Epistemological Incontinence

Purgatorio 19 offers us an opportunity to remember the thematic importance of Ulysses in Dante’s Commedia. This importance is reflected in The Undivine Comedy, where Ulysses is a thematic thread who winds through the whole book. Ulysses is unique (with his avatar Nembrot) in being a sinner who is named in each of the three cantiche of the Commedia. Ulysses’ named moment in Purgatorio occurs in Purgatorio 19: the Greek voyager is featured in the pilgrim’s dream that is recounted at the outset of the canto. If you would like to refresh yourself on the Ulyssean thematic, see The Undivine Comedy, Chapter 3, “Geryon, Ulysses, and the Aeronautics of Narrative Transition.” Particularly relevant for the dream of Purgatorio 19 and for the canti of excess desire in Purgatorio (the top three terraces), see Chapter 5, “Purgatory as Paradigm,” especially from p. 105 to the end of the chapter.

Purgatorio 19 begins with a dream. It is nighttime, the second night that Dante-pilgrim spends on Mount Purgatory.

The first time that Dante falls asleep, in Purgatorio 9, the pilgrim is in a transitional moment, transitioning from ante-purgatory to the gate of purgatory proper. In Purgatorio 9 the pilgrim dreams that he is swept to heaven by a terrifying eagle, as when Ganymede was seized by Jove in the form of an eagle and as St. Paul was “rapt” to the third heaven (2 Corinthians).  After his dream, Dante learns from Virgilio that while he was dreaming of raptus, Lucia carried him from the Valley of the Princes up to the gate of purgatory.

Now, in Purgatorio 19, the pilgrim dreams again, and again he has arrived at a transition: the transition from lower purgatory to upper purgatory. The third and final dream of Purgatorio will occur in canto 27, where Dante transitions from purgatory to the garden of Eden, the earthly paradise that sits atop Dante’s mountain.

As compared to the first dream, whose language is rich and evocative but whose action is fairly simple (Dante is carried aloft, in a terrifying manner), the dream of Purgatorio 19 recounts a complex drama. First, Dante is seduced by a woman, one who calls herself the very siren who seduced Ulysses. Then, the siren is then unmasked by another woman, who rebukes Virgilio for not being more attentive. Thus the drama involves a “bad” woman and a “good” woman, along with three male protagonists: Dante, Ulysses in absentia, and Virgilio. The complexity of the dream can be seen from the list of five dramatis personae, as follows:

  1. the “femmina balba” (“stuttering female”) of verse 7, a stuttering and deformed figure who is transformed by the dreamer’s gaze into a hyper-articulate, non-stuttering and very charismatic “dolce serena” (sweet siren [19]), who promises complete satisfaction of desire (“sì tutto l’appago!” so completely do I satisfy him! [Purg. 19.24]). She presents herself as the very siren who sang to Ulysses and turned him from his path: “Io volsi Ulisse del suo cammin vago / al canto mio” (I turned Ulysses from his path with my song [Purg. 19.22-23]);
  1. the pilgrim himself, whose longing and transformative gaze threatens to get him into trouble (note the connection to the way that love takes root in the soul, through the gaze, as described in Purgatorio 18);
  1. Ulysses, not present “in person” but featured in the siren’s song; she says she is the one who sang to Ulysses and turned him from his path, thus literally “se-ducing” him (< Latin sēdūcere, to lead aside, equivalent to sē-+ dūcere, to lead);
  1. the “good” woman who reveals the deceptive nature of the siren, showing her to be not beautiful but rotten and stinking; this is a “donna santa e presta” (a lady alert and saintly [ 19.26]): not a “femmina” (disparaging in Italian) but a “donna” (“lady”, an honorific);
  1. Virgilio, overtly chastised by the “donna” for having allowed the siren to make such inroads into Dante’s consciousness; he is responsible for “guarding the threshold of assent” (in the metaphor of Purgatorio 18), and is therefore emblematic of reason. In the sonnet Per quella via che la Bellezza corre reason plays a similar role of defending the self.

In the dream the donna santa arrives and dramatically undresses the siren, exposing her stomach and her stench. While Dante has a history of creating polarities between female figures, he did not, in earlier variants of this scenario, write in such misogynistic and physically disparaging language of the woman doomed to be defeated. In fact, in his earlier polarities, there is a woman who was loved first and a woman who was loved second, both are “donne” (neither is a “femmina”), and the ethical struggle that ensues involves the legitimacy of transitioning from one love to another. See the sonnet Per quella via che la Bellezza corre and also the opposition the poet creates between Beatrice and the donna gentile, first in the Vita Nuova and then in the Convivio.

The femmina balba of Purgatorio 19, who will shortly be called by Virgilio an “antica strega” (ancient witch [Purg. 19.58]), is in fact an entirely symbolic construct. She does not engage the complex historical forms of signifying, sutured into Dante’s own life and will, that are engaged by Lisetta of Per quella via and by the donna gentile.

The siren symbolizes those seductive secondary goods—called by St. Thomas “changeable goods”—that lead the soul astray, and that are characterized as false and misleading at the end of Purgatorio 17:

  Altro ben è che non fa l’uom felice;
non è felicità, non è la buona
essenza, d’ogne ben frutto e radice. (Purg. 17.133-35)
  There is a different good, which does not make
men glad; it is not happiness, is not
true essence, fruit and root of every good.

