Human Sexuality

The last terrace of purgatory is the terrace of lust. Lust, we learned in hell, is a sin of incontinence in its Aristotelian sense, meaning excess desire, along with gluttony and avarice/prodigality: the word “incontenenza” is used in the outline of the moral structure of hell in Inferno 11 for the sins punished above the gate of Dis. In Purgatorio 17 Dante uses a vernacular paraphrase for incontinence when he refers to the vices of the top three terraces of purgatory as characterized by “troppo di vigore” (Purg. 17.96).

Lust is a sin of excess desire. The corollary, often forgotten, is that desire in moderated form is not sinful.

This philosophical background is worth rehearsing because Purgatorio 26 is one of Dante’s more radical and astonishing canti, for the simple reason that Dante features on this terrace not one but two distinct groups of lustful souls. One group is purging excessive heterosexual desire; Dante calls this “hermaphrodite”, desire for the other sex. The second group is purging excessive homosexual desire: technically, same-sex desire, but Dante’s examples of Caesar and Sodom do not suggest the presence of women in this group.

The commentary tradition does not do nearly enough to help readers understand that Dante’s inclusion of sodomites among those purging their lust in purgatory is truly progressive and unconventional. Thankfully, Chiavacci Leonardi is clear, as many commentators still are not, that one group of souls on the final terrace of the mountain is heterosexual and the other homosexual: “La seconda schiera è dunque composta da sodomiti, che a differenza dell’Inferno, dove stanno tra i violenti contro natura, sono qui posti tra i lussuriosi, data la diversa suddivisione delle colpe (i vizi capitali) propria del secondo regno” (The second line of souls is therefore composed of sodomites: unlike in Inferno, where the sodomites are among the violent against nature, here the sodomites are placed among the lustful, given the divergent subdivision of sin [here based on the capital vices] proper to the second realm).[1] However, it is not possible to grasp Dante’s progressive stance if we only state what he does, and fail to contextualize in such a way as to make visible how what he does often diverges markedly from what his contemporaries do.

In moving from the sin (action) that is punished in hell to the vice (underlying impulse) that is cleansed in purgatory, Dante decides to include homosexuality (which is a sin of violence against nature in hell) as a form of lust, alongside heterosexuality.

Although it is technically correct to say, as Chiavacci Leonardi does, that the group of sodomites is placed among the lustful because of Purgatory’s organizational template, which is based on the seven capital vices, Chiavacci Leonardi’s syntax, which suggests that the presence of the sodomites is a passive result of the change in organizational template from hell to purgatory, is misleading. Just as no one would have been up in arms had Dante not put saved pagans of classical antiquity in his paradise, or Muslim sages in his classicized Limbo, there would have been no outcry had he not put saved sodomites on the terrace of lust in his purgatory.

In fact, no one among Dante’s contemporaries would have noticed the omission of homosexuals from the saved space of purgatory. The challenge of Purgatorio 26 is what it includes, not what it excludes: the inclusion of a second group of souls identified with Caesar hearing himself called “Regina” (Queen) when he paraded in triumph through Rome (Purg. 26.77-78) and who in penance call out “Sòddoma” as they move through the purging flames of the terrace of lust (Purg. 26.79).

Dante went counter to his culture in all the ideological choices I have been discussing: the choice of putting adult virtuous pagans in Limbo, the choice of putting saved pagans in paradise, and the choice of exploiting the organizational template of purgatory to showcase the idea that homosexuals can be saved.

Contemporary treatments of the sin of lussuria encompass only the idea of heterosexual lust as a lussuria that can be regulated so that the soul can be saved. I know of no other treatment, written or visual, that opens itself to the idea and indeed the “reality” (in the fiction of the Commedia) of saved sodomites.

Dante could have precluded any discussion of saved homosexuals by simply ignoring homosexuality outside of Inferno. His decision not to do so has far-reaching implications. As Joseph Pequigney wrote in the first sentence of his important 1991 essay on sodomy in the Commedia (it is worth noting that the two essays that spearheaded reevaluation of Dante’s handling of non-normative sexuality, Pequigney’s and Boswell’s, both came from scholars outside the field): “The representation of sodomy in the Divine Comedy is fuller, more complicated, less consistent, more heterodox, profounder, and more important than the commentary has yet made known.”

The presence of a second group of souls on purgatory’s terrace of lust, and the textual confirmations that the second group is composed of homosexuals, tells Dante’s reader that lust—excess desire—is the impulse underlying any form of sexuality, normative or non-normative. The same impulse underlies heterosexual lust and homosexual lust: this is an unconventional thought, which not even in the twenty-first century has been fully absorbed by human societies.

Moreover, if we tease out the logic of the Aristotelian idea of incontinence, we can see that Dante’s commitment to placing sodomy in purgatory leads him to accept a dangerous symmetry. The definition of incontinence means that the impulse that leads to lussuria is not sinful when it is controlled and moderated. Extending this logic to homosexual lust would imply not just that one can repent of homosexual lust and be saved, but also that limited and moderated homosexual behavior is not sinful.

