Digression Italy

Purgatorio 6 is the canto of Italy, as Inferno 6 is the canto of Florence and Paradiso 6 is the canto Empire. But this symmetry should not delude us: the concept of “Italy” is much murkier to Dante and his contemporaries—and much further from the modern concept—than that of Florence and that of the Holy Roman Empire.

The idea of Italy is in great part linguistic; in his linguistic treatise De Vulgari Eloquentia Dante describes Italians as “qui dicunt” (those who say as their affirmative adverb), breaking this “lingua di sì” down into various regional subgroups (DVE 1.10).

To move from language to politics, Italy is also for Dante a place of nascent tirannia, and the analysis of tirannia in Purgatorio 6 should be connected to the other canti where the term is present: Inferno 12 and Inferno 27.

Purgatorio 6 begins with Dante surrounded by a pressing crowd of souls who died violently, eager to speak with him, some of whose names are briefly indicated by the poet. One of those thus indicated by periphrasis is the son of Marzucco Scornigiani, Gano Scornigiani, who died at the hands of Ugolino della Gherardesca’s assassins. Thus, Gano Scornigiani of Purgatorio 6, who was embroiled in the feud between Ugolino della Gherardesca and his grandson Nino Visconti (see the Introduction to Inferno 33), died at the hands of a tiranno, just like Iacopo del Cassero in Purgatorio 5.

On Gano Scornigiani, I cite a passage from Dante’s Poets, p. 183:

Among these [in Purgatorio 6] is one named by periphrasis as “quel da Pisa / che fé parer lo buon Marzucco forte” (the one from Pisa who made the good Marzucco show his strength [17-18]). This is most likely Gano Scornigiani, the son of the Pisan nobleman Marzucco Scornigiani, whom Dante had occasion to meet at Santa Croce, where Marzucco lived as a priest after his retirement from the world; it was Gano’s death that gave Marzucco the opportunity to display his fortitude. lnterestingly, Gano was embroiled in the feuding between Ugolino and Nino over control of Pisa, which was the outcome of Ugolino’s bringing Nino into power as capitano del popolo in 1285; Gano, whose family had long ties with the Visconti, took Nino’s side and was killed in 1287 by Ugolino’s men.

Dante and Virgilio proceed, and see a soul sitting solitary and with great dignity. This turns out to be Sordello, a poet from Mantova (Virgilio’s birthplace) who wrote in Occitan. The question of linguistic identity is thus broached through the presence of Sordello, mentioned by Dante in the De Vulgari Eloquentia as a poet who “abandoned his native vernacular” (“patrium vulgare deseruit” [1.15.2]).

Virgilio begins to introduce himself, but gets only as far as the one word “Mantua.” Perhaps he was going to say “Mantua me genuit” (Mantua gave birth to me), the epitaph that the historical Vergil was believed to have written for his own tombstone. Instead, he is impetuously interrupted by Sordello:

  ma di nostro paese e de la vita
ci ’nchiese; e ’l dolce duca incominciava
«Mantua...», e l’ombra, tutta in sé romita,
  surse ver’ lui del loco ove pria stava,
dicendo: «O Mantoano, io son Sordello
de la tua terra!»; e l’un l’altro abbracciava. (Purg. 6.70-75)
  but asked us what our country was and who
we were, at which my gentle guide began
“Mantua”—and that spirit, who had been
  so solitary, rose from his position,
saying: “O Mantuan, I am Sordello,
from your own land!” And each embraced the other.

The embrace between Virgilio and Sordello is compared by the poet to the current state of Italy, whose citizens do not embrace each other but rather “gnaw” upon each other (“si rode,” Purg. 6.82). This metaphorical use of rodere, “to gnaw”, echoes the Ugolino episode in Inferno 32-33, where one Pisan literally gnaws on the skull of another Pisan. Given the presence in this canto of Gano Scornigiani, assassinated at the behest of Ugolino, it is evident that for Dante Ugolino is a character who assumes emblematic value far beyond his own zone of hell: Ugolino is emblematic of the tragic tirannia and family factionalism that are destroying Italy.

Immediately after the embrace of Sordello and Virgilio, something quite remarkable occurs, which has never occurred before for such a long stretch in the poem. Dante interrupts the diegesis, the narrative line, as he has in the past briefly for an address to the reader, but on this occasion he does so for the remainder of Purgatorio 6. Toward the end of the canto he describes what he is doing as a “digression” (Purg. 6.128). By calling attention to the interruption of Purgatorio 6 and giving the interruption its rhetorical label “digression”, Dante confers enormous dignity upon this singular event. The interruption or break in the narrative is emblematic of the rupture or break in comity and civility that is the tragic fate of Italy.

