Freedom and Law

  • the theology of Purgatory: relatively unscripted compared to the theology of Hell and the theology of Paradise
  • Dante enjoys carte blanche to invent his Purgatory: the very idea of Purgatory as a mountain is Dante’s
  • “la religïone / de la montagna” (Purg. 21.41-2): the rules and regulations, the “administration” of Purgatory — all are Dante’s to invent
  • Dante narrates his version of the “birth of Purgatory” at the end of Inferno 34, verses 112-26, where he connects the formation of the mountain of Purgatory to the fall of Lucifer
  • the travelers find themselves on the seashore looking out at a sapphire sea: a world of light and beauty takes the place of the “mar sì crudele” (cruel sea [Purg. 1.3]) on which the poet’s ship has sailed thus far
  • threads of loss are interwoven with threads of beauty to create the new fabric of Purgatorio: the quest for freedom of the will requires setting aside mortal goods, even the most beautiful and worthy
  • this is the place where all souls, preparing for blessedness, are working to become “new” again: innocent as at birth, innocent as the human race in the Garden of Eden
  • the one living man who tried to reach Purgatory before Dante: the Ulysses theme carried into Purgatorio 1
  • Cato of Utica, guardian of Purgatory, and the implications of a saved pagan for Virgilio
  • the Then of Damnation and the Now of Salvation

To begin our discussion of Purgatorio, we begin by introducing the importance of the theology of Purgatory. As historian Jacques Le Goff notes in his book The Birth of Purgatory (English translation, U. of Chicago Press, 1984), Purgatory as a concept was, in Dante’s time, of much more recent vintage than Hell or Paradise, both of which have ancient origins.

The relatively unscripted theology of Purgatory is a theme to which I will return frequently in my Commento on Purgatorio. The very idea of Purgatory as a mountain is Dante’s own invention, let alone all the rules and regulations that Dante invents to structure the experience of those dwelling on the mountain.

We could refer to these rules and regulations, which collectively organize Purgatory as an ”administrative unit”—much like a vast monastic order—with Dante’s phrase “la religïone / de la montagna” (Purg. 21.41-2).

Vis-à-vis the relatively uncodified second realm, Dante enjoyed an ideological freedom that offered virtual carte blanche for his inventive and creative genius. In The Undivine Comedy, I discuss Dante’s creation of the space of Antepurgatory (a space that embraces Purgatorio 1 to 9) as an example of Dante’s love of difference, which the unscripted second realm allows him free rein to explore:

Vis-à-vis the uncodified second realm, in particular, Dante enjoys an ideological freedom that gives him carte blanche for the creation of difference and the consequent blurring of distinction. He exploits this freedom to the hilt in the creation of Antepurgatory: as an authorially invented space for which there is absolutely no constraining theological precedent, Dante’s Antepurgatory has generated sustained critical bewilderment, with regard, for instance, to its geographical extension (should it include the banks of the Tiber?) and its moral taxonomy (should its four types of sinners all be considered negligent?). The solitary and unplaceable figure of Sordello (scholars have debated whether he should be grouped with those who died violently or with the princes in the Valley) is emblematic of the ambiguities raised by this liminal space.

We are confused by Dante’s love of difference, by his cultivation of the new: students must frequently be reminded that the souls of Antepurgatory are indeed saved, while critics succumb to the temptation to make the distinction between Antepurgatory and Purgatory too hard and fast, too rigidly black and white. (Peter Armour, for instance, makes too much of the “negative, waiting world of Antepurgatory,” as distinct from the positive world of Purgatory proper.) It is easy to conceive of these differences as more clearcut than Dante makes them, picking up suggestions that Dante does not fail to offer, such as Vergil’s request to be directed “là dove purgatorio ha dritto inizio” (there where Purgatory has its true beginning [Purg. 7.39]). By the same token, much emphasis is placed on the transition from Antepurgatory to Purgatory: the hinges of the door resound, the angel warns the pilgrim not to look back. But all the souls in Antepurgatory, without exception, will eventually pass this way, so that what we have is another instance of Dante’s art of gradation: to create his newest new beginning, his newest “dritto inizio,” the poet must institute difference, must draw a line between what was and what is to come—the new.

