Messiah Redux

This canto begins with some of the Commedia’s most obscure and prophetic diction, again written under the sign of the Apocalpyse. When John of Patmos wrote the Apocalpyse he used the figure of the “magna meretrix” (“great whore”) as a way of representing Rome and the corruption of the Roman Empire. In other words, the text was politically motivated, and allegory was used as a covert but powerful way of resisting the evils of the Roman Empire. The Apocalpyse was used for similar political purposes in the Middle Ages, but the medieval target was not the defunct Roman Empire but the Roman Church.

Dante was not the first to use the whore of the Apocalpyse to signify the Church; by using this imagery he shows his willingness to engage some of the most radical and anti-ecclesiastical writings then in circulation. These rebellious theologians were mainly “Spiritual Franciscans,” the super-zealous reformist wing of the Franciscan order that was persecuted and eventually driven out of Italy by the papacy and the established Church.

In the prophecy of Purgatorio 33 Beatrice provides an obscure gloss to the whore and the giant who close off the tableaux vivants of the previous canto. The core of her prophecy (Purgatorio 33.37-45) alludes to the coming of a secular ruler (the heir of the eagle, see verses 37-38) who will kill the prostitute and the giant:

  Non sarà tutto tempo sanza reda
l’aguglia che lasciò le penne al carro,
per che divenne mostro e poscia preda;
  ch’io veggio certamente, e però il narro,
a darne tempo già stelle propinque,
secure d’ogn’intoppo e d’ogni sbarro,
  nel quale un cinquecento diece e cinque,
messo di Dio, anciderà la fuia
con quel gigante che con lei delinque. (Purg. 33.37-45)
  The eagle that had left its plumes within
the chariot, which then became a monster
and then a prey, will not forever be
  without an heir; for I can plainly see,
and thus I tell it: stars already close
at hand, which can’t be blocked or checked, will bring
  a time in which, dispatched by God, a Five
Hundred and Ten and Five will slay the whore
together with that giant who sins with her.

Very famous and mysterious is the verse in which Beatrice refers to the coming savior as a “cinquecento dieci e cinque” (Purg. 33.43). Many over the centuries have tried to decipher the 500, 10, and 5! The interpretation that has gained most traction is the one that substitutes Roman numerals—D for 500, X for 10, and V for 5—and then scrambles them to spell: DVX or DUX, the Latin for “leader”.

Beatrice also thematizes prophecy as a narrative genre, one that is bound up with necessary obscurity:

  E forse che la mia narrazion buia,
qual Temi e Sfinge, men ti persuade,
perch'a lor modo lo ’ntelletto attuia... (Purg. 33.46-48)
  And what I tell, as dark as Sphinx and Themis,
may leave you less convinced because—like these—
it tires the intellect with quandaries...

Beatrice shows quite a lot of awareness of the power of narrative in this passage: she uses the word “narrazion” in Purgatorio 33.46—a hapax in the Commedia—to refer to her own discourse, putting the poet in the position of narrating her narration. Purgatorio 33’s lexicon is saturated with metapoetic terminology: besides the poem’s only use of narrazione and one of seven uses of narrare, it is one of few cantos in which segnare is used twice, and the only canto in Inferno or Purgatorio in which scrivere occurs more than once (in fact it is used thrice).

Beatrice instructs Dante that when he returns to earth it will be his job to write down the visions that he has seen while in the earthly paradise:

  Tu nota; e sì come da me son porte,
così queste parole segna a’ vivi
del viver ch’è un correre a la morte. (Purg. 33.52-54)
  Take note; and even as I speak these words,
do you transmit them in your turn to those
who live the life that is a race to death.

Dante’s obligation to write what he has seen requires him to pay particular attention to what occurred to the tree (“pianta” of Purg. 33.56). Beatrice glosses the tree, saying that it represents “la giustizia di Dio, ne l’interdetto” (Purg. 33.71): literally, God’s justice in his interdict. In other words, God had placed an interdict on humanity, had marked the point that humanity was not allowed to trespass; when we trespassed nonetheless, what resulted was God’s justice.

We recall that the griffin is praised by all in attendance around the chariot in Purgatorio 32 because it resists eating of the tree, resists the temptation of knowledge, and refuses to challenge God’s interdict. The tree is glossed in Purgatorio 33 precisely in terms of the limits it represents, the obedience it exacts, and the consequent justice of the punishment meted to those who transgress.