The digression is an explosion of political anxiety about the state of the peninsula called “Italia”, and begins with an apostrophe directed at “serva Italia”:

  Ahi serva Italia, di dolore ostello,
nave sanza nocchiere in gran tempesta,
non donna di province, ma bordello! (Purg. 6.76-78)
  Ah, abject Italy, you inn of sorrows,
you ship without a helmsman in harsh seas,
no queen of provinces but of bordellos!

After the apostrophe to Italy, Dante poet apostrophizes the other major actors in the tragedy of Italy, as he sees it: the clergy (Purg. 6.91), and the Emperor (Purg. 6.97). He then calls on the Emperor to come from Germany to Italy and see the devastation wrought by his political negligence. In his desperation, Dante turns to God Himself (Purg. 6.118), and asks, in the rhetorical culmination of the digression, if God has forgotten Italy. Finally, he turns to “Fiorenza mia” (Purg. 6.127) and sarcastically attacks his natal city.

In analyzing this explosive “digression” on “abject Italy”, it is important to trace the poet’s strong rhetoric, especially the turbulent sequence of his apostrophes and the string of metaphors that designate “Italia”.

Coordinated Reading

Coordinated Reading: The Undivine Comedy, Chapter 5, “Purgatory as Paradigm,” pp. 118-20; Dante’s Poets, pp. 154-62, 181-84.

Recommended Citation

Barolini, Teodolinda. “Purgatorio 6: Digression Italy.” Commento Baroliniano, Digital Dante. New York, NY: Columbia University Libraries, 2017. https://digitaldante.columbia.edu/dante/divine-comedy/purgatorio/purgatorio-6/

About the Commento

1 Quando si parte il gioco de la zara,
2 colui che perde si riman dolente,
3 repetendo le volte, e tristo impara;

4 con l’altro se ne va tutta la gente;
5 qual va dinanzi, e qual di dietro il prende,
6 e qual dallato li si reca a mente;

7 el non s’arresta, e questo e quello intende;
8 a cui porge la man, più non fa pressa;
9 e così da la calca si difende.

10 Tal era io in quella turba spessa,
11 volgendo a loro, e qua e là, la faccia,
12 e promettendo mi sciogliea da essa.

13 Quiv’ era l’Aretin che da le braccia
14 fiere di Ghin di Tacco ebbe la morte,
15 e l’altro ch’annegò correndo in caccia.

16 Quivi pregava con le mani sporte
17 Federigo Novello, e quel da Pisa
18 che fé parer lo buon Marzucco forte.

19 Vidi conte Orso e l’anima divisa
20 dal corpo suo per astio e per inveggia,
21 com’ e’ dicea, non per colpa commisa;

22 Pier da la Broccia dico; e qui proveggia,
23 mentr’ è di qua, la donna di Brabante,
24 sì che però non sia di peggior greggia.

25 Come libero fui da tutte quante
26 quell’ ombre che pregar pur ch’altri prieghi,
27 sì che s’avacci lor divenir sante,

28 io cominciai: «El par che tu mi nieghi,
29 o luce mia, espresso in alcun testo
30 che decreto del cielo orazion pieghi;

31 e questa gente prega pur di questo:
32 sarebbe dunque loro speme vana,
33 o non m’è ’l detto tuo ben manifesto?».

34 Ed elli a me: «La mia scrittura è piana;
35 e la speranza di costor non falla,
36 se ben si guarda con la mente sana;

37 ché cima di giudicio non s’avvalla
38 perché foco d’amor compia in un punto
39 ciò che de’ sodisfar chi qui s’astalla;

40 e là dov’ io fermai cotesto punto,
41 non s’ammendava, per pregar, difetto,
42 perché ’l priego da Dio era disgiunto.

43 Veramente a così alto sospetto
44 non ti fermar, se quella nol ti dice
45 che lume fia tra ’l vero e lo ’ntelletto.

46 Non so se ’ntendi: io dico di Beatrice;
47 tu la vedrai di sopra, in su la vetta
48 di questo monte, ridere e felice».

49 E io: «Segnore, andiamo a maggior fretta,
50 ché già non m’affatico come dianzi,
51 e vedi omai che ’l poggio l’ombra getta».

52 «Noi anderem con questo giorno innanzi»,
53 rispuose, «quanto più potremo omai;
54 ma ’l fatto è d’altra forma che non stanzi.

