The Fault Is Not In Our Stars

  • from the darkness of hell to angelic light in the space of one canto: a recapitulation of the journey as a whole in the 50th canto
  • Dante’s exceptionalism
  • Are the stars to blame for our lack of virtue or are we? The question of astrological determinism: we return to Cecco d’Ascoli and to the debate about Inferno 7.89 (see the Appendix to the Introduction to Inferno 7), also to Dante’s programmatic deflecting of astrology in Inferno 20
  • Dante’s conditional contrary-to-fact framing of the central ideological premise of his universe and of his poem
  • the journey of the soul on the path of life, a poetic retelling of Convivio 4.12

Purgatorio 16 begins in darkness likened to that of hell (“Buio d’inferno” are the canto’s first words) and ends with the travelers’ emergence into light, as though they have passed in the space of one canto through a distilled version of the journey as a whole. Such signposts befit a canto that is the 50th of the Commedia’s 100 canti.

The darkness into which Dante and Virgilio are plunged is caused by the dense smoke that envelops and clouds the terrace of wrath. The pilgrim is now blinded and stays close behind his guide, in order not to “lose himself” (smarrire is the verb used in Inferno 1.3, “ché la diritta via era smarrita”): “Sì come cieco va dietro a sua guida / per non smarrirsi” (Just as a blind man moves behind his guide, / that he not stray [Purg. 16.10-11]). The idea that anger is a kind of blindness is here made literal by the poet, who enfolds the third terrace in blinding smoke. This idea is one that we still use today when we say that anger clouds our judgment and thereby makes it difficult for us to discern the correct course of action.

The blindness-causing darkness of this terrace also permits the trope that the soul Marco Lombardo will use when he, albeit literally blinded, indicts the living for being intellectually blind: “Frate, / lo mondo è cieco, e tu vien ben da lui” (Brother, / the world is blind, and you come from the world [Purg. 16.65-66]). “The world is blind” is Marco Lombardo’s first reply to Dante’s query about the role of the stars in human life.

Marco Lombardo’s discourse rebuts the role of the stars and is therefore a key rebuttal of astrological determinism. I will come back to Marco’s lengthy and important discourse on determinism versus free will and right versus faulty governance on earth, stopping first to treat some of the opening gambits of the conversation between the pilgrim and the soul he has met.

Upon meeting, Dante speaks to Marco of his own exceptional status, first discussed in Inferno 2. He promises to tell of the wonders that have befallen him: “maraviglia udirai, se mi secondi” (you shall hear wonders if you follow me [Purg. 16.33]). He then characterizes himself as graced to see the divine court in a manner not vouchsafed to any other in modern times:

  E se Dio m’ha in sua grazia rinchiuso,
tanto che vuol ch’i’ veggia la sua corte
per modo tutto fuor del moderno uso...(Purg. 16.40-42)
  since God’s so gathered me into His grace
that He would have me, in a manner most
unusual for moderns, see His court . . .

On this terrace, where the pilgrim experiences “ecstatic visions” that are a mise-en-abyme of the visionary Commedia as a whole, he speaks with unusual candor of his exceptionalism.

The idea that his experience is completely unheard of in modern times—“per modo tutto fuor del moderno uso” (Purg. 16.42)—testifies to the distance that Dante places between himself and the myriads of contemporary claimants to visionary insight. As I wrote in “Why Did Dante Write the Commedia? Dante and the Visionary Tradition,” Dante’s claim to Marco Lombardo is somewhat disingenuous, in that Dante wrote in a time of great visionary fervor.

Dante here constructs his visionary genealogy with the same connection to antiquity and the same bypassing of vernacular models that in Inferno 1 and Inferno 4 he uses to construct his poetic genealogy.

We remember that in Inferno 2 Dante-pilgrim chose for himself two visionary role models from antiquity: Aeneas and St. Paul. Similarly, in Inferno 1 Dante-pilgrim tells Virgilio that Virgilio is the only source of his poetic genius: “tu se’ solo colui da cu’ io tolsi / lo bello stilo che m’ha fatto onore” (you, the only one from whom I drew / the noble style that has brought me honor [Inf. 1.86-7]). And in Inferno 4 Dante constructs a poetic genealogy that makes him sixth in a line that includes Homer, Vergil, Ovid, Horace, and Lucan (see Inferno 4.100-02).

Moreover, Dante was indeed unique in his mode of representation of his vision:

When Dante pilgrim says to Marco Lombardo that ‘‘Dio m’ha in sua grazia rinchiuso, / tanto che vuol ch’i’ veggia la sua corte / per modo tutto fuor del moderno uso’’ (God has so enclosed me in his grace / that he wants me to see his court / in a manner altogether outside of modern use) (Purg. 16.40–42), the poet is suggesting that the mode of seeing vouchsafed him is entirely unique in modern times. Reading other visions prevents us from passing over this verse, forces us to query the pilgrim’s claim to see God’s court ‘‘per modo tutto fuor del moderno uso.’’ On the one hand, this statement is historically untrue (and most likely disingenuous): Dante lived at a time of great visionary fervor. On the other hand, if we take ‘‘modo’’ to refer not only to the act of seeing but also to the act of representing, which is—for this tradition—essentially inseparable from the sight itself, how can we challenge the truth of Dante’s assertion? For visionary authors, from the humblest to the most sublime, it is not the ‘‘why’’ of the writing that is problematic but always the ‘‘how.’’ And with respect to the ‘‘how’’ there is no doubt that Dante’s text is indeed del tutto fuor del moderno uso. (“Why Did Dante Write the Commedia? Dante and the Visionary Tradition,” p. 131)

While in the Inferno it was Virgilio who most often explained the special nature of the journey that he and his charge are undertaking, in speaking to Marco Lombardo Dante is forthright in owning his own exceptionalism.

***

Marco Lombardo tells Dante who he is, leading with the place, Lombardy, whose disintegration without imperial rule will furnish the topic of discussion in the latter part of Purgatorio 16: “Lombardo fui, e fu’ chiamato Marco” (I was a Lombard and I was called Marco [Purg. 16.46]). He describes himself as one who knew the world and loved virtue, which he calls that “valor toward which today all have slackened the bow”:

  del mondo seppi, e quel valore amai
al quale ha or ciascun disteso l’arco. (Purg. 16.47-48)
  I knew the world’s ways, and I loved those goods
for which the bows of all men now grow slack.

