Discover more from Divine Comedy Weekly
Dante's Purgatorio: Canto XV
The Third Circle: The Irascible. Dante’s Visions. The Smoke.
As much as 'twixt the close of the third hour
And dawn of day appeareth of that sphere
Which aye in fashion of a child is playing,
So much it now appeared, towards the night,
Was of his course remaining to the sun; 5
There it was evening, and 'twas midnight here;
And the rays smote the middle of our faces,
Because by us the mount was so encircled,
That straight towards the west we now were going
When I perceived my forehead overpowered 10
Beneath the splendour far more than at first,
And stupor were to me the things unknown,
Whereat towards the summit of my brow
I raised my hands, and made myself the visor
Which the excessive glare diminishes. 15
As when from off the water, or a mirror,
The sunbeam leaps unto the opposite side,
Ascending upward in the selfsame measure
That it descends, and deviates as far
From falling of a stone in line direct, 20
(As demonstrate experiment and art,)
So it appeared to me that by a light
Refracted there before me I was smitten;
On which account my sight was swift to flee.
"What is that, Father sweet, from which I cannot 25
So fully screen my sight that it avail me,"
Said I, "and seems towards us to be moving?"
"Marvel thou not, if dazzle thee as yet
The family of heaven," he answered me;
"An angel 'tis, who comes to invite us upward. 30
Soon will it be, that to behold these things
Shall not be grievous, but delightful to thee
As much as nature fashioned thee to feel."
When we had reached the Angel benedight,
With joyful voice he said: "Here enter in 35
To stairway far less steep than are the others."
We mounting were, already thence departed,
And "Beati misericordes" was
Behind us sung, "Rejoice, thou that o'ercomest!"
My Master and myself, we two alone 40
Were going upward, and I thought, in going,
Some profit to acquire from words of his;
And I to him directed me, thus asking:
"What did the spirit of Romagna mean,
Mentioning interdict and partnership?" 45
Whence he to me: "Of his own greatest failing
He knows the harm; and therefore wonder not
If he reprove us, that we less may rue it.
Because are thither pointed your desires
Where by companionship each share is lessened, 50
Envy doth ply the bellows to your sighs.
But if the love of the supernal sphere
Should upwardly direct your aspiration,
There would not be that fear within your breast;
For there, as much the more as one says 'Our,' 55
So much the more of good each one possesses,
And more of charity in that cloister burns."
"I am more hungering to be satisfied,"
I said, "than if I had before been silent,
And more of doubt within my mind I gather. 60
How can it be, that boon distributed
The more possessors can more wealthy make
Therein, than if by few it be possessed?"
And he to me: "Because thou fixest still
Thy mind entirely upon earthly things, 65
Thou pluckest darkness from the very light.
That goodness infinite and ineffable
Which is above there, runneth unto love,
As to a lucid body comes the sunbeam.
So much it gives itself as it finds ardour, 70
So that as far as charity extends,
O'er it increases the eternal valour.
And the more people thitherward aspire,
More are there to love well, and more they love there,
And, as a mirror, one reflects the other. 75
And if my reasoning appease thee not,
Thou shalt see Beatrice; and she will fully
Take from thee this and every other longing.
Endeavour, then, that soon may be extinct,
As are the two already, the five wounds 80
That close themselves again by being painful."
Even as I wished to say, "Thou dost appease me,"
I saw that I had reached another circle,
So that my eager eyes made me keep silence.
There it appeared to me that in a vision 85
Ecstatic on a sudden I was rapt,
And in a temple many persons saw;
And at the door a woman, with the sweet
Behaviour of a mother, saying: "Son,
Why in this manner hast thou dealt with us? 90
Lo, sorrowing, thy father and myself
Were seeking for thee;"--and as here she ceased,
That which appeared at first had disappeared.
Then I beheld another with those waters
Adown her cheeks which grief distils whenever 95
From great disdain of others it is born,
And saying: "If of that city thou art lord,
For whose name was such strife among the gods,
And whence doth every science scintillate,
Avenge thyself on those audacious arms 100
That clasped our daughter, O Pisistratus;"
And the lord seemed to me benign and mild
To answer her with aspect temperate:
"What shall we do to those who wish us ill,
If he who loves us be by us condemned?"105
Then saw I people hot in fire of wrath,
With stones a young man slaying, clamorously
Still crying to each other, "Kill him! kill him!"
And him I saw bow down, because of death
That weighed already on him, to the earth, 110
But of his eyes made ever gates to heaven,
Imploring the high Lord, in so great strife,
That he would pardon those his persecutors,
With such an aspect as unlocks compassion.
Soon as my soul had outwardly returned 115
To things external to it which are true,
Did I my not false errors recognize.
My Leader, who could see me bear myself
Like to a man that rouses him from sleep,
Exclaimed: "What ails thee, that thou canst not stand? 120
But hast been coming more than half a league
Veiling thine eyes, and with thy legs entangled,
In guise of one whom wine or sleep subdues?"
"O my sweet Father, if thou listen to me,
I'll tell thee," said I, "what appeared to me, 125
When thus from me my legs were ta'en away."
And he: "If thou shouldst have a hundred masks
Upon thy face, from me would not be shut
Thy cogitations, howsoever small.
