Friendship

Purgatorio 20 ends with an earthquake. A soul appears who explains that the causes of the earthquake are metaphysical, not physical, since this place is “free” of physical perturbations:

  Libero è qui da ogne alterazione:
di quel che ’l ciel da sé in sé riceve
esser ci puote, e non d'altro, cagione. (Purg. 21.43-45)
  This place is free from every perturbation:
what heaven from itself and in itself
receives may serve as cause here—no thing else.

The earth trembles to indicate that a soul has been freed from the discipline of purgation and may ascend to heaven:

  Tremaci quando alcuna anima monda
sentesi, sì che surga o che si mova
per salir sù; e tal grido seconda. (Purg. 21.58-60)
  for it only trembles here
when some soul feels it’s cleansed, so that it rises
or stirs to climb on high; and that shout follows. 

The adjective “libero”, used twice in the explanation of the mountain, in Purgatorio 21.43, “Libero è qui da ogne alterazione”, and in 21.62, “tutto libero a mutar convento”, takes us back to Purgatorio 1, where Virgilio defines the quest to climb purgatory as a search for liberty:

  libertà va cercando, ch’è sì cara,
come sa chi per lei vita rifiuta. (Purg. 1.71-72)
  he goes in search of liberty—so precious,
as he who gives his life for it must know.

There follows the new soul’s explanation of who he is: he is a Roman epic poet named Statius (“Stazio”), and he wrote the epic poem Thebaid: a Latin epic in twelve books, like the Aeneid, and written in dactylic hexameter, also like the Aeneid. Publius Papinius Statius was born circa 45 CE, in Naples, and died circa 96 CE, in Naples. The title Thebaid means “story of Thebes” as Aeneid means “story of Aeneas”; the Thebaid is in many respects modeled on the Aeneid.

Statius, like Lucan, lived later than Vergil and Ovid; neither he nor Lucan are considered “great” poets to us moderns in the way that Vergil and Ovid are. However, they were considered great in the Middle Ages, and you will remember that Dante includes Lucan in the “bella scola” of classical poets whom he meets in Limbo (Inferno 4.90), a group that consists of Homer, Vergil, Horace, Ovid, and Lucan. In fact, from the standpoint of an educated contemporary of Dante’s, the obvious omission in Inferno 4’s roster of classical poets is Statius.

It turns out that Dante was saving Statius for a purpose, one that is as unconventional and shocking as the purpose to which he puts Cato. Although a pagan and a suicide, Dante’s Cato is the guardian of purgatory. We recall that in Purgatorio 1 it is to Cato that Virgilio pleads for Dante, making the case “libertà va cercando” that is cited above. Similarly, Dante revises history to imagine that the historical Statius was a convert to Christianity, and then he features Statius—or better “his” Statius, namely Stazio—as the very soul who happens to complete his purgation at the same time that Dante Alighieri happens to be climbing up this mountain in April 1300.

Dante-pilgrim is climbing up the mountain with none other than Virgilio as his guide and mentor, and so we see that Dante-poet has engineered a meeting to occur between Stazio and Virgilio. Were it not for the special task of guiding the pilgrim, Virgilio would of course be in Limbo and unable to meet Stazio or any other saved soul.

The really interesting point here is that, while we have no reason to believe that the real Statius—the historical Statius—had converted to Christianity, we do have his testament of admiration for Vergil. The historical Statius wrote something about his great predecessor Vergil that has come down to posterity. He acknowledges his debt to Vergil and to the Aeneid at the end of the Thebaid. Remarkably (I can think of no other example of a poet who ends his greatest work by praising another poet), Statius ends his epic Thebaid by paying tribute to Vergil’s Aeneid:

  vive, precor; nec tu divinam Aeneida tempta,
sed longe sequere et vestigia semper adora.
mox, tibi si quis adhuc praetendit nubila livor
  occidet, et meriti post me referentur honores.
  So thrive, I pray, but do not envy the divine Aeneid.
Follow well back. Always adore her traces.
If any envy clouds you, it will fade;
  When I am gone, due honor will be paid.
(Thebaid 12.816-819, Charles Stanley Ross, trans.)

The events in Purgatorio 21 are deeply inspired by the above passage at the end of Statius’ Thebaid. Inspired by the historical Statius’ actual adoration (“semper adora”) of the “divine Aeneid”, Dante invents the marvelous scene of friendship between two poets who never knew each other on earth. In real life, the younger poet worshiped the poetry of the elder poet, but he never knew the man. Dante uses his imagination (we remember the apostrophe to the imaginativa or imagination at the beginning of Purgatorio 17) to vault over these unnecessary barriers to love and communication.

