He Seeks Freedom

To begin our discussion of Purgatorio, I will introduce the theology of Purgatory. Read The Undivine Comedy, p. 34 and the notes that go with it, which will start you thinking about Jacques Le Goff’s The Birth of Purgatory (English translation, U. of Chicago Press, 1984). The key point: purgatory as a concept was, in Dante’s time, of much more recent vintage than hell or paradise, both of which have ancient origins. Vis-à-vis the relatively uncodified second realm, Dante enjoyed an ideological freedom that offered him virtual carte blanche for his inventive and creative genius.

The pilgrim and his guide emerge from the long climb through the earth and Dante is greeted by “the gentle hue of oriental sapphire”: “Dolce color d’oriental zaffiro” (Purg. 1.13). The beautiful blue sky and the lilt of the verse tell us that everything has changed. We are on the shore of Mount Purgatory, in the uninhabited southern hemisphere. Though we do not yet know that the Garden of Eden is located at the top of this mountain, when Dante looks up he sees stars not seen since Adam and Eve (the “first people” of Purg. 1.24):

  I’ mi volsi a man destra, e puosi mente
a l’altro polo, e vidi quattro stelle
non viste mai fuor ch’a la prima gente. 	
  Goder pareva ’l ciel di lor fiammelle:
oh settentrional vedovo sito,
poi che privato se’ di mirar quelle!	(Purg. 1.22-27)
 
  Then I turned to the right, setting my mind
upon the other pole, and saw four stars
not seen before except by the first people. 
  Heaven appeared to revel in their flames:
o northern hemisphere, because you were
denied that sight, you are a widower!

Perhaps there is one other, besides Adam and Eve, who briefly and illicitly glimpsed the stars of the “other pole.” The phrase “altro polo” appears twice in Purgatorio 1: above in Purg. 1.23 and again in Purg. 1.29, where Dante specifies that “he turns a little toward the other pole” (“un poco me volgendo a l’altro polo”). These references to the “altro polo” echo Inferno 26.127, where we learn that Ulysses’ voyage took him to where all the stars of the “other pole” are visible. At the end of Purgatorio 1 there is a confirming allusion to Ulysses. The deserted shore (“lito diserto” [Purg. 1.130]) of purgatory has “never yet seen its waters coursed by any man who journeyed back again”: “mai non vide navicar sue acque / omo, che di tornar sia poscia esperto” (Purg. 1.131-32). The souls who come here licitly will arrive by a different route; only Dante has ever been privileged to arrive on (and therefore “see”) this shore.

The Ulyssean echo in “altro polo”, and the reminder of the Greek hero’s unsanctioned quest beyond the pillars of Hercules, prepare us for the spirited challenge that is now issued to Dante and Virgilio by the bearded sage who is the guardian of purgatory. The patriarch (see the description of the “veglio” in Purg. 1.31-33) focuses on the presumed violation of their arrival. He assumes that they are escaped prisoners, damned folk who have come to this place in defiance of the “laws” of hell:

  «Chi siete voi che contro al cieco fiume
fuggita avete la pregione etterna?»,
diss’el, movendo quelle oneste piume.
  «Chi v’ha guidati, o che vi fu lucerna,
uscendo fuor de la profonda notte
che sempre nera fa la valle inferna?
  Son le leggi d’abisso così rotte?
o è mutato in ciel novo consiglio,
che, dannati, venite a le mie grotte?».	(Purg. 1.40-48)
  “Who are you—who, against the hidden river,
were able to escape the eternal prison?”
he said, moving those venerable plumes.
  “Who was your guide? What served you both as lantern
when, from the deep night that will always keep
the hellish valley dark, you were set free?
  The laws of the abyss—have they been broken?
Or has a new, a changed decree in Heaven
let you, though damned, approach my rocky slopes?”

Virgilio’s reply begins “Da me non venni” (I do not come through my own self [Purg. 1.52]) and continues by explaining the various features of this journey: that it was willed by a lady on high; that she contacted him, Virgilio, as a teacher; that Dante is alive. Most important of all Virgilio says that this is a quest for freedom:

  Or ti piaccia gradir la sua venuta:
libertà va cercando, ch’è sì cara,			
come sa chi per lei vita rifiuta. (Purg. 1.70-72)
  Now may it please you to approve his coming;
he goes in search of liberty—so precious,
as he who gives his life for it must know.

