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Dante Alighieri (1265–1321).  The Divine Comedy.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
 
Purgatory
 
Canto XIII
 
 
ARGUMENT.—They gain the second cornice, where the sin of envy is purged; and having proceeded a little to the right, they hear voices uttered by invisible spirits recounting famous examples of charity, and next behold the shades, or souls, of the envious clad in sackcloth, and having their eyes sewed up with an iron thread. Amongst these Dante finds Sapia, a Siennese lady, from whom he learns the cause of her being there.
 
 
WE reach’d the summit of the scale, and stood
Upon the second buttress of that mount
Which healeth him who climbs. A cornice there
Like to the former, girdles round the hill;
Save that its arch, with sweep less ample, bends.        5
  Shadow, nor image there, is seen: all smooth
The rampart and the path, reflecting naught
But the rock’s sullen hue. “If here we wait,
For some to question,” said the bard, “I fear
Our choice may haply meet too long delay.”        10
  Then fixedly upon the sun his eyes
He fasten’d; made his right the central point
From whence to move; and turn’d the left aside.
“O pleasant light, my confidence and hope!
Conduct us thou,” he cried, “on this new way,        15
Where now I venture; leading to the bourn
We seek. The universal world to thee
Owes warmth and lustre. If no other cause
Forbid, thy beams should ever be our guide.”
  Far, as in measured for a mile on earth,        20
In brief space had we journey’d; such prompt will
Impell’d; and toward us flying, now were heard
Spirits invisible, who courteously
Unto love’s table bade the welcome guest.
The voice, that first flew by, call’d forth aloud,        25
“They have no wine,” so on behind us past,
Those sounds reiterating, nor yet lost
In the faint distance, when another came
Crying, “I am Orestes,” 1 and alike
Wing’d its fleet way. “O father!” I exclaim’d,        30
“What tongues are these?” and as I question’d, lo!
A third exclaiming, “Love ye those have wrong’d you.”
  “This circuit,” said my teacher, “knots the scourge
For envy; and the cords are therefore drawn
By charity’s correcting hand. The curb        35
Is of a harsher sound; as thou shalt hear
(If I deem rightly) ere thou reach the pass,
Where pardon sets them free. But fix thine eyes
Intently through the air; and thou shalt see
A multitude before thee seated, each        40
Along the shelving grot.” Then more than erst
I oped mine eyes; before me view’d; and saw
Shadows with garments dark as was the rock;
And when we pass’d a little forth, I heard
A crying, “Blessed Mary! pray for us,        45
Michael and Peter! all ye saintly host!”
  I do not think there walks on earth this day
Man so remorseless, that he had not yearn’d
With pity at the sight that next I saw.
Mine eyes a load of sorrow teem’d, when now        50
I stood so near them, that their semblances
Came clearly to my view. Of sackcloth vile
Their covering seem’d; and, on his shoulder, one
Did stay another, leaning; and all lean’d
Against the cliff. E’en thus the blind and poor,        55
Near the confessionals, to crave an alms,
Stand, each his head upon his fellow’s sunk;
So most to stir compassion, not by sound
Of words alone, but that which moves not less,
The sight of misery. And as never beam        60
Of noon-day visiteth the eyeless man,
E’en so was heaven a niggard unto these
Of his fair light: for, through the orbs of all,
A thread of wire, impiercing, knits them up,
As for the taming of a haggard hawk.        65
It were a wrong, methought, to pass and look
On others, yet myself the while unseen.
To my sage counsel therefore did I turn.
He knew the meaning of the mute appeal,
Nor waited for my questioning, but said:        70
“Speak; and be brief, be subtile in thy words.”
  On that part of the cornice, whence no rim
Engarlands its steep fall, did Virgil come;
On the other side me were the spirits, their cheeks
Bathing devout with penitential tears,        75
That through the dread impalement forced a way.