55 Prima che sie là sù, tornar vedrai
56 colui che già si cuopre de la costa,
57 sì che ’ suoi raggi tu romper non fai.

58 Ma vedi là un’anima che, posta
59 sola soletta, inverso noi riguarda:
60 quella ne ’nsegnerà la via più tosta».

61 Venimmo a lei: o anima lombarda,
62 come ti stavi altera e disdegnosa
63 e nel mover de li occhi onesta e tarda!

64 Ella non ci dicëa alcuna cosa,
65 ma lasciavane gir, solo sguardando
66 a guisa di leon quando si posa.

67 Pur Virgilio si trasse a lei, pregando
68 che ne mostrasse la miglior salita;
69 e quella non rispuose al suo dimando,

70 ma di nostro paese e de la vita
71 ci ’nchiese; e ’l dolce duca incominciava
72 «Mantüa…», e l’ombra, tutta in sé romita,

73 surse ver’ lui del loco ove pria stava,
74 dicendo: «O Mantoano, io son Sordello
75 de la tua terra!»; e l’un l’altro abbracciava.

76 Ahi serva Italia, di dolore ostello,
77 nave sanza nocchiere in gran tempesta,
78 non donna di province, ma bordello!

79 Quell’ anima gentil fu così presta,
80 sol per lo dolce suon de la sua terra,
81 di fare al cittadin suo quivi festa;

82 e ora in te non stanno sanza guerra
83 li vivi tuoi, e l’un l’altro si rode
84 di quei ch’un muro e una fossa serra.

85 Cerca, misera, intorno da le prode
86 le tue marine, e poi ti guarda in seno,
87 s’alcuna parte in te di pace gode.

88 Che val perché ti racconciasse il freno
89 Iustinïano, se la sella è vòta?
90 Sanz’ esso fora la vergogna meno.

91 Ahi gente che dovresti esser devota,
92 e lasciar seder Cesare in la sella,
93 se bene intendi ciò che Dio ti nota,

94 guarda come esta fiera è fatta fella
95 per non esser corretta da li sproni,
96 poi che ponesti mano a la predella.

97 O Alberto tedesco ch’abbandoni
98 costei ch’è fatta indomita e selvaggia,
99 e dovresti inforcar li suoi arcioni,

100 giusto giudicio da le stelle caggia
101 sovra ’l tuo sangue, e sia novo e aperto,
102 tal che ’l tuo successor temenza n’aggia!

103 Ch’avete tu e ’l tuo padre sofferto,
104 per cupidigia di costà distretti,
105 che ’l giardin de lo ’mperio sia diserto.

106 Vieni a veder Montecchi e Cappelletti,
107 Monaldi e Filippeschi, uom sanza cura:
108 color già tristi, e questi con sospetti!

109 Vien, crudel, vieni, e vedi la pressura
110 d’i tuoi gentili, e cura lor magagne;
111 e vedrai Santafior com’ è oscura!

112 Vieni a veder la tua Roma che piagne
113 vedova e sola, e dì e notte chiama:
114 «Cesare mio, perché non m’accompagne?».

115 Vieni a veder la gente quanto s’ama!
116 e se nulla di noi pietà ti move,
117 a vergognar ti vien de la tua fama.

118 E se licito m’è, o sommo Giove
119 che fosti in terra per noi crucifisso,
120 son li giusti occhi tuoi rivolti altrove?

121 O è preparazion che ne l’abisso
122 del tuo consiglio fai per alcun bene
123 in tutto de l’accorger nostro scisso?

124 Ché le città d’ Italia tutte piene
125 son di tiranni, e un Marcel diventa
126 ogne villan che parteggiando viene.

127 Fiorenza mia, ben puoi esser contenta
128 di questa digression che non ti tocca,
129 mercé del popol tuo che si argomenta.

130 Molti han giustizia in cuore, e tardi scocca
131 per non venir sanza consiglio a l’arco;
132 ma il popol tuo l’ha in sommo de la bocca.

133 Molti rifiutan lo comune incarco;
134 ma il popol tuo solicito risponde
135 sanza chiamare, e grida: «I’ mi sobbarco!».

136 Or ti fa lieta, ché tu hai ben onde:
137 tu ricca, tu con pace, e tu con senno!
138 S’io dico ’l ver, l’effetto nol nasconde.

139 Atene e Lacedemona, che fenno
140 l’antiche leggi e furon sì civili,
141 fecero al viver bene un picciol cenno

142 verso di te, che fai tanto sottili
143 provedimenti, ch’a mezzo novembre
144 non giugne quel che tu d’ottobre fili.

145 Quante volte, del tempo che rimembre,
146 legge, moneta, officio e costume
147 hai tu mutato e rinovate membre!

148 E se ben ti ricordi e vedi lume,
149 vedrai te somigliante a quella inferma
150 che non può trovar posa in su le piume,

151 ma con dar volta suo dolore scherma.