How does Virgilio know that the person to whom he speaks gave his life for liberty? Apparently those in Limbo know that one who was once one of their own—Cato of Utica, a Roman and a pagan—is now the saved guardian of purgatory.

The shocker of this canto is the identity of the guardian of purgatory. And the shock waves of this discovery persist long beyond Purgatorio 1, for the implications of the saved figure of Cato for how we construe Dante’s relationship with classical antiquity are huge: the presence of Cato here means that pagans can, exceptionally, be saved, a finding that has enormous and discomforting repercussions with respect to our friend Virgilio.

Cato, a Roman patriot, killed himself rather than allow himself to be subjected to Caesar. Dante has therefore a more liberal construction of suicide than we might have expected; he does not view self-sacrifice for the cause of political liberty as a form of wanton self-destruction.

In his address to Cato, Virgilio conflates the two quests for freedom: the political quest for which Cato sacrificed his life, and the moral quest pursued by Dante.

But the moral and the political do not truly diverge, as all readers of Dante know. And so Cato of Utica’s decision to give up his life rather than to live un-free is a decision that resonates with the quest of the second realm, where souls work to become free of the vices that blind us morally and therefore also politically.

Coordinated Reading

Coordinated Reading: The Undivine Comedy: We have reached Chapter 5, “Purgatory as Paradigm: Traveling the New and Never-Before-Traveled Path of this Life/Poem”. Grounded in the paradigm of the voyage metaphor, most applicable in a deep sense to purgatory since it is the only afterworld realm that exists in time, this chapter jumps around in Purgatorio, rather than proceeding in a linear fashion through the canti as Chapter 4 proceeds through the canti of lower hell. On the voyage metaphor of Convivio 4.12.14-16 as a blueprint for the Commedia, see The Undivine Comedy, pp. 99-100.

Recommended Citation

Barolini, Teodolinda. “Purgatorio 1: He Seeks Freedom.” Commento Baroliniano, Digital Dante. New York, NY: Columbia University Libraries, 2017. https://digitaldante.columbia.edu/dante/divine-comedy/purgatorio/purgatorio-1/

About the Commento

1 Per correr miglior acque alza le vele
2 omai la navicella del mio ingegno,
3 che lascia dietro a sé mar sì crudele;

4 e canterò di quel secondo regno
5 dove l’umano spirito si purga
6 e di salire al ciel diventa degno.

7 Ma qui la morta poesì resurga,
8 o sante Muse, poi che vostro sono;
9 e qui Calïopè alquanto surga,

10 seguitando il mio canto con quel suono
11 di cui le Piche misere sentiro
12 lo colpo tal, che disperar perdono.

13 Dolce color d’orïental zaffiro,
14 che s’accoglieva nel sereno aspetto
15 del mezzo, puro infino al primo giro,

16 a li occhi miei ricominciò diletto,
17 tosto ch’io usci’ fuor de l’aura morta
18 che m’avea contristati li occhi e ’l petto.

19 Lo bel pianeto che d’amar conforta
20 faceva tutto rider l’orïente,
21 velando i Pesci ch’erano in sua scorta.

22 I’ mi volsi a man destra, e puosi mente
23 a l’altro polo, e vidi quattro stelle
24 non viste mai fuor ch’a la prima gente.

25 Goder pareva ’l ciel di lor fiammelle:
26 oh settentrïonal vedovo sito,
27 poi che privato se’ di mirar quelle!

28 Com’ io da loro sguardo fui partito,
29 un poco me volgendo a l’altro polo,
30 là onde ’l Carro già era sparito,

31 vidi presso di me un veglio solo,
32 degno di tanta reverenza in vista,
33 che più non dee a padre alcun figliuolo.

34 Lunga la barba e di pel bianco mista
35 portava, a’ suoi capelli simigliante,
36 de’ quai cadeva al petto doppia lista.

37 Li raggi de le quattro luci sante
38 fregiavan sì la sua faccia di lume,
39 ch’i’ ’l vedea come ’l sol fosse davante.

40 «Chi siete voi che contro al cieco fiume
41 fuggita avete la pregione etterna?»,
42 diss’ el, movendo quelle oneste piume.

