Pagan Texts As Agents of Salvation—and Aristotle, Again

Of the two canti devoted to the encounter with Stazio, Purgatorio 21 is perhaps the more emotional and personal, ending with the poignant revelation of Virgilio to Stazio. Purgatorio 22 on the other hand builds on Purgatorio 21 to create the iron-clad vise of a painful paradox: we witness a superior human being who is not saved, and who guides others (less superior on the human scale of values) to salvation.

There are two documents included here. One is the diagram “Thematic/Structural Chiasmus,” in which I try to visualize how Dante locks us into his paradox around the two axes that are articulated in Stazio’s great tribute: “Per te poeta fui, per te cristiano” (Through you I was a poet and, through you, a Christian [Purg. 22.73]).

The structural chiasmus around which Dante-poet models the Virgilio-Stazio interaction is reminiscent of the narrative chiasmus that unfolds in the depiction of the character Virgilio, who is the more loved by the pilgrim as he is revealed to be flawed by the poet.

The thematic and structural chiasmus that undergirds the Virgilio-Stazio interaction is composed of two axes: one axis is that of poetry and human greatness (“per te poeta fui”), and the other axis is that of belief and religious conviction (“per te cristiano”). In his commentary Benvenuto da Imola writes: “but whether he [Statius] was a Christian, or whether he was not, I care little, since subtly and by necessity the poet feigns this because of the many issues he could not treat without a Christian poet, as will appear in canto XXV and elsewhere.” I cite Benvenuto in Dante’s Poets, and then add:

In this remarkable passage Benvenuto goes, as he so often does, to what I believe is the heart of the matter, which is that Dante’s fiction at this point requires a figure just like Statius. In fact, Dante needs a foil to Vergil, a role for which the Christianized Statius is carefully tailored, as the character who can best bring out the ambivalence of Vergil’s situation: whereas Statius the epic poet is Vergil’s inferior, his disciple, the Statius who became Christian is Vergil’s superior, his teacher.(Dante’s Poets, p. 258)

The second document that I attach is “Dante’s Vergil”; here I list the various ways in which Vergilian intertexts are used in the drama of Purgatorio 22 and throughout the Commedia, ranging from allusion to translation to verbatim citation. Please refer to this document for the details of the textual issues that I will outline broadly in this note.

Purgatorio 22 is deeply invested in classical culture, indeed in the salvific effects of classical culture. Before we get to the details of the Stazio problematic, let us note that classical culture—Aristotle in fact—is present from the outset of the canto. Aristotle provides our cultural frame of reference from the moment we learn that this is not the terrace of simply avarice, as per the Christian scheme of the seven capital vices, but that it is the terrace of avarice and prodigality.

The decision to make this the terrace of avarice and prodigality, following the model of the analogous circle in hell (see Inferno 7), shows that Dante’s commitment to Aristotelian ethics is profound. It is already stunning that in Inferno 11 he tells us that hell is organized according to Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics; now in purgatory he continues to show his fascination with the Aristotelian idea of virtue as not an extreme but a mean.

We can see Dante playing with two ethical systems—the Aristotelian ternary system and the Christian binary system—and think of this as a profound instance of his cultural hybridity. The Christian system of the seven capital vices is now contaminated by another system, whereby virtue is the golden mean between the two sinful extremes of avarice and prodigality.

Instead of referring to Aristotelian “incontenenza” in Purgatorio, Dante uses the vernacular equivalent, which is “dismisura” in Purgatorio 22.35. Even though the Aristotelian term “incontenenza” is used only in Inferno 11, never in Purgatorio, the sins classified in Purgatorio 17 as belonging to the category of love pursued with too much vigor (“con troppo di vigore”) are the very sins of incontinence that we saw in hell:

lust = circle 2 of hell (Inferno 5)

gluttony = circle 3 of hell (Inferno 6)

avarice/prodigality = circle 4 of hell (Inferno 7)

In Purgatorio we find the same categories, in inverted order (instead of descending with the gravitational pull of sin from less bad to more bad, we are ascending away from “gravity” toward lightness and “levitation”):

avarice/prodigality = terrace 5 of purgatory

gluttony = terrace 6 of purgatory

lust = terrace 7 of purgatory

In essence, Purgatorio 22 pivots around two questions posed by Virgilio to Stazio, both of which elicit a pagan text as a reply. In the case of the Fourth Eclogue, the pagan text is coordinated with biblical texts, making the Statius episode “a high-density meditation on both biblical and classical textual transmission” (“Only Historicize,” p. 46).