The insufficiency of Dante’s understanding is also a topic of discussion (Purg. 33.85-90). He doesn’t remember ever having been estranged from Beatrice, and Beatrice explains that this is because he has already drunk of Lethe and thereby forgotten his transgressions.

The drinking of Lethe in fact occurs in the latter part of Purgatorio 31; after Beatrice accuses Dante of deviating from her and he has confessed (Purgatorio 30-31), she instructs Matelda to bathe him in the river of forgetfulness (Purg. 31.94 and following).

At this point Dante begins the wrap-up of purgatory: the two rivers Eunoè and Lethe are compared to the Tigris and Euphrates and Matelda—now named for the first and only time in Purgatorio 33.119—functions as a kind of priestess responsible for taking Dante and Stazio to bathe in Eunoè.

Dante reminds us that Stazio is still present for the last time in Purgatorio 33.134; since Dante-pilgrim’s experience is unique, Stazio serves as a very important marker for what a “regular” saved soul would do in Eden. After a final purgatorial address to us, the readers, the cantica concludes with verses that describes Dante as:

  rifatto sì come piante novelle
rinnovellate di novella fronda,
puro e disposto a salire alle stelle. (Purg. 33.143-45)
  remade, as new trees are
renewed when they bring forth new boughs, I was
pure and prepared to climb unto the stars.

The pilgrim is “puro” because he is cleansed of vice, the disposition to sin, and he is “disposto” because his will—the part of us that disposes or not to do something—has been made willing and ready. He is prepared for the final leg of his journey.

Coordinated Reading

Coordinated Reading: The Undivine Comedy, Chapter 7, “Nonfalse Errors and the True Dreams of the Evangelist”

Recommended Citation

Barolini, Teodolinda. “Purgatorio 33: Messiah Redux.” Commento Baroliniano, Digital Dante. New York, NY: Columbia University Libraries, 2017. https://digitaldante.columbia.edu/dante/divine-comedy/purgatorio/purgatorio-33/

About the Commento

1‘Deus, venerunt gentes’, alternando
2or tre or quattro dolce salmodia,
3le donne incominciaro, e lagrimando;

4e Bëatrice, sospirosa e pia,
5quelle ascoltava sì fatta, che poco
6più a la croce si cambiò Maria.

7Ma poi che l’altre vergini dier loco
8a lei di dir, levata dritta in pè,
9rispuose, colorata come foco:

10‘Modicum, et non videbitis me;
11et iterum, sorelle mie dilette,
12modicum, et vos videbitis me’.

13Poi le si mise innanzi tutte e sette,
14e dopo sé, solo accennando, mosse
15me e la donna e ’l savio che ristette.

16Così sen giva; e non credo che fosse
17lo decimo suo passo in terra posto,
18quando con li occhi li occhi mi percosse;

19e con tranquillo aspetto «Vien più tosto»,
20mi disse, «tanto che, s’io parlo teco,
21ad ascoltarmi tu sie ben disposto».

22Sì com’ io fui, com’ io dovëa, seco,
23dissemi: «Frate, perché non t’attenti
24a domandarmi omai venendo meco?».

25Come a color che troppo reverenti
26dinanzi a suo maggior parlando sono,
27che non traggon la voce viva ai denti,

28avvenne a me, che sanza intero suono
29incominciai: «Madonna, mia bisogna
30voi conoscete, e ciò ch’ad essa è buono».

31Ed ella a me: «Da tema e da vergogna
32voglio che tu omai ti disviluppe,
33sì che non parli più com’ om che sogna.

34Sappi che ’l vaso che ’l serpente ruppe,
35fu e non è; ma chi n’ha colpa, creda
36che vendetta di Dio non teme suppe.

37Non sarà tutto tempo sanza reda
38l’aguglia che lasciò le penne al carro,
39per che divenne mostro e poscia preda;

40ch’io veggio certamente, e però il narro,
41a darne tempo già stelle propinque,
42secure d’ogn’ intoppo e d’ogne sbarro,

43nel quale un cinquecento diece e cinque,
44messo di Dio, anciderà la fuia
45con quel gigante che con lei delinque.

46E forse che la mia narrazion buia,
47qual Temi e Sfinge, men ti persuade,
48perch’ a lor modo lo ’ntelletto attuia;

49ma tosto fier li fatti le Naiade,
50che solveranno questo enigma forte
51sanza danno di pecore o di biade.