43 «Chi v’ha guidati, o che vi fu lucerna,
44 uscendo fuor de la profonda notte
45 che sempre nera fa la valle inferna?

46 Son le leggi d’abisso così rotte?
47 o è mutato in ciel novo consiglio,
48 che, dannati, venite a le mie grotte?».

49 Lo duca mio allor mi diè di piglio,
50 e con parole e con mani e con cenni
51 reverenti mi fé le gambe e ’l ciglio.

52 Poscia rispuose lui: «Da me non venni:
53 donna scese del ciel, per li cui prieghi
54 de la mia compagnia costui sovvenni.

55 Ma da ch’è tuo voler che più si spieghi
56 di nostra condizion com’ ell’ è vera,
57 esser non puote il mio che a te si nieghi.

58 Questi non vide mai l’ultima sera;
59 ma per la sua follia le fu sì presso,
60 che molto poco tempo a volger era.

61 Sì com’ io dissi, fui mandato ad esso
62 per lui campare; e non lì era altra via
63 che questa per la quale i’ mi son messo.

64 Mostrata ho lui tutta la gente ria;
65 e ora intendo mostrar quelli spirti
66 che purgan sé sotto la tua balìa.

67 Com’ io l’ho tratto, saria lungo a dirti;
68 de l’alto scende virtù che m’aiuta
69 conducerlo a vederti e a udirti.

70 Or ti piaccia gradir la sua venuta:
71 libertà va cercando, ch’è sì cara,
72 come sa chi per lei vita rifiuta.

73 Tu ’l sai, ché non ti fu per lei amara
74 in Utica la morte, ove lasciasti
75 la vesta ch’al gran dì sarà sì chiara.

76 Non son li editti etterni per noi guasti,
77 ché questi vive e Minòs me non lega;
78 ma son del cerchio ove son li occhi casti

79 di Marzia tua, che ’n vista ancor ti priega,
80 o santo petto, che per tua la tegni:
81 per lo suo amore adunque a noi ti piega.

82 Lasciane andar per li tuoi sette regni;
83 grazie riporterò di te a lei,
84 se d’ esser mentovato là giù degni».

85 «Marzïa piacque tanto a li occhi miei
86 mentre ch’i’ fu’ di là», diss’ elli allora,
87 «che quante grazie volse da me, fei.

88 Or che di là dal mal fiume dimora,
89 più muover non mi può, per quella legge
90 che fatta fu quando me n’usci’ fora.

91 Ma se donna del ciel ti muove e regge,
92 come tu di’ , non c’è mestier lusinghe:
93 bastisi ben che per lei mi richegge.

94 Va dunque, e fa che tu costui ricinghe
95 d’un giunco schietto e che li lavi ’l viso,
96 sì ch’ogne sucidume quindi stinghe;

97 ché non si converria, l’occhio sorpriso
98 d’alcuna nebbia, andar dinanzi al primo
99 ministro, ch’è di quei di paradiso.

100 Questa isoletta intorno ad imo ad imo,
101 là giù colà dove la batte l’onda,
102 porta di giunchi sovra ’l molle limo;

103 null’ altra pianta che facesse fronda
104 o indurasse, vi puote aver vita,
105 però ch’a le percosse non seconda.

106 Poscia non sia di qua vostra reddita;
107 lo sol vi mosterrà, che surge omai,
108 prendere il monte a più lieve salita».

109 Così sparì; e io sù mi levai
110 sanza parlare, e tutto mi ritrassi
111 al duca mio, e li occhi a lui drizzai.

112 El cominciò: «Figliuol, segui i miei passi:
113 volgianci in dietro, ché di qua dichina
114 questa pianura a’ suoi termini bassi».

115 L’alba vinceva l’ora mattutina
116 che fuggia innanzi, sì che di lontano
117 conobbi il tremolar de la marina.

118 Noi andavam per lo solingo piano
119 com’ om che torna a la perduta strada,
120 che ’nfino ad essa li pare ire in vano.

