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Dante's Purgatorio: Canto V
Those who died by Violence, but repentant. Buonconte di Monfeltro. La Pia.
I had already from those shades departed,
And followed in the footsteps of my Guide,
When from behind, pointing his finger at me,
One shouted: "See, it seems as if shone not
The sunshine on the left of him below, 5
And like one living seems he to conduct him."
Mine eyes I turned at utterance of these words,
And saw them watching with astonishment
But me, but me, and the light which was broken!
"Why doth thy mind so occupy itself," 10
The Master said, "that thou thy pace dost slacken?
What matters it to thee what here is whispered?
Come after me, and let the people talk;
Stand like a steadfast tower, that never wags
Its top for all the blowing of the winds; 15
For evermore the man in whom is springing
Thought upon thought, removes from him the mark,
Because the force of one the other weakens."
What could I say in answer but "I come"?
I said it somewhat with that colour tinged 20
Which makes a man of pardon sometimes worthy.
Meanwhile along the mountain-side across
Came people in advance of us a little,
Singing the Miserere verse by verse.
When they became aware I gave no place 25
For passage of the sunshine through my body,
They changed their song into a long, hoarse "Oh!"
And two of them, in form of messengers,
Ran forth to meet us, and demanded of us,
"Of your condition make us cognisant." 30
And said my Master: "Ye can go your way
And carry back again to those who sent you,
That this one's body is of very flesh.
If they stood still because they saw his shadow,
As I suppose, enough is answered them; 35
Him let them honour, it may profit them."
Vapours enkindled saw I ne'er so swiftly
At early nightfall cleave the air serene,
Nor, at the set of sun, the clouds of August,
But upward they returned in briefer time, 40
And, on arriving, with the others wheeled
Tow'rds us, like troops that run without a rein.
"This folk that presses unto us is great,
And cometh to implore thee," said the Poet;
"So still go onward, and in going listen." 45
"O soul that goest to beatitude
With the same members wherewith thou wast born,"
Shouting they came, "a little stay thy steps,
Look, if thou e'er hast any of us seen,
So that o'er yonder thou bear news of him; 50
Ah, why dost thou go on? Ah, why not stay?
Long since we all were slain by violence,
And sinners even to the latest hour;
Then did a light from heaven admonish us,
So that, both penitent and pardoning, forth 55
From life we issued reconciled to God,
Who with desire to see Him stirs our hearts."
And I: "Although I gaze into your faces,
No one I recognize; but if may please you
Aught I have power to do, ye well-born spirits, 60
Speak ye, and I will do it, by that peace
Which, following the feet of such a Guide,
From world to world makes itself sought by me."
And one began: "Each one has confidence
In thy good offices without an oath, 65
Unless the I cannot cut off the I will;
Whence I, who speak alone before the others,
Pray thee, if ever thou dost see the land
That 'twixt Romagna lies and that of Charles,
Thou be so courteous to me of thy prayers 70
In Fano, that they pray for me devoutly,
That I may purge away my grave offences.
From thence was I; but the deep wounds, through which
Issued the blood wherein I had my seat,
Were dealt me in bosom of the Antenori, 75
There where I thought to be the most secure;
'Twas he of Este had it done, who held me
In hatred far beyond what justice willed.
But if towards the Mira I had fled,
When I was overtaken at Oriaco, 80
I still should be o'er yonder where men breathe.
I ran to the lagoon, and reeds and mire
Did so entangle me I fell, and saw there
A lake made from my veins upon the ground."
Then said another: "Ah, be that desire 85
Fulfilled that draws thee to the lofty mountain,
As thou with pious pity aidest mine.
I was of Montefeltro, and am Buonconte;
Giovanna, nor none other cares for me;
Hence among these I go with downcast front." 90
And I to him: "What violence or what chance
Led thee astray so far from Campaldino,
That never has thy sepulture been known?"
"Oh," he replied, "at Casentino's foot
A river crosses named Archiano, born 95
Above the Hermitage in Apennine.
There where the name thereof becometh void
Did I arrive, pierced through and through the throat,
Fleeing on foot, and bloodying the plain;
There my sight lost I, and my utterance 100
Ceased in the name of Mary, and thereat
I fell, and tenantless my flesh remained.
Truth will I speak, repeat it to the living;
God's Angel took me up, and he of hell
Shouted: 'O thou from heaven, why dost thou rob me? 105
Thou bearest away the eternal part of him,
For one poor little tear, that takes him from me;
But with the rest I'll deal in other fashion!'