Marco’s words, which indicate that virtue is not prized in the world today, couple in the pilgrim’s mind with words previously expressed by Guido del Duca. Given that Guido del Duca’s words are found in Purgatorio 14, Dante here places great demands on his reader: to understand what the pilgrim is saying to Marco Lombardo at this point, the reader is required to remember or to consult the previous passage in Purgatorio 14 and to link it with the discussion in Purgatorio 16.

In this kind of hyper-literacy we see one of the features of the Commedia that is responsible for the flourishing of a commentary tradition.

The pilgrim’s desire to clarify the doubt caused in him by the two statements coupled in his mind, Marco’s with Guido del Duca’s, escalates his need to know to the bursting point (verses 52-57).

As we saw, Marco remarked that while alive he loved those values that are no longer valued on earth, the valor toward which no one any longer aims. Dante remembers that Guido del Duca had described the Arno valley in similar terms, as a place whose inhabitants flee virtue:

  vertù così per nimica si fuga
da tutti come biscia, o per sventura
del luogo, o per mal uso che li fruga... (Purg. 14.37-39)
  virtue is seen as serpent, and all flee
from it as if it were an enemy,
either because the site is ill-starred or
their evil custom goads them so...

The conundrum arises from the unresolved either/or of the above verses: yes, we understand that the inhabitants of the Arno valley flee virtue; but do they do so because the place is ill-fated or because of their own evil customs? Which one of these two possible causes for the decadence of the Arno valley is to be considered correct? The one that is external to the inhabitants, a product of the ill-starred nature of the place, the “sventura / del luogo” (the enjambment at the end of Purg. 14.38 emphasizes the impending “misfortune” that hangs over this luogo), or the one that is internal to the inhabitants, a product of their own evil customs and habits — their “mal uso”?

This is the question that Dante now poses to Marco Lombardo, restating the two terms from Purgatorio 14 in more explicitly astrological terms, so that “sventura / del luogo” becomes “nel cielo” (in heaven) and “mal uso” becomes “qua giù” (down here):

  Lo mondo è ben così tutto diserto
d’ogne virtute, come tu mi sone,
e di malizia gravido e coverto;
  ma priego che m’addite la cagione,
sì ch’i’ la veggia e ch’i’ la mostri altrui;
ché nel cielo uno, e un qua giù la pone. (Purg. 16.58-63)
  The world indeed has been stripped utterly
of every virtue; as you said to me,
it cloaks—and is cloaked by—perversity.
  Some place the cause in heaven, some, below;
but I beseech you to define the cause,
that, seeing it, I may show it to others.

Is the fault for our lack of virtue to be found in the “stars” (“nel cielo” [63]) or in ourselves, “down here” (“qua giù” [63])? In other words, are we to blame for our sinful behavior? Or is our behavior determined by the stars and therefore not in our control?

The answer, in a Shakespearean nutshell, is that the fault is not in our stars, but in ourselves: “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, / But in ourselves” (Julius Caesar I, ii, 140-41).

Dante’s answer is rather more prolix and complicated than Shakespeare’s straightforward declarative, for Dante frames Marco Lombardo’s all-important answer as a convoluted conditional contrary-to-fact. The stakes at this point are very high, involving the very integrity of the enterprise of allotting punishment for evil and reward for good. The answer encompasses the Commedia’s central discourse on free will, a statement of the principles that hold up the entire ideological edifice of the poem.

Marco makes that point immediately. He claims that humans insist on assigning all their actions to heaven for their causes, as if all motion occurred by necessity. If it were thus, states Marco, then free will would be destroyed in you, then there would be no justice in receiving happiness for doing good and grief for doing evil:

  Voi che vivete ogne cagion recate
pur suso al cielo, pur come se tutto
movesse seco di necessitate.
  Se così fosse, in voi fora distrutto
libero arbitrio, e non fora giustizia
per ben letizia, e per male aver lutto. (Purg. 16.67-72)
  You living ones continue to assign
to heaven every cause, as if it were
the necessary source of every motion.
  If this were so, then your free will would be
destroyed, and there would be no justice
in joy for doing good, in grief for evil. 

If we were not acting freely, there would be no basis for assigning some souls to heaven and others to hell; if we were not acting freely, there would be no possibility of writing a poem like the one in which this discussion is taking place: a poem that is based on the justice—“giustizia”—of apportioning happiness—“letizia”—for good behavior (“per ben”) and grief—“lutto”—for evil behavior (“per male”).

Marco Lombardo’s discourse juxtaposes “libero arbitrio” (free will) with “giustizia” (justice) in verse 71 for good reason: justice can only exist if the will is free. If the will were not free, if we were constrained to flee virtue because of the ill-starred nature of the place where we live, there would be no justice in condemning our actions. The universe would then be arbitrary and capricious.

What are we to make of Dante’s syntax here, of his conditional contrary-to-fact framing of the central ideological premise of his poem and of his universe? He both formulates and staves off the most terrifying of thoughts, namely that the universe may be capricious and arbitrary, that it may not be governed by justice.

Chiavacci Leonardi characterizes Dante’s argument as a reductio ad absurdum: “La dimostrazione è fatta per assurdo (dalla premessa si giunge ad una conclusione assurda, l’ingiustizia di Dio)” (The demonstration is conducted as a reductio ad absurdum [from the premise one arrives at an absurd conclusion, the injustice of God] [Purgatorio, p. 475]). But her statement that the injustice of God is an absurd conclusion seems a little too pat, given that Dante has a habit of questioning God’s justice. For instance, in Purgatorio 6, he asks: “son li giusti occhi tuoi rivolti altrove?” (have you turned elsewhere Your just eyes? [Purg. 6.120]). And Paradiso 19 contains a prolonged—and searing—meditation on God’s injustice, leading me to title my Introduction to that canto “Injustice on the Banks of the Indus”.

In truth, for Dante the ideological order of the universe demands that it be ruled justly. If it is ruled justly, then those who are making choices within it and whose choices are being evaluated are doing so freely. Here finally is the unpacking of the words on the gate of hell in Inferno 3: “Giustizia mosse mio alto fattore” (Justice moved my high maker [Inf. 3.4]). Hell is just because the will is free. And here too is the reason that there can be no pity in hell: “Qui vive la pietà quand’è ben morta” (Here pity lives when it is dead [Inf. 20.28]).