First Virgilio wonders how Stazio, a poet of great wisdom, could have sinned of avarice. Stazio is amused at the very idea: avarice was too far removed from him! Stazio explains that his sin was prodigality, and that he was saved from damnation as a prodigal by a passage in Aeneid 3, which he cites. This passage in Aeneid 3 (for which see the attached document “Dante’s Vergil”) taught Stazio that prodigality is as much a sin as avarice. The interpretation of the citation is arduous and has generated controversy for centuries, mostly because many scholars were reluctant to think in terms of a deliberate mistranslation. I think there is no doubt that Dante deliberately mistranslates the Aeneid, in order to turn it to providential ends. In other words, here we have an example of Dantean providential mistranslation.

The second question is: how did Stazio convert to Christianity? How did he not end up in Limbo, with the rafts of classical poets named later in this canto? (In effect, Purgatorio 22 is an alter-Limbo, an addendum to Inferno 4.) The answer comes in the form of another citation from another of Vergil’s texts: Stazio recites in Italian the verses from Vergil’s Fourth Eclogue that were held in the Middle Ages to be prophetic of the coming of Christ. Here we have not a providential mistranslation but a correct translation of a Vergilian text.

In Dante’s account, therefore, damned Virgilio saved Stazio in two ways and both times through the medium of a text. He saved him from being damned for prodigality through Aeneid 3. Virgilio also saved Stazio, through his Fourth Eclogue, from the default damnation that would have overtaken him even if he had been completely virtuous but pagan (like Virgilio himself). Virgilio not only made a poet of Stazio, he also made him a Christian: “per te poeta fui, per te cristiano” (Purg. 22.73).

With respect to these Vergilian texts and their salvific effects we should add the following distinction: the construal of Aeneid 3 as a warning against prodigality is entirely Dante’s invention, requiring mistranslation, while the belief in the Fourth Eclogue as a prophecy of the birth of Christ was widely diffused.

Moreover, Dante coordinates the effects of the Fourth Eclogue with the transmission of the Gospels:

Statius explains his conversion to Christ by pointing to the consonance he experienced between Vergil’s Fourth Eclogue and the newly disseminated words of the apostles: in contrast to the man on the banks of the Indus, he experienced the true faith because it was “seminata / per li messaggi dell’etterno regno” (Purg. 22.77–78)”. (“Only Historicize,” p. 47)

This distinction is analogous to the varieties of Dante’s saved pagans: while the salvation of Cato and Stazio, for instance, is entirely Dante’s invention, the salvation of the Emperor Trajan, whom we will find blessed in Dante’s heaven of justice (and for whom see the third bas-relief in Purgatorio 10) was a widely circulated legend. It was believed that Gregory the Great prayed for the soul of Trajan and brought him back to life long enough for him to convert to Christianity so that he could die the second time a Christian. In this way, Dante uses popular culture to lend credibility to his wilder imaginings. Or rather: popular culture was just as wild as Dante’s wilder imaginings!

The travelers, who are now three rather than two, because Stazio has become one of their number (see Dante’s Poets for the story of how the epithets that have been used heretofore exclusively for Virgilio, like “poeta”, are now used for Stazio as well), reach the terrace of gluttony. Here they encounter a strange tree from which a voice recites the examples of temperance. Purgatorio 22, a canto that is saturated in classical textuality and culture, ends by reaffirming cultural hybridity. The golden age of classical antiquity, when acorns were delicious, is aligned with the experience of John the Baptist in the wilderness, when the saint nourished himself on locusts, “as, in the Gospel, is made plain to you”: “quanto per lo Vangelio v’è aperto” (Purg. 22.154).

 

 

Coordinated Reading

Coordinated Reading: Dante’s Poets, pp. 256-69; “Only Historicize,” pp. 46-47; “Aristotle’s Mezzo, Courtly Misura, and Dante’s Canzone Le dolci rime: Humanism, Ethics, and Social Anxiety,” in Dante and the Greeks, ed. Jan Ziolkowski (Cambridge: Harvard U. Press, 2014), pp. 163-79.

Recommended Citation

Barolini, Teodolinda. “Purgatorio 22: Pagan Texts As Agents of Salvation—and Aristotle, Again.” Commento Baroliniano, Digital Dante. New York, NY: Columbia University Libraries, 2017. https://digitaldante.columbia.edu/dante/divine-comedy/purgatorio/purgatorio-22/

About the Commento

1Già era l’angel dietro a noi rimaso,
2l’angel che n’avea vòlti al sesto giro,
3avendomi dal viso un colpo raso;

4e quei c’hanno a giustizia lor disiro
5detto n’avea beati, e le sue voci
6con ‘sitiunt’, sanz’ altro, ciò forniro.

7E io più lieve che per l’altre foci
8m’andava, sì che sanz’ alcun labore
9seguiva in sù li spiriti veloci;

10quando Virgilio incominciò: «Amore,
11acceso di virtù, sempre altro accese,
12pur che la fiamma sua paresse fore;

13onde da l’ora che tra noi discese
14nel limbo de lo ’nferno Giovenale,
15che la tua affezion mi fé palese,

16mia benvoglienza inverso te fu quale
17più strinse mai di non vista persona,
18sì ch’or mi parran corte queste scale.