In Dante’s invention, his Stazio, newly freed from purgation, explains who he is and that he drew his poetic nourishment from the Aeneid, a text he calls his “mamma” and his “nutrice”, figuring himself as a suckling. We have to picture the scene: Stazio is conversing with two unknowns, explaining his identity, an identity that for him requires information about his love and admiration for the Aeneid and for its author. He adds that to have lived while Vergil was alive he would gladly spend another year in purgatory, a truly extraordinary and theologically implausible claim to come from a soul now freed from purgation and bound for heaven:

  de l’Eneida dico, la qual mamma
fummi e fummi nutrice poetando:
sanz’essa non fermai peso di dramma.
  E per esser vivuto di là quando
visse Virgilio, assentirei un sole
più che non deggio al mio uscir di bando. (Purg. 21.97-102)
  I speak of the Aeneid; when I wrote
verse, it was mother to me, it was nurse;
my work, without it, would not weigh an ounce.
  And to have lived on earth when Virgil lived—
for that I would extend by one more year
the time I owe before my exile’s end.

In this scene Dante-poet violates all the purgatorial rules posted at the outset of the journey by his character Cato: here a heaven-bound soul acknowledges an earthly love that he does not relinquish and to which he still clings. This is Dante at his most dialectical and most fulfilling.

In the same way that the character Stazio clings to his love for the author of the Aeneid, so the author of the Commedia clings to the affect and emotion evinced by the character Stazio. Dante-poet, so succinct and careful with his language, devotes the rest of Purgatorio 21, the 33 verses from lines 103-136, to dramatizing the reverberations of Stazio’s declaration at a minute level of personal interaction between the three men.

After hearing Stazio’s words, Virgilio turns to Dante-pilgrim with a warning to be silent—not to reveal that he is the very Virgilio whom Stazio would spend an added year in purgatory to meet:

  Volser Virgilio a me queste parole
con viso che, tacendo, disse “Taci”... (Purg. 21.103-04)
These words made Virgil turn to me, and as 
he turned, his face, through silence, said: “Be still”...

But Dante-pilgrim is unable to suppress the glimmerings of a smile, which causes Stazio to inquire as to the cause of the smile, and then Dante-pilgrim is stuck, caught between the requirement of Virgilio that he keep silent and the requirement of Stazio that he answer the question. Between loyalty and courtesy, the pilgrim does not know where to turn or how to manage this sticky bit of interpersonal negotiation, until his teacher and mentor, Virgilio, comes to his aid and releases him:

  Or son io d’una parte e d’altra preso:
l’una mi fa tacer, l’altra scongiura
ch’io dica; ond’io sospiro, e sono inteso
  dal mio maestro, e «Non aver paura»,
mi dice, «di parlar; ma parla e digli
quel ch’e’ dimanda con cotanta cura». (Purg. 21.115-20)
  Now I am held by one side and the other:
one keeps me still, the other conjures me
to speak; but when, therefore, I sigh, my master
  knows why and tells me: “Do not be afraid
to speak, but speak and answer what he has
asked you to tell him with such earnestness.”  

At this point the canto resolves into the very beautiful final verses (of this conclusion, I wrote in my Sapegno edition in July 1975: “This is the most beautiful episode in the Divina Commedia”). Stazio falls to his knees before Virgilio, and Virgilio tells him to rise, for both are shades—in other words, embraces and affect are a thing of the past. But, keeping this affect hot in his final words, the rejoinder from Stazio stresses the love that burns within him: “l’amor ch’a te mi scalda” (how much love burns in me for you [Purg. 21.134]).

This love will be elaborated further in Purgatorio 22, where Virgilio tells Stazio that he learned to reciprocate Stazio’s affection as a result of learning about it from Juvenal when Juvenal arrived in Limbo:

  quando Virgilio incominciò: «Amore,
acceso di virtù, sempre altro accese,
pur che la fiamma sua paresse fore;
  onde da l'ora che tra noi discese
nel limbo de lo ’nferno Giovenale,
che la tua affezion mi fé palese,
  mia benvoglienza inverso te fu quale
più strinse mai di non vista persona,
sì ch’or mi parran corte queste scale. (Purg. 22.10-18)
  Virgil began: “Love that is kindled by
virtue, will, in another, find reply,
as long as that love's flame appears without;
  so, from the time when Juvenal, descending
among us, in Hell’s Limbo, had made plain
the fondness that you felt for me, my own
  benevolence toward you has been much richer
than any ever given to a person
one has not seen; thus, now these stairs seem short.

In Dante’s vivifying imagination, a poet who lived in Statius’ own time and knew him—Juvenal—was the galeotto who carried to Limbo the news of the virtuous love of Stazio for the earlier poet, Virgilio. We note the echoes of Inferno 5, whose kindling love is here made virtuous in Purgatorio 21.10-11.

Here Dante plays in bono with the possibilities of the afterlife, happily conjuring a go-between to flame the love between Virgilio and his poetic successor. In hell, we remember that Dante similarly found a way to play in malo with these possibilities, finding a way to engineer the damnation of Boniface VIII (see Inferno 19).

