Then the spirit begs that, on returning to the "pleasant world," Dante will recall him to his friends' memory, and, closing his eyes, sinks back among the other victims, all of whom are more or less blind. Vouchsafing the information that this sinner will not rise again "ere the last angel trumpet blow," Virgil leads Dante over the foul mixture of shades and mud, explaining that, although the accursed can never hope to attain perfection, they are not entirely debarred from improvement.
Canto VII. Talking thus, the two travellers descend to the fourth circle, ruled by Plutus, god of wealth, who allows them to proceed, only after Virgil has informed him their journey is ordained, and is to be pursued to the very spot where Michael confined Satan. The mere mention of his master, the ex-archangel, causes Plutus to grovel; and Dante and Virgil, proceeding on their journey, discover that the fourth circle is occupied by all whom avarice mastered, as well as by prodigals, who are here condemned to roll heavy rocks, because their lives on earth were spent scuffling for money or because they failed to make good use of their gold. Dante descries among the victims tonsured polls, proving that monks themselves are not exempt from these sins. Meanwhile Virgil expounds how the Creator decreed nations should wield the mastery in turn, adding that these people are victims of Fortune, whose proverbial fickleness he ably describes.
After passing a well, whose boiling waters overflow and form a stream, they follow the latter's downward course to the marsh called Styx, where hundreds of naked creatures wallow in the mire, madly clutching and striking each other. Virgil explains that these are those "whom anger overcame," and adds that the sullen are buried beneath the slimy waters, where their presence is betrayed by bubbles caused by their breath which continually rise to the surface. Edging around this loathsome pool, the two poets finally arrive at the door of a tall tower.
Canto VIII. From the lofty turret flash flaming signals, evidently designed to summon some bark or ferry, since a vessel soon appears. Once more Virgil has to silence a snarling boatman (Phlegyas) ere he can enter his skiff, where he invites Dante to follow him. Then they row across the mire, whence heads keep emerging from time to time. One of the sufferers confined here suddenly asks Dante, "Who art thou that earnest ere thine hour?" only to be hastily assured the poet does not intend to stay. Just as Dante expresses the wish to know whom he is addressing, he recognizes this sinner (Argenti) and turns from him in loathing, an act which wins Virgil's approval. When Dante further mutters he wishes this monster were stifled in the mud, Virgil suddenly points to a squad of avenging spirits who, sweeping downward, are about to fulfil this cruel wish, when the culprit rends himself to pieces with his own teeth and plunges back into the Styx.
Sailing along, Virgil tries to prepare Dante for their arrival at the city of Dis, whose minarets, colored by a fiery glow from within, now shine in the distance. Steered into the moat surrounding this city, the travellers slowly circle its iron walls, from which hosts of lost souls lean clamoring, "Who is this that without death first felt goes through the region of the dead?" When Virgil signals he will explain, the demons disappear as if to admit them; but, when the travellers reach the gates, they find them still tightly closed. Virgil then explains that these very demons tried to oppose even Christ's entrance to Hades, and adds that their power was broken on the first Easter Day.
Canto IX. Quailing with terror, Dante hears Virgil admit that few have undertaken to tread these paths, although they are familiar to him, seeing that, guided by a witch (the Sibyl of Cumaea), he came here with Aeneas. While Virgil is talking, the three Furies appear on top of the tower, and, noting the intruders, clamor for Medusa to come and turn them into stone! Bidding Dante avoid the Gorgon's petrifying glance, Virgil further assures the safety of his charge by holding his hands over Dante's eyes. While thus blinded, the author of the poem hears waves splash against the shore, and, when Virgil's hands are removed, perceives an angel walking dry-shod over the Styx. At a touch from his hand, the gates of Dis open wide, and, without paying heed to the poets, who have instinctively assumed the humblest attitude, their divine rescuer recrosses the bog, leaving them free to enter into the iron fortress. There they find countless sinners cased in red-hot coffins sunk in burning marl. On questioning his guide, Dante learns each open sepulchre contains an arch-heretic, or leader of some religious sect, and that each tomb is heated to a degree corresponding to the extent of the harm done by its occupant's teachings.
Canto X. Gingerly treading between burning tombs and fortress wall, Virgil conducts Dante to an open sepulchre, where lies the Ghibelline leader Farinata. Partly rising out of his glowing tomb, this warrior informs Dante that the Guelfs—twice driven out of Florence—have returned thither. At that moment another victim, peering over the edge of his coffin, anxiously begs for news of his son Guido, thus proving that, while these unfortunates know both past and future, the present remains a mystery to them. Too amazed at first to speak, Dante mentions Guido in the past tense, whereupon the unhappy father, rashly inferring his son is dead, plunges back into his sepulchre with a desperate cry. Not being able to correct his involuntary mistake and thus comfort this sufferer, Dante begs Farinata to inform his neighbor, as soon as possible, that his son is still alive. Then, perplexed by all he has seen and heard, Dante passes thoughtfully on, noting the victims punished in this place, until, seeing his dismay, Virgil comforts him with the assurance that Beatrice will explain all he wishes to know at the end of his journey.
Canto XI. The poets now approach a depression, whence arises a stench so nauseating that they are compelled to take refuge behind a stone tomb to avoid choking. While they pause there, Dante perceives this sepulchre bears the name of Pope Anastasius, who has been led astray. Tarrying there to become acclimated to the smell, Virgil informs his companion they are about to pass through three gradations of the seventh circle, where are punished the violent, or those who by force worked injury to God, to themselves, or to their fellow-men.
Canto XII. His charge sufficiently prepared for what awaits him, Virgil leads the way down a steep path to the next rim, where they are confronted by the Minotaur, before whom Dante quails, but whom Virgil defies by mentioning Theseus. Taking advantage of the moment when the furious, bull-like monster charges at him with lowered head, Virgil runs with Dante down a declivity, where the stones, unaccustomed to the weight of mortal feet, slip and roll in ominous fashion. This passage, Virgil declares, was less dangerous when he last descended into Hades, for it has since been riven by the earthquake which shook this region when Christ descended into hell.
Pointing to a boiling river of blood (Phlegethon) beneath them, Virgil shows Dante sinners immersed in it at different depths, because while on earth they offered violence to their neighbors. Although anxious to escape from these bloody waters, the wicked are kept within their appointed bounds by troops of centaurs, who, armed with bows and arrows, continually patrol the banks. When these guards threateningly challenge Virgil, he calmly rejoins he wishes to see their leader, Chiron, and, while awaiting the arrival of this worthy, shows Dante the monster who tried to kidnap Hercules' wife.
On drawing near them, Chiron is amazed to perceive one of the intruders is alive, as is proved by the fact that he casts a shadow and that stones roll beneath his tread! Noticing his amazement, Virgil explains he has been sent here to guide his mortal companion through the Inferno, and beseeches Chiron to detail a centaur to carry Dante across the river of blood, since he cannot, spirit-like, tread air. Selecting Nessus for this duty, Chiron bids him convey the poet safely across the bloody stream, and, while performing this office, the centaur explains that the victims more or less deeply immersed in blood are tyrants who delighted in bloodshed, such as Alexander, Dionysius, and others. Borne by Nessus and escorted by Virgil, Dante reaches the other shore, and, taking leave of them, the centaur "alone repass'd the ford."
Canto XIII. The travellers now enter a wild forest, which occupies the second division of the seventh circle, where Virgil declares each barren thorn-tree is inhabited by the soul of a suicide. In the gnarly branches perch the Harpies, whose uncouth lamentations echo through the air, and who greedily devour every leaf that sprouts. Appalled by the sighs and wailings around him, Dante questions Virgil, who directs him to break off a twig. No sooner has he done so than he sees blood trickle from the break and hears a voice reproach him for his cruelty. Thus Dante learns that the inmate of this tree was once private secretary to Frederick II, and that, having fallen into unmerited disgrace, he basely took refuge in suicide. This victim's words have barely died away when the blast of a horn is heard, and two naked forms are seen fleeing madly before a huntsman and a pack of mastiffs. The latter, pouncing upon one victim, tears him to pieces, while Dante shudders at this sight. Meantime Virgil explains that the culprit was a young spendthrift, and that huntsman and hounds represent the creditors whose pursuit he tried to escape by killing himself.
Canto XIV. Leaving this ghastly forest, Dante is led to the third division of this circle, a region of burning sands, where hosts of naked souls lie on the ground, blistered and scathed by the rain of fire and vainly trying to lessen their pain by thrashing themselves with their hands. One figure, the mightiest among them, alone seems indifferent to the burning rain, and, when Dante inquires who this may be, Virgil returns it is Capaneus (one of the seven kings who besieged Thebes), who, in his indomitable pride, taunted Jupiter and was slain by his thunder-bolt.