And, in fact, the cantos that mark the end of Antepurgatory—the end of the beginning of the purgatorial journey—demonstrate with peculiar clarity Dante’s art of highlighting, institutionalizing, and exploiting transition: while Purgatorio 8 marks the end of Antepurgatory, Purgatorio 9 embodies transition to Purgatory, and Purgatorio 10 provides the new beginning of Purgatory proper. The gradations thus expressed should not be hardened into absolute moral categories; for in fact they exist less by virtue of the moral order than by virtue of the needs of the narrative, itself a kind of macro-terza rima that conjoins (almost) every new beginning with the ending/beginning that precedes it. The exception is the ending constituted by Inferno 34 and the beginning constituted by Purgatorio 1, an ending and beginning that correspond to the only absolute difference in this world: the difference between damnation and salvation. The wonder is that Dante’s art of transition makes us believe in so many other differences along the way. (The Undivine Comedy, p. 34)

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.

And it has changed. We have left behind ”dead poetry”—“la morta poesì” of verse 7, the poetry of the dead—and we have come to a place of life and love and light and laughter: “Lo bel pianeto che d’amar conforta / faceva tutto rider l’orïente” (The lovely planet that is patroness / of love made all the eastern heavens laugh [Purg. 1.19-20]).

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, we now learn that when Dante looks up he sees four stars that have not been seen since Adam and Eve. The narrator makes the point that the “northern hemisphere” is “widowed” (“vedovo”), having been “deprived” (“privato”) of the sight of those stars: “oh settentrïonal vedovo sito, / poi che privato se’ di mirar quelle!” (o northern hemisphere, because you were / denied that sight, you are a widower! [Purg. 1.26-7]).

These adjectives, vedovo and privato, signal the theme of loss and privation that will haunt the beautiful music of Dante’s Purgatorio. The second realm offers saved souls the opportunity to work toward freedom: the freedom that Virgilio posits as the goal of Dante’s quest when he says “libertà va cercando” (he seeks freedom) in verse 71 of this canto. But the quest for moral freedom, for freedom of the will—the freedom to do exactly as one pleases because one’s will can no longer err—also carries with it the specter of loss, for the beautiful things of earth must be set aside.

To make the dialectical quest of Purgaorio more evidently dialectical, Dante-poet emphasizes the beauty of earthly life in this second canticle, devoted to a realm that is literally situated on the same earth that we live on. The souls on Mount Purgatory breathe the same air as the souls in Italy or Jerusalem, they exist in time like the souls in the inhabited part of the globe.

In the Purgatorio the poet sings and caresses the beautiful earthly things that we are leaving behind: from the beauty of the sea and shore of canto 1, to the beauty of poetry sung to music in canto 2, to the beauty of friendship and music and home. The Purgatorio is the part of Dante’s poem that tugs on the heartstrings with its nostalgia for forms of beauty and solidarity that are exquisitely human.

As we embark on Purgatorio, let us bear in mind the fundamental premise that, although Dante’s afterworld may give the appearance of being infinitely parsed and nuanced, it is ultimately a binary world: all souls are ultimately either saved or damned. The souls in Purgatorio are all saved. No one, without exception, whom we meet from Purgatorio 1 on is unsaved. All will eventually, at the Last Judgment, be among the blessed.

In The Undivine Comedy I discuss the ways in which Dante links Hell and Purgatory, helping us to “forget” that in fact the one absolute boundary in his universe is the one between damnation and salvation:

Within the system of orchestrated tensions that structures the Commedia’s narrative, Dante works to counter the theological pull that unites purgatory to paradise, finding narrative means to link purgatory to hell: both realms share a conical shape (in fact, Dante’s mythography of Inferno 34 institutes an intimate bond between the two, holding that purgatory was formed by the land that was excavated by Lucifer’s fall) and require similar but inverted modes of travel (spirals down and to the left in hell, up and to the right in purgatory); both share the presence of Vergil as guide and father. These features work to override the forces that should compel us to link purgatory and paradise to the exclusion of hell; they belong to the Commedia’s system of narrative stresses, a system of checks and balances intended to create a structure of balanced tensions. Balanced tension is achieved by excluding each of the three realms from a system that embraces the other two, so that each realm is the ”different” realm in one of three basic systems.

The Commedia works like an arch, sustained by stresses that are not resolved but held in check by equal and opposing forces. Although the third of these three narrative systems is, conceptually, the most tenuous, from a narrative perspective it is extremely effective, to the point that I think most naive readers naturally link the first two realms. (The Undivine Comedy, p. 162)

Here is the chart that I devised to illustrate the three narrative systems that Dante uses to create the balanced tensions of his narrative:

In line 1 we see that Hell is different from the other two realms in that it is the singular place of damnation. Again, the point is that the system is fundamentally binary: souls are damned and assigned to Hell or saved and assigned first to Purgatory and ultimately to Paradise.