The terrace of lust begins in the concluding section of Purgatorio 25 (“E già venuto all’ultima tortura” [Purg. 25.109]), where the examples of chastity are cried out by the souls. The examples of chastity include, in the first position as always, the Virgin Mary, along with her classical counterpart in virginal divinity: the goddess Diana. To these two examples of absolute chastity, complete virginity and purity, the souls add the example of men and women who are not absolutely chaste, but who live in chaste marriages:

  indi donne
gridavano e mariti che fuor casti
come virtute e matrimonio imponne.  (Purg. 25.133-35)
  and they praised
aloud those wives and husbands who were chaste,
as virtue and as matrimony mandate.

In my opinion, it is extremely important that Dante praises as examples of chastity those “wives and husbands who were chaste, / as virtue and as matrimony mandate” (Purg. 25.133-35). From these verses we can extrapolate the virtue assigned by Dante to normative marriage, far from the idealizations and denigrations of courtly love:

While I am not suggesting that Dante is a Protestant author avant la lettre
who celebrates married love at length, I do take issue with the view that
the absence of conspicuous happy married couples indicates Dante’s lack
of sponsorship of normative heterosexual human sexuality within a marriage
contract, which includes affection, as signaled for instance by the
verse “Da poi che Carlo tuo, bella Clemenza” (Par. 9.1). With genial
concision Dante includes marital love in the heaven of Venus, apostrophizing
the wife of Charles Martel with respect to what Dante had learned
from “your Charles” and loading the possessive adjective in “Carlo tuo”
with marital affection. (“Only Historicize,” p. 52)

I suggest that the examples of chastity from the end of Purgatorio 25 can be arranged—along with the example of heterosexual lust presented in Purgatorio 26, Pasiphaë—on a spectrum that runs from a divine extreme of purity to a bestial extreme of impurity. In between these two extremes we can place the chaste husbands and wives cited at the end of Purgatorio 25. I will come back to this idea shortly, but we must first consider Dante’s choice of Pasiphaë as his example of heterosexual lust.

Pasiphaë is the Cretan queen who persuaded Daedalus to make her a wooden cow that she could inhabit in order to have sex with a bull. She became an emblem of grotesque bestiality and of the shocking excesses of female sexuality. Ovid in Ars Amatoria 1.295 describes Pasiphaë thus: “Pasiphae fieri gaudebat adultera tauri” (Pasiphaë took pleasure in becoming an adulteress with a bull).

There is a strong emphasis on bestiality in the Pasiphaë myth, and this is an emphasis preserved in the Commedia, where the Cretan queen is presented as the example of the vice of lust in its “hermaphrodite” form:

  Nostro peccato fu ermafrodito;
ma perché non servammo umana legge,
seguendo come bestie l’appetito,
in obbrobrio di noi, per noi si legge,
  quando partinci, il nome di colei
che s’imbestiò ne le ’mbestiate schegge. (Purg. 26.82-87)
  Our sin was with the other sex; but since
we did not keep the bounds of human law,
but served our appetites like beasts, when we
part from the other ranks, we then repeat,
  to our disgrace, the name of one who, in
the bestial planks, became herself a beast.

Bestiality in the invocation of Pasiphaë (“bestie”, “s’imbestiò”, “’mbestiate”) is contrasted with the “umana legge” (human law [Purg. 26.83]) that is not always preserved and suggests a spectrum of sexuality: Mary and Diana are examples of a “divine law”, Pasiphaë of a “bestial law”, while “human law” is upheld by the chaste husbands and wives who preserve marriage and society. A chart at the end of this Introduction outlines the spectrum.

In sum, Dante defies expectations in two key ways in his construction of human sexuality:

  1. He reclassifies homosexuality as he moves from hell (where it is a sin of violence against nature [Inferno 15-16]) to purgatory, where it is a form of lust and therefore of incontinence. In this way homosexuality becomes a variant of human sexual behavior, akin to heterosexuality.  As a form of human sexuality, it can be excessive, and hence require purgation; the implication is that it can also be not excessive. Here Dante appears tolerant and progressive from a modern perspective.
  2. He criminalizes heterosexual excess much more than homosexual excess, by using the example of Pasiphaë and her bestial lust for a bull. Here Dante seems far from tolerant and progressive, since he particularly penalizes female sexuality.

Finally, the canto presents two very famous lyric poets who are purging themselves on the terrace of lust: the Italian Guido Guinizzelli and the Occitan troubadour Arnaut Daniel, who concludes Purgatorio 26 by speaking in his own language. See the chart at the end of the Introduction to Purgatorio 24 for more information on these poets.

In the lyric historiography of Purgatorio 24 Dante gives us the names of three poets who do not pertain in any way to the new style, who were held back by a “knot” that kept them from attaining true fellowship with love in their poetry: Giacomo da Lentini, Guittone d’Arezzo, and Bonagiunta da Lucca. In Purgatorio 26 Dante adds to his historiography the names of poets who precede him but who are praiseworthy and, indeed, anticipate the new style. Dante calls the Bolognese poet Guido Guinizzelli, of the generation before his, “padre / mio” (my father [Purg. 26.97-98]).

He also takes another opportunity to denigrate Guittone d’Arezzo, in tones that indicate greater personal irritation than was apparent in Purgatorio 24.

