Back to the Future

The pilgrim now asks Cacciaguida about the prophecies that were made to him in the course of his journey, by Ciacco in Inferno 6 and by Farinata in Inferno 10 and by Brunetto Latini in Inferno 15: prophecies of the exile and disgrace that await him. Dante was exiled from Florence, we recall, in 1302.

The heaven of Mars, as we have seen, celebrates family lineage and family ties: mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, wives, husbands, children. The female side of the lineage is not absent: Cacciaguida refers to “mia madre, ch’è or santa” (my mother, blessed now) in Paradiso 16.35 and explains that the Alighieri surname comes from his wife, “mia donna venne a me di val di Pado, / e quindi il sopranome tuo si feo” (my wife came from the valley of the Po—the surname that you bear was brought by her) in Paradiso 15.137-38.

But most of all this heaven celebrates fathers. And thus it is not altogether surprising to find that the pilgrim, in describing to his great-great-great-grandfather the journey through the afterlife in which he learned of his future exile, uses (for the first time since Purgatorio 30) the name of “Virgilio”, the Roman poet who was his surrogate father through much of his journey:

mentre ch’io era a Virgilio congiunto
su per lo monte che l'anime cura 
e discendendo nel mondo defunto, 
dette mi fuor di mia vita futura
parole gravi . . .			 (Par. 17.19-23)
while I was in the company of Virgil,
both on the mountain that heals souls and when
descending to the dead world, what I heard
about my future life were grievous words . . .

In initiating his explanation of future events, Cacciaguida takes the profoundly historicized family motif of the heaven of Mars and metaphorizes it. He also makes it negative, announcing that Dante’s ruin will come about (like Hippolytus’s—also an innocent) because of a wicked stepmother and through the machinations of the papal court and Pope Boniface VIII:

Qual si partio Ipolito d’Atene 
per la spietata e perfida noverca,
tal di Fiorenza partir ti convene.
Questo si vuole e questo già si cerca,
e tosto verrà fatto a chi ciò pensa
là dove Cristo tutto dì si merca.	 (Par. 17.46-51)
Hippolytus was forced to leave his Athens
because of his stepmother, faithless, fierce; 
and so must you depart from Florence: this
is willed already, sought for, soon to be
accomplished by the one who plans and plots
where—every day—Christ is both sold and bought.

Cacciaguida now tells the pilgrim of the loss and alienation that exile will bring him:

Tu lascerai ogne cosa diletta
più caramente; e questo è quello strale
che l’arco de lo essilio pria saetta. 
Tu proverai sì come sa di sale 
lo pane altrui, e come è duro calle
lo scendere e ’l salir per l’altrui scale.	 (Par. 17.55-60)
You shall leave everything you love most dearly: 
this is the arrow that the bow of exile
shoots first. You are to know the bitter taste
of others’ bread, how salt it is, and know
how hard a path it is for one who goes
descending and ascending others’ stairs.

The poignancy of these famous verses is guaranteed by our knowledge that the man who wrote them had already endured the sufferings they recount for many long years.

Exile will also bring Dante the mortification of finding that his companions in exile, his fellow Whites, turn against him, showing him utter ingratitude (“tutta ingrata” [Par. 17.64]).

But there will be, if not solace, at least a harbor in the storm, a “refuge” offered by the della Scala family, lords of Verona:

Lo primo tuo refugio e ’l primo ostello
sarà la cortesia del gran Lombardo
che ’n su la scala porta il santo Uccello;
ch’in te avrà sì benigno riguardo,
che del fare e del chieder, tra voi due,
fia primo quel che tra li altri è più tardo. (Par. 17.70-75)
Your first refuge and your first inn shall be
the courtesy of the great Lombard, he
who on the ladder bears the sacred bird.
And so benign will be his care for you
that, with you two, in giving and in asking, 
that shall be first which is, with others, last.

For a prickly and defensive man like Dante, who feels acutely the discomfort of taking that which is given by “others” (“lo pane altrui” and “l’altrui scale”), as compared to that which is earned for oneself or provided by one’s own family’s fortune, there is no greater compliment in the social sphere than the one he pays here: Bartolomeo della Scala is a host who gives before being asked, not subjecting Dante to the humiliation of the request.

Important in this context is the opening section of Epistola 13, the Letter to Cangrande della Scala, in which Dante theorizes the possibility of friendship between unequals. Dante’s shame at the disgrace of exile exacerbates his already keen sense of social disparity, shown in his early pre-exilic awareness of the distance between himself and his friends who belong to rich and powerful magnate families. I touch on this issue in the essay “Aristotle’s Mezzo, Courtly Misura, and Dante’s Canzone Le dolci rime: Humanism, Ethics, and Social Anxiety.”