19Ma dimmi, e come amico mi perdona
20se troppa sicurtà m’allarga il freno,
21e come amico omai meco ragiona:

22come poté trovar dentro al tuo seno
23loco avarizia, tra cotanto senno
24di quanto per tua cura fosti pieno?».

25Queste parole Stazio mover fenno
26un poco a riso pria; poscia rispuose:
27«Ogne tuo dir d’amor m’è caro cenno.

28Veramente più volte appaion cose
29che danno a dubitar falsa matera
30per le vere ragion che son nascose.

31La tua dimanda tuo creder m’avvera
32esser ch’i’ fossi avaro in l’altra vita,
33forse per quella cerchia dov’ io era.

34Or sappi ch’avarizia fu partita
35troppo da me, e questa dismisura
36migliaia di lunari hanno punita.

37E se non fosse ch’io drizzai mia cura,
38quand’ io intesi là dove tu chiame,
39crucciato quasi a l’umana natura:

40‘Per che non reggi tu, o sacra fame
41de l’oro, l’appetito de’ mortali?’,
42voltando sentirei le giostre grame.

43Allor m’accorsi che troppo aprir l’ali
44potean le mani a spendere, e pente’mi
45così di quel come de li altri mali.

46Quanti risurgeran coi crini scemi
47per ignoranza, che di questa pecca
48toglie ’l penter vivendo e ne li stremi!

49E sappie che la colpa che rimbecca
50per dritta opposizione alcun peccato,
51con esso insieme qui suo verde secca;

52però, s’io son tra quella gente stato
53che piange l’avarizia, per purgarmi,
54per lo contrario suo m’è incontrato».

55«Or quando tu cantasti le crude armi
56de la doppia trestizia di Giocasta»,
57disse ’l cantor de’ buccolici carmi,

58«per quello che Clïò teco lì tasta,
59non par che ti facesse ancor fedele
60la fede, sanza qual ben far non basta.

61Se così è, qual sole o quai candele
62ti stenebraron sì, che tu drizzasti
63poscia di retro al pescator le vele?».

64Ed elli a lui: «Tu prima m’invïasti
65verso Parnaso a ber ne le sue grotte,
66e prima appresso Dio m’alluminasti.

67Facesti come quei che va di notte,
68che porta il lume dietro e sé non giova,
69ma dopo sé fa le persone dotte,

70quando dicesti: ‘Secol si rinova;
71torna giustizia e primo tempo umano,
72e progenïe scende da ciel nova’.

73Per te poeta fui, per te cristiano:
74ma perché veggi mei ciò ch’io disegno,
75a colorare stenderò la mano.

76Già era ’l mondo tutto quanto pregno
77de la vera credenza, seminata
78per li messaggi de l’etterno regno;

79e la parola tua sopra toccata
80si consonava a’ nuovi predicanti;
81ond’ io a visitarli presi usata.

82Vennermi poi parendo tanto santi,
83che, quando Domizian li perseguette,
84sanza mio lagrimar non fur lor pianti;

85e mentre che di là per me si stette,
86io li sovvenni, e i lor dritti costumi
87fer dispregiare a me tutte altre sette.

88E pria ch’io conducessi i Greci a’ fiumi
89di Tebe poetando, ebb’ io battesmo;
90ma per paura chiuso cristian fu’mi,

91lungamente mostrando paganesmo;
92e questa tepidezza il quarto cerchio
93cerchiar mi fé più che ’l quarto centesmo.

94Tu dunque, che levato hai il coperchio
95che m’ascondeva quanto bene io dico,
96mentre che del salire avem soverchio,

97dimmi dov’ è Terrenzio nostro antico,
98Cecilio e Plauto e Varro, se lo sai:
99dimmi se son dannati, e in qual vico».

100«Costoro e Persio e io e altri assai»,
101rispuose il duca mio, «siam con quel Greco
102che le Muse lattar più ch’altri mai,

103nel primo cinghio del carcere cieco;
104spesse fïate ragioniam del monte
105che sempre ha le nutrice nostre seco.

106Euripide v’è nosco e Antifonte,
107Simonide, Agatone e altri piùe
108Greci che già di lauro ornar la fronte.

109Quivi si veggion de le genti tue
110Antigone, Deïfile e Argia,
111e Ismene sì trista come fue.

112Védeisi quella che mostrò Langia;
113èvvi la figlia di Tiresia, e Teti,
114e con le suore sue Deïdamia».

115Tacevansi ambedue già li poeti,
116di novo attenti a riguardar dintorno,
117liberi da saliri e da pareti;

118e già le quattro ancelle eran del giorno
119rimase a dietro, e la quinta era al temo,
120drizzando pur in sù l’ardente corno,

121quando il mio duca: «Io credo ch’a lo stremo
122le destre spalle volger ne convegna,
123girando il monte come far solemo».