If there is justice at work in the world, then the will is free. Dante restates this fundamental principle in a remarkable oxymoron that highlights the paradoxical idea of a will that is free but that exists in a world governed by an omnipotent and omniscient God: “liberi soggiacete” (you, who are free, are subjects [Purg. 16.80]). How can we be free if God, for Whom nothing is ever new, because He sees everything before it happens (hence He is “Colui che mai non vide cosa nova” The One who never saw a new thing [Purg. 10.94]), knows everything that we are going to do before we do it? This problem remains to be tackled in Paradiso. For now it is enough to state the paradox: “liberi soggiacete” (Purg. 16.80).

Before leaving this central passage of Purgatorio 16 and the question of free will and the stars, I will return to the story of the astrologer Cecco d’Ascoli’s attack on Inferno 7.89, “necessità la fa esser veloce” (necessity makes her [Fortuna] swift), discussed in my Introduction to Inferno 7. Cecco the astrologer accused Dante of subscribing to astral determinism, based on the code word “necessità” in Inferno 7.89. Benvenuto da Imola defended Dante on the basis of Purgatorio 16:

Sed parcat mihi reverentia sua, si fuisset tam bonus poeta ut astrologus erat, non invexisset ita temere contra autorem. Debebat enim imaginari quod autor non contradixisset expresse sibi ipsi, qui dicit Purgatorii cap. XVI: El cielo i vostri movimenti initia, Non dico tutti, ma posto ch’io ’l dica, Dato v’è lume a bene et a malitia.(Benevenuti de Rambaldis de Imola, Comentum super Dantis Aldigherij Comoediam, ed. J. P. Lacaita, Firenze: Barbèra, 1887)

But may his reverence spare me, if he were as good a poet as he was an astrologer, he would not have inveighed so boldly against the author. For he ought to imagine that the author clearly did not contradict himself, who says in chapter XVI of Purgatorio: The heavens initiate your movements; I don’t say all of them, but, were I to say it, you have been given light to discern good and evil. (Translation mine)

There are two points I would like to make in this little coda to the story told in the Introduction to Inferno 7. The first is that Dante himself uses “necessità” as a code word for determinism in Purgatorio 16, accusing humans of constantly referring their actions to the heavens as though everything happens “by necessity”: “Voi che vivete ogne cagion recate / pur suso al cielo, pur come se tutto / movesse seco di necessitate” (You living ones continue to assign / to heaven every cause, as if it were / the necessary source of every motion [Purg. 16.67-69]).

The second is that Benvenuto, in furnishing Purgatorio 16 as his answer to Cecco d’Ascoli, does not cite the reductio ad absurdum argument discussed above. Rather he cites the passage that follows, of which Chiavacci Leonardi writes “alla dimostrazione per assurdo, segue la spiegazione di come veramente stanno le cose” (after the reductio ad absurdum, there follows the explanation of how things really stand [Purgatorio, p. 476]). Thus Benvenuto cites the following verses: “Lo cielo i vostri movimenti inizia; / non dico tutti, ma, posto ch’i’ ’l dica, / lume v’è dato a bene e a malizia” (The heavens set your appetites in motion— / not all your appetites, but even if  that were the case, / you have received light on good and evil [Purg. 16.73-75]).

The verses cited by Benvenuto are straightforward declarative statements: you have received light that allows you to discern good and evil. Perhaps, like me, Benvenuto thought the convoluted conditional contrary-to-fact that precedes raises as many questions as it resolves.

***

After the discussion of free will and its culmination in “liberi soggiacete” (80), Purgatorio 16 pivots to the question of governance: “Però, se ’l mondo presente disvia, / in voi è la cagione, in voi si cheggia” (Thus, if the present world has gone astray, / in you is the cause, in you it’s to be sought [Purg. 16.82-83]).

There follows the beautiful description of the newborn soul as a young female child setting forth on the path of life (Purg. 16.85–90), which echoes the voyage parable in Convivio 4.12:

The pilgrim passage of Convivio 4.12 is translated into verse at the very heart of the Purgatorio, in canto 16’s description of the newborn soul which, sent forth by a happy maker upon the path of life—“mossa da lieto fattore” (Purg. 16.89)—willingly turns toward all that brings delight: “volontier torna a ciò che la trastulla” (90). The voyage is perilous, and the simple little soul that knows nothing, “l’anima semplicetta che sa nulla” (Purg. 16.88), is distracted by the very desire that also serves as necessary catalyst and propeller for its forward motion: “Di picciol bene in pria sente sapore; / quivi s’inganna, e dietro ad esso corre, / se guida
o fren non torce suo amore” (First the soul tastes the savor of a small good; / there it deceives itself and runs after, / if guide or curb does not twist its love [91-93]). (The Undivine Comedy, p. 104)

The issue of governance leads to the question: where are the institutions—the laws, the rulers—that can guide us toward the towers of the true city? The institutions used to exist, indeed there were once (in a bold and wonderful metaphor) “two suns”—Empire and Church—to guide us along our two paths, the path of the world and the path of God: “Soleva Roma, che ’l buon mondo feo, / due soli aver, che l’una e l’altra strada / facean vedere, e del mondo e di Deo” (For Rome, which made the world good, used to have / two suns; and they made visible two paths— / the world’s path and the pathway that is God’s [Purg. 16.106-08]). But these institutions have been corrupted by the pernicious intermingling of secular and spiritual, of Empire and Church, a state of affairs for which the Church is primarily to blame:

  Dì oggimai che la Chiesa di Roma,
per confondere in sé due reggimenti,
cade nel fango e sé brutta e la soma. (Purg. 16.127-29)
  You can conclude: the Church of Rome confounds
two powers in itself; into the filth,
it falls and fouls itself and its new burden.

Marco Lombardo’s long speech can be divided thus:

I. Free will (verses 67-84): Human behavior is not determined by the stars. Transitional terzina (verses 82-84): the problem is therefore in humans and may be understood as follows:

II.  1. Humans are created good (verses 85-93): the parable of the birth of the soul and how it then goes astray (see Convivio 4.12).

