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Dante's Purgatorio: Canto VII
The Valley of Flowers. Negligent Princes.
After the gracious and glad salutations
Had three and four times been reiterated,
Sordello backward drew and said, "Who are you?"
"Or ever to this mountain were directed
The souls deserving to ascend to God, 5
My bones were buried by Octavian.
I am Virgilius; and for no crime else
Did I lose heaven, than for not having faith;"
In this wise then my Leader made reply.
As one who suddenly before him sees 10
Something whereat he marvels, who believes
And yet does not, saying, "It is! it is not!"
So he appeared; and then bowed down his brow,
And with humility returned towards him,
And, where inferiors embrace, embraced him. 15
"O glory of the Latians, thou," he said,
"Through whom our language showed what it could do
O pride eternal of the place I came from,
What merit or what grace to me reveals thee?
If I to hear thy words be worthy, tell me 20
If thou dost come from Hell, and from what cloister."
"Through all the circles of the doleful realm,"
Responded he, "have I come hitherward;
Heaven's power impelled me, and with that I come.
I by not doing, not by doing, lost 25
The sight of that high sun which thou desirest,
And which too late by me was recognized.
A place there is below not sad with torments,
But darkness only, where the lamentations
Have not the sound of wailing, but are sighs. 30
There dwell I with the little innocents
Snatched by the teeth of Death, or ever they
Were from our human sinfulness exempt.
There dwell I among those who the three saintly
Virtues did not put on, and without vice 35
The others knew and followed all of them.
But if thou know and can, some indication
Give us by which we may the sooner come
Where Purgatory has its right beginning."
He answered: "No fixed place has been assigned us; 40
'Tis lawful for me to go up and round;
So far as I can go, as guide I join thee.
But see already how the day declines,
And to go up by night we are not able;
Therefore 'tis well to think of some fair sojourn. 45
Souls are there on the right hand here withdrawn;
If thou permit me I will lead thee to them,
And thou shalt know them not without delight."
"How is this?" was the answer; "should one wish
To mount by night would he prevented be 50
By others? or mayhap would not have power?"
And on the ground the good Sordello drew
His finger, saying, "See, this line alone
Thou couldst not pass after the sun is gone;
Not that aught else would hindrance give, however, 55
To going up, save the nocturnal darkness;
This with the want of power the will perplexes.
We might indeed therewith return below,
And, wandering, walk the hill-side round about,
While the horizon holds the day imprisoned." 60
Thereon my Lord, as if in wonder, said:
"Do thou conduct us thither, where thou sayest
That we can take delight in tarrying."
Little had we withdrawn us from that place,
When I perceived the mount was hollowed out 65
In fashion as the valleys here are hollowed.
"Thitherward," said that shade, "will we repair,
Where of itself the hill-side makes a lap,
And there for the new day will we await."
'Twixt hill and plain there was a winding path 70
Which led us to the margin of that dell,
Where dies the border more than half away.
Gold and fine silver, and scarlet and pearl-white,
The Indian wood resplendent and serene,
Fresh emerald the moment it is broken, 75
By herbage and by flowers within that hollow
Planted, each one in colour would be vanquished,
As by its greater vanquished is the less.
Nor in that place had nature painted only,
But of the sweetness of a thousand odours 80
Made there a mingled fragrance and unknown.
"Salve Regina," on the green and flowers
There seated, singing, spirits I beheld,
Which were not visible outside the valley.
"Before the scanty sun now seeks his nest," 85
Began the Mantuan who had led us thither,
"Among them do not wish me to conduct you.
Better from off this ledge the acts and faces
Of all of them will you discriminate,
Than in the plain below received among them. 90
He who sits highest, and the semblance bears
Of having what he should have done neglected,
And to the others' song moves not his lips,
Rudolph the Emperor was, who had the power
To heal the wounds that Italy have slain, 95
So that through others slowly she revives.
The other, who in look doth comfort him,
Governed the region where the water springs,
The Moldau bears the Elbe, and Elbe the sea.
His name was Ottocar; and in swaddling-clothes 100
Far better he than bearded Winceslaus
His son, who feeds in luxury and ease.
And the small-nosed, who close in council seems
With him that has an aspect so benign,
Died fleeing and disflowering the lily; 105
Look there, how he is beating at his breast!
Behold the other one, who for his cheek
Sighing has made of his own palm a bed;
Father and father-in-law of France's Pest
Are they, and know his vicious life and lewd, 110
And hence proceeds the grief that so doth pierce them.
He who appears so stalwart, and chimes in,
Singing, with that one of the manly nose,
The cord of every valour wore begirt;
And if as King had after him remained 115
The stripling who in rear of him is sitting,
Well had the valour passed from vase to vase,
Which cannot of the other heirs be said.