Dante has a long history, by the time he writes Paradiso 17, of bringing into balance what he experiences as his social inferiority by means of the immense social capital generated by his writing and his intellectual attainments. Dante’s own family, although gentile in a minor sort of way, was not wealthy or important: it is a family we know of because of Dante himself. He makes the same move now, bringing this canto of exile and disgrace to a close with his anointment as an epic poet by Cacciaguida.

The pilgrim asks his ancestor to guide him as a poet: his problem is how to weigh present popularity against future fame. In the course of his journey he has seen that which, in the recounting, will be quite unpleasant to the taste. And yet, if he does not recount what he has witnessed, he fears that he will lose long “life”—“vivere”, in other words fame and longevity as a poet—among the readers of the future:

e s’io al vero son timido amico,
temo di perder viver tra coloro 
che questo tempo chiameranno antico. 	(Par. 17.118-20)
yet if I am a timid friend of truth,
I fear that I may lose my life among
those who will call this present, ancient times.

Dante is here writing about the readers of the future—in other words, he is writing about us. We are “coloro / che questo tempo chiameranno antico” (those will call this present, ancient times [Par. 17.119-20).

The answer is a trumpet blast of clarity. Tell everything you have seen, says Cacciaguida: “tutta tua vision fa manifesta” (let all that you have seen be manifest [Par. 17.128]).

There are several points I would like to make here. One is that Cacciaguida suggests that Dante’s journey has been engineered (by Whom?) in order to make his vision more compellingly pedagogic. He has been shown famous souls because in this way the encounters he recounts will be exemplary and more didactically powerful:

Però ti son mostrate in queste rote,
nel monte e ne la valle dolorosa
pur l’anime che son di fama note . . .	 (Par. 17.136-38)
Therefore, within these spheres, upon the mountain,
and in the dismal valley, you were shown
only those souls that unto fame are known . . .

It is important to point out that Cacciaguida’s remark is, as I note in Dante’s Poets, “patently untrue”. For, “most of the souls Dante meets we would never have heard of were it not for his poem” (Dante’s Poets, p. 282). I continue:

They are famous now because the text has given them life, making them into the kinds of exemplary figures whom Cacciaguida describes; Cacciaguida’s assertion, untrue when it was written, is true now, because the text has made it true.

So here again, in this canto of his poetic investiture, we find Dante conflating life and text. He goes back to one of his oldest poetic tropes, that of writing down faithfully what life offers him (see the “book of memory” at the beginning of the Vita Nuova). And in this case Cacciaguida retrofits the souls whom the pilgrim has encountered in order to fit an exemplary model that is appropriate for an epic poem.

Let me end on the heroic note sounded by this page in The Undivine Comedy:

In these cantos of the Paradiso, Dante explores the ancient epic function of the poet who does not attenuate or flinch from the sorrows of the history he records but who yet invokes time’s consolations—fame and memory—to counter time’s scissors and their bitter corollary, the fact that “Le vostre cose tutte hanno lor morte.” That all our things have their death is the fact that epics never forget (and with which they end: Hector’s death, Turnus’s death, Beowulf’s death, Rodomonte’s death), the fact that—in the gesture that makes them “epic”—they heroically and flimsily deny with words, the words that give life not only to the sung but to the singer. In epic fashion, Dante must tell the truth, because otherwise he fears to lose his future life among us, his readers, the ones who will call his time ancient: “temo di perder viver tra coloro / che questo tempo chiameranno antico” (Par. 17.119-20). And, true to the epic key of these cantos, Cacciaguida does not reprove the pilgrim for desiring life—“viver”—through his literary prowess; rather he incites him to tell the truth and provides him the literary formula most likely to guarantee his future life in words. The very coinage infuturarsi, used by Cacciaguida to refer to the pilgrim’s future life in words, echoes the coinage etternarsi of the Brunetto episode; but the Paradiso does not conform to the theological grid by confirming the vanity of literary immortality, the Inferno’s suggested impossibility of living in a text. Instead, these epic cantos recast Brunetto’s message, empowering the poet to live in his words, among those “che questo tempo chiameranno antico.” Nor does this poet grow indifferent to posterity’s mandate; in the Commedia’s final canto, in a final epic surge, Dante still prays to be able to reach “la futura gente” with his poetry: “e fa la lingua mia tanto possente, / ch’una favilla sol de la tua gloria / possa lasciare a la futura gente” (and make my tongue so powerful that one spark alone of your glory it may leave for future folk [Par. 33.70-72]).
(The Undivine Comedy, p. 140)

Coordinated Reading

Coordinated Reading: on the canti of the heaven of Mars as the poem’s “epic core,” see The Undivine Comedy, Chapter 6, “Re-Presenting What God Presented,” pp. 137-40; Dante’s Poets, pp. 282-83; on Dante’s social anxiety, see “Aristotle’s Mezzo, Courtly Misura, and Dante’s Canzone Le dolci rime: Humanism, Ethics, and Social Anxiety,” in Dante and the Greeks, ed. Jan Ziolkowski, Harvard U. Press, 2014, pp. 163-79.