III.  2. Humans need guidance in order not to go astray (verses 94-114): guidance comes in both spiritual and temporal domains, through the Church and the Emperor. Very important is the metaphor of the “two suns” (“due soli” [107]) that used to light the world before the Church and Empire became enmeshed and corrupted.

IV. Marco concludes by offering the example of corruption in Lombardia (verses 115-29): the cause is the Church.

The central canti of the Purgatorio respond to the following queries: to whom is the blame of the soul’s self-deception, as it chases after the “picciol bene” of Purgatorio 16.91, to be charged, to the stars or to itself, and is there any guidance to help it on its way? (canto 16); in what different forms can the soul’s self-deception manifest
itself, i.e., what forms can misdirected desire assume? (canto 17); what is the process whereby such self-deception occurs, i.e., what is the process whereby the soul falls in love? (canto 18).

Coordinated Reading

Coordinated Reading: The Undivine Comedy, Chapter 5, “Purgatory as Paradigm,” p. 104; “Why Did Dante Write the Commedia? Dante and the Visionary Tradition,” 1993, rpt. in Dante and the Origins of Italian Literary Culture, 2006, pp. 125-31; “Contemporaries Who Found Heterodoxy in Dante, Featuring (But Not Exclusively) Cecco d’Ascoli,” in Dante and Heterodoxy: The Temptations of 13th Century Radical Thought, ed. Maria Luisa Ardizzone (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2014), pp. 259-75.

Recommended Citation

Barolini, Teodolinda. “Purgatorio 16: The Fault Is Not In Our Stars.” Commento Baroliniano, Digital Dante. New York, NY: Columbia University Libraries, 2017. https://digitaldante.columbia.edu/dante/divine-comedy/purgatorio/purgatorio-16/

About the Commento

1Buio d’inferno e di notte privata
2d’ogne pianeto, sotto pover cielo,
3quant’ esser può di nuvol tenebrata,

4non fece al viso mio sì grosso velo
5come quel fummo ch’ivi ci coperse,
6né a sentir di così aspro pelo,

7che l’occhio stare aperto non sofferse;
8onde la scorta mia saputa e fida
9mi s’accostò e l’omero m’offerse.

10Sì come cieco va dietro a sua guida
11per non smarrirsi e per non dar di cozzo
12in cosa che ’l molesti, o forse ancida,

13m’andava io per l’aere amaro e sozzo,
14ascoltando il mio duca che diceva
15pur: «Guarda che da me tu non sia mozzo».

16Io sentia voci, e ciascuna pareva
17pregar per pace e per misericordia
18l’Agnel di Dio che le peccata leva.

19Pur ‘Agnus Dei’ eran le loro essordia;
20una parola in tutte era e un modo,
21sì che parea tra esse ogne concordia.

22«Quei sono spirti, maestro, ch’i’ odo?»,
23diss’ io. Ed elli a me: «Tu vero apprendi,
24e d’iracundia van solvendo il nodo».

25«Or tu chi se’ che ’l nostro fummo fendi,
26e di noi parli pur come se tue
27partissi ancor lo tempo per calendi?».

28Così per una voce detto fue;
29onde ’l maestro mio disse: «Rispondi,
30e domanda se quinci si va sùe».

31E io: «O creatura che ti mondi
32per tornar bella a colui che ti fece,
33maraviglia udirai, se mi secondi».

34«Io ti seguiterò quanto mi lece»,
35rispuose; «e se veder fummo non lascia,
36l’udir ci terrà giunti in quella vece».

37Allora incominciai: «Con quella fascia
38che la morte dissolve men vo suso,
39e venni qui per l’infernale ambascia.

40E se Dio m’ha in sua grazia rinchiuso,
41tanto che vuol ch’i’ veggia la sua corte
42per modo tutto fuor del moderno uso,

43non mi celar chi fosti anzi la morte,
44ma dilmi, e dimmi s’i’ vo bene al varco;
45e tue parole fier le nostre scorte».

46«Lombardo fui, e fu’ chiamato Marco;
47del mondo seppi, e quel valore amai
48al quale ha or ciascun disteso l’arco.

49Per montar sù dirittamente vai».
50Così rispuose, e soggiunse: «I’ ti prego
51che per me prieghi quando sù sarai».

52E io a lui: «Per fede mi ti lego
53di far ciò che mi chiedi; ma io scoppio
54dentro ad un dubbio, s’io non me ne spiego.

55Prima era scempio, e ora è fatto doppio
56ne la sentenza tua, che mi fa certo
57qui, e altrove, quello ov’ io l’accoppio.

58Lo mondo è ben così tutto diserto
59d’ogne virtute, come tu mi sone,
60e di malizia gravido e coverto;

61ma priego che m’addite la cagione,
62sì ch’i’ la veggia e ch’i’ la mostri altrui;
63ché nel cielo uno, e un qua giù la pone».

64Alto sospir, che duolo strinse in «uhi!»,
65mise fuor prima; e poi cominciò: «Frate,
66lo mondo è cieco, e tu vien ben da lui.

67Voi che vivete ogne cagion recate
68pur suso al cielo, pur come se tutto
69movesse seco di necessitate.

70Se così fosse, in voi fora distrutto
71libero arbitrio, e non fora giustizia
72per ben letizia, e per male aver lutto.

73Lo cielo i vostri movimenti inizia;
74non dico tutti, ma, posto ch’i’ ’l dica,
75lume v’è dato a bene e a malizia,

76e libero voler; che, se fatica
77ne le prime battaglie col ciel dura,
78poi vince tutto, se ben si notrica.

79A maggior forza e a miglior natura
80liberi soggiacete; e quella cria
81la mente in voi, che ’l ciel non ha in sua cura.

82Però, se ’l mondo presente disvia,
83in voi è la cagione, in voi si cheggia;
84e io te ne sarò or vera spia.

85Esce di mano a lui che la vagheggia
86prima che sia, a guisa di fanciulla
87che piangendo e ridendo pargoleggia,

88l’anima semplicetta che sa nulla,
89salvo che, mossa da lieto fattore,
90volontier torna a ciò che la trastulla.

91Di picciol bene in pria sente sapore;
92quivi s’inganna, e dietro ad esso corre,
93se guida o fren non torce suo amore.