In line 2 we see that Purgatory is different from the other two realms because it is the only non-eternal realm. It is not eternal because at the Last Judgment, when all souls will be allocated to either Hell or Paradise, Purgatory will cease to exist. Again, the point is that the system is fundamentally binary.

In line 3 we see Dante’s countervailing narrative strategy for binding Hell and Purgatory. Both realms are situated in or on earth. They are intimately linked because, according to the Dantean mythography of Inferno 34, Purgatory was created with the earth excavated by Lucifer’s fall, the fall that created Hell. Both realms are conical in shape, both are traversed in spirals: down and to the left in Hell, up and to the right in Purgatory.

Dante further binds these two realms by making them the locus of the most deeply human story of the Commedia, that of the love between him and his father-guide, Virgilio.

But none of these extremely strong bonds between Hell and Purgatory can offset the reality of the abyss between them. This is Dante’s point and it brings us back to the fundamental binary that structures his universe.

As we shall see, the abyss between damnation and salvation will be dramatized in this very canto in the words that Cato will speak to Virgilio: if you dwell on the other side of river Acheron, there is no point in evoking our shared past as great Romans or my wife Marcia. You are damned, while I am not.

* * *

Dante refers to Adam and Eve with the periphrasis the “la prima gente” (Purg. 1.24). They are the “first people”, the first inhabitants of earth:

  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!

The firstness of Adam and Eve—their existential newness—speaks to an important purgatorial theme.  This is the place where everyone is working on becoming new again. 

Those who journey to the top of Mount Purgatory are engaged in a quest to purge themselves of sin. This is a process in which humans essentially return to a condition of first innocence, of existential newness.

Let us remember what Dante-narrator says of Ugolino’s children. Their youth—literally their “new age” or “newness”—makes them innocent: “Innocenti facea l’età novella” (Inf. 33.88). There are two adjectives in the verse just cited: “innocenti” and “novella”. In Purgatorio, we see that these two adjectives converge: as we work to become new again, returning to the place where humans were first new (the Garden of Eden), we also become newly innocent. At the end of Purgatorio the self is reborn and renewed, as is Dante: “rifatto sì come piante novelle / rinovellate di novella fronda” (remade, as new trees are renewed when they bring forth new boughs [Purg. 33.143-4]).

When Adam and Eve were new, they looked upon the stars that Dante sees now, the stars that are only visible in the uninhabited southern hemisphere. As we learned in Dante’s cosmological lesson at the end of Inferno 34 (one that retails information that is totally peculiar to Dante, completely invented by him), Lucifer’s fall from heaven excavated the cone of Hell. The place where Lucifer fell and hit the earth is the place where Christ lived and died, Jerusalem. Hell was consequently carved out under Jerusalem by Lucifer’s falling mass.

Dante goes further at the end of Inferno 34, accounting not only for the creation of Hell and Hell’s location but also for “the birth of Purgatory” and Purgatory’s location. Purgatory is a cone-shaped mountain that was created by the earth that was displaced by Lucifer’s fall. That displaced earth rose up on the other side of the globe from Jerusalem, exactly opposite to Jerusalem, and became Mount Purgatory.

Mount Purgatory is consequently in the middle of the uninhabited southern hemisphere. This is the description of the earth and its contours that emerges from the cosmological narrative related at the end of Inferno 34 and elaborated in Purgatorio 1.

The southern hemisphere is completely watery, containing only one land mass: Purgatory. No living human has touched the earth of Mount Purgatory since Adam and Eve left, although—as we shall see—one human navigated these waters and came close enough to these shores to be able to see an immensely tall mountain in the distance: “quando n’apparve una montagna, bruna/ per la distanza, e parvemi alta tanto / quanto veduta non avëa alcuna” (when there before us rose a mountain, dark / because of distance, and it seemed to me / the highest mountain I had ever seen [Inf. 26.133-5]).

As the above citation from Inferno 26 makes clear, the human who briefly and illicitly glimpsed the stars of the “other pole” is Ulysses. The phrase “altro polo” appears twice in Purgatorio 1. It appears first in Purgatorio 1.23 (“e puosi mente / a l’altro polo, e vidi quattro stelle”) and then it appears again a few verses later, where Dante specifies that “he turns a little toward the other pole”: “un poco me volgendo a l’altro polo” [Purg. 1.29]). 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: “Tutte le stelle già de l’altro polo / vedea la notte, e ’l nostro tanto basso, / che non surgëa fuor del marin suolo” (At night I now could see the other pole / and all its stars; the star of ours had fallen / and never rose above the plain of the ocean [Inf. 26.127-9]).

