God’s Acrostic

We recall from Purgatorio 10 that the sculptural art the pilgrim sees engraved on the walls of purgatory is so “real” that it seems alive: Dante feels the wind moving in Trajan’s banners, he smells the incense, he hears the spoken words exchanged between Trajan and the widow. Ultimately Dante confirms that this is God’s art, and calls it “visibile parlare”—visible speech—in Purgatorio 10.95.

Essentially Dante devises in Purgatorio 10 a way of describing moving images in words: he is describing moving pictures/movies/film, though the medium does not yet exist. The same miraculous medium is used for the 13 examples of punished pride that are described in Purgatorio 12. While the carved examples of the virtue of humility are on the wall of the terrace, the examples of the vice of pride are on its pavement, like pavement tombs the pilgrim has seen on earth, but more lifelike due to the “artificio” (artifice [Purg. 12.23]) of their maker.

A spectacular acrostic displays the 13 examples of pride almost “visually”; see the attached chart for a list of all the examples. Note the interweaving of biblical and classical examples and how the exempla of pride reflect the three types of pride dramatized by the encounters with the three souls of Purgatorio 11. The examples are arranged in the following pattern: four sets of terzine begin with the word “Vedea”; four sets of terzine begin with the word “O”; four sets of terzine begin with the word ‘Mostrava”. Thus twelve examples of pride spell out VOM or UOM, “man” in Italian, signifying that pride is man’s besetting sin.

The thirteenth terzina offers the final example, which sums up all the others by referring to a city rather than to a person and by replicating in one terzina all three of the letters that spell the acrostic:

  Vedeva Troia in cenere e in caverne;
o Ilión, come te basso e vile
mostrava il segno che lì si discerne! (Purg. 12.61-63)
  I saw Troy turned to caverns and to ashes;
O Ilium, your effigy in stone—
it showed you there so squalid, so cast down!

The characters featured as examples of pride would repay lengthy discussion. Here we find Nembrot, he who built the tower of Babel and who spoke gibberish to Dante and Virgilio in Inferno 31:

  Vedea Nembròt a piè del gran lavoro
quasi smarrito, e riguardar le genti
che ’n Sennaàr con lui superbi fuoro. (Purg. 12.34-36)
  I saw bewildered Nimrod at the foot
of his great labor; watching him were those
of Shinar who had shared his arrogance.

Most important to my reading of the terrace of pride is the mythological figure of Arachne, marked by the Ulyssean adjective “folle”:

  O folle Aragne, sì vedea io te
già mezza ragna, trista in su li stracci
de l’opera che mal per te si fé. (Purg. 12.43-45)
  O mad Arachne, I saw you already
half spider, wretched on the ragged remnants
of work that you had wrought to your own hurt!

Arachne was famous for her weavings that were so lifelike that they seemed alive. The passage describing her work in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, discussed in Chapter 6 of The Undivine Comedy, nourished Dante in his conceptualizing of representational arrogance as the cornerstone of his terrace of pride (see the Introduction to Purgatorio 11). Again, as in Purgatorio 10’s depiction of the “visibile parlare” of the sculpted virtues, in Purgatorio 12 the point is hammered home that this art is not just “life-like”, it is “life” itself:

  Morti li morti e i vivi parean vivi:
non vide mei di me chi vide il vero,
quant’io calcai, fin che chinato givi. (Purg. 12.67-69)
  The dead seemed dead and the alive, alive:
I saw, head bent, treading those effigies,
as well as those who’d seen those scenes directly.

At the end of the canto we encounter another of the ritual components of the purgatorial experience, repeated on each terrace: Dante meets the angel and a “P” is removed from his brow, signifying his successful participation in the purgation of one “peccatum” or vice/sin. He climbs toward the next terrace, and as he climbs he hears a shortened form of the first Beatitude: “Beati pauperes spiritu” (Matthew 5:3). The eight Beatitudes are from Christ’s Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:3-10) and will be featured on the purgatorial terraces. In full, this Beatitude, featured on the terrace of pride to celebrate the soul’s new acquisition of a pride-less “poverty of spirit”, is: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Coordinated Reading

Coordinated Reading: The Undivine Comedy, Chapter 6, “Re-Presenting What God Presented: The Arachnean Art of the Terrace of Pride,” entire. Chapter 6 is devoted to the three canti of the terrace of pride: Purgatorio 10-11-12.

