Divine Comedy - Purgatory

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This old man, as soon appears, is the younger Cato, and the office here given to him of warden of the souls in the outer region of Purgatory was suggested by the position assigned to him by Virgil in the Aeneid, viii. 670. "Secretosque pios, his dantem jura Catonem."

It has been objected to Virgil's thus putting him in Elysium, that as a suicide his place was in the Mourning Fields. A similar objection may be made to Dante's separating him from the other suicides in the seventh circle of Hell (Canto XIII.). "But," says Conington, "Virgil did not aim at perfect consistency. It was enough for him that Cato was one who from his character in life might be justly conceived of as lawgiver to the dead." So Dante, using Cato as an allegoric figure, regards him as one who, before the coming of Christ, practised the virtues which are required to liberate the soul from sin, and who, as be says in the De Monarchia (ii. 5), "that he might kindle the love of liberty in the world, showed how precious it was, by preferring death with liberty to life without it." This liberty is the type of that spiritual freedom which Dante is seeking, and which, being the perfect conformity of the human will to the will of God, is the aim and fruition of nil redeemed souls.

In the region of Purgatory outside the gate, the souls have not yet attained this freedom; they are on the way to it, and Cato is allegorically fit to warn and spur them on.

"Who are ye that counter to the blind stream have fled from the eternal prison?" said he, moving those venerable plumes. "Who has guided you? Or who was a lamp to you, issuing forth from the deep night that ever makes the infernal valley black? Are the laws of the abyss thus broken? or is a new design changed in heaven that, being damned, ye come unto my rocks?"

My Leader then took hold of me, and with words, and with hands, and with signs, made my legs and my brow reverent. Then he answered him, "Of myself I came not; a Lady descended from Heaven, through whose prayers I succored this man with my company. But since it is thy will that more of our condition be unfolded to thee as it truly is, mine cannot be that to thee this be denied. This man has not seen his last evening, but through his folly was so near thereto that very little time there was to turn. Even as I have said, I was sent to him to rescue him, and there was no other way than this, along which I have set myself. I have shown to him all the guilty people; and now I intend to show him those spirits that purge themselves under thy ward. How I have led him, it would be long to tell thee; from on high descends power that aids me to conduct him to see thee and to hear thee. Now may it please thee to approve his coming. He goes seeking liberty, which is so dear, as he knows who for her refuses life. Thou knowest it, for death for her sake was not hitter to thee in Utica, where thou didst leave the garment that on the great day shall he so bright. The eternal edicts are not violated by us, for this one is alive, and Minos does not bind me; but I am of the circle where are the chaste eyes of thy Marcia, who in her look still prays thee, O holy breast, that for thine own thou hold her. For her love, then, incline thyself to us; let us go on through thy seven realms.[1] Thanks unto thee will I carry back to her, if to be mentioned there below thou deign."

[1] The seven circles of Purgatory.

"Marcia so pleased my eyes while I was on earth," said he then, "that whatsoever grace she wished from me I did it; now, that on the other side of the evil stream she dwells, she can no more move me, by that law which was made when thence I issued forth.[1] But if a Lady of heaven move and direct thee, as thou sayest, there is no need of flattery; suffice it fully to thee that for her sake thou askest me. Go then, and see thou gird this one with a smooth rush, and that thou wash his face so that thou remove all sully from it, for it were not befitting to go with eye overcast by any cloud before the first minister that is of those of Paradise. This little island, round about at its base, down there yonder where the wave heats it, bears rushes upon its soft ooze. No plant of other kind, that might put forth leaf or grow hard, can there have life, because it yields not to the shocks. Thereafter let not your return be this way; the Sun which now is rising will show you to take the mountain by easier ascent."

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