124Così l’usanza fu lì nostra insegna,
125e prendemmo la via con men sospetto
126per l’assentir di quell’ anima degna.

127Elli givan dinanzi, e io soletto
128di retro, e ascoltava i lor sermoni,
129ch’a poetar mi davano intelletto.

130Ma tosto ruppe le dolci ragioni
131un alber che trovammo in mezza strada,
132con pomi a odorar soavi e buoni;

133e come abete in alto si digrada
134di ramo in ramo, così quello in giuso,
135cred’ io, perché persona sù non vada.

136Dal lato onde ’l cammin nostro era chiuso,
137cadea de l’alta roccia un liquor chiaro
138e si spandeva per le foglie suso.

139Li due poeti a l’alber s’appressaro;
140e una voce per entro le fronde
141gridò: «Di questo cibo avrete caro».

142Poi disse: «Più pensava Maria onde
143fosser le nozze orrevoli e intere,
144ch’a la sua bocca, ch’or per voi risponde.

145E le Romane antiche, per lor bere,
146contente furon d’acqua; e Danïello
147dispregiò cibo e acquistò savere.

148Lo secol primo, quant’ oro fu bello,
149fé savorose con fame le ghiande,
150e nettare con sete ogne ruscello.

151Mele e locuste furon le vivande
152che nodriro il Batista nel diserto;
153per ch’elli è glorïoso e tanto grande

154quanto per lo Vangelio v’è aperto».

The angel now was left behind us, he
who had directed us to the sixth terrace,
having erased one P that scarred my face;

he had declared that those who longed for justice
are blessed, and his voice concluded that
message with “sitiunt,” without the rest.

And while I climbed behind the two swift spirits,
not laboring at all, for I was lighter
than I had been along the other stairs,

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.

But tell me (and, as friend, forgive me if
excessive candor lets my reins relax,
and, as a friend, exchange your words with me):

how was it that you found within your breast
a place for avarice, when you possessed
the wisdom you had nurtured with such care?”

These words at first brought something of a smile
to Statius; then he answered: “Every word
you speak, to me is a dear sign of love.

Indeed, because true causes are concealed,
we often face deceptive reasoning
and things provoke perplexity in us.

Your question makes me sure that you’re convinced—
perhaps because my circle was the fifth—
that, in the life I once lived, avarice

had been my sin. Know then that I was far
from avarice—it was my lack of measure
thousands of months have punished. And if I

had not corrected my assessment by
my understanding what your verses meant
when you, as if enraged by human nature,

exclaimed: ‘Why cannot you, o holy hunger
for gold, restrain the appetite of mortals?’—
I’d now, while rolling weights, know sorry jousts.

Then I became aware that hands might open
too wide, like wings, in spending; and of this,
as of my other sins, I did repent.

How many are to rise again with heads
cropped close, whom ignorance prevents from reaching
repentance in—and at the end of—life!

And know that when a sin is countered by
another fault—directly opposite”
to it—then, here, both sins see their green wither.

Thus, I join those who pay for avarice
in my purgation, though what brought me here
was prodigality—its opposite.”

“Now, when you sang the savage wars of those
twin sorrows of Jocasta,” said the singer
of the bucolic poems, “it does not seem—

from those notes struck by you and Clio there—
that you had yet turned faithful to the faith
without which righteous works do not suffice.

If that is so, then what sun or what candles
drew you from darkness so that, in their wake,
you set your sails behind the fisherman?”

And he to him: “You were the first to send me
to drink within Parnassus’ caves and you,
the first who, after God, enlightened me.

You did as he who goes by night and carries
the lamp behind him—he is of no help
to his own self but teaches those who follow—

when you declared: ‘The ages are renewed;
justice and man’s first time on earth return;
from Heaven a new progeny descends.’

Through you I was a poet and, through you,
a Christian; but that you may see more plainly,
I’ll set my hand to color what I sketch.

Disseminated by the messengers
of the eternal kingdom, the true faith
by then had penetrated all the world,

and the new preachers preached in such accord
with what you’d said (and I have just repeated),
that I was drawn into frequenting them.

Then they appeared to me to be so saintly
that, when Domitian persecuted them,
my own laments accompanied their grief;

and while I could—as long as I had life—
I helped them, and their honest practices
made me disdainful of all other sects.

Before—within my poem—I’d led the Greeks
unto the streams of Thebes, I was baptized;
but out of fear, I was a secret Christian

and, for a long time, showed myself as pagan;
for this halfheartedness, for more than
four centuries, I circled the fourth circle.

And now may you, who lifted up the lid
that hid from me the good of which I speak,
while time is left us as we climb, tell me

where is our ancient Terence, and Caecilius
and Plautus, where is Varius, if you know;
tell me if they are damned, and in what quarter.”

