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Our Poet, perceiving no shadow except that cast by his own body, is
fearful that Virgil has deserted him; but he is freed from that error, and
both arrive together at the foot of the mountain; on finding it too steep to
climb, they inquire the way from a troop of spirits that are coming toward
them, and are by them shown which is the easiest ascent. Manfredi, King of
Naples, who is one of these spirits, bids Dante inform his daughter Costanza,
Queen of Arragon, of the manner in which he had died.
Them sudden flight had scatter'd o'er the plain,
Turn'd toward the mountain, whither reason's voice
Drives us: I, to my faithful company
Adhering, left it not. For how, of him
Deprived, might I have sped? or who, beside,
Would o'er the mountainous tract have led my steps?
He, with the bitter pang of self - remorse,
Seem'd smitten. O clear conscience, and upright!
How doth a little failing wound thee sore.
Soon as his feet desisted (slackening pace)
From haste, that mars all decency of act,
My mind, that in itself before was wrapt,
Its thought expanded, as with joy restored;
And full against the steep ascent I set
My face, where highest to Heaven its top o'erflows.
The sun, that flared behind, with ruddy beam
Before my form was broken; for in me
His rays resistance met. I turn'd aside
With fear of being left, when I beheld
Only before myself the ground obscured.
When thus my solace, turning him around,
Bespake me kindly: "Why distrustest thou?
Believest not I am with thee, thy sure guide?
It now is evening there, where buried lies
The body in which I cast a shade, removed
To Naples from Brundusium's wall. Nor thou
Marvel, if before me no shadow fall,
More than that in the skyey element
One ray obstructs not other. To endure
Torments of heat and cold extreme, like frames
[1: "To Naples." Virgil died at Brundusium, from whence his body is
said to have been removed to Naples.]
That virtue hath disposed, which, how it works,
Wills not to us should be reveal'd. Insane,
Who hopes our reason may that space explore,
Which holds three persons in one substance knit.
Seek not the wherefore, race of human kind;
Could ye have seen the whole, no need had been
For Mary to bring forth. Moreover, ye
Have seen such men desiring fruitlessly;
To whose desires, repose would have been given,
That now but serve them for eternal grief.
I speak of Plato, and the Stagirite,
And others many more." And then he bent
Downward his forehead, and in troubled mood
Broke off his speech. Meanwhile we had arrived
Far as the mountain's foot, and there the rock
Found of so steep ascent, that nimblest steps
To climb it had been vain. The most remote,
Most wild, untrodden path, in all the tract
'Twixt Lerice and Turbia, were to this
A ladder easy and open of access.
[2: "Twixt Lerice and Turbia." At that time the two extremities of
the Genoese republic; the former on the east, the latter on the west.]
"Who knows on which hand now the steep declines?"
My master said, and paused; "so that he may
Ascend, who journeys without aid of wing?"
And while, with looks directed to the ground,
The meaning of the pathway he explored,
And I gazed upward round the stony height;
On the left hand appear'd to us a troop
Of spirits, that toward us moved their steps;
Yet moving seem'd not, they so slow approach'd.
I thus my guide address'd: "Upraise thine eyes:
Lo! that way some, of whom thou mayst obtain
Counsel, if of thyself thou find'st it not."
Straightway he look'd, and with free speech replied:
"Let us tend thither: they but softly come.
And thou be firm in hope, my son beloved."
Now was that crowd from us distant as far,
(When we some thousand steps, I say, had past,)
As at a throw the nervous arm could fling;
When all drew backward on the massy crags
Of the steep bank, and firmly stood unmoved,
As one, who walks in doubt, might stand to look.
"O spirits perfect! O already chosen!"
Virgil to them began: "by that blest peace,
Which, as I deem, is for you all prepared,
Instruct us where the mountain low declines,
So that attempt to mount it be not vain.
For who knows most, him loss of time most grieves."