The love of Stazio for Virgilio, reciprocated by Virgilio for Stazio, is friendship, a subset of love in Aristotle’s Ethics and Cicero’s De Amicitia, here burning bright as Dante’s imagination rekindles the affect of one ancient Roman poet for another.

Coordinated Reading

Coordinated Reading: Dante’s Poets, pp. 256-69.

Recommended Citation

Barolini, Teodolinda. “Purgatorio 21: Friendship.” Commento Baroliniano, Digital Dante. New York, NY: Columbia University Libraries, 2017. https://digitaldante.columbia.edu/dante/divine-comedy/purgatorio/purgatorio-21/

About the Commento

1La sete natural che mai non sazia
2se non con l’acqua onde la femminetta
3samaritana domandò la grazia,

4mi travagliava, e pungeami la fretta
5per la ’mpacciata via dietro al mio duca,
6e condoleami a la giusta vendetta.

7Ed ecco, sì come ne scrive Luca
8che Cristo apparve a’ due ch’erano in via,
9già surto fuor de la sepulcral buca,

10ci apparve un’ombra, e dietro a noi venìa,
11dal piè guardando la turba che giace;
12né ci addemmo di lei, sì parlò pria,

13dicendo: «O frati miei, Dio vi dea pace».
14Noi ci volgemmo sùbiti, e Virgilio
15rendéli ’l cenno ch’a ciò si conface.

16Poi cominciò: «Nel beato concilio
17ti ponga in pace la verace corte
18che me rilega ne l’etterno essilio».

19«Come!», diss’ elli, e parte andavam forte:
20«se voi siete ombre che Dio sù non degni,
21chi v’ha per la sua scala tanto scorte?».

22E ’l dottor mio: «Se tu riguardi a’ segni
23che questi porta e che l’angel profila,
24ben vedrai che coi buon convien ch’e’ regni.

25Ma perché lei che dì e notte fila
26non li avea tratta ancora la conocchia
27che Cloto impone a ciascuno e compila,

28l’anima sua, ch’è tua e mia serocchia,
29venendo sù, non potea venir sola,
30però ch’al nostro modo non adocchia.

31Ond’ io fui tratto fuor de l’ampia gola
32d’inferno per mostrarli, e mosterrolli
33oltre, quanto ’l potrà menar mia scola.

34Ma dimmi, se tu sai, perché tai crolli
35diè dianzi ’l monte, e perché tutto ad una
36parve gridare infino a’ suoi piè molli».

37Sì mi diè, dimandando, per la cruna
38del mio disio, che pur con la speranza
39si fece la mia sete men digiuna.

40Quei cominciò: «Cosa non è che sanza
41ordine senta la religïone
42de la montagna, o che sia fuor d’usanza.

43Libero è qui da ogne alterazione:
44di quel che ’l ciel da sé in sé riceve
45esser ci puote, e non d’altro, cagione.

46Per che non pioggia, non grando, non neve,
47non rugiada, non brina più sù cade
48che la scaletta di tre gradi breve;

49nuvole spesse non paion né rade,
50né coruscar, né figlia di Taumante,
51che di là cangia sovente contrade;

52secco vapor non surge più avante
53ch’al sommo d’i tre gradi ch’io parlai,
54dov’ ha ’l vicario di Pietro le piante.

55Trema forse più giù poco o assai;
56ma per vento che ’n terra si nasconda,
57non so come, qua sù non tremò mai.

58Tremaci quando alcuna anima monda
59sentesi, sì che surga o che si mova
60per salir sù; e tal grido seconda.

61De la mondizia sol voler fa prova,
62che, tutto libero a mutar convento,
63l’alma sorprende, e di voler le giova.

64Prima vuol ben, ma non lascia il talento
65che divina giustizia, contra voglia,
66come fu al peccar, pone al tormento.

67E io, che son giaciuto a questa doglia
68cinquecent’ anni e più, pur mo sentii
69libera volontà di miglior soglia:

70però sentisti il tremoto e li pii
71spiriti per lo monte render lode
72a quel Segnor, che tosto sù li ’nvii».

73Così ne disse; e però ch’el si gode
74tanto del ber quant’ è grande la sete,
75non saprei dir quant’ el mi fece prode.

76E ’l savio duca: «Omai veggio la rete
77che qui vi ’mpiglia e come si scalappia,
78perché ci trema e di che congaudete.

79Ora chi fosti, piacciati ch’io sappia,
80e perché tanti secoli giaciuto
81qui se’, ne le parole tue mi cappia».

82«Nel tempo che ’l buon Tito, con l’aiuto
83del sommo rege, vendicò le fóra
84ond’ uscì ’l sangue per Giuda venduto,

85col nome che più dura e più onora
86era io di là», rispuose quello spirto,
87«famoso assai, ma non con fede ancora.