Recommended Citation

Barolini, Teodolinda. “Purgatorio 12: God’s Acrostic.” Commento Baroliniano, Digital Dante. New York, NY: Columbia University Libraries, 2017. https://digitaldante.columbia.edu/dante/divine-comedy/purgatorio/purgatorio-12/

About the Commento

1 Di pari, come buoi che vanno a giogo,
2 m’andava io con quell’ anima carca,
3 fin che ’l sofferse il dolce pedagogo.

4 Ma quando disse: «Lascia lui e varca;
5 ché qui è buono con l’ali e coi remi,
6 quantunque può, ciascun pinger sua barca»;

7 dritto sì come andar vuolsi rife’mi
8 con la persona, avvegna che i pensieri
9 mi rimanessero e chinati e scemi.

10 Io m’era mosso, e seguia volontieri
11 del mio maestro i passi, e amendue
12 già mostravam com’ eravam leggeri;

13 ed el mi disse: «Volgi li occhi in giùe:
14 buon ti sarà, per tranquillar la via,
15 veder lo letto de le piante tue».

16 Come, perché di lor memoria sia,
17 sovra i sepolti le tombe terragne
18 portan segnato quel ch’elli eran pria,

19 onde lì molte volte si ripiagne
20 per la puntura de la rimembranza,
21 che solo a’ pïi dà de le calcagne;

22 sì vid’ io lì, ma di miglior sembianza
23 secondo l’artificio, figurato
24 quanto per via di fuor del monte avanza.

25 Vedea colui che fu nobil creato
26 più ch’altra creatura, giù dal cielo
27 folgoreggiando scender, da l’un lato.

28 Vedëa Brïareo, fitto dal telo
29 celestïal giacer, da l’altra parte,
30 grave a la terra per lo mortal gelo.

31 Vedea Timbreo, vedea Pallade e Marte,
32 armati ancora, intorno al padre loro,
33 mirar le membra d’i Giganti sparte.

34 Vedea Nembròt a piè del gran lavoro
35 quasi smarrito, e riguardar le genti
36 che ‘n Sennaàr con lui superbi fuoro.

37 O Nïobè, con che occhi dolenti
38 vedea io te segnata in su la strada,
39 tra sette e sette tuoi figliuoli spenti!

40 O Saùl, come in su la propria spada
41 quivi parevi morto in Gelboè,
42 che poi non sentì pioggia né rugiada!

43 O folle Aragne, sì vedea io te
44 già mezza ragna, trista in su li stracci
45 de l’opera che mal per te si fé.

46 O Roboàm, già non par che minacci
47 quivi ’l tuo segno; ma pien di spavento
48 nel porta un carro, sanza ch’altri il cacci.

49 Mostrava ancor lo duro pavimento
50 come Almeon a sua madre fé caro
51 parer lo sventurato addornamento.

52 Mostrava come i figli si gittaro
53 sovra Sennacherìb dentro dal tempio,
54 e come, morto lui, quivi il lasciaro.

55 Mostrava la ruina e ’l crudo scempio
56 che fé Tamiri, quando disse a Ciro:
57 «Sangue sitisti, e io di sangue t’empio».

58 Mostrava come in rotta si fuggiro
59 li Assiri, poi che fu morto Oloferne,
60 e anche le reliquie del martiro.

61 Vedeva Troia in cenere e in caverne;
62 o Ilión, come te basso e vile
63 mostrava il segno che lì si discerne!

64 Qual di pennel fu maestro o di stile
65 che ritraesse l’ombre e ’ tratti ch’ivi
66 mirar farieno uno ingegno sottile?

67 Morti li morti e i vivi parean vivi:
68 non vide mei di me chi vide il vero,
69 quant’ io calcai, fin che chinato givi.