52Tu nota; e sì come da me son porte,
53così queste parole segna a’ vivi
54del viver ch’è un correre a la morte.

55E aggi a mente, quando tu le scrivi,
56di non celar qual hai vista la pianta
57ch’è or due volte dirubata quivi.

58Qualunque ruba quella o quella schianta,
59con bestemmia di fatto offende a Dio,
60che solo a l’uso suo la creò santa.

61Per morder quella, in pena e in disio
62cinquemilia anni e più l’anima prima
63bramò colui che ’l morso in sé punio.

64Dorme lo ’ngegno tuo, se non estima
65per singular cagione esser eccelsa
66lei tanto e sì travolta ne la cima.

67E se stati non fossero acqua d’Elsa
68li pensier vani intorno a la tua mente,
69e ’l piacer loro un Piramo a la gelsa,

70per tante circostanze solamente
71la giustizia di Dio, ne l’interdetto,
72conosceresti a l’arbor moralmente.

73Ma perch’ io veggio te ne lo ’ntelletto
74fatto di pietra e, impetrato, tinto,
75sì che t’abbaglia il lume del mio detto,

76voglio anco, e se non scritto, almen dipinto,
77che ’l te ne porti dentro a te per quello
78che si reca il bordon di palma cinto».

79E io: «Sì come cera da suggello,
80che la figura impressa non trasmuta,
81segnato è or da voi lo mio cervello.

82Ma perché tanto sovra mia veduta
83vostra parola disïata vola,
84che più la perde quanto più s’aiuta?».

85«Perché conoschi», disse, «quella scuola
86c’hai seguitata, e veggi sua dottrina
87come può seguitar la mia parola;

88e veggi vostra via da la divina
89distar cotanto, quanto si discorda
90da terra il ciel che più alto festina».

91Ond’ io rispuosi lei: «Non mi ricorda
92ch’i’ stranïasse me già mai da voi,
93né honne coscïenza che rimorda».

94«E se tu ricordar non te ne puoi»,
95sorridendo rispuose, «or ti rammenta
96come bevesti di Letè ancoi;

97e se dal fummo foco s’argomenta,
98cotesta oblivïon chiaro conchiude
99colpa ne la tua voglia altrove attenta.

100Veramente oramai saranno nude
101le mie parole, quanto converrassi
102quelle scovrire a la tua vista rude».

103E più corusco e con più lenti passi
104teneva il sole il cerchio di merigge,
105che qua e là, come li aspetti, fassi,

106quando s’affisser, sì come s’affigge
107chi va dinanzi a gente per iscorta
108se trova novitate o sue vestigge,

109le sette donne al fin d’un’ombra smorta,
110qual sotto foglie verdi e rami nigri
111sovra suoi freddi rivi l’alpe porta.

112Dinanzi ad esse Ëufratès e Tigri
113veder mi parve uscir d’una fontana,
114e, quasi amici, dipartirsi pigri.

115«O luce, o gloria de la gente umana,
116che acqua è questa che qui si dispiega
117da un principio e sé da sé lontana?».

118Per cotal priego detto mi fu: «Priega
119Matelda che ’l ti dica». E qui rispuose,
120come fa chi da colpa si dislega,

121la bella donna: «Questo e altre cose
122dette li son per me; e son sicura
123che l’acqua di Letè non gliel nascose».

124E Bëatrice: «Forse maggior cura,
125che spesse volte la memoria priva,
126fatt’ ha la mente sua ne li occhi oscura.

127Ma vedi Eünoè che là diriva:
128menalo ad esso, e come tu se’ usa,
129la tramortita sua virtù ravviva».

130Come anima gentil, che non fa scusa,
131ma fa sua voglia de la voglia altrui
132tosto che è per segno fuor dischiusa;

133così, poi che da essa preso fui,
134la bella donna mossesi, e a Stazio
135donnescamente disse: «Vien con lui».

136S’io avessi, lettor, più lungo spazio
137da scrivere, i’ pur cantere’ in parte
138lo dolce ber che mai non m’avria sazio;

139ma perché piene son tutte le carte
140ordite a questa cantica seconda,
141non mi lascia più ir lo fren de l’arte.

142Io ritornai da la santissima onda
143rifatto sì come piante novelle
144rinovellate di novella fronda,

145puro e disposto a salire a le stelle.

Weeping, the women then began—now three,
now four, alternately—to psalm gently,
“Deus venerunt gentes”; and at this,

sighing and full of pity, Beatrice
was changed; she listened, grieving little less
than Mary when, beneath the Cross, she wept.