“All these and Persius, I, and many others,”
my guide replied, “are with that Greek to whom
the Muses gave their gifts in greatest measure.

Our place is the blind prison, its first circle;
and there we often talk about the mountain
where those who were our nurses always dwell.

Euripides is with us, Antiphon,
Simonides, and Agathon, as well
as many other Greeks who once wore laurel

upon their brow; and there—of your own people—
one sees Antigone, Deiphyle,
Ismene, sad still, Argia as she was.

There one can see the woman who showed Langia,
and there, Tiresias’ daughter; there is Thetis;

and, with her sisters, there, Deidamia.”

Both poets now were silent, once again
intent on their surroundings— they were free

of stairs and walls; with day’s first four handmaidens

already left behind, and with the fifth
guiding the chariot-pole and lifting it,

so that its horn of flame rose always higher,

my master said: “I think it’s time that we
turn our right shoulders toward the terrace edge,

circling the mountain in the way we’re used to.”

In this way habit served us as a banner;
and when we chose that path, our fear was less

because that worthy soul gave his assent.

Those two were in the lead; I walked alone,
behind them, listening to their colloquy,

which taught me much concerning poetry.

But their delightful conversation soon
was interrupted by a tree that blocked

our path; its fruits were fine, their scent was sweet,

and even as a fir-tree tapers upward
from branch to branch, that tree there tapered downward,
so as— I think— to ward off any climber.

Upon our left, where wall enclosed our path,
bright running water fell from the high rock

and spread itself upon the leaves above.

When the two poets had approached the tree,
a voice emerging from within the leave
s
cried out: “This food shall be denied to you.”

Then it cried: “ Mary’s care was for the marriage-
feast’s being seemly and complete, not for

her mouth (which now would intercede for you).

And when they drank, of old, the Roman women
were satisfied with water; and young Daniel,

through his disdain of food, acquired wisdom.

The first age was as fair as gold: when hungry,
men found the taste of acorns good; when thirsty,

they found that every little stream was nectar.

When he was in the wilderness, the Baptist
had fed on nothing more than honey, locusts:

for this he was made great, as glorious

as, in the Gospel, is made plain to you.”

ALREADY was the Angel left behind us,
The Angel who to the sixth round had turned us,
Having erased one mark from off my face;

And those who have in justice their desire
Had said to us, _”Beati,”_ in their voices,
With “sitio,” and without more ended it

And I, more light than through the other passes,
Went onward so, that without any labour
I followed upward the swift—footed spirits;

When thus Virgilius began: “The love
Kindled by virtue aye another kindles,
Provided outwardly its flame appear.

Hence from the hour that Juvenal descended
Among us into the infernal Limbo,
Who made apparent to me thy affection,

My kindliness towards thee was as great
As ever bound one to an unseen person,
So that these stairs will now seem short to me.

But tell me, and forgive me as a friend,
If too great confidence let loose the rein,
And as a friend now hold discourse with me;

How was it possible within thy breast
For avarice to find place, ‘mid so much wisdom
As thou wast filled with by thy diligence?”

These words excited Statius at first
Somewhat to laughter; afterward he answered:
“Each word of thine is love’s dear sign to me.

Verily oftentimes do things appear
Which give fallacious matter to our doubts,
Instead of the true causes which are hidden!

Thy question shows me thy belief to be
That I was niggard in the other life,
It may be from the circle where I was;

Therefore know thou, that avarice was removed
Too far from me; and this extravagance
Thousands of lunar periods have punished.

And were it not that I my thoughts uplifted,
When I the passage heard where thou exclaimest,
As if indignant, unto human nature,

‘To what impellest thou not, O cursed hunger
Of gold, the appetite of mortal men ?’
Revolving I should feel the dismal joustings.

Then I perceived the hands could spread too wide
Their wings in spending, and repented me
As well of that as of my other sins;

How many with shorn hair shall rise again
Because of ignorance, which from this sin
Cuts off repentance living and in death!

And know that the transgression which rebuts
By direct opposition any sin
Together with it here its verdure dries.

Therefore if I have been among that folk
Which mourns its avarice, to purify me,
For its opposite has this befallen me.”

“Now when thou sangest the relentless weapons
Of the twofold affliction of Jocasta,”
The singer of the Songs Bucolic said,

“From that which Clio there with thee preludes,
It does not seem that yet had made thee faithful
That faith without which no good works suffice.

If this be so, what candles or what sun
Scattered thy darkness so that thou didst trim
Thy sails behind the Fisherman thereafter?”

And he to him:”Thou first directedst me
Towards Parnassus, in its grots to drink,
And first concerning God didst me enlighten.

Thou didst as he who walketh in the night,
Who bears his light behind, which helps him not,
But wary makes the persons after him,

When thou didst say: ‘ The age renews itself,
Justice returns, and man’s primeval time,
And a new progeny descends from heaven.’