70 Or superbite, e via col viso altero,
71 figliuoli d’Eva, e non chinate il volto
72 sì che veggiate il vostro mal sentero!

73 Più era già per noi del monte vòlto
74 e del cammin del sole assai più speso
75 che non stimava l’animo non sciolto,

76 quando colui che sempre innanzi atteso
77 andava, cominciò: «Drizza la testa;
78 non è più tempo di gir sì sospeso.

79 Vedi colà un angel che s’appresta
80 per venir verso noi; vedi che torna
81 dal servigio del dì l’ancella sesta.

82 Di reverenza il viso e li atti addorna,
83 sì che i diletti lo ’nvïarci in suso;
84 pensa che questo dì mai non raggiorna!».

85 Io era ben del suo ammonir uso
86 pur di non perder tempo, sì che ’n quella
87 materia non potea parlarmi chiuso.

88 A noi venìa la creatura bella,
89 biancovestito e ne la faccia quale
90 par tremolando mattutina stella.

91 Le braccia aperse, e indi aperse l’ale;
92 disse: «Venite: qui son presso i gradi,
93 e agevolemente omai si sale.

94 A questo invito vegnon molto radi:
95 o gente umana, per volar sù nata,
96 perché a poco vento così cadi?».

97 Menocci ove la roccia era tagliata;
98 quivi mi batté l’ali per la fronte;
99 poi mi promise sicura l’andata.

100 Come a man destra, per salire al monte
101 dove siede la chiesa che soggioga
102 la ben guidata sopra Rubaconte,

103 si rompe del montar l’ardita foga
104 per le scalee che si fero ad etade
105 ch’era sicuro il quaderno e la doga;

106 così s’allenta la ripa che cade
107 quivi ben ratta da l’ altro girone;
108 ma quinci e quindi l’alta pietra rade.

109 Noi volgendo ivi le nostre persone,
110Beati pauperes spiritu!‘ voci
111 cantaron sì, che nol diria sermone.

112 Ahi quanto son diverse quelle foci
113 da l’infernali! ché quivi per canti
114 s’entra, e là giù per lamenti feroci.

115 Già montavam su per li scaglion santi,
116 ed esser mi parea troppo più lieve
117 che per lo pian non mi parea davanti.

118 Ond’ io: «Maestro, dì, qual cosa greve
119 levata s’è da me, che nulla quasi
120 per me fatica, andando, si riceve?».

121 Rispuose: «Quando i P che son rimasi
122 ancor nel volto tuo presso che stinti,
123 saranno, com’ è l’un, del tutto rasi,

124 fier li tuoi piè dal buon voler sì vinti,
125 che non pur non fatica sentiranno,
126 ma fia diletto loro esser sù pinti».

127 Allor fec’ io come color che vanno
128 con cosa in capo non da lor saputa,
129 se non che ’ cenni altrui sospecciar fanno;

130 per che la mano ad accertar s’aiuta,
131 e cerca e truova e quello officio adempie
132 che non si può fornir per la veduta;

133 e con le dita de la destra scempie
134 trovai pur sei le lettere che ’ncise
135 quel da le chiavi a me sovra le tempie:

136 a che guardando, il mio duca sorrise.

As oxen, yoked, proceed abreast, so I
moved with that burdened soul as long as my
kind pedagogue allowed me to; but when

he said: “Leave him behind, and go ahead;
for here it’s fitting that with wings and oars
each urge his boat along with all his force,”

I drew my body up again, erect—
the stance most suitable to man—and yet
the thoughts I thought were still submissive, bent.

Now I was on my way, and willingly
I followed in my teacher’s steps, and we
together showed what speed we could command.

He said to me: “Look downward, for the way
will offer you some solace if you pay
attention to the pavement at your feet.”

As, on the lids of pavement tombs, there are
stone effigies of what the buried were
before, so that the dead may be remembered;

and there, when memory—inciting only
the pious—has renewed their mourning, men
are often led to shed their tears again;

so did I see, but carved more skillfully,
with greater sense of likeness, effigies
on all the path protruding from the mountain.