The connection between Ulysses and the shore of Purgatory that he does not reach is very strong here, since “l’altro polo” occurs only in Inferno 26, when Ulysses refers to his sighting of the other pole, and here, at the beginning of Purgatorio 1.

At the same time that Dante makes this strong connection through the repetition of “l’altro polo”, present only in these two canti, he also inserts an interesting disjunction, engineered by his syntax. While the stars of the other pole are “viste”—seen—by Adam and Eve in Purgatorio 1, technically Ulysses does not say “I saw the stars of the other pole” but “the night saw the stars of the other pole”: “Tutte le stelle già de l’altro polo / vedea la notte” (Inf. 26.127-8). In other words, “la notte” is the subject of the verb “vedea” in Inf. 26.128. Is it this syntactical loophole that allows Dante to say that the stars of the other pole have never been seen except by the first people, when Ulysses certainly indicates that he saw them?

At the end of Purgatorio 1 there is a confirming allusion to Ulysses that again uses the verb vedere to differentiate between who sees what — or, better, between who is allowed to see what. And, again, as in Inferno 26.128, the subject of the verb vedere is not a person but an inanimate part of the landscape that normally does not function as the subject of the verb “to see”. As in Inferno 26 it is the “night” that sees the stars of the other pole, here in Purgatorio 1 it is the “deserted shore” (“lito diserto” [Purg. 1.130]) of Purgatory that has “never yet seen its waters coursed by any man who subsequently had knowledge of journeying back again”: “Venimmo poi in sul lito diserto, / che mai non vide navicar sue acque / omo, che di tornar sia poscia esperto” (Purg. 1.131-32). Where Ulysses is concerned, the world itself and its component parts—the night, the shore—are the only witnesses to his grandeur, and to his failure.

In these verses Dante is reminding us that the one previous living human who navigated these waters, Ulysses, was not able to return. Literally, Dante writes that the experience of becoming esperto of the journey home—the “expertise” of the return—was not vouchsafed to him. The choice of the adjective ”esperto” in verse 132 is profound and calculated: Ulysses states in Inferno 26 that he burned with desire to become “del mondo esperto” (expert of the world [Inf. 26.98]).

The narrator has created two sets of beings with respect to the right and ability to reach Mount Purgatory: those who reach this shore while alive and those who reach this shore already dead.

There are two men who have journeyed to Purgatory in the flesh: these are first Ulysses and later Dante. Ulysses comes by sea (as it turns out that the dead souls also do), while Dante comes by land. Ulysses’ journey is unsanctioned, while Dante’s is sanctioned. Ulysses’ unsanctioned quest is doomed to fail, while Dante’s quest—willed by God as we learn in Inferno 2—succeeds. Dante is thus the only living human who has ever been privileged to arrive on (and therefore “see”) this shore.

The dead souls who journey to Purgatory journey by sea, like Ulysses. However, these souls, who come here licitly, will arrive by a different route. They come from the mouth of the river Tiber at Ostia, near the Vatican in Rome, as we will learn in the next canto.

* * *

The echo of Inferno 26’s “altro polo” in Purgatorio 1 reminds us of the Greek hero’s unsanctioned quest beyond the pillars of Hercules and prepares us for the spirited challenge that is issued to Dante and Virgilio by the bearded sage who is the guardian of the second realm. The patriarch (see the description of the “veglio” in Purg. 1.31-33) who guards Purgatory focuses on what he presumes to be the violation of the travelers’ arrival on these shores. He assumes that the travelers 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: / donna scese del ciel” (I do not come through my own self; a lady came down from heaven [Purg. 1.52-3]). In other words, Virgilio effectively shows the “passport” issued to him in Purgatorio 2 by Beatrice. He then explains the various features of this special journey: Dante, who is alive, was close to perdition “per la sua follia” (through his folly [Purg. 1. 59]) and Virgilio was sent to save him: “per lui campare” (for his deliverance [Purg. 1.62]). Moreover, the path to salvation required Virgilio to lead Dante through Hell and now through Purgatory, where he intends to show Dante the souls who purge themselves under the governance of this patriarch: “e ora intendo mostrar quelli spirti / che purgan sé sotto la tua balìa” (now I intend to show to him those spirits / who, in your care, are bent on expiation [Purg. 1.65-6]).