What thou hast seen was that thou mayst not fail 130
To ope thy heart unto the waters of peace,
Which from the eternal fountain are diffused.
I did not ask, 'What ails thee?' as he does
Who only looketh with the eyes that see not
When of the soul bereft the body lies, 135
But asked it to give vigour to thy feet;
Thus must we needs urge on the sluggards, slow
To use their wakefulness when it returns."
We passed along, athwart the twilight peering
Forward as far as ever eye could stretch 140
Against the sunbeams serotine and lucent;
And lo! by slow degrees a smoke approached
In our direction, sombre as the night,
Nor was there place to hide one's self therefrom.
This of our eyes and the pure air bereft us. 145
1 - 1
In this canto is described the ascent to the Third Circle of the mountain. The hour indicated by the peculiarly Dantesque introduction is three hours before sunset, or the beginning of that division of the canonical day called Vespers. Dante states this simple fact with curious circumlocution, as if he would imitate the celestial sphere in this scherzoso movement. The beginning of the day is sunrise; consequently the end of the third hour, three hours after sunrise, is represented by an arc of the celestial sphere measuring forty-five degrees. The sun had still an equal space to pass over before his setting. This would make it afternoon in Purgatory, and midnight in Tuscany, where Dante was writing the poem.
20 - 20
From a perpendicular.
38 - 38
Matthew v. 7: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy”; – sung by the spirits that remained behind. See Canto XII. Note 110.
39 - 39
Perhaps an allusion to “what the Spirit saith unto the churches,” Revelation ii. 7: “To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.” And also the “hidden manna,” and the “morning star,” and the “white raiment,” and the name not blotted “out of the book of life.”
55 - 55
Milton, Par. Lost, V. 71: –
“Since good the more Communicated, more abundant grows.”
67 - 67
Convito, IV. 20: “According to the Apostle, 'Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights.' He says then that God only giveth this grace to the soul of him whom he sees to be prepared and disposed in his person to receive this divine act.....Whence if the soul is imperfectly placed, it is not disposed to receive this blessed and divine infusion; as when a pearl is badly disposed, or is imperfect, it cannot receive the celestial virtue, as the noble Guido Guinizzelli says in an ode of his, beginning,
'To noble heart love doth for shelter fly.'
The soul, then, may be ill placed in the person through defect of temperament, or of time; and in such a soul this divine radiance never shines. And of those souls are deprived of this light it may be said that they are like valleys turned toward the north, or like subterranean caverns, where the light of the sun never falls, unless reflected from some other place illuminated by it.”
The following are the first two stanzas of Guido's Ode: –
To noble heart love doth for shelter fly, As seeks the bird the forest's leafy shade; Love was not felt till noble heart beat high, Nor before love the noble heart was made; Soon as the sun's broad flame Was formed, so soon the clear light filled the air, Yet was not till he came; So love springs up in noble breasts, and there Has its appointed space, As heat in the bright flame finds its allotted place.
“Kindles in noble heart the fire of love, As hidden virtue in the precious stone; This virtue comes not from the stars above, Till round it the ennobling sun has shone; But when his powerful blaze Has drawn forth what was vile, the stars impart Strange virtue in their rays; And thus when nature doth create the heart Noble, and pure, and high, Like virtue from the star, love comes from woman's eye.”
70 - 70
Par. XIV. 40: –
Its brightness is proportioned to the ardor, The ardor to the vision, and the vision Equals what grace it has above its merit.“
89 - 89
Luke ii. 48: ”And his mother said unto him, Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing.“
97 - 97
The contest between Neptune and Minerva for the right of naming Athens, in which Minerva carried the day by the vote of the women. This is one of the subjects which Minerva wrought in her trial of skill with Arachne. Ovid, Metamorph., VI.: –
”Pallas in figures wrought the heavenly powers, And Mars's hill among the Athenian towers. On lofty thrones twice six celestials sate, Jove in the midst, and held their warm debate; The subject weighty, and well known to fame, From whom the city should receive its name. Each god by proper features was expressed, Jove with majestic mien excelled the rest. His three-forked mace the dewy sea – god shook, And, looking sternly, smote the ragged rock; When from the stone leapt forth a sprightly steed, And Neptune claims the city for the deed. Herself she blazons, with a glittering spear, And crested helm that veiled her braided hair, With shield, and scaly breastplate, implements of war. Struck with her pointed lance, the teeming earth Seemed to produce a new, surprising birth; When from the glebe the pledge of conquest sprung, A tree pale-green with fairest olives hung.“
101 - 101
Pisistratus, the tyrant of Athens, who used his power so nobly as to make the people forget the usurpation by which he had attained it. Among his good deeds was the collection and preservation of the Homeric poems, which but for him might have perished. He was also the first to found a public library in Athens. This anecdote is told by Valerius Maximus, Fact. ac Dict., VI. 1.
106 - 106
The stoning of Stephen. Acts vii. 54: ”They gnashed on him with their teeth. But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looket up steadfastly into heaven.....Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord, and cast him out of the city, and stoned him.....And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge! And when he had said this, he fell asleep.“
117 - 117
He recognizes it to be a vision, but not false, because it symbolized the truth.