I saw, to one side of the path, one who
had been created nobler than all other
beings, falling lightning—like from Heaven.

I saw, upon the other side, Briareus
transfixed by the celestial shaft: he lay,
ponderous, on the ground, in fatal cold.

I saw Thymbraeus, I saw Mars and Pallas,
still armed, as they surrounded Jove, their father,
gazing upon the Giants’ scattered limbs.

I saw bewildered Nimrod at the foot
of his great labor; watching him were those
of Shinar who had shared his arrogance.

O Niobe, what tears afflicted me
when, on that path, I saw your effigy
among your slaughtered children, seven and seven!

O Saul, you were portrayed there as one who
had died on his own sword, upon Gilboa,
which never after knew the rain, the dew!

O mad Arachne, I saw you already
half spider, wretched on the ragged remnants
of work that you had wrought to your own hurt!

O Rehoboam, you whose effigy
seems not to menace there, and yet you flee
by chariot, terrified, though none pursues!

It also showed-that pavement of hard stone—
how much Alcmaeon made his mother pay:
the cost of the ill—omened ornament.

It showed the children of Sennacherib
as they assailed their father in the temple,
then left him, dead, behind them as they fled.

It showed the slaughter and the devastation
wrought by Tomyris when she taunted Cyrus:
“You thirsted after blood; with blood I fill you.”

It showed the rout of the Assyrians,
sent reeling after Holofernes’ death,
and also showed his body—what was left.

I saw Troy turned to caverns and to ashes;
O Ilium, your effigy in stone—
it showed you there so squalid, so cast down!

What master of the brush or of the stylus
had there portrayed such masses, such outlines
as would astonish all discerning minds?

The dead seemed dead and the alive, alive:
I saw, head bent, treading those effigies,
as well as those who’d seen those scenes directly.

Now, sons of Eve, persist in arrogance,
in haughty stance, do not let your eyes bend,
lest you be forced to see your evil path!

We now had circled round more of the mountain
and much more of the sun’s course had been crossed
than I, my mind absorbed, had gauged, when he

who always looked ahead insistently,
as he advanced, began: “Lift up your eyes;
it’s time to set these images aside.

See there an angel hurrying to meet us,
and also see the sixth of the handmaidens
returning from her service to the day.

Adorn your face and acts with reverence,
that he be pleased to send us higher. Remember—
today will never know another dawn.”

I was so used to his insistent warnings
against the loss of time; concerning that,
his words to me could hardly be obscure.

That handsome creature came toward us; his clothes
were white, and in his aspect he seemed like
the trembling star that rises in the morning.

He opened wide his arms, then spread his wings;
he said: “Approach: the steps are close at hand;
from this point on one can climb easily.

This invitation’s answered by so few:
o humankind, born for the upward flight,
why are you driven back by wind so slight?”

He led us to a cleft within the rock,
and then he struck my forehead with his wing;
that done, he promised me safe journeying.

As on the right, when one ascends the hill
where—over Rubaconte’s bridge—there stands
the church that dominates the well—ruled city,

the daring slope of the ascent is broken
by steps that were constructed in an age
when record books and measures could be trusted,

so was the slope that plummets there so steeply
down from the other ring made easier;
but on this side and that, high rock encroaches.

While we began to move in that direction,
“Beati pauperes spiritu” was sung
so sweetly—it can not be told in words.

How different were these entryways from those
of Hell! For here it is with song one enters;
down there, it is with savage lamentations.

Now we ascended by the sacred stairs,
but I seemed to be much more light than I
had been, before, along the level terrace.

At this I asked: “Master, tell me, what heavy
weight has been lifted from me, so that I,
in going, notice almost no fatigue?”

He answered: “When the P’s that still remain
upon your brow—now almost all are faint—
have been completely, like this P. erased,

your feet will be so mastered by good will
that they not only will not feel travail
but will delight when they are urged uphill.”