Treading warily to avoid the burning sands, Virgil and his disciple cross a ruddy brook which flows straight down from Mount Ida in Crete, where it rises at the foot of a statue whose face is turned toward Rome. Virgil explains that the waters of this stream are formed by the tears of the unhappy, which are plentiful enough to feed the four mighty rivers of Hades! While following the banks of this torrent, Dante questions why they have not yet encountered the other two rivers which fall into the pit; and discovers that, although they have been travelling in a circle, they have not by far completed one whole round of the gigantic funnel, but have stepped down from one ledge to the other after walking only a short distance around each circumference.
Canto XV. The high banks of the stream of tears protect our travellers from the burning sands and the rain of fire, until they encounter a procession of souls, each one of which stares fixedly at them. One of these recognizes Dante, who in his turn is amazed to find there his old school-master Ser Brunetto, whom he accompanies on his way, after he learns he and his fellow-sufferers are not allowed to stop, under penalty of lying a hundred years without fanning themselves beneath the rain of fire. Walking by his former pupil's side, Brunetto in his turn questions Dante and learns how and why he has come down here, ere he predicts that in spite of persecutions the poet will ultimately attain great fame.
Canto XVI. Reaching a spot where the stream they are following suddenly thunders down into the eighth circle, Dante beholds three spirits running toward him, whirling round one another "in one restless wheel," while loudly exclaiming his garb denotes he is their fellow countryman! Gazing into their fire-scarred faces, Dante learns these are three powerful Guelfs; and when they crave tidings of their native city, he tells them all that has recently occurred there. Before vanishing these spirits piteously implore him to speak of them to mortals on his return to earth, and leave Dante and Virgil to follow the stream to the verge of the abyss. There Virgil loosens the rope knotted around Dante's waist, and, casting one end of it down into the abyss, intimates that what he is awaiting will soon appear. A moment later a monster rises from the depths, climbing hand over hand up the rope.
Canto XVII. This monster is Geryon, the personification of fraud, and therefore a mixture of man, beast, and serpent. When he reaches the upper ledge, Virgil bargains with him to carry them down, while Dante converses with neighboring sorrowful souls, who are perched on the top of the cliff and hide their faces in their hands. All these spirits wear purses around their necks, because as usurers while on earth they lived on ill-gotten gains. Not daring to keep his guide waiting, Dante leaves these sinners, and hurries back just as Virgil is taking his seat on the monster's back. Grasping the hand stretched out to him, Dante then timorously mounts beside his guide.
"As one, who hath an ague fit so near, His nails already are turn'd blue, and he Quivers all o'er, if he but eye the shade; Such was my cheer at hearing of his words. But shame soon interposed her threat, who makes The servant bold in presence of his lord. I settled me upon those shoulders huge, And would have said, but that the words to aid My purpose came not, 'Look thou clasp me firm.'"
Then, bidding Dante hold fast so as not to fall, Virgil gives the signal for departure. Wheeling slowly, Geryon flies downward, moderating his speed so as not to unseat his passengers. Comparing his sensations to those of Phaeton falling from the sun-chariot, or to Icarus' horror when he dropped into the sea, Dante describes how, as they circled down on the beast's back, he caught fleeting glimpses of fiery pools and was almost deafened by the rising chorus of wails. With a falcon-like swoop Geryon finally alights on the next level, and, having deposited his passengers at the foot of a splintered rock, darts away like an arrow from a taut bow-string.
Canto XVIII. The eighth circle, called Malebolge (Evil Pits), is divided into ten gulfs, between which rocky arches form bridge-like passages. This whole region is of stone and ice, and from the pit in the centre continually rise horrid exhalations. Among the unfortunates incessantly lashed by horned demons in the first gulf, Dante perceives one who was a notorious pander on earth and who is justly suffering the penalty of his crimes. Later on, watching a train of culprits driven by other demons, Dante recognizes among them Jason, who secured the Golden Fleece, thanks to Medea, but proved faithless toward her in the end.
Crossing to the second division, Dante beholds sinners buried in dung, in punishment for having led astray their fellow-creatures by flattery. One of them,—whom the poet recognizes,—emerging from his filthy bath, sadly confesses, "Me thus low down my flatteries have sunk, wherewith I ne'er enough could glut my tongue." In this place Dante also notes the harlot Thais, expiating her sins, with other notorious seducers and flatterers.
Canto XIX. By means of another rocky bridge the travellers reach the third gulf, where are punished all who have been guilty of simony. These are sunk, head first, in a series of burning pits, whence emerge only the red-hot soles of their convulsively agitated feet. Seeing a ruddier flame hover over one pair of soles, Dante timidly inquires to whom they belong, whereupon Virgil, carrying him down to this spot, bids him seek his answer from the culprit himself. Peering down into the stone-pit, Dante then timidly proffers his request, only to be hotly reviled by Pope Nicholas III, who first mistakes his interlocutor for Pope Boniface, and confesses he was brought to this state by nepotism. But, when he predicts a worse pope will ultimately follow him down into this region, Dante sternly rebukes him.
Canto XX. Virgil is so pleased with Dante's speech to Pope Nicholas that, seizing him in his arms, he carries him swiftly over the bridge which leads to the fourth division. Here Dante beholds a procession of chanting criminals whose heads are turned to face their backs. This sight proves so awful that Dante weeps, until Virgil bids him note the different culprits. Among them is the witch Manto, to whom Mantua, his native city, owes its name, and Dante soon learns that all these culprits are the famous soothsayers, diviners, magicians, and witches of the world, who thus are punished for having presumed to predict the future.
Canto XXI. From the top of the next bridge they gaze into a dark pit, where public peculators are plunged into boiling pitch, as Dante discovers by the odor, which keenly reminds him of the shipyards at Venice. Virgil there directs Dante's attention toward a demon, who hurls a sinner headlong into the boiling tar, and, without watching to see what becomes of him, departs in quest of some other victim. The poet also perceives that, whenever a sinner's head emerges from the pitchy waves, demons thrust him down again by means of long forks. To prevent his charge falling a prey to these active evil spirits, Virgil directs Dante to hide behind a pillar of the bridge and from thence watch all that is going on.
While Dante lurks there, a demon, descrying him, is about to attack him, but Virgil so vehemently proclaims they are here by Heaven's will that the evil spirit drops his fork and becomes powerless to harm them. Perceiving the effect he has produced, Virgil then summons Dante from his hiding-place, and sternly orders the demon to guide them safely through the ranks of his grimacing fellows, all of whom make obscene gestures as they pass.
Canto XXII. Dante, having taken part in battles, is familiar with military manoeuvres, but he declares he never behold such ably marshalled troops as the demon hosts through which they pass. From time to time he sees a devil emerge from the ranks to plunge sinners back into the lake of pitch, or to spear one with his fork and, after letting him squirm aloft for a while, hurl him back into the asphalt lake. One of these victims, questioned by Virgil, acknowledges he once held office in Navarre, but, rather than suffer at the hands of the demon tormentors, this peculator voluntarily plunges back into the pitch. Seeing this, the baffled demons fight each other, until two actually fall into the lake, whence they are fished in sorry plight by fellow-fiends.
Canto XXIII. By a passage-way so narrow they are obliged to proceed single file, Dante and Virgil reach the next division, the author of this poem continually gazing behind him for fear lest the demons pursue him. His fears are only too justified, and Virgil, seeing his peril, catches him up in his arms and runs with him to the next gulf, knowing demons never pass beyond their beat.
"Never ran water with such hurrying pace Adown the tube to turn a land-mill's wheel, When nearest it approaches to the spokes, As then along that edge my master ran, Carrying me in his bosom, as a child, Not a companion."
In the sixth division where they now arrive, they behold a procession of victims, weighed down by gilded leaden cowls, creeping along so slowly that Dante and Virgil pass all along their line although they are not walking fast. Hearing one of these bowed figures address him, Dante learns that, because he and his companions were hypocrites on earth, they are doomed to travel constantly around this circle of the Inferno, fainting beneath heavy loads.
A moment later Dante notices that the narrow path ahead of them is blocked by a writhing figure pinned to the ground by three stakes. This is Caiaphas, who insisted it was fitting that one man suffer for the people and who, having thus sentenced Christ to the cross, has to endure the whole procession to tramp over his prostrate form. The cowled figure with whom Dante is conversing informs him, besides, that in other parts of the circle are Ananias and the other members of the Sanhedrim who condemned Christ. Deeming Dante has now seen enough of this region, Virgil inquires where they can find an exit from this gulf, and is shown by a spirit a steep ascent.
Canto XXIV. So precipitous is this passage that Virgil half carries his charge, and, panting hard, both scramble to a ledge overhanging the seventh gulf of Malebolge, where innumerable serpents prey upon naked robbers, whose hands are bound behind them by writhing snakes. Beneath the constant bites of these reptiles, the robber-victims turn to ashes, only to rise phoenix-like a moment later and undergo renewed torments. Dante converses with one of these spirits, who, after describing his own misdeeds, prophesies in regard to the future of Florence.