But when the seven virgins had completed
their psalm, and she was free to speak, erect,
her coloring like ardent fire, she answered:

“Modicum, et non videbitis me
et iterum sisters delightful to me,
modicum, et vos videbitis me.”

Then she set all the seven nymphs in front
of her and signaled me, the lady, and
the sage who had remained, to move behind her.

So she advanced; and I do not believe
that she had taken her tenth step upon
the ground before her eyes had struck my eyes;

and gazing tranquilly, “Pray come more quickly,”
she said to me, “so that you are more ready
to listen to me should I speak to you.”

As soon as I, responding to my duty,
had joined her, she said: “Brother, why not try,
since now you’re at my side, to query me?”

Like those who, speaking to superiors
too reverently do not speak distinctly,
not drawing their clear voice up to their teeth—

so did I speak with sound too incomplete
when I began: “Lady, you know my need
to know, and know how it can be appeased.”

And she to me: “I’d have you disentangle
yourself, from this point on, from fear and shame,
that you no longer speak like one who dreams.

Know that the vessel which the serpent broke
was and is not; but he whose fault it is
may rest assured—God’s vengeance fears no hindrance.

The eagle that had left its plumes within
the chariot, which then became a monster
and then a prey, will not forever be

without an heir; for I can plainly see,
and thus I tell it: stars already close
at hand, which can’t be blocked or checked, will bring

a time in which, dispatched by God, a Five
Hundred and Ten and Five will slay the whore
together with that giant who sins with her.

And what I tell, as dark as Sphinx and Themis,
may leave you less convinced because—like these—
it tires the intellect with quandaries;

but soon events themselves will be the Naiads
that clarify this obstinate enigma—
but without injury to grain or herds.

Take note; and even as I speak these words,
do you transmit them in your turn to those
who live the life that is a race to death.

And when you write them, keep in mind that you
must not conceal what you’ve seen of the tree
that now has been despoiled twice over here.

Whoever robs or rends that tree offends,
with his blaspheming action, God; for He
created it for His sole use—holy.

For tasting of that tree, the first soul waited
five thousand years and more in grief and longing
for Him who on Himself avenged that taste.

Your intellect’s asleep if it can’t see
how singular’s the cause that makes that tree
so tall and makes it grow invertedly.

And if, like waters of the Elsa, your
vain thoughts did not encrust your mind; if your
delight in them were not like Pyramus

staining the mulberry, you’d recognize
in that tree’s form and height the moral sense
God’s justice had when He forbade trespass.

But since I see your intellect is made
of stone and, petrified, grown so opaque—
the light of what I say has left you dazed—

I’d also have you bear my words within you—
if not inscribed, at least outlined—just as
the pilgrim’s staff is brought back wreathed with palm.”

And I: “Even as wax the seal’s impressed,
where there’s no alteration in the form,
so does my brain now bear what you have stamped.”

But why does your desired word ascend
so high above my understanding that
the more I try, the more am I denied?”

“That you may recognize,” she said, “the school
that you have followed and may see if what
it taught can comprehend what I have said—

and see that, as the earth is distant from
the highest and the swiftest of the heavens,
so distant is your way from the divine.”

And I replied to her: “I don’t remember
making myself a stranger to you, nor
does conscience gnaw at me because of that.”

“And if you can’t remember that,” she answered,
smiling, “then call to mind how you—today—
have drunk of Lethe; and if smoke is proof

of fire, then it is clear: we can conclude
from this forgetfulness, that in your will
there was a fault—your will had turned elsewhere.

But from now on the words I speak will be
naked; that is appropriate if they
would be laid bare before your still—crude sight.”

More incandescent now, with slower steps,
the sun was pacing the meridian,
which alters with the place from which it’s seen,

when, just as one who serves as escort for
a group will halt if he has come upon
things strange or even traces of strangeness,

the seven ladies halted at the edge
of a dense shadow such as mountains cast,
beneath green leaves and black boughs, on cold banks.

In front of them I seemed to see Euphrates
and Tigris issuing from one same spring
and then, as friends do, separating slowly.

“O light, o glory of the human race,
what water is this, flowing from one source
and then becoming distant from itself?”

Her answer to what I had asked was: “Ask
Matilda to explain this”; and the lovely
lady, as one who frees herself from blame,

replied: “He’s heard of this and other matters
from me; and I am sure that Lethe’s waters
have not obscured his memory of this.”