The words at the end of Purgatorio 26, spoken by Arnaut Daniel in an Italianate Occitan, constitute the longest insertion of a language other than Italian into the Commedia. Arnaut’s speech is in effect a tremendous tribute offered by Dante to the Occitan origins of the courtly love lyric—a tradition whose latest manifestation, we have recently learned, is Dante’s own dolce stil novo.

[1] Anna Maria Chiavacci Leonardi, commentator, Dante Alighieri, Commedia, vol. 2, Purgatorio (Milano: Mondadori, 1994), p. 772.

Coordinated Reading

Coordinated Reading: Dante’s Poets, pp. 40-46, 85-91; “Dante and the Lyric Past,” in Dante and the Origins of Italian Literary Culture; “Only Historicize”; “Dante’s Sympathy for the Other”; Joseph Pequigney, “Sodomy in Dante’s Inferno and Purgatorio,” Representations, 36 (1991): 22-42; John Boswell, “Dante and the Sodomites,” Dante Studies 112 (1994): 63-75.

Recommended Citation

Barolini, Teodolinda. “Purgatorio 26: Human Sexuality.” Commento Baroliniano, Digital Dante. New York, NY: Columbia University Libraries, 2017. https://digitaldante.columbia.edu/dante/divine-comedy/purgatorio/purgatorio-26/

About the Commento

1 Mentre che sì per l’orlo, uno innanzi altro,
2 ce n’andavamo, e spesso il buon maestro
3 diceami: «Guarda: giovi ch’io ti scaltro»;

4 feriami il sole in su l’omero destro,
5 che già, raggiando, tutto l’occidente
6 mutava in bianco aspetto di cilestro;

7 e io facea con l’ombra più rovente
8 parer la fiamma; e pur a tanto indizio
9 vidi molt’ ombre, andando, poner mente.

10 Questa fu la cagion che diede inizio
11 loro a parlar di me; e cominciarsi
12 a dir: «Colui non par corpo fittizio»;

13 poi verso me, quanto potëan farsi,
14 certi si fero, sempre con riguardo
15 di non uscir dove non fosser arsi.

16 «O tu che vai, non per esser più tardo,
17 ma forse reverente, a li altri dopo,
18 rispondi a me che ’n sete e ’n foco ardo.

19 Né solo a me la tua risposta è uopo;
20 ché tutti questi n’hanno maggior sete
21 che d’acqua fredda Indo o Etïopo.

22 Dinne com’ è che fai di te parete
23 al sol, pur come tu non fossi ancora
24 di morte intrato dentro da la rete».

25 Sì mi parlava un d’essi; e io mi fora
26 già manifesto, s’io non fossi atteso
27 ad altra novità ch’apparve allora;

28 ché per lo mezzo del cammino acceso
29 venne gente col viso incontro a questa,
30 la qual mi fece a rimirar sospeso.

31 Lì veggio d’ogne parte farsi presta
32 ciascun’ ombra e basciarsi una con una
33 sanza restar, contente a brieve festa;

34 così per entro loro schiera bruna
35 s’ammusa l’una con l’altra formica,
36 forse a spiar lor via e lor fortuna.

37 Tosto che parton l’accoglienza amica,
38 prima che ’l primo passo lì trascorra,
39 sopragridar ciascuna s’affatica:

40 la nova gente: «Soddoma e Gomorra»;
41 e l’altra: «Ne la vacca entra Pasife,
42 perché ’l torello a sua lussuria corra».

43 Poi, come grue ch’a le montagne Rife
44 volasser parte, e parte inver’ l’arene,
45 queste del gel, quelle del sole schife,

46 l’una gente sen va, l’altra sen vene;
47 e tornan, lagrimando, a’ primi canti
48 e al gridar che più lor si convene;

49 e raccostansi a me, come davanti,
50 essi medesmi che m’avean pregato,
51 attenti ad ascoltar ne’ lor sembianti.

52 Io, che due volte avea visto lor grato,
53 incominciai: «O anime sicure
54 d’aver, quando che sia, di pace stato,

55 non son rimase acerbe né mature
56 le membra mie di là, ma son qui meco
57 col sangue suo e con le sue giunture.

58 Quinci sù vo per non esser più cieco;
59 donna è di sopra che m’acquista grazia,
60 per che ‘l mortal per vostro mondo reco.

61 Ma se la vostra maggior voglia sazia
62 tosto divegna, sì che ‘l ciel v’alberghi
63 ch’è pien d’amore e più ampio si spazia,

64 ditemi, acciò ch’ancor carte ne verghi,
65 chi siete voi, e chi è quella turba
66 che se ne va di retro a’ vostri terghi».

67 Non altrimenti stupido si turba
68 lo montanaro, e rimirando ammuta,
69 quando rozzo e salvatico s’inurba,

70 che ciascun’ ombra fece in sua paruta;
71 ma poi che furon di stupore scarche,
72 lo qual ne li alti cuor tosto s’attuta,

73 «Beato te, che de le nostre marche»,
74 ricominciò colei che pria m’inchiese,
75 «per morir meglio, esperïenza imbarche!