121 Quando noi fummo là ’ve la rugiada
122 pugna col sole, per essere in parte
123 dove, ad orezza, poco si dirada,

124 ambo le mani in su l’erbetta sparte
125 soavemente ’l mio maestro pose:
126 ond’ io, che fui accorto di sua arte,

127 porsi ver’ lui le guance lacrimose;
128 ivi mi fece tutto discoverto
129 quel color che l’ inferno mi nascose.

130 Venimmo poi in sul lito diserto,
131 che mai non vide navicar sue acque
132 omo, che di tornar sia poscia esperto.

133 Quivi mi cinse sì com’ altrui piacque:
134 oh maraviglia! ché qual elli scelse
135 l’umile pianta, cotal si rinacque

136 subitamente là onde l’avelse.

To course across more kindly waters now
my talent’s little vessel lifts her sails,
leaving behind herself a sea so cruel;

and what I sing will be that second kingdom,
in which the human soul is cleansed of sin,
becoming worthy of ascent to Heaven.

But here, since I am yours, o holy Muses,
may this poem rise again from Hell’s dead realm;
and may Calliope rise somewhat here,

accompanying my singing with that music
whose power struck the poor Pierides
so forcefully that they despaired of pardon.

The gentle hue of oriental sapphire
in which the sky’s serenity was steeped—
its aspect pure as far as the horizon—

brought back my joy in seeing just as soon
as I had left behind the air of death
that had afflicted both my sight and breast.

The lovely planet that is patroness
of love made all the eastern heavens glad,
veiling the Pisces in the train she led.

Then I turned to the right, setting my mind
upon the other pole, and saw four stars
not seen before except by the first people.

Heaven appeared to revel in their flames:
o northern hemisphere, because you were
denied that sight, you are a widower!

After my eyes took leave of those four stars,
turning a little toward the other pole,
from which the Wain had disappeared by now,

I saw a solitary patriarch
near me—his aspect worthy of such reverence
that even son to father owes no more.

His beard was long and mixed with white, as were
the hairs upon his head; and his hair spread
down to his chest in a divided tress.

The rays of the four holy stars so framed
his face with light that in my sight he seemed
like one who is confronted by the sun.

“Who are you—who, against the hidden river,
were able to escape the eternal prison?”
he said, moving those venerable plumes.

“Who was your guide? What served you both as lantern
when, from the deep night that will always keep
the hellish valley dark, you were set free?

The laws of the abyss—have they been broken?
Or has a new, a changed decree in Heaven
let you, though damned, approach my rocky slopes?”

My guide took hold of me decisively;
by way of words and hands and other signs,
he made my knees and brow show reverence.

Then he replied: “I do not come through my
own self. There was a lady sent from Heaven;
her pleas led me to help and guide this man.

But since your will would have a far more full
and accurate account of our condition,
my will cannot withhold what you request.

This man had yet to see his final evening;
but, through his folly, little time was left
before he did—he was so close to it.

As I have told you, I was sent to him
for his deliverance; the only road
I could have taken was the road I took.

I showed him all the people of perdition;
now I intend to show to him those spirits
who, in your care, are bent on expiation.

To tell you how I led him would take long;
it is a power descending from above
that helps me guide him here, to see and hear you.

Now may it please you to approve his coming;
he goes in search of liberty—so precious,
as he who gives his life for it must know.

You know it—who, in Utica, found death
for freedom was not bitter, when you left
the garb that will be bright on the great day.

Eternal edicts are not broken for us;
this man’s alive, and I’m not bound by Minos;
but I am from the circle where the chaste

eyes of your Marcia are; and she still prays
to you, o holy breast, to keep her as
your own: for her love, then, incline to us.

Allow our journey through your seven realms.
I shall thank her for kindness you bestow—
if you would let your name be named below.”

“While I was there, within the other world,
Marcia so pleased my eyes,” he then replied,
“each kindness she required, I satisfied.

Now that she dwells beyond the evil river,
she has no power to move me any longer,
such was the law decreed when I was freed.

But if a lady come from Heaven speeds
and helps you, as you say, there is no need
of flattery; it is enough, indeed,

to ask me for her sake. Go then; but first
wind a smooth rush around his waist and bathe
his face, to wash away all of Hell’s stains;

for it would not be seemly to approach
with eyes still dimmed by any mists, the first
custodian angel, one from Paradise.