Then I behaved like those who make their way
with something on their head of which they’re not
aware, till others’ signs make them suspicious,

at which, the hand helps them to ascertain;
it seeks and finds and touches and provides
the services that sight cannot supply;

so, with my right hand’s outspread fingers, I
found just six of the letters once inscribed
by him who holds the keys, upon my forehead;

and as he watched me do this, my guide smiled.

ABREAST, like oxen going in a yoke,
I with that heavy—laden soul went on,
As long as the sweet pedagogue permitted;

But when he said,”Leave him, and onward pass,
For here ’tis good that with the sail and oars,
As much as may be, each push on his barque;”

Upright, as walking wills it, I redressed
My person, notwithstanding that my thoughts
Remained within me downcast and abashed.

I had moved on, and followed willingly
The footsteps of my Master, and we both
Already showed how light of foot we were,

When unto me he said:”Cast down thine eyes;
‘Twere well for thee, to alleviate the way,
To look upon the bed beneath thy feet.”

As, that some memory may exist of them
Above the buried dead their tombs in earth
Bear sculptured on them what they were before;

Whence often there we weep for them afresh,
From pricking of remembrance, which alone
To the compassionate doth set its spur;

So saw I there, but of a better semblance
In point of artifice, with figures covered
Whate’er as pathway from the mount projects.

I saw that one who was created noble
More than all other creatures, down from heaven
Flaming with lightnings fall upon one side.

I saw Briareus smitten by the dart
Celestial, lying on the other side,
Heavy upon the earth by mortal frost.

I saw Thymbraeus, Pallas saw, and Mars,
Still clad in armour round about their father,
Gaze at the scattered members of the giants.

I saw, at foot of his great labour, Nimrod,
As if bewildered, looking at the people
Who had been proud with him in Sennaar.

O Niobe! with what afflicted eyes
Thee I beheld upon the pathway traced
Between thy seven and seven children slain!

O Saul! how fallen upon thy proper sword
Didst thou appear there lifeless in Gilboa,
That felt thereafter neither rain nor dew!

O mad Arachne! so I thee beheld
E’en then half spider, sad upon the shreds
Of fabric wrought in evil hour for thee!

O Rehoboam! no more seems to threaten
Thine image there; but full of consternation
A chariot bears it off, when none pursues!

Displayed moreo’er the adamantine pavement
How unto his own mother made Alcmaeon
Costly appear the luckless ornament;

Displayed how his own sons did throw themselves
Upon Sennacherib within the temple,
And how, he being dead, they left him there;

Displayed the ruin and the cruel carnage
That Tomyris wrought, when she to Cyrus said,
“Blood didst thou thirst for, and with blood I glut thee!”

Displayed how routed fled the Assyrians
After that Holofernes had been slain,
And likewise the remainder of that slaughter

I saw there Troy in ashes and in caverns;
O Ilion! thee, how abject and debased,
Displayed the image that is there discerned!

Whoe’er of pencil master was or stile,
That could portray the shades and traits which there
Would cause each subtile genius to admire ?

Dead seemed the dead, the living seemed alive;
Better than I saw not who saw the truth,
All that I trod upon while bowed I went.

Now wax ye proud, and on with looks uplifted,
Ye sons of Eve, and bow not down your faces
So that ye may behold your evil ways!

More of the mount by us was now encompassed,
And far more spent the circuit of the sun,
Than had the mind preoccupied imagined,

When he, who ever watchful in advance
Was going on, began:”Lift up thy head,
‘Tis no more time to go thus meditating

Lo there an Angel who is making haste
To come towards us; lo, returning is
From service of the day the sixth handmaiden,

With reverence thine acts and looks adorn,
So that he may delight to speed us upward;
Think that this day will never dawn again.”

I was familiar with his admonition
Ever to lose no time; so on this theme
He could not unto me speak covertly.

Towards us came the being beautiful
Vested in white, and in his countenance
Such as appears the tremulous morning star.

His arms he opened, and opened then his wings;
“Come,”said he,”near at hand here are the steps,
And easy from henceforth is the ascent.”