Recommended Citation

Barolini, Teodolinda. “Paradiso 17: Back to the Future.” Commento Baroliniano, Digital Dante. New York, NY: Columbia University Libraries, 2017. https://digitaldante.columbia.edu/dante/divine-comedy/paradiso/paradiso-17/

About the Commento

1Qual venne a Climenè, per accertarsi
2di ciò ch’avëa incontro a sé udito,
3quei ch’ancor fa li padri ai figli scarsi;

4tal era io, e tal era sentito
5e da Beatrice e da la santa lampa
6che pria per me avea mutato sito.

7Per che mia donna «Manda fuor la vampa
8del tuo disio», mi disse, «sì ch’ella esca
9segnata bene de la interna stampa:

10non perché nostra conoscenza cresca
11per tuo parlare, ma perché t’ausi
12a dir la sete, sì che l’uom ti mesca».

13«O cara piota mia che sì t’insusi,
14che, come veggion le terrene menti
15non capere in trïangol due ottusi,

16così vedi le cose contingenti
17anzi che sieno in sé, mirando il punto
18a cui tutti li tempi son presenti;

19mentre ch’io era a Virgilio congiunto
20su per lo monte che l’anime cura
21e discendendo nel mondo defunto,

22dette mi fuor di mia vita futura
23parole gravi, avvegna ch’io mi senta
24ben tetragono ai colpi di ventura;

25per che la voglia mia saria contenta
26d’intender qual fortuna mi s’appressa:
27ché saetta previsa vien più lenta».

28Così diss’ io a quella luce stessa
29che pria m’avea parlato; e come volle
30Beatrice, fu la mia voglia confessa.

31Né per ambage, in che la gente folle
32già s’inviscava pria che fosse anciso
33l’Agnel di Dio che le peccata tolle,

34ma per chiare parole e con preciso
35latin rispuose quello amor paterno,
36chiuso e parvente del suo proprio riso:

37«La contingenza, che fuor del quaderno
38de la vostra matera non si stende,
39tutta è dipinta nel cospetto etterno;

40necessità però quindi non prende
41se non come dal viso in che si specchia
42nave che per torrente giù discende.

43Da indi, sì come viene ad orecchia
44dolce armonia da organo, mi viene
45a vista il tempo che ti s’apparecchia.

46Qual si partio Ipolito d’Atene
47per la spietata e perfida noverca,
48tal di Fiorenza partir ti convene.

49Questo si vuole e questo già si cerca,
50e tosto verrà fatto a chi ciò pensa
51là dove Cristo tutto dì si merca.

52La colpa seguirà la parte offensa
53in grido, come suol; ma la vendetta
54fia testimonio al ver che la dispensa.

55Tu lascerai ogne cosa diletta
56più caramente; e questo è quello strale
57che l’arco de lo essilio pria saetta.

58Tu proverai sì come sa di sale
59lo pane altrui, e come è duro calle
60lo scendere e ’l salir per l’altrui scale.

61E quel che più ti graverà le spalle,
62sarà la compagnia malvagia e scempia
63con la qual tu cadrai in questa valle;

64che tutta ingrata, tutta matta ed empia
65si farà contr’ a te; ma, poco appresso,
66ella, non tu, n’avrà rossa la tempia.

67Di sua bestialitate il suo processo
68farà la prova; sì ch’a te fia bello
69averti fatta parte per te stesso.

70Lo primo tuo refugio e ’l primo ostello
71sarà la cortesia del gran Lombardo
72che ’n su la scala porta il santo uccello;

73ch’in te avrà sì benigno riguardo,
74che del fare e del chieder, tra voi due,
75fia primo quel che tra li altri è più tardo.

76Con lui vedrai colui che ’mpresso fue,
77nascendo, sì da questa stella forte,
78che notabili fier l’opere sue.

79Non se ne son le genti ancora accorte
80per la novella età, ché pur nove anni
81son queste rote intorno di lui torte;

82ma pria che ’l Guasco l’alto Arrigo inganni,
83parran faville de la sua virtute
84in non curar d’argento né d’affanni.

85Le sue magnificenze conosciute
86saranno ancora, sì che ’ suoi nemici
87non ne potran tener le lingue mute.