This solitary island, all around
its very base, there where the breakers pound,
bears rushes on its soft and muddy ground.

There is no other plant that lives below:
no plant with leaves or plant that, as it grows,
hardens—and breaks beneath the waves’ harsh blows.

That done, do not return by this same pass;
the sun, which rises now, will show you how
this hillside can be climbed more easily.”

With that he vanished; and without a word,
I rose and drew in closer to my guide,
and it was on him that I set my eyes.

And he began: “Son, follow in my steps;
let us go back; this is the point at which
the plain slopes down to reach its lowest bounds.”

Daybreak was vanquishing the dark’s last hour,
which fled before it; in the distance, I
could recognize the trembling of the sea.

We made our way across the lonely plain,
like one returning to a lost pathway,
who, till he finds it, seems to move in vain.

When we had reached the point where dew contends
with sun and, under sea winds, in the shade,
wins out because it won’t evaporate,

my master gently placed both of his hands—
outspread—upon the grass; therefore, aware
of what his gesture and intention were,

I reached and offered him my tear—stained cheeks;
and on my cheeks, he totally revealed
the color that Inferno had concealed.

Then we arrived at the deserted shore,
which never yet had seen its waters coursed
by any man who journeyed back again.

There, just as pleased another, he girt me.
O wonder! Where he plucked the humble plant
that he had chosen, there that plant sprang up

again, identical, immediately.

To run o’er better waters hoists its sail
The little vessel of my genius now,
That leaves behind itself a sea so cruel;

And of that second kingdom will I sing
Wherein the human spirit doth purge itself,
And to ascend to heaven becometh worthy.

let dead Poesy here rise again,
O holy Muses, since that I am yours,
And here Calliope somewhat ascend,

My song accompanying with that sound,
Of which the miserable magpies felt
The blow so great, that they despaired of pardon.

Sweet colour of the oriental sapphire,
That was upgathered in the cloudless aspect
Of the pure air, as far as the first circle,

Unto mine eyes did recommence delight
Soon as I issued forth from the dead air,
Which had with sadness filled mine eyes and breast.

The beauteous planet, that to love incites,
Was making all the orient to laugh,
Veiling the Fishes that were in her escort.

To the right hand I turned, and fixed my mind
Upon the other pole, and saw four stars
Ne’er seen before save by the primal people.

Rejoicing in their flamelets seemed the heaven.
O thou septentrional and widowed site,
Because thou art deprived of seeing these!

When from regarding them I had withdrawn,
Turning a little to the other pole,
There where the Wain had disappeared already,

I saw beside me an old man alone,
Worthy of so much reverence in his look,
That more owes not to father any son.

A long beard and with white hair intermingled
He wore, in semblance like unto the tresses,
Of which a double list fell on his breast.

The rays of the four consecrated stars
Did so adorn his countenance with light,
That him I saw as were the sun before him.

“Who are you? ye who, counter the blind river,
Have fled away from the eternal prison?”
Moving those venerable plumes, he said:

“Who guided you ? or who has been your lamp
In issuing forth out of the night profound,
That ever black makes the infernal valley?

The laws of the abyss, are they thus broken?
Or is there changed in heaven some council new,
That being damned ye come unto my crags?”

Then did my Leader lay his grasp upon me,
And with his words, and with his hands and signs, so
Reverent he made in me my knees and brow:

Then answered him: ” I came not of myself;
A Lady from Heaven descended, at whose prayers
I aided this one with my company.

But since it is thy will more be unfolded
Of our condition, how it truly is,
Mine cannot be that this should be denied thee.

This one has never his last evening seen,
But by his folly was so near to it
That very little time was there to turn.

As I have said, I unto him was sent
To rescue him, and other way was none
Than this to which I have myself betaken.

I’ve shown him all the people of perdition
And now those spirits I intend to show
Who purge themselves beneath thy guardianship.

How I have brought him would be long to tell thee.
Virtue descendeth from on high that aids me
To lead him to behold thee and to hear thee.

Now may it please thee to vouchsafe his coming;
He seeketh Liberty, which is so dear,
As knoweth he who life for her refuses.