94Onde convenne legge per fren porre;
95convenne rege aver, che discernesse
96de la vera cittade almen la torre.

97Le leggi son, ma chi pon mano ad esse?
98Nullo, però che ’l pastor che procede,
99rugumar può, ma non ha l’unghie fesse;

100per che la gente, che sua guida vede
101pur a quel ben fedire ond’ ella è ghiotta,
102di quel si pasce, e più oltre non chiede.

103Ben puoi veder che la mala condotta
104è la cagion che ’l mondo ha fatto reo,
105e non natura che ’n voi sia corrotta.

106Soleva Roma, che ’l buon mondo feo,
107due soli aver, che l’una e l’altra strada
108facean vedere, e del mondo e di Deo.

109L’un l’altro ha spento; ed è giunta la spada
110col pasturale, e l’un con l’altro insieme
111per viva forza mal convien che vada;

112però che, giunti, l’un l’altro non teme:
113se non mi credi, pon mente a la spiga,
114ch’ogn’ erba si conosce per lo seme.

115In sul paese ch’Adice e Po riga,
116solea valore e cortesia trovarsi,
117prima che Federigo avesse briga;

118or può sicuramente indi passarsi
119per qualunque lasciasse, per vergogna
120di ragionar coi buoni o d’appressarsi.

121Ben v’èn tre vecchi ancora in cui rampogna
122l’antica età la nova, e par lor tardo
123che Dio a miglior vita li ripogna:

124Currado da Palazzo e ’l buon Gherardo
125e Guido da Castel, che mei si noma,
126francescamente, il semplice Lombardo.

127Dì oggimai che la Chiesa di Roma,
128per confondere in sé due reggimenti,
129cade nel fango, e sé brutta e la soma».

130«O Marco mio», diss’ io, «bene argomenti;
131e or discerno perché dal retaggio
132li figli di Levì furono essenti.

133Ma qual Gherardo è quel che tu per saggio
134di’ ch’è rimaso de la gente spenta,
135in rimprovèro del secol selvaggio?».

136«O tuo parlar m’inganna, o el mi tenta»,
137rispuose a me; «ché, parlandomi tosco,
138par che del buon Gherardo nulla senta.

139Per altro sopranome io nol conosco,
140s’io nol togliessi da sua figlia Gaia.
141Dio sia con voi, ché più non vegno vosco.

142Vedi l’albor che per lo fummo raia
143già biancheggiare, e me convien partirmi
144(l’angelo è ivi) prima ch’io li paia».

145Così tornò, e più non volle udirmi.

Darkness of Hell and of a night deprived
of every planet, under meager skies,
as overcast by clouds as sky can be,

had never served to veil my eyes so thickly
nor covered them with such rough—textured stuff
as smoke that wrapped us there in Purgatory;

my eyes could not endure remaining open;
so that my faithful, knowledgeable escort
drew closer as he offered me his shoulder.

Just as a blind man moves behind his guide,
that he not stray or strike against some thing
that may do damage to—or even kill—him,

so I moved through the bitter, filthy air,
while listening to my guide, who kept repeating:
“Take care that you are not cut off from me.”

But I heard voices, and each seemed to pray
unto the Lamb of God, who takes away
our sins, for peace and mercy. “Agnus Dei”

was sung repeatedly as their exordium,
words sung in such a way—in unison—
that fullest concord seemed to be among them.

“Master, are those whom I hear, spirits?” I
asked him. “You have grasped rightly,” he replied,
“and as they go they loose the knot of anger.”

“Then who are you whose body pierces through
our smoke, who speak of us exactly like
a man who uses months to measure time?”

A voice said this. On hearing it, my master
turned round to me: “Reply to him, then ask
if this way leads us to the upward path.”

And I: “O creature who—that you return
fair unto Him who made you—cleanse yourself,
you shall hear wonders if you follow me.”

“I’ll follow you as far as I’m allowed,”
he answered, “and if smoke won’t let us see,
hearing will serve instead to keep us linked.”

Then I began: “With those same swaddling—bands
that death unwinds I take my upward path:
I have come here by way of Hell’s exactions;

since God’s so gathered me into His grace
that He would have me, in a manner most
unusual for moderns, see His court,

do not conceal from me who you once were,
before your death, and tell me if I go
straight to the pass; your words will be our escort.”

“I was a Lombard and I was called Marco;
I knew the world’s ways, and I loved those goods
for which the bows of all men now grow slack.

The way you’ve taken leads directly upward.”
So he replied, and then he added: “I
pray you to pray for me when you’re above.”

And I to him: “I pledge my faith to you
to do what you have asked; and yet a doubt
will burst in me if it finds no way out.

Before, my doubt was simple; but your statement
has doubled it and made me sure that I
am right to couple your words with another’s.

The world indeed has been stripped utterly
of every virtue; as you said to me,
it cloaks-and is cloaked by—perversity.

Some place the cause in heaven, some, below;
but I beseech you to define the cause,
that, seeing it, I may show it to others.”

A sigh, from which his sorrow formed an “Oh,”
was his beginning; then he answered: “Brother,
the world is blind, and you come from the world.

You living ones continue to assign
to heaven every cause, as if it were
the necessary source of every motion.

If this were so, then your free will would be
destroyed, and there would be no equity
in joy for doing good, in grief for evil.

The heavens set your appetites in motion—
not all your appetites, but even if
that were the case, you have received both light

on good and evil, and free will, which though
it struggle in its first wars with the heavens,
then conquers all, if it has been well nurtured.

On greater power and a better nature
you, who are free, depend; that Force engenders
the mind in you, outside the heavens’ sway.

Thus, if the present world has gone astray,
in you is the cause, in you it’s to be sought;
and now I’ll serve as your true exegete.

Issuing from His hands, the soul—on which
He thought with love before creating it—
is like a child who weeps and laughs in sport;

that soul is simple, unaware; but since
a joyful Maker gave it motion, it
turns willingly to things that bring delight.

At first it savors trivial goods; these would
beguile the soul, and it runs after them,
unless there’s guide or rein to rule its love.

Therefore, one needed law to serve as curb;
a ruler, too, was needed, one who could
discern at least the tower of the true city.

