Purgatorio -- Canto XII

The Rein of Pride
















25 Lucifer’s fall was due to his pride and rebellion. See Jesus' words in Luke 10:18: "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven." The first letters of lines 26 to 63 spell out "UOM" ("MAN"). See Introduction, pp. 200-201.

28 Briareus was one of the Titans who attacked Jove on Olympus. He is in the pit of the giants in the ninth circle of hell (Inferno XXXI, l. 99).

31 Thymbraeus is Apollo, and Pallas is Athena or Minerva.

34 Nimrod supposedly supervised the building of the Tower of Babel in Shinar. He is also in the giants' pit (Inferno XXXI, l. 77, and note).

37 Niobe, queen of Thebes and mother of seven sons and seven daughters, taunted Latona for only having two, Apollo and Diana; the two slew the fourteen in punishment.

40 Saul, Israel’s first king, killed himself after being defeated by the Philistines (I Samuel 31:1-6). David mourned his death and cursed the mountains of Gilboa (2 Samuel 1:21).

43 Arachne was turned into a spider for challenging Athena to a weaving contest (see Inferno XVII, l.18).

46 Rehoboam, king of Israel and son of Solomon, levied heavy taxes and was forced to flee rebellious Jerusalem (I Kings 12:1-19).

50 Alcmaeon killed his mother Eriphyle for accepting a necklace as a bribe in return for revealing the hiding place of her husband Amphiaraus who, foreseeing his death at Thebes, had refused to join the siege. See Inferno XX, n. 34 and Paradiso IV, n. 103.

52 Sennacherib, king of Assyria, was slain by his sons after his defeat at the hands of Hezekiah, king of Judah (2 Kings 19:1-37).

55 Tomyris, queen of Scythia, defeated Cyrus, the Persian emperor, in 529 B.C., and to avenge her son’s death had his head thrown into a basin of blood.

58 Holofernes, one of Nebuchadnezzar’s generals, was decapitated in his tent by Judith when the Assyrians besieged Bethulia (Judith 8-14).






