Body and Soul

In between two canti devoted to the making of love poetry, Purgatorio 24 and 26, Purgatorio 25 is devoted to the making of bodies—human bodies. Cradled between two canti devoted to poetic creation is a canto devoted to biological creation: the process that leads to the generation of a human embryo.

The souls on the terrace of gluttony are emaciated. They suffer a punishment that involves immense craving for the fruit of the trees that they can never eat. This linkage between desire felt by the soul and emaciation experienced by the body was already flagged as a thorny issue upon first encountering the emaciated souls of the terrace of gluttony, in Purgatorio 23:

Chi crederebbe che l’odor d’un pomo
sì governasse, generando brama,
e quel d’un’acqua, non sappiendo como? (Purg. 23.34-36)

 

Who—if he knew not how—would have believed
that longing born from odor of a tree,
odor of water, could reduce souls so?

It is no less a thorny issue when the bodies at issue are virtual bodies. In fact, the question will prompt not only a discussion of the divinely-governed biological creation of physical bodies, but also of the divine creation of virtual bodies. As they climb up to the seventh terrace Dante-pilgrim asks how one who does not need nourishment can be made thin:

Allor sicuramente apri’ la bocca
e cominciai: «Come si può far magro
là dove l’uopo di nodrir non tocca?». (Purg. 25.19-21)
Then I had confidence enough to open
my mouth and ask him: “How can one grow lean
where there is never need for nourishment?”

In other words: how can a virtual body—a not-real body, a body that does not need to eat—become thin? What is the link between the physical torment these souls experience and their non-physical bodies?

Dante asks his guide, Virgilio, who answers him intuitively and by analogy, with recourse to the Ovidian myth of Meleager and to the link between a body and its image in a mirror (one thinks of Lacan’s “mirror stage”):

«Se t'ammentassi come Meleagro                               
si consumò al consumar d’un stizzo,                                
non fora», disse, «a te questo sì agro;                                  
e se pensassi come, al vostro guizzo,                               
guizza dentro a lo specchio vostra image,
ciò che par duro ti parrebbe vizzo. (Purg. 25.22-27)     
“If you recall how Meleager was
consumed,” he said, “just when the firebrand
was spent, this won't be hard to understand;
and if you think how, though your body’s swift,                    
your image in the mirror captures it,                               
then what perplexed will seem to you transparent.

The story of Meleager is in Ovid’s Metamorphoses: when her son was a week old, Althaia learned of a prophecy that he would die when a particular piece of wood was consumed by fire. The worried mother carefully saved the wood in a chest, but when she learned her son had killed her brothers, she took it out and burned it, thereby killing her son.

Virgilio’s comments frame the problem beautifully, letting us see it as one of selfhood (the Introduction to Inferno 13 broaches a similar set of issues). Why does Meleager’s self come to an end when the brand that “represents” him—or should we say the brand that is him?—is thrown into the fire? And why, turning to our own experiences, does our image in a mirror move when we move, making it difficult to disambiguate the mirrored self from the “true” self?

Stazio now steps up to answer (thus replacing Virgilio as the guide with the answers) with a technical and “scientific” explanation of how human embryos are formed. He begins in the natural/scientific domain, starting with the work of male sperm and continuing to describe the male and female contributions to the formation of the embryo (Purg. 25.37-51): the male is the active generator and the female contributes the “natural vasello” (natural receptacle [Purg. 25.45]). Stazio describes the process whereby the embryo develops, following Aristotle, as first a vegetative and then a sensitive soul:

Anima fatta la virtute attiva                               
qual d’una pianta, in tanto differente,                               
che questa è in via e quella è già a riva,
tanto ovra poi, che già si move e sente,
come spungo marino; e indi imprende                               
ad organar le posse ond’è semente. (Purg. 25.52-57)                                   
Having become a soul (much like a plant,
though with this difference—a plant’s complete,
whereas a fetus still is journeying),                                 
the active virtue labors, so the fetus                               
may move and feel, like a sea-sponge; and then                   
it starts to organize the powers it’s seeded.