And Beatrice :”Perhaps some greater care,
which often weakens memory, has made
his mind, in things regarding sight, grow dark.

But see Eunoe as it flows from there:
lead him to it and, as you’re used to doing,
revive the power that is faint in him.”

As would the noble soul, which offers no
excuse, but makes another’s will its own
as soon as signs reveal that will; just so,

when she had taken me, the lovely lady
moved forward; and she said with womanly
courtesy to Statius: “Come with him.”

If, reader, I had ampler space in which
to write, I’d sing—though incompletely—that
sweet draught for which my thirst was limitless;

but since all of the pages pre—disposed
for this, the second canticle, are full,
the curb of art will not let me continue.

From that most holy wave I now returned
to Beatrice; remade, as new trees are
renewed when they bring forth new boughs, I was

pure and prepared to climb unto the stars.

_”Deus venerunt gentes,”_ alternating
Now three, now four, melodious psalmody
The maidens in the midst of tears began;

And Beatrice, compassionate and sighing,
Listened to them with such a countenance,
That scarce more changed was Mary at the cross.

But when the other virgins place had given
For her to speak, uprisen to her feet
With colour as of fire, she made response:

_”Modicum, et non videbitis me;
Et iterum,_ my sisters predilect,
_Modicum, et vos videbitis me.”_

Then all the seven in front of her she placed;
And after her, by beckoning only, moved
Me and the lady and the sage who stayed.

So she moved onward; and I do not think
That her tenth step was placed upon the ground,
When with her eyes upon mine eyes she smote,

And with a tranquil aspect,”Come more quickly,”
To me she said,”that, if I speak with thee,
To listen to me thou mayst be well placed.”

As soon as I was with her as I should be,
She said to me:”Why, brother, dost thou not
Venture to question now, in coming with me ?”

As unto those who are too reverential,
Speaking in presence of superiors,
Who drag no living utterance to their teeth,

It me befell, that without perfect sound
Began I:”My necessity, Madonna,
You know, and that which thereunto is good.”

And she to me:”Of fear and bashfulness
Henceforward I will have thee strip thyself,
So that thou speak no more as one who dreams.

Know that the vessel which the serpent broke
Was, and is not; but let him who is guilty
Think that God’s vengeance does not fear a sop.

Without an heir shall not for ever be
The Eagle that left his plumes upon the car,
Whence it became a monster, then a prey;

For verily I see, and hence narrate it,
The stars already near to bring the time,
From every hindrance safe, and every bar,

Within which a Five—hundred, Ten, and Five,
One sent from God, shall slay the thievish woman
And that same giant who is sinning with her.

And peradventure my dark utterance,
Like Themis and the Sphinx, may less persuade thee,
Since, in their mode, it clouds the intellect;

But soon the facts shall be the Naiades
Who shall this difficult enigma solve,
Without destruction of the flocks and harvests.

Note thou; and even as by me are uttered
These words, so teach them unto those who live
That life which is a running unto death;

And bear in mind, whene’er thou writest them,
Not to conceal what thou hast seen the plant,
That twice already has been pillaged here.

Whoever pillages or shatters it,
With blasphemy of deed offendeth God,
Who made it holy for his use alone.

For biting that, in pain and in desire
Five thousand years and more the first—born soul
Craved Him, who punished in himself the bite.

Thy genius slumbers, if it deem it not
For special reason so pre—eminent
In height, and so inverted in its summit

And if thy vain imaginings had not been
Water of Elsa round about thy mind,
And Pyramus to the mulberry, their pleasure,

Thou by so many circumstances only
The justice of the interdict of God
Morally in the tree wouldst recognize.

But since I see thee in thine intellect
Converted into stone and stained with sin,
So that the light of my discourse doth daze thee,

I will too, if not written, at least painted,
Thou bear it back within thee, for the reason
That cinct with palm the pilgrim’s staff is borne.”

And I:”As by a signet is the wax
Which does not change the figure stamped upon it,
My brain is now imprinted by yourself

But wherefore so beyond my power of sight
Soars your desirable discourse, that aye
The more I strive, so much the more I lose it ?”

“That thou mayst recognize,”she said,”the school
Which thou hast followed, and mayst see how far
Its doctrine follows after my discourse,

And mayst behold your path from the divine
Distant as far as separated is
From earth the heaven that highest hastens on.”