76 La gente che non vien con noi, offese
77 di ciò per che già Cesar, trïunfando,
78 “Regina” contra sé chiamar s’intese:

79 però si parton “Soddoma” gridando,
80 rimproverando a sé, com’ hai udito,
81 e aiutan l’arsura vergognando.

82 Nostro peccato fu ermafrodito;
83 ma perché non servammo umana legge,
84 seguendo come bestie l’appetito,

85 in obbrobrio di noi, per noi si legge,
86 quando partinci, il nome di colei
87 che s’imbestiò ne le ’mbestiate schegge.

88 Or sai nostri atti e di che fummo rei:
89 se forse a nome vuo’ saper chi semo,
90 tempo non è di dire, e non saprei.

91 Farotti ben di me volere scemo:
92 son Guido Guinizzelli, e già mi purgo
93 per ben dolermi prima ch’a lo stremo».

94 Quali ne la tristizia di Ligurgo
95 si fer due figli a riveder la madre,
96 tal mi fec’ io, ma non a tanto insurgo,

97 quand’ io odo nomar sé stesso il padre
98 mio e de li altri miei miglior che mai
99 rime d’amor usar dolci e leggiadre;

100 e sanza udire e dir pensoso andai
101 lunga fïata rimirando lui,
102 né, per lo foco, in là più m’appressai.

103 Poi che di riguardar pasciuto fui,
104 tutto m’offersi pronto al suo servigio
105 con l’affermar che fa credere altrui.

106 Ed elli a me: «Tu lasci tal vestigio,
107 per quel ch’i’ odo, in me, e tanto chiaro,
108 che Letè nol può tòrre né far bigio.

109 Ma se le tue parole or ver giuraro,
110 dimmi che è cagion per che dimostri
111 nel dire e nel guardar d’avermi caro».

112 E io a lui: «Li dolci detti vostri,
113 che, quanto durerà l’uso moderno,
114 faranno cari ancora i loro incostri».

115 «O frate», disse, «questi ch’io ti cerno
116 col dito», e additò un spirto innanzi,
117 «fu miglior fabbro del parlar materno.

118 Versi d’amore e prose di romanzi
119 soverchiò tutti; e lascia dir li stolti
120 che quel di Lemosì credon ch’avanzi.

121 A voce più ch’al ver drizzan li volti,
122 e così ferman sua oppinïone
123 prima ch’arte o ragion per lor s’ascolti.

124 Così fer molti antichi di Guittone,
125 di grido in grido pur lui dando pregio,
126 fin che l’ha vinto il ver con più persone.

127 Or se tu hai sì ampio privilegio,
128 che licito ti sia l’andare al chiostro
129 nel quale è Cristo abate del collegio,

130 falli per me un dir d’un paternostro,
131 quanto bisogna a noi di questo mondo,
132 dove poter peccar non è più nostro».

133 Poi, forse per dar luogo altrui secondo
134 che presso avea, disparve per lo foco,
135 come per l’acqua il pesce andando al fondo.

136 Io mi fei al mostrato innanzi un poco,
137 e dissi ch’al suo nome il mio disire
138 apparecchiava grazïoso loco.

139 El cominciò liberamente a dire:
140 «Tan m’abellis vostre cortes deman,
141 qu’ieu no me puesc ni voill a vos cobrire.

142 Ieu sui Arnaut, que plor e vau cantan;
143 consiros vei la passada folor,
144 e vei jausen lo joi qu’ esper, denan.

145 Ara vos prec, per aquella valor
146 que vos guida al som de l’escalina,
147 sovenha vos a temps de ma dolor!».

148 Poi s’ascose nel foco che li affina.

While we moved at the edge, one first, one after,
and I could often hear my gentle master
saying: “Take care—and do not waste my warning,”

the sun, its rays already altering
the coloring of all the west from azure
to white, was striking me on my right shoulder.

And where my shadow fell, it made the flames
seem more inflamed; and I saw many shades
walking, intent upon a sight so strange.

This was the reason that first prompted them
to speak to me. Among themselves they said:
“He does not seem to have a fictive body.”

Then certain of them came as close to me
as they were able to while, cautiously,
they never left the boundaries of their burning.

“O you who move behind the others not
because of sloth but reverence perhaps,
give me who burn in thirst and fire your answer.

I’m not alone in needing your response;
for all these shades thirst so for it—more than
an Indian or Ethiopian

thirsts for cool water. Tell us how you can—
as if you’re not yet caught within death’s net—
make of yourself a wall against the sun.”

Thus one of them had spoken to me; I
should now have answered clearly, had I not
been fixed on something strangely evident;

for in the middle of the burning path,
came people moving opposite to these—
and I, since they moved left, stared in suspense.

There, on all sides, I can see every shade
move quickly to embrace another shade,
content—they did not pause—with their brief greeting,

as ants, in their dark company, will touch
their muzzles, each to each, perhaps to seek
news of their fortunes and their journeyings.

No sooner is their friendly greeting done
than each shade tries to outcry all the rest
even before he starts to move ahead,

the new group shouting: “Sodom and Gomorrah”;
the other: “That the bull may hurry toward
her lust, Pasiphae hides in the cow.”

Then, just like cranes, of whom a part, to flee
the sun, fly north to Riphean mountains, while
the rest, to flee the frost, fly toward the sands,

one group moves with—the other opposite—us;
and they return with tears to their first chants
and to the shout appropriate to each.