At this announcement few are they who come!
O human creatures, born to soar aloft,
Why fall ye thus before a little wind ?

He led us on to where the rock was cleft;
There smote upon my forehead with his wings,
Then a safe passage promised unto me.

As on the right hand, too ascent the mount
Where seated is the church that lordeth
O’er the well—guided, above Rubaconte,

The bold abruptness of the ascent is broken
By stairways that were made there in the age
When still were safe the ledger and the stave,

E’en thus attempered is the bank which falls
Sheer downward from the second circle there
But on this, side and that the high rock graze

As we were turning thitherward our persons.
“Beati pauperes spiritu,” voices
Sang in such wise that speech could tell it not.

Ah me! how different are these entrances
From the Infernal! for with anthems here
One enters, and below with wild laments.

We now were hunting up the sacred stairs,
And it appeared to me by far more easy
Than on the plain it had appeared before.

Whence I: “My Master, say, what heavy thing
Has been uplifted from me, so that hardly
Aught of fatigue is felt by me in wlaking?”

He answered: “When the P’s which have remained
Still on thy face almost obliterate
Shall wholly, as the first is, be erased,

Thy feet will be so vanquished by good will,
That not alone they shall not feel fatigue,
But urging up will be to them delight.”

Then did I even as they do who are going
With something on the head to them unknown,
Unless the signs of others make them doubt,

Wherefore the hand to ascertain is helpful,
And seeks and finds, and doth fulfill the office
Which cannot be accomplished by the sight;

And with the fingers of the right hand spread
I found but six the letters, that had carved
Upon my temples he who bore the keys;

Upon beholding which my Leader smiled.

As oxen, yoked, proceed abreast, so I
moved with that burdened soul as long as my
kind pedagogue allowed me to; but when

he said: “Leave him behind, and go ahead;
for here it’s fitting that with wings and oars
each urge his boat along with all his force,”

I drew my body up again, erect—
the stance most suitable to man—and yet
the thoughts I thought were still submissive, bent.

Now I was on my way, and willingly
I followed in my teacher’s steps, and we
together showed what speed we could command.

He said to me: “Look downward, for the way
will offer you some solace if you pay
attention to the pavement at your feet.”

As, on the lids of pavement tombs, there are
stone effigies of what the buried were
before, so that the dead may be remembered;

and there, when memory—inciting only
the pious—has renewed their mourning, men
are often led to shed their tears again;

so did I see, but carved more skillfully,
with greater sense of likeness, effigies
on all the path protruding from the mountain.

I saw, to one side of the path, one who
had been created nobler than all other
beings, falling lightning—like from Heaven.

I saw, upon the other side, Briareus
transfixed by the celestial shaft: he lay,
ponderous, on the ground, in fatal cold.

I saw Thymbraeus, I saw Mars and Pallas,
still armed, as they surrounded Jove, their father,
gazing upon the Giants’ scattered limbs.

I saw bewildered Nimrod at the foot
of his great labor; watching him were those
of Shinar who had shared his arrogance.

O Niobe, what tears afflicted me
when, on that path, I saw your effigy
among your slaughtered children, seven and seven!

O Saul, you were portrayed there as one who
had died on his own sword, upon Gilboa,
which never after knew the rain, the dew!

O mad Arachne, I saw you already
half spider, wretched on the ragged remnants
of work that you had wrought to your own hurt!

O Rehoboam, you whose effigy
seems not to menace there, and yet you flee
by chariot, terrified, though none pursues!

It also showed-that pavement of hard stone—
how much Alcmaeon made his mother pay:
the cost of the ill—omened ornament.

It showed the children of Sennacherib
as they assailed their father in the temple,
then left him, dead, behind them as they fled.

It showed the slaughter and the devastation
wrought by Tomyris when she taunted Cyrus:
“You thirsted after blood; with blood I fill you.”

It showed the rout of the Assyrians,
sent reeling after Holofernes’ death,
and also showed his body—what was left.

I saw Troy turned to caverns and to ashes;
O Ilium, your effigy in stone—
it showed you there so squalid, so cast down!