These false goods, like the femmina balba/dolce serena/antica strega, claim to be able to completely satisfy us but can never do so. In the above terzina, the poet’s emphasis is on what these goods cannot do: they cannot make us happy, much as they promise to do so, because only the Primary Good—that which, in Augustine’s and Aquinas’s language, will never change—can truly satisfy our desires.

Virgilio proceeds to explain the dream of the siren as in Purgatorio 9 he explained the dream of the eagle. He explains that Dante saw “quell’antica strega / che sola sovra noi omai si piagne”: “that ancient witch who alone causes the weeping above us” (Purg. 19.58-59). In other words, Virgilio aligns the dolce serena with the vices that are purged “sovra noi”—“above us”—which is to say, with the vices of the top three terraces. He explicitly equates the undressed siren with the seductions of avarice, gluttony, and lust.

Another way to say this is to use the language of Thomas Aquinas. Aquinas defines two elements of sin: “aversion, the turning away from the changeless good” (aversio ab incommutabili bono) and “conversion, the disordered turning toward a changeable good” (inordinata conversio ad commutabile bonum). See ST 1a2ae.87.4; Blackfriars 1974, 27:24–25; cited in “Medieval Multiculturalism and Dante’s Theology of Hell,” p. 112.

The symbolic female figure of the dream of Purgatorio 19 is the embodiment of St. Thomas’s negative conversio, of “disordered turning toward a changeable good”: hence she says “volsi,” “I turned him,” in Purgatorio 19.22. If false and changeable goods could come to life and literally beckon to us and turn us from the right path, they would speak with the voice of the dolce serena. And they would smell, when we have had our full and have realized our error, with the stench of the unclothed femmina balba.

Yet another way to say this is to use the language of the parable of Convivio 4.12, where the pilgrim-soul goes along the road of life looking for the albergo and is constantly deceived, thinking it has found a place of rest (an unchangeable good) when in fact it has found only more changeable goods, in which it can never rest.

In Purgatorio 19, Dante has greatly complicated his dramatization of seduction by false goods by 1) suggesting a connection with the way the lover of the courtly tradition gazes at and configures his beloved; 2) rendering the embodiment of false goods in such misogynistic language and creating a seductive drama of “bad female” versus “saintly lady”; 3) transposing the parable of the traveling soul from land to sea, and recasting it in the terms of his personal mythography, through the invocation of Ulysses.

In other words, why does the siren who signifies attraction to fraudulent secondary goods say that she sang to Ulysses? This is the question that I pose on p. 105 of Undivine Comedy. The answer is that Dante seeks to expand our understanding of what is at stake for him in the concept of excess desire. By naming “Ulisse” he seeks to transition us from considering excess desire only in the context of material goods to considering the “Ulyssean”—i.e. Dantean—issue of excess desire for knowledge.

The invocation of Ulysses by the siren is a way of bringing a more expansive form of incontinence into focus. Dante is indicating that the top three terraces of purgatory deal with more than excess desire for material goods. They deal, as I show in The Undivine Comedy, with epistemological or intellectual incontinence.

In the second half of Purgatorio 19, Dante and Virgilio come to the fifth terrace, the terrace that we presume to be (following the order of the seven capital vices) the terrace of avarice. Dante speaks to a soul who is purging his avarice and who was a pope: Pope Adrian V. Elected pope in 1276, Adrian V died after only 38 days.

The Commedia certainly associates the clergy with avarice, and Dante does not shy away from associating even popes with a sin that he thought corrupted the Church, as we saw in Inferno 7 and again in Inferno 19. However, in the encounter with Pope Adrian, Dante treats avarice in a more metaphorical than literal way, as lust for power, more than lust for gold. Adrian V talks not about money but about his temporal ambition, and gives a remarkable account of how temporal ambition can take a man all the way to the papacy:

  La mia conversione, omè!, fu tarda;
ma, come fatto fui roman pastore,
così scopersi la vita bugiarda.
  Vidi che lì non s’acquetava il core,
né più salir potiesi in quella vita;
per che di questa in me s’accese amore. (Purg. 19.106-11)
  Alas, how tardy my conversion was!
But when I had been named the Roman shepherd,
then I discovered the deceit of life.
  I saw that there the heart was not at rest,
nor could I, in that life, ascend more high;
so that, in me, love for this life was kindled.

Adrian V explains that his desire for power and position—the particular dolce serena that he is pursuing—is slaked only when he reaches the very highest point of the pinnacle that he is climbing. The voyage metaphor has mutated from a sea-voyage to a steep climb, but the principle is the same and poses the same question: are you traveling on the right path/the path toward right?

Only when Adrian V has reached the very highest temporal goal that a man in holy orders could possibly covet, only when he has become pope (“Roman shepherd” [107]), does he have the realization that will lead him to salvation. He has reached the very highest peak—there is nowhere remaining for his ambition to climb (just as there was nowhere remaining in the inhabited earth that Ulysses could still sail)—and yet he is still not at peace, he is still not happy. In this way Adrian discovers that he is pursuing changeable goods that are deceitful and that will never give him peace. And, in that moment of discovery, he “converts”: his “conversion” is, as he says, late.