When dicing’s done and players separate,
the loser’s left alone, disconsolate—
rehearsing what he’d thrown, he sadly learns;

all of the crowd surrounds the one who won—
one goes in front, and one tugs at his back,
and at his side one asks to be remembered;

he does not halt but listens to them all;
and when he gives them something, they desist;
and so he can fend off the pressing throng.

And I, in that persistent pack, was such:
this way and that, I turned my face to them
and, making promises, escaped their clutch.

There was the Aretine who met his death
beneath Ghino di Tacco’s bestial hands,
and one who drowned when, in pursuit, he ran.

There, with his outstretched hands, was Federigo
Novello, praying, and the Pisan who
made good Marzucco show his fortitude.

I saw Count Orso, and I saw the soul
cleft from its body out of spite and envy—
not, so it said, because it had been guilty—

I mean Pier de la Brosse (and may the Lady
of Brabant, while she’s still in this world, watch
her ways—or end among a sadder flock).

As soon as I was free from all those shades
who always pray for others’ prayers for them,
so as to reach their blessed state more quickly,

I started: “O my light, it seems to me
that in one passage you deny expressly
that prayer can bend the rule of Heaven, yet

these people pray precisely for that end.
Is their hope, therefore, only emptiness,
or have I not read clearly what you said?”

And he to me: “My text is plain enough,
and yet their hope is not delusive if
one scrutinizes it with sober wit;

the peak of justice is not lowered when
the fire of love accomplishes in one
instant the expiation owed by all

who dwell here; for where I asserted this—
that prayers could not mend their fault—I spoke
of prayers without a passageway to God.

But in a quandary so deep, do not
conclude with me, but wait for word that she,
the light between your mind and truth, will speak—

lest you misunderstand, the she I mean
is Beatrice; upon this mountain’s peak,
there you shall see her smiling joyously.”

And I: “Lord, let us move ahead more quickly,
for now I am less weary than before;
and—you can see—the slope now casts a shadow.”

“As long as it is day, we’ll make as much
headway as possible,” he answered; “but
our climb won’t be as rapid as you thought.

You will not reach the peak before you see
the sun returning: now he hides behind
the hills—you cannot interrupt his light.

But see—beyond—a soul who is completely
apart, and seated, looking toward us; he
will show us where to climb most speedily.”

We came to him. O Lombard soul, what pride
and what disdain were in your stance! Your eyes
moved with such dignity, such gravity!

He said no thing to us but let us pass,
his eyes intent upon us only as
a lion watches when it is at rest.

Yet Virgil made his way to him, appealing
to him to show us how we’d best ascend;
and he did not reply to that request,

but asked us what our country was and who
we were, at which my gentle guide began
“Mantua”—and that spirit, who had been

so solitary, rose from his position,
saying:”O Mantuan, I am Sordello,
from your own land!” And each embraced the other.

Ah, abject Italy, you inn of sorrows,
you ship without a helmsman in harsh seas,
no queen of provinces but of bordellos!

That noble soul had such enthusiasm:
his city’s sweet name was enough for him
to welcome—there—his fellow—citizen;

But those who are alive within you now
can’t live without their warring—even those
whom one same wall and one same moat enclose

gnaw at each other. Squalid Italy,
search round your shores and then look inland—see
if any part of you delight in peace.

What use was there in a Justinian’s
mending your bridle, when the saddle’s empty?
Indeed, were there no reins, your shame were less.

Ah you—who if you understood what God
ordained, would then attend to things devout
and in the saddle surely would allow

Caesar to sit—see how this beast turns fierce
because there are no spurs that would correct it,
since you have laid your hands upon the bit!

O German Albert, you who have abandoned
that steed become recalcitrant and savage,
you who should ride astride its saddlebows—

upon your blood may the just judgment of
the stars descend with signs so strange and plain
that your successor has to feel its terror!

For both you and your father, in your greed
for lands that lay more close at hand, allowed
the garden of the Empire to be gutted.

Come—you who pay no heed—do come and see
Montecchi, Cappelletti, sad already,
and, filled with fear, Monaldi, Filippeschi.

Come, cruel one, come see the tribulation
of your nobility and heal their hurts;
see how disconsolate is Santafior!

Come, see your Rome who, widowed and alone,
weeps bitterly; both day and night, she moans:
“My Caesar, why are you not at my side?”

Come, see how much your people love each other!
And if no pity for us moves you, may
shame for your own repute move you to act.

And if I am allowed, o highest Jove,
to ask: You who on earth were crucified
for us—have You turned elsewhere Your just eyes?

Or are You, in Your judgment’s depth, devising
a good that we cannot foresee, completely
dissevered from our way of understanding?

For all the towns of Italy are full
of tyrants, and each townsman who becomes
a partisan is soon a new Marcellus.