What master of the brush or of the stylus
had there portrayed such masses, such outlines
as would astonish all discerning minds?

The dead seemed dead and the alive, alive:
I saw, head bent, treading those effigies,
as well as those who’d seen those scenes directly.

Now, sons of Eve, persist in arrogance,
in haughty stance, do not let your eyes bend,
lest you be forced to see your evil path!

We now had circled round more of the mountain
and much more of the sun’s course had been crossed
than I, my mind absorbed, had gauged, when he

who always looked ahead insistently,
as he advanced, began: “Lift up your eyes;
it’s time to set these images aside.

See there an angel hurrying to meet us,
and also see the sixth of the handmaidens
returning from her service to the day.

Adorn your face and acts with reverence,
that he be pleased to send us higher. Remember—
today will never know another dawn.”

I was so used to his insistent warnings
against the loss of time; concerning that,
his words to me could hardly be obscure.

That handsome creature came toward us; his clothes
were white, and in his aspect he seemed like
the trembling star that rises in the morning.

He opened wide his arms, then spread his wings;
he said: “Approach: the steps are close at hand;
from this point on one can climb easily.

This invitation’s answered by so few:
o humankind, born for the upward flight,
why are you driven back by wind so slight?”

He led us to a cleft within the rock,
and then he struck my forehead with his wing;
that done, he promised me safe journeying.

As on the right, when one ascends the hill
where—over Rubaconte’s bridge—there stands
the church that dominates the well—ruled city,

the daring slope of the ascent is broken
by steps that were constructed in an age
when record books and measures could be trusted,

so was the slope that plummets there so steeply
down from the other ring made easier;
but on this side and that, high rock encroaches.

While we began to move in that direction,
“Beati pauperes spiritu” was sung
so sweetly—it can not be told in words.

How different were these entryways from those
of Hell! For here it is with song one enters;
down there, it is with savage lamentations.

Now we ascended by the sacred stairs,
but I seemed to be much more light than I
had been, before, along the level terrace.

At this I asked: “Master, tell me, what heavy
weight has been lifted from me, so that I,
in going, notice almost no fatigue?”

He answered: “When the P’s that still remain
upon your brow—now almost all are faint—
have been completely, like this P. erased,

your feet will be so mastered by good will
that they not only will not feel travail
but will delight when they are urged uphill.”

Then I behaved like those who make their way
with something on their head of which they’re not
aware, till others’ signs make them suspicious,

at which, the hand helps them to ascertain;
it seeks and finds and touches and provides
the services that sight cannot supply;

so, with my right hand’s outspread fingers, I
found just six of the letters once inscribed
by him who holds the keys, upon my forehead;

and as he watched me do this, my guide smiled.

ABREAST, like oxen going in a yoke,
I with that heavy—laden soul went on,
As long as the sweet pedagogue permitted;

But when he said,”Leave him, and onward pass,
For here ’tis good that with the sail and oars,
As much as may be, each push on his barque;”

Upright, as walking wills it, I redressed
My person, notwithstanding that my thoughts
Remained within me downcast and abashed.

I had moved on, and followed willingly
The footsteps of my Master, and we both
Already showed how light of foot we were,

When unto me he said:”Cast down thine eyes;
‘Twere well for thee, to alleviate the way,
To look upon the bed beneath thy feet.”

As, that some memory may exist of them
Above the buried dead their tombs in earth
Bear sculptured on them what they were before;

Whence often there we weep for them afresh,
From pricking of remembrance, which alone
To the compassionate doth set its spur;

So saw I there, but of a better semblance
In point of artifice, with figures covered
Whate’er as pathway from the mount projects.

I saw that one who was created noble
More than all other creatures, down from heaven
Flaming with lightnings fall upon one side.

I saw Briareus smitten by the dart
Celestial, lying on the other side,
Heavy upon the earth by mortal frost.

I saw Thymbraeus, Pallas saw, and Mars,
Still clad in armour round about their father,
Gaze at the scattered members of the giants.

