Sacred Texts  Christianity Index  Divine Comedy Index  Previous: Purgatory Canto 21  Next: Purgatory Canto 23 

 Canto XXII
      Dante, Virgil, and Statius mount to the sixth cornice, where the sin of
 gluttony is cleansed, the two Latin Poets discoursing by the way. Turning to
 the right, they find a tree hung with sweet - smelling fruit, and watered by a
 shower that issues from the rock. Voices are heard to proceed from among the
 leaves, recording examples of temperance.
 Now we had left the Angel, who had turn'd
 To the sixth circle our ascending step;
 One gash from off my forehead razed; while they,
 Whose wishes tend to justice, shouted forth,
 "Blessed!"[1] and ended with "I thirst"; and I,
 More nimble than along the other straits,
 So journey'd, that, without the sense of toil,
 I follow'd upwards the swift - footed shades;
 When Virgil thus began: "Let its pure flame
 From virtue flow, and love can never fail
 To warm another's bosom, so the light
 Shine manifestly forth. Hence, from that hour,
 When, 'mongst us in the purlieus of the deep,
 Came down the spirit of Aquinum's bard,
 Who told of thine affection, my good will
 Hath been for thee of quality as strong
 As ever link'd itself to one not seen.
 Therefore these stairs will now seem short to me.
 But tell me: and, if too secure, I loose
 The rein with a friend's license, as a friend
 Forgive me, and speak now as with a friend:
 How chanced it covetous desire could find
 Place in that bosom, 'midst such ample store
 Of wisdom, as thy zeal had treasured there?"
 [1: "Blessed." "Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after
 righteousness, for they shall be filled." - Matt. v. 6.]
 First somewhat moved to laughter by his words,
 Statius replied: "Each syllable of thine
 Is a dear pledge of love. Things oft appear,
 That minister false matter to our doubts,
 When their true causes are removed from sight.
 Thy question doth assure me, thou believest
 I was on earth a covetous man; perhaps
 Because thou found'st me in that circle placed.
 Know then I was too wide of avarice:
 And e'en for that excess, thousands of moons
 Have wax'd and waned upon my sufferings.
 And were it not that I with heedful care
 Noted, where thou exclaim'st, as if in ire,
 With human nature, 'Why, thou cursed thirst
 Of gold! dost not with juster measure guide
 The appetite of mortals?' I had met
 The fierce encounter of the voluble rock.
 Then was I ware that, with too ample wing,
 The hands may haste to lavishment; and turn'd,
 As from my other evil, so from this,
 In penitence. How many from their grave
 Shall with shorn locks[2] arise, who living, ay,
 And at life's last extreme, of this offence,
 Through ignorance, did not repent! And know,
 The fault, which lies direct from any sin
 In level opposition, here, with that,
 Wastes its green rankness on one common heap.
 Therefore, if I have been with those, who wail
 Their avarice, to cleanse me; through reverse
 Of their transgression, such hath been my lot."
 [2: "With shorn locks." See Hell, Canto vii, 58.]
 To whom the sovran of the pastoral song:
 "While thou didst sing that cruel warfare waged
 By the twin sorrow of Jocasta's womb[3]
 From thy discourse with Clio there, it seems
 As faith had not been thine; without the which,
 Good deeds suffice not. And if so, what sun
 Rose on thee, or what candle pierced the dark,
 That thou didst after see to hoise the sail,
 And follow where the fisherman had led?"
 [3: "The twin sorrow of Jocasta's womb." Eteocles and Polynices.]
 He answering thus: "By thee conducted first,
 I enter'd the Parnassian grots, and quaff'd
 Of the clear spring: illumined first by thee,
 Open'd mine eyes to God. Thou didst, as one
 Who, journeying through the darkness, bears a light
 Behind, that profits not himself, but makes
 His followers wise, when thou exclaimed'st, 'Lo!
 A renovated world, Justice return'd,
 Times of primeval innocence restored,
 And a new race descended from above.'
 Poet and Christian both to thee I owed.
 That thou mayst mark more clearly what I trace,
 My hand shall stretch forth to inform the lines
 With livelier colouring. Soon o'er all the world,
 By messengers from Heaven, the true belief
 Teem'd now prolific; and that word of thine,
 Accordant, to the new instructors chimed.