Thou know’st it; since, for her, to thee not bitter
Was death in Utica, where thou didst leave
The vesture, that will shine so, the great day.

By us the eternal edicts are not broken;
chÈ questSince this one lives, and Minos binds not me;
But of that circle I, where are the chaste

Eyes of thy Marcia, who in looks still prays thee,
O holy breast, to hold her as thine own;
For her love, then, incline thyself to us.

Permit us through thy sevenfold realm to go;
I will take back this grace from thee to her,
If to be mentioned there below thou deignest.”

“Marcia so pleasing was unto mine eyes
While I was on the other side,”then said he,
“That every grace she wished of me I granted;

Now that she dwells beyond the evil river,
She can no longer move me, by that law
Which, when I issued forth from there, was made.

But if a Lady of Heaven do move and rule thee,
As thou dost say, no flattery is needful;
Let it suffice thee that for her thou ask me.

Go, then, and see thou gird this one about
With a smooth rush, and that thou wash his face,
So that thou cleanse away all stain therefrom,

For ’twere not fitting that the eye o’ercast
By any mist should go before the first
Angel, who is of those of Paradise.

This little island round about its base
Below there, yonder, where the billow beats it,
Doth rushes bear upon its washy ooze;

No other plant that putteth forth the leaf,
Or that doth indurate, can there have life,
Because it yieldeth not unto the shocks.

Thereafter be not this way your return;
The sun, which now is rising, will direct you
To take the mount by easier ascent.”

With this he vanished; and I raised me up
Without a word, and wholly drew myself
Unto my Guide, and turned mine eyes to him.

And he began:”Son, follow thou my steps;
Let us turn back. for on this side declines
The plain unto its lower boundaries.”

The dawn was vanquishing the matin hour
‘Which fled before it, so that from afar
I recognised the trembling of the sea

Along the solitary plain we went
As one who unto the lost road returns,
And till he finds it seems to go in vain.

As soon as we were come to where the dew
Fights with the sun, and, being in a part
Where shadow falls, little evaporates,

Both of his hands upon the grass outspread
In gentle manner did my Master place;
Whence I, who of his action was aware,

Extended unto him my tearful cheeks;
There did he make in me uncovered wholly
That hue which Hell had covered up in me.

Then came we down upon the desert shore
Which never yet saw navigate its waters
Any that afterward had known return.

There he begirt me as the other pleased
O marvellous! for even as he culled
The humble plant, such it sprang up again

Suddenly there where he uprooted it.

To course across more kindly waters now
my talent’s little vessel lifts her sails,
leaving behind herself a sea so cruel;

and what I sing will be that second kingdom,
in which the human soul is cleansed of sin,
becoming worthy of ascent to Heaven.

But here, since I am yours, o holy Muses,
may this poem rise again from Hell’s dead realm;
and may Calliope rise somewhat here,

accompanying my singing with that music
whose power struck the poor Pierides
so forcefully that they despaired of pardon.

The gentle hue of oriental sapphire
in which the sky’s serenity was steeped—
its aspect pure as far as the horizon—

brought back my joy in seeing just as soon
as I had left behind the air of death
that had afflicted both my sight and breast.

The lovely planet that is patroness
of love made all the eastern heavens glad,
veiling the Pisces in the train she led.

Then I turned to the right, setting my mind
upon the other pole, and saw four stars
not seen before except by the first people.

Heaven appeared to revel in their flames:
o northern hemisphere, because you were
denied that sight, you are a widower!

After my eyes took leave of those four stars,
turning a little toward the other pole,
from which the Wain had disappeared by now,

I saw a solitary patriarch
near me—his aspect worthy of such reverence
that even son to father owes no more.

His beard was long and mixed with white, as were
the hairs upon his head; and his hair spread
down to his chest in a divided tress.

The rays of the four holy stars so framed
his face with light that in my sight he seemed
like one who is confronted by the sun.

“Who are you—who, against the hidden river,
were able to escape the eternal prison?”
he said, moving those venerable plumes.

“Who was your guide? What served you both as lantern
when, from the deep night that will always keep
the hellish valley dark, you were set free?

The laws of the abyss—have they been broken?
Or has a new, a changed decree in Heaven
let you, though damned, approach my rocky slopes?”