Frederick and Jacomo possess the realms,
But none the better heritage possesses. 120
Not oftentimes upriseth through the branches
The probity of man; and this He wills
Who gives it, so that we may ask of Him.
Eke to the large-nosed reach my words, no less
Than to the other, Pier, who with him sings; 125
Whence Provence and Apulia grieve already
The plant is as inferior to its seed,
As more than Beatrice and Margaret
Costanza boasteth of her husband still.
Behold the monarch of the simple life, 130
Harry of England, sitting there alone;
He in his branches has a better issue.
He who the lowest on the ground among them
Sits looking upward, is the Marquis William,
For whose sake Alessandria and her war 135
Make Monferrat and Canavese weep."
6 - 6
See Canto III. Note 7.
28 - 28
Limbo, Inf. IV. 25, the “foremost circle that surrounds the abyss.”
“There, in so far as I had power to hear, Where lamentations none, but only sighs, Which tremulous made the everlasting air. And this was caused by sorrow without torment Which the crowds had, that many were and great, Of infants and of women and of men.”
34 - 34
The three Theological Virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity.
36 - 36
The four Cardinal Virtues, Prudence, Justice, Fortitude, and Temperance.
44 - 44
John xii. 35: “Then Jesus said unto them, Yet a little while is the light with you. Walk while ye have the light, lest darkness come upon you: for he that walketh in darkness knoweth not wither he goeth.”
70 - 70
In the Middle Ages the longing for rest and escape from danger, which found its expression in cloisters, is expressed in poetry by descriptions of flowery, secluded meadows, suggesting the classic meadows of asphodel. Dante has given one already in the Inferno, and gives another here.
Compare with these the following from The Miracles of Our Lady, by Gonzalo de Bercéo, a monk of Calahorra, who lived in the thirteenth century, and is the oldest of the Castilian poets whose name has come down to us: –
“I, Gonzalo de Bercéo, in the gentle summer-tide, Wending upon a pilgrimage, came to a meadow's side; All green was it and beautiful, with flowers far and wide, A pleasant spot, I ween, wherein the traveller might abide. Flowers with the sweetest odors filled all the sunny air, And not alone refreshed the sense, but stole the mind from care; On every side a fountain gushed, whose waters pure and fair Ice-cold beneath the summer sun, but warm in winter were. There on the thick and shadowy trees, amid the foliage green, Were the fig and promegranate, the pear and apple seen, And other fruits of various kinds, the tufted leaves between; None were unpleasant to the taste and none decayed, I ween. The verdure of the meadow green, the odor of the flowers, The grateful shadows of the trees, tempered with fragrant showers, Refreshed me in the burning heat of the sultry noontide hours; O, one might live upon the balm and fragrance of those bowers. Ne'er had I found on earth a spot that had such power to please, Such shadows from the summer sun, such odors on the breeze; I threw my mantle on the ground, that I might rest at ease, And stretched upon the greensward lay in the shadow of the trees. There, soft reclining, in the shade, all cares beside me flung, I heard the soft and mellow notes that through the woodland rung. Ear never listened to a strain, from instrument or tongue, So mellow and harmonious as the songs above me sung.”
See also Brunetto Latini, Tesoretto, XIX.; the Vision of Piers Ploughman; Gower's Confessio Amantis, VIII., &c.
73 - 73
Of this description Ruskin, Modern Painters, III. 228, remarks: –
“Now, almost in the opening of the Purgatory, as there at the entrance of the Inferno, we find a company of great ones resting in a grassy place. But the idea of the grass now is very different. The word now used is not 'enamel,' but 'herb,' and instead of being merely green, it is covered with flowers of many colors. With the usual mediaeval accuracy, Dante insists on telling us precisely what these colors were, and how bright; which he does by naming the actual pigments used in illumination, – 'Gold, and fine silver, and cochineal, and white lead, and Indian wood, serene and lucid, and fresh emerald, just broken, would have been excelled, as less is by greater, by the flowers and grass of the place.' It is evident that the 'emerald' here means the emerald green of the illuminators; for a fresh emerald is no brighter than one which is not fresh, and Dante was not one to throw away his words thus. Observe, then, we have here the idea of the growth, life, and variegation of the 'green herb,' as opposed to the smalto of the Inferno; but the colors of the variegation are illustrated and defined by the reference to actual pigments; and, observe, because the other colors are rather bright, the blue ground (Indian wood, indigo?) is sober; lucid, but serene; and presently two angels enter, who are dressed in the green drapery, but of a paler green than the grass, which Dante marks, by telling us that it was 'the green of leaves just budded.'
