Purgatorio -- Canto XV

The Whip of Wrath

 

Notes

1 The poet describes the sun’s annual ecliptic course through the sky and concludes that it is three hours before sunset on the mount and midnight in Italy (l. 6).

 

 

 

 

 

 

16 An experiment from optics is used to explain the reflection of a ray of light. See also line 75.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

38 Beati misericordes is the beatitude the two poets hear after the angel gives them permission to proceed.

 

 

44 The pilgrim refers to the words of Guido del Duca in the previous canto, line 87.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

87 The first whip of the third terrace for the wrathful is the example of Mary's meek remonstrance after finding Jesus in the temple (Luke 2:42-50).

 

 

94 Pisistratus, tyrant of Athens (560-527 B.C.), took no action, despite the urgings of his wife, against an unwelcomed suitor of his daughter after the young man kissed her in public.

98 Athena and Neptune both wanted Athens named for them.

 

 

 

 

106 The third scene is of the stoning of Saint Stephen (Acts 7:54-60). Dante has daydreamed each of these scenes.

          As much time as that sphere, which like a child
          Plays endlessly, has left between the end
          Of the third hour and the beginning day,
 
          So much of the sun’s course toward evening
5         Appeared still to be left, for now it was
          Vespers there and midnight over here.
 
          The slant rays struck us fully in the face,
          For we had circled so far round the mountain
          That we were headed straight into the sunset.
 
10       Now when I felt my forehead weighted down
          With splendor much brighter than before,
          I grew amazed at things unknown to me.
 
          With that I raised my hand above my brow
          And made a visor to protect my eyes
15       And lessen the intensity of sunlight.
 
          As when a ray of light leaps from the water
          Or mirror, in the opposite direction,
          Yet rising at the angle it descended
 
          And deflecting just as far from that side where
20       The midpoint of the two lines intersects,
          As experiment and science demonstrate —
 
          So I appeared to be struck by the light
          Reflected off the path in front of me,
          And that is why I turned my sight from it.
 
25       "Sweet father, what is that from which I cannot
          Screen my eyes in any helpful way,"
          I asked, "and which seems ever to approach us?"
 
          "Do not marvel if the host of heaven
          Still dazzles you," he answered me, "this is
30       The messenger who invites us to ascend.
 
          "Soon it will be no burden to behold
          These things, rather you will find delight
          As deep as nature destines you to feel."
 
          When we had come up to the blessed angel,
35       He said with a glad voice, "Enter here
          To stairs that are less steep than were the others."
 
          We left him there and we then climbed beyond,
          Until "Blessed are the merciful" rang out
          In song behind us, and "Conqueror, rejoice!"
 
40       My master and I journeyed up together,
          We two alone, and I thought while we walked
          To benefit here from his conversation,
 
          And I turned toward him to ask him the question,
          "What did that spirit from Romagna mean
45       Speaking of ‘goods’ and ‘may not share with others’?"
 
          "He knows the punishment for his worst fault,"
          He answered me, "and so it is no wonder
          If he reproves it, to have less to weep for.
 
          "Since your desires are focused on the goods
50       Which lessen when apportioned out to others,
          Envy pumps your bellows full of sighs.
 
          "But if the love within the loftiest heaven
          Turns your desires toward the good on high,
          That craving fear would not be at your heart,
 
55       "For the more there are who call out ‘ours,’
          The more of the highest good each one possesses,
          And the more charity kindles in that cloister."
 
          "I hunger more now to be satisfied,"
          I said, "than if I had kept still before,
60      And I collect more doubts in my own mind.
 
          "How can one good that is apportioned out
          Make more of those possessors wealthier
          Than if it were possessed by just a few?"
 
          And he told me, "Because you still affix
65       Your intellect to the things of the world,
          You gather darkness out of the true light.
 
          "That ineffable and infinite Good
          That is in heaven hastens forth to love,
          Just as a sunbeam strikes a shiny surface:
 
70       "It gives back as much ardor as it finds,
          So that the more unlimited the love
          The more eternal goodness grows in it,
 
          "And the more souls on high there are in love,
          The more there are to love and the more love,
75       And like a mirror each reflects the other.
 
          "And if my discourse fails to satisfy you,
          You shall see Beatrice and she shall completely
          Free you from this and every other longing.
 
          "Just strive that the five wounds soon melt away,
80       As have the other two already vanished,
          For they heal of themselves by being painful."
 
          I was about to say, "You so content me,"
          When, seeing I’d arrived at the next circle,
          My eager eyes made me remain silent.
 
85       There it seemed that I was all at once
          Caught up into an ecstatic vision
          And saw a temple filled with crowds of people
 
          And saw a woman there about to enter,
          With a mother’s tender attitude,
90       Saying, "My son, why have you done this to us?
 
          "See how your father and I have sought for you,
          Sorrowing." And as she then was silent,
          That which at first appeared there, disappeared.
 
          Another woman then appeared to me,
95       With her cheeks drenched by water grief distills
          When it arises out of deep resentment,
 
          And she spoke, "If you are lord of the city
          Whose naming was debated by the gods,
          And which beams with all knowledge everywhere,
 
100      "Take your revenge against those brazen arms
          Which embraced our daughter, O Pisistratus!"
          And her lord seemed to me gentle and kind
 
          In answering her with a temperate look,
          "What shall we do to one who wants to hurt us
105     If we condemn someone who shows us love?"
 
          Then I saw people fired up with anger
          Stoning a young man to death, and loudly
          Clamoring to each other, "Kill! Kill!"
 
          And I saw him sink down, since death already
110      Weighed heavily upon him, toward the ground,
          But ever he made his eyes gates for heaven,
 
          Praying to the high Lord in such pain
          That He show pardon to his persecutors,
          With that look which unlocks true compassion.
 
115      When my mind turned again to outward things
          Which, independent of it, still are real,
          I recognized the truth within my errors.
 
          My guide, who could see that I acted
          Like someone shaking off his sleepiness,
120     Said, "What’s wrong? Can’t you hold your own,
 
          "But have you come for more than half a league
          With your eyes shut and your legs unsteady,
          Like a man staggering with wine or sleep?"
 
          "O my sweet father, if you’ll hear me out,"
125      I said, "I’ll tell you what appeared to me
          When my two legs stumbled along the way."
 
          And he: "If you had worn a hundred masks
          Over your face, even your slightest thought
          Still could not remain concealed from me.
 
130      "What you saw was intended to allow you
          To open your heart up to the flood of peace
          Which tumbles out of the eternal fountain.
 
          "I did not ask, ‘What’s wrong?’ like a person
          Who cannot see beyond his own two eyes
135      When a body lies insensible before him,
 
          "But I asked to give strength to your feet:
          So must the sluggards be spurred when they are slow
          To ply their waking-time when it comes round."
 
          We walked on through the twilight with our eyes
140      Straining ahead as far as we were able
          Against the last bright beams of evening sun;
 
          And, look! billow by billow a smoke drifted
          Toward us, black as night, with no way left
          For us to flee or to shake free from it:
 
145     Smoke robbed us of our sight and the pure air.
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