My Florence, you indeed may be content
that this digression would leave you exempt:
your people’s strivings spare you this lament.

Others have justice in their hearts, and thought
is slow to let it fly off from their bow;
but your folk keep it ready—on their lips.

Others refuse the weight of public service;
whereas your people—eagerly—respond,
even unasked, and shout: “I’ll take it on.”

You might be happy now, for you have cause!
You with your riches, peace, judiciousness!
If I speak truly, facts won’t prove me wrong.

Compared to you, Athens and Lacedaemon,
though civil cities, with their ancient laws,
had merely sketched the life of righteousness;

for you devise provisions so ingenious—
whatever threads October sees you spin,
when mid—November comes, will be unspun.

How often, in the time you can remember,
have you changed laws and coinage, offices
and customs, and revised your citizens!

And if your memory has some clarity,
then you will see yourself like that sick woman
who finds no rest upon her feather—bed,

but, turning, tossing, tries to ease her pain.

WHENE’ER is broken up the game of Zara,
He who has lost remains behind despondent,
The throws repeating, and in sadness learns;

The people with the other all depart;
One goes in front, and one behind doth pluck
And at his side one brings himself to mind;

He pauses not, and this and that one hears;
They crowd no more to whom his hand he stretches,
And from the throng he thus defends himself.

Even such was I in that dense multitude,
Turning to them this way and that my face,
And, promising, I freed myself therefrom.

There was the Aretine, who from the arms
Untamed of Ghin di Tacco had his death,
And he who fleeing from pursuit was drowned.

There was imploring with his hands outstretched
Frederick Novello, and that one of Pisa
Who made the good Marzucco seem so strong.

I saw Count Orso; and the soul divided
By hatred and by envy from its body,
As it declared, and not for crime committed,

Pierre de la Brosse I say; and here provide
While still on earth the Lady of Brabant,
So that for this she be of no worse flock!

As soon as I was free from all those shades
Who only prayed that some one else may pray,
So as to hasten their becoming holy,

Began I: “It appears that thou deniest,
O light of mine, expressly in some text,
That orison can bend decree of Heaven;

And ne’ertheless these people pray for this.
Might then their expectation bootless be
Or is to me thy saying not quite clear ?”

And he to me: “My writing is explicit,
And not fallacious is the hope of these,
If with sane intellect ’tis well regarded;

For top of judgment doth not vail itself,
Because the fire of love fulfils at once
What he must satisfy who here installs him.

And there, where I affirmed that proposition,
Defect was not amended by a prayer,
Because the prayer from God was separate.

Verily, in so deep a questioning
Do not decide, unless she tell it thee,
Who light ‘twixt truth and intellect shall be.

I know not if thou understand; I speak
Of Beatrice; her shalt thou see above,
Smiling and happy, on this mountain’s top.”

And I: “Good Leader, let us make more haste,
For I no longer tire me as before;
And see, e’en now the hill a shadow casts.”

“We will go forward with this day” he answered,
“As far as now is possible for us;
But otherwise the fact is than thou thinkest.

Ere thou art up there, thou shalt see return
Him, who now hides himself behind the hill,
So that thou dost not interrupt his rays.

But yonder there behold! a soul that stationed
All, all alone is looking hitherward;
It will point out to us the quickest way.”

We came up unto it; O Lombard soul,
How lofty and disdainful thou didst bear thee,
And grand and slow in moving of thine eyes!

Nothing whatever did it say to us,
But let us go our way, eying us only
After the manner of a couchant lion;

Still near to it Virgilius drew, entreating
That it would point us out the best ascent;
And it replied not unto his demand,

But of our native land and of our lifef
It questioned us; and the sweet Guide began:
“Mantua,”—and the shade, all in itself recluse,

Rose tow’rds him from the place where first it was.
Saying: “O Mantuan, I am Sordello
Of thine own land!” and one embraced the other.

Ah! servile Italy, grief’s hostelry!
A ship without a pilot in great tempest!
No Lady thou of Provinces, but brothel!

That noble soul was so impatient, only
At the sweet sound of his own native land,
To make its citizen glad welcome there;

And now within thee are not without war
Thy living ones, and one doth gnaw the other
Of those whom one wall and one fosse shut in!

Search, wretched one, all round about the shores
Thy seaboard, and then look within thy bosom,
If any part of thee enjoyeth peace!

What boots it, that for thee Justinian
The bridle mend, if empty be the saddle ?
Withouten this the shame would be the less.

Ah! people, thou that oughtest to be devout,
And to let Caesar sit upon the saddle,
If well thou hearest what God teacheth thee,

Behold how fell this wild beast has become,
Being no longer by the spur corrected,
Since thou hast laid thy hand upon the bridle.