88A lui t’aspetta e a’ suoi benefici;
89per lui fia trasmutata molta gente,
90cambiando condizion ricchi e mendici;

91e portera’ne scritto ne la mente
92di lui, e nol dirai»; e disse cose
93incredibili a quei che fier presente.

94Poi giunse: «Figlio, queste son le chiose
95di quel che ti fu detto; ecco le ’nsidie
96che dietro a pochi giri son nascose.

97Non vo’ però ch’a’ tuoi vicini invidie,
98poscia che s’infutura la tua vita
99vie più là che ’l punir di lor perfidie».

100Poi che, tacendo, si mostrò spedita
101l’anima santa di metter la trama
102in quella tela ch’io le porsi ordita,

103io cominciai, come colui che brama,
104dubitando, consiglio da persona
105che vede e vuol dirittamente e ama:

106«Ben veggio, padre mio, sì come sprona
107lo tempo verso me, per colpo darmi
108tal, ch’è più grave a chi più s’abbandona;

109per che di provedenza è buon ch’io m’armi,
110sì che, se loco m’è tolto più caro,
111io non perdessi li altri per miei carmi.

112Giù per lo mondo sanza fine amaro,
113e per lo monte del cui bel cacume
114li occhi de la mia donna mi levaro,

115e poscia per lo ciel, di lume in lume,
116ho io appreso quel che s’io ridico,
117a molti fia sapor di forte agrume;

118e s’io al vero son timido amico,
119temo di perder viver tra coloro
120che questo tempo chiameranno antico».

121La luce in che rideva il mio tesoro
122ch’io trovai lì, si fé prima corusca,
123quale a raggio di sole specchio d’oro;

124indi rispuose: «Coscïenza fusca
125o de la propria o de l’altrui vergogna
126pur sentirà la tua parola brusca.

127Ma nondimen, rimossa ogne menzogna,
128tutta tua visïon fa manifesta;
129e lascia pur grattar dov’ è la rogna.

130Ché se la voce tua sarà molesta
131nel primo gusto, vital nodrimento
132lascerà poi, quando sarà digesta.

133Questo tuo grido farà come vento,
134che le più alte cime più percuote;
135e ciò non fa d’onor poco argomento.

136Però ti son mostrate in queste rote,
137nel monte e ne la valle dolorosa
138pur l’anime che son di fama note,

139che l’animo di quel ch’ode, non posa
140né ferma fede per essempro ch’aia
141la sua radice incognita e ascosa,

142né per altro argomento che non paia».

Like Phaethon (one who still makes fathers wary
of sons) when he had heard insinuations,
and he, to be assured, came to Clymene,

such was I and such was I seen to be
by Beatrice and by the holy lamp
that—earlier—had shifted place for me.

Therefore my lady said to me: “Display
the flame of your desire, that it may
be seen well—stamped with your internal seal,

not that we need to know what you’d reveal,
but that you learn the way that would disclose
your thirst, and you be quenched by what we pour.”

“O my dear root, who, since you rise so high,
can see the Point in which all times are present—
for just as earthly minds are able to

see that two obtuse angles cannot be
contained in a triangle, you can see
contingent things before they come to be—

while I was in the company of Virgil,
both on the mountain that heals souls and when
descending to the dead world, what I heard

about my future life were grievous words—
although, against the blows of chance I feel
myself as firmly planted as a cube.

Thus my desire would be appeased if I
might know what fortune is approaching me:
the arrow one foresees arrives more gently.”

So did I speak to the same living light
that spoke to me before; as Beatrice
had wished, what was my wish was now confessed.

Not with the maze of words that used to snare
the fools upon this earth before the Lamb
of God who takes away our sins was slain,

but with words plain and unambiguous,
that loving father, hidden, yet revealed
by his own smile, replied: “Contingency,

while not extending past the book in which
your world of matter has been writ, is yet
in the Eternal Vision all depicted

(but this does not imply necessity,
just as a ship that sails downstream is not
determined by the eye that watches it).

And from that Vision—just as from an organ
the ear receives a gentle harmony—
what time prepares for you appears to me.

Hippolytus was forced to leave his Athens
because of his stepmother, faithless, fierce;
and so must you depart from Florence: this

is willed already, sought for, soon to be
accomplished by the one who plans and plots
where—every day—Christ is both sold and bought.

The blame, as usual, will be cried out
against the injured party; but just vengeance
will serve as witness to the truth that wields it.

You shall leave everything you love most dearly:
this is the arrow that the bow of exile
shoots first. You are to know the bitter taste

of others’ bread, how salt it is, and know
how hard a path it is for one who goes
descending and ascending others’ stairs.

And what will be most hard for you to bear
will be the scheming, senseless company
that is to share your fall into this valley;

against you they will be insane, completely
ungrateful and profane; and yet, soon after,
not you but they will have their brows bloodred.