Well knowest thou how in the air is gathered
That humid vapour which to water turns, 110
Soon as it rises where the cold doth grasp it.
He joined that evil will, which aye seeks evil,
To intellect, and moved the mist and wind
By means of power, which his own nature gave;
Thereafter, when the day was spent, the valley 115
From Pratomagno to the great yoke covered
With fog, and made the heaven above intent,
So that the pregnant air to water changed;
Down fell the rain, and to the gullies came
Whate'er of it earth tolerated not; 120
And as it mingled with the mighty torrents,
Towards the royal river with such speed
It headlong rushed, that nothing held it back.
My frozen body near unto its outlet
The robust Archian found, and into Arno 125
Thrust it, and loosened from my breast the cross
I made of me, when agony o'ercame me;
It rolled me on the banks and on the bottom,
Then with its booty covered and begirt me."
"Ah, when thou hast returned unto the world, 130
And rested thee from thy long journeying,"
After the second followed the third spirit,
"Do thou remember me who am the Pia;
Siena made me, unmade me Maremma;
He knoweth it, who had encircled first, 135
Espousing me, my finger with his gem."
1 - 1
There is an air of reality about this passage, like personal reminiscence of street gossip, which gives perhaps a little credibility to the otherwise incredible anecdotes of Dante told by Sacchetti and others; – such as those of the ass-driver whom be beat, and the blacksmith whose tools he threw into the street for singing his verses amiss, and the woman who pointed him out to her companions as the man who had been in Hell and brought back tidings of it.
38 - 38
Some editions read in this line mezza notte, midnight, instead of prima notte, early nightfall.
Of meteors Brunetto Latini, Tresor, I. pt. 3, ch. 107, writes: “Likewise it often comes to pass that a dry vapor, when it has mounted so high that it takes fire from the heat which is above, falls, when thus kindled, towards the earth, until it is spent and extinguished, whence some people think it is a dragon or a star which falls.”
Milton, Parad. Lost, IV. 556, describing the flight of Uriel, says: –
“Swift as a shooting star In Autumn thwarts the night, when vapors fired Impress the air, and show the mariner From what point of his compass to beware Impetuous winds.”
66 - 66
Shakespears's “war 'twixt will and will not,” and “letting I dare not wait upon I would.”
67 - 67
This is Jacopo del Cassero of Fano, in the region between Romagna and the kingdom of Naples, then ruled by Charles de Valois (Charles Lackland). He was waylaid and murdered at Oriago, between Venice and Padua, by Azzone, the Third of Este.
74 - 74
Leviticus, xvii. 2: “The life of the flesh is in the blood.”
75 - 75
Among the Paduans, who are called Antenori, because their city was founded by Antenor of Troy. Brunetto Latini, Tresor, I. ch. 39, says: “Then Antenor and Priam departed thence, with a great company of people, and went to the Marca Trevisana, not far from Venice, and there they built another city which is called Padua, where lies the body of Antenor, and his sepulchre is still there.”
79 - 79
La Mira is on the Brenta, or one of its canals, in the fen-lands between Padua and Venice.
88 - 88
Buonconte was a son of Guido di Montefeltro, and lost his life in the battle of Campaldino in the Val d'Arno. His body was never found; Dante imagines its fate.
Ruskin, Mod. Painters, III. 252, remarks: –
Observe, Buonconte, as he dies, crosses his arms over his breast, pressing them together, partly in his pain, partly in prayer. His body thus lies by the river shore, as on a sepulchral monument, the arms folded into a cross. The rage of the river, under the influence of the evil demon unlooses this cross, dashing the body supinely away, and rolling it over and over by bank and bottom. Nothing can be truer to the action of a stream in fury than these lines. And how desolate is it all! The lonely flight, – the grisly wound, “pierced in the throat,” – the death, without help or pity, – only the name of Mary on the lips, – and the cross folded over the heart. Then the rage of the demon and the river, – the noteless grave, – and, at last, even she who had been most trusted forgetting him, –
'Giovanna nor none elso have care for me.'
There is, I feel, assured, nothing else like it in all the range of poetry; a faint and harsh echo of it, only, exists in one Scottish ballad, 'The Twa Corbies.'“
89 - 89
The wife of Buonconte.