O German Albert! who abandonest
Her that has grown recalcitrant and savage,
And oughtest to bestride her saddle—bow,

May a just judgment from the stars down fall
Upon thy blood, and be it new and open,
That thy successor may have fear thereof;

Because thy father and thyself have suffered,
By greed of those transalpine lands distrained,
The garden of the empire to be waste.

Come and behold Montecchi and Cappelletti,
Monaldi and Fillippeschi, careless man!
Those sad already, and these doubt—depressed!

Come, cruel one! come and behold the oppression
Of thy nobility, and cure their wounds,
And thou shalt see how safe is Santafiore!

Come and behold thy Rome, that is lamenting,
Widowed, alone, and day and night exclaims,
“My Caesar, why hast thou forsaken me ?”

Come and behold how loving are the people;
And if for us no pity moveth thee,
Come and be made ashamed of thy renown!

And if it lawful be, O Jove Supreme!
Who upon earth for us wast crucified,
Are thy just eyes averted otherwhere ?

Or preparation is ‘t, that, in the abyss
Of thine own counsel, for some good thou makest
From our perception utterly cut off?

For all the towns of Italy are full
Of tyrants, and becometh a Marcellus
Each peasant churl who plays the partisan!

My Florence! well mayst thou contented be
With this digression, which concerns thee not,
Thanks to thy people who such forethought take!

Many at heart have justice, but shoot slowly,
That unadvised they come not to the bow,
But on their very lips thy people have it!

Many refuse to bear the common burden;
But thy solicitous people answereth
Without being asked, and crieth: “I submit.”

Now be thou joyful, for thou hast good reason;
Thou affluent, thou in peace, thou full of wisdom!
If I speak true, the event conceals it not.

Athens and Lacedaemon, they who made
The ancient laws, and were so civilized,
Made towards living well a little sign

Compared with thee, who makest such fine—spun
Provisions, that to middle of November
Reaches not what thou in October spinnest.

How oft, within the time of thy remembrance,
Laws, money, offices, and usages
Hast thou remodelled, and renewed thy members ?

And if thou mind thee well, and see the light,
Thou shalt behold thyself like a sick woman,
Who cannot find repose upon her down,

But by her tossing wardeth off her pain.

When dicing’s done and players separate,
the loser’s left alone, disconsolate—
rehearsing what he’d thrown, he sadly learns;

all of the crowd surrounds the one who won—
one goes in front, and one tugs at his back,
and at his side one asks to be remembered;

he does not halt but listens to them all;
and when he gives them something, they desist;
and so he can fend off the pressing throng.

And I, in that persistent pack, was such:
this way and that, I turned my face to them
and, making promises, escaped their clutch.

There was the Aretine who met his death
beneath Ghino di Tacco’s bestial hands,
and one who drowned when, in pursuit, he ran.

There, with his outstretched hands, was Federigo
Novello, praying, and the Pisan who
made good Marzucco show his fortitude.

I saw Count Orso, and I saw the soul
cleft from its body out of spite and envy—
not, so it said, because it had been guilty—

I mean Pier de la Brosse (and may the Lady
of Brabant, while she’s still in this world, watch
her ways—or end among a sadder flock).

As soon as I was free from all those shades
who always pray for others’ prayers for them,
so as to reach their blessed state more quickly,

I started: “O my light, it seems to me
that in one passage you deny expressly
that prayer can bend the rule of Heaven, yet

these people pray precisely for that end.
Is their hope, therefore, only emptiness,
or have I not read clearly what you said?”

And he to me: “My text is plain enough,
and yet their hope is not delusive if
one scrutinizes it with sober wit;

the peak of justice is not lowered when
the fire of love accomplishes in one
instant the expiation owed by all

who dwell here; for where I asserted this—
that prayers could not mend their fault—I spoke
of prayers without a passageway to God.

But in a quandary so deep, do not
conclude with me, but wait for word that she,
the light between your mind and truth, will speak—

lest you misunderstand, the she I mean
is Beatrice; upon this mountain’s peak,
there you shall see her smiling joyously.”

And I: “Lord, let us move ahead more quickly,
for now I am less weary than before;
and—you can see—the slope now casts a shadow.”

“As long as it is day, we’ll make as much
headway as possible,” he answered; “but
our climb won’t be as rapid as you thought.

You will not reach the peak before you see
the sun returning: now he hides behind
the hills—you cannot interrupt his light.

But see—beyond—a soul who is completely
apart, and seated, looking toward us; he
will show us where to climb most speedily.”

We came to him. O Lombard soul, what pride
and what disdain were in your stance! Your eyes
moved with such dignity, such gravity!