 Induced by which agreement, I was wont
 Resort to them; and soon their sanctity
 So won upon me, that, Domitian's rage
 Pursuing them, I mix'd my tears with theirs;
 And, while on earth I stay'd, still succor'd them;
 And their most righteous customs made me scorn
 All sects besides. Before I led the Greeks,
 In tuneful fiction, to the streams of Thebes,
 I was baptized; but secretly, through fear,
 Remain'd a Christian, and conform'd long time
 To Pagan rites. Four centuries and more,
 I, for that lukewarmness, was fain to pace
 Round the fourth circle. Thou then, who hast raised
 The covering which did hide such blessing from me,
 Whilst much of this ascent is yet to climb,
 Say, if thou know, where our old Terence bides,
 Caecilius, Plautus, Varro: if condemn'd
 They dwell, and in what province of the deep."
 "These," said my guide, "with Persius and myself,
 And others many more, are with that Greek,[4]
 Of mortals, the most cherish'd by the Nine,
 In the first ward[5] of darkness. There, oft - times,
 We of that mount hold converse, on whose top
 For aye our nurses live. We have the bard
 Of Pella,[6] and the Teian,[7] Agatho,
 Simonides, and many a Grecian else
 Ingarlanded with laurel. Of thy train,
 [4: "That Greek." Homer.]
 [5: "In the first ward." In Limbo.]
 [6: Euripides.]
 [7: "The Teian." Anacreon.]
 Antigone is there, Deiphile,
 Argia, and as sorrowful as erst
 Ismene, and who show'd Langia's wave:[8]
 Deidamia with her sisters there,
 And blind Tiresias' daughter,[9] and the bride
 Sea - born of Peleus."[10] Either poet now
 Was silent; and no longer by the ascent
 Or the steep walls obstructed, round them cast
 Inquiring eyes. Four handmaids of the day
 Had finish'd now their office, and the fifth
 Was at the chariot - beam, directing still
 Its flamy point aloof; when thus my guide:
 "Methinks, it well behoves us to the brink
 Bend the right shoulder, circuiting the mount,
 As we have ever used." So custom there
 Was usher to the road; the which we chose
 Less doubtful, as that worthy shade[11] complied.
 [8: Hypsipile.]
 [9: "Tiresias' daughter." Dante, as some have thought, had forgotten
 that he had placed Manto, the daughter of Tiresias, among the sorcerers. See
 Hell, Canto xx. Vellutello endeavors to reconcile the apparent inconsistency,
 by observing, that although she was placed there as a sinner, yet, as one of
 famous memory, she had also a place among the worthies in Limbo.]
 [10: Thetis.]
 [11: "That worthy shade." Statius.]
 They on before me went: I sole pursued,
 Listening their speech, that to my thoughts convey'd
 Mysterious lessons of sweet poesy.
 But soon they ceased; for midway of the road
 A tree we found, with goodly fruitage hung,
 And pleasant to the smell: and as a fir,
 Upward from bough to bough, less ample spreads;
 So downward this less ample spread; that none,
 Methinks, aloft may climb. Upon the side,
 That closed our path, a liquid crystal fell
 From the steep rock, and through the sprays above
 Stream'd showering. With associate step the bards
 Drew near the plant; and, from amidst the leaves,
 A voice was heard: "Ye shall be chary of me;"
 And after added: "Mary took more thought
 For joy and honour of the nuptial feast,
 Than for herself, who answers now for you.
 The women of old Rome were satisfied
 With water for their beverage. Daniel[12] fed
 On pulse, and wisdom gain'd. The primal age
 Was beautiful as gold: and hunger then
 Made acorns tasteful; thirst, each rivulet
 Run nectar. Honey and locusts were the food,
 Whereon the Baptist in the wilderness
 Fed, and that eminence of glory reach'd
 And greatness, which the Evangelist records."
 [12: "Daniel." "Then said Daniel to Melzar, whom the prince of the
 eunuchs had set over Daniel, Hananiah, Michael, and Azariah, 'Prove thy
 servants, I beseech thee, ten days; and let them give us pulse to eat, and
 water to drink.'" - Dan. i. II, 12. "Thus Melzar took away the portion of
 their meat, and the wine that they should drink: and gave them pulse. As for
 these four children, God gave them knowledge and skill in all learning and
 wisdom: and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams." - Ibid. 16,