Paradiso -- Canto XVII

Cacciaguida’s Prophecy



1 Phaethon, hearing rumors that Apollo was not his true father, asked his mother Clymene who sent him to Apollo to confirm his birth. His father rashly allowed him to drive the chariot of the sun (Metamorphoses I, 748-756).


























46 Hippolytus, son of Theseus and the Amazon Antiope, was passionately loved by his stepmother Phaedra. When he spurned her, she had Theseus banish him under a curse that Poseidon grimly fulfilled (Metamorphoses XV, 493-505).

50 Boniface VIII plotted against the White Guelphs of Florence from his seat in Rome.


55 This is the last and most poignant prophecy of the poet’s upcoming exile.










71 The great Lombard may be Can Grande della Scala (1291-1329), lord of Verona and head of the Ghibellines. Some suggest that the reference is to Can Grande’s older brothers Bartolomeo (d. 1304) or Alboino (d. 1311). Can Grande is the subject of praise after line 76.




82 Pope Clement V, a Gascon and Boniface’s successor, turned against Emperor Henry VII of Luxemburg and in 1312 threatened to excommunicate him.

          Like him who came to Clymene to learn
          If what he heard against himself were true,
          Who still makes fathers cautious toward their sons,
          Such was I and such was I seen to be
5        Both by Beatrice and by the holy lamp
          That changed its place before to meet with me.
          With that my lady said to me, "Send forth
          The flame of your desire so that it may
          Come clearly printed with its inner stamp.
10       "Not that our knowledge ever will increase
          By what you say, but that you may learn how
          To tell your thirst, and someone give you drink."
          "O my dear root, who raise yourself so high
          That, as our mind can grasp, a triangle
15       Cannot contain two obtuse angles in it,
          "So do you see contingent things before
          They come to be themselves, with your deep gazing
          Upon the Point to which all time is present,
          "While I was in the company of Virgil
20       High on the mountain that heals many souls,
          And while I climbed down through the world of death,
          "Foreboding words were said to me concerning
          My future life, although I feel myself
          So squarely set to face the blows of chance
25       "That I willingly would be content to hear
          What fortune now draws near for me, because
          An arrow seen beforehand has less shock."
          I spoke this answer to that same bright light
          That previously had spoken to me, and so,
30       As Beatrice wished, my own wish was confessed.
          Not in dark sayings, with which foolish people
          Of old were once ensnared, before the Lamb
          Of God who takes away our sins was slain,
          But in clear words and with exact discourse
35       That fatherly love made his reply to me,
          Contained in and shown out of his own smile:
          "Contingency, which does not stretch beyond
          The meager volume of your world of matter,
          Is fully pictured in the eternal vision;
40       "Yet thence it takes on no necessity,
          No more than would a ship which sails downstream
          Depend upon the eyes which mirror it;
          "And thence, as to the ear sweet harmony
          Comes from an organ, to my sight the time
45       Comes that already waits in store for you.
          "As Hippolytus was driven out of Athens
          Through the treachery and spite of his stepmother,
          So you are destined to depart from Florence.
          "Thus it was willed and thus already plotted,
50       And soon it shall be done by him who plans it
          There where Christ every day is bought and sold.
          "The common cry, as is the wont, will blame
          The injured party, but the vengeance which
          The truth demands will witness to the truth.
55       "You shall leave everything most dearly loved:
          This is the first one of the arrows which
          The bow of exile is prepared to shoot.
          "You shall discover how salty is the savor
          Of someone else’s bread, and how hard the way
60       To come down and climb up another’s stairs.
          "And what will weigh down on your shoulders most
          Will be the bad and brainless company
          With whom you shall fall down into this ditch.
          "For all shall turn ungrateful, all insane
          And impious against you, but soon after
65       Their brows, and not your own, shall blush for it.
          "Their own behavior will prove their brutishness,
          So that it shall enhance your reputation
          To have become a party to yourself.
70       "First refuge and first place of rest for you
          Shall be in the great Lombard’s courtesy,
          Who bears the sacred bird perched on the ladder
          "And who shall hold you in such kind regard
          That between you, in contrast with the others,
75       The granting will be first and asking last.
          "With him you shall see one who at his birth
          Was so imprinted by this star of strength
          That men will take note of his noble deeds.
          "Not yet have folk observed his worthiness
80       By reason of his age: these wheeling spheres
          Have only for nine years revolved around him.
          "But ere the Gascon cons high-riding Henry,
          Some sparks of virtue shall show forth in him
          By hard work and by caring naught for money.
85       "His bounty shall be so widespread hereafter
          That the tongues, even of his enemies,
          Will not be able to keep still about him.
          "Look you to him and his beneficence.
          Through him shall many folk find change of fortune,
90       Rich men and beggars shifting their positions.
          "And you shall bear this written in your mind
          Of him, but tell it not..." — and he told things
          Beyond belief of those who witness them.
          Then added, "Son, these are the glossaries
95       On what was told to you: behold the snares
          Concealed by a few circlings of the sun!
          "Yet be not envious against your neighbors,
          For your life shall extend much longer than
          The punishment of their perniciousness."
100     When this saintly soul showed by his silence
          That he had set the woof across the warp
          Which I had held in readiness for him,
          I ventured, like someone who seeks advice,
          In his confusion, from another person
105     Who sees and wills straightforwardly and loves:
          "I clearly see, my father, how time spurs
          Toward me to strike me such a blow as falls
          The heaviest on him who heeds it least.
          "So it is well I arm myself with foresight,
110     That if the dearest place be taken from me,
          I’ll not lose all the others, through my verse.
          "Down in that endlessly cruel world below
          And on that mountain from whose lovely summit
          The eyes of my own lady lifted me,
115      "And afterward, from light to light, through heaven,
          I have learned things which, if I repeat them,
          Will give a bitter taste to many people.
          "Yet, should I be a timid friend to truth,
          I fear I will not live among those who
120     Shall call this present time the ancient past."
          The light in which the treasure I had found
          Kept smiling started to flash out at first,
          Just like a golden mirror in the sun;
          Then he replied, "A conscience overclouded
125     Either with its own or others’ shame
          Will certainly feel that your speech is harsh.
          "But nonetheless — all falsehood set aside —
          Show plainly everything that you have seen:
          Then let them scratch wherever it may itch!
130     "For though your voice be bitter at first smack,
          Yet later on when it has been digested,
          It shall leave vital nourishment behind.
          "This cry of yours shall strike as does the wind
          Which hits against the highest peaks the hardest,
135     And that shall be no petty proof of honor.
          "Therefore you have been shown within these spheres,
          Upon the mountain, and in the woeful valley,
          Only the souls of those known for their fame.
          "For the mind of the listener never rests
140     And will not build its faith on an example
          Whose roots remain unknown or undiscovered,
          "Nor on any other proof that is not lucid."
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