazing out, above, far brighter than the mid-month moon, at midnight.
I turned full of wonder, towards the good Virgil, and he replied with a face no less stunned. Then I turned my face back towards the sublime things, which moved towards us, so slowly, that they would be out-paced by a new bride.
Purgatorio Canto XXIX:61-81 The Seven Banners
The lady cried to me: ‘Why are you only so ardent for the sight of the bright lights, and pay no attention to what comes behind them?’
Then I saw people, dressed in white, following as if behind their leader: and there was never such whiteness, here, among us. The water shone brightly on my left, and reflected my left side, like a mirror, if I gazed into it. When I was situated on the edge, so that the river alone separated me from them, I stopped to see better, and I saw the flames advance, leaving the air behind them tinted, and they had the appearance of trailing banners, so that the air above remained coloured in seven bands, of the hues in which the sun creates his bow, and Diana, the Moon, her halo.
These banners streamed to the rear, way beyond my sight, and, as far as I could judge, the outermost ones were ten paces apart.
Purgatorio CantoXXIX:82-105 The Elders: The Four Beasts
Under as lovely a sky as I could describe, came twenty -four Elders, two by two, crowned with lilies. They were all singing: ‘Blessed art thou among the daughters of Adam, and blessed to all eternity be thy beauties.’ When the flowers, and the other fresh herbs, on the other bank opposite, were free of all those chosen people, four creatures came after them, each one crowned with green leaves, as star follows star in the sky.
Each was plumed with six wings, the feathers full of eyes, and the eyes of Argus, if they were living, would be like them. Reader, I will scatter no more words, to describe their form, since other duties constrain me, so that I cannot be lavish here, but read Ezekiel, who pictures them as he saw them, coming from the icy firmament in whirlwind, cloud and fire, and as you will find them in his pages, so they were here, except that John, the Divine, is with me as to the wings, and differs from him.
Purgatorio Canto XXIX:106-132 The Chariot: The Grifon: The Virtues
The space within the four of them contained a triumphal, two-wheeled, chariot drawn by a Grifon, harnessed at the neck. And the Grifon stretched each wing upwards between the centre and three of the banners, so that he did no harm by cutting across them. The wings rose so high their tips could not be seen. Its members were golden, where he was birdlike, and the rest white mixed with brilliant red. Neither Scipio Africanus nor, indeed, Augustus ever gladdened Rome with so magnificent a chariot, and the Sun’s would be poor by comparison, the Sun’s, that was consumed when Phaethon strayed, at Earth’s devout request, when Jupiter was darkly just.
Three ladies came dancing, in a circle, by the right hand wheel: one was so red she would scarcely be visible in the fire: the next was as if her flesh and bones were made of emerald: the third seemed of newly fallen snow: and now they seemed led by the white, and now by the red, and from her song the others took their metre, slow or quick.
By the left hand wheel, four dressed in purple, made festive, following the lead of the one who had three eyes in her face.
Purgatorio Canto XXIX:133-154 Luke, Paul and others
Behind the group I have described, I saw two aged men, of similar bearing, but dissimilar clothing, grave and venerable: one was Luke, showing himself to be of the school of that supreme Hippocrates, whom nature made physician to the creatures she most cares for: the other, Paul, displayed the opposite role, with a sharp, gleaming sword, so that it made me afraid, even on this side of the stream.
Then I saw four, of humble aspect: and behind them all, a solitary old man, John the Divine, coming by, with a visionary face, as if dreaming. And all these seven were costumed like the first company, but had no garland of lilies round their heads, rather one of roses and other crimson flowers, so that someone who saw them close to would have said they were all on fire above their eyes.
And when the chariot was opposite me, a clap of thunder was heard: and those noble people seemed to have their further progress stopped, and halted there with the first banners.
Purgatorio Canto XXX:1-48 Beatrice
When those Seven Lights of the first Heaven had halted, that never knew setting or rising, or the veil of any other mist but sin, and which made all aware of their duty, just as the lower seven, Ursa Minor, guide the helmsman towards port, the people of truth, who had first appeared, between them and the Grifon, turned towards the chariot, as if towards their place of peace: and one of them, as if sent from Heaven, lifted his voice, three times, singing: ‘Veni sponsa de Libano: Come with me from Lebanon, my spouse,’ and all the others sang after him.