Canto XXV. The blasphemous speeches and gestures of this speaker are silenced by an onslaught of snakes, before whose attack he attempts to flee, only to be overtaken and tortured by a serpent-ridden centaur, whom Virgil designates as Cacus. Further on, the travellers behold three culprits who are alternately men and writhing snakes, always, however, revealing more of the reptile than of the human nature and form.
"The other two Look'd on, exclaiming, 'Ah! How dost thou change, Agnello! See! thou art nor double now Nor only one.' The two heads now became One, and two figures blended in one form Appear'd, where both were lost. Of the four lengths Two arms were made: the belly and the chest, The thighs and legs, into such members changed As never eye hath seen."
Canto XXVI. From another bridge Dante gazes down into the eighth gulf, where, in the midst of the flames, are those who gave evil advice to their fellow-creatures. Here Dante recognizes Diomedes, Ulysses, and sundry other heroes of the Iliad,—with whom his guide speaks,—and learns that Ulysses, after his return to Ithaca, resumed his explorations, ventured beyond the pillars of Hercules, and, while sailing in the track of the sun, was drowned in sight of a high mountain.
Canto XXVII. In the midst of another bed of flames, Dante next discovers another culprit, to whom he gives the history of the Romagna, and whose life-story he hears before following his leader down to the ninth gulf of Malebolge.
Canto XXVIII. In this place Dante discovers the sowers of scandal, schism, and heresy, who exhibit more wounds than all the Italian wars occasioned. Watching them, Dante perceives that each victim is ripped open by a demon's sword, but that his wounds heal so rapidly that every time the spirit passes a demon again his torture is renewed. Among these victims Dante recognizes Mahomet, who, wondering that a living man should visit hell, points out Dante to his fellow-shades. Passing by the travellers, sundry victims mention their names, and Dante thus discovers among them the leaders of strife between sundry Italian states, and shudders when Bertrand de Born, a fellow minstrel, appears bearing his own head instead of a lantern, in punishment for persuading the son of Henry II, of England, to rebel.
Canto XXIX. Gazing in a dazed way at the awful sights of this circle, Dante learns it is twenty-one miles in circumference, ere he passes on to the next bridge, where lamentations such as assail one's ears in a hospital constantly arise. In the depths of the tenth pit, into which he now peers, Dante distinguishes victims of all manners of diseases, and learns these are the alchemists and forgers undergoing the penalty of their sins. Among them Dante perceives a man who was buried alive on earth for offering to teach mortals to fly! So preposterous did such a claim appear to Minos—judge of the dead—that he ruthlessly condemned its originator to undergo the punishment awarded to magicians, alchemists, and other pretenders.
Canto XXX. Virgil now points out to Dante sundry impostors, perpetrators of fraud, and false-coiners, among whom we note the woman who falsely accused Joseph, and Sinon, who persuaded the Trojans to convey the wooden horse into their city. Not content with the tortures inflicted upon them, these criminals further increase each others' sufferings by cruel taunts, and Dante, fascinated by what he sees, lingers beside this pit, until Virgil cuttingly intimates "to hear such wrangling is a joy for vulgar minds."
Canto XXXI. Touched by the remorseful shame which Dante now shows, Virgil draws him on until they are almost deafened by a louder blast than was uttered by Roland's horn at Roncevaux. Peering in the direction of the sound, Dante descries what he takes for lofty towers, until Virgil informs him that when they draw nearer still he will discover they are giants standing in the lowest pit but looming far above it in the mist. Ere long Dante stares in wonder at chained giants seventy feet tall, whom Virgil designates as Nimrod, Ephialtes, and Antaeus.
As with circling round Of turrets, Montereggion crowns his walls; E'en thus the shore, encompassing the abyss, Was turreted with giants, half their length Uprearing, horrible, whom Jove from heaven Yet threatens, when his muttering thunder rolls.
Antaeus being unchained, Virgil persuades him to lift them both down in the hollow of his hands to the next level, "where guilt is at its depth." Although Dante's terror in the giant's grip is almost overwhelming, he is relieved when his feet touch the ground once more, and he watches with awe as the giant straightens up again like the mast of a huge ship.
"Yet in the abyss, That Lucifer with Judas low ingulfs, Lightly he placed us; nor, there leaning, stay'd; But rose, as in a barque the stately mast."
Canto XXXII. Confessing that it is no easy task to describe the bottom of the universe which he has now reached, Dante relates how perpendicular rocks reached up on all sides as far as he could see. He is gazing upward in silent wonder, when Virgil suddenly cautions him to beware lest he tread upon some unfortunate. Gazing down at his feet, Dante then becomes aware that he is standing on a frozen lake, wherein stick fast innumerable sinners, whose heads alone emerge, eased in ice owing to the tears constantly flowing down their cheeks.
Seeing two so close together that their very hair seems to mingle, Dante, on inquiring, learns they are two brothers who slew each other in an inheritance quarrel, for this is Caina, the region where the worst murderers are punished, and, like every other part of the Inferno, it is crowded with figures.
"A thousand visages Then mark'd, I, which the keen and eager cold Had shaped into a doggish grin; whence creeps A shivering horror o'er me, at the thought Of those frore shallows."
It happens that, while following his guide over the ice, Dante's foot strikes a projecting head. Permission being granted him to question its owner, Dante, because he at first refuses to speak, threatens to pull every hair out of his head, and actually gives him a few hard tugs. Then the man admits he is a traitor and that there are many others of his ilk in Antenora, the second division of the lowest circle.
Canto XXXIII. Beholding another culprit greedily gnawing the head of a companion, Dante learns that while on earth this culprit was Count Ugolino de'Gherardeschi, whom his political opponents, headed by the Archbishop Ruggiero, seized by treachery and locked up in the Famine-tower at Pisa, with two sons and two grandsons. Ugolino feelingly describes his horror when one morning he heard them nail up the door of the prison, and realized he and his were doomed to starve! Not a word did the prisoners exchange regarding their fate, although all were aware of the suffering awaiting them. At the end of twenty-four hours, beholding traces of hunger in the beloved faces of his children, Ugolino gnawed his fists in pain. One of his grandsons, interpreting this as a sign of unbearable hunger, then suggested that he eat one of them, whereupon he realized how needful it was to exercise self-control if he did not wish to increase the sufferings of the rest. Ugolino then describes how they daily grew weaker, until his grandsons died at the end of the fourth day, vainly begging him to help them. Then his sons passed away, and, groping blindly among the dead, he lingered on, until, famine becoming more potent than anything else, he yielded to its demands. Having finished this grewsome tale, Ugolino continued his feast upon the head of his foe!
"Thus having spoke, Once more upon the wretched skull his teeth He fasten'd like a mastiff's 'gainst the bone, Firm and unyielding."
Dante, passing on, discovers many other victims encased in the ice, and is so chilled by a glacial breeze that his face muscles stiffen. He is about to ask Virgil whence this wind proceeds, when one of the ice-encrusted victims implores him to remove its hard mask from his face. Promising to do so in return for the man's story, Dante learns he is a friar who, in order to rid himself of inconvenient kinsmen, invited them all to dinner, where he suddenly uttered the fatal words which served as a signal for hidden assassins to despatch them. When Dante indignantly exclaims the perpetrator of this heinous deed is on earth, the criminal admits that, although his shadow still lingers above ground, his soul is down here in Ptolomea, undergoing the penalty for his sins. Hearing this, Dante refuses to clear away the ice, and excuses himself to his readers by stating "ill manners were best courtesy to him." Canto XXXIV. Virgil now directs Dante's glance ahead, until our poet dimly descries what looks like an immense windmill. Placing Dante behind him to shield him a little from the cruel blast, Virgil leads him past countless culprits, declaring they have reached Judecca, a place where it behooves him to arm his heart with strength. So stiff with cold that he is hovering between life and death, Dante now beholds Dis or Satan,—Emperor of the Infernal Regions,—sunk in ice down to his waist, and discovers that the wind is caused by the constant flutter of his bat-like wings. He also perceives that Satan is as much larger than the giants just seen, as they surpass mankind, and states that, were the father of evil as fair as he is foul, one might understand his daring to defy God.
"If he were beautiful As he is hideous now, and yet did dare To scowl upon his Maker, well from him May all our misery flow."
Then Dante describes Satan's three heads, one red, one yellow and white, and one green, declaring that the arch-fiend munches in each mouth the sinners Judas, Cassius, and Brutus. After allowing Dante to gaze a while at this appalling sight, Virgil informs his charge that, having seen all, it behooves them to depart. With a brief order to Dante to cling tightly around his neck, Virgil, seizing a moment when Satan's wings are raised, darts beneath them, and clutching the demon's shaggy sides painfully descends toward the centre of the earth. Down, down they go until they reach the evil spirit's thighs, where, the centre of earth's gravity being reached, Virgil suddenly turns around and begins an upward climb with his burden. Although Dante fully expects soon to behold Satan's head once more, he is amazed to discover they are climbing up his leg. Then, through a chimney-like ascent, where the climbing demands all their strength, Dante and Virgil ascend toward the upper air.