He converts, that is, away from secondary goods, even the highest, and toward the Primary Good. In Aquinas’ language, he turns away from that “disordered turning toward changeable goods” that had been driving him (“inordinata conversio ad commutabile bonum”).

The idea of a Pope who “converts” to God is really quite remarkable.

In this extraordinary passage, Dante indicts those who seek holy office as mere careerists like the rest of us (and what would have happened to Adrian V had he never reached the top? would he never have understood?). In this canto it becomes clear that for Dante, “avarice” ultimately goes beyond excess desire for gold to become excess desire of position and power. We have to take seriously the way that Adrian’s account transposes “avarice” from the literal to the metaphoric domains.

In Adrian’s surprising story we can see how Dante picks up on the metaphorizing of excess desire that is already implied by the name “Ulisse” in the dream, a name that moves excess desire toward intellectual incontinence, and we also see how he continues to push for a more metaphorical than literal treatment of the top three terraces.

Coordinated Reading

Coordinated Reading: The Undivine Comedy, Chapter 5, “Purgatory as Paradigm,” pp. 105-109; on sin as turning toward a changeable good, see “Medieval Multiculturalism and Dante’s Theology of Hell,” in Dante and the Origins of Italian Literary Culture.

Recommended Citation

Barolini, Teodolinda. “Purgatorio 19: Epistemological Incontinence.” Commento Baroliniano, Digital Dante. New York, NY: Columbia University Libraries, 2017. https://digitaldante.columbia.edu/dante/divine-comedy/purgatorio/purgatorio-19/

About the Commento

1Ne l’ora che non può ’l calor dïurno
2intepidar più ’l freddo de la luna,
3vinto da terra, e talor da Saturno

4—quando i geomanti lor Maggior Fortuna
5veggiono in orïente, innanzi a l’alba,
6surger per via che poco le sta bruna—,

7mi venne in sogno una femmina balba,
8ne li occhi guercia, e sovra i piè distorta,
9con le man monche, e di colore scialba.

10Io la mirava; e come ’l sol conforta
11le fredde membra che la notte aggrava,
12così lo sguardo mio le facea scorta

13la lingua, e poscia tutta la drizzava
14in poco d’ora, e lo smarrito volto,
15com’ amor vuol, così le colorava.

16Poi ch’ell’ avea ’l parlar così disciolto,
17cominciava a cantar sì, che con pena
18da lei avrei mio intento rivolto.

19«Io son», cantava, «io son dolce serena,
20che ’ marinari in mezzo mar dismago;
21tanto son di piacere a sentir piena!

22Io volsi Ulisse del suo cammin vago
23al canto mio; e qual meco s’ausa,
24rado sen parte; sì tutto l’appago!».

25Ancor non era sua bocca richiusa,
26quand’ una donna apparve santa e presta
27lunghesso me per far colei confusa.

28«O Virgilio, Virgilio, chi è questa?»,
29fieramente dicea; ed el venìa
30con li occhi fitti pur in quella onesta.

31L’altra prendea, e dinanzi l’apria
32fendendo i drappi, e mostravami ’l ventre;
33quel mi svegliò col puzzo che n’uscia.

34Io mossi li occhi, e ’l buon maestro: «Almen tre
35voci t’ho messe!», dicea, «Surgi e vieni;
36troviam l’aperta per la qual tu entre».

37Sù mi levai, e tutti eran già pieni
38de l’alto dì i giron del sacro monte,
39e andavam col sol novo a le reni.

40Seguendo lui, portava la mia fronte
41come colui che l’ha di pensier carca,
42che fa di sé un mezzo arco di ponte;

43quand’ io udi’ «Venite; qui si varca»
44parlare in modo soave e benigno,
45qual non si sente in questa mortal marca.

46Con l’ali aperte, che parean di cigno,
47volseci in sù colui che sì parlonne
48tra due pareti del duro macigno.

49Mosse le penne poi e ventilonne,
50‘Qui lugent’ affermando esser beati,
51ch’avran di consolar l’anime donne.

52«Che hai che pur inver’ la terra guati?»,
53la guida mia incominciò a dirmi,
54poco amendue da l’angel sormontati.

55E io: «Con tanta sospeccion fa irmi
56novella visïon ch’a sé mi piega,
57sì ch’io non posso dal pensar partirmi».

58«Vedesti», disse, «quell’antica strega
59che sola sovr’ a noi omai si piagne;
60vedesti come l’uom da lei si slega.

61Bastiti, e batti a terra le calcagne;
62li occhi rivolgi al logoro che gira
63lo rege etterno con le rote magne».

64Quale ’l falcon, che prima a’ pié si mira,
65indi si volge al grido e si protende
66per lo disio del pasto che là il tira,

67tal mi fec’ io; e tal, quanto si fende
68la roccia per dar via a chi va suso,
69n’andai infin dove ’l cerchiar si prende.

70Com’ io nel quinto giro fui dischiuso,
71vidi gente per esso che piangea,
72giacendo a terra tutta volta in giuso.

73‘Adhaesit pavimento anima mea’
74sentia dir lor con sì alti sospiri,
75che la parola a pena s’intendea.