Of their insensate acts, the proof will be
in the effects; and thus, your honor will
be best kept if your party is your self.

Your first refuge and your first inn shall be
the courtesy of the great Lombard, he
who on the ladder bears the sacred bird;

and so benign will be his care for you
that, with you two, in giving and in asking,
that shall be first which is, with others, last.

You shall—beside him—see one who, at birth,
had so received the seal of this strong star
that what he does will be remarkable.

People have yet to notice him because
he is a boy—for nine years and no more
have these spheres wheeled around him—but before

the Gascon gulls the noble Henry, some
sparks will have marked the virtue of the Lombard:
hard labor and his disregard for silver.

His generosity is yet to be
so notable that even enemies
will never hope to treat it silently.

Put trust in him and in his benefits:
his gifts will bring much metamorphosis—
rich men and beggars will exchange their states.

What I tell you about him you will bear
inscribed within your mind—but hide it there”;
and he told things beyond belief even

for those who will yet see them. Then he added:
“Son, these are glosses of what you had heard;
these are the snares that hide beneath brief years.

Yet I’d not have you envying your neighbors;
your life will long outlast the punishment
that is to fall upon their treacheries.”

After that holy soul had, with his silence,
showed he was freed from putting in the woof
across the web whose warp I set for him,

I like a man who, doubting, craves for counsel
from one who sees and rightly wills and loves,
replied to him: “I clearly see, my father,

how time is hurrying toward me in order
to deal me such a blow as would be most
grievous for him who is not set for it;

thus, it is right to arm myself with foresight,
that if I lose the place most dear, I may
not lose the rest through what my poems say.

Down in the world of endless bitterness,
and on the mountain from whose lovely peak
I was drawn upward by my lady’s eyes,

and afterward, from light to light in Heaven,
I learned that which, if I retell it, must
for many have a taste too sharp, too harsh;

yet if I am a timid friend of truth,
I fear that I may lose my life among
those who will call this present, ancient times.”

The light in which there smiled the treasure I
had found within it, first began to dazzle,
as would a golden mirror in the sun,

then it replied: “A conscience that is dark—
either through its or through another’s shame—
indeed will find that what you speak is harsh.

Nevertheless, all falsehood set aside,
let all that you have seen be manifest,
and let them scratch wherever it may itch.

For if, at the first taste, your words molest,
they will, when they have been digested, end
as living nourishment. As does the wind,

so shall your outcry do—the wind that sends
its roughest blows against the highest peaks;
that is no little cause for claiming honor.

Therefore, within these spheres, upon the mountain,
and in the dismal valley, you were shown
only those souls that unto fame are known—

because the mind of one who hears will not
put doubt to rest, put trust in you, if given
examples with their roots unknown and hidden,

or arguments too dim, too unapparent.”

AS came to Clymene, to be made certain
Of that which he had heard against himself,
He who makes fathers chary still t children,

Even such was I, and such was I perceived
By Beatrice and by the holy light
That first on my account had changed its place.

Therefore my Lady said to me: “Send forth
The flame of thy desire, so that it issue
Imprinted well with the internal stamp;

Not that our knowledge may be greater made
By speech of thine, but to accustom thee
To tell thy thirst, that we may give thee drink.”

“O my beloved tree, (that so dost lift thee,
That even as minds terrestrial perceive
No triangle containeth two obtuse,

So thou beholdest the contingent things
Ere in themselves they are, fixing thine eyes
Upon the point in which all times are present,)

While I was with Virgilius conjoined
Upon the mountain that the souls doth heal,
And when descending into the dead world,

Were spoken to me of my future life
Some grievous words; although I feel myself
ln sooth foursquare against the blows of chance.

On this account my wish would be content
To hear what fortune is approaching me,
Because foreseen an arrow comes more slowly.”

Thus did I say unto that selfsame light
That unto me had spoken before, and even
As Beatrice willed was my own will confessed.

Not in vague phrase, in which the foolish folk
Ensnared themselves of old, ere yet was slain
The Lamb of God who taketh sins away,

But with clear words and unambiguous
Language responded that paternal love,
Hid and revealed by its own proper smile:

“Contingency, that outside of the volume
Of your materiality extends not,
Is all depicted in the eternal aspect.

Necessity however thence it takes not,
Except as from the eye, in which ’tis mirrored,
A ship that with the current down descends.

From thence, e’en as there cometh to the ear
Sweet harmony from an organ, comes in sight
To me the time that is preparing for thee.

As forth from Athens went Hippolytus,
By reason of his step—dame false and cruel,
So thou from Florence must perforce depart.

Already this is willed, and this is sought for;
And soon it shall be done by him who thinks it,
Where every day the Christ is bought and sold.