And those who had entreated me came close
again, in the same way they’d done before;
their faces showed how keen they were to listen.

I, seeing their desire once again,
began: “O souls who can be sure of gaining
the state of peace, whenever that may be,

my limbs—mature or green—have not been left
within the world beyond; they’re here with me,
together with their blood and with their bones.

That I be blind no longer, through this place
I pass; above, a lady has gained grace
for me; therefore, I bear my mortal body

across your world. So may your deepest longing
soon be appeased and you be lodged within
the heaven that’s most full of love, most spacious,

please tell me, so that I may yet transcribe it
upon my pages, who you are, and what
crowd moves in the direction opposite.”

Each shade displayed no less astonishment
or less confusion than a mountaineer,
who, even as he stares about, falls silent

when, rough and rustic, he comes to the city;
but when they’d set aside astonishment—
that’s soon subdued in noble hearts—he who

had questioned me before, began again:
“Blessed are you who would, in order to
die better, store experience of our lands!

The people moving opposite us shared
the sin for which once, while in triumph, Caesar
heard ‘Queen’ called out against him; that is why,

as they move off from us, they cry out ‘Sodom,’
reproaching their own selves, as you have heard,
and through their shame abet the fire’s work.

Our sin was with the other sex; but since
we did not keep the bounds of human law,
but served our appetites like beasts, when we

part from the other ranks, we then repeat,
to our disgrace, the name of one who, in
the bestial planks, became herself a beast.

You now know why we act so, and you know
what our sins were; if you would know our names,
time is too short, and I don’t know them all.

But with regard to me, I’ll satisfy
your wish to know: I’m Guido Guinizzelli,
purged here because I grieved before my end.”

As, after the sad raging of Lycurgus,
two sons, finding their mother, had embraced her,
so I desired to do—but dared not to—

when I heard him declare his name: the father
of me and of the others—those, my betters—
who ever used sweet, gracious rhymes of love.

And without hearing, speaking, pensive, I
walked on, still gazing at him, a long time,
prevented by the fire from drawing closer.

When I had fed my sight on him, I offered
myself—with such a pledge that others must
believe—completely ready for his service.

And he to me: “Because of what I hear,
you leave a trace within me—one so clear,
Lethe itself can’t blur or cancel it.

But if your words have now sworn truthfully,
do tell me why it is that you have shown
in speech and gaze that I am dear to you.”

And I to him: “It’s your sweet lines that, for
as long as modern usage lasts, will still
make dear their very inks.” “Brother,” he said,

“he there, whom I point out to you”—he showed
us one who walked ahead—”he was a better
artisan of the mother tongue, surpassing

all those who wrote their poems of love or prose
romances—let the stupid ones contend,
who think that from Limoges there came the best.

They credit rumor rather than the truth,
allowing their opinion to be set
before they hear what art or reason says.

So, many of our fathers once persisted,
voice after voice, in giving to Guittone
the prize—but then, with most, the truth prevailed.

Now if you are so amply privileged
that you will be admitted to the cloister
where Christ is abbot of the college, then

pray say, for me, to Him, a Paternoster—
that is, as much of it as those in this
place need, since we have lost the power to sin.”

Then, to make place, perhaps, for those behind him,
he disappeared into the fire, just as
a fish, through water, plunges toward the bottom.

Saying that my desire was making ready
a place of welcome for his name, I moved
ahead a little, toward the one who had

been pointed out to me. And he spoke freely:
“So does your courteous request please me—
I neither could nor would conceal myself

from you. I am Arnaut, who, going, weep
and sing; with grief, I see my former folly;
with joy, I see the hoped—for day draw near.

Now, by the Power that conducts you to
the summit of the stairway, I pray you:
remember, at time opportune, my pain!”

Then, in the fire that refines, he hid.

WHILE on the brink thus one before the other
We went upon our way, oft the good Master
Said: “Take thou heed! suffice it that I warn thee.”

On the right shoulder smote me now the sun,
That, raying out, already the whole west
Changed from its azure aspect into white.

And with my shadow did I make the flame
Appear more red; and even to such a sign
Shades saw I many, as they went, give heed.

This was the cause that gave them a beginning
To speak of me; and to themselves began they
To say: “That seems not a factitious body!”

Then towards me, as far as they could come,
Came certain of them, always with regard
Not to step forth where they would not be burned.

“O thou who goest, not from being slower
But reverent perhaps, behind the others,
Answer me, who in thirst and fire am burning.

Nor to me only is thine answer needful;
For all of these have greater thirst for it
Than for cold water Ethiop or Indian.

Tell us how is it that thou makest thyself
A wall unto the sun, as if thou hadst not
Entered as vet into the net of death.”

Thus one of them addressed me, and I straight
Should have revealed myself, were I not bent
On other novelty that then appeared.

For through the middle of the burning road
There came a people face to face with these,
Which held me in suspense with gazing at them.

There see I hastening upon either side
Each of the shades, and kissing one another.
Without a pause, content with brief salute.

Thus in the middle of their brown battalions
Muzzle to muzzle one ant meets another
Perchance to spy their journey or their fortune.