Stazio ultimately moves to the metaphysical moment when the intellective soul is created directly by God. The First Mover “breathes new spirit” into the soul, a new spirit that pulls the different parts of the soul (vegetative, sensitive, and intellective) into one substance, one soul that lives and feels and self-consciously reflects itself upon itself (as though in a mirror!):

Apri a la verità che viene il petto;                                
e sappi che, sì tosto come al feto
l’articular del cerebro è perfetto,                                   
lo motor primo a lui si volge lieto                               
sovra tant’arte di natura, e spira                               
spirito novo, di vertù repleto,                                  
che ciò che trova attivo quivi, tira                               
in sua sustanzia, e fassi un’alma sola,                               
che vive e sente e sé in sé rigira. (Purg. 25.67-75)
Open your heart to truth we now have reached                      
and know that, once the brain’s articulation 
within the fetus has attained perfection, 
then the First Mover turns toward it with joy 
on seeing so much art in nature and 
breathes into it new spirit—vigorous—
which draws all that is active in the fetus
into its substance and becomes one soul
that lives and feels and has self-consciousness.

When we read the beautiful words “e spira / spirito novo” (Purg. 25.71-72), we do well to remember the use of the verb “spira” in the previous canto: Dante’s description of how Love breathes into him and “in-spires” the sweet new style (Purg. 24.53) is echoed by the spirare of the divine principle that creates the human soul.

The concluding section of Stazio’s discourse on the body treats the virtual bodies of the afterworld. This is of course a key issue for one who constructed a “virtual reality” in his poem: indeed, the subtitle of The Undivine Comedy in Italian is “Dante e la costruzione di una realtà virtuale”.

Dante has in some fashion anticipated our expression “virtual reality” in his description of the “virtual” bodies of the souls in the afterlife:

così l’aere vicin quivi si mette
in quella forma ch’è in lui suggella
virtualmente l’alma che ristette . . . (Purg. 25.94-96)
so there, where the soul stopped, the nearby air
takes on the form that soul impressed on it,                              
a shape that is, potentially, real body . . .

Purgatorio 25 concludes with the arrival of the wayfarers at the seventh and last terrace, the terrace of lust. The narrator explains that the mountain shoots forth flames on the seventh terrace, and that the terrace creates a wind that keeps the flames contained (Purg. 25.112-14). There is a narrow perimeter, where the travelers walk single-file, the pilgrim fearing the flames on one side and the precipice on the other. He sees spirits walking within the flames and hears their voices calling out examples of chastity.

Coordinated Reading

Coordinated Reading: “Only Historicize”; Manuele Gragnolati, Experiencing the Afterlife: Soul and Body in Dante and Medieval Culture (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2005).

Recommended Citation

Barolini, Teodolinda. “Purgatorio 25: Body and Soul.” Commento Baroliniano, Digital Dante. New York, NY: Columbia University Libraries, 2017. https://digitaldante.columbia.edu/dante/divine-comedy/purgatorio/purgatorio-25/

About the Commento

1Ora era onde ’l salir non volea storpio;
2ché ’l sole avëa il cerchio di merigge
3lasciato al Tauro e la notte a lo Scorpio:

4per che, come fa l’uom che non s’affigge
5ma vassi a la via sua, che che li appaia,
6se di bisogno stimolo il trafigge,

7così intrammo noi per la callaia,
8uno innanzi altro prendendo la scala
9che per artezza i salitor dispaia.

10E quale il cicognin che leva l’ala
11per voglia di volare, e non s’attenta
12d’abbandonar lo nido, e giù la cala;

13tal era io con voglia accesa e spenta
14di dimandar, venendo infino a l’atto
15che fa colui ch’a dicer s’argomenta.

16Non lasciò, per l’andar che fosse ratto,
17lo dolce padre mio, ma disse: «Scocca
18l’arco del dir, che ’nfino al ferro hai tratto».

19Allor sicuramente apri’ la bocca
20e cominciai: «Come si può far magro
21là dove l’uopo di nodrir non tocca?».

22«Se t’ammentassi come Meleagro
23si consumò al consumar d’un stizzo,
24non fora», disse, «a te questo sì agro;

25e se pensassi come, al vostro guizzo,
26guizza dentro a lo specchio vostra image,
27ciò che par duro ti parrebbe vizzo.

28Ma perché dentro a tuo voler t’adage,
29ecco qui Stazio; e io lui chiamo e prego
30che sia or sanator de le tue piage».