76«O eletti di Dio, li cui soffriri
77e giustizia e speranza fa men duri,
78drizzate noi verso li alti saliri».

79«Se voi venite dal giacer sicuri,
80e volete trovar la via più tosto,
81le vostre destre sien sempre di fori».

82Così pregò ’l poeta, e sì risposto
83poco dinanzi a noi ne fu; per ch’io
84nel parlare avvisai l’altro nascosto,

85e volsi li occhi a li occhi al segnor mio:
86ond’ elli m’assentì con lieto cenno
87ciò che chiedea la vista del disio.

88Poi ch’io potei di me fare a mio senno,
89trassimi sovra quella creatura
90le cui parole pria notar mi fenno,

91dicendo: «Spirto in cui pianger matura
92quel sanza ’l quale a Dio tornar non pòssi,
93sosta un poco per me tua maggior cura.

94Chi fosti e perché vòlti avete i dossi
95al sù, mi dì, e se vuo’ ch’io t’impetri
96cosa di là ond’ io vivendo mossi».

97Ed elli a me: «Perché i nostri diretri
98rivolga il cielo a sé, saprai; ma prima
99scias quod ego fui successor Petri.

100Intra Sïestri e Chiaveri s’adima
101una fiumana bella, e del suo nome
102lo titol del mio sangue fa sua cima.

103Un mese e poco più prova’ io come
104pesa il gran manto a chi dal fango il guarda,
105che piuma sembran tutte l’altre some.

106La mia conversïone, omè!, fu tarda;
107ma, come fatto fui roman pastore,
108così scopersi la vita bugiarda.

109Vidi che lì non s’acquetava il core,
110né più salir potiesi in quella vita;
111per che di questa in me s’accese amore.

112Fino a quel punto misera e partita
113da Dio anima fui, del tutto avara;
114or, come vedi, qui ne son punita.

115Quel ch’avarizia fa, qui si dichiara
116in purgazion de l’anime converse;
117e nulla pena il monte ha più amara.

118Sì come l’occhio nostro non s’aderse
119in alto, fisso a le cose terrene,
120così giustizia qui a terra il merse.

121Come avarizia spense a ciascun bene
122lo nostro amore, onde operar perdési,
123così giustizia qui stretti ne tene,

124ne’ piedi e ne le man legati e presi;
125e quanto fia piacer del giusto Sire,
126tanto staremo immobili e distesi».

127Io m’era inginocchiato e volea dire;
128ma com’ io cominciai ed el s’accorse,
129solo ascoltando, del mio reverire,

130«Qual cagion», disse, «in giù così ti torse?».
131E io a lui: «Per vostra dignitate
132mia coscïenza dritto mi rimorse».

133«Drizza le gambe, lèvati sù, frate!»,
134rispuose; «non errar: conservo sono
135teco e con li altri ad una podestate.

136Se mai quel santo evangelico suono
137che dice ‘Neque nubent’ intendesti,
138ben puoi veder perch’ io così ragiono.

139Vattene omai: non vo’ che più t’arresti;
140ché la tua stanza mio pianger disagia,
141col qual maturo ciò che tu dicesti.

142Nepote ho io di là c’ha nome Alagia,
143buona da sé, pur che la nostra casa
144non faccia lei per essempro malvagia;

145e questa sola di là m’è rimasa».

In that hour when the heat of day, defeated
by Earth and, sometimes, Saturn, can no longer
warm up the moon—sent cold, when geomancers

can, in the east, see their Fortuna major
rising before the dawn along a path
that will be darkened for it only briefly—

a stammering woman came to me in dream:
her eyes askew, and crooked on her feet,
her hands were crippled, her complexion sallow.

I looked at her; and just as sun revives
cold limbs that night made numb, so did my gaze
loosen her tongue and then, in little time,

set her contorted limbs in perfect order;
and, with the coloring that love prefers,
my eyes transformed the wanness of her features.

And when her speech had been set free, then she
began to sing so, that it would have been
most difficult for me to turn aside.

“I am,” she sang, “I am the pleasing siren,
who in midsea leads mariners astray—
there is so much delight in hearing me.

I turned aside Ulysses, although he
had longed to journey; who grows used to me
seldom departs—I satisfy him so.”

Her lips were not yet done when, there beside me,
a woman showed herself, alert and saintly,
to cast the siren into much confusion.

“O Virgil, Virgil, tell me: who is this?”
she asked most scornfully; and he came forward,
his eyes intent upon that honest one.

He seized the other, baring her in front,
tearing her clothes, and showing me her belly;
the stench that came from there awakened me.

I moved my eyes, and my good master cried:
“At least three times I’ve called you. Rise and come:
let’s find the opening where you may enter.”

I rose; the daylight had already filled
the circles of the sacred mountain—we
were journeying with new sun at our back.

I followed him, bearing my brow like one
whose thoughts have weighed him down, who bends as if
he were the semiarch that forms a bridge,

and then I heard: “Draw near; the pass is here,”
said in a manner so benign and gentle
as, in our mortal land, one cannot hear.

He who addressed us so had open wings,
white as a swan’s; and he directed us
upward, between two walls of the hard rock.