No sooner is the friendly greeting ended,
Or ever the first footstep passes onward,
Each one endeavours to outcry the other;

The new—come people: “Sodom and Gomorrah!”
The rest: “Into the cow Pasiphae enters,
So that the bull unto her lust may run!”

Then as the cranes, that to Riphaen mountains
Might fly in part, and part towards the sands,
These of the frost, those of the sun avoidant,

One folk is going, and the other coming,
And weeping they return to their first songs,
And to the cry that most befitteth them;

And close to me approached, even as before,
The very same who had entreated me,
Attent to listen in their countenance.

I, who their inclination twice had seen
Began: “O souls secure in the possession,
Whene’er it may be, of a state of peace,

Neither unripe nor ripened have remained
My members upon earth, but here are with me
With their own blood and their articulations.

I go up here to be no longer blind;
A Lady is above, who wins this grace,
Whereby the mortal through your world I bring.

But as your greatest longing satisfied
May soon become, so that the Heaven may house you
Which full of love is, and most amply spreads,

Tell me, that I again in books may write it,
Who are you, and what is that multitude
Which goes upon its way behind your backs ?”

Not otherwise with wonder is bewildered
The mountaineer, and staring round is dumb,
When rough and rustic to the town he goes,

Than every shade became in its appearance;
But when they of their stupor were disburdened,
Which in high hearts is quickly quieted,

“Blessed be thou, who of our border—lands,”
He recommenced who first had questioned us,
“Experience freightest for a better life.

The folk that comes not with us have offended
In that for which once Caesar, triumphing,
Heard himself called in contumely, ‘Queen.’

Therefore they separate, exclaiming, ‘ Sodom! ‘
Themselves reproving, even as thou hast heard,
And add unto their burning by their shame.

Our own transgression was hermaphrodite;
But because we observed not human law,
Following like unto beasts our appetite,

In our opprobrium by us is read,
When we part company, the name of her
Who bestialized herself in bestial wood.

Now knowest thou our acts, and what our crime was;
Wouldst thou perchance by name know who we are,
There is not time to tell, nor could I do it.

Thy wish to know me shall in sooth be granted;
I’m Guido Guinicelli, and now purge me,
Having repented ere the hour extreme.”

The same that in the sadness of Lycurgus
Two sons became, their mother re—beholding,
Such I became, but rise not to such height,

The moment I heard name himself the father
Of me and of my betters, who had ever
Practised the sweet and gracious rhymes of love;

And without speech and hearing thoughtfully
For a long time I went, beholding him,
Nor for the fire did I approach him nearer.

When I was fed with looking, utterly
Myself I offered ready for his service,
With affirmation that compels belief

And he to me: “Thou leavest footprints such
In me, from what I hear, and so distinct,
Lethe cannot efface them, nor make dim.

But if thy words just now the truth have sworn,
Tell me what is the cause why thou displayest
In word and look that dear thou holdest me ?”

And I to him: “Those dulcet lays of yours
Which, long as shall endure our modern fashion,
Shall make for ever dear their very ink!”

“O brother,” said he, “he whom I point out,
And here he pointed at a spirit in front,
“Was of the mother tongue a better smith.

Verses of love and proses of romance,
He mastered all; and let the idiots talk,
Who think the Lemosin surpasses him.

To clamour more than truth they turn their faces,
And in this way establish their opinion,
Ere art or reason has by them been heard.

Thus many ancients with Guittone did,
From cry to cry still giving him applause,
Until the truth has conquered with most persons.

Now, if thou hast such ample privilege
‘Tis granted thee to go unto the cloister
Wherein is Christ the abbot of the college,

To him repeat for me a Paternoster,
So far as needful to us of this world,
Where power of sinning is no longer ours.”

Then, to give place perchance to one behind,
Whom he had near, he vanished in the fire
As fish in water going to the bottom.

I moved a little tow’rds him pointed out,
And said that to his name my own desire
An honourable place was making ready.

He of his own free will began to say:
_Tan m’ abellis vostre cortes deman,
Que jeu nom’ puesc ni vueill a vos cobrire;_

_Jeu sui Arnaut, que plor e vai chantan;
Consiros vei la passada folor,
E vei jauzen lo jorn qu’ esper denan._

_Ara vus prec per aquella valor,
Que vus condus al som de la scalina,

Then, in the fire that refines, he hid.

While we moved at the edge, one first, one after,
and I could often hear my gentle master
saying: “Take care—and do not waste my warning,”

the sun, its rays already altering
the coloring of all the west from azure
to white, was striking me on my right shoulder.

And where my shadow fell, it made the flames
seem more inflamed; and I saw many shades
walking, intent upon a sight so strange.

This was the reason that first prompted them
to speak to me. Among themselves they said:
“He does not seem to have a fictive body.”

Then certain of them came as close to me
as they were able to while, cautiously,
they never left the boundaries of their burning.

“O you who move behind the others not
because of sloth but reverence perhaps,
give me who burn in thirst and fire your answer.

I’m not alone in needing your response;
for all these shades thirst so for it—more than
an Indian or Ethiopian

thirsts for cool water. Tell us how you can—
as if you’re not yet caught within death’s net—
make of yourself a wall against the sun.”