Explaining they are about to emerge at the antipodes of the spot where they entered Hades, where they will behold the great Western Sea, Virgil adds they will find in its centre the Mount of Purgatory, constructed of the earth displaced by Satan's fall. Thus, Dante and his leader return to the bright world, and, issuing from the dark passage in which they have been travelling, once more behold the stars!
"By that hidden way My guide and I did enter, to return To the fair world: and heedless of repose We climb'd, he first, I following his steps, Till on our view the beautiful lights of heaven Dawn'd through a circular opening in the cave: Thence issuing we again beheld the stars."
Canto I. About to sing of a region where human spirits are purged of their sins and prepared to enter heaven, Dante invokes the aid of the muses. Then, gazing about him, he discovers he is in an atmosphere of sapphire hue, all the more lovely because of the contrast with the infernal gloom whence he has just emerged. It is just before dawn, and he beholds with awe four bright stars,—the Southern Cross,—which symbolize the four cardinal virtues (Prudence, Justice, Fortitude, and Temperance).
After contemplating these stars awhile, Dante, turning to the north to get his bearings, perceives Virgil has been joined in this ante-purgatorial region by Cato, who wonderingly inquires how they escaped "the eternal prison-house."
Virgil's gesture and example have meantime forced Dante to his knees, so it is in this position that the Latin poet explains how a lady in heaven bade him rescue Dante—before it was too late—by guiding him through hell and showing him how sinners are cleansed in Purgatory. The latter part of Virgil's task can, however, be accomplished only if Cato will allow them to enter the realm which he guards. Moved by so eloquent a plea, Cato directs Virgil to wash all traces of tears and of infernal mirk from Dante's face, girdle him with a reed in token of humility, and then ascend the Mount of Purgatory,—formed of the earthy core ejected from Hades,—which he points out in the middle of a lake with reedy shores.
Leading his charge in the early dawn across a meadow, Virgil draws his hands first through the dewy grass and then over Dante's face, and, having thus removed all visible traces of the passage through Hades, takes him down to the shore to girdle him with a pliant reed, the emblem of humility.
Canto II. Against the whitening east they now behold a ghostly vessel advancing toward them, and when it approaches near enough they descry an angel standing at its prow, his outspread wings serving as sails. While Dante again sinks upon his knees, he hears, faintly at first, the passengers in the boat singing the psalm "When Israel went out of Egypt."
Making a sign of the cross upon each passenger's brow, the angel allows his charges to land, and vanishes at sunrise, just as the new-comers, turning to Virgil, humbly inquire the way to the mountain. Virgil rejoins that he too is a recent arrival, although he and his companion travelled a far harder road than theirs. His words making them aware of the fact that Dante is a living man, the spirits crowd around him, eager to touch him. Among them he recognizes the musician Casella, his friend. Unable to embrace a spirit,—although he tries to do so,—Dante, after explaining his own presence here, begs Casella to comfort all present by singing of love. Just as this strain ends, Cato reappears, urging them to hasten to the mountain and there cast aside the scales which conceal God from their eyes. At these words all the souls present scatter like a covey of pigeons, and begin ascending the mountain, whither Virgil and Dante slowly follow them.
"As a wild flock of pigeons, to their food Collected, blade or tares, without their pride Accustom'd, and in still and quiet sort, If aught alarm them, suddenly desert Their meal, assail'd by more important care; So I that new-come troop beheld, the song Deserting, hasten to the mountain's side, As one who goes, yet, where he tends, knows not."
Canto III. While painfully ascending the steep slope, Dante, seeing only his own shadow lengthening out before him, fears his guide has abandoned him, and is relieved to see Virgil close behind him and to hear him explain that disembodied spirits cast no shadow. While they are talking, they reach the foot of the mountain and are daunted by its steep and rocky sides. They are vainly searching for some crevice whereby they may hope to ascend, when they behold a slowly advancing procession of white-robed figures, from whom Virgil humbly inquires the way.
"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 the 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 unwitting of the cause."
These spirits too are startled at the sight of a living being, but, when Virgil assures them Dante is not here without warrant, they obligingly point out "the straight and narrow way" which serves as entrance to Purgatory. This done, one spirit, detaching itself from the rest, inquires whether Dante does not remember Manfred, King of Naples and Sicily, and whether he will not, on his return to earth, inform the princess that her father repented of his sins at the moment of death and now bespeaks her prayers to shorten his time of probation.
Canto IV. Dazed by what he has just seen and heard, Dante becomes conscious of his surroundings once more, only when the sun stands considerably higher, and when he has arrived at the foot of a rocky pathway, up which he painfully follows Virgil, helping himself with his hands as well as his feet. Arrived at its top, both gaze wonderingly around them, and perceive by the position of the sun that they must be at the antipodes of Florence, where their journey began. Panting with the exertions he has just made, Dante expresses some fear lest his strength may fail him, whereupon Virgil kindly assures him the way, so arduous at first, will become easier and easier the higher they ascend.
Just then a voice, addressing them, advises them to rest, and Dante, turning, perceives, among other spirits, a sitting figure, in whom he recognizes a friend noted for his laziness. On questioning this spirit, Dante learns that this friend, Belacqua, instead of exerting himself to climb the mount of Purgatory, is idly waiting in hopes of being wafted upward by the prayers of some "heart which lives in grace." Such slothfulness irritates Virgil, who hurries Dante on, warning him the sun has already reached its meridian and night will all too soon overtake them.
Canto V. Heedless of the whispered comments behind him because he is opaque and not transparent like the other spirits, Dante follows Virgil, until they overtake a band of spirits chanting the Miserere. These too seem surprised at Dante's density, and, when assured he is alive, eagerly inquire whether he can give them any tidings of friends and families left on earth. Although all present are sinners who died violent deaths, as they repented at the last minute they are not wholly excluded from hope of bliss. Unable to recognize any of these, Dante nevertheless listens to their descriptions of their violent ends, and promises to enlighten their friends and kinsmen in regard to their fate.
Canto VI. Because Virgil moves on, Dante feels constrained to follow, although the spirits continue to pluck at his mantle, imploring him to hear what they have to say. Touched by the sorrows of men of his own time or famous in history, Dante wistfully asks his guide whether prayers can ever change Heaven's decrees, and learns that true love can work miracles, as he will perceive when he beholds Beatrice. The hope of meeting his beloved face to face causes Dante to urge his guide to greater speed and almost gives wings to his feet. Presently Virgil directs his companion's attention to a spirit standing apart, in whom Dante recognizes the poet Sordello, who mourns because Mantua—his native city as well as Virgil's—drifts in these political upheavals like a pilotless vessel in the midst of a storm.
Canto VII. Virgil now informs Sordello that he, Virgil, is debarred from all hope of heaven through lack of faith. Thereupon Sordello reverently approaches him, calling him "Glory of Latium," and inquiring whence he comes. Virgil explains how, led by heavenly influence, he left the dim limbo of ante-hell, passed through all the stages of the Inferno, and is now seeking the place "Where Purgatory its true beginning takes." Sordello rejoins that, while he will gladly serve as guide, the day is already so far gone that they had better spend the night in a neighboring dell. He then leads Virgil and Dante to a hollow, where, resting upon fragrant flowers, they prepare to spend the night, with a company of spirits who chant "Salve Regina." Among these the new-comers recognize with surprise sundry renowned monarchs, whose doings are briefly described.
Canto VIII. Meantime the hour of rest has come, the hour described by the poet as—
Now was the hour that wakens fond desire In men at sea, and melts their thoughtful heart Who in the morn have bid sweet friends farewell, And pilgrim newly on his road with love Thrills, if he hear the vesper bell from far That seems to mourn for the expiring day.
Dante and Virgil then witness the evening devotions of these spirits, which conclude with a hymn so soft, so devout, that their senses are lost in ravishment. When it has ended, the spirits all gaze expectantly upward, and soon behold two green-clad angels, with flaming swords, who alight on eminences at either end of the glade. These heavenly warriors are sent by Mary to mount guard during the hours of darkness so as to prevent the serpent from gliding unseen into their miniature Eden. Still led by Sordello, the poets withdraw to a leafy recess, where Dante discovers a friend whom he had cause to believe detained in hell. This spirit explains he is not indeed languishing there simply because of the prayers of his daughter Giovanna, who has not forgotten him although his wife has married again.
Dante is just gazing with admiration at three stars (symbols of Faith, Hope, and Charity), when Sordello suddenly points out the serpent, who is no sooner descried by the angels than they swoop down and put him to flight.
"I saw not, nor can tell, How those celestial falcons from their seat Moved, but in motion each one well descried. Hearing the air cut by their verdant plumes, The serpent fled; and, to their stations, back The angels up return'd with equal flight."