And then he moved his plumes and, fanning us,
affirmed that those “Qui lugent” would be blessed—
their souls would be possessed of consolation.

“What makes you keep your eyes upon the ground?”
my guide began to say to me when both
of us had climbed a little, past the angel.

And I: “What makes me move with such misgiving
is a new vision: it has so beguiled me
that I cannot relinquish thoughts of it.”

“The one you saw,” he said, “that ancient witch—
for her alone one must atone above;
you saw how man can free himself from her.

Let that suffice, and hurry on your way;
fasten your eyes upon the lure that’s spun
by the eternal King with His great spheres.”

Just like a falcon, who at first looks down,
then, when the falconer has called, bends forward,
craving the food that’s ready for him there,

so l became—and so remained until,
through the cleft rock that lets one climb above,
I reached the point at which the circle starts.

When I was in the clearing, the fifth level,
my eyes discovered people there who wept,
lying upon the ground, all turned face down.

“Adhaesit pavimento anima mea,”
I heard them say with sighs so deep that it
was hard to comprehend the words they spoke.

“O God’s elect, whose sufferings both hope
and justice make less difficult, direct
us to the stairway meant for our ascent.”

“If you come here but do not need to be
prostrate, and you would find the path most quickly,
then keep your right hand always to the outside.”

So did the poet ask, so did reply
come from a little way ahead; and I,
hearing that voice reply, learned what was hidden.

I turned my eyes to find my master’s eyes;
at this, with a glad sign, he ratified
what I had asked for with my eager eyes.

When, free to do as I had wanted to,
I moved ahead and bent over that soul
whose words—before—had made me notice him,

saying: “Spirit, within whom weeping ripens
that without which there’s no return to God,
suspend awhile—for me—your greater care.

Tell me: Who were you? And why are your backs
turned up? And there—where I, alive, set out—
would you have me beseech some good for you?”

And he to me: “Why Heaven turns our backs
against itself, you are to know; but first
scias quod ego fui successor Petri.

Between Sestri and Chiavari descends
a handsome river; and its name is set
upon the upper portion of my crest.

For one month and a little more I learned
how the great mantle weighs on him who’d keep it
out of the mire—all other weights seem feathers.

Alas, how tardy my conversion was!
But when I had been named the Roman shepherd,
then I discovered the deceit of life.

I saw that there the heart was not at rest,
nor could I, in that life, ascend more high;
so that, in me, love for this life was kindled.

Until that point I was a squalid soul,
from God divided, wholly avaricious;
now, as you see, I’m punished here for that.

What avarice enacts is here declared
in the purgation of converted souls;
the mountain has no punishment more bitter.

Just as we did not lift our eyes on high
but set our sight on earthly things instead,
so justice here impels our eyes toward earth.

As avarice annulled in us the love
of any other good, and thus we lost
our chance for righteous works, so justice here

fetters our hands and feet and holds us captive;
and for as long as it may please our just
Lord, here we’ll be outstretched and motionless.”

I’d kneeled, wishing to speak: but just as I
began—and through my voice alone—he sensed
that I had meant to do him reverence.

“What reason makes you bend your body so?”
he said. And I to him: “Your dignity
made conscience sting me as I stood erect.”

“Brother, straighten your legs; rise up!” he answered.
“Don’t be mistaken; I, with you and others,
am but a fellow—servant of one Power.

If you have ever understood the holy
sound of the Gospel that says ‘Neque nubent,’
then you will see why I have spoken so.

Now go your way: I’d not have you stop longer;
your staying here disturbs my lamentations,
the tears that help me ripen what you mentioned.

Beyond, I have a niece whose name’s Alagia;
she in herself is good, as long as our
house, by example, brings her not to evil;

and she alone is left to me beyond.”

IT was the hour when the diurnal heat
No more can warm the coldness of the moon,
Vanquished by earth, or peradventure Saturn

When geomancers their Fortuna Major
See in the orient before the dawn
Rise by a path that long remains not dim,

There came to me in dreams a stammering woman
Squint in her eyes, and in her feet distorted,
With hands dissevered and of sallow hue.

I looked at her; and as the sun restores
The frigid members which the night benumbs,
Even thus my gaze did render voluble

Her tongue, and made her all erect thereafter
In little while, and the lost countenance
As love desires it so in her did colour

When in this wise she had her speech unloosed,
She ‘gan to sing so, that with difficulty
Could I have turned my thoughts away from her

“I am,” she sang, “I am the Siren sweet
Who mariners amid the main unman
So full am I of pleasantness to hear

I drew Ulysses from his wandering way
Unto my song, and he who dwells with me
Seldom departs so wholly I content him.”

Her mouth was not yet closed again, before
Appeared a Lady saintly and alert
Close at my side to put her to confusion.

“Virgilius, a Virgilius! who is this ?”
Sternly she said; and he was drawing near
With eyes still fixed upon that modest one.

She seized the other and in front laid open,
Rending her garments, and her belly showed me;
This waked me with the stench that issued from it.

I turned mine eyes, and good Virgilius said:
“At least thrice have I called thee; rise and come;
Find we the opening by which thou mayst enter.”

I rose; and full already of high day
Were all the circles of the Sacred Mountain,
And with the new sun at our back we went.