I saw, at foot of his great labour, Nimrod,
As if bewildered, looking at the people
Who had been proud with him in Sennaar.

O Niobe! with what afflicted eyes
Thee I beheld upon the pathway traced
Between thy seven and seven children slain!

O Saul! how fallen upon thy proper sword
Didst thou appear there lifeless in Gilboa,
That felt thereafter neither rain nor dew!

O mad Arachne! so I thee beheld
E’en then half spider, sad upon the shreds
Of fabric wrought in evil hour for thee!

O Rehoboam! no more seems to threaten
Thine image there; but full of consternation
A chariot bears it off, when none pursues!

Displayed moreo’er the adamantine pavement
How unto his own mother made Alcmaeon
Costly appear the luckless ornament;

Displayed how his own sons did throw themselves
Upon Sennacherib within the temple,
And how, he being dead, they left him there;

Displayed the ruin and the cruel carnage
That Tomyris wrought, when she to Cyrus said,
“Blood didst thou thirst for, and with blood I glut thee!”

Displayed how routed fled the Assyrians
After that Holofernes had been slain,
And likewise the remainder of that slaughter

I saw there Troy in ashes and in caverns;
O Ilion! thee, how abject and debased,
Displayed the image that is there discerned!

Whoe’er of pencil master was or stile,
That could portray the shades and traits which there
Would cause each subtile genius to admire ?

Dead seemed the dead, the living seemed alive;
Better than I saw not who saw the truth,
All that I trod upon while bowed I went.

Now wax ye proud, and on with looks uplifted,
Ye sons of Eve, and bow not down your faces
So that ye may behold your evil ways!

More of the mount by us was now encompassed,
And far more spent the circuit of the sun,
Than had the mind preoccupied imagined,

When he, who ever watchful in advance
Was going on, began:”Lift up thy head,
‘Tis no more time to go thus meditating

Lo there an Angel who is making haste
To come towards us; lo, returning is
From service of the day the sixth handmaiden,

With reverence thine acts and looks adorn,
So that he may delight to speed us upward;
Think that this day will never dawn again.”

I was familiar with his admonition
Ever to lose no time; so on this theme
He could not unto me speak covertly.

Towards us came the being beautiful
Vested in white, and in his countenance
Such as appears the tremulous morning star.

His arms he opened, and opened then his wings;
“Come,”said he,”near at hand here are the steps,
And easy from henceforth is the ascent.”

At this announcement few are they who come!
O human creatures, born to soar aloft,
Why fall ye thus before a little wind ?

He led us on to where the rock was cleft;
There smote upon my forehead with his wings,
Then a safe passage promised unto me.

As on the right hand, too ascent the mount
Where seated is the church that lordeth
O’er the well—guided, above Rubaconte,

The bold abruptness of the ascent is broken
By stairways that were made there in the age
When still were safe the ledger and the stave,

E’en thus attempered is the bank which falls
Sheer downward from the second circle there
But on this, side and that the high rock graze

As we were turning thitherward our persons.
“Beati pauperes spiritu,” voices
Sang in such wise that speech could tell it not.

Ah me! how different are these entrances
From the Infernal! for with anthems here
One enters, and below with wild laments.

We now were hunting up the sacred stairs,
And it appeared to me by far more easy
Than on the plain it had appeared before.

Whence I: “My Master, say, what heavy thing
Has been uplifted from me, so that hardly
Aught of fatigue is felt by me in wlaking?”

He answered: “When the P’s which have remained
Still on thy face almost obliterate
Shall wholly, as the first is, be erased,

Thy feet will be so vanquished by good will,
That not alone they shall not feel fatigue,
But urging up will be to them delight.”

Then did I even as they do who are going
With something on the head to them unknown,
Unless the signs of others make them doubt,

Wherefore the hand to ascertain is helpful,
And seeks and finds, and doth fulfill the office
Which cannot be accomplished by the sight;

And with the fingers of the right hand spread
I found but six the letters, that had carved
Upon my temples he who bore the keys;

Upon beholding which my Leader smiled.