Through thee I Poet was, through thee a Christian;
But that thou better see what I design,
To colour it will I extend my hand.

Already was the world in every part
Pregnant with the true creed, disseminated
By messengers of the eternal kingdom;

And thy assertion, spoken of above,
With the new preachers was in unison;
Whence I to visit them the custom took.

Then they became so holy in my sight,
That, when Domitian persecuted them,
Not without tears of mine were their laments;

And all the while that I on earth remained,
Them I befriended, and their upright customs
Made me disparage all the other sects.

And ere I led the Greeks unto the rivers
Of Thebes, in poetry, I was baptized,
But out of fear was covertly a Christian,

For a long time professing paganism;
And this lukewarmness caused me the fourth circle
To circuit round more than four centuries.

Thou, therefore, who hast raised the covering
That hid from me whatever good I speak of,
While in ascending we have time to spare,

Tell me, in what place is our friend Terentius,
Caecilius, Plautus, Varro, if thou knowest;
Tell me if they are damned, and in what alley.”

“These, Persius and myself, and others many,”
Replied my Leader, ” with that Grecian are
Whom more than all the rest the Muses suckled,

In the first circle of the prison blind;
Ofttimes we of the mountain hold discourse
Which has our nurses ever with itself

Euripides is with us, Antiphon,
Simonides, Agatho, and many other
Greeks who of old their brows with laurel decked.

There some of thine own people may be seen,
Antigone, Deiphile and Argìa,
And there Ismene mournful as of old.

There she is seen who pointed out Langia;
There is Tiresias’ daughter, and there Thetis,
And there Deidamia with her sisters.”

Silent already were the poets both,
Attent once more in looking round about,
From the ascent and from the walls released;

And four handmaidens of the day already
Were left behind, and at the pole the fifth
Was pointing upward still its burning horn,

What time my Guide: “I think that tow’rds thee
Our dexter shoulders it behoves us turn,
Circling the mount as we are wont to do.”

Thus in that region custom was our ensign;
And we resumed our way with less suspicion
For the assenting of that worthy soul

They in advance went on, and I alone
Behind them, and I listened to their speech,
Which gave me lessons in the art of song

But soon their sweet discourses interrupted
A tree which midway in the road we found,
With apples sweet and grateful to the smell edge

And even as a fir—tree tapers upward
From bough to bough, so downwardly did that;
I think in order that no one might climb it

On that side where our pathway was enclosed
Fell from the lofty rock a limpid water,
And spread itself abroad upon the leaves.

The Poets twain unto the tree drew near,
And from among the foliage a voice
Cried:”Of this food ye shall have scarcity.”

Then said: “More thoughtful Mary was of making
The marriage feast complete and honourable,
Than of her mouth which now for you responds;

And for their drink the ancient Roman women
With water were content; and Daniel
Disparaged food, and understanding won.

The primal age was beautiful as gold;
Acorns It made with hunger savorous,
And nectar every rivulet with thirst.

Honey and locusts were the aliments
That fed the Baptist in the wilderness;
Whence he is glorious, and so magnified

As by the Evangel is revealed to you.”

The angel now was left behind us, he
who had directed us to the sixth terrace,
having erased one P that scarred my face;

he had declared that those who longed for justice
are blessed, and his voice concluded that
message with “sitiunt,” without the rest.

And while I climbed behind the two swift spirits,
not laboring at all, for I was lighter
than I had been along the other stairs,

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.

But tell me (and, as friend, forgive me if
excessive candor lets my reins relax,
and, as a friend, exchange your words with me):

how was it that you found within your breast
a place for avarice, when you possessed
the wisdom you had nurtured with such care?”

These words at first brought something of a smile
to Statius; then he answered: “Every word
you speak, to me is a dear sign of love.

Indeed, because true causes are concealed,
we often face deceptive reasoning
and things provoke perplexity in us.

Your question makes me sure that you’re convinced—
perhaps because my circle was the fifth—
that, in the life I once lived, avarice

had been my sin. Know then that I was far
from avarice—it was my lack of measure
thousands of months have punished. And if I

had not corrected my assessment by
my understanding what your verses meant
when you, as if enraged by human nature,

exclaimed: ‘Why cannot you, o holy hunger
for gold, restrain the appetite of mortals?’—
I’d now, while rolling weights, know sorry jousts.

Then I became aware that hands might open
too wide, like wings, in spending; and of this,
as of my other sins, I did repent.

How many are to rise again with heads
cropped close, whom ignorance prevents from reaching
repentance in—and at the end of—life!

And know that when a sin is countered by
another fault—directly opposite”
to it—then, here, both sins see their green wither.

Thus, I join those who pay for avarice
in my purgation, though what brought me here
was prodigality—its opposite.”