31«Se la veduta etterna li dislego»,
32rispuose Stazio, «là dove tu sie,
33discolpi me non potert’ io far nego».

34Poi cominciò: «Se le parole mie,
35figlio, la mente tua guarda e riceve,
36lume ti fiero al come che tu die.

37Sangue perfetto, che poi non si beve
38da l’assetate vene, e si rimane
39quasi alimento che di mensa leve,

40prende nel core a tutte membra umane
41virtute informativa, come quello
42ch’a farsi quelle per le vene vane.

43Ancor digesto, scende ov’ è più bello
44tacer che dire; e quindi poscia geme
45sovr’ altrui sangue in natural vasello.

46Ivi s’accoglie l’uno e l’altro insieme,
47l’un disposto a patire, e l’altro a fare
48per lo perfetto loco onde si preme;

49e, giunto lui, comincia ad operare
50coagulando prima, e poi avviva
51ciò che per sua matera fé constare.

52Anima fatta la virtute attiva
53qual d’una pianta, in tanto differente,
54che questa è in via e quella è già a riva,

55tanto ovra poi, che già si move e sente,
56come spungo marino; e indi imprende
57ad organar le posse ond’ è semente.

58Or si spiega, figliuolo, or si distende
59la virtù ch’è dal cor del generante,
60dove natura a tutte membra intende.

61Ma come d’animal divegna fante,
62non vedi tu ancor: quest’ è tal punto,
63che più savio di te fé già errante,

64sì che per sua dottrina fé disgiunto
65da l’anima il possibile intelletto,
66perché da lui non vide organo assunto.

67Apri a la verità che viene il petto;
68e sappi che, sì tosto come al feto
69l’articular del cerebro è perfetto,

70lo motor primo a lui si volge lieto
71sovra tant’ arte di natura, e spira
72spirito novo, di vertù repleto,

73che ciò che trova attivo quivi, tira
74in sua sustanzia, e fassi un’alma sola,
75che vive e sente e sé in sé rigira.

76E perché meno ammiri la parola,
77guarda il calor del sole che si fa vino,
78giunto a l’omor che de la vite cola.

79Quando Làchesis non ha più del lino,
80solvesi da la carne, e in virtute
81ne porta seco e l’umano e ’l divino:

82l’altre potenze tutte quante mute;
83memoria, intelligenza e volontade
84in atto molto più che prima agute.

85Sanza restarsi, per sé stessa cade
86mirabilmente a l’una de le rive;
87quivi conosce prima le sue strade.

88Tosto che loco lì la circunscrive,
89la virtù formativa raggia intorno
90così e quanto ne le membra vive.

91E come l’aere, quand’ è ben pïorno,
92per l’altrui raggio che ’n sé si reflette,
93di diversi color diventa addorno;

94così l’aere vicin quivi si mette
95e in quella forma ch’è in lui suggella
96virtüalmente l’alma che ristette;

97e simigliante poi a la fiammella
98che segue il foco là ’vunque si muta,
99segue lo spirto sua forma novella.

100Però che quindi ha poscia sua paruta,
101è chiamata ombra; e quindi organa poi
102ciascun sentire infino a la veduta.

103Quindi parliamo e quindi ridiam noi;
104quindi facciam le lagrime e ’ sospiri
105che per lo monte aver sentiti puoi.

106Secondo che ci affliggono i disiri
107e li altri affetti, l’ombra si figura;
108e quest’ è la cagion di che tu miri».

109E già venuto a l’ultima tortura
110s’era per noi, e vòlto a la man destra,
111ed eravamo attenti ad altra cura.

112Quivi la ripa fiamma in fuor balestra,
113e la cornice spira fiato in suso
114che la reflette e via da lei sequestra;

115ond’ ir ne convenia dal lato schiuso
116ad uno ad uno; e io temëa ’l foco
117quinci, e quindi temeva cader giuso.

118Lo duca mio dicea: «Per questo loco
119si vuol tenere a li occhi stretto il freno,
120però ch’errar potrebbesi per poco».

121‘Summae Deus clementïae’ nel seno
122al grande ardore allora udi’ cantando,
123che di volger mi fé caler non meno;

124e vidi spirti per la fiamma andando;
125per ch’io guardava a loro e a’ miei passi
126compartendo la vista a quando a quando.