As the Saints at the Last Judgment will rise, ready, each one, from his tomb, singing Halleluiah, with renewed voice, so a hundred rose, in the divine chariot, ad vocem tanti senis, at the voice of so great an Elder, the ministers and messengers of eternal life. All were saying: ‘Benedictus qui venis: Blessed art thou that comest’ and, scattering flowers above and around, ‘Manibus o date lilia plenis: O give lilies with full hands.’
I have seen, before now, at dawn of day, the eastern sky all rose-red, and the rest of the heavens serene and clear, and seen the sun’s face rise, veiled, so that because of the moderating mists, the eye, for a long while, endured him: and so, in a cloud of flowers, that lifted from the angelic hands, and fell again, inside and beyond, a lady appeared to me, crowned with olive-leaves, over a white veil, dressed in colours of living flame, beneath a green cloak.
And my spirit, that had endured so great a space of time, since it had been struck with awe, trembling, in her presence, through the hidden virtue that issued from her, and without having greater knowledge through my eyes, felt the intense power of former love.
As soon as that high virtue struck my sight, which had already transfixed me, before I was out of my childhood, I turned to the left, with that faith with which a little boy runs to his mother, when he is afraid or troubled, saying to Virgil: ‘There is a barely a drop of blood in me that does not tremble: I know the tokens of the ancient flame.’
Purgatorio Canto XXX:49-81 Virgil has left: Dante is filled with Shame
But Virgil had left us, bereft of himself, Virgil, sweetest father, Virgil to whose guidance I gave myself: and all the beauties, that our ancient mother lost, did not prevent my dew-washed cheeks from turning dark again with tears.
‘Dante, do not weep, because Virgil goes, do not weep yet, not yet, since you must weep soon for another reason.’ Like an admiral, who stands, at stern and prow, to inspect the crews who man the other ships, and encourage them to brave action, so I saw the lady who first appeared to me, veiled, beneath the angelic festival, directing her gaze towards me on this side of the stream, from the left of the chariot, when I turned at the sound of my own name, that I write here, from necessity.
Although the veil which draped her head, crowned with Minerva’s olive leaves, did not allow her to appear clearly, she continued to speak, regally, and severely, like someone who holds back the sharpest words till last.
‘Look at me, truly: I truly am, I truly am Beatrice. How did you dare to approach the Mount? Did you not know that here Man is happy?’ My eyes dropped to the clear water, but seeing myself there, I looked back at the grass, so much shame bowed my forehead down. As the mother seems severe to her child, so she seemed to me: since the savour of sharp pity tastes of bitterness.
Purgatorio Canto XXX:82-145 Her Mission to help him
She fell silent, and immediately the Angels sang: ‘In te, Domine, speravi: In thee, O Lord, do I put my trust.’ but did not sing beyond the words: ‘pedes meos: my feet.’
As the snow is frozen, among the living rafters, along Italy’s back, under the blast and stress of Slavonic winds, then, melting, trickles down inside its mass, if the ground, free of shadow, breathes, so that the fire seems to melt the candle, so I was frozen, without sighs or tears, before they, who always harmonise their notes with the melody of the eternal spheres, sang: but when I heard the compassion for me in their sweet harmony, greater than if they had said: ‘Lady, why do you shame him so?’ the ice that had closed around my heart became breath and water, and issued from my chest, in anguish, through my mouth and eyes.
She, still standing on that side of the chariot I spoke of, directed her words, then, to the pitying Angels: ‘You are vigilant in the eternal day, so that night or sleep do not hide one measure of the earth’s journey along its way, from you: therefore I answer with greater care, so that he who weeps there can understand, so that his sorrow and his sin can be measured together.
Not merely by the motion of the vast spheres, that direct each seed to some objective, according to the stars’ attendance, but by the generosity of divine graces, that yield their rain from such lofty vapours our eyes do not reach near them, this man, potentially, was such in his vita nuova, his new life, that every true skill would have grown miraculously in him. But the more good qualities the earth’s soil has, the more wild and coarse it becomes with evil seed, and lack of cultivation.