He said no thing to us but let us pass,
his eyes intent upon us only as
a lion watches when it is at rest.

Yet Virgil made his way to him, appealing
to him to show us how we’d best ascend;
and he did not reply to that request,

but asked us what our country was and who
we were, at which my gentle guide began
“Mantua”—and that spirit, who had been

so solitary, rose from his position,
saying:”O Mantuan, I am Sordello,
from your own land!” And each embraced the other.

Ah, abject Italy, you inn of sorrows,
you ship without a helmsman in harsh seas,
no queen of provinces but of bordellos!

That noble soul had such enthusiasm:
his city’s sweet name was enough for him
to welcome—there—his fellow—citizen;

But those who are alive within you now
can’t live without their warring—even those
whom one same wall and one same moat enclose

gnaw at each other. Squalid Italy,
search round your shores and then look inland—see
if any part of you delight in peace.

What use was there in a Justinian’s
mending your bridle, when the saddle’s empty?
Indeed, were there no reins, your shame were less.

Ah you—who if you understood what God
ordained, would then attend to things devout
and in the saddle surely would allow

Caesar to sit—see how this beast turns fierce
because there are no spurs that would correct it,
since you have laid your hands upon the bit!

O German Albert, you who have abandoned
that steed become recalcitrant and savage,
you who should ride astride its saddlebows—

upon your blood may the just judgment of
the stars descend with signs so strange and plain
that your successor has to feel its terror!

For both you and your father, in your greed
for lands that lay more close at hand, allowed
the garden of the Empire to be gutted.

Come—you who pay no heed—do come and see
Montecchi, Cappelletti, sad already,
and, filled with fear, Monaldi, Filippeschi.

Come, cruel one, come see the tribulation
of your nobility and heal their hurts;
see how disconsolate is Santafior!

Come, see your Rome who, widowed and alone,
weeps bitterly; both day and night, she moans:
“My Caesar, why are you not at my side?”

Come, see how much your people love each other!
And if no pity for us moves you, may
shame for your own repute move you to act.

And if I am allowed, o highest Jove,
to ask: You who on earth were crucified
for us—have You turned elsewhere Your just eyes?

Or are You, in Your judgment’s depth, devising
a good that we cannot foresee, completely
dissevered from our way of understanding?

For all the towns of Italy are full
of tyrants, and each townsman who becomes
a partisan is soon a new Marcellus.

My Florence, you indeed may be content
that this digression would leave you exempt:
your people’s strivings spare you this lament.

Others have justice in their hearts, and thought
is slow to let it fly off from their bow;
but your folk keep it ready—on their lips.

Others refuse the weight of public service;
whereas your people—eagerly—respond,
even unasked, and shout: “I’ll take it on.”

You might be happy now, for you have cause!
You with your riches, peace, judiciousness!
If I speak truly, facts won’t prove me wrong.

Compared to you, Athens and Lacedaemon,
though civil cities, with their ancient laws,
had merely sketched the life of righteousness;

for you devise provisions so ingenious—
whatever threads October sees you spin,
when mid—November comes, will be unspun.

How often, in the time you can remember,
have you changed laws and coinage, offices
and customs, and revised your citizens!

And if your memory has some clarity,
then you will see yourself like that sick woman
who finds no rest upon her feather—bed,

but, turning, tossing, tries to ease her pain.

WHENE’ER is broken up the game of Zara,
He who has lost remains behind despondent,
The throws repeating, and in sadness learns;

The people with the other all depart;
One goes in front, and one behind doth pluck
And at his side one brings himself to mind;

He pauses not, and this and that one hears;
They crowd no more to whom his hand he stretches,
And from the throng he thus defends himself.

Even such was I in that dense multitude,
Turning to them this way and that my face,
And, promising, I freed myself therefrom.

There was the Aretine, who from the arms
Untamed of Ghin di Tacco had his death,
And he who fleeing from pursuit was drowned.

There was imploring with his hands outstretched
Frederick Novello, and that one of Pisa
Who made the good Marzucco seem so strong.

I saw Count Orso; and the soul divided
By hatred and by envy from its body,
As it declared, and not for crime committed,

Pierre de la Brosse I say; and here provide
While still on earth the Lady of Brabant,
So that for this she be of no worse flock!

As soon as I was free from all those shades
Who only prayed that some one else may pray,
So as to hasten their becoming holy,

Began I: “It appears that thou deniest,
O light of mine, expressly in some text,
That orison can bend decree of Heaven;

And ne’ertheless these people pray for this.
Might then their expectation bootless be
Or is to me thy saying not quite clear ?”