Following behind him, I my forehead bore
Like unto one who has it laden with thought,
Who makes himself the half arch of a bridge,

When I heard say, “Come, here the passage is,”
Spoken in a manner gentle and benign,
Such as we hear not in this mortal region.

With open wings, which of a swan appeared,
Upward he turned us who thus spake to us
Between the two walls of the solid granite.

He moved his pinions afterwards and fanned us,
Affirming those _qui lugent_ to be blessed,
For they shall have their souls with comfort filled

“What aileth thee, that aye to earth thou gazest ?
To me my Guide began to say, we both
Somewhat beyond the Angel having mounted.

And I: “With such misgiving makes me go
A vision new, which bends me to itself,
So that I cannot from the thought withdraw me.”

“Didst thou behold,” e said, “that old enchantress,
Who sole above us henceforth is lamented ?
Didst thou behold how man is freed from her ?

Suffice it thee, and smite earth with thy heels,
Thine eyes lift upward to the lure, that whirls
The Eternal King with revolutions vast.”

Even as the hawk, that first his feet surveys,
Then turns him to the call and stretches forward,
Through the desire of food that draws him thither,

Such I became, and such, as far as cleaves
The rock to give a way to him who mounts,
Went on to where the circling doth begin.

On the fifth circle when I had come forth,
People I saw upon it who were weeping,
Stretched prone upon the ground, all downward turned.

_”Aedhaesit pavemento anima mea,”_
I heard them say with sighings so profound,
That hardly could the words be understood.

“O ye elect of God, whose sufferings
Justice and Hope both render less severe,
Direct ye us towards the high ascents.”

“If ye are come secure from this prostration,
And wish to find the way most speedily,
Let your right hands be evermore outside.”

Thus did the Poet ask, and thus was answered
By them somewhat in front of us; whence I
In what was spoken divined the rest concealed,

And unto my Lord’s eyes mine eyes I turned;
Whence he assented with a cheerful sign
To what the sight of my desire implored.

When of myself I could dispose at will,
Above that creature did I draw myself,
Whose words before had caused me to take note,

Saying: “O Spirit, in whom weeping ripens
That without which to God we cannot turn,
Suspend awhile for me thy greater care.

Who wast thou, and why are your backs turned upwards
Tell me, and if thou wouldst that I procure thee
Anything there whence living I departed.”

And he to me: “Wherefore our backs the heaven
Turns to itself, know shalt thou; but beforehand
_Scias quod ego fui successor Petri._

Between Siestri and Chiaveri descends
A river beautiful, and of its name
The title of my blood its summit makes.

A month and little more essayed I how
Weighs the great cloak on him from mire who keeps it,
For all the other burdens seem a feather.

Tardy, ah woe is me! was my conversion;
But when the Roman Shepherd I was made,
Then I discovered life to be a lie.

I saw that there the heart was not at rest,
Nor farther in that life could one ascend;
Whereby the love of this was kindled in me.

Until that time a wretched soul and parted
From God was I, and wholly avaricious;
Now, as thou seest, I here am punished for it

What avarice does is here made manifest
In the purgation of these souls converted,
And no more bitter pain the Mountain has.

Even as our eye did not uplift itself
Aloft, being fastened upon earthly things,
So justice here has merged it in the earth.

As avarice had extinguished our affection
For every good, whereby was action lost,
So justice here doth hold us in restraint,

Bound and imprisoned by the feet and hands;
And so long as it pleases the just Lord
Shall we remain immovable and prostrate.”

I on my knees had fallen, and wished to speak;
But even as I began, and he was ‘ware,
Only by listening, of my reverence,

“What cause,” he said, “has downward bent thee thus ?”
And I to him: “For your own dignity,
Standing, my conscience stung me with remorse.”

“Straighten thy legs, and upward raise thee, brother,”
He answered: “Err not, fellow—servant am I
With thee and with the others to one power.

If e’er that holy, evangelic sound,
Which sayeth _neque nubent,_ thou hast heard,
Well canst thou see why in this wise I speak.

Now go; no longer will I have thee linger,
Because thy stay doth incommode my weeping,
With which I ripen that which thou hast said.

On earth I have a grandchild named Alagia,
Good in herself, unless indeed our house
Malevolent may make her by example,

And she alone remains to me on earth.”

In that hour when the heat of day, defeated
by Earth and, sometimes, Saturn, can no longer
warm up the moon—sent cold, when geomancers

can, in the east, see their Fortuna major
rising before the dawn along a path
that will be darkened for it only briefly—

a stammering woman came to me in dream:
her eyes askew, and crooked on her feet,
her hands were crippled, her complexion sallow.

I looked at her; and just as sun revives
cold limbs that night made numb, so did my gaze
loosen her tongue and then, in little time,

set her contorted limbs in perfect order;
and, with the coloring that love prefers,
my eyes transformed the wanness of her features.

And when her speech had been set free, then she
began to sing so, that it would have been
most difficult for me to turn aside.

“I am,” she sang, “I am the pleasing siren,
who in midsea leads mariners astray—
there is so much delight in hearing me.

I turned aside Ulysses, although he
had longed to journey; who grows used to me
seldom departs—I satisfy him so.”

