Divine Comedy - Purgatory

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[1] The first verse of a canzone by Dante; the canzone is the second of those upon which he comments in his Convito.

[2] Every English reader recalls Milton's Sonnet to Mr. Henry Lawes:-- "Dante shall give Fame leave to set thee higher Than his Casella, whom he woo'd to sing, Met in the milder shades of purgatory."

Nothing is known of Casella beyond what is implied in Dante's affectionate record of their meeting.

We were all fixed and attentive to his notes; and lo! the venerable old man crying, "What is this, ye laggard spirits? What negligence, what stay is this? Run to the mountain to strip off the slough that lets not God be manifest to you."

As, when gathering grain or tare, the doves assembled at their feeding, quiet, without display of their accustomed pride, if aught appear of which they are afraid, suddenly let the food alone, because they are assailed by a greater care, so I saw that fresh troop leave the song, and go towards the hill-side, like one that goes but knows not where he may come out. Nor was our departure less speedy.

CANTO III. Ante-Purgatory.--Souls of those who have died in contumacy of the Church.-- Manfred.

Inasmuch as the sudden flight had scattered them over the plain, turned to the mount whereto reason spurs us, I drew me close to my trusty companion. And how should I without him have run? Who would have drawn me up over the mountain? He seemed to me of his own self remorseful. O conscience, upright and stainless, how bitter a sting to thee is little fault!

When his feet left the haste that takes the seemliness from every act, my mind, which at first had been restrained, let loose its attention, as though eager, and I turned my face unto the hill that towards the heaven rises highest from the sea. The sun, which behind was flaming ruddy, was broken in front of me by the figure that the staying of its rays upon me formed. When I saw the ground darkened only in front of me, I turned me to my side with fear of being abandoned: and my Comfort, wholly turning to me, began to say, "Why dost thou still distrust? Dost thou not believe me with thee, and that I guide thee? It is now evening there where the body is buried within which I cast a shadow; Naples holds it, and from Brundusium it is taken; if now in front of me there is no shadow, marvel not more than at the heavens of which one hinders not the other's radiance. To suffer torments, both hot and cold, bodies like this the Power ordains, which wills not that how it acts be revealed to us. Mad is he who hopes that our reason can traverse the infinite way which One Substance in Three Persons holds. Be content, human race, with the quia;[1]; for if ye had been able to see everything, need had not been for Mary to hear child: and ye have seen desiring fruitlessly men such [2] that their desire would have been quieted, which is given them eternally for a grief. I speak of Aristotle and of Plato, and of many others;" and here he bowed his front, and said no more, and remained disturbed.

[1] Quic is used here, as often in mediaeval Latin, for quod. The meaning is, Be content to know that the thing is, seek not to know WHY or HOW--propter quid--it is as it is.

[2] If human knowledge sufficed.

We had come, meanwhile, to the foot of the mountain; here we found the rock so steep, that there the legs would be agile in vain. Between Lerici and Turbia[1] the most deserted, the most secluded way is a stair easy and open, compared with that. "Now who knows on which hand the hillside slopes," said my Master, staying his step, "so that he can ascend who goeth without wings?"

[1] Lerici on the Gulf of Spezzia, and Turbia, just above Monaco, are at the two ends of the Riviera; between them the mountains rise steeply from the shore, along which in Dante's time there was no road.

And while he was holding his face low, questioning his mind about the road, and I was looking up around the rock, on the left hand appeared to me a company of souls who were moving their feet towards us, and seemed not, so slowly were they coming. "Lift," said I to the Master, "thine eyes, lo! on this side who will give us counsel, if thou from thyself canst not have it." He looked at them, and with air of relief, answered, "Let us go thither, for they come slowly, and do thou confirm thy hope, sweet son.

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