The blame shall follow the offended party
In outcry as is usual; but the vengeance
Shall witness to the truth that doth dispense it.

Thou shalt abandon everything beloved
Most tenderly, and this the arrow is
Which first the bow of banishment shoots forth.

Thou shalt have proof how savoureth of salt
The bread of others, and how hard a road
The going down and up another’s stairs.

And that which most shall weigh upon thy shoulders
Will be the bad and foolish company
With which into this valley thou shalt fall;

For all ingrate, all mad and impious
Will they become against thee; but soon after
They, and not thou, shall have the forehead scarlet

Of their bestiality their own proceedings
Shall furnish proof; so ’twill be well for thee
A party to have made thee by thyself.

Thine earliest refuge and thine earliest inn
Shall be the mighty Lombard’s courtesy,
Who on the Ladder bears the holy bird,

Who such benign regard shall have for thee
That ‘twixt you twain, in doing and in asking,
That shall be first which is with others last.

With him shalt thou see one who at his birth
Has by this star of strength been so impressed,
That notable shall his achievements be.

Not yet the people are aware of him
Through his young age, since only nine years yet
Around about him have these wheels revolved

But ere the Gascon cheat the noble Henry,
Some sparkles of his virtue shall appear
In caring not for silver nor for toil.

So recognized shall his magnificence
Become hereafter, that his enemies
Will not have power to keep mute tongues about it.

On him rely, and on his benefits;
By him shall many people be transformed,
Changing condition rich and mendicant;

And written in thy mind thou hence shalt bear
Of him, but shalt not say it”— and things said he
Incredible to those who shall be present.

Then added: “Son, these are the commentaries
On what was said to thee; behold the snares
That are concealed behind few revolutions;

Yet would I not thy neighbours thou shouldst envy,
Because thy life into the future reaches
Beyond the punishment of their perfidies.”

When by its silence showed that sainted soul
That it had finished putting in the woof
Into that web which I had given it warped,

Began I, even as he who yearneth after,
Being in doubt, some counsel from a person
Who seeth, and uprightly wills, and loves:

“Well see I, father mine, how spurreth on
The time towards me such a blow to deal me
As heaviest is to him who most gives way.

Therefore with foresight it is well I arm me,
That, if the dearest place be taken from me,
I may not lose the others by my songs.

Down through the world of infinite bitterness,
And o’er the mountain, from whose beauteous summit
The eyes of my own Lady lifted me,

And afterward through heaven from light to light,
I have learned that which, if I tell again,
Will be a savour of strong herbs to many.

And if I am a timid friend to truth,
I fear lest I may lose my life with those
Who will hereafter call this time the olden.”

The light in which was smiling my own treasure
Which there I had discovered, flashed at first
As in the sunshine doth a golden mirror;

Then made reply: “A conscience overcast
Or with its own or with another’s shame,
Will taste forsooth the tartness of thy word;

But ne’ertheless, ail falsehood laid aside,
Make manifest thy vision utterly,
And let them scratch wherever is the itch;

For if thine utterance shall offensive be
At the first taste, a vital nutriment
‘Twill leave thereafter, when it is digested.

This cry of thine shall do as doth the wind,
Which smiteth most the most exalted summits,
And that is no slight argument of honour.

Therefore are shown to thee within these wheels,
Upon the mount and in the dolorous valley,
Only the souls that unto fame are known;

Because the spirit of the hearer rests not,
Nor doth confirm its faith by an example
Which has the root of it unknown and hidden,

Or other reason that is not apparent.”

Like Phaethon (one who still makes fathers wary
of sons) when he had heard insinuations,
and he, to be assured, came to Clymene,

such was I and such was I seen to be
by Beatrice and by the holy lamp
that—earlier—had shifted place for me.

Therefore my lady said to me: “Display
the flame of your desire, that it may
be seen well—stamped with your internal seal,

not that we need to know what you’d reveal,
but that you learn the way that would disclose
your thirst, and you be quenched by what we pour.”

“O my dear root, who, since you rise so high,
can see the Point in which all times are present—
for just as earthly minds are able to

see that two obtuse angles cannot be
contained in a triangle, you can see
contingent things before they come to be—

while I was in the company of Virgil,
both on the mountain that heals souls and when
descending to the dead world, what I heard

about my future life were grievous words—
although, against the blows of chance I feel
myself as firmly planted as a cube.

Thus my desire would be appeased if I
might know what fortune is approaching me:
the arrow one foresees arrives more gently.”

So did I speak to the same living light
that spoke to me before; as Beatrice
had wished, what was my wish was now confessed.