127Appresso il fine ch’a quell’ inno fassi,
128gridavano alto: ‘Virum non cognosco’;
129indi ricominciavan l’inno bassi.

130Finitolo, anco gridavano: «Al bosco
131si tenne Diana, ed Elice caccionne
132che di Venere avea sentito il tòsco».

133Indi al cantar tornavano; indi donne
134gridavano e mariti che fuor casti
135come virtute e matrimonio imponne.

136E questo modo credo che lor basti
137per tutto il tempo che ’l foco li abbruscia:
138con tal cura conviene e con tai pasti

139che la piaga da sezzo si ricuscia.

The hour when climbers cannot pause had come:
the sun had left to Taurus the meridian,
and night had left it to the Scorpion.

Therefore, like one who will not stop but moves
along his path, no matter what he sees,
if he is goaded by necessity,

we made our way into the narrow gap
and, one behind the other, took the stairs
so strait that climbers there must separate.

And as the fledgling stork will lift its wing
because it wants to fly, but dares not try
to leave the nest, and lets its wing drop back,

so I, with my desire to question kindled
then spent, arrived as far as making ready
to speak. But my dear father, though our steps

were hurrying, did not stop talking, for
he said: “The iron of the arrow’s touched
the longbow; let the shaft of speech fly off.”

Then I had confidence enough to open
my mouth and ask him: “How can one grow lean
where there is never need for nourishment?”

“If you recall how Meleager was
consumed,” he said, “just when the firebrand
was spent, this won’t be hard to understand;

and if you think how, though your body’s swift,
your image in the mirror captures it,
then what perplexed will seem to you transparent.

But that your will to know may be appeased,
here’s Statius, and I call on him and ask
that he now be the healer of your doubts.”

“If I explain eternal ways to him,”
Statius replied, “while you are present here,
let my excuse be: I cannot refuse you.”

Then he began: “If, son, your mind receives
and keeps my words, then what I say will serve
as light upon the how that you have asked.

The thirsty veins drink up the perfect blood—
but not all of that blood: a portion’s left,
like leavings that are taken from the table.

Within the heart, that part acquires power
to form all of another’s human limbs,
as blood that flows through veins feeds one’s own limbs.

Digested yet again, that part descends
to what is best not named; from there it drips
into the natural receptacle,

upon another’s blood; the two bloods mix,
one ready to be passive and one active
because a perfect place, the heart, prepared them.

The active, having reached the passive, starts
to work: first it coagulates—and then
quickens-the matter it has made more dense.

Having become a soul (much like a plant,
though with this difference—a plant’s complete,
whereas a fetus still is journeying),

the active virtue labors, so the fetus
may move and feel, like a sea-sponge; and then
it starts to organize the powers it’s seeded.

At this point, son, the power that had come
from the begetter’s heart unfolds and spreads,
that nature may see every limb perfected.

But how the animal becomes a speaking
being, you’ve not yet seen; this point’s so hard,
it led one wiser than you are to err

in separating from the possible
intellect the soul, since he could see
no organ for the mind—so did he teach.

Open your heart to truth we now have reached
and know that, once the brain’s articulation
within the fetus has attained perfection,

then the First Mover turns toward it with joy
on seeing so much art in nature and
breathes into it new spirit—vigorous—

which draws all that is active in the fetus
into its substance and becomes one soul
that lives and feels and has self-consciousness.

That what I say may leave you less perplexed,
consider the sun’s heat that, when combined
with sap that flows from vines, is then made wine.

And when Lachesis lacks more thread, then soul’s
divided from the flesh; potentially,
it bears with it the human and divine;

but with the human powers mute, the rest—
intelligence and memory and will—
are more acute in action than they were.

With no delay, the soul falls of itself—
astonishingly—on one of two shores;
there it learns—early—what way it will journey.

There, once the soul is circumscribed by space,
the power that gives form irradiates
as-and as much as—once it formed live limbs.

And even as the saturated air,
since it reflects the rays the sun has sent,
takes rainbow colors as its ornament,

so there, where the soul stopped, the nearby air
takes on the form that soul impressed on it,
a shape that is, potentially, real body;

and then, just as a flame will follow after
the fire whenever fire moves, so that
new form becomes the spirit’s follower.

Since from that airy body it takes on
its semblance, that soul is called ‘shade’: that shape
forms organs for each sense, even for sight.