My guide took hold of me decisively;
by way of words and hands and other signs,
he made my knees and brow show reverence.

Then he replied: “I do not come through my
own self. There was a lady sent from Heaven;
her pleas led me to help and guide this man.

But since your will would have a far more full
and accurate account of our condition,
my will cannot withhold what you request.

This man had yet to see his final evening;
but, through his folly, little time was left
before he did—he was so close to it.

As I have told you, I was sent to him
for his deliverance; the only road
I could have taken was the road I took.

I showed him all the people of perdition;
now I intend to show to him those spirits
who, in your care, are bent on expiation.

To tell you how I led him would take long;
it is a power descending from above
that helps me guide him here, to see and hear you.

Now may it please you to approve his coming;
he goes in search of liberty—so precious,
as he who gives his life for it must know.

You know it—who, in Utica, found death
for freedom was not bitter, when you left
the garb that will be bright on the great day.

Eternal edicts are not broken for us;
this man’s alive, and I’m not bound by Minos;
but I am from the circle where the chaste

eyes of your Marcia are; and she still prays
to you, o holy breast, to keep her as
your own: for her love, then, incline to us.

Allow our journey through your seven realms.
I shall thank her for kindness you bestow—
if you would let your name be named below.”

“While I was there, within the other world,
Marcia so pleased my eyes,” he then replied,
“each kindness she required, I satisfied.

Now that she dwells beyond the evil river,
she has no power to move me any longer,
such was the law decreed when I was freed.

But if a lady come from Heaven speeds
and helps you, as you say, there is no need
of flattery; it is enough, indeed,

to ask me for her sake. Go then; but first
wind a smooth rush around his waist and bathe
his face, to wash away all of Hell’s stains;

for it would not be seemly to approach
with eyes still dimmed by any mists, the first
custodian angel, one from Paradise.

This solitary island, all around
its very base, there where the breakers pound,
bears rushes on its soft and muddy ground.

There is no other plant that lives below:
no plant with leaves or plant that, as it grows,
hardens—and breaks beneath the waves’ harsh blows.

That done, do not return by this same pass;
the sun, which rises now, will show you how
this hillside can be climbed more easily.”

With that he vanished; and without a word,
I rose and drew in closer to my guide,
and it was on him that I set my eyes.

And he began: “Son, follow in my steps;
let us go back; this is the point at which
the plain slopes down to reach its lowest bounds.”

Daybreak was vanquishing the dark’s last hour,
which fled before it; in the distance, I
could recognize the trembling of the sea.

We made our way across the lonely plain,
like one returning to a lost pathway,
who, till he finds it, seems to move in vain.

When we had reached the point where dew contends
with sun and, under sea winds, in the shade,
wins out because it won’t evaporate,

my master gently placed both of his hands—
outspread—upon the grass; therefore, aware
of what his gesture and intention were,

I reached and offered him my tear—stained cheeks;
and on my cheeks, he totally revealed
the color that Inferno had concealed.

Then we arrived at the deserted shore,
which never yet had seen its waters coursed
by any man who journeyed back again.

There, just as pleased another, he girt me.
O wonder! Where he plucked the humble plant
that he had chosen, there that plant sprang up

again, identical, immediately.

To run o’er better waters hoists its sail
The little vessel of my genius now,
That leaves behind itself a sea so cruel;

And of that second kingdom will I sing
Wherein the human spirit doth purge itself,
And to ascend to heaven becometh worthy.

let dead Poesy here rise again,
O holy Muses, since that I am yours,
And here Calliope somewhat ascend,

My song accompanying with that sound,
Of which the miserable magpies felt
The blow so great, that they despaired of pardon.

Sweet colour of the oriental sapphire,
That was upgathered in the cloudless aspect
Of the pure air, as far as the first circle,

Unto mine eyes did recommence delight
Soon as I issued forth from the dead air,
Which had with sadness filled mine eyes and breast.

The beauteous planet, that to love incites,
Was making all the orient to laugh,
Veiling the Fishes that were in her escort.

To the right hand I turned, and fixed my mind
Upon the other pole, and saw four stars
Ne’er seen before save by the primal people.

Rejoicing in their flamelets seemed the heaven.
O thou septentrional and widowed site,
Because thou art deprived of seeing these!