92 - 92
Ampère, Voyage Dantesque, p. 241, thus speaks of the battle of Campaldino: ”In his plain of Campaldino, now so pleasant and covered with vineyards, took place, on the 11th of June, 1289, a rude combat between the Guelphs of Florence and the fuorusciti Ghibellines, aided by the Aretines. Dante fought in the front rank of the Florentine cavalry; for it must needs be that this man, whose life was so complete, should have been a soldier, before being a theologian, diplomatist, and poet. He was then twenty-four years of age. He himself described this battle in a letter, of which only a few lines remain. 'At the battle of Campaldino,' he says, 'the Ghibelline party was routed and almost wholly slain. I was there, a novice in arms; I had great fear, and at last great joy, on account of the divers chances of the fight.' One must not see in this phrase the confession of cowardice, which could have no place in a soul tempered like that of Alighieri. The only fear he had was lest the battle should be lost. In fact, the Florentines at first seemed beaten; their infantry fell back before the Aretine cavalry; but this first advantage of the enemy was its destruction, by dividing its forces. These were the vicissitudes of the battle to which Dante alludes, and which at first excited his fears, and then caused his joy.“
96 - 96
The Convent of Camaldoli, thus described by Forsyth, Italy, p. 117: –
”We now crossed the beautiful vale of Prato Vecchio, rode round the modest arcades of the town, and arrived at the lower convent of Camaldoli, just at shutting of the gates. The sun was set and every object sinking into repose, except the stream which roared among the rocks, and the convent- bells which were then ringing the Angelus.
“This monastery is secluded from the approach of woman in a deep, narrow, woody dell. Its circuit of dead walls, built on the conventual plan, gives it an aspect of confinement and defence; yet this is considered as a privileged retreat, where the rule of the order relaxes its rigor, and no monks can reside but the sick or the super-annuated, the dignitary or the steward, the apothecary or the bead-turner. Here we passed the night, and next morning rode up by the steep traverses to the Santo Eremo, where Saint Romauldo lived and established
de' tacenti cenobiti il coro, L'arcane penitenze, ed i digiuni Al Camaldoli suo.
”The Eremo is a city of hermites, walled round, and divided into streets of low, detached cells. Each cell consists of two or three naked rooms, built exactly on the plan of the Saint's own tenement, which remains just as Romualdo left it eight hundred years ago; now too sacred and too damp for a mortal tenant.
“The unfeeling Saint has here established a rule which anticipates the pains of Purgatory. No stranger can behold without emotion a number of noble, interesting young men bound to stand erect chanting at choir for eight hours a day; their faces pale, their heads shaven, their beards shaggy, their backs raw, their legs swollen, and their feet bare. With this horrible institute the climate conspires in severity, and selects from society the best constitutions. The sickly novice is cut off in one or two winters, the rest are subject to dropsy, and few arrive at old age.”
97 - 97
Where the Archiano loses its name by flowing into the Arno.
104 - 104
Epistle of Jude, 9: “Yet Michael the archangel, when contending with the devil he disputed about the body of Moses, durst not bring against him a railing accusation, but said, The Lord rebuke thee.”
And Jeremy Taylor, speaking of the pardon of sin, says: “And while it is disputed between Christ and Christ's enemy who shall be Lord, the pardon fluctuates like the wave, striving to climb the rock, and is washed off like its own retinue, and it gets possession by time and uncertainty, by difficulty and the degrees of a hard progression.”
109 - 109
Brunetto Latini, Tresor, I. ch. 107: “Then arise vapors like unto smoke, and mount aloft in air, where little by little they gather and grow, until they become dark and dense, so that they take away the sight of the sun; and these are the clouds; but they never are so dark as to take away the light of day; for the sun shines through them, as if it were a candle in a lantern, which shines outwardly, though it cannot itself be seen. And when the cloud has waxed great, so that it can no longer support the abundance of water, which is there as vapor, it just needs fall to earth, and that is the rain.”
112 - 112
In Ephesians ii. 2, the evil spirit is called “prince of the power of the air.”
Compare also Inf. XXIII. 16,
“If anger upon evil will be grafted.”
and Inf. XXXI. 55,
For where the argument of intellect Is added unto evil will and power, No rampart can the people make against it.“
116 - 116
This Pratomagno is the same as the Prato Vecchio mentioned in Note 96. The ”great yoke“ is the ridge of the Apennines.