Canto IX. Dante falls asleep in this valley, but, just as the first gleams of light appear, he is favored by a vision, wherein—like Ganymede—he is borne by a golden-feathered eagle into a glowing fire where both are consumed. Wakening with a start from this disquieting dream, Dante finds himself in a different spot, with no companion save Virgil, and notes the sun is at least two hours high.
Virgil now assures him that, thanks to Santa Lucia (type of God's grace), he has in sleep been conveyed to the very entrance of Purgatory. Gazing at the high cliffs which encircle the mountain, Dante now perceives a deep cleft, through which he and Virgil arrive at a vast portal (the gate of penitence), to which three huge steps of varying color and size afford access. At the top of these steps, on a diamond threshold, sits the Angel of Absolution with his flashing sword. Challenged by this warder, Virgil explains that they have been guided hither by Santa Lucia, at whose name the angel bids them draw near. Up a polished step of white marble (which typifies sincerity), a dark step of cracked stone (symbol of contrition), and one of red porphyry (emblem of self-sacrifice), Dante arrives at the angel's feet and humbly begs him to unbar the door. In reply the angel inscribes upon the poet's brow, by means of his sword, seven P's, to represent the seven deadly sins (in Italian peccata), of which mortals must be purged ere they can enter Paradise.
After bidding Dante have these signs properly effaced, the angel draws from beneath his ash-hued mantle the golden key of authority and the silver key of discernment, stating that when St. Peter entrusted them to his keeping he bade him err "rather in opening than in keeping fast." Then, the gate open, the angel bids them enter, adding the solemn warning "he forth again departs who looks behind."
Canto X. Mindful of this caution, Dante does not turn, although the gates close with a clash behind him, but follows his guide along a steep pathway. It is only after painful exertions they reach the first terrace of Purgatory, or place where the sin of pride is punished. They now pass along a white marble cornice,—some eighteen feet wide,—whose walls are decorated with sculptures which would not have shamed the best masters of Greek art. Here are represented such subjects as the Annunciation, David dancing before the Ark, and Trajan granting the petition of the unfortunate widow. Proceeding along this path, they soon see a procession of spirits approaching, all bent almost double beneath huge burdens. As they creep along, one or another gasps from time to time, "I can endure no more."
Canto XI. The oppressed spirits fervently pray for aid and forgiveness, while continuing their weary tramp around this cornice, where they do penance for undue pride. Praying they may soon be delivered, Virgil inquires of them where he can find means to ascend to the next circle, and is told to accompany the procession which will soon pass the place. The speaker, although unable to raise his head, confesses his arrogance while on earth so incensed his fellow-creatures that they finally rose up against him and murdered him. Stooping so as to catch a glimpse of the bent face, Dante realizes he is talking to a miniature painter who claimed to be without equal, and therefore has to do penance.
The noise Of worldly fame is but a blast of wind, That blows from diverse points, and shifts its name, Shifting the point it blows from.
Canto XII. Journeying beside the bowed painter (who names some of his fellow-sufferers), Dante's attention is directed by Virgil to the pavement beneath his feet, where he sees carved Briareus, Nimrod, Niobe, Arachne, Saul, etc.,—in short, all those who dared measure themselves with the gods or who cherished overweening opinions of their attainments. So absorbed is Dante in contemplation of these subjects that he starts when told an angel is coming to meet them, who, if entreated with sufficient humility, will doubtless help them reach the next level.
The radiant-faced angel, robed in dazzling white, instead of waiting to be implored to help the travellers, graciously points out steps where the rocks are sundered by a cleft, and, when Dante obediently climbs past him, a soft touch from his wings brushes away the P. which stands for pride, and thus frees our poet of all trace of this heinous sin. But it is only on reaching the top of the stairway that Dante becomes aware of this fact.
Canto XIII. The second ledge of purgatory, which they have now reached, is faced with plain gray stone, and Virgil leads his companion a full mile along it ere they become aware of a flight of invisible spirits, some of whom chant "They have no wine!" while the others respond "Love ye those who have wrong'd you." These are those who, having sinned through envy, can be freed only by the exercise of charity. Then, bidding Dante gaze fixedly, Virgil points out this shadowy host, clothed in sackcloth, sitting back against the rocks, and Dante takes particular note of two figures supporting each other. He next discovers that one and all of these victims have their eyelids sewn so tightly together with wire that passage is left only for streams of penitential tears.
When allowed to address them, Dante, hoping to comfort them, offers to bear back to earth any message they wish to send. It is then that one of these spirits informs Dante that on earth she was Sapia, a learned Siennese, who, having rejoiced when her country was defeated, is obliged to do penance for heartlessness. Marvelling that any one should wander among them with eyes unclosed, she inquires by what means Dante has come here, bespeaks his prayers, and implores him to warn her countrymen not to cherish vain hopes of greatness or to sin through envy.
Canto XIV. The two spirits leaning close together, in their turn question who Virgil and Dante may be? When they hear mention of Rome and Florence, they hotly inveigh against the degeneracy of dwellers on the banks of the Tiber and Arno.
Shortly after leaving this place with his guide, Dante hears the wail: "Whosoever finds will slay me," a cry followed by a deafening crash.
Canto XV. Circling round the mountain, always in the same direction, Dante notes the sun is about to set, when another dazzling angel invites them up to the next level,—where anger is punished,—by means of a stairway less steep than any of the preceding. As they climb, the angel softly chants "Blessed the merciful" and "Happy thou that conquer'st," while he brushes aside the second P ., and thus cleanses Dante from envy. But, when Dante craves an explanation of what he has heard and seen, Virgil assures him that only when the five remaining "scars" have vanished from his brow, Beatrice herself can satisfy his curiosity.
On reaching the third level, they find themselves enveloped in a dense fog, through which Dante dimly beholds the twelve-year-old Christ in the Temple and overhears his mother chiding him. Next he sees a woman weeping, and lastly Stephen stoned to death.
Canto XVI. Urged by his guide to hasten through this bitter blinding fog—a symbol of anger which is punished here—Dante stumbles along, mindful of Virgil's caution, "Look that from me thou part not." Meanwhile voices on all sides invoke "the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world." Then, all at once, a voice addresses Dante, who, prompted by Virgil, inquires where the next stairway may be? His interlocutor, after bespeaking Dante's prayers, holds forth against Rome, which, boasting of two suns,—the pope and the emperor,—has seen the one quench the other. But the arrival of an angel, sent to guide our travellers to the next level, soon ends this conversation.
Canto XVII. Out of the vapors of anger—as dense as any Alpine fog—Dante, who has caught glimpses of famous victims of anger, such as Haman and Lavinia, emerges with Virgil, only to be dazzled by the glorious light of the sun. Then, climbing the ladder the angel points out, Dante feels him brush away the third obnoxious P., while chanting, "Blessed are the peacemakers." They now reach the fourth ledge, where the sin of indifference or sloth is punished, and, as they trudge along it, Virgil explains that all indifference is due to a lack of love, a virtue on which he eloquently discourses.
Canto XVIII. A multitude of spirits now interrupt Virgil, and, when he questions them, two, who lead the rest, volubly quote examples of fervent affection and zealous haste. They are closely followed by other spirits, the backsliders, who, not having had the strength or patience to endure, preferred inglorious ease to adventurous life and are now consumed with regret.
Canto XIX. In the midst of a trance which overtakes him, Dante next has a vision of the Siren which beguiled Ulysses and of Philosophy or Truth. Then, morning having dawned, Virgil leads him to the next stairway, up which an angel wafts them, chanting "Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted," while he brushes away another sin scar from our poet's forehead.
In this fifth circle those guilty of avarice undergo punishment by being chained fast to the earth to which they clung, and which they bedew with penitent tears. One of these, questioned by Dante, reveals he was Pope Adrian V., who, dying a month after his elevation to the papal chair, repented in time of his grasping past. When Dante kneels compassionately beside this august sufferer, he is implored to warn the pope's kinswoman to eschew the besetting sin of their house.
Canto XX. A little further on, among the grovelling figures which closely pave this fifth cornice, Dante beholds Hugues Capet, founder of the third dynasty of French kings, and stigmatized as "root of that ill plant," because this poem was composed only a few years after Philip IV's criminal attempt against Pope Boniface at Agnani. The poets also recognize there Pygmalion (brother of Dido), Midas, Achan, Heliodorus, and Crassus,  ere they are startled by feeling the whole mountain tremble beneath them and by hearing the spirits exultantly cry "Glory to God!"
Canto XXI. Clinging to Virgil in speechless terror, Dante hears his guide assure the spirit which suddenly appears before them that the Fates have not yet finished spinning the thread of his companion's life. When questioned by the travellers in regard to the noise and earthquake, this spirit informs them that the mountain quivers with joy whenever a sinner is released, and that, after undergoing a punishment of five hundred years, he—Statius—is now free to go in quest of his master Virgil, whom he has always longed to meet. Dante's smile at these words, together with his meaning glance at Virgil, suddenly reveal to the spirit that his dearest wish is granted, and Statius reverently does obeisance to the poet from whose fount he drew his inspiration.