88Tanto fu dolce mio vocale spirto,
89che, tolosano, a sé mi trasse Roma,
90dove mertai le tempie ornar di mirto.

91Stazio la gente ancor di là mi noma:
92cantai di Tebe, e poi del grande Achille;
93ma caddi in via con la seconda soma.

94Al mio ardor fuor seme le faville,
95che mi scaldar, de la divina fiamma
96onde sono allumati più di mille;

97de l’Eneïda dico, la qual mamma
98fummi, e fummi nutrice, poetando:
99sanz’ essa non fermai peso di dramma.

100E per esser vivuto di là quando
101visse Virgilio, assentirei un sole
102più che non deggio al mio uscir di bando».

103Volser Virgilio a me queste parole
104con viso che, tacendo, disse ‘Taci’;
105ma non può tutto la virtù che vuole;

106ché riso e pianto son tanto seguaci
107a la passion di che ciascun si spicca,
108che men seguon voler ne’ più veraci.

109Io pur sorrisi come l’uom ch’ammicca;
110per che l’ombra si tacque, e riguardommi
111ne li occhi ove ’l sembiante più si ficca;

112e «Se tanto labore in bene assommi»,
113disse, «perché la tua faccia testeso
114un lampeggiar di riso dimostrommi?».

115Or son io d’una parte e d’altra preso:
116l’una mi fa tacer, l’altra scongiura
117ch’io dica; ond’ io sospiro, e sono inteso

118dal mio maestro, e «Non aver paura»,
119mi dice, «di parlar; ma parla e digli
120quel ch’e’ dimanda con cotanta cura».

121Ond’ io: «Forse che tu ti maravigli,
122antico spirto, del rider ch’io fei;
123ma più d’ammirazion vo’ che ti pigli.

124Questi che guida in alto li occhi miei,
125è quel Virgilio dal qual tu togliesti
126forte a cantar de li uomini e d’i dèi.

127Se cagion altra al mio rider credesti,
128lasciala per non vera, ed esser credi
129quelle parole che di lui dicesti».

130Già s’inchinava ad abbracciar li piedi
131al mio dottor, ma el li disse: «Frate,
132non far, ché tu se’ ombra e ombra vedi».

133Ed ei surgendo: «Or puoi la quantitate
134comprender de l’amor ch’a te mi scalda,
135quand’ io dismento nostra vanitate,

136trattando l’ombre come cosa salda».

The natural thirst that never can be quenched
except by water that gives grace—the draught
the simple woman of Samaria sought—

tormented me; haste spurred me on the path
crowded with souls, behind my guide; and I
felt pity, though their pain was justified.

And here—even as Luke records for us
that Christ, new—risen from his burial cave,
appeared to two along his way—a shade

appeared; and he advanced behind our backs
while we were careful not to trample on
the outstretched crowd. We did not notice him

until he had addressed us with: “God give
you, o my brothers, peace!” We turned at once;
then, after offering suitable response,

Virgil began: “And may that just tribunal
which has consigned me to eternal exile
place you in peace within the blessed assembly!”

“What!” he exclaimed, as we moved forward quickly.
“If God’s not deemed you worthy of ascent,
who’s guided you so far along His stairs?”

“If you observe the signs the angel traced
upon this man,” my teacher said, “you’ll see
plainly—he’s meant to reign with all the righteous;

but since she who spins night and day had not
yet spun the spool that Clotho sets upon
the distaff and adjusts for everyone,

his soul, the sister of your soul and mine,
in its ascent, could not—alone—have climbed
here, for it does not see the way we see.

Therefore, I was brought forth from Hell’s broad jaws
to guide him in his going; I shall lead
him just as far as where I teach can reach.

But tell me, if you can, why, just before,
the mountain shook and shouted, all of it—
for so it seemed—down to its sea—bathed shore.”

His question threaded so the needle’s eye
of my desire that just the hope alone
of knowing left my thirst more satisfied.

That other shade began: “The sanctity
of these slopes does not suffer anything
that’s without order or uncustomary.

This place is free from every perturbation:
what heaven from itself and in itself
receives may serve as cause here—no thing else.

Therefore, no rain, no hail, no snow, no dew,
no hoarfrost falls here any higher than
the stairs of entry with their three brief steps;

neither thick clouds nor thin appear, nor flash
of lightning; Thaumas’ daughter, who so often
shifts places in your world, is absent here.

Dry vapor cannot climb up any higher
than to the top of the three steps of which
I spoke—where Peter’s vicar plants his feet.

Below that point, there may be small or ample
tremors; but here above, I know not why,
no wind concealed in earth has ever caused

a tremor; for it only trembles here
when some soul feels it’s cleansed, so that it rises
or stirs to climb on high; and that shout follows.