  I turn’d me to them, and “O shades!” said I,
“Assured that to your eyes unveil’d shall shine
The lofty light, sole object of your wish,
So may Heaven’s grace clear whatsoe’er of foam        80
Floats turbid on the conscience, that thenceforth
The stream of mind roll limpid from its source;
As ye declare (for so shall ye impart
A boon I dearly prize) if any soul
Of Latium dwell among ye: and perchance        85
That soul may profit, if I learn so much.”
  “My brother! we are, each one, citizens
Of one true city. 2 Any, thou wouldst say,
Who lived a stranger in Italia’s land.”
  So heard I answering, as appear’d, a voice        90
That onward came some space from whence I stood.
  A spirit I noted, in whose look was mark’d
Expectance. Ask ye how? The chin was raised
As in one reft of sight. “Spirit,” said I,
“Who for thy rise art tutoring, (if thou be        95
That which didst answer to me), or by place,
Or name, disclose thyself, thy I may know thee.”
  “I was,” it answer’d, “of Sienna: here
I cleanse away with these the evil life,
Soliciting with tears that He, who is,        100
Vouchsafe Him to us. Though Sapia 3 named,
In sapience I excell’d not; gladder far
Of other’s hurt, than of the good befell me.
That thou mayst own I now deceive thee not,
Hear, if my folly were not as I speak it.        105
When now my tears sloped waning down the arch,
It so bechanced, my fellow-citizens
Near Colle met their enemies in the field;
And I pray’d God to grant what He had will’d. 4
There were they vanquish’d, and betook themselves        110
Unto the bitter passages of flight.
I mark’d the hunt; and waxing out of bounds
In gladness, lifted up my shameless brow,
And, like the merlin 5 cheated by a gleam,
Cried: ‘It is over. Heaven! I fear thee not.’        115
Upon my verge of life I wish’d for peace
With God; nor yet repentance had supplied
What I did lack of duty, were it not
The hermit Piero, 6 touch’d with charity,
In his devout orisons though on me.        120
But who art thou that question’st of our state,
Who go’st, as I believe, with lids unclosed,
And breathest in thy talk?”—“Mine eyes,” said I,
“May yet be here ta’en from me; but not long;
For they have not offended grievously        125
With envious glances. But the woe beneath 7
Urges my soul with more exceeding dread.
That nether load already weighs me down.”
  She thus: “Who then, amongst us here aloft,
Hath brought thee, if thou weenest to return?”        130
  “He,” answered I, “who standeth mute beside me.
I live: of me ask therefore, chosen spirit!
If thou desire I yonder yet should move
For thee my mortal feet.”—“Oh!” she replied,
“This is so strange a thing, it is great sign        135
That God doth love thee. Therefore with thy prayer
Sometime assist me: and, by that I crave,
Which most thou covetest, that if thy feet
E’er tread on Tuscan soil, thou save my fame
Amongst my kindred. Them shalt thou behold        140
With that vain multitude, 8 who set their hope
On Telamone’s haven; there to fail
Confounded, more than when the fancied stream
They sought, of Dian call’d: but they, who lead
Their navies, more than ruin’d hopes shall mourn.”        145
 
Note 1. “Orestes.” Alluding to his friendship with Pylades. [back]
Note 2. “———Citizens of one true city!” “For here we have no continuing city, but we seek one to come.”—Heb. xiii. 14. [back]
Note 3. “Sapia.” A lady of Sienna, living in exile at Colle, so overjoyed at a defeat which her countrymen sustained near that place, that she declared nothing more was wanting to make her die contended. [back]
Note 4. “———What He had will’d.” That her countrymen should be defeated in battle. [back]
Note 5. Induced by a gleam of fine weather in the winter to escape from his master, the merlin was soon oppressed by the rigor of the season. [back]
Note 6. “The hermit Piero.” Piero Pettinagno, a holy hermit of Florence. [back]
Note 7. Dante felt that he was much more subject to the sin of pride, than to that of envy. [back]
Note 8. The Sienese  [back]
 

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