Canto XXII. The three bards are next led by an angel up another staircase, to the sixth cornice (Dante losing another P. on the way), where the sins of gluttony and drunkenness are punished. As they circle around this ledge, Dante questions how Statius became guilty of the sin of covetousness, for which he was doomed to tramp around the fifth circle. In reply Statius rejoins that it was not because of covetousness, but of its counterpart, over-lavishness, that he suffered so long, and principally because he was not brave enough to own himself a Christian. Then he inquires of Virgil what have become of their fellow-countrymen Terence, Caecilius, Plautus, and Varro, only to learn that they too linger in the dark regions of ante-hell, where they hold sweet converse with other pagan poets.
Reverently listening to the conversation of his companions, Dante drinks in "mysterious lessons of sweet poesy" and silently follows them until they draw near a tree laden with fruit and growing beside a crystal stream. Issuing from this tree a voice warns them against the sin of gluttony—which is punished in this circle—and quotes such marked examples of abstinence as Daniel feeding on pulse and John the Baptist living on locusts and wild honey.
Canto XXIII. Dante is still dumbly staring at the mysterious tree when Virgil bids him follow, for they still have far to go. They next meet weeping, hollow-eyed spirits, so emaciated that their bones start through their skin. One of these recognizes Dante, who is aghast that his friend Forese should be in such a state and escorted by two skeleton spirits. Forese replies that he and his companions are consumed by endless hunger and thirst, although they eat and drink without ever being satisfied. When Dante expresses surprise because a man only five years dead should already be so high up the mount of Purgatory, Forese explains that his wife's constant prayers have successively freed him from detention in the other circles. In return Dante states why he is here and names his companions.
Canto XXIV. Escorting the three travellers on their way, Forese inquires what has become of his sister, Piccarda, ere he points out sundry spirits, with whom Dante converses, and who predict the coming downfall of his political foes. But these spirits suddenly leave Dante to dart toward trees, which tantalizingly withold their fruit from their eager hands, while hidden voices loudly extol temperance.
Canto XXV. In single file the three poets continue their tramp, commenting on what they have seen, and Statius expounds his theories of life. Then they ascend to the seventh ledge, where glowing fires purge mortals of all sensuality. Even as they toil toward this level, an angel voice extols chastity, and Dante once more feels the light touch which he now associates with the removal of one of the scars made by the angel at the entrance of Purgatory. Arrived above, the poets have to tread a narrow path between the roaring fires and the abyss. So narrow is the way, that Virgil bids Dante beware or he will be lost!
"Behoved us, one by one, along the side, That border'd on the void, to pass; and I Fear'd on one hand the fire, on the other fear'd Headlong to fall: when thus the instructor warn'd: 'Strict rein must in this place direct the eyes. A little swerving and the way is lost.'"
As all three warily proceed, Dante hears voices in the fiery furnace alternately imploring the mercy of God and quoting examples of chastity, such as Mary and Diana, and couples who proved chaste though married.
Canto XXVI. As the poets move along the rim, Dante's shadow, cast upon the roaring flames, causes such wonder to the victims undergoing purification that one of them inquires who he may be. Just as Dante is about to answer, his attention is attracted by hosts of shadows, who, after exchanging hasty kisses, dash on, mentioning such famous examples of dissoluteness as Pasiphae, and the men who caused the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Turning to his interlocutor, Dante then explains how he came hither and expresses a hope he may soon be received in bliss. The grateful spirit then gives his name, admits he sang too freely of carnal love, and adds that Dante would surely recognize many of his fellow-sufferers were he to point them out. Then, bespeaking Dante's prayers, he plunges back into the fiery element which is to make him fit for Paradise.
Canto XXVII. Just as the sun is about to set, an angel approaches them, chanting "Blessed are the pure in heart," and bids them fearlessly pass through the wall of fire which alone stands between them and Paradise. Seeing Dante hang back timorously, Virgil reminds him he will find Beatrice on the other side, whereupon our poet plunges recklessly into the glowing furnace, where both his companions precede him, and whence all three issue on an upward path. There they make their couch on separate steps, and Dante gazes up at the stars until he falls asleep and dreams of a lovely lady, culling flowers in a meadow, singing she is Lea (the mediaeval type of active life), and stating that her sister Rachel (the emblem of contemplative life) spends the day gazing at herself in a mirror.
At dawn the pilgrims awake, and Virgil assures Dante before this day ends his hunger for a sight of Beatrice will be appeased. This prospect so lightens Dante's heart that he almost soars to the top of the stairway. There Virgil, who has led him through temporal and eternal fires, bids him follow his pleasure, until he meets the fair lady who bade him undertake this journey.
"Till those bright eyes With gladness come, which, weeping, made me haste To succor thee, thou mayst or seat thee down Or wander where thou wilt. Expect no more Sanction of warning voice or sign from me, Free of thine own arbitrament to choose. Discreet, judicious. To distrust thy sense Were henceforth error. I invest thee then With crown and mitre, sovereign o'er thyself."
Canto XXVIII. Through the Garden of Eden Dante now strolls with Statius and Virgil, until he beholds, on the other side of a pellucid stream (whose waters have the "power to take away remembrance of offence"), a beautiful lady (the countess Matilda), who smiles upon him. Then she informs Dante she has come to "answer every doubt" he cherishes, and, as they wander along on opposite sides of the stream, she expounds for his benefit the creation of man, the fall and its consequences, and informs him how all the plants that grow on earth originate here. The water at his feet issues from an unquenchable fountain, and divides into two streams, the first of which, Lethe, "chases from the mind the memory of sin," while the waters of the second, Eunoe, have the power to recall "good deeds to one's mind."
Canto XXIX. Suddenly the lady bids Dante pause, look, and hearken. Then he sees a great light on the opposite shore, hears a wonderful music, and soon beholds a procession of spirits, so bright that they leave behind them a trail of rainbow-colored light. First among them march the four and twenty elders of the Book of Revelations; they are followed by four beasts (the Evangelists), and a gryphon, drawing a chariot (the Christian Church or Papal chair), far grander than any that ever graced imperial triumph at Rome. Personifications of the three evangelical virtues (Charity, Faith, and Hope) and of the four moral virtues (Prudence, etc.), together with St. Luke and St. Paul, the four great Doctors of the Church, and the apostle St. John, serve as body-guard for this chariot, which comes to a stop opposite Dante with a noise like thunder.
Canto XXX. The wonderful light, our poet now perceives, emanates from a seven-branched candlestick, and illuminates all the heavens like an aurora borealis. Then, amid the chanting, and while angels shower flowers down upon her, he beholds in the chariot a lady veiled in white, in whom, although transfigured, he instinctively recognizes Beatrice (a personification of Heavenly Wisdom). In his surprise Dante impulsively turns toward Virgil, only to discover that he has vanished!
Beatrice comforts him, however, by promising to be his guide hereafter, and gently reproaches him for the past until he casts shamefaced glances at his feet. There, in the stream (which serves as nature's mirror), he catches a reflection of his utter loathsomeness, and becomes so penitent, that Beatrice explains she purposely brought him hither by the awful road he has travelled to induce him to lead a changed life hereafter.
Canto XXXI. Beatrice then accuses him of yielding to the world's deceitful pleasures after she left him, and explains how he should, on the contrary, have striven to be virtuous so as to rejoin her. When she finally forgives him and bids him gaze into her face once more, he sees she surpasses her former self in loveliness as greatly as on earth she outshone all other women. Dante is so overcome by a sense of his utter unworthiness that he falls down unconscious, and on recovering his senses finds himself in the stream, upheld by the hand of a nymph (Matilda), who sweeps him along, "swift as a shuttle bounding o'er the wave," while angels chant "Thou shalt wash me" and "I shall be whiter than snow."
Freed from all haunting memories of past sins by Lethe's waters, Dante finally lands on the "blessed shore." There Beatrice's hand-maidens welcome him, and beseech her to complete her work by revealing her inner beauty to this mortal, so he can portray it for mankind. But, although Dante gazes at her in breathless admiration, words fail him to render what he sees.
"O splendor! O sacred light eternal! who is he, So pale with musing in Pierian shades, Or with that fount so lavishly imbued, Whose spirit should not fail him in the essay To represent thee such as thou didst seem, When under cope of the still-chiming heaven Thou gavest to open air thy charms reveal'd?"