The will alone is proof of purity
and, fully free, surprises soul into
a change of dwelling place—effectively.

Soul had the will to climb before, but that
will was opposed by longing to do penance
(as once, to sin), instilled by divine justice.

And I, who have lain in this suffering
five hundred years and more, just now have felt
my free will for a better threshold: thus,

you heard the earthquake and the pious spirits
throughout the mountain as they praised the Lord—
and may He send them speedily upward.”

So did he speak to us; and just as joy
is greater when we quench a greater thirst,
the joy he brought cannot be told in words.

And my wise guide: “I now can see the net
impeding you, how one slips through, and why
it quakes here, and what makes you all rejoice.

And now may it please you to tell me who
you were, and in your words may I find why
you’ve lain here for so many centuries.”

“In that age when the worthy Titus, with
help from the Highest King, avenged the wounds
from which the blood that Judas sold had flowed,

I had sufficient fame beyond,” that spirit
replied; “I bore the name that lasts the longest
and honors most—but faith was not yet mine.

So gentle was the spirit of my verse
that Rome drew me, son of Toulouse, to her,
and there my brow deserved a crown of myrtle.

On earth my name is still remembered—Statius:
I sang of Thebes and then of great Achilles;
I fell along the way of that last labor.

The sparks that warmed me, the seeds of my ardor,
were from the holy fire—the same that gave
more than a thousand poets light and flame.

I speak of the Aeneid; when I wrote
verse, it was mother to me, it was nurse;
my work, without it, would not weigh an ounce.

And to have lived on earth when Virgil lived—
for that I would extend by one more year
the time I owe before my exile’s end.”

These words made Virgil turn to me, and as
he turned, his face, through silence, said: “Be still”
(and yet the power of will cannot do all,

for tears and smiles are both so faithful to
the feelings that have prompted them that true
feeling escapes the will that would subdue).

But I smiled like a man whose eyes would signal;
at this, the shade was silent, and he stared
where sentiment is clearest—at my eyes—

and said: “So may your trying labor end
successfully, do tell me why—just now—
your face showed me the flashing of a smile.”

Now I am held by one side and the other:
one keeps me still, the other conjures me
to speak; but when, therefore, I sigh, my master

knows why and tells me: “Do not be afraid
to speak, but speak and answer what he has
asked you to tell him with such earnestness.”

At this, I answered: “Ancient spirit, you
perhaps are wondering at the smile I smiled:
but I would have you feel still more surprise.

He who is guide, who leads my eyes on high,
is that same Virgil from whom you derived
the power to sing of men and of the gods.

Do not suppose my smile had any source
beyond the speech you spoke; be sure—it was
those words you said of him that were the cause.”

Now he had bent to kiss my teacher’s feet,
but Virgil told him: “Brother, there’s no need—
you are a shade, a shade is what you see.”

And, rising, he: “Now you can understand
how much love burns in me for you, when I
forget our insubstantiality,

treating the shades as one treats solid things.”

THE natural thirst, that ne’er is satisfied
Excepting with the water for whose grace
The woman of Samaria besought,

Put me in travail, and haste goaded me
Along the encumbered path behind my Leader
And I was pitying that righteous vengeance;

And lo! in the same manner as Luke writeth
That Christ appeared to two upon the way
From the sepulchral cave already risen,

A shade appeared to us, and came behind us,
Down gazing on the prostrate multitude,
Nor were we ware of it, until it spake,

Saying, “My brothers, may God give you peace!
“We turned us suddenly, and Virgilius rendered
To him the countersign thereto conforming

Thereon began he: “In the blessed council,
Thee may the court veracious place in peace,
That me doth banish in eternal exile!”

“How,” said he, and the while we went with speed,
“If ye are shades whom God deigns not on high,
Who up his stairs so far has guided you?”

And said my Teacher: “If thou note the marks
Which this one bears,and which the Angel traces
Well shalt thou see he with the good must reign.

But because she who spinneth day and night
For him had not yet drawn the distaff off,
Which Clotho lays for each one and compacts,

His soul, which is thy sister and my own,
In coming upwards could not come alone,
By reason that it sees not in our fashion.

Whence I was drawn from out the ample throat
Of Hell to be his guide,and I shall guide him
As far on as my school has power to lead.

But tell us, if thou knowest, why such a shudder
Erewhile the mountain gave, and why together
All seemed to cry, as far as its moist feet?”

In asking he so hit the very eye
Of my desire, that merely with the hope
My thirst became the less unsatisfied.

“Naught is there,” he began, ” that without order
May the religion of the mountain feel,
Nor aught that may be foreign to its custom.

Free is it here from every permutation;
What from itself heaven in itself receiveth
Can be of this the cause, and naught beside;

Because that neither rain, nor hail, nor snow,
Nor dew, nor hoar—frost any higher falls
Than the short, little stairway of three steps.