And he to me: “My writing is explicit,
And not fallacious is the hope of these,
If with sane intellect ’tis well regarded;

For top of judgment doth not vail itself,
Because the fire of love fulfils at once
What he must satisfy who here installs him.

And there, where I affirmed that proposition,
Defect was not amended by a prayer,
Because the prayer from God was separate.

Verily, in so deep a questioning
Do not decide, unless she tell it thee,
Who light ‘twixt truth and intellect shall be.

I know not if thou understand; I speak
Of Beatrice; her shalt thou see above,
Smiling and happy, on this mountain’s top.”

And I: “Good Leader, let us make more haste,
For I no longer tire me as before;
And see, e’en now the hill a shadow casts.”

“We will go forward with this day” he answered,
“As far as now is possible for us;
But otherwise the fact is than thou thinkest.

Ere thou art up there, thou shalt see return
Him, who now hides himself behind the hill,
So that thou dost not interrupt his rays.

But yonder there behold! a soul that stationed
All, all alone is looking hitherward;
It will point out to us the quickest way.”

We came up unto it; O Lombard soul,
How lofty and disdainful thou didst bear thee,
And grand and slow in moving of thine eyes!

Nothing whatever did it say to us,
But let us go our way, eying us only
After the manner of a couchant lion;

Still near to it Virgilius drew, entreating
That it would point us out the best ascent;
And it replied not unto his demand,

But of our native land and of our lifef
It questioned us; and the sweet Guide began:
“Mantua,”—and the shade, all in itself recluse,

Rose tow’rds him from the place where first it was.
Saying: “O Mantuan, I am Sordello
Of thine own land!” and one embraced the other.

Ah! servile Italy, grief’s hostelry!
A ship without a pilot in great tempest!
No Lady thou of Provinces, but brothel!

That noble soul was so impatient, only
At the sweet sound of his own native land,
To make its citizen glad welcome there;

And now within thee are not without war
Thy living ones, and one doth gnaw the other
Of those whom one wall and one fosse shut in!

Search, wretched one, all round about the shores
Thy seaboard, and then look within thy bosom,
If any part of thee enjoyeth peace!

What boots it, that for thee Justinian
The bridle mend, if empty be the saddle ?
Withouten this the shame would be the less.

Ah! people, thou that oughtest to be devout,
And to let Caesar sit upon the saddle,
If well thou hearest what God teacheth thee,

Behold how fell this wild beast has become,
Being no longer by the spur corrected,
Since thou hast laid thy hand upon the bridle.

O German Albert! who abandonest
Her that has grown recalcitrant and savage,
And oughtest to bestride her saddle—bow,

May a just judgment from the stars down fall
Upon thy blood, and be it new and open,
That thy successor may have fear thereof;

Because thy father and thyself have suffered,
By greed of those transalpine lands distrained,
The garden of the empire to be waste.

Come and behold Montecchi and Cappelletti,
Monaldi and Fillippeschi, careless man!
Those sad already, and these doubt—depressed!

Come, cruel one! come and behold the oppression
Of thy nobility, and cure their wounds,
And thou shalt see how safe is Santafiore!

Come and behold thy Rome, that is lamenting,
Widowed, alone, and day and night exclaims,
“My Caesar, why hast thou forsaken me ?”

Come and behold how loving are the people;
And if for us no pity moveth thee,
Come and be made ashamed of thy renown!

And if it lawful be, O Jove Supreme!
Who upon earth for us wast crucified,
Are thy just eyes averted otherwhere ?

Or preparation is ‘t, that, in the abyss
Of thine own counsel, for some good thou makest
From our perception utterly cut off?

For all the towns of Italy are full
Of tyrants, and becometh a Marcellus
Each peasant churl who plays the partisan!

My Florence! well mayst thou contented be
With this digression, which concerns thee not,
Thanks to thy people who such forethought take!

Many at heart have justice, but shoot slowly,
That unadvised they come not to the bow,
But on their very lips thy people have it!

Many refuse to bear the common burden;
But thy solicitous people answereth
Without being asked, and crieth: “I submit.”

Now be thou joyful, for thou hast good reason;
Thou affluent, thou in peace, thou full of wisdom!
If I speak true, the event conceals it not.

Athens and Lacedaemon, they who made
The ancient laws, and were so civilized,
Made towards living well a little sign

Compared with thee, who makest such fine—spun
Provisions, that to middle of November
Reaches not what thou in October spinnest.

How oft, within the time of thy remembrance,
Laws, money, offices, and usages
Hast thou remodelled, and renewed thy members ?

And if thou mind thee well, and see the light,
Thou shalt behold thyself like a sick woman,
Who cannot find repose upon her down,

But by her tossing wardeth off her pain.