The laws exist, but who applies them now?
No one—the shepherd who precedes his flock
can chew the cud but does not have cleft hooves;

and thus the people, who can see their guide
snatch only at that good for which they feel
some greed, would feed on that and seek no further.

Misrule, you see, has caused the world to be
malevolent; the cause is clearly not
celestial forces—they do not corrupt.

For Rome, which made the world good, used to have
two suns; and they made visible two paths—
the world’s path and the pathway that is God’s.

Each has eclipsed the other; now the sword
has joined the shepherd’s crook; the two together
must of necessity result in evil,

because, so joined, one need not fear the other:
and if you doubt me, watch the fruit and flower,
for every plant is known by what it seeds.

Within the territory watered by
the Adige and Po, one used to find
valor and courtesy—that is, before

Frederick was met by strife; now anyone
ashamed of talking with the righteous or
of meeting them can journey there, secure.

True, three old men are there, in whom old times
reprove the new; and they find God is slow
in summoning them to a better life:

Currado da Palazzo, good Gherardo,
and Guido da Castel, whom it is better
to call, as do the French, the candid Lombard.

You can conclude: the Church of Rome confounds
two powers in itself; into the filth,
it falls and fouls itself and its new burden.”

“Good Marco,” I replied, “you reason well;
and now I understand why Levi’s sons were
not allowed to share in legacies.

But what Gherardo is this whom you mention
as an example of the vanished people
whose presence would reproach this savage age?”

“Either your speech deceives me or would tempt me,”
he answered then, “for you, whose speech is Tuscan,
seem to know nothing of the good Gherardo.

There is no other name by which I know him,
unless I speak of him as Gaia’s father.
God be with you; I come with you no farther.

You see the rays that penetrate the smoke
already whitening; I must take leave—
the angel has arrived—before he sees me.”

So he turned back and would not hear me more.

DARKNESS of hell. and of a night deprived
Of every planet under a poor sky,
As much as may be tenebrous with cloud,

Ne’er made unto my sight so thick a veil,
As did that smoke which there enveloped us,
Nor to the feeling of so rough a texture;

For not an eye it suffered to stay open;
Whereat mine escort, faithful and sagacious,
Drew near to me and offered me his shoulder.

E’en as a blind man goes behind his guide,
Lest he should wander, or should strike against
Aught that may harm or peradventure kill him,

So went I through the bitter and foul air,
Listening unto my Leader, who said only,
“Look that from me thou be not separated.”

Voices I heard, and every one appeared
To supplicate for peace and misericord
The Lamb of God who takes away our sins.

Still “_Agnus Dei_” their exordium was;
One word there was in all, and metre one,
So that all harmony appeared among them.

“Master,” I said, “are spirits those I hear?”
And he to me: “Thou apprehendest truly,
And they the knot of anger go unloosing.”

“Now who art thou, that cleavest through our smoke
And art discoursing of us even as though
Thou didst by calends still divide the time ?”

After this manner by a voice was spoken;
Whereon my Master said: “Do thou reply,
And ask if on this side the way go upward.”

And I: “O creature that dost cleanse thyself
To return beautiful to Him who made thee,
Thou shalt hear marvels if thou follow me.”

“Thee will I follow far as is allowed me,”
He answered; “and if smoke prevent our seeing,
Hearing shall keep us joined instead thereof.”

Thereon began I: “With that swathing band
Which death unwindeth am I going upward,
And hither came I through the infernal anguish.

And if God in his grace has me infolded,
So that he wills that I behold his court
By method wholly out of modern usage,

Conceal not from me who ere death thou wast,
But tell it me, and tell me if I go
Right for the pass, and be thy words our escort.”

“Lombard was I, and I was Marco called;
The world I knew, and loved that excellence,
At which has each one now unbent his bow.

For mounting upward, thou art going right.”
Thus he made answer, and subjoined: “I pray thee
To pray for me when thou shalt be above.”

And I to him: “My faith I pledge to thee
To do what thou dost ask me ; but am bursting
Inly with doubt, unless I rid me of it.

First it was simple, and is now made double
By thy opinion, which makes certain to me,
Here and elsewhere, that which I couple with it.

The world forsooth is utterly deserted
By every virtue, as thou tellest me,
And with iniquity is big and covered;

But I beseech thee point me out the cause,
That I may see it, and to others show it;
For one in the heavens, and here below one puts it.”

A sigh profound. that grief forced into Ai!
He first sent forth, and then began he: “Brother,
The world is blind, and sooth thou comest from it!

Ye who are living every cause refer
Still upward to the heavens, as if all things
They of necessity moved with themselves.

If this were so, in you would be destroyed
Free will, nor any justice would there be
In having joy for good, or grief for evil.

The heavens your movements do initiate,
I say not all; but granting that I say it,
Light has been given you for good and evil,

And free volition; which, if some fatigue
In the first battles with the heavens it suffers,
Afterwards conquers all, if well ’tis nurtured.

To greater force and to a better nature,
Though free, ye subject are, and that creates
The mind in you the heavens have not in charge.

Hence, if the present world doth go astray,
In you the cause is, be it sought in you;
And I therein will now be thy true spy.

Forth from the hand of Him, who fondles it
Before it is, like to a little girl
Weeping and laughing in her childish sport,

Issues the simple soul, that nothing knows,
Save that, proceeding from a joyous Maker,
Gladly it turns to that which gives it pleasure.

Of trivial good at first it tastes the savour;
Is cheated by it, and runs after it,
If guide or rein turn not aside its love.

Hence it behoved laws for a rein to place,
Behoved a king to have, who at the least
Of the true city should discern the tower.

The laws exist, but who sets hand to them ?
No one; because the shepherd who precedes
Can ruminate, but cleaveth not the hoof;

Wherefore the people that perceives its guide
Strike only at the good for which it hankers,
Feeds upon that, and farther seeketh not.

Clearly canst thou perceive that evil guidance
The cause is that has made the world depraved,
And not that nature is corrupt in you.

Rome, that reformed the world, accustomed was
Two suns to have, which one road and the other,
Of God and of the world, made manifest.

One has the other quenched, and to the crosier
The sword is joined, and ill beseemeth it
That by main force one with the other go,

Because, being joined, one feareth not the other;
If thou believe not, think upon the grain,
For by its seed each herb is recognized.