Dense clouds do not appear, nor rarefied,
Nor coruscation, nor the daughter of Thaumas,
That often upon earth her region shifts;

No arid vapour any farther rises
Than to the top of the three steps I spake of,
Whereon the Vicar of Peter has his feet.

Lower down perchance it trembles less or more,
But, for the wind that in the earth is hidden
I know not how, up here it never trembled.

It trembles here, whenever any soul
Feels itself pure, so that it soars, or moves
To mount aloft, and such a cry attends it.

Of purity the will alone gives proof,
Which, being wholly free to change its convent,
Takes by surprise the soul, and helps it fly.

First it wills well; but the desire permits not,
Which divine justice with the self—same will
There was to sin, upon the torment sets.

And I, who have been Iying in this pain
Five hundred years and more, but just now felt
A free volition for a better seat.

Therefore thou heardst the earthquake, and the pious
Spirits along the mountain rendering praise
Unto the Lord, that soon he speed them upwards.”

So said he to him; and since we enjoy
As much in drinking as the thirst is great,
I could not say how much it did me good.

And the wise Leader: “Now I see the net
That snares you here, and how ye are set free,
Why the earth quakes, and wherefore ye rejoice.

Now who thou wast be pleased that I may know;
And why so many centuries thou hast here
Been Iying, let me gather from thy words.”

“In days when the good Titus, with the aid
Of the supremest King, avenged the wounds
Whence issued forth the blood by Judas sold,

Under the name that most endures and honours,
Was I on earth,” that spirit made reply,
“Greatly renowned, but not with faith as yet.

My vocal spirit was so sweet, that Rome
Me, a Thoulousian, drew unto herself,
Where I deserved to deck my brows with myrtle.

Statius the people name me still on earth;
I sang of Thebes, and then of great Achilles;
But on the way fell with my second burden.

The seeds unto my ardour were the sparks
Of that celestial flame which heated me,
Whereby more than a thousand have been fired;

Of the Aeneid speak I, which to me
A mother was, and was my nurse in song;
Without this weighed I not a drachma’s weight.

And to have lived upon the earth what time
Virgilius lived, I would accept one sun
More than I must ere issuing from my ban.”

These words towards me made Virgilius turn
With looks that in their silence said, “Be silent!”
But yet the power that wills cannot do all things;

For tears and laughter are such pursuivants
Unto the passion from which each springs forth,
In the most truthful least the will they follow.

I only smiled, as one who gives the wink;
Whereat the shade was silent, and it gazed
Into mine eyes, where most expression dwells;

And, “As thou well mayst consummate a labour
So great,” it said, ” why did thy face just now
Display to me the lightning of a smile?”

Now am I caught on this side and on that;
One keeps me silent, one to speak conjures me,
Wherefore I sigh, and I am understood.

“Speak,” said my Master, “and be not afraid
Of speaking, but speak out, and say to him
What he demands with such solicitude.”

Whence I: ” Thou peradventure marvellest,
O antique spirit, at the smile I gave;
But I will have more wonder seize upon thee.

This one, who guides on high these eyes of mine,
Is that Virgilius, from whom thou didst learn
To sing aloud of men and of the Gods.

If other cause thou to my smile imputedst,
Abandon it as false, and trust it was
Those words which thou hast spoken concerning him.”

Already he was stooping to embrace
My Teacher’s feet; but he said to him: “Brother,
Do not; for shade thou art, and shade beholdest.”

And he uprising: “Now canst thou the sum
Of love which warms me to thee comprehend,
When this our vanity I disremember,

Treating a shadow as substantial thing.”

The natural thirst that never can be quenched
except by water that gives grace—the draught
the simple woman of Samaria sought—

tormented me; haste spurred me on the path
crowded with souls, behind my guide; and I
felt pity, though their pain was justified.

And here—even as Luke records for us
that Christ, new—risen from his burial cave,
appeared to two along his way—a shade

appeared; and he advanced behind our backs
while we were careful not to trample on
the outstretched crowd. We did not notice him

until he had addressed us with: “God give
you, o my brothers, peace!” We turned at once;
then, after offering suitable response,

Virgil began: “And may that just tribunal
which has consigned me to eternal exile
place you in peace within the blessed assembly!”

“What!” he exclaimed, as we moved forward quickly.
“If God’s not deemed you worthy of ascent,
who’s guided you so far along His stairs?”

“If you observe the signs the angel traced
upon this man,” my teacher said, “you’ll see
plainly—he’s meant to reign with all the righteous;

but since she who spins night and day had not
yet spun the spool that Clotho sets upon
the distaff and adjusts for everyone,

his soul, the sister of your soul and mine,
in its ascent, could not—alone—have climbed
here, for it does not see the way we see.