“Now, when you sang the savage wars of those
twin sorrows of Jocasta,” said the singer
of the bucolic poems, “it does not seem—

from those notes struck by you and Clio there—
that you had yet turned faithful to the faith
without which righteous works do not suffice.

If that is so, then what sun or what candles
drew you from darkness so that, in their wake,
you set your sails behind the fisherman?”

And he to him: “You were the first to send me
to drink within Parnassus’ caves and you,
the first who, after God, enlightened me.

You did as he who goes by night and carries
the lamp behind him—he is of no help
to his own self but teaches those who follow—

when you declared: ‘The ages are renewed;
justice and man’s first time on earth return;
from Heaven a new progeny descends.’

Through you I was a poet and, through you,
a Christian; but that you may see more plainly,
I’ll set my hand to color what I sketch.

Disseminated by the messengers
of the eternal kingdom, the true faith
by then had penetrated all the world,

and the new preachers preached in such accord
with what you’d said (and I have just repeated),
that I was drawn into frequenting them.

Then they appeared to me to be so saintly
that, when Domitian persecuted them,
my own laments accompanied their grief;

and while I could—as long as I had life—
I helped them, and their honest practices
made me disdainful of all other sects.

Before—within my poem—I’d led the Greeks
unto the streams of Thebes, I was baptized;
but out of fear, I was a secret Christian

and, for a long time, showed myself as pagan;
for this halfheartedness, for more than
four centuries, I circled the fourth circle.

And now may you, who lifted up the lid
that hid from me the good of which I speak,
while time is left us as we climb, tell me

where is our ancient Terence, and Caecilius
and Plautus, where is Varius, if you know;
tell me if they are damned, and in what quarter.”

“All these and Persius, I, and many others,”
my guide replied, “are with that Greek to whom
the Muses gave their gifts in greatest measure.

Our place is the blind prison, its first circle;
and there we often talk about the mountain
where those who were our nurses always dwell.

Euripides is with us, Antiphon,
Simonides, and Agathon, as well
as many other Greeks who once wore laurel

upon their brow; and there—of your own people—
one sees Antigone, Deiphyle,
Ismene, sad still, Argia as she was.

There one can see the woman who showed Langia,
and there, Tiresias’ daughter; there is Thetis;

and, with her sisters, there, Deidamia.”

Both poets now were silent, once again
intent on their surroundings— they were free

of stairs and walls; with day’s first four handmaidens

already left behind, and with the fifth
guiding the chariot-pole and lifting it,

so that its horn of flame rose always higher,

my master said: “I think it’s time that we
turn our right shoulders toward the terrace edge,

circling the mountain in the way we’re used to.”

In this way habit served us as a banner;
and when we chose that path, our fear was less

because that worthy soul gave his assent.

Those two were in the lead; I walked alone,
behind them, listening to their colloquy,

which taught me much concerning poetry.

But their delightful conversation soon
was interrupted by a tree that blocked

our path; its fruits were fine, their scent was sweet,

and even as a fir-tree tapers upward
from branch to branch, that tree there tapered downward,
so as— I think— to ward off any climber.

Upon our left, where wall enclosed our path,
bright running water fell from the high rock

and spread itself upon the leaves above.

When the two poets had approached the tree,
a voice emerging from within the leave
s
cried out: “This food shall be denied to you.”

Then it cried: “ Mary’s care was for the marriage-
feast’s being seemly and complete, not for

her mouth (which now would intercede for you).

And when they drank, of old, the Roman women
were satisfied with water; and young Daniel,

through his disdain of food, acquired wisdom.

The first age was as fair as gold: when hungry,
men found the taste of acorns good; when thirsty,

they found that every little stream was nectar.

When he was in the wilderness, the Baptist
had fed on nothing more than honey, locusts:

for this he was made great, as glorious

as, in the Gospel, is made plain to you.”

ALREADY was the Angel left behind us,
The Angel who to the sixth round had turned us,
Having erased one mark from off my face;

And those who have in justice their desire
Had said to us, _”Beati,”_ in their voices,
With “sitio,” and without more ended it

And I, more light than through the other passes,
Went onward so, that without any labour
I followed upward the swift—footed spirits;

When thus Virgilius began: “The love
Kindled by virtue aye another kindles,
Provided outwardly its flame appear.

Hence from the hour that Juvenal descended
Among us into the infernal Limbo,
Who made apparent to me thy affection,

My kindliness towards thee was as great
As ever bound one to an unseen person,
So that these stairs will now seem short to me.

But tell me, and forgive me as a friend,
If too great confidence let loose the rein,
And as a friend now hold discourse with me;

How was it possible within thy breast
For avarice to find place, ‘mid so much wisdom
As thou wast filled with by thy diligence?”

These words excited Statius at first
Somewhat to laughter; afterward he answered:
“Each word of thine is love’s dear sign to me.