For a while I supported him with my face: showing him my young eyes, I drew him with me, directed towards the right goal. But, as soon as I was on the threshold of my second age, and changed existences, he left me and gave himself to others. I was less dear to him, and less pleasing, when I rose from flesh to spirit, and beauty and virtue increased in me: and he turned his steps to an untrue road, chasing false illusions of good, that never completely repay their promise.
Nor was it any use to me to gain inspiration to call him back to himself, in dreams, or otherwise: he valued them so little. He sank so low, that all means to save him were already useless, except that of showing him the lost people. To achieve that, I visited the gates of the dead, and, weeping, my prayers carried to him who guided him upwards.
God’s highest law would be broken, if Lethe were gone by, and such food was tasted, without some tax of penitence, that sheds tears.’
Purgatorio Canto XXXI:1-42 Dante confesses his guilt
She began again, continuing without delay, directing her speech with its sharp point towards me, whose edge had seemed keen to me: ‘O you, who are on that side of the sacred stream, say, say if it is true: your confession must meet the charge.’
My powers were so confused, that the voice sounded and was gone before it emerged from its agent. She suffered a pause, then said: ‘What are you thinking of? Reply to me: the sad memories, you have, are not yet erased by the water.’ Confusion and fear, joined together, drove a ‘Yes’ from my mouth, so quietly that eyes were needed to interpret it.
As a crossbow breaks, in string and bow, when fired at too high a tension, and the bolt hits the mark with lessened force, so I broke under this heavy charge, pouring out a flood of tears and sighs, and my voice died away in transit. At which she said to me: ‘In your desire for me, that led you to love that good, beyond which there is nothing to aspire to, what pits did you find in your path, or chains to bind, that you had to despoil your hope of passing upward? And what allurements, or attractions were displayed in others’ faces, to make you stray towards them?’
After heaving a bitter sigh, I had hardly voice to answer, and my lips gave it shape with effort. I said, weeping: ‘Present things with false delights turned my steps away, as soon as your face had vanished.’ And she: ‘If you had stayed silent, or denied what you have confessed, your fault would be no less noted, such is the judge who knows of it. But when self-accusation of sin bursts from the mouth, in our Court, the grindstone blunts the edge.’
Purgatorio Canto XXXI:43-69 Beatrice rebukes him
‘However, in order that you might be ashamed of your errors, and might be more steadfast, on hearing the Siren sing next time, stifle the source of your weeping, and listen: then you will hear how my entombed flesh should have led you towards the opposite goal.
Art and Nature never presented such delight to you, as the lovely body I was enclosed by, now scattered into dust: and if the greatest delight was lost to you, by my death, what mortal thing should have led you to desire it? Truly, at the first sting of false things, you should have risen after me, who was no longer such. Some young girl, or other vanity, of such brief enjoyment, should not have weighted your wings, to wait for more arrows. The young bird stays for two or three, but the net is spread, and the shaft fired, in vain, in front of the eyes of the fully-fledged.
As children stand, mute with shame, listening with eyes on the ground, repentant, and self-confessing, so I stood, there. And she said: ‘Since you are grieving at what you hear, lift your bearded head, and you will have greater grief from what you see.’
Purgatorio Canto XXXI:70-90 Dante’s remorse
A strong oak-tree is uprooted with less resistance by our northern winds, or the southerlies from Iarbas’s Africa, than I lifted my face, at her command. And when she spoke of my beard, as a man I knew the venom behind her words.
And when my head was stretched forward, my eyes saw those primal creatures resting from strewing flowers, and my eyes, not yet quite in my control, saw Beatrice, turned towards the Grifon, which is Christ, one sole person in two natures.
Under her veil, and beyond the stream, she seemed to me to exceed her former self, more than she exceeded others when she was here. The nettle of repentance stung me so fiercely, that the thing that drew me most to love of it, of all other things became most hateful to me. Such great remorse gnawed at my heart, that I fell, stunned, and what I became then she knows, who gave me cause.
Purgatorio Canto XXXI:91-145 Lethe: Beatrice unveiled
Then, when my heart restored the power of outward things, I saw Matilda bending over me, that lady whom I had found alone, and she said: ‘Hold to me! Hold to me!’ She had drawn me into the river, up to my neck, and she went along, over the water, light as a shuttle, pulling me behind her.