Therefore, I was brought forth from Hell’s broad jaws
to guide him in his going; I shall lead
him just as far as where I teach can reach.

But tell me, if you can, why, just before,
the mountain shook and shouted, all of it—
for so it seemed—down to its sea—bathed shore.”

His question threaded so the needle’s eye
of my desire that just the hope alone
of knowing left my thirst more satisfied.

That other shade began: “The sanctity
of these slopes does not suffer anything
that’s without order or uncustomary.

This place is free from every perturbation:
what heaven from itself and in itself
receives may serve as cause here—no thing else.

Therefore, no rain, no hail, no snow, no dew,
no hoarfrost falls here any higher than
the stairs of entry with their three brief steps;

neither thick clouds nor thin appear, nor flash
of lightning; Thaumas’ daughter, who so often
shifts places in your world, is absent here.

Dry vapor cannot climb up any higher
than to the top of the three steps of which
I spoke—where Peter’s vicar plants his feet.

Below that point, there may be small or ample
tremors; but here above, I know not why,
no wind concealed in earth has ever caused

a tremor; for it only trembles here
when some soul feels it’s cleansed, so that it rises
or stirs to climb on high; and that shout follows.

The will alone is proof of purity
and, fully free, surprises soul into
a change of dwelling place—effectively.

Soul had the will to climb before, but that
will was opposed by longing to do penance
(as once, to sin), instilled by divine justice.

And I, who have lain in this suffering
five hundred years and more, just now have felt
my free will for a better threshold: thus,

you heard the earthquake and the pious spirits
throughout the mountain as they praised the Lord—
and may He send them speedily upward.”

So did he speak to us; and just as joy
is greater when we quench a greater thirst,
the joy he brought cannot be told in words.

And my wise guide: “I now can see the net
impeding you, how one slips through, and why
it quakes here, and what makes you all rejoice.

And now may it please you to tell me who
you were, and in your words may I find why
you’ve lain here for so many centuries.”

“In that age when the worthy Titus, with
help from the Highest King, avenged the wounds
from which the blood that Judas sold had flowed,

I had sufficient fame beyond,” that spirit
replied; “I bore the name that lasts the longest
and honors most—but faith was not yet mine.

So gentle was the spirit of my verse
that Rome drew me, son of Toulouse, to her,
and there my brow deserved a crown of myrtle.

On earth my name is still remembered—Statius:
I sang of Thebes and then of great Achilles;
I fell along the way of that last labor.

The sparks that warmed me, the seeds of my ardor,
were from the holy fire—the same that gave
more than a thousand poets light and flame.

I speak of the Aeneid; when I wrote
verse, it was mother to me, it was nurse;
my work, without it, would not weigh an ounce.

And to have lived on earth when Virgil lived—
for that I would extend by one more year
the time I owe before my exile’s end.”

These words made Virgil turn to me, and as
he turned, his face, through silence, said: “Be still”
(and yet the power of will cannot do all,

for tears and smiles are both so faithful to
the feelings that have prompted them that true
feeling escapes the will that would subdue).

But I smiled like a man whose eyes would signal;
at this, the shade was silent, and he stared
where sentiment is clearest—at my eyes—

and said: “So may your trying labor end
successfully, do tell me why—just now—
your face showed me the flashing of a smile.”

Now I am held by one side and the other:
one keeps me still, the other conjures me
to speak; but when, therefore, I sigh, my master

knows why and tells me: “Do not be afraid
to speak, but speak and answer what he has
asked you to tell him with such earnestness.”

At this, I answered: “Ancient spirit, you
perhaps are wondering at the smile I smiled:
but I would have you feel still more surprise.

He who is guide, who leads my eyes on high,
is that same Virgil from whom you derived
the power to sing of men and of the gods.

Do not suppose my smile had any source
beyond the speech you spoke; be sure—it was
those words you said of him that were the cause.”

Now he had bent to kiss my teacher’s feet,
but Virgil told him: “Brother, there’s no need—
you are a shade, a shade is what you see.”

And, rising, he: “Now you can understand
how much love burns in me for you, when I
forget our insubstantiality,

treating the shades as one treats solid things.”

THE natural thirst, that ne’er is satisfied
Excepting with the water for whose grace
The woman of Samaria besought,

Put me in travail, and haste goaded me
Along the encumbered path behind my Leader
And I was pitying that righteous vengeance;

And lo! in the same manner as Luke writeth
That Christ appeared to two upon the way
From the sepulchral cave already risen,

A shade appeared to us, and came behind us,
Down gazing on the prostrate multitude,
Nor were we ware of it, until it spake,

Saying, “My brothers, may God give you peace!
“We turned us suddenly, and Virgilius rendered
To him the countersign thereto conforming

Thereon began he: “In the blessed council,
Thee may the court veracious place in peace,
That me doth banish in eternal exile!”