When from regarding them I had withdrawn,
Turning a little to the other pole,
There where the Wain had disappeared already,

I saw beside me an old man alone,
Worthy of so much reverence in his look,
That more owes not to father any son.

A long beard and with white hair intermingled
He wore, in semblance like unto the tresses,
Of which a double list fell on his breast.

The rays of the four consecrated stars
Did so adorn his countenance with light,
That him I saw as were the sun before him.

“Who are you? ye who, counter the blind river,
Have fled away from the eternal prison?”
Moving those venerable plumes, he said:

“Who guided you ? or who has been your lamp
In issuing forth out of the night profound,
That ever black makes the infernal valley?

The laws of the abyss, are they thus broken?
Or is there changed in heaven some council new,
That being damned ye come unto my crags?”

Then did my Leader lay his grasp upon me,
And with his words, and with his hands and signs, so
Reverent he made in me my knees and brow:

Then answered him: ” I came not of myself;
A Lady from Heaven descended, at whose prayers
I aided this one with my company.

But since it is thy will more be unfolded
Of our condition, how it truly is,
Mine cannot be that this should be denied thee.

This one has never his last evening seen,
But by his folly was so near to it
That very little time was there to turn.

As I have said, I unto him was sent
To rescue him, and other way was none
Than this to which I have myself betaken.

I’ve shown him all the people of perdition
And now those spirits I intend to show
Who purge themselves beneath thy guardianship.

How I have brought him would be long to tell thee.
Virtue descendeth from on high that aids me
To lead him to behold thee and to hear thee.

Now may it please thee to vouchsafe his coming;
He seeketh Liberty, which is so dear,
As knoweth he who life for her refuses.

Thou know’st it; since, for her, to thee not bitter
Was death in Utica, where thou didst leave
The vesture, that will shine so, the great day.

By us the eternal edicts are not broken;
chÈ questSince this one lives, and Minos binds not me;
But of that circle I, where are the chaste

Eyes of thy Marcia, who in looks still prays thee,
O holy breast, to hold her as thine own;
For her love, then, incline thyself to us.

Permit us through thy sevenfold realm to go;
I will take back this grace from thee to her,
If to be mentioned there below thou deignest.”

“Marcia so pleasing was unto mine eyes
While I was on the other side,”then said he,
“That every grace she wished of me I granted;

Now that she dwells beyond the evil river,
She can no longer move me, by that law
Which, when I issued forth from there, was made.

But if a Lady of Heaven do move and rule thee,
As thou dost say, no flattery is needful;
Let it suffice thee that for her thou ask me.

Go, then, and see thou gird this one about
With a smooth rush, and that thou wash his face,
So that thou cleanse away all stain therefrom,

For ’twere not fitting that the eye o’ercast
By any mist should go before the first
Angel, who is of those of Paradise.

This little island round about its base
Below there, yonder, where the billow beats it,
Doth rushes bear upon its washy ooze;

No other plant that putteth forth the leaf,
Or that doth indurate, can there have life,
Because it yieldeth not unto the shocks.

Thereafter be not this way your return;
The sun, which now is rising, will direct you
To take the mount by easier ascent.”

With this he vanished; and I raised me up
Without a word, and wholly drew myself
Unto my Guide, and turned mine eyes to him.

And he began:”Son, follow thou my steps;
Let us turn back. for on this side declines
The plain unto its lower boundaries.”

The dawn was vanquishing the matin hour
‘Which fled before it, so that from afar
I recognised the trembling of the sea

Along the solitary plain we went
As one who unto the lost road returns,
And till he finds it seems to go in vain.

As soon as we were come to where the dew
Fights with the sun, and, being in a part
Where shadow falls, little evaporates,

Both of his hands upon the grass outspread
In gentle manner did my Master place;
Whence I, who of his action was aware,

Extended unto him my tearful cheeks;
There did he make in me uncovered wholly
That hue which Hell had covered up in me.

Then came we down upon the desert shore
Which never yet saw navigate its waters
Any that afterward had known return.

There he begirt me as the other pleased
O marvellous! for even as he culled
The humble plant, such it sprang up again

Suddenly there where he uprooted it.