When I was near to the shore of the blessed, I heard: ‘Asperges me: cleanse me’ sung so sweetly, I cannot remember it, nor can I describe it. The lovely lady opened her arms, clasped my head, and submerged me so that I had to swallow water, then pulled me out, and led me, cleansed, in among the dance of the four lovely ones, and each took my arm, and singing, they began: ‘Here we are nymphs, and in heaven we are stars: before Beatrice descended to your world, we were ordained to be her helpers. We will take you to her eyes: but the three on the other side, who look more deeply, will sharpen your vision to the joyful inward light.’
Then they lead me, with them, up to the Grifon’s breast, where Beatrice stood, turned towards us. They said: ‘See that you do not spare your eyes: we have set you in front of the bright emeralds, from which Love once shot his arrows at you.’ A thousand desires, hotter than flame, kept my eyes fixed on those shining eyes, that in turn stayed fixed on the Grifon. The dual-natured creature was reflected in them, just like the sun in a mirror, with the attributes now of the human, now of the divine. Reader, think how I marvelled, in my mind, to see the thing itself remain unmoving, and yet its image changing.
While my spirit, filled with delight and wonder, was tasting that food, that satisfies and causes hunger, the other three ladies, revealing themselves to be of highest nobility in their aspect, came forward, dancing to their angelic measure. ‘Turn Beatrice, turn your sacred eyes, to your faithful one,’ was their song, ‘he, who has trodden so many steps to see you. By your grace, grace us, by unveiling your face to him, so that he may see the second beauty that you conceal.’
O splendour of eternal living light, who of us is there, grown pale in the shadow of Parnassus, a drinker from its well, whose mind would not seem hampered, trying to render you as you appeared, there, where Heaven in harmony outlines you, when you showed yourself in the clear air?
Purgatorio Canto XXXII:1-36 The Pageant moves eastward
My eyes were so fixed on satisfying their ten-year thirst, that all my other senses were dulled, and there was a wall of disinterest either side of them, so that her holy smile drew my vision in, towards itself, into its ancient net: at which my face was turned of necessity to my left to those goddesses, because I heard them say: ‘Too intensely.’
And the state of vision the eyes are in, struck, just now, by the sun, left me sightless for a while: but once my sight adjusted to lesser things (I mean lesser compared to the greater object of perception, that I turned away from, of necessity) I saw the glorious pageant had turned round on the right and was returning, with the sun and the seven flames in its front.
As a detachment turns to retreat, behinds its shields, and wheels, with the standard, before it can fully change fronts, that militia of the heavenly region, that led, passed us all by, before the chariot-pole had turned. Then the ladies returned near to the wheels, and the Grifon moved the holy burden forwards, without ruffling a plume.
The lovely lady who drew me across the ford, and Statius, and I, were following the right wheel that made its turn following a tighter arc. So, an angelic melody accompanied our steps, passing through the tall forest that was empty, because of her who believed the serpent. We had gone as far, perhaps, as an arrow would travel in three flights, when Beatrice descended from the chariot.
Purgatorio Canto XXXII:37-63 The Mystic Tree
I heard them all mutter: ‘Adam!’ Then they surrounded a tree, with every branch stripped of blossom, and foliage. The height of its canopy, that stretches out further the higher it reaches, would be marvelled at by the people of India, in their forests.
‘Blessed, are you, Grifon, who tears nothing sweet-tasting from this tree, with your beak, because the stomach is wrenched by it.’ So the others shouted, round the solid tree; and the creature of two natures said: ‘So the seed of righteousness is preserved.’ And turning to the pole he had dragged, he pulled it to the foot of the denuded trunk, and left, bound to it, the Cross, that came from it.
As our trees bud, when the great light falls, mixed with the light that shines from Aries, following Pisces, the heavenly Fish, and each is newly dressed with colour, before the sun yokes his horses under the light of the following constellation, opening tinted more than rose and less than violet, so that tree renewed itself, that had naked branches before.
I did not understand the hymn the people sang then, nor is it sung here, and I could not withstand its burden to the end.
Purgatorio Canto XXXII:64-99 Dante sleeps: Beatrice guards the chariot
If I could depict how Argus’s pitiless eyes closed in sleep, hearing the tale of Syrinx, those eyes, whose greater power to watch, cost him so dear, I would paint how I fell asleep, as an artist does from a model: but who can truly show drowsiness? So, I move on, to when I woke, and say that a bright light tore the veil of sleep, and there was a cry: ‘Rise, what are you about?’