“How,” said he, and the while we went with speed,
“If ye are shades whom God deigns not on high,
Who up his stairs so far has guided you?”

And said my Teacher: “If thou note the marks
Which this one bears,and which the Angel traces
Well shalt thou see he with the good must reign.

But because she who spinneth day and night
For him had not yet drawn the distaff off,
Which Clotho lays for each one and compacts,

His soul, which is thy sister and my own,
In coming upwards could not come alone,
By reason that it sees not in our fashion.

Whence I was drawn from out the ample throat
Of Hell to be his guide,and I shall guide him
As far on as my school has power to lead.

But tell us, if thou knowest, why such a shudder
Erewhile the mountain gave, and why together
All seemed to cry, as far as its moist feet?”

In asking he so hit the very eye
Of my desire, that merely with the hope
My thirst became the less unsatisfied.

“Naught is there,” he began, ” that without order
May the religion of the mountain feel,
Nor aught that may be foreign to its custom.

Free is it here from every permutation;
What from itself heaven in itself receiveth
Can be of this the cause, and naught beside;

Because that neither rain, nor hail, nor snow,
Nor dew, nor hoar—frost any higher falls
Than the short, little stairway of three steps.

Dense clouds do not appear, nor rarefied,
Nor coruscation, nor the daughter of Thaumas,
That often upon earth her region shifts;

No arid vapour any farther rises
Than to the top of the three steps I spake of,
Whereon the Vicar of Peter has his feet.

Lower down perchance it trembles less or more,
But, for the wind that in the earth is hidden
I know not how, up here it never trembled.

It trembles here, whenever any soul
Feels itself pure, so that it soars, or moves
To mount aloft, and such a cry attends it.

Of purity the will alone gives proof,
Which, being wholly free to change its convent,
Takes by surprise the soul, and helps it fly.

First it wills well; but the desire permits not,
Which divine justice with the self—same will
There was to sin, upon the torment sets.

And I, who have been Iying in this pain
Five hundred years and more, but just now felt
A free volition for a better seat.

Therefore thou heardst the earthquake, and the pious
Spirits along the mountain rendering praise
Unto the Lord, that soon he speed them upwards.”

So said he to him; and since we enjoy
As much in drinking as the thirst is great,
I could not say how much it did me good.

And the wise Leader: “Now I see the net
That snares you here, and how ye are set free,
Why the earth quakes, and wherefore ye rejoice.

Now who thou wast be pleased that I may know;
And why so many centuries thou hast here
Been Iying, let me gather from thy words.”

“In days when the good Titus, with the aid
Of the supremest King, avenged the wounds
Whence issued forth the blood by Judas sold,

Under the name that most endures and honours,
Was I on earth,” that spirit made reply,
“Greatly renowned, but not with faith as yet.

My vocal spirit was so sweet, that Rome
Me, a Thoulousian, drew unto herself,
Where I deserved to deck my brows with myrtle.

Statius the people name me still on earth;
I sang of Thebes, and then of great Achilles;
But on the way fell with my second burden.

The seeds unto my ardour were the sparks
Of that celestial flame which heated me,
Whereby more than a thousand have been fired;

Of the Aeneid speak I, which to me
A mother was, and was my nurse in song;
Without this weighed I not a drachma’s weight.

And to have lived upon the earth what time
Virgilius lived, I would accept one sun
More than I must ere issuing from my ban.”

These words towards me made Virgilius turn
With looks that in their silence said, “Be silent!”
But yet the power that wills cannot do all things;

For tears and laughter are such pursuivants
Unto the passion from which each springs forth,
In the most truthful least the will they follow.

I only smiled, as one who gives the wink;
Whereat the shade was silent, and it gazed
Into mine eyes, where most expression dwells;

And, “As thou well mayst consummate a labour
So great,” it said, ” why did thy face just now
Display to me the lightning of a smile?”

Now am I caught on this side and on that;
One keeps me silent, one to speak conjures me,
Wherefore I sigh, and I am understood.

“Speak,” said my Master, “and be not afraid
Of speaking, but speak out, and say to him
What he demands with such solicitude.”

Whence I: ” Thou peradventure marvellest,
O antique spirit, at the smile I gave;
But I will have more wonder seize upon thee.

This one, who guides on high these eyes of mine,
Is that Virgilius, from whom thou didst learn
To sing aloud of men and of the Gods.

If other cause thou to my smile imputedst,
Abandon it as false, and trust it was
Those words which thou hast spoken concerning him.”

Already he was stooping to embrace
My Teacher’s feet; but he said to him: “Brother,
Do not; for shade thou art, and shade beholdest.”

And he uprising: “Now canst thou the sum
Of love which warms me to thee comprehend,
When this our vanity I disremember,

Treating a shadow as substantial thing.”