Whence her I answered:”I do not remember
That ever I estranged myself from you,
Nor have I conscience of it that reproves me.”

“And if thou art not able to remember,”
Smiling she answered,”recollect thee now
That thou this very day hast drunk of Lethe;

And if from smoke a fire may be inferred,
Such an oblivion clearly demonstrates
Some error in thy will elsewhere intent.

Truly from this time forward shall my words
Be naked, so far as it is befitting
To lay them open unto thy rude gaze.”

And more coruscant and with slower steps
The sun was holding the meridian circle,
Which, with the point of view, shifts here and there

When halted (as he cometh to a halt,
Who goes before a squadron as its escort,
If something new he find upon his way)

The ladies seven at a dark shadow’s edge,
Such as, beneath green leaves and branches black,
The Alp upon its frigid border wears.

In front of them the Tigris and Euphrates
Methought I saw forth issue from one fountain,
And slowly part, like friends, from one another.

“O light, O glory of the human race!
What stream is this which here unfolds itself
From out one source, and from itself withdraws ?”

For such a prayer, ’twas said unto me,”Pray
Matilda that she tell thee ;”and here answered,
As one does who doth free himself from blame,

The beautiful lady:”This and other things
Were told to him by me; and sure I am
The water of Lethe has not hid them from him.”

And Beatrice:”Perhaps a greater care,
Which oftentimes our memory takes away,
Has made the vision of his mind obscure.

But Eunoe behold, that yonder rises;
Lead him to it, and, as thou art accustomed,
Revive again the half—dead virtue in him.”

Like gentle soul, that maketh no excuse,
But makes its own will of another’s will
As soon as by a sign it is disclosed,

Even so, when she had taken hold of me,
The beautiful lady moved, and unto Statius
Said, in her womanly manner,”Come with him.”

If, Reader, I possessed a longer space
For writing it, I yet would sing in part
Of the sweet draught that ne’er would satiate me;

But inasmuch as full are all the leaves
Made ready for this second canticle,
The curb of art no farther lets me go.

From the most holy water I returned
Regenerate, in the manner of new trees
That are renewed with a new foliage,

Pure and disposed to mount unto the stars.

Weeping, the women then began—now three,
now four, alternately—to psalm gently,
“Deus venerunt gentes”; and at this,

sighing and full of pity, Beatrice
was changed; she listened, grieving little less
than Mary when, beneath the Cross, she wept.

But when the seven virgins had completed
their psalm, and she was free to speak, erect,
her coloring like ardent fire, she answered:

“Modicum, et non videbitis me
et iterum sisters delightful to me,
modicum, et vos videbitis me.”

Then she set all the seven nymphs in front
of her and signaled me, the lady, and
the sage who had remained, to move behind her.

So she advanced; and I do not believe
that she had taken her tenth step upon
the ground before her eyes had struck my eyes;

and gazing tranquilly, “Pray come more quickly,”
she said to me, “so that you are more ready
to listen to me should I speak to you.”

As soon as I, responding to my duty,
had joined her, she said: “Brother, why not try,
since now you’re at my side, to query me?”

Like those who, speaking to superiors
too reverently do not speak distinctly,
not drawing their clear voice up to their teeth—

so did I speak with sound too incomplete
when I began: “Lady, you know my need
to know, and know how it can be appeased.”

And she to me: “I’d have you disentangle
yourself, from this point on, from fear and shame,
that you no longer speak like one who dreams.

Know that the vessel which the serpent broke
was and is not; but he whose fault it is
may rest assured—God’s vengeance fears no hindrance.

The eagle that had left its plumes within
the chariot, which then became a monster
and then a prey, will not forever be

without an heir; for I can plainly see,
and thus I tell it: stars already close
at hand, which can’t be blocked or checked, will bring

a time in which, dispatched by God, a Five
Hundred and Ten and Five will slay the whore
together with that giant who sins with her.

And what I tell, as dark as Sphinx and Themis,
may leave you less convinced because—like these—
it tires the intellect with quandaries;

but soon events themselves will be the Naiads
that clarify this obstinate enigma—
but without injury to grain or herds.

Take note; and even as I speak these words,
do you transmit them in your turn to those
who live the life that is a race to death.

And when you write them, keep in mind that you
must not conceal what you’ve seen of the tree
that now has been despoiled twice over here.

Whoever robs or rends that tree offends,
with his blaspheming action, God; for He
created it for His sole use—holy.