As, at the Transfiguration, Peter, John, and James were brought, to behold the blossom of Christ, the apple-tree, that makes the Angels eager for its fruit, and makes a perpetual marriage in Heaven, and came to themselves, having been overcome, at the word by which Lazarus’s deeper sleep had been broken, and saw that Moses and Elias had vanished, and their Master’s white raiment changed, even so I came to myself, and saw the compassionate one, who guided my steps, before, along the stream, bending over me.
And all bemused I said: ‘Where is Beatrice?’ and Matilda replied: ‘See her sitting under the new foliage, at its root. See, the company that surround her: the rest are rising after the Grifon, with sweeter and deeper song.’ And I do not know if her words went on, because now She was in front of my eyes, whose presence prevented me from attending to other things. She sat, alone, on the bare earth, left there as the guardian of the chariot, that I had seen the dual-natured creature anchor to the tree.
The seven nymphs made a ring, encircling her, carrying those lights, which are secure from the north and south winds, in their hands.
Purgatorio Canto XXXII:100-160 The Church’s Past, Present and Future
Beatrice spoke: ‘You will not be a forester long, here, and will be with me, a citizen, eternally, of that Rome of which Christ is a Roman. So, to help the world that lives wrongly, fix your gaze on the chariot, and take care to write what you see, when you return, over there.’ And I, completely obedient to her commands, set my mind and eyes where she desired.
Fire never fell so swiftly from dense cloud, falling from that region that is most remote, as I saw Jupiter’s eagle swoop down through the tree, tearing its bark, its flowers, and its new leaves, and he struck the chariot with all his power, at which it swayed like a ship in a storm, beaten by the seas, now to larboard, then to starboard.
Then I saw a vixen that seemed starved, of all decent food, leap into the body of the triumphal car. But my Lady put her to a flight as swift as fleshless bones could sustain, rebuking her for her foul sins.
Then I saw the eagle drop into the body of the chariot from the place where he had first swooped, and leave it feathered with his plumage. And a voice came from Heaven, as it comes from a sorrowing heart, and it said: O my little boat, how badly you are freighted!’
Then it seemed to me that the ground opened, between the two wheels, and a dragon emerged pointing his tail upwards through the chariot, and drawing his spiteful tail towards himself, like a wasp withdrawing her sting, he wrenched away part of its base, and slid away.
What was left, covered itself, with those feathers, just as fertile land is covered with grass, offered perhaps with true and benign intent, and the chariot-pole and both wheels were covered by them, in less time than a mouth is open for a sigh. The holy structure, transformed, grew heads above its members, three above the pole and one at each corner. The first three were horned like oxen, but the other four had a single horn on the forehead: such a Monster was never seen before.
Seated on it, secure as a tower on a high hill, a shameless Whore appeared, looking eagerly round her. And I saw a Giant standing by her side, so that she could not be snatched from him, and each kissed the other, now and then: but because she turned her lustful, wandering eye on me, her fierce lover scourged her from head to foot. Then full of jealousy and vicious with anger, he loosed the Monster, and dragged it so far, through the wood, that he made a screen between me, and the Whore and Monster.
Purgatorio Canto XXXIII:1-57 Beatrice’s prophetic words
Now as three, then four, alternately, and weeping, the ladies began a sweet psalmody, singing: ‘Deus, venerunt genes: O God, the heathen are come,’ and Beatrice. compassionate and sighing, was listening to them, so altered in aspect, that Mary was no less altered at the foot of the Cross. But when the virgins gave way for her to speak, standing upright she replied, colouring like fire: ‘Modicum, et non videbitis me, et iterum, my beloved sisters, modicum, et vos videbitis me: a little while, and ye shall not see me, my beloved sisters, and again, a little while, and ye shall see me.’
Then she set all seven of them in front of her, and, merely with a nod of the head, motioned myself, the Lady and the Sage who had stayed, behind her. So she went on, and I believe that hardly a tenth step touched the ground, until her eyes struck my eyes, and she said to me, quietly: ‘Come along, faster, so that, if I speak to you, you are well placed to listen.’