Dr. Barlow, Study of Dante, p. 199, has this note on the passage: –
”When rain falls from the upper region of the air, we observe at a considerable altitude a thin light veil, or a hazy turbidness as this increases, the lower clouds become diffused in it, and form a uniform sheet. Such is the stratus cloud described by Dante (v. 115) as covering the valley from Pratomagno to the ridge on the opposite side above Camaldoli. This cloud is a widely extended horizontal sheet of vapor, increasing from below, and lying on or near the earth's surface. It is properly the cloud of night, and first appears about sunset, usually in autumn; it comprehends creeping mists and fogs which ascend from the bottom of valleys, and from the surface of lakes and rivers, in consequence of air colder than that of the surface descending and mingling with it, and from the air over the adjacent land cooling down more rapidly than that over the water, from which increased evaporation is taking place.“
118 - 118
Milton, Parad. Lost, IV. 500:
”As Jupiter On Juno smiles, when he impregns the clouds That brings May-flowers.“
126 - 126
His arms crossed upon his breast.
134 - 134
Ampère, Voyage Dantesque, 255:
”Who was this unhappy and perhaps guilty woman? The commentators say that she was of the family of Tolomei, illustrious at Siena. Among the different versions of her story there is one truly terrible. The outraged husband led his wife to an isolated castle in the Maremma of Siena, and there shut himself up with his victim, waiting his vengeance from the poisoned atmosphere of this solitude. Breathing with her the air which was killing her, he saw her slowly perish. This funeral tête-à-tête found him always impassive, until, according to the expression of Dante, the Maremma had unmade what he had once loved. This melancholy story might well have no other foundation than the enigma of Dante's lines, and the terror with which this enigma may have struck the imaginations of his contemporaries.
“However this may be, one cannot prevent an involuntary shudder, when, showing you a pretty little brick palace [at Siena], they say, 'That is the house of the Pia.'” Benvenuto da Imola gives a different version of the story, and says that by command of the husband she was thrown from the window of her palace into the street, and died of the fall.
Bandello, the Italian Novelist, Pt. I. Nov. 12, says that the narrative is true, and gives minutely the story of the lovers, with such embellishments as his imagination suggested.
Ugo Foscolo, Edinb. Review, XXIX. 458, speaks thus: –
“Shakespeare unfolds the character of his persons, and presents them under all the variety of forms which they can naturally assume. He surrounds them with all the splendor of his imagination, and bestows on them that full and minute reality with his creative genius could alone confer. Of all tragic poets, he most amply develops character. On the other hand, Dante, if compared not only to Virgil, the most sober of poets, but even to Tacitus, will be found never to employ more than a stroke or two of his pencil, which he aims at imprinting almost insensibly on the hearts of his readers. Virgil has related the story of Eurydice in two hundred verses; Dante, in sixty verses, has finished his masterpiece, – the tale of Francesca da Rimini. The history of Desdemona has a parallel in the following passage of Dante. Nello della Pietra had espoused a lady of noble family at Sienna, named Madonna Pia. Her beauty was the admiration of Tuscany, and excited in the heart of her husband a jealousy, which, exasperated by false reports and groundless suspicions, at length drove him to the desperate resolution of Othello. It is difficult to decide whether the lady was quite innocent; but so Dante represents her. Her husband brought her into the Maremma, which then as now, was a district destructive to health. He never told his unfortunate wife the reason of her banishment to so dangerous a country. He did not deign to utter complaint or accusation. He lived with her alone, in cold silence, without answering her qustion, or listening to her remonstrances. He patiently waited till the pestilential air should destroy the health of this young lady. In a few months she died. Some chroniclers, indeed, tell us, that Nello used the dagger to hasten her death. It is certain that he survived her, plunged in sadness and perpetual silence. Dante had, in this incident, all the materials of an ample and very poetical narrative. But he bestows on it only four verses.”
For a description of the Maremma, see Inf XIII. Note 9.
Also Rogers, Italy, near the end: –
“Where the path Is lost in rank luxuriance, and to breathe Is to inhale distemper, if not death; Where the wild-boar retreats, when hunters chafe, And, when the day-star flames, the buffalo-herd Afflicted plunge into the stagnant pool, Nothing discerned amid the water-leaves, Save here and there the likeness of a head, Savage, uncouth; where none in human shape Come, save the herdsman, levelling his length Of lance with many a cry, or Tartar-like Urging his steed along the distant hill, As from a danger.”