This airy body lets us speak and laugh;
with it we form the tears and sigh the sighs
that you, perhaps, have heard around this mountain.

Just as we are held fast by longings and
by other sentiments, our shade takes form:
this is the cause of your astonishment.”

By now we’d reached the final turning we
would meet and took the pathway right, at which
we were preoccupied with other cares.

There, from the wall, the mountain hurls its flames;
but, from the terrace side, there whirls a wind
that pushes back the fire and limits it;

thus, on the open side, proceeding one
by one, we went; I feared the fire on
the left and, on the right, the precipice.

My guide said: “On this terrace, it is best
to curb your eyes: the least distraction—left
or right—can mean a step you will regret.”

Then, from the heart of that great conflagration,
I heard “Summae Deus clementiae”
sung—and was not less keen to turn my eyes;

and I saw spirits walking in the flames,
so that I looked at them and at my steps,
sharing the time I had to look at each.

After they’d reached that hymn’s end, “Virum non
cognosco” were the words they cried aloud;
then they began the hymn in a low voice

again, and, done again, they cried: “Diana
kept to the woods and banished Helice
after she’d felt the force of Venus’ poison.”

Then they returned to singing; and they praised
aloud those wives and husbands who were chaste,
as virtue and as matrimony mandate.

This is—I think—the way these spirits act
as long as they are burned by fire: this is
the care and this the nourishment with which

one has to heal the final wound of all.

NOW was it the ascent no hindrance brooked,
Because the sun had his meridian circle
To Taurus left, and night to Scorpio;

Wherefore as doth a man who tarries not,
But goes his way, whate er to him appear,
If of necessity the sting transfix him,

In this wise did we enter through the gap,
Taking the stairway, one before the other,
Which by its narrowness divides the climbers.

And as the little stork that lifts its wing
With a desire to fly, and does not venture
To leave the nest, and lets it downward droop,

Even such was I, with the desire of asking
Kindled and quenched, unto the motion coming
He makes who doth address himself to speak.

Not for our pace, though rapid it might be,
My father sweet forbore, but said: “Let fly
The bow of speech thou to the barb hast drawn”

With confidence I opened then my mouth,
And I began: “How can one meagre grow
There where the need of nutriment applies not ?”

“If thou wouldst call to mind how Meleager
Was wasted by the wasting of a brand,
This would not,” said he, “be to thee so sour;

And wouldst thou think how at each tremulous motion
Trembles within a mirror your own image:
That which seems hard would mellow seem to thee

But that thou mayst content thee in thy wish
Lo Statius here; and him I call and pray
He now will be the healer of thy wounds.”

“If I unfold to him the eternal vengeance,”
Responded Statius, “where thou present art,
Be my excuse that I can naught deny thee.”

Then he began: “Son, if these words of mine
Thy mind doth contemplate and doth receive,
They’ll be thy light unto the How thou sayest.

The perfect blood, which never is drunk up
Into the thirsty veins, and which remaineth
Like food that from the table thou removest,

Takes in the heart for all the human members
Virtue informative, as being that
Which to be changed to them goes through the veins

Again digest, descends it where ’tis better
Silent to be than say; and then drops thence
Upon another’s blood in natural vase.

There one together with the other mingles,
One to be passive meant, the other active
By reason of the perfect place it springs from;

And being conjoined, begins to operate,
Coagulating first, then vivifying
What for its matter it had made consistent.

The active virtue, being made a soul
As of a plant, (in so far different,
This on the way is, that arrived already,)

Then works so much, that now it moves and feels
Like a sea—fungus, and then undertakes
To organize the powers whose seed it is.

Now, Son, dilates and now distends ]itself
The virtue from the generator’s heart,
Where nature is intent on all the members.

But how from animal it man becomes
Thou dost not see as yet; this is a point
Which made a wiser man than thou once err

So far, that in his doctrine separate
He made the soul from possible intellect,
For he no organ saw by this assumed.

Open thy breast unto the truth that’s coming,
And know that, just as soon as in the foetus
The articulation of the brain is perfect,

The prirmal Motor turns to it well pleased
At so great art of nature, and inspires
A spirit new with virtue all replete,

Which what it finds there active doth attract
Into its substance, and becomes one soul,
Which lives, and feels, and on itself revolves.