In all this, I wish the reader to observe two things: first, the general carefulness of the poet in defining color, distinguishing it precisely as a painter would (opposed to the Greek carelessness about it); and, secondly, his regarding the grass for its greenness and variegation, rather than, as a Greek would have done, for its depth and freshness. This greenness or brightness, and variegation, are taken up by later and modern poets, as the things intended to be chiefly expressed by the word 'enamelled'; and, gradually, the term is taken to indicate any kind of bright and interchangeable coloring; there being always this much of propriety about it, when used of greensward, that such sward is indeed, like enamel, a coat of bright color on a comparatively dark ground; and is thus a sort of natural jewelry and painter's work, different from loose and large vegetation. The word is often awkwardly and falsely used, by the later poets, of all kinds of growth and color; as by Milton of the flowers of Paradise showing themselves over its wall; but it retains, nevertheless, through all its jaded inanity, some halfunconscious vestige of the old sense, even to the present day.”
82 - 82
The old church hymn attributed to Arminius or Hermann, Count of Vehringen, in the eleventh century, beginning: –
“Salve Regina, mater misericordiae, Vita, dulcedo et spes nostra, salve.”
94 - 94
Rudolph of Hapsburg, first Emperor of the house of Austria, was crowned at Aix-la-Chapelle in 1273. “It is related,” says Voltaire, Annales de l'Empire, I. 303, “that, as the imperial sword, which they pretended was that of Charlemange, could not be found, several lords made this defect in the formalities a pretext for not taking the oath of allegiance. He seized a crucifix; This is my sceptre, he said, and all paid homage to him. This single act of firmness made him respectable, and the rest of his conduct showed him to be worthy of the Empire.”
He would not go to Rome to be crowned, and took so little interest in Italian affairs, that Italy became almost independent of the Empire, which seems greatly to disturb the mind of Dante. He died in 1291.
100 - 100
Ottocar the Second, king of Bohemia, who is said to have refused the imperial crown. He likewise refused to pay homage to Rudolph, whom he used to call his maître d'hôtel, declaring he had paid his wages and owed him nothing. Whereupon Rudolph attacked and subdued him. According to Voltaire, Annales de l'Empire, I. 306, “he consented to pay homage to the Emperor as his liege-lord, in the island of Kamberg in the middle of the Danube, under a tent whose curtains should be closed to spare him public mortification. Ottocar represented himself covered with gold and jewels; Rudolph, by way of superior pomp, received him in his simplest dress; and in the middle of the ceremony the curtains of the tent fell, and revealed to the eyes of the people and of the armies, that lined the Danube, the proud Ottocar on his knees, with his hands clasped in the hands of this conqueror, whom he had often called his maître d'hôtel, and whose Grand-Seneschal he now became. This story is accredited, and it is of little importance whether it be true or not.”
But the wife was not quiet under this humilation, and excited him to revolt against Rudolph. He was again overcome, and killed in battle in 1278.
101 - 101
This Winceslaus, says the Ottimo, was “most beautiful among all men; but was not a man of arms; he was meek and humble ecclesiastic, and did not live long.” Why Dante accuses him of living in luxury and ease does not appear.
103 - 103
Philip the Third of France, surnamed the Bold (1270-1285). Having invaded Catalonia, in a war with Peter the Third of Aragon, both by land and sea, he was driven back, and died at Perpignan during the retreat.
104 - 104
He was with the benign aspect, who rests his cheek upon his hand, is Henry of Navarre, surnamed the Fat, and brother of “Good King Thibault,” Inf. XXIII. 52. An old French chronicle quoted by Philalethes says, that, “though it is a general opinion that fat men are of a gentle and benign nature, nevertheless this one was very harsh.”
109 - 109
Philip the Fourth of France, surnamed the Fair, son of Philip the Third, and son-in-law of Henry of Navarre (1285-1314).
112 - 112
Peter the Third of Aragon (1276-1285), the enemy of Charles of Anjou and competitor with him for the kingdom of Sicily. He is counted among the Troubadours, and when Philip the Bold invaded his kingdom, Peter launched a song against him, complaining that the “flower-de-luce kept him sorrowing in his house,” and calling on the Gascons for aid.
113 - 113
Charles of Anjou, king of Sicily and Naples (1265). Villani, VII. 1, thus describes him:
“This Charles was wise and prudent, and valiant in arms, and rough, and much feared and redoubted by all the kings of the world; magnanimous and of a high spirit; steadfast in carrying on every great enterprise, firm in every adversity, and true to every promise, speaking little and doing much. He laughed but little; was chaste as a monk, catholic, harsh in judgement, and of a fierce countenance; large and muscular in person, with an olive complexion and a large nose, and looked the king mor than any other lord. He sat up late at night, and slept little, and was in the habit of saying that a great deal of time was lost in sleeping. He was generous to his knights, but eager to acquire land, lordship, and money wherever he could, to furnish means for his enterprises and wars. In courtiers, minstrels, and players he never took delight.”