Thus one of them had spoken to me; I
should now have answered clearly, had I not
been fixed on something strangely evident;

for in the middle of the burning path,
came people moving opposite to these—
and I, since they moved left, stared in suspense.

There, on all sides, I can see every shade
move quickly to embrace another shade,
content—they did not pause—with their brief greeting,

as ants, in their dark company, will touch
their muzzles, each to each, perhaps to seek
news of their fortunes and their journeyings.

No sooner is their friendly greeting done
than each shade tries to outcry all the rest
even before he starts to move ahead,

the new group shouting: “Sodom and Gomorrah”;
the other: “That the bull may hurry toward
her lust, Pasiphae hides in the cow.”

Then, just like cranes, of whom a part, to flee
the sun, fly north to Riphean mountains, while
the rest, to flee the frost, fly toward the sands,

one group moves with—the other opposite—us;
and they return with tears to their first chants
and to the shout appropriate to each.

And those who had entreated me came close
again, in the same way they’d done before;
their faces showed how keen they were to listen.

I, seeing their desire once again,
began: “O souls who can be sure of gaining
the state of peace, whenever that may be,

my limbs—mature or green—have not been left
within the world beyond; they’re here with me,
together with their blood and with their bones.

That I be blind no longer, through this place
I pass; above, a lady has gained grace
for me; therefore, I bear my mortal body

across your world. So may your deepest longing
soon be appeased and you be lodged within
the heaven that’s most full of love, most spacious,

please tell me, so that I may yet transcribe it
upon my pages, who you are, and what
crowd moves in the direction opposite.”

Each shade displayed no less astonishment
or less confusion than a mountaineer,
who, even as he stares about, falls silent

when, rough and rustic, he comes to the city;
but when they’d set aside astonishment—
that’s soon subdued in noble hearts—he who

had questioned me before, began again:
“Blessed are you who would, in order to
die better, store experience of our lands!

The people moving opposite us shared
the sin for which once, while in triumph, Caesar
heard ‘Queen’ called out against him; that is why,

as they move off from us, they cry out ‘Sodom,’
reproaching their own selves, as you have heard,
and through their shame abet the fire’s work.

Our sin was with the other sex; but since
we did not keep the bounds of human law,
but served our appetites like beasts, when we

part from the other ranks, we then repeat,
to our disgrace, the name of one who, in
the bestial planks, became herself a beast.

You now know why we act so, and you know
what our sins were; if you would know our names,
time is too short, and I don’t know them all.

But with regard to me, I’ll satisfy
your wish to know: I’m Guido Guinizzelli,
purged here because I grieved before my end.”

As, after the sad raging of Lycurgus,
two sons, finding their mother, had embraced her,
so I desired to do—but dared not to—

when I heard him declare his name: the father
of me and of the others—those, my betters—
who ever used sweet, gracious rhymes of love.

And without hearing, speaking, pensive, I
walked on, still gazing at him, a long time,
prevented by the fire from drawing closer.

When I had fed my sight on him, I offered
myself—with such a pledge that others must
believe—completely ready for his service.

And he to me: “Because of what I hear,
you leave a trace within me—one so clear,
Lethe itself can’t blur or cancel it.

But if your words have now sworn truthfully,
do tell me why it is that you have shown
in speech and gaze that I am dear to you.”

And I to him: “It’s your sweet lines that, for
as long as modern usage lasts, will still
make dear their very inks.” “Brother,” he said,

“he there, whom I point out to you”—he showed
us one who walked ahead—”he was a better
artisan of the mother tongue, surpassing

all those who wrote their poems of love or prose
romances—let the stupid ones contend,
who think that from Limoges there came the best.

They credit rumor rather than the truth,
allowing their opinion to be set
before they hear what art or reason says.

So, many of our fathers once persisted,
voice after voice, in giving to Guittone
the prize—but then, with most, the truth prevailed.

Now if you are so amply privileged
that you will be admitted to the cloister
where Christ is abbot of the college, then

pray say, for me, to Him, a Paternoster—
that is, as much of it as those in this
place need, since we have lost the power to sin.”

Then, to make place, perhaps, for those behind him,
he disappeared into the fire, just as
a fish, through water, plunges toward the bottom.

Saying that my desire was making ready
a place of welcome for his name, I moved
ahead a little, toward the one who had

been pointed out to me. And he spoke freely:
“So does your courteous request please me—
I neither could nor would conceal myself

from you. I am Arnaut, who, going, weep
and sing; with grief, I see my former folly;
with joy, I see the hoped—for day draw near.

Now, by the Power that conducts you to
the summit of the stairway, I pray you:
remember, at time opportune, my pain!”

Then, in the fire that refines, he hid.

WHILE on the brink thus one before the other
We went upon our way, oft the good Master
Said: “Take thou heed! suffice it that I warn thee.”

On the right shoulder smote me now the sun,
That, raying out, already the whole west
Changed from its azure aspect into white.

And with my shadow did I make the flame
Appear more red; and even to such a sign
Shades saw I many, as they went, give heed.

This was the cause that gave them a beginning
To speak of me; and to themselves began they
To say: “That seems not a factitious body!”

