The Divine Comedy: Purgatory, by Dante Alighieri

CANTO XXII

Now we had left the angel, who had turn’d

To the sixth circle our ascending step,

One gash from off my forehead raz’d: while they,

Whose wishes tend to justice, shouted forth:

“Blessed!” and ended with, “I thirst:” and I,

More nimble than along the other straits,

So journey’d, that, without the sense of toil,

I follow’d upward the swift-footed shades;

When Virgil thus began: “Let its pure flame

From virtue flow, and love can never fail

To warm another’s bosom’ so the light

Shine manifestly forth. Hence from that hour,

When ’mongst us in the purlieus of the deep,

Came down the spirit of Aquinum’s hard,

Who told of thine affection, my good will

Hath been for thee of quality as strong

As ever link’d itself to one not seen.

Therefore these stairs will now seem short to me.

But tell me: and if too secure I loose

The rein with a friend’s license, as a friend

Forgive me, and speak now as with a friend:

How chanc’d it covetous desire could find

Place in that bosom, ’midst such ample store

Of wisdom, as thy zeal had treasur’d there?”

First somewhat mov’d to laughter by his words,

Statius replied: “Each syllable of thine

Is a dear pledge of love. Things oft appear

That minister false matters to our doubts,

When their true causes are remov’d from sight.

Thy question doth assure me, thou believ’st

I was on earth a covetous man, perhaps

Because thou found’st me in that circle plac’d.

Know then I was too wide of avarice:

And e’en for that excess, thousands of moons

Have wax’d and wan’d upon my sufferings.

And were it not that I with heedful care

Noted where thou exclaim’st as if in ire

With human nature, ’Why, thou cursed thirst

Of gold! dost not with juster measure guide

The appetite of mortals?’ I had met

The fierce encounter of the voluble rock.

Then was I ware that with too ample wing

The hands may haste to lavishment, and turn’d,

As from my other evil, so from this

In penitence. How many from their grave

Shall with shorn locks arise, who living, aye

And at life’s last extreme, of this offence,

Through ignorance, did not repent. And know,

The fault which lies direct from any sin

In level opposition, here With that

Wastes its green rankness on one common heap.

Therefore if I have been with those, who wail

Their avarice, to cleanse me, through reverse

Of their transgression, such hath been my lot.”

To whom the sovran of the pastoral song:

“While thou didst sing that cruel warfare wag’d

By the twin sorrow of Jocasta’s womb,

From thy discourse with Clio there, it seems

As faith had not been shine: without the which

Good deeds suffice not. And if so, what sun

Rose on thee, or what candle pierc’d the dark

That thou didst after see to hoist the sail,

And follow, where the fisherman had led?”

He answering thus: “By thee conducted first,

I enter’d the Parnassian grots, and quaff’d

Of the clear spring; illumin’d first by thee

Open’d mine eyes to God. Thou didst, as one,

Who, journeying through the darkness, hears a light

Behind, that profits not himself, but makes

His followers wise, when thou exclaimedst, ’Lo!

A renovated world! Justice return’d!

Times of primeval innocence restor’d!

And a new race descended from above!’

Poet and Christian both to thee I owed.

That thou mayst mark more clearly what I trace,

My hand shall stretch forth to inform the lines

With livelier colouring. Soon o’er all the world,

By messengers from heav’n, the true belief

Teem’d now prolific, and that word of thine

Accordant, to the new instructors chim’d.

Induc’d by which agreement, I was wont

Resort to them; and soon their sanctity

So won upon me, that, Domitian’s rage

Pursuing them, I mix’d my tears with theirs,

And, while on earth I stay’d, still succour’d them;

And their most righteous customs made me scorn

All sects besides. Before I led the Greeks

In tuneful fiction, to the streams of Thebes,

I was baptiz’d; but secretly, through fear,

Remain’d a Christian, and conform’d long time

To Pagan rites. Five centuries and more,

T for that lukewarmness was fain to pace

Round the fourth circle. Thou then, who hast rais’d

The covering, which did hide such blessing from me,

Whilst much of this ascent is yet to climb,

Say, if thou know, where our old Terence bides,

Caecilius, Plautus, Varro: if condemn’d

They dwell, and in what province of the deep.”

“These,” said my guide, “with Persius and myself,

And others many more, are with that Greek,

Of mortals, the most cherish’d by the Nine,

In the first ward of darkness. There ofttimes

We of that mount hold converse, on whose top

For aye our nurses live. We have the bard

Of Pella, and the Teian, Agatho,

Simonides, and many a Grecian else

Ingarlanded with laurel. Of thy train

Antigone is there, Deiphile,

Argia, and as sorrowful as erst

Ismene, and who show’d Langia’s wave:

Deidamia with her sisters there,

And blind Tiresias’ daughter, and the bride

Sea-born of Peleus.” Either poet now

Was silent, and no longer by th’ ascent

Or the steep walls obstructed, round them cast

Inquiring eyes. Four handmaids of the day

Had finish’d now their office, and the fifth

Was at the chariot-beam, directing still

Its balmy point aloof, when thus my guide:

“Methinks, it well behooves us to the brink

Bend the right shoulder’ circuiting the mount,

As we have ever us’d.” So custom there

Was usher to the road, the which we chose

Less doubtful, as that worthy shade complied.

They on before me went; I sole pursued,

List’ning their speech, that to my thoughts convey’d

Mysterious lessons of sweet poesy.

But soon they ceas’d; for midway of the road

A tree we found, with goodly fruitage hung,

And pleasant to the smell: and as a fir

Upward from bough to bough less ample spreads,

So downward this less ample spread, that none.

Methinks, aloft may climb. Upon the side,

That clos’d our path, a liquid crystal fell

From the steep rock, and through the sprays above

Stream’d showering. With associate step the bards

Drew near the plant; and from amidst the leaves

A voice was heard: “Ye shall be chary of me;”

And after added: “Mary took more thought

For joy and honour of the nuptial feast,

Than for herself who answers now for you.

The women of old Rome were satisfied

With water for their beverage. Daniel fed

On pulse, and wisdom gain’d. The primal age

Was beautiful as gold; and hunger then

Made acorns tasteful, thirst each rivulet

Run nectar. Honey and locusts were the food,

Whereon the Baptist in the wilderness

Fed, and that eminence of glory reach’d

And greatness, which the’ Evangelist records.”

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 15:53