For tasting of that tree, the first soul waited
five thousand years and more in grief and longing
for Him who on Himself avenged that taste.

Your intellect’s asleep if it can’t see
how singular’s the cause that makes that tree
so tall and makes it grow invertedly.

And if, like waters of the Elsa, your
vain thoughts did not encrust your mind; if your
delight in them were not like Pyramus

staining the mulberry, you’d recognize
in that tree’s form and height the moral sense
God’s justice had when He forbade trespass.

But since I see your intellect is made
of stone and, petrified, grown so opaque—
the light of what I say has left you dazed—

I’d also have you bear my words within you—
if not inscribed, at least outlined—just as
the pilgrim’s staff is brought back wreathed with palm.”

And I: “Even as wax the seal’s impressed,
where there’s no alteration in the form,
so does my brain now bear what you have stamped.”

But why does your desired word ascend
so high above my understanding that
the more I try, the more am I denied?”

“That you may recognize,” she said, “the school
that you have followed and may see if what
it taught can comprehend what I have said—

and see that, as the earth is distant from
the highest and the swiftest of the heavens,
so distant is your way from the divine.”

And I replied to her: “I don’t remember
making myself a stranger to you, nor
does conscience gnaw at me because of that.”

“And if you can’t remember that,” she answered,
smiling, “then call to mind how you—today—
have drunk of Lethe; and if smoke is proof

of fire, then it is clear: we can conclude
from this forgetfulness, that in your will
there was a fault—your will had turned elsewhere.

But from now on the words I speak will be
naked; that is appropriate if they
would be laid bare before your still—crude sight.”

More incandescent now, with slower steps,
the sun was pacing the meridian,
which alters with the place from which it’s seen,

when, just as one who serves as escort for
a group will halt if he has come upon
things strange or even traces of strangeness,

the seven ladies halted at the edge
of a dense shadow such as mountains cast,
beneath green leaves and black boughs, on cold banks.

In front of them I seemed to see Euphrates
and Tigris issuing from one same spring
and then, as friends do, separating slowly.

“O light, o glory of the human race,
what water is this, flowing from one source
and then becoming distant from itself?”

Her answer to what I had asked was: “Ask
Matilda to explain this”; and the lovely
lady, as one who frees herself from blame,

replied: “He’s heard of this and other matters
from me; and I am sure that Lethe’s waters
have not obscured his memory of this.”

And Beatrice :”Perhaps some greater care,
which often weakens memory, has made
his mind, in things regarding sight, grow dark.

But see Eunoe as it flows from there:
lead him to it and, as you’re used to doing,
revive the power that is faint in him.”

As would the noble soul, which offers no
excuse, but makes another’s will its own
as soon as signs reveal that will; just so,

when she had taken me, the lovely lady
moved forward; and she said with womanly
courtesy to Statius: “Come with him.”

If, reader, I had ampler space in which
to write, I’d sing—though incompletely—that
sweet draught for which my thirst was limitless;

but since all of the pages pre—disposed
for this, the second canticle, are full,
the curb of art will not let me continue.

From that most holy wave I now returned
to Beatrice; remade, as new trees are
renewed when they bring forth new boughs, I was

pure and prepared to climb unto the stars.

_”Deus venerunt gentes,”_ alternating
Now three, now four, melodious psalmody
The maidens in the midst of tears began;

And Beatrice, compassionate and sighing,
Listened to them with such a countenance,
That scarce more changed was Mary at the cross.

But when the other virgins place had given
For her to speak, uprisen to her feet
With colour as of fire, she made response:

_”Modicum, et non videbitis me;
Et iterum,_ my sisters predilect,
_Modicum, et vos videbitis me.”_

Then all the seven in front of her she placed;
And after her, by beckoning only, moved
Me and the lady and the sage who stayed.

So she moved onward; and I do not think
That her tenth step was placed upon the ground,
When with her eyes upon mine eyes she smote,

And with a tranquil aspect,”Come more quickly,”
To me she said,”that, if I speak with thee,
To listen to me thou mayst be well placed.”

As soon as I was with her as I should be,
She said to me:”Why, brother, dost thou not
Venture to question now, in coming with me ?”

As unto those who are too reverential,
Speaking in presence of superiors,
Who drag no living utterance to their teeth,

It me befell, that without perfect sound
Began I:”My necessity, Madonna,
You know, and that which thereunto is good.”