Verily oftentimes do things appear
Which give fallacious matter to our doubts,
Instead of the true causes which are hidden!

Thy question shows me thy belief to be
That I was niggard in the other life,
It may be from the circle where I was;

Therefore know thou, that avarice was removed
Too far from me; and this extravagance
Thousands of lunar periods have punished.

And were it not that I my thoughts uplifted,
When I the passage heard where thou exclaimest,
As if indignant, unto human nature,

‘To what impellest thou not, O cursed hunger
Of gold, the appetite of mortal men ?’
Revolving I should feel the dismal joustings.

Then I perceived the hands could spread too wide
Their wings in spending, and repented me
As well of that as of my other sins;

How many with shorn hair shall rise again
Because of ignorance, which from this sin
Cuts off repentance living and in death!

And know that the transgression which rebuts
By direct opposition any sin
Together with it here its verdure dries.

Therefore if I have been among that folk
Which mourns its avarice, to purify me,
For its opposite has this befallen me.”

“Now when thou sangest the relentless weapons
Of the twofold affliction of Jocasta,”
The singer of the Songs Bucolic said,

“From that which Clio there with thee preludes,
It does not seem that yet had made thee faithful
That faith without which no good works suffice.

If this be so, what candles or what sun
Scattered thy darkness so that thou didst trim
Thy sails behind the Fisherman thereafter?”

And he to him:”Thou first directedst me
Towards Parnassus, in its grots to drink,
And first concerning God didst me enlighten.

Thou didst as he who walketh in the night,
Who bears his light behind, which helps him not,
But wary makes the persons after him,

When thou didst say: ‘ The age renews itself,
Justice returns, and man’s primeval time,
And a new progeny descends from heaven.’

Through thee I Poet was, through thee a Christian;
But that thou better see what I design,
To colour it will I extend my hand.

Already was the world in every part
Pregnant with the true creed, disseminated
By messengers of the eternal kingdom;

And thy assertion, spoken of above,
With the new preachers was in unison;
Whence I to visit them the custom took.

Then they became so holy in my sight,
That, when Domitian persecuted them,
Not without tears of mine were their laments;

And all the while that I on earth remained,
Them I befriended, and their upright customs
Made me disparage all the other sects.

And ere I led the Greeks unto the rivers
Of Thebes, in poetry, I was baptized,
But out of fear was covertly a Christian,

For a long time professing paganism;
And this lukewarmness caused me the fourth circle
To circuit round more than four centuries.

Thou, therefore, who hast raised the covering
That hid from me whatever good I speak of,
While in ascending we have time to spare,

Tell me, in what place is our friend Terentius,
Caecilius, Plautus, Varro, if thou knowest;
Tell me if they are damned, and in what alley.”

“These, Persius and myself, and others many,”
Replied my Leader, ” with that Grecian are
Whom more than all the rest the Muses suckled,

In the first circle of the prison blind;
Ofttimes we of the mountain hold discourse
Which has our nurses ever with itself

Euripides is with us, Antiphon,
Simonides, Agatho, and many other
Greeks who of old their brows with laurel decked.

There some of thine own people may be seen,
Antigone, Deiphile and Argìa,
And there Ismene mournful as of old.

There she is seen who pointed out Langia;
There is Tiresias’ daughter, and there Thetis,
And there Deidamia with her sisters.”

Silent already were the poets both,
Attent once more in looking round about,
From the ascent and from the walls released;

And four handmaidens of the day already
Were left behind, and at the pole the fifth
Was pointing upward still its burning horn,

What time my Guide: “I think that tow’rds thee
Our dexter shoulders it behoves us turn,
Circling the mount as we are wont to do.”

Thus in that region custom was our ensign;
And we resumed our way with less suspicion
For the assenting of that worthy soul

They in advance went on, and I alone
Behind them, and I listened to their speech,
Which gave me lessons in the art of song

But soon their sweet discourses interrupted
A tree which midway in the road we found,
With apples sweet and grateful to the smell edge

And even as a fir—tree tapers upward
From bough to bough, so downwardly did that;
I think in order that no one might climb it

On that side where our pathway was enclosed
Fell from the lofty rock a limpid water,
And spread itself abroad upon the leaves.

The Poets twain unto the tree drew near,
And from among the foliage a voice
Cried:”Of this food ye shall have scarcity.”

Then said: “More thoughtful Mary was of making
The marriage feast complete and honourable,
Than of her mouth which now for you responds;

And for their drink the ancient Roman women
With water were content; and Daniel
Disparaged food, and understanding won.

The primal age was beautiful as gold;
Acorns It made with hunger savorous,
And nectar every rivulet with thirst.

Honey and locusts were the aliments
That fed the Baptist in the wilderness;
Whence he is glorious, and so magnified

As by the Evangel is revealed to you.”