Purgatorio -- Canto XIII

The Whip of Envy, Sapia




















28 Mary’s words (Vinum non habent, Dante quotes them in Latin) at the marriage feast in Cana when Jesus performs his first miracle by changing water into wine (John 2:1-11).

33 Words spoken by Pylades, friend of Orestes, in order to save Orestes’ life by dying in his stead.

 36 See the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:44

 39 Each terrace of purgatory features a whip of virtuous examples and a check or bridle of bad examples.












































106 Sapia, wife of Ghinaldo Saracini, was a Guelph who gleefully watched the defeat of the Sienese Ghibellines at the hands of the Florentines at the battle of Colle, in the Val d’Elsa, in 1269.











127 Piero was a Franciscan hermit known for his piety; he died in 1289. His name means Peter the Comb-Seller; he made combs to support himself.














152 Talamone, a port which the Sienese unsuccessfully tried to develop; they also failed to find an underground river named the Diana. Many lost money and others died from malaria.

          We now had reached the top step of the stairway
          Where the mountain which cures sin by our climbing
          Cuts away steeply for a second time.
          The terrace here girdles the hill around
5         In the same way the first ledge did below,
          Except that this curve makes a tighter loop.
          No shapes here and no likenesses to see:
          The cliff-face and the roadbed both are bare
          From the livid discoloring of the stone.
10       "Were we to wait for people to give directions,"
          The poet observed, "I am afraid our choice
          Perhaps should have to be delayed too long."
          Straight at the sun he riveted his eyes,
          And turning on the pivot of his right side
15       He swung himself full forward on his left.
          "O tender light, with trust in you I enter
          On this new road: now lead us on," he said,
          "For in this place we require to be led.
          "You warm the world, you shed your light upon it:
20       Unless other reasons urge us differently,
          Your own bright beams will always be our guide."
          The distance measured down here is a mile,
          That far we had already traveled there
          In a short time because of our prompt will:
25       And flying toward us we heard but did not see
          Spirits calling gracious invitations
          To banquet at the table of love’s feast.
          The first voice that flew past cried out aloud
          "They have no wine!" and it sped on by us
30       Off to our rear, re-echoing the words.
          And before it fully faded out of hearing
          Distance, another voice passed with the cry,
          "I am Orestes!" and also did not pause.
          "Oh," I cried, "father, what are these voices?"
35       And just as I asked this, listen! a third
          Exclaimed, "Love those who do you injury!"
          And my kind master said, "This circle scourges
          The sin of envy, and for this reason
          The whip is fashioned with the cords of love.
40       "The rein must be composed of opposite sound:
          I venture to say that you shall hear it soon
          Before you reach the passageway of pardon.
          "But fix your eyes steadily through the air
          And you shall see folk seated in front of us
45       Where each one sits with back against the rock."
          At that I more than ever opened my eyes:
          I peered ahead and noticed shades in cloaks
          Of the same discoloration as the stone.
          And when we went straight forward a short space,
50       I heard cried out " Mary, pray for us!"
          And cried out "Michael" and "Peter" and "All saints."
          I do not think there walks on earth today
          A man so hard of heart he’d not be stabbed
          By keen compassion at what I witnessed there,
55       For, when I came up close enough to them
          That their condition became clear to me,
          Tears of deep grief drained slowly from my eyes.
          Each one seemed to be covered in coarse haircloth,
          And one propped up the other with his shoulder
60       As all of them leaned back along the cliff-side.
          So, too, the blind in their impoverishment
          Gather at indulgences to beg bread;
          And one lets droop his head against another’s,
          The more to make the people pity them,
65       Not merely by the sound of their sad pleading,
          But by the sad looks that express their cravings.
          And as the sun brings no help to the blind,
          So for the shades in the place that I speak of
          The light of heaven withholds its radiance.
70       An iron thread pierces and sews up
          All of their eyelids, as is done to falcons
          Still so wild they recoil at keeping quiet.
          I thought that I did wrong to walk about
          Seeing others who could not see me
75      And so I turned to my wise counselor.
          He clearly knew what this mute wished to say
          And had no need to wait for me to ask,
          But said, "Speak, and be brief and to the point."
          Virgil walked on with me along the side
80       Of the high terrace from which one could fall
          Since there is no surrounding parapet.
          And on the other side of me there sat
          The devout shades who wet their cheeks with tears
          Which seeped out through the terrible stitched seams.
85       I turned to them, "O people," I began,
          "Assured of seeing the supernal light
          Which alone is the object of your longing,
          "So may grace soon clean out the clogged debris
          Of conscience that the river of memory
90       May once more run down through it clear and pure,
          "Tell me, as a favor I shall cherish,
          Is any soul among you here Italian?
          For me to know perhaps will do him good."
          "O my brother, we each are citizens
95       Of one true city, but you intend someone
          Who as a pilgrim lived in Italy."
          I seemed to hear this answer come some distance
          From up ahead of where I stood; so I moved
          To make myself heard more in that direction.
100      Among them all I saw one shade that looked
          Expectant — and if someone asks me how:
          The chin was raised the way the blind lift theirs.
          "Spirit," said I, "subduing yourself to climb:
          If you are the one who responded to me,
105     Make yourself known by either place or name."
          "I was a Sienese," the shade replied,
          "And with the rest here I mend my sinful life,
          Weeping to Him to show Himself to us.
          "Sapient I was not, though named Sapia.
110      I found far more delight in other’s losses
          Than ever I enjoyed my own good fortune.
          "But that you may not fancy I deceive you,
          Listen to the story of my folly
          In the declining arc of my last years.
115      "My fellow citizens took to the field
          Near Colle to join battle with their foes,
          And I prayed God for what he’d willed already.
          "There they were shattered and turned backward
          With harsh steps of retreat, and seeing the rout,
120      I knew the deepest pleasure of my life:
          "So deep, I turned my brazen face upward
          To shout at God, ‘Now I no longer fear you!’
          Like the blackbird at a hint of fair weather.
          "I wanted peace with God just at the end
125     Of all my days, and my debit would not
          As yet have been reduced by penitence,
          "Had it not been that Piero Pettinaio,
          Who in his charity felt sorry for me,
          Remembered me in his own holy prayers.
130      "But who are you who come inquiring
          Of our condition, with your eyes unsewn,
          So I believe, and breathing when you talk?"
          "My eyes," I said, "will here be taken from me,
          But not for very long, because they rarely
135     Committed sin by casting looks of envy.
          "Far greater is the fear that keeps my soul
          Suspended, of the torment there below,
          For even now that burden weighs me down."
          And she asked me, "Who then has led you up here
140     Among us, if you think to go back down?"
          And I: "He who is with me and says nothing.
          "And I am living, and so request of me,
          Elected spirit, if you would have me move
          My mortal steps, down there, on your behalf."
145      "Oh, such a strange new thing is this to hear,"
          She cried, "it is a great sign that God loves you:
          Give me your aid at times, then, with your prayers.
          "And I beg you by all you yearn for most,
          Should ever you set foot on Tuscan soil,
150      Restore my good name with my kinsfolk there.
          "You will find them among those foolish people
          With their hopes high for Talamone where they
          Will lose more than in digging for Diana —
          "But there the admirals shall lose most of all."
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