And that thou less may wonder at my word,
Behold the sun’s heat, which becometh wine,
Joined to the juice that from the vine distils.

Whenever Lachesis has no more thread,
It separates from the flesh, and virtually
Bears with itself the human and divine;

The other faculties are voiceless all;
The memory, the intelligence, and the will
In action far more vigorous than before.

Without a pause it falleth of itself
In marvellous way on one shore or the other;
There of its roads it first is cognizant.

Soon as the place there circumscribeth it,
The virtue informative rays round about,
As, and as much as, in the living members.

And even as the air, when full of rain,
By alien rays that are therein reflected,
With divers colours shows itself adorned,

So there the neighbouring air doth shape itself
Into that form which doth impress upon it
Virtually the soul that has stood still.

And then in manner of the little flame,
Which followeth the fire where’er it shifts,
After the spirit followeth its new form.

Since afterwards it takes from this its semblance,
It is called shade; and thence it organizes
Thereafter every sense, even to the sight.

Thence is it that we speak, and thence we laugh;
Thence is it that we form the tears and sighs,
That on the mountain thou mayhap hast heard.”

According as impress us our desires
And other affections, so the shade is shaped,
And this is cause of what thou wonderest at.”

And now unto the last of all the circles
Had we arrived, and to the right hand turned,
And were attentive to another care.

There the embankment shoots forth flames of fire,
And upward doth the cornice breathe a blast
That drives them back, and from itself sequesters.

Hence we must needs go on the open side,
And one by one; and I did fear the fire
On this side, and on that the falling down.

My Leader said: “Along this place one ought
To keep upon the eyes a tightened rein,
Seeing that one so easily might err.”

_”Summae Deus clementiae,”_in the bosom
Of the great burning chanted then I heard,
Which made me no less eager to turn round;

And spirits saw I walking through the flame;
Wherefore I looked, to my own steps and theirs
Apportioning my sight from time to time.

After the close which to that hymn is made,
Aloud they shouted, _”Virum non cognosco ;”_
Then recommenced the hymn with voices low.

This also ended, cried they: “To the wood
Diana ran, and drove forth Helice
Therefrom, who had of Venus felt the poison.”

Then to their song returned they; then the wives
They shouted, and the husbands who were chaste.
As virtue and the marriage vow imposes.

And I believe that them this mode suffices,
For all the time the fire is burning them;
With such care is it needful, and such food,

That the last wound of all should be closed up.

The hour when climbers cannot pause had come:
the sun had left to Taurus the meridian,
and night had left it to the Scorpion.

Therefore, like one who will not stop but moves
along his path, no matter what he sees,
if he is goaded by necessity,

we made our way into the narrow gap
and, one behind the other, took the stairs
so strait that climbers there must separate.

And as the fledgling stork will lift its wing
because it wants to fly, but dares not try
to leave the nest, and lets its wing drop back,

so I, with my desire to question kindled
then spent, arrived as far as making ready
to speak. But my dear father, though our steps

were hurrying, did not stop talking, for
he said: “The iron of the arrow’s touched
the longbow; let the shaft of speech fly off.”

Then I had confidence enough to open
my mouth and ask him: “How can one grow lean
where there is never need for nourishment?”

“If you recall how Meleager was
consumed,” he said, “just when the firebrand
was spent, this won’t be hard to understand;

and if you think how, though your body’s swift,
your image in the mirror captures it,
then what perplexed will seem to you transparent.

But that your will to know may be appeased,
here’s Statius, and I call on him and ask
that he now be the healer of your doubts.”

“If I explain eternal ways to him,”
Statius replied, “while you are present here,
let my excuse be: I cannot refuse you.”

Then he began: “If, son, your mind receives
and keeps my words, then what I say will serve
as light upon the how that you have asked.

The thirsty veins drink up the perfect blood—
but not all of that blood: a portion’s left,
like leavings that are taken from the table.

Within the heart, that part acquires power
to form all of another’s human limbs,
as blood that flows through veins feeds one’s own limbs.

Digested yet again, that part descends
to what is best not named; from there it drips
into the natural receptacle,

upon another’s blood; the two bloods mix,
one ready to be passive and one active
because a perfect place, the heart, prepared them.

The active, having reached the passive, starts
to work: first it coagulates—and then
quickens-the matter it has made more dense.