And she to me:”Of fear and bashfulness
Henceforward I will have thee strip thyself,
So that thou speak no more as one who dreams.

Know that the vessel which the serpent broke
Was, and is not; but let him who is guilty
Think that God’s vengeance does not fear a sop.

Without an heir shall not for ever be
The Eagle that left his plumes upon the car,
Whence it became a monster, then a prey;

For verily I see, and hence narrate it,
The stars already near to bring the time,
From every hindrance safe, and every bar,

Within which a Five—hundred, Ten, and Five,
One sent from God, shall slay the thievish woman
And that same giant who is sinning with her.

And peradventure my dark utterance,
Like Themis and the Sphinx, may less persuade thee,
Since, in their mode, it clouds the intellect;

But soon the facts shall be the Naiades
Who shall this difficult enigma solve,
Without destruction of the flocks and harvests.

Note thou; and even as by me are uttered
These words, so teach them unto those who live
That life which is a running unto death;

And bear in mind, whene’er thou writest them,
Not to conceal what thou hast seen the plant,
That twice already has been pillaged here.

Whoever pillages or shatters it,
With blasphemy of deed offendeth God,
Who made it holy for his use alone.

For biting that, in pain and in desire
Five thousand years and more the first—born soul
Craved Him, who punished in himself the bite.

Thy genius slumbers, if it deem it not
For special reason so pre—eminent
In height, and so inverted in its summit

And if thy vain imaginings had not been
Water of Elsa round about thy mind,
And Pyramus to the mulberry, their pleasure,

Thou by so many circumstances only
The justice of the interdict of God
Morally in the tree wouldst recognize.

But since I see thee in thine intellect
Converted into stone and stained with sin,
So that the light of my discourse doth daze thee,

I will too, if not written, at least painted,
Thou bear it back within thee, for the reason
That cinct with palm the pilgrim’s staff is borne.”

And I:”As by a signet is the wax
Which does not change the figure stamped upon it,
My brain is now imprinted by yourself

But wherefore so beyond my power of sight
Soars your desirable discourse, that aye
The more I strive, so much the more I lose it ?”

“That thou mayst recognize,”she said,”the school
Which thou hast followed, and mayst see how far
Its doctrine follows after my discourse,

And mayst behold your path from the divine
Distant as far as separated is
From earth the heaven that highest hastens on.”

Whence her I answered:”I do not remember
That ever I estranged myself from you,
Nor have I conscience of it that reproves me.”

“And if thou art not able to remember,”
Smiling she answered,”recollect thee now
That thou this very day hast drunk of Lethe;

And if from smoke a fire may be inferred,
Such an oblivion clearly demonstrates
Some error in thy will elsewhere intent.

Truly from this time forward shall my words
Be naked, so far as it is befitting
To lay them open unto thy rude gaze.”

And more coruscant and with slower steps
The sun was holding the meridian circle,
Which, with the point of view, shifts here and there

When halted (as he cometh to a halt,
Who goes before a squadron as its escort,
If something new he find upon his way)

The ladies seven at a dark shadow’s edge,
Such as, beneath green leaves and branches black,
The Alp upon its frigid border wears.

In front of them the Tigris and Euphrates
Methought I saw forth issue from one fountain,
And slowly part, like friends, from one another.

“O light, O glory of the human race!
What stream is this which here unfolds itself
From out one source, and from itself withdraws ?”

For such a prayer, ’twas said unto me,”Pray
Matilda that she tell thee ;”and here answered,
As one does who doth free himself from blame,

The beautiful lady:”This and other things
Were told to him by me; and sure I am
The water of Lethe has not hid them from him.”

And Beatrice:”Perhaps a greater care,
Which oftentimes our memory takes away,
Has made the vision of his mind obscure.

But Eunoe behold, that yonder rises;
Lead him to it, and, as thou art accustomed,
Revive again the half—dead virtue in him.”

Like gentle soul, that maketh no excuse,
But makes its own will of another’s will
As soon as by a sign it is disclosed,

Even so, when she had taken hold of me,
The beautiful lady moved, and unto Statius
Said, in her womanly manner,”Come with him.”

If, Reader, I possessed a longer space
For writing it, I yet would sing in part
Of the sweet draught that ne’er would satiate me;

But inasmuch as full are all the leaves
Made ready for this second canticle,
The curb of art no farther lets me go.

From the most holy water I returned
Regenerate, in the manner of new trees
That are renewed with a new foliage,

Pure and disposed to mount unto the stars.