Not with the maze of words that used to snare
the fools upon this earth before the Lamb
of God who takes away our sins was slain,

but with words plain and unambiguous,
that loving father, hidden, yet revealed
by his own smile, replied: “Contingency,

while not extending past the book in which
your world of matter has been writ, is yet
in the Eternal Vision all depicted

(but this does not imply necessity,
just as a ship that sails downstream is not
determined by the eye that watches it).

And from that Vision—just as from an organ
the ear receives a gentle harmony—
what time prepares for you appears to me.

Hippolytus was forced to leave his Athens
because of his stepmother, faithless, fierce;
and so must you depart from Florence: this

is willed already, sought for, soon to be
accomplished by the one who plans and plots
where—every day—Christ is both sold and bought.

The blame, as usual, will be cried out
against the injured party; but just vengeance
will serve as witness to the truth that wields it.

You shall leave everything you love most dearly:
this is the arrow that the bow of exile
shoots first. You are to know the bitter taste

of others’ bread, how salt it is, and know
how hard a path it is for one who goes
descending and ascending others’ stairs.

And what will be most hard for you to bear
will be the scheming, senseless company
that is to share your fall into this valley;

against you they will be insane, completely
ungrateful and profane; and yet, soon after,
not you but they will have their brows bloodred.

Of their insensate acts, the proof will be
in the effects; and thus, your honor will
be best kept if your party is your self.

Your first refuge and your first inn shall be
the courtesy of the great Lombard, he
who on the ladder bears the sacred bird;

and so benign will be his care for you
that, with you two, in giving and in asking,
that shall be first which is, with others, last.

You shall—beside him—see one who, at birth,
had so received the seal of this strong star
that what he does will be remarkable.

People have yet to notice him because
he is a boy—for nine years and no more
have these spheres wheeled around him—but before

the Gascon gulls the noble Henry, some
sparks will have marked the virtue of the Lombard:
hard labor and his disregard for silver.

His generosity is yet to be
so notable that even enemies
will never hope to treat it silently.

Put trust in him and in his benefits:
his gifts will bring much metamorphosis—
rich men and beggars will exchange their states.

What I tell you about him you will bear
inscribed within your mind—but hide it there”;
and he told things beyond belief even

for those who will yet see them. Then he added:
“Son, these are glosses of what you had heard;
these are the snares that hide beneath brief years.

Yet I’d not have you envying your neighbors;
your life will long outlast the punishment
that is to fall upon their treacheries.”

After that holy soul had, with his silence,
showed he was freed from putting in the woof
across the web whose warp I set for him,

I like a man who, doubting, craves for counsel
from one who sees and rightly wills and loves,
replied to him: “I clearly see, my father,

how time is hurrying toward me in order
to deal me such a blow as would be most
grievous for him who is not set for it;

thus, it is right to arm myself with foresight,
that if I lose the place most dear, I may
not lose the rest through what my poems say.

Down in the world of endless bitterness,
and on the mountain from whose lovely peak
I was drawn upward by my lady’s eyes,

and afterward, from light to light in Heaven,
I learned that which, if I retell it, must
for many have a taste too sharp, too harsh;

yet if I am a timid friend of truth,
I fear that I may lose my life among
those who will call this present, ancient times.”

The light in which there smiled the treasure I
had found within it, first began to dazzle,
as would a golden mirror in the sun,

then it replied: “A conscience that is dark—
either through its or through another’s shame—
indeed will find that what you speak is harsh.

Nevertheless, all falsehood set aside,
let all that you have seen be manifest,
and let them scratch wherever it may itch.

For if, at the first taste, your words molest,
they will, when they have been digested, end
as living nourishment. As does the wind,

so shall your outcry do—the wind that sends
its roughest blows against the highest peaks;
that is no little cause for claiming honor.

Therefore, within these spheres, upon the mountain,
and in the dismal valley, you were shown
only those souls that unto fame are known—

because the mind of one who hears will not
put doubt to rest, put trust in you, if given
examples with their roots unknown and hidden,

or arguments too dim, too unapparent.”

AS came to Clymene, to be made certain
Of that which he had heard against himself,
He who makes fathers chary still t children,

Even such was I, and such was I perceived
By Beatrice and by the holy light
That first on my account had changed its place.

Therefore my Lady said to me: “Send forth
The flame of thy desire, so that it issue
Imprinted well with the internal stamp;

Not that our knowledge may be greater made
By speech of thine, but to accustom thee
To tell thy thirst, that we may give thee drink.”

“O my beloved tree, (that so dost lift thee,
That even as minds terrestrial perceive
No triangle containeth two obtuse,

So thou beholdest the contingent things
Ere in themselves they are, fixing thine eyes
Upon the point in which all times are present,)

While I was with Virgilius conjoined
Upon the mountain that the souls doth heal,
And when descending into the dead world,

Were spoken to me of my future life
Some grievous words; although I feel myself
ln sooth foursquare against the blows of chance.