Having become a soul (much like a plant,
though with this difference—a plant’s complete,
whereas a fetus still is journeying),

the active virtue labors, so the fetus
may move and feel, like a sea-sponge; and then
it starts to organize the powers it’s seeded.

At this point, son, the power that had come
from the begetter’s heart unfolds and spreads,
that nature may see every limb perfected.

But how the animal becomes a speaking
being, you’ve not yet seen; this point’s so hard,
it led one wiser than you are to err

in separating from the possible
intellect the soul, since he could see
no organ for the mind—so did he teach.

Open your heart to truth we now have reached
and know that, once the brain’s articulation
within the fetus has attained perfection,

then the First Mover turns toward it with joy
on seeing so much art in nature and
breathes into it new spirit—vigorous—

which draws all that is active in the fetus
into its substance and becomes one soul
that lives and feels and has self-consciousness.

That what I say may leave you less perplexed,
consider the sun’s heat that, when combined
with sap that flows from vines, is then made wine.

And when Lachesis lacks more thread, then soul’s
divided from the flesh; potentially,
it bears with it the human and divine;

but with the human powers mute, the rest—
intelligence and memory and will—
are more acute in action than they were.

With no delay, the soul falls of itself—
astonishingly—on one of two shores;
there it learns—early—what way it will journey.

There, once the soul is circumscribed by space,
the power that gives form irradiates
as-and as much as—once it formed live limbs.

And even as the saturated air,
since it reflects the rays the sun has sent,
takes rainbow colors as its ornament,

so there, where the soul stopped, the nearby air
takes on the form that soul impressed on it,
a shape that is, potentially, real body;

and then, just as a flame will follow after
the fire whenever fire moves, so that
new form becomes the spirit’s follower.

Since from that airy body it takes on
its semblance, that soul is called ‘shade’: that shape
forms organs for each sense, even for sight.

This airy body lets us speak and laugh;
with it we form the tears and sigh the sighs
that you, perhaps, have heard around this mountain.

Just as we are held fast by longings and
by other sentiments, our shade takes form:
this is the cause of your astonishment.”

By now we’d reached the final turning we
would meet and took the pathway right, at which
we were preoccupied with other cares.

There, from the wall, the mountain hurls its flames;
but, from the terrace side, there whirls a wind
that pushes back the fire and limits it;

thus, on the open side, proceeding one
by one, we went; I feared the fire on
the left and, on the right, the precipice.

My guide said: “On this terrace, it is best
to curb your eyes: the least distraction—left
or right—can mean a step you will regret.”

Then, from the heart of that great conflagration,
I heard “Summae Deus clementiae”
sung—and was not less keen to turn my eyes;

and I saw spirits walking in the flames,
so that I looked at them and at my steps,
sharing the time I had to look at each.

After they’d reached that hymn’s end, “Virum non
cognosco” were the words they cried aloud;
then they began the hymn in a low voice

again, and, done again, they cried: “Diana
kept to the woods and banished Helice
after she’d felt the force of Venus’ poison.”

Then they returned to singing; and they praised
aloud those wives and husbands who were chaste,
as virtue and as matrimony mandate.

This is—I think—the way these spirits act
as long as they are burned by fire: this is
the care and this the nourishment with which

one has to heal the final wound of all.

NOW was it the ascent no hindrance brooked,
Because the sun had his meridian circle
To Taurus left, and night to Scorpio;

Wherefore as doth a man who tarries not,
But goes his way, whate er to him appear,
If of necessity the sting transfix him,

In this wise did we enter through the gap,
Taking the stairway, one before the other,
Which by its narrowness divides the climbers.

And as the little stork that lifts its wing
With a desire to fly, and does not venture
To leave the nest, and lets it downward droop,

Even such was I, with the desire of asking
Kindled and quenched, unto the motion coming
He makes who doth address himself to speak.

Not for our pace, though rapid it might be,
My father sweet forbore, but said: “Let fly
The bow of speech thou to the barb hast drawn”

With confidence I opened then my mouth,
And I began: “How can one meagre grow
There where the need of nutriment applies not ?”