Then towards me, as far as they could come,
Came certain of them, always with regard
Not to step forth where they would not be burned.

“O thou who goest, not from being slower
But reverent perhaps, behind the others,
Answer me, who in thirst and fire am burning.

Nor to me only is thine answer needful;
For all of these have greater thirst for it
Than for cold water Ethiop or Indian.

Tell us how is it that thou makest thyself
A wall unto the sun, as if thou hadst not
Entered as vet into the net of death.”

Thus one of them addressed me, and I straight
Should have revealed myself, were I not bent
On other novelty that then appeared.

For through the middle of the burning road
There came a people face to face with these,
Which held me in suspense with gazing at them.

There see I hastening upon either side
Each of the shades, and kissing one another.
Without a pause, content with brief salute.

Thus in the middle of their brown battalions
Muzzle to muzzle one ant meets another
Perchance to spy their journey or their fortune.

No sooner is the friendly greeting ended,
Or ever the first footstep passes onward,
Each one endeavours to outcry the other;

The new—come people: “Sodom and Gomorrah!”
The rest: “Into the cow Pasiphae enters,
So that the bull unto her lust may run!”

Then as the cranes, that to Riphaen mountains
Might fly in part, and part towards the sands,
These of the frost, those of the sun avoidant,

One folk is going, and the other coming,
And weeping they return to their first songs,
And to the cry that most befitteth them;

And close to me approached, even as before,
The very same who had entreated me,
Attent to listen in their countenance.

I, who their inclination twice had seen
Began: “O souls secure in the possession,
Whene’er it may be, of a state of peace,

Neither unripe nor ripened have remained
My members upon earth, but here are with me
With their own blood and their articulations.

I go up here to be no longer blind;
A Lady is above, who wins this grace,
Whereby the mortal through your world I bring.

But as your greatest longing satisfied
May soon become, so that the Heaven may house you
Which full of love is, and most amply spreads,

Tell me, that I again in books may write it,
Who are you, and what is that multitude
Which goes upon its way behind your backs ?”

Not otherwise with wonder is bewildered
The mountaineer, and staring round is dumb,
When rough and rustic to the town he goes,

Than every shade became in its appearance;
But when they of their stupor were disburdened,
Which in high hearts is quickly quieted,

“Blessed be thou, who of our border—lands,”
He recommenced who first had questioned us,
“Experience freightest for a better life.

The folk that comes not with us have offended
In that for which once Caesar, triumphing,
Heard himself called in contumely, ‘Queen.’

Therefore they separate, exclaiming, ‘ Sodom! ‘
Themselves reproving, even as thou hast heard,
And add unto their burning by their shame.

Our own transgression was hermaphrodite;
But because we observed not human law,
Following like unto beasts our appetite,

In our opprobrium by us is read,
When we part company, the name of her
Who bestialized herself in bestial wood.

Now knowest thou our acts, and what our crime was;
Wouldst thou perchance by name know who we are,
There is not time to tell, nor could I do it.

Thy wish to know me shall in sooth be granted;
I’m Guido Guinicelli, and now purge me,
Having repented ere the hour extreme.”

The same that in the sadness of Lycurgus
Two sons became, their mother re—beholding,
Such I became, but rise not to such height,

The moment I heard name himself the father
Of me and of my betters, who had ever
Practised the sweet and gracious rhymes of love;

And without speech and hearing thoughtfully
For a long time I went, beholding him,
Nor for the fire did I approach him nearer.

When I was fed with looking, utterly
Myself I offered ready for his service,
With affirmation that compels belief

And he to me: “Thou leavest footprints such
In me, from what I hear, and so distinct,
Lethe cannot efface them, nor make dim.

But if thy words just now the truth have sworn,
Tell me what is the cause why thou displayest
In word and look that dear thou holdest me ?”

And I to him: “Those dulcet lays of yours
Which, long as shall endure our modern fashion,
Shall make for ever dear their very ink!”

“O brother,” said he, “he whom I point out,
And here he pointed at a spirit in front,
“Was of the mother tongue a better smith.

Verses of love and proses of romance,
He mastered all; and let the idiots talk,
Who think the Lemosin surpasses him.

To clamour more than truth they turn their faces,
And in this way establish their opinion,
Ere art or reason has by them been heard.

Thus many ancients with Guittone did,
From cry to cry still giving him applause,
Until the truth has conquered with most persons.

Now, if thou hast such ample privilege
‘Tis granted thee to go unto the cloister
Wherein is Christ the abbot of the college,

To him repeat for me a Paternoster,
So far as needful to us of this world,
Where power of sinning is no longer ours.”

Then, to give place perchance to one behind,
Whom he had near, he vanished in the fire
As fish in water going to the bottom.

I moved a little tow’rds him pointed out,
And said that to his name my own desire
An honourable place was making ready.

He of his own free will began to say:
_Tan m’ abellis vostre cortes deman,
Que jeu nom’ puesc ni vueill a vos cobrire;_

_Jeu sui Arnaut, que plor e vai chantan;
Consiros vei la passada folor,
E vei jauzen lo jorn qu’ esper denan._

_Ara vus prec per aquella valor,
Que vus condus al som de la scalina,

Then, in the fire that refines, he hid.