Yet this is the monarch whose tyranny in Sicily brought about the bloody revenge of the Sicilian Vespers; which in turn so roused the wrath of Charles, that he swore that, “if he could live a thousand years, he would go on razing the cities, burning the lands, torturing the rebellious slaves. He would leave Sicily a blasted, barren, uninhabited rock, as a warning to the present age, an example to the future.”
116 - 116
Philip the Third of Aragon left four sons, Alfonso, James, Frederick, and Peter. Whether the stripling here spoken of is Alonzo or Peter does not appear.
121 - 121
Chaucer, Wif of Bathes Tale: –
“Wel can the wise poet of Florence, That highte Dant, speken of this sentence: Lo, in swiche maner rime is Dantes tale. Ful selde up riseth by his branches smale Prowesse of man, for God of his goodnesse wol that we claime of him our gentillesse: For of our elders may we nothing claime But temporel thing, that man may hurt and maime.”
124 - 124
It must be remembered that these two who are singing together in this Valley of Princes were deadly foes on earth; and one had challenged the other to determine their quarrel by single combat.
“The wager of battle between the kings,” says Milman, Latin Christianity, VI. 168, “which maintained its solemn dignity up almost to the appointed time, ended in a pitiful comedy, in which Charles of Anjou had the ignominy of practising base and disloyal designs against his adversary; Peter, that of eluding the contest by craft, justifiable only as his mistrust of his adversary was well or ill grounded, but much too cunning for a frank and generous knight. He had embarked with his knights for the South of France; he was cast back by tempests on the shores of Spain. He set off with some of his armed companions, crossed the Pyrenees undiscovered, appeared before the gates of Bordeaux, and summoned the English Seneschal. To him he proclaimed himself to be the king of Aragon, demanded to see the lists, rode down them in slow state, obtained an attestation that he had made his appearance within the convenanted time, and affixed his solemn protest against the palable premeditated treachery of his rival, which made it unsafe for him to remain longer at Bordeaux. Charles, on his part, was furious that Peter had thus broken through the spider's web of his policy. He was in Bordeaux when Peter appeared under the walls, and had challenged him in vain. Charles presented himself in full armor on the appointed day, summoned Peter to appear, proclaimed him a recreant and dastardly craven, unworthy of the name of knight.”
Charles of Anjou, Peter the Third of Aragon, and Philip the Third of France, all died in the same year, 1285.
126 - 126
These kingdoms being badly governed by his son and successor. Charles the Second, called the Lame.
128 - 128
Daughters of Raymond Berenger the Fifth, Count of Provence; the first married to St. Louis of France, and the second to his brother, Charles of Anjou.
129 - 129
Constance, daughter of Manfredi of Apulia, and wife of Peter the Third of Aragon.
131 - 131
Henry the Third (1216-1272), of whom Hume says: “This prince was noted for his piety and devotion, and his regular attendance on public worship; and a saying of his on that head is much celebrated by ancient writers. He was engaged in a dispute with Louis the Ninth of France, concerning the preference between sermons and masses; he maintained the superiority of the latter, and affirmed that he would rather have one hour's conversation with a friend, than hear twenty of the most elaborate discourses pronounced in his praise.”
Dickens, Child's History of England, Ch. XV., says of him: “He was as much of a king in death as he had ever been in life. He was the mere pale shadow of a king at all times.”
His “better issue” was Edward the First, called, on account of his amendment and establishment of the laws, the English Justinian, and less respectfully Longshanks, on account of the length of his legs. “His legs had need to be strong,” says the authority just quoted “however long, and this they were; for they had to support him through many difficulties on the fiery sands of Syria, where his small force of soldiers fainted, died, deserted, and seemed to melt away. But his prowess made light of it, and he said, 'I will go on, if I go on with no other follower than my groom.'”
134 - 134
The Marquis of Monferrato, a Ghibelline, was taken prisoner by the people of Alessandria in Piedmont, in 1290, and, being shut up in a wooden cage, was exhibited to the public like a wild beast. This he endured for eighteen months, till death released him. A bloody war was the consequence between Alessandria and the Marquis's provinces of Monferrato and Canavese.
135 - 135
The city of Alessandria is in Piedmont, between the Tanaro and the Bormida, and not far from their junction. It was built by the Lombard League, to protect the country against the Emperor Frederick, and named in honor of Pope Alexander the Third, a protector of the Guelphs. It is said to have been built in a single year, and was called in derision, by the Ghibellines, Allessandria della Paglia (of the Straw); either from the straw used in the bricks, or more probably from the supposed insecurity of a city built in so short a space of time.