In the land laved by Po and Adige,
Valour and courtesy used to be found,
Before that Frederick had his controversy;

Now in security can pass that way
Whoever will abstain, through sense of shame,
From speaking with the good, or drawing near them.

True, three old men are left, in whom upbraids
The ancient age the new, and late they deem it
That God restore them to the better life:

Currado da Palazzo, and good Gherardo,
And Guido da Castel, who better named is,
In fashion of the French, the simple Lombard:

Say thou henceforward that the Church of Rome,
Confounding in itself two governments,
Falls in the mire, and soils itself and burden.”

“O Marco mine,” I said, “thou reasonest well;
And now discern I why the sons of Levi
Have been excluded from the heritage.

But what Gherardo is it, who, as sample
Of a lost race, thou sayest has remained
In reprobation of the barbarous age ?”

“Either thy speech deceives me, or it tempts me,”
He answered me, “for speaking Tuscan to me,
It seems of good Gherardo naught thou knowest.

By other surname do I know him not,
Unless I take it from his daughter Gaia.
May God be with you, for I come no farther.

Behold the dawn, that through the smoke rays out,
Already whitening; and I must depart—
Yonder the Angel is— ere he appear.”

Thus did he speak, and would no farther hear me.

Darkness of Hell and of a night deprived
of every planet, under meager skies,
as overcast by clouds as sky can be,

had never served to veil my eyes so thickly
nor covered them with such rough—textured stuff
as smoke that wrapped us there in Purgatory;

my eyes could not endure remaining open;
so that my faithful, knowledgeable escort
drew closer as he offered me his shoulder.

Just as a blind man moves behind his guide,
that he not stray or strike against some thing
that may do damage to—or even kill—him,

so I moved through the bitter, filthy air,
while listening to my guide, who kept repeating:
“Take care that you are not cut off from me.”

But I heard voices, and each seemed to pray
unto the Lamb of God, who takes away
our sins, for peace and mercy. “Agnus Dei”

was sung repeatedly as their exordium,
words sung in such a way—in unison—
that fullest concord seemed to be among them.

“Master, are those whom I hear, spirits?” I
asked him. “You have grasped rightly,” he replied,
“and as they go they loose the knot of anger.”

“Then who are you whose body pierces through
our smoke, who speak of us exactly like
a man who uses months to measure time?”

A voice said this. On hearing it, my master
turned round to me: “Reply to him, then ask
if this way leads us to the upward path.”

And I: “O creature who—that you return
fair unto Him who made you—cleanse yourself,
you shall hear wonders if you follow me.”

“I’ll follow you as far as I’m allowed,”
he answered, “and if smoke won’t let us see,
hearing will serve instead to keep us linked.”

Then I began: “With those same swaddling—bands
that death unwinds I take my upward path:
I have come here by way of Hell’s exactions;

since God’s so gathered me into His grace
that He would have me, in a manner most
unusual for moderns, see His court,

do not conceal from me who you once were,
before your death, and tell me if I go
straight to the pass; your words will be our escort.”

“I was a Lombard and I was called Marco;
I knew the world’s ways, and I loved those goods
for which the bows of all men now grow slack.

The way you’ve taken leads directly upward.”
So he replied, and then he added: “I
pray you to pray for me when you’re above.”

And I to him: “I pledge my faith to you
to do what you have asked; and yet a doubt
will burst in me if it finds no way out.

Before, my doubt was simple; but your statement
has doubled it and made me sure that I
am right to couple your words with another’s.

The world indeed has been stripped utterly
of every virtue; as you said to me,
it cloaks-and is cloaked by—perversity.

Some place the cause in heaven, some, below;
but I beseech you to define the cause,
that, seeing it, I may show it to others.”

A sigh, from which his sorrow formed an “Oh,”
was his beginning; then he answered: “Brother,
the world is blind, and you come from the world.

You living ones continue to assign
to heaven every cause, as if it were
the necessary source of every motion.

If this were so, then your free will would be
destroyed, and there would be no equity
in joy for doing good, in grief for evil.

The heavens set your appetites in motion—
not all your appetites, but even if
that were the case, you have received both light

on good and evil, and free will, which though
it struggle in its first wars with the heavens,
then conquers all, if it has been well nurtured.

On greater power and a better nature
you, who are free, depend; that Force engenders
the mind in you, outside the heavens’ sway.

Thus, if the present world has gone astray,
in you is the cause, in you it’s to be sought;
and now I’ll serve as your true exegete.

Issuing from His hands, the soul—on which
He thought with love before creating it—
is like a child who weeps and laughs in sport;

that soul is simple, unaware; but since
a joyful Maker gave it motion, it
turns willingly to things that bring delight.

At first it savors trivial goods; these would
beguile the soul, and it runs after them,
unless there’s guide or rein to rule its love.

Therefore, one needed law to serve as curb;
a ruler, too, was needed, one who could
discern at least the tower of the true city.

The laws exist, but who applies them now?
No one—the shepherd who precedes his flock
can chew the cud but does not have cleft hooves;

and thus the people, who can see their guide
snatch only at that good for which they feel
some greed, would feed on that and seek no further.

Misrule, you see, has caused the world to be
malevolent; the cause is clearly not
celestial forces—they do not corrupt.

For Rome, which made the world good, used to have
two suns; and they made visible two paths—
the world’s path and the pathway that is God’s.

Each has eclipsed the other; now the sword
has joined the shepherd’s crook; the two together
must of necessity result in evil,

because, so joined, one need not fear the other:
and if you doubt me, watch the fruit and flower,
for every plant is known by what it seeds.

Within the territory watered by
the Adige and Po, one used to find
valor and courtesy—that is, before

Frederick was met by strife; now anyone
ashamed of talking with the righteous or
of meeting them can journey there, secure.

True, three old men are there, in whom old times
reprove the new; and they find God is slow
in summoning them to a better life:

Currado da Palazzo, good Gherardo,
and Guido da Castel, whom it is better
to call, as do the French, the candid Lombard.

You can conclude: the Church of Rome confounds
two powers in itself; into the filth,
it falls and fouls itself and its new burden.”

“Good Marco,” I replied, “you reason well;
and now I understand why Levi’s sons were
not allowed to share in legacies.