As sheep, that step from forth their fold, by one,
Or pairs, or three at once; meanwhile the rest
Stand fearfully, bending the eye and nose
To ground, and what the foremost does, that do
The others, gathering round her if she stops,
Simple and quiet, nor the cause discern;
So saw I moving to advance the first,
Who of that fortunate crew were at the head,
Of modest mien, and graceful in their gait.
When they before me had beheld the light
From my right side fall broken on the ground,
So that the shadow reach'd the cave; they stopp'd,
And somewhat back retired: the same did all
Who follow'd though unweeting of the cause.
"Unask'd of you, yet freely I confess,
This is a human body which ye see.
That the sun's light is broken on the ground,
Marvel not; but believe, that not without
Virtue derived from Heaven, we to climb
Over this wall aspire." So them bespake
My master; and that virtuous tribe rejoin'd:
"Turn, and before you there the entrance lies;"
Making a signal to us with bent hands.
Then of them one began. "Whoe'er thou art,
Who journey'st thus this way, thy visage turn;
Think if me elsewhere thou hast ever seen."
I toward him turn'd, and with fix'd eye beheld.
Comely and fair, and gentle of aspect
He seem'd, but on one brow a gash was mark'd.
When humbly I disclaim'd to have beheld
Him ever: "Now behold!" he said, and show'd
High on his breast a wound: then smiling spake.
"I am Manfredi, grandson to the Queen
Costanza: whence I pray thee, when return'd,
To my fair daughter go, the parent glad
Of Aragonia and Sicilia's pride;
And of the truth inform her, if of me
Aught else be told. When by two mortal blows
My frame was shatter'd, I betook myself
Weeping to Him, who of free will forgives.
My sins were horrible: but so wide arms
Hath goodness infinite, that it receives
All who turn to it. Had this text divine
Been of Cosenza's shepherd better scann'd,
Who then by Clement on my hunt was set,
Yet at the bridge's head my bones had lain,
Near Benevento, by the heavy mole
Protected; but the rain now drenches them,
And the wind drives, out of the kingdom's bounds,
Far as the stream of Verde, where, with lights
Extinguish'd, he removed them from their bed.
Yet by their curse we are not so destroy'd,
But that the eternal love may turn, while hope
Retains her verdant blossom. True it is,
That such one as in contumacy dies
[3: "Manfredi." King of Naples and Sicily, and the natural son of
Frederick II. He was lively and agreeable in his manners, delighted in poetry,
music, and dancing. But he was luxurious and ambitious, void of religion, and
in his philosophy an Epicurean. He fell in the battle with Charles of Anjou in
1265, alluded to in Canto xxviii of Hell, ver. 13, or rather in that of
Benevento. The successes of Charles were so rapidly followed up, that our
author, exact as he generally is, might not have thought it necessary to
distinguish them in point of time. "Dying excommunicated, King Charles did not
allow of his being buried in sacred ground, but he was interred near the
bridge of Benevento; and on his grave there was cast a stone by every one of
the army, whence there was formed a great mound of stones. But some have said,
that afterward, by command of the Pope, the Bishop of Cosenza took up his body
and sent it out of the kingdom, because it was the land of the Church; and
that it was buried by the river Verde, on the borders of the kingdom and of
[4: See Paradise, Canto iii. 121.]
[5: Costanza, the daughter of Manfredi, and wife of Peter III, King
of Arragon, by whom she was mother to Frederick, King of Sicily, and James,
King of Arragon. With the latter of these she was at Rome, 1296.]
[6: "Clement." Pope Clement IV.]
[7: "The stream of Verde." A river near Ascoli, that falls into the
Tronto. The "extinguished lights" formed part of the ceremony at the interment
of one excommunicated.]
Against the holy Church, though he repent,
Must wander thirty - fold for all the time
In his presumption past: if such decree
Be not by prayers of good men shorter made.
Look therefore if thou canst advance my bliss;
Revealing to my good Costanza, how
Thou hast beheld me, and beside, the terms
Laid on me of that interdict; for here
By means of those below much profit comes."