“If thou wouldst call to mind how Meleager
Was wasted by the wasting of a brand,
This would not,” said he, “be to thee so sour;

And wouldst thou think how at each tremulous motion
Trembles within a mirror your own image:
That which seems hard would mellow seem to thee

But that thou mayst content thee in thy wish
Lo Statius here; and him I call and pray
He now will be the healer of thy wounds.”

“If I unfold to him the eternal vengeance,”
Responded Statius, “where thou present art,
Be my excuse that I can naught deny thee.”

Then he began: “Son, if these words of mine
Thy mind doth contemplate and doth receive,
They’ll be thy light unto the How thou sayest.

The perfect blood, which never is drunk up
Into the thirsty veins, and which remaineth
Like food that from the table thou removest,

Takes in the heart for all the human members
Virtue informative, as being that
Which to be changed to them goes through the veins

Again digest, descends it where ’tis better
Silent to be than say; and then drops thence
Upon another’s blood in natural vase.

There one together with the other mingles,
One to be passive meant, the other active
By reason of the perfect place it springs from;

And being conjoined, begins to operate,
Coagulating first, then vivifying
What for its matter it had made consistent.

The active virtue, being made a soul
As of a plant, (in so far different,
This on the way is, that arrived already,)

Then works so much, that now it moves and feels
Like a sea—fungus, and then undertakes
To organize the powers whose seed it is.

Now, Son, dilates and now distends ]itself
The virtue from the generator’s heart,
Where nature is intent on all the members.

But how from animal it man becomes
Thou dost not see as yet; this is a point
Which made a wiser man than thou once err

So far, that in his doctrine separate
He made the soul from possible intellect,
For he no organ saw by this assumed.

Open thy breast unto the truth that’s coming,
And know that, just as soon as in the foetus
The articulation of the brain is perfect,

The prirmal Motor turns to it well pleased
At so great art of nature, and inspires
A spirit new with virtue all replete,

Which what it finds there active doth attract
Into its substance, and becomes one soul,
Which lives, and feels, and on itself revolves.

And that thou less may wonder at my word,
Behold the sun’s heat, which becometh wine,
Joined to the juice that from the vine distils.

Whenever Lachesis has no more thread,
It separates from the flesh, and virtually
Bears with itself the human and divine;

The other faculties are voiceless all;
The memory, the intelligence, and the will
In action far more vigorous than before.

Without a pause it falleth of itself
In marvellous way on one shore or the other;
There of its roads it first is cognizant.

Soon as the place there circumscribeth it,
The virtue informative rays round about,
As, and as much as, in the living members.

And even as the air, when full of rain,
By alien rays that are therein reflected,
With divers colours shows itself adorned,

So there the neighbouring air doth shape itself
Into that form which doth impress upon it
Virtually the soul that has stood still.

And then in manner of the little flame,
Which followeth the fire where’er it shifts,
After the spirit followeth its new form.

Since afterwards it takes from this its semblance,
It is called shade; and thence it organizes
Thereafter every sense, even to the sight.

Thence is it that we speak, and thence we laugh;
Thence is it that we form the tears and sighs,
That on the mountain thou mayhap hast heard.”

According as impress us our desires
And other affections, so the shade is shaped,
And this is cause of what thou wonderest at.”

And now unto the last of all the circles
Had we arrived, and to the right hand turned,
And were attentive to another care.

There the embankment shoots forth flames of fire,
And upward doth the cornice breathe a blast
That drives them back, and from itself sequesters.

Hence we must needs go on the open side,
And one by one; and I did fear the fire
On this side, and on that the falling down.

My Leader said: “Along this place one ought
To keep upon the eyes a tightened rein,
Seeing that one so easily might err.”

_”Summae Deus clementiae,”_in the bosom
Of the great burning chanted then I heard,
Which made me no less eager to turn round;

And spirits saw I walking through the flame;
Wherefore I looked, to my own steps and theirs
Apportioning my sight from time to time.

After the close which to that hymn is made,
Aloud they shouted, _”Virum non cognosco ;”_
Then recommenced the hymn with voices low.

This also ended, cried they: “To the wood
Diana ran, and drove forth Helice
Therefrom, who had of Venus felt the poison.”

Then to their song returned they; then the wives
They shouted, and the husbands who were chaste.
As virtue and the marriage vow imposes.

And I believe that them this mode suffices,
For all the time the fire is burning them;
With such care is it needful, and such food,

That the last wound of all should be closed up.