But what Gherardo is this whom you mention
as an example of the vanished people
whose presence would reproach this savage age?”

“Either your speech deceives me or would tempt me,”
he answered then, “for you, whose speech is Tuscan,
seem to know nothing of the good Gherardo.

There is no other name by which I know him,
unless I speak of him as Gaia’s father.
God be with you; I come with you no farther.

You see the rays that penetrate the smoke
already whitening; I must take leave—
the angel has arrived—before he sees me.”

So he turned back and would not hear me more.

DARKNESS of hell. and of a night deprived
Of every planet under a poor sky,
As much as may be tenebrous with cloud,

Ne’er made unto my sight so thick a veil,
As did that smoke which there enveloped us,
Nor to the feeling of so rough a texture;

For not an eye it suffered to stay open;
Whereat mine escort, faithful and sagacious,
Drew near to me and offered me his shoulder.

E’en as a blind man goes behind his guide,
Lest he should wander, or should strike against
Aught that may harm or peradventure kill him,

So went I through the bitter and foul air,
Listening unto my Leader, who said only,
“Look that from me thou be not separated.”

Voices I heard, and every one appeared
To supplicate for peace and misericord
The Lamb of God who takes away our sins.

Still “_Agnus Dei_” their exordium was;
One word there was in all, and metre one,
So that all harmony appeared among them.

“Master,” I said, “are spirits those I hear?”
And he to me: “Thou apprehendest truly,
And they the knot of anger go unloosing.”

“Now who art thou, that cleavest through our smoke
And art discoursing of us even as though
Thou didst by calends still divide the time ?”

After this manner by a voice was spoken;
Whereon my Master said: “Do thou reply,
And ask if on this side the way go upward.”

And I: “O creature that dost cleanse thyself
To return beautiful to Him who made thee,
Thou shalt hear marvels if thou follow me.”

“Thee will I follow far as is allowed me,”
He answered; “and if smoke prevent our seeing,
Hearing shall keep us joined instead thereof.”

Thereon began I: “With that swathing band
Which death unwindeth am I going upward,
And hither came I through the infernal anguish.

And if God in his grace has me infolded,
So that he wills that I behold his court
By method wholly out of modern usage,

Conceal not from me who ere death thou wast,
But tell it me, and tell me if I go
Right for the pass, and be thy words our escort.”

“Lombard was I, and I was Marco called;
The world I knew, and loved that excellence,
At which has each one now unbent his bow.

For mounting upward, thou art going right.”
Thus he made answer, and subjoined: “I pray thee
To pray for me when thou shalt be above.”

And I to him: “My faith I pledge to thee
To do what thou dost ask me ; but am bursting
Inly with doubt, unless I rid me of it.

First it was simple, and is now made double
By thy opinion, which makes certain to me,
Here and elsewhere, that which I couple with it.

The world forsooth is utterly deserted
By every virtue, as thou tellest me,
And with iniquity is big and covered;

But I beseech thee point me out the cause,
That I may see it, and to others show it;
For one in the heavens, and here below one puts it.”

A sigh profound. that grief forced into Ai!
He first sent forth, and then began he: “Brother,
The world is blind, and sooth thou comest from it!

Ye who are living every cause refer
Still upward to the heavens, as if all things
They of necessity moved with themselves.

If this were so, in you would be destroyed
Free will, nor any justice would there be
In having joy for good, or grief for evil.

The heavens your movements do initiate,
I say not all; but granting that I say it,
Light has been given you for good and evil,

And free volition; which, if some fatigue
In the first battles with the heavens it suffers,
Afterwards conquers all, if well ’tis nurtured.

To greater force and to a better nature,
Though free, ye subject are, and that creates
The mind in you the heavens have not in charge.

Hence, if the present world doth go astray,
In you the cause is, be it sought in you;
And I therein will now be thy true spy.

Forth from the hand of Him, who fondles it
Before it is, like to a little girl
Weeping and laughing in her childish sport,

Issues the simple soul, that nothing knows,
Save that, proceeding from a joyous Maker,
Gladly it turns to that which gives it pleasure.

Of trivial good at first it tastes the savour;
Is cheated by it, and runs after it,
If guide or rein turn not aside its love.

Hence it behoved laws for a rein to place,
Behoved a king to have, who at the least
Of the true city should discern the tower.

The laws exist, but who sets hand to them ?
No one; because the shepherd who precedes
Can ruminate, but cleaveth not the hoof;

Wherefore the people that perceives its guide
Strike only at the good for which it hankers,
Feeds upon that, and farther seeketh not.

Clearly canst thou perceive that evil guidance
The cause is that has made the world depraved,
And not that nature is corrupt in you.

Rome, that reformed the world, accustomed was
Two suns to have, which one road and the other,
Of God and of the world, made manifest.

One has the other quenched, and to the crosier
The sword is joined, and ill beseemeth it
That by main force one with the other go,

Because, being joined, one feareth not the other;
If thou believe not, think upon the grain,
For by its seed each herb is recognized.

In the land laved by Po and Adige,
Valour and courtesy used to be found,
Before that Frederick had his controversy;

Now in security can pass that way
Whoever will abstain, through sense of shame,
From speaking with the good, or drawing near them.

True, three old men are left, in whom upbraids
The ancient age the new, and late they deem it
That God restore them to the better life:

Currado da Palazzo, and good Gherardo,
And Guido da Castel, who better named is,
In fashion of the French, the simple Lombard:

Say thou henceforward that the Church of Rome,
Confounding in itself two governments,
Falls in the mire, and soils itself and burden.”

“O Marco mine,” I said, “thou reasonest well;
And now discern I why the sons of Levi
Have been excluded from the heritage.

But what Gherardo is it, who, as sample
Of a lost race, thou sayest has remained
In reprobation of the barbarous age ?”

“Either thy speech deceives me, or it tempts me,”
He answered me, “for speaking Tuscan to me,
It seems of good Gherardo naught thou knowest.

By other surname do I know him not,
Unless I take it from his daughter Gaia.
May God be with you, for I come no farther.

Behold the dawn, that through the smoke rays out,
Already whitening; and I must depart—
Yonder the Angel is— ere he appear.”

Thus did he speak, and would no farther hear me.