80 The hours are the handmaids of the sun; it is noon on Easter Monday. Venus is the morning star (l. 90).












100 The church of San Miniato, on a hill across the Arno from Florence, was reached by the Rubaconte bridge.





110 First of the Beatitudes which are sung in Latin at each step of the mountain.

          Side by side, as oxen go in yoke,
          I trod along with that weight-burdened soul,
          As long as my kind teacher would permit it.
          But when he spoke up, "Leave him and push on,
5         For each one here does well with sail and oars
          To urge his boat ahead with all his might,"
          I raised myself up straight as one should walk
          With body erect, although my thoughts remained
          Bowed down low and shrunken in themselves.
10       I did move on, and willingly I followed
          The footsteps of my master, and both of us
          Now showed how light we could be on our feet
          When he told me, "Lower your eyes: you will
          Do well, in making your way easier,
15       To see the bed of rock beneath your feet."
          Just as the tombs in the church floor above
          The buried dead, to keep their memory fresh,
          Bear carvings figuring what they were in real life,
          And at the sight men often weep for them
20       Because of the sharp spur of memory
          Which pierces only those faithful to the dead:
          So I saw there, but in a truer likeness
          By grace of the artist’s skill, sculptured stone
          On the whole path that juts out round the mountain.
25       I saw on one side him who was created
          Nobler than any other creature, falling
          Like a streak of lightning out of heaven.
          I saw Briareus on the other side
          Transfixed by the celestial thunderbolt,
30       Heavy on the ground in his last death-chills.
          I saw Thymbraeus, I saw Mars and Pallas,
          Still in armor, standing around their father,
          Staring at the giants’ scattered limbs.
          I saw Nimrod at the foot of his tower,
35       Looking bewildered, and people gaping there
          Who were so proud to join with him in Shinar.
          O Niobe, with what tear-laden eyes
          I saw you represented on the road
          Between seven sons and seven daughters slain!
40       O Saul, how you appeared there fallen dead
          Upon your own sword on Mount Gilboa
          Which never afterward felt rain or dew!
          O mad Arachne, so I saw you turned
          Half-spider already, in sadness on the shreds
45       Of the work you wove to your own undoing!
          O Rehoboam, your image there seems now
          Menacing no more, but a chariot wafts it
          Away in panic with no one in pursuit!
          Shown as well upon that pavement stone
50       Was Alcmaeon making his mother pay
          The full dear price for her ill-fated necklace.
          Shown were the sons of King Sennacherib
          Felling him at prayers in the temple
          And then leaving him there slain on the floor.
55       Shown was the downfall and the cruel killing
          Tomyris enacted when she said to Cyrus,
          "For blood you thirsted and with blood I sate you!"
          Shown were the Assyrians in full rout,
          After Holofernes had been murdered,
60       And also his remains amid the slaughter.
          I saw Troy in ashes, caved-in ruins:
          O Ilion, how cast down low were you
          Shown by the carving there exposed to view!
          What master artist of brush or pen was he
65       Who so sketched out the shapes and shadings there
          That they would strike the subtlest minds with awe?
          The dead looked dead, the living looked alive!
          Those who had seen the real scenes saw no better
          Than I did all I trod on while bent down!
70       Now be proud, and go with haughty looks,
          Children of Eve, and do not bend your faces
          To see the trail of sin you leave behind!
          By now we’d rounded far more of the mountain
          And much more of the sun’s course had run up
75       Than my restricted mind had reckoned on,
          When he who always looked ahead as he went
          On walking called anew, "Lift up your head!
          You’ve no more time to go on lost in thought!
          "Look! an angel over there makes ready
80       To come toward us. Look at the sixth handmaid
          Return from her noon service to the day.
          "Let reverence beam in your face and bearing
          That he may now be glad to send us upward.
          Remember, this day will not dawn again."
85       I was well used to his admonitions
          Not to waste time, so nothing that he said
          In that regard could be unclear to me.
          The beautiful creature now came closer to us,
          All clothed in white and looking radiant
90       Like a trembling star in the morning sky.
          Opening his arms wide, he spread his wings,
          Saying, "Come! the steps are here at hand
          And from now on the climbing will be easy."
          To this same invitation few come forward.
95       O human race, born to fly aloft,
          Why do you fall at a mere puff of wind?
          He led us where the rock had split wide open:
          There he struck my forehead with his wings,
          And then he promised me a safe, sure journey.
100      As on the right hand, on climbing on the hill
          Where rises the church, above the Rubaconte,
          Which dominates my so-well-governed city,
          The bold rise of the escarpment is broken
          By the stone stairway hewed out in time
105      When ledgers and staves were still trustworthy,
          Just so, steps make easier the embankment
          That falls steeply from the upper circle,
          But on both sides the high rock squeezes close.
          When we turned ourselves to that direction,
110      "Blessed are the poor in spirit" voices sang
          More sweetly than words ever could describe.
          Ah, how different these inroads are from those
          Of hell! For here the entrance is with hymns
          And there below with savage clamorings.
115      Now as we mounted up the sacred stairs,
           I seemed to be ever so much lighter
           Than I had been before on level ground:
           So I asked, "Master, tell me, what great weight
           Has just been lifted from me that I feel
120      Almost no fatigue as I walk on?"
          He answered, "When the P’s that still remain
          Upon your brow, although now nearly faded,
          Are totally erased, as this one is,
          "Your feet shall be so guided by goodwill
125      That not only will they never feel exhausted,
           They even will rejoice to be urged uphill."
           Then I did what persons do when strolling
           Unaware of something on their head,
           Until the signs of others make them guess it,
130       Their hand goes up to help find out for certain,
           And gropes and discovers and performs
           The duty that the eyes can’t carry through:
          So with the outstretched fingers of my right hand
135      I found only six of the letter P’s
          The angel of the keys traced on my temples,
          And, watching this reaction, my guide smiled.
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