Her lips were not yet done when, there beside me,
a woman showed herself, alert and saintly,
to cast the siren into much confusion.

“O Virgil, Virgil, tell me: who is this?”
she asked most scornfully; and he came forward,
his eyes intent upon that honest one.

He seized the other, baring her in front,
tearing her clothes, and showing me her belly;
the stench that came from there awakened me.

I moved my eyes, and my good master cried:
“At least three times I’ve called you. Rise and come:
let’s find the opening where you may enter.”

I rose; the daylight had already filled
the circles of the sacred mountain—we
were journeying with new sun at our back.

I followed him, bearing my brow like one
whose thoughts have weighed him down, who bends as if
he were the semiarch that forms a bridge,

and then I heard: “Draw near; the pass is here,”
said in a manner so benign and gentle
as, in our mortal land, one cannot hear.

He who addressed us so had open wings,
white as a swan’s; and he directed us
upward, between two walls of the hard rock.

And then he moved his plumes and, fanning us,
affirmed that those “Qui lugent” would be blessed—
their souls would be possessed of consolation.

“What makes you keep your eyes upon the ground?”
my guide began to say to me when both
of us had climbed a little, past the angel.

And I: “What makes me move with such misgiving
is a new vision: it has so beguiled me
that I cannot relinquish thoughts of it.”

“The one you saw,” he said, “that ancient witch—
for her alone one must atone above;
you saw how man can free himself from her.

Let that suffice, and hurry on your way;
fasten your eyes upon the lure that’s spun
by the eternal King with His great spheres.”

Just like a falcon, who at first looks down,
then, when the falconer has called, bends forward,
craving the food that’s ready for him there,

so l became—and so remained until,
through the cleft rock that lets one climb above,
I reached the point at which the circle starts.

When I was in the clearing, the fifth level,
my eyes discovered people there who wept,
lying upon the ground, all turned face down.

“Adhaesit pavimento anima mea,”
I heard them say with sighs so deep that it
was hard to comprehend the words they spoke.

“O God’s elect, whose sufferings both hope
and justice make less difficult, direct
us to the stairway meant for our ascent.”

“If you come here but do not need to be
prostrate, and you would find the path most quickly,
then keep your right hand always to the outside.”

So did the poet ask, so did reply
come from a little way ahead; and I,
hearing that voice reply, learned what was hidden.

I turned my eyes to find my master’s eyes;
at this, with a glad sign, he ratified
what I had asked for with my eager eyes.

When, free to do as I had wanted to,
I moved ahead and bent over that soul
whose words—before—had made me notice him,

saying: “Spirit, within whom weeping ripens
that without which there’s no return to God,
suspend awhile—for me—your greater care.

Tell me: Who were you? And why are your backs
turned up? And there—where I, alive, set out—
would you have me beseech some good for you?”

And he to me: “Why Heaven turns our backs
against itself, you are to know; but first
scias quod ego fui successor Petri.

Between Sestri and Chiavari descends
a handsome river; and its name is set
upon the upper portion of my crest.

For one month and a little more I learned
how the great mantle weighs on him who’d keep it
out of the mire—all other weights seem feathers.

Alas, how tardy my conversion was!
But when I had been named the Roman shepherd,
then I discovered the deceit of life.

I saw that there the heart was not at rest,
nor could I, in that life, ascend more high;
so that, in me, love for this life was kindled.

Until that point I was a squalid soul,
from God divided, wholly avaricious;
now, as you see, I’m punished here for that.

What avarice enacts is here declared
in the purgation of converted souls;
the mountain has no punishment more bitter.

Just as we did not lift our eyes on high
but set our sight on earthly things instead,
so justice here impels our eyes toward earth.

As avarice annulled in us the love
of any other good, and thus we lost
our chance for righteous works, so justice here

fetters our hands and feet and holds us captive;
and for as long as it may please our just
Lord, here we’ll be outstretched and motionless.”

I’d kneeled, wishing to speak: but just as I
began—and through my voice alone—he sensed
that I had meant to do him reverence.

“What reason makes you bend your body so?”
he said. And I to him: “Your dignity
made conscience sting me as I stood erect.”

“Brother, straighten your legs; rise up!” he answered.
“Don’t be mistaken; I, with you and others,
am but a fellow—servant of one Power.

If you have ever understood the holy
sound of the Gospel that says ‘Neque nubent,’
then you will see why I have spoken so.

Now go your way: I’d not have you stop longer;
your staying here disturbs my lamentations,
the tears that help me ripen what you mentioned.

Beyond, I have a niece whose name’s Alagia;
she in herself is good, as long as our
house, by example, brings her not to evil;

and she alone is left to me beyond.”

IT was the hour when the diurnal heat
No more can warm the coldness of the moon,
Vanquished by earth, or peradventure Saturn

When geomancers their Fortuna Major
See in the orient before the dawn
Rise by a path that long remains not dim,

There came to me in dreams a stammering woman
Squint in her eyes, and in her feet distorted,
With hands dissevered and of sallow hue.