On this account my wish would be content
To hear what fortune is approaching me,
Because foreseen an arrow comes more slowly.”

Thus did I say unto that selfsame light
That unto me had spoken before, and even
As Beatrice willed was my own will confessed.

Not in vague phrase, in which the foolish folk
Ensnared themselves of old, ere yet was slain
The Lamb of God who taketh sins away,

But with clear words and unambiguous
Language responded that paternal love,
Hid and revealed by its own proper smile:

“Contingency, that outside of the volume
Of your materiality extends not,
Is all depicted in the eternal aspect.

Necessity however thence it takes not,
Except as from the eye, in which ’tis mirrored,
A ship that with the current down descends.

From thence, e’en as there cometh to the ear
Sweet harmony from an organ, comes in sight
To me the time that is preparing for thee.

As forth from Athens went Hippolytus,
By reason of his step—dame false and cruel,
So thou from Florence must perforce depart.

Already this is willed, and this is sought for;
And soon it shall be done by him who thinks it,
Where every day the Christ is bought and sold.

The blame shall follow the offended party
In outcry as is usual; but the vengeance
Shall witness to the truth that doth dispense it.

Thou shalt abandon everything beloved
Most tenderly, and this the arrow is
Which first the bow of banishment shoots forth.

Thou shalt have proof how savoureth of salt
The bread of others, and how hard a road
The going down and up another’s stairs.

And that which most shall weigh upon thy shoulders
Will be the bad and foolish company
With which into this valley thou shalt fall;

For all ingrate, all mad and impious
Will they become against thee; but soon after
They, and not thou, shall have the forehead scarlet

Of their bestiality their own proceedings
Shall furnish proof; so ’twill be well for thee
A party to have made thee by thyself.

Thine earliest refuge and thine earliest inn
Shall be the mighty Lombard’s courtesy,
Who on the Ladder bears the holy bird,

Who such benign regard shall have for thee
That ‘twixt you twain, in doing and in asking,
That shall be first which is with others last.

With him shalt thou see one who at his birth
Has by this star of strength been so impressed,
That notable shall his achievements be.

Not yet the people are aware of him
Through his young age, since only nine years yet
Around about him have these wheels revolved

But ere the Gascon cheat the noble Henry,
Some sparkles of his virtue shall appear
In caring not for silver nor for toil.

So recognized shall his magnificence
Become hereafter, that his enemies
Will not have power to keep mute tongues about it.

On him rely, and on his benefits;
By him shall many people be transformed,
Changing condition rich and mendicant;

And written in thy mind thou hence shalt bear
Of him, but shalt not say it”— and things said he
Incredible to those who shall be present.

Then added: “Son, these are the commentaries
On what was said to thee; behold the snares
That are concealed behind few revolutions;

Yet would I not thy neighbours thou shouldst envy,
Because thy life into the future reaches
Beyond the punishment of their perfidies.”

When by its silence showed that sainted soul
That it had finished putting in the woof
Into that web which I had given it warped,

Began I, even as he who yearneth after,
Being in doubt, some counsel from a person
Who seeth, and uprightly wills, and loves:

“Well see I, father mine, how spurreth on
The time towards me such a blow to deal me
As heaviest is to him who most gives way.

Therefore with foresight it is well I arm me,
That, if the dearest place be taken from me,
I may not lose the others by my songs.

Down through the world of infinite bitterness,
And o’er the mountain, from whose beauteous summit
The eyes of my own Lady lifted me,

And afterward through heaven from light to light,
I have learned that which, if I tell again,
Will be a savour of strong herbs to many.

And if I am a timid friend to truth,
I fear lest I may lose my life with those
Who will hereafter call this time the olden.”

The light in which was smiling my own treasure
Which there I had discovered, flashed at first
As in the sunshine doth a golden mirror;

Then made reply: “A conscience overcast
Or with its own or with another’s shame,
Will taste forsooth the tartness of thy word;

But ne’ertheless, ail falsehood laid aside,
Make manifest thy vision utterly,
And let them scratch wherever is the itch;

For if thine utterance shall offensive be
At the first taste, a vital nutriment
‘Twill leave thereafter, when it is digested.

This cry of thine shall do as doth the wind,
Which smiteth most the most exalted summits,
And that is no slight argument of honour.

Therefore are shown to thee within these wheels,
Upon the mount and in the dolorous valley,
Only the souls that unto fame are known;

Because the spirit of the hearer rests not,
Nor doth confirm its faith by an example
Which has the root of it unknown and hidden,

Or other reason that is not apparent.”