As soon as I, dutifully, was next to her, she said: ‘Brother, why when you come along with me, do you not venture to question me?’ I was like those, who are too humble in speech in front of their elders, who do not raise their voice fully to their lips, and short of full volume, I began: ‘Madonna, you know my needs, and what is good for them.’ And she to me: ‘I want you to free yourself, now, from fear and shame, so that you no longer speak like one who dreams.
Learn that the chariot that the serpent shattered was, and is not: and let him, whose fault it is, know that God’s vengeance cannot be evaded. The eagle, that left its feathers on the car, to make it a Monster, to be preyed on, shall not be without heirs for ever, since I see, with certainty, and so I tell you, stars are already nearing, safe from all barriers and impediments, that will bring us times in which a five-hundred, a ten, and a five (DVX, a leader) sent by God, will kill the Whore, and the Giant, who sins with her.
And perhaps my prophecy, as obscure as Themis and the Sphinx, persuades you less, because it darkens the mind, after their fashion, but the fact is that Oedipus, will solve this difficult question, without damage to flocks or harvest.
Take note of it: and just as these words carry from you to me, tell them to those who live the life that is a race towards death, and remember when you write, not to hide that you have seen the tree, now twice spoiled, here.’
Purgatorio Canto XXXIII:58-102 The Tree of Empire
‘Whoever robs it, and tears at it, in a blasphemous act, offends God, who created it sacred to his sole use. Adam, the first soul, longed for Him, in torment and desire, for more than five thousand years: He who punished the bite of the apple in Himself. Your intelligence is asleep if it does not judge that tree to be so high, and widened towards its summit, from some special cause. And if your idle thoughts had not been like the waters of the River Elsa round your mind, petrifying it, and their delights had not stained it as Pyramus’s blood the mulberry, you would have recognised in the tree, by these many circumstances alone, that, morally, God’s justice is in the injunction.
But since I see your mind made of stone, and like a stone, stained, so the light of my words dazes you, I want you to carry my words away with you as well, if not written at least in symbolic form, for the same reason that the pilgrim’s staff returns wreathed with palm-branches. And I said: ‘My brain is now stamped by you, like wax by the seal, whose imprint does not change. But why do your words, I longed for, soar so far beyond my vision, that the more it strains after them, the more they vanish?
She said: ‘So you may know the School you followed, and see whether its teachings follow my words, and may see that your way is as far from the divine way, as the swiftest Heaven is from the earth.’ At which I replied: ‘I do not remember that I was ever estranged from you, nor does conscience gnaw me, regarding it.’ She answered, smiling: ‘And, if you cannot remember it, think, now, how you drank Lethe’s water today: and if fire is deduced from smoke, this forgetfulness clearly proves the guiltiness of your desire, intent on other things. But now my words will be naked, as far as is needed to show them to your dull vision.’
Purgatorio Canto XXXIII:103-145 Dante and Statius drink from Eunoë
The sun was holding the noon circle, which varies here and there, as location varies, shining more brightly, travelling more slowly, when, like those who act as escorts for people, who stop if they find strange things or their traces, those seven ladies stopped, at the edge of a pale shadow, such as the Alps cast over their cool streams, under green leaves and dark branches.
I seemed to see Euphrates and Tigris, welling from one spring, in front of them, and parting, like lingering friends. I said: ‘O light, O glory of human kind, what waters are these that pour from one source, here, and separate themselves?’ At my prayer, she said: ‘Beg Matilda, to explain,’ and that lovely Lady answered her, like one who absolves herself from blame: ‘I have told him about this, and about other things, and I am sure Lethe’s water does not hide them from him.’ And Beatrice said: ‘Perhaps some greater care, that often robs us of memory, has dimmed the eyes of his mind. But see, Eunoë, that flows from there: lead him to it, and as you are used to do, revive his flagging virtue.’
Like a gentle spirit, that does not make excuses, but forms her will from another’s will, as soon as it is revealed, by outward sign, so that lovely Lady, set out, after taking charge of me, and said to Statius, in a ladylike way: ‘Come, with him.’
Reader, if I had more space to write, I would speak, partially at least, about that sweet drink, which would never have sated me: but because all the pages determined for the second Canticle are full, the curb of art lets me go no further.
I came back, from the most sacred waves, remade, as fresh plants are, refreshed, with fresh leaves: pure, and ready to climb to the stars.