Purgatorio -- Canto XVIII

Virgil on Love and the Soul












16 Virgil continues his discourse on love as the motive-force of all action; having apprehended some good, love inclines, desires, and rejoices at last to rest in what is loved (ll. 22-33).




















49 Here Virgil begins his analysis (based on Thomas Aquinas) of the operations of the human soul which transcends the body and yet operates with it.
















76 On the opposite side of the world, the moon appears moving west to east along the path the sun would take in Sagittarius or late November.


82 Pietola, near Mantua, is Virgil’s birthplace.






92 Ismenus and Asopus, rivers of Thebes where Bacchus was born, were the sites, along their banks, of the frenzied rites of his worship.




100 Mary "in haste" visited Elizabeth after learning of her cousin’s pregnancy (Luke 1:38-40). Julius Caesar’s speedy campaign against the forces of Pompey provides the second example of zeal, shouted by the sinners of sloth as they run past.










118 Gherardo, abbot of San Zeno in Verona, died in 1187 during the reign of Frederick I who sacked Milan in 1162 (l. 120).

121 Alberto della Scala, lord of Verona, placed his bastard and deformed son Giuseppe as abbot of San Zeno in 1292 (ll. 124-126).






133 Two more examples of sloth are the Israelites who, after passing through the Red Sea, so grumbled and rebelled in the desert that they were denied seeing the Promised Land (Exodus 14:10-20, Numbers 4:26-34); and the followers of Aeneas who stayed in Sicily rather than continue to Italy (Aeneid V, 700-778).

          The lofty teacher came to the conclusion
          Of his discourse and looked intently into
          My eyes to see if I appeared content,
          And I, who was by now parched with fresh thirst,
5         Kept outward silence, but within I said,
          "Perhaps I irk him with too many questions."
          But that true father, who intuited
          The timid wish that would not be let out,
          By speaking gave me confidence to speak.
10       With that I said, "Master, my sight is so
          Enlivened by your light that I grasp clearly
          All that your words explain or analyze.
          "Therefore I beg you, gentle father dear,
          Teach me this love to which you have reduced
15       Every good action and its opposite."
          "Direct toward me," he answered, "the sharp beams
          Of your mind’s eye, and you shall plainly see
          The error of the blind passed off as guides.
          "The intellect, created quick to love,
20       Responds to everything that pleases it
          As soon as pleasure wakens it to act.
          "Your apprehension draws an image from
          A real object and displays it in you
          So that it makes the mind attend to it;
25       "And if, attentive, the mind tends toward it,
          That tendency is love: it is its nature
          Which is by pleasure bound anew in you.
          "Then, just as fire by its innate form
          Flies ever higher to reach that element
30       Where in its matter it may longest last,
          "So the enamored mind falls into longing,
          Which is a spiritual motion and never rests
          Until the thing it loves has made it happy.
          "Now you may plainly see how far the truth
35       Is hidden from those people who maintain
          That every love is in itself praiseworthy,
          "Because perhaps its subject-matter seems
          Always to be good, but every imprint
          Is not flawless although the wax is fine."
40       "Your discourse and my thoughts that followed it,"
          I answered him, "have opened love to me,
          But that has made me still more full of doubt;
          "For if love is offered to us from without
          And if the soul treads on no other foot,
45       It gains no merit, walking straight or crooked."
          And he told me, "As much as reason sees here
          I can inform you; beyond that, just wait
          For Beatrice, since it is a point of faith.
          "Every substantial form that is distinct
50       From matter and is yet united with it
          Holds a specific power in itself
          "Which is not seen except in operation
          And only in its effects is it shown,
          As the life of a plant in its green leaves.
55       "And so man does not know where understanding
          Of his first ideas derives, nor where
          Affection for first objects of desire,
          "Which both are in you as instinct in the bee
          For making honey; and this primal will
60       Has no merit for either praise or blame.
          "Now that all other wills conform to this one,
          You have the innate power which gives counsel
          And which should guard the threshold of consent.
          "This is the principle from which derives
65       The reason for your merits, so far as it
          Garners and winnows good and evil loves.
          "Those whose reasoning went to the root of things
          Perceived this innate freedom; as a result,
          They left the gift of ethics to the world.
70       "So, even supposing every love enkindled
          Within you rises from necessity,
          The power to restrain it still lies in you.
          "This noble power Beatrice calls free will;
          And for this reason, keep it in your mind
75       In case she wants to speak of it to you."
          The moon arising late, almost at midnight,
          Made the stars look scantier to us,
          For it was glowing like a burnished bucket,
          And it ran counter to the sky on paths
80       The sun inflames when men in Rome observe it
          Setting between Sardinia and Corsica.
          That noble shade, for whom Pietola
          Shines with more fame than any Mantuan town,
          Released me from the load I placed on him,
85       So that I, who had harvested his clear
          And open-handed answers to my questions,
          Remained like someone rambling drowsily.
          But I was snapped out of this drowsiness