Canto XXXII. Dante is still quenching a "ten-years thirst" by staring at his beloved, when her attendants admonish him to desist. But, although he obediently turns aside his eyes, like a man who has gazed too long at the sun, he sees her image stamped on all he looks at. He and Statius now humbly follow the glorious procession, which enters a forest and circles gravely round a barren tree-trunk, to which the chariot is tethered. Immediately the dry branches burst into bud and leaf, and, soothed by angelic music, Dante falls asleep, only to be favored by a vision so startling, that on awakening he eagerly looks around for Beatrice. The nymph who bore him safely through the waters then points her out, resting beneath the mystic tree, and Beatrice, rousing too, bids Dante note the fate of her chariot. The poet then sees an eagle (the Empire), swoop down from heaven, tear the tree asunder, and attack the Chariot (the Church), into which a fox (heresy) has sprung as if in quest of prey. Although the fox is soon routed by Beatrice, the eagle makes its nest in the chariot, beneath which arises a seven-headed monster (the seven capital sins), bearing on its back a giant, who alternately caresses and chastises a whore.
Canto XXXIII. The seven Virtues having chanted a hymn, Beatrice motions to Statius and Dante to follow her, asking the latter why he is so mute? Rejoining she best knows what he needs, Dante receives from her lips an explanation of what he has just seen, which he is bidden reveal to mankind. Conversing thus, they reach the second stream, of whose waters Beatrice bids her friend drink, and after that renovating draught Dante realizes he has now been made pure and "apt for mounting to the stars."
Introduction. The Paradise of Dante consists of nine crystalline spheres of different sizes, the Moon, Mercury, Venus, the Sun, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, the Fixed Stars, and the Empyrean, enclosed one within the other, and revolved by the Angels, Archangels, Princedoms, Powers, Virtues, Dominations, Thrones, Cherubim, and Seraphim. Beyond these orbs, whose whirling motions cause "the music of the spheres," lies a tenth circle, the real heaven (a Rose), where "peace divine inhabits," and of which the Divine Essence or Trinity forms the very core.
Canto I. Paradise opens with Dante's statement that in heaven he was "witness of things, which to relate again, surpasseth the power of him who comes from thence." He therefore invokes the help of Apollo to describe that part of the universe upon which is lavished the greatest share of light. Then, while gazing up into Beatrice's eyes, Dante, freed from earth's trammels, suddenly feels himself soar upward, and is transferred with indescribable swiftness into a totally different medium.
Canto II. Perceiving his bewilderment, Beatrice reassures him in a motherly strain, and, gazing around him, Dante realizes they have entered the translucent circle of the moon (revolved by angels). After warning his fellow-men "the way I pass ne'er yet was run," Dante goes on to relate what Beatrice teaches him in regard to the heavenly spheres and spiritual evolution, and how she promises to reveal to him "the truth thou lovest."
Canto III. In the pearl-hued atmosphere of the moon, Dante beholds, "as through a glass, darkly," shadowy, nun-like forms, and is told by Beatrice to communicate with them. Addressing the form nearest him, Dante learns she is Piccarda (sister of Forese), who was kidnapped by her husband after she had taken the veil. Although she would fain have kept her religious vows, Piccarda proved a faithful wife, and declares she and her fellow-spirits are content to remain in their appointed sphere until called higher by the Almighty.
"She with those other spirits gently smiled; Then answer'd with such gladness, that she seem'd With love's first flame to glow: 'Brother! our will Is, in composure, settled by the power Of charity, who makes us will alone What we possess, and nought beyond desire.'"
All her companions also wished to be brides of Christ, but patiently did their duty, and, knowing that "in His will is our tranquillity," they now spend all their time singing "Ave Maria." When these nun-like forms vanish, Dante gazes at Beatrice in hopes of learning more.
Canto IV. In reply to Dante's inquiring glance, Beatrice explains that those compelled to sin against their desire are ever held blameless in Heaven. Then, stating:
"Not seldom, brother, it hath, chanced for men To do what they had gladly left undone;"
she adds that "the will that wills not, still survives unquenched," and that by will power only St. Lawrence and Mucius Scevola were enabled to brave fire. Then she makes him see how truth alone can satisfy a mind athirst for knowledge.
Canto V. Beatrice asserts that the most precious gift bestowed upon mankind was freedom of will, and that "knowledge comes of learning well retain'd." She concludes that when man makes a vow he offers his will in sacrifice to God, and that for that reason no vow should be thoughtlessly made, but all should be rigidly kept. Still, she admits it is better to break a promise than, like Jephthah and Agamemnon, to subscribe to a heinous crime, and states that either Testament can serve as guide for Jews or Christians. Again drawing Dante upward by the very intensity of her gaze, she conveys him to the second circle, the heaven of Mercury (revolved by Archangels). Here, in an atmosphere as pellucid as water, Dante perceives thousands of angels, coming toward him, singing "Lo! one arrived to multiply our loves!" These spirits assure Dante he was born in a happy hour, since he is allowed, ere the "close of fleshly warfare," to view the glories of heaven,—and express a desire to share their lights with him. So Dante questions the spirit nearest him, which immediately glows with loving eagerness to serve him, until it becomes a dazzling point of light.
Canto VI. This spirit announces he is Justinian, chosen to clear "from vain excess the encumbered laws," five hundred years after the Christian era began, and that it was in order to devote all his time to this task that he consigned the military power to Belisarius. He proceeds to give Dante a resume of Roman history, from the kidnapping of the Sabines to his own day, laying stress on the triumphs won by great generals. He also specially mentions the hour "When Heaven was minded that o'er all the world his own deep calm should brood," the troublous days of the empire, and the feud of the Guelfs and Ghibellines, the two principal political factions of Dante's time. Next he explains that Mercury is inhabited by "good spirits whose mortal lives were busied to that end that honor and renown might wait on them," and quotes in particular Raymond Berenger, whose four daughters became queens.
Canto VII. After this speech Justinian vanishes with his angelic companions, and Dante, duly encouraged, inquires of Beatrice how "just revenge could be with justice punished!" She informs him that, as in Adam all die through the power of sin, all can by faith live again through Christ, thanks to God's goodness.
Canto VIII. Although unaware of the fact, Dante, whose eyes have been fixed on Beatrice, has during her exposition been wafted up to the third heaven, that of Venus (revolved by Princedoms). In the planet of love—where Beatrice glows with increased beauty—are innumerable souls "imperfect through excess of love," which are grouped in constantly revolving circles. All at once one of these luminous spirits approaches Dante, and, after expressing great readiness to serve him, introduces himself as Charles Martel, King of Hungary, brother of Robert of Naples. Thirsting for information, Dante inquires of him "how bitter can spring when sweet is sown?" In a lengthy disquisition in reply, this spirit mentions how children often differ from their parents, quotes Esau and Jacob as marked examples thereof, and adds that nature, guided by Providence, produces at will a Solon, Xerxes, Melchisedec, or Daedalus. Canto IX. The next spirit with whom Beatrice converses is the fair Cunizza, who like the Magdalen "loved much," and therefor obtained pardon for her sins. Before vanishing, she foretells coming political events, and introduces the Provencal bard Folco, whose poems on love were to be republished after five hundred years of oblivion. After relating his life, this poet informs Dante the harlot Rahab was admitted to this heaven in reward for saving Joshua's spies. This spirit concludes his interview by censuring the present papal policy, declaring it far too worldly, avaricious, and time-serving to find favor in heaven.
Canto X. Drawn upward this time by the attraction of the sun, Dante finds himself in a dazzling sphere (revolved by Powers), where he and Beatrice behold consecutive moving wreaths, each composed of twelve blessed spirits who while on earth were noted as teachers of divinity and philosophy. One of these singing, revolving wreaths encompasses our travellers, until one of its members, St. Thomas Aquinas, ceases his ineffable song long enough to present his companions and explain their titles to immortal glory.
Canto XI. St. Thomas Aquinas, in his conversation with Dante, relates the life of St. Francis of Assisi, dwelling particularly upon his noble character, and describing how, after becoming wedded to Poverty, he founded the order of the Franciscans, received the stigmata, and died in odor of sanctity, leaving worthy disciples and emulators, such as St. Dominic, to continue and further the good work he had begun. He adds that many of the saint's followers are represented in the innumerable glowing wreaths which people the heaven of the Sun.
Canto XII. Still encompassed by one rainbow circle after another, Dante is told by St. Buonaventura of Dominic's inestimable services to mankind, and hears about his fervent zeal and deep faith.
Canto XIII. While Dante and Beatrice gaze with awe and admiration upon the circles of light which revolve through all the signs of the zodiac, St. Thomas Aquinas solves sundry of Dante's doubts, and cautions him never to accede to any proposition without having duly weighed it.
"Let not the people be too swift to judge; As one who reckons on the blades in field, Or e'er the crop be ripe. For I have seen The thorn frown rudely all the winter long, And after bear the rose upon its top; And bark, that all her way across the sea Ran straight and speedy, perish at the last E'en in the haven's mouth."