I looked at her; and as the sun restores
The frigid members which the night benumbs,
Even thus my gaze did render voluble

Her tongue, and made her all erect thereafter
In little while, and the lost countenance
As love desires it so in her did colour

When in this wise she had her speech unloosed,
She ‘gan to sing so, that with difficulty
Could I have turned my thoughts away from her

“I am,” she sang, “I am the Siren sweet
Who mariners amid the main unman
So full am I of pleasantness to hear

I drew Ulysses from his wandering way
Unto my song, and he who dwells with me
Seldom departs so wholly I content him.”

Her mouth was not yet closed again, before
Appeared a Lady saintly and alert
Close at my side to put her to confusion.

“Virgilius, a Virgilius! who is this ?”
Sternly she said; and he was drawing near
With eyes still fixed upon that modest one.

She seized the other and in front laid open,
Rending her garments, and her belly showed me;
This waked me with the stench that issued from it.

I turned mine eyes, and good Virgilius said:
“At least thrice have I called thee; rise and come;
Find we the opening by which thou mayst enter.”

I rose; and full already of high day
Were all the circles of the Sacred Mountain,
And with the new sun at our back we went.

Following behind him, I my forehead bore
Like unto one who has it laden with thought,
Who makes himself the half arch of a bridge,

When I heard say, “Come, here the passage is,”
Spoken in a manner gentle and benign,
Such as we hear not in this mortal region.

With open wings, which of a swan appeared,
Upward he turned us who thus spake to us
Between the two walls of the solid granite.

He moved his pinions afterwards and fanned us,
Affirming those _qui lugent_ to be blessed,
For they shall have their souls with comfort filled

“What aileth thee, that aye to earth thou gazest ?
To me my Guide began to say, we both
Somewhat beyond the Angel having mounted.

And I: “With such misgiving makes me go
A vision new, which bends me to itself,
So that I cannot from the thought withdraw me.”

“Didst thou behold,” e said, “that old enchantress,
Who sole above us henceforth is lamented ?
Didst thou behold how man is freed from her ?

Suffice it thee, and smite earth with thy heels,
Thine eyes lift upward to the lure, that whirls
The Eternal King with revolutions vast.”

Even as the hawk, that first his feet surveys,
Then turns him to the call and stretches forward,
Through the desire of food that draws him thither,

Such I became, and such, as far as cleaves
The rock to give a way to him who mounts,
Went on to where the circling doth begin.

On the fifth circle when I had come forth,
People I saw upon it who were weeping,
Stretched prone upon the ground, all downward turned.

_”Aedhaesit pavemento anima mea,”_
I heard them say with sighings so profound,
That hardly could the words be understood.

“O ye elect of God, whose sufferings
Justice and Hope both render less severe,
Direct ye us towards the high ascents.”

“If ye are come secure from this prostration,
And wish to find the way most speedily,
Let your right hands be evermore outside.”

Thus did the Poet ask, and thus was answered
By them somewhat in front of us; whence I
In what was spoken divined the rest concealed,

And unto my Lord’s eyes mine eyes I turned;
Whence he assented with a cheerful sign
To what the sight of my desire implored.

When of myself I could dispose at will,
Above that creature did I draw myself,
Whose words before had caused me to take note,

Saying: “O Spirit, in whom weeping ripens
That without which to God we cannot turn,
Suspend awhile for me thy greater care.

Who wast thou, and why are your backs turned upwards
Tell me, and if thou wouldst that I procure thee
Anything there whence living I departed.”

And he to me: “Wherefore our backs the heaven
Turns to itself, know shalt thou; but beforehand
_Scias quod ego fui successor Petri._

Between Siestri and Chiaveri descends
A river beautiful, and of its name
The title of my blood its summit makes.

A month and little more essayed I how
Weighs the great cloak on him from mire who keeps it,
For all the other burdens seem a feather.

Tardy, ah woe is me! was my conversion;
But when the Roman Shepherd I was made,
Then I discovered life to be a lie.

I saw that there the heart was not at rest,
Nor farther in that life could one ascend;
Whereby the love of this was kindled in me.

Until that time a wretched soul and parted
From God was I, and wholly avaricious;
Now, as thou seest, I here am punished for it

What avarice does is here made manifest
In the purgation of these souls converted,
And no more bitter pain the Mountain has.

Even as our eye did not uplift itself
Aloft, being fastened upon earthly things,
So justice here has merged it in the earth.

As avarice had extinguished our affection
For every good, whereby was action lost,
So justice here doth hold us in restraint,

Bound and imprisoned by the feet and hands;
And so long as it pleases the just Lord
Shall we remain immovable and prostrate.”

I on my knees had fallen, and wished to speak;
But even as I began, and he was ‘ware,
Only by listening, of my reverence,

“What cause,” he said, “has downward bent thee thus ?”
And I to him: “For your own dignity,
Standing, my conscience stung me with remorse.”

“Straighten thy legs, and upward raise thee, brother,”
He answered: “Err not, fellow—servant am I
With thee and with the others to one power.

If e’er that holy, evangelic sound,
Which sayeth _neque nubent,_ thou hast heard,
Well canst thou see why in this wise I speak.

Now go; no longer will I have thee linger,
Because thy stay doth incommode my weeping,
With which I ripen that which thou hast said.

On earth I have a grandchild named Alagia,
Good in herself, unless indeed our house
Malevolent may make her by example,

And she alone remains to me on earth.”