As verses 65-6 show, Virgilio knows who the identity of the soul to whom he is speaking. He knows enough of Purgatory to know under whose guardianship it is. Virgilio therefore tailors his request to his interrogator, declaring that Dante-pilgrim is on a quest for freedom analogous to the quest for which his interrogator gave up his life:

  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.

Virgilio here defines his interlocutor as one who gave up his life for freedom. 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.

Cato of Utica committed suicide in Utica in 46 CE rather than submit to the dominion of Caesar. The choice of the identity of the guardian of Purgatory shows us Dante’s willingness to embrace complexity and nuance.

Here we see Dante save a pagan who killed himself rather than lose the freedoms of Republican Rome, freedoms that were lost when Caesar took absolute power. And yet, in the previous canto, Inferno 34, Dante damned as traitors those who killed Caesar. Therefore Brutus and Cassius are forever masticated in two of Lucifer’s three mouths.

Cato was a Roman patriot whose story is stirringly told in Lucan’s Pharsalia, the source for Dante’s reverence for Cato, a reverence that Dante had demonstrated in his philosophical treatise Convivio. Cato 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. Indeed, 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.

The identity of the guardian of Purgatory is shocking not only because he is a suicide, but most of all because he is a pagan. Indeed, the identity of the guardian of Purgatory creates shock waves that persist long after Purgatorio 1. 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. This reality that has enormous and discomforting repercussions with respect to our friend Virgilio.

As discussed in the Introduction to Inferno 4, Virgilio specifically told Dante that those in Limbo are guilty only of not being baptized, through no fault of their own, simply because they lived before the birth of Christ. In Inferno 4, Virgilio is very clear that the souls in Limbo did not sin: “ch’ei non peccaro; e s’elli hanno mercedi, / non basta, perché non ebber battesmo” (they did not sin; and yet, though they have merits, / that’s not enough, because they lacked baptism [Inf. 4.34-5]). According to this account, the failure of these souls to worship Christ is due simply and only to their having lived prior to Christ’s birth: “dinanzi al cristianesmo” (before Christianity [Inf. 4.37]).

Now it turns out that someone who lived before the birth of Christ can be saved.

Nor is the difference between damned Virgilio and saved Cato presented in a subtle way. Virgilio seems to be believe that the special status of Limbo — harped upon in Inferno 4 — will redeem him in Cato’s eyes. He therefore notes that “Minos does not bind me” — “Minòs me non lega” (Purg. 1.77), indicating that he belongs to the first circle, the circle that precedes the monster Minos who consigns the damned to their infernal destinations. He goes so far as to specify that he belongs to the same circle as Cato’s wife, Marcia:

ma son del cerchio ove son li occhi casti 
di Marzia tua, che ’n vista ancor ti priega, 
o santo petto, che per tua la tegni
 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 
[Purg. 1.78-80]. 

He begs Cato to admit them to Purgatory for the love of Marcia: “per lo suo amore adunque a noi ti piega” (for her love, then, incline to us [Purg. 1.81]).

Cato harshly sweeps aside Virgilio’s very human attempts at establishing ties of friendship and solidarity as so much flattery. Marcia pleased him once — in the passato remoto — and at that time, when he was alive, he did whatever she wanted:

«Marzïa piacque tanto a li occhi miei 
mentre ch’i’ fu’ di là’,» diss’ elli allora, 
«che quante grazie volse da me, fei». 
 While I was there, within the other world, 
Marcia so pleased my eyes,” he then replied, 
“each kindness she required, I satisfied”. 
[Purg. 1.85-7].

But now — in the present tense — Marcia dwells on the other side of the evil river and therefore has no more power to move him, by the law established when he left Limbo:

Or che di là dal mal fiume dimora, 
più muover non mi può, per quella legge 
che fatta fu quando me n’usci’ fora 
 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 
[Purg. 1.88-90].

That was then, the Then of Damnation; this is now, the Now of Salvation.

In the Now of Salvation, all that matters is the lady who descended from heaven. Everything else is flattery: “Ma se donna del ciel ti muove e regge, / come tu di’ , non c’è mestier lusinghe” (But if a lady come from Heaven speeds and helps you, as you say, / there is no need of flattery [Purg. 1.91-2]).

This is the Law, and for all the beauty of the sapphire sea and limpid air, we cannot but feel the painful consequences.

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: Freedom and Law.” Commento Baroliniano, Digital Dante. New York, NY: Columbia University Libraries, 2014. 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.