Canto XIV. Proceeding from circle to circle, Dante and Beatrice reach the innermost ring, where the latter bids Solomon solve Dante's doubts by describing the appearance of the blest after the resurrection of the body. In words almost as eloquent as those wherewith St. Gabriel transmitted his message to Mary, Solomon complies.
"Long as the joy of Paradise shall last, Our love shall shine around that raiment, bright As fervent; fervent as, in vision, blest; And that as far, in blessedness, exceeding, As it hath grace, beyond its virtue, great. Our shape, regarmented with glorious weeds Of saintly flesh, must, being thus entire, Show yet more gracious. Therefore shall increase Whate'er, of light, gratuitous imparts The Supreme Good; light, ministering aid, The better to disclose his glory: whence, The vision needs increasing, must increase The fervor, which it kindles; and that too The ray, that comes from it."
As he concludes his explanation, a chorus of spiritual voices chant "Amen," and Solomon, directing Dante's glance upward, shows him how the bright spirits of this sphere group themselves in the form of a cross,—glowing with light and pulsing with music,—whereon "Christ beamed," a sight none can hope to see save those who "take up their cross and follow him."
Cantos XV, XVI. In the midst of the rapture caused by these sights and sounds, Dante is amazed to recognize, in one of the angels which continually shift places in the glowing cross, his ancestor Cacciaguida, who assures him Florence proved happy as long as its inhabitants led simple and virtuous lives, but rapidly degenerated and became corrupt when covetousness, luxury, and pleasure took up their abode within its walls.
Canto XVII. Encouraged by Beatrice, who stands at a short distance to leave him more freedom, Dante begs his great ancestor to reveal what is about to befall him, so that, forewarned, he may most wisely meet his fate. In reply Cacciaguida tells him he will be exiled from Florence, and compelled to associate with people who will turn against him, only to rue this fact with shame later on. He adds Dante will learn how bitter is the savor of other's bread and how hard to climb another's stairs.
"Thou shalt leave each thing Beloved most dearly: this is the first shaft Shot from the bow of exile. Thou shalt prove How salt the savor is of other's bread; How hard the passage, to descend and climb By other's stairs."
Then Cacciaguida goes on to state that Dante shall finally find refuge in Lombardy, with Can Grande, and while there will compose the poems depicting his memorable journey down through sin to the lowest pit and upward through repentance to the realm of bliss.
"For this, there only have been shown to thee, Throughout these orbs, the mountain, and the deep, Spirit, whom fame hath note of. For the mind Of him, who hears, is loath to acquiesce And fix its faith, unless the instance brought Be palpable, and proof apparent urge."
Seeing Dante's dismay at this prediction, Beatrice comforts him by a smile, and, seeing he is again wrapped in contemplation of her, warns him that "these eyes are not thy only Paradise."
Canto XVIII. Then Beatrice leads her charge into the fifth heaven, that of Mars, revolved by Virtues and inhabited by transfigured martyrs, confessors, and holy warriors, such as Joshua, the Maccabees, Charlemagne, Orlando, Godfrey of Bouillon, and other men of note. These worthies form a part of the mystic cross, and each glows with transcendent light as Beatrice points them out one after another. Then Beatrice wafts her change into the sixth heaven, that of Jupiter (revolved by Dominations). Here the spirits of rulers famous for justice, moving with kaleidoscopic tints and rapidity, alternately form mystic letters spelling "Love righteousness ye that be judges of the earth," or settle silently into the shape of a gigantic eagle. This sight proves so impressive that Dante sinks to his knees, fervently praying justice may indeed reign on earth as in heaven.
Canto XIX. To his intense surprise Dante now hears the mystic eagle proclaim in trumpet tones that justice and pity shall be exacted, and that no man shall be saved without them. He adds that eternal judgment is incomprehensible to mortal ken, that mere professions are vain, and that many so-called Christian potentates (some of whom he names) will present a sorry figure on Judgment Day.
Canto XX. After a period of silence, the same Eagle (an emblem of the Empire) proceeds to exalt certain rulers, especially those glorified spirits which form the pupil of his eye (David), and his eyelids (Trajan, Hezekiah, Constantine). As he mentions their names they glow like priceless rubies, and he explains that, although some of them lived before Christ was made flesh, all have been redeemed because Faith, Hope, and Charity are their sponsors.
"The three nymphs, Whom at the right wheel thou beheld'st advancing, Were sponsors for him, more than thousand years Before baptizing. O how far removed, Predestination! is thy root from such As see not the First Cause entire: and ye, O mortal men! be wary how ye judge: For we, who see our Maker, know not yet The number of the chosen; and esteem Such scantiness of knowledge our delight: For all our good is, in that primal good, Concentrate; and God's will and ours are one."
Canto XXI. Meantime Beatrice, who has grown more and more beautiful as they rise, explains, when Dante again gazes upon her, that she no longer dares smile, lest he be consumed like Semele when she beheld Jove. The magnetic power of her glance suffices again, however, to transfer him to the seventh heaven, that of Saturn (revolved by Thrones). This sphere is the abiding place of contemplative and abstinent hermits and monks. There our poet beholds a ladder, up whose steps silently ascend those whose lives were spent in retirement and holy contemplation. Amazed by all he sees, and conscious he no longer hears the music of the spheres, Dante wonders until informed by one of the spirits, coming down the steps to meet him, that at this stage the heavenly music is too loud and intense for human ears. Seeing his interlocutor suddenly become a whirling wheel of light, Dante inquires what this may mean, only to be told spirits obscured on earth by fleshly garments shine brightly in heaven. The spirit then gives his name (St. Peter Damian), vividly describes the place where he built his hermitage, and declares many modern prelates have sinned so grievously through lechery or avarice that they are now detained in Inferno or Purgatory. As he speaks, spirit after spirit flits down the stairs, each bound on some errand of charity to the spheres below.
Canto XXII. Startled by a loud cry, Dante is reassured by St. Damian's statement that no harm can befall him in heaven. Next Beatrice directs his attention to some descending spirits, the most radiant of which is St. Benedict, who explains how blissful spirits often leave the heavenly abode "to execute the counsel of the Highest." He adds that Dante has been selected to warn mortals, none of whom will ever be allowed to venture hither again. Then St. Benedict describes his life on earth and inveighs against the corruption of the monks of Dante's time.
His speech ended, St. Benedict vanishes, and Beatrice wafts Dante up the mystic stairs, through the constellation of the Gemini, to the eighth heaven, that of the Fixed Stars (revolved by the Cherubim). Declaring he is so near "the last salvation" that his eyes should be unclouded, Beatrice removes the last veil from his sight, and bids him gaze down at the spheres through which they have passed, and "see how vast a world thou hast already put beneath thy feet." Smiling at the smallness of the earth left behind him, Dante, undazzled by the mild light of the moon or the glow of the sun, gazes at the seven revolving spheres until all the scheme of creation is "made apparent to him."
Canto XXIII. Beatrice, who is still standing beside him, finally tears him away from his contemplation of what is beneath him, and directs his glance aloft, where he catches his first glimpse of Christ, escorted by his Mother and by the Church triumphant. Too dazzled and awed at first to grasp what he sees, Dante feels heart and mind expand, as he listens enraptured to sweeter music than was ever made by the nine muses. Meantime the spirits escorting Christ crown the Virgin with lilies, and all sing the praises of the Queen of Heaven.
Canto XXIV. Beatrice and Dante are now joined by the spirit of St. Peter, who examines Dante on faith, receiving the famous reply: "Faith is the substance of the thing we hope for, and evidence of those that are not seen." Not only does St. Peter approve Dante's definition, but he discusses theological questions with him, leading him meanwhile further into this sphere.
Canto XXV. Presently a spirit approaches them which is designated by Beatrice as St. James. After greeting St. Peter and smiling upon Beatrice, St. James reveals he has been sent hither by Christ to examine Dante upon hope, whereupon our poet, lifting his eyes "to the hills," gains courage enough to answer thus: "Hope is the certain expectation of future glory, which is the effect of grace divine and merit precedent." St. James is so pleased with this answer that he glows even more brightly, as St. John, "who lay upon the breast of him, our Pelican," appeared, shining so brightly that Dante, turning to ask Beatrice who he is, discovers he can no longer see her although she is close beside him.
"I turn'd, but ah! how trembled in my thought, When, looking at my side again to see Beatrice, I descried her not; although, Not distant, on the happy coast she stood."
Canto XXVI. Dante now ascertains he has merely been temporarily blinded by the excess of light which emanates from St. John, who proceeds to examine him in regard to Charity. His answers are greeted by the heavenly chorus with the chant "Holy, holy, holy," in which Beatrice joins, ere she clears the last mote away from Dante's eyes and thus enables him to see more plainly than ever. Our poet now perceives a fourth spirit, in whom he recognizes Adam, father of mankind, who retells the story of Eden, adding that, 4232 years after creation, Christ delivered him from hell, and enabled him to view the changes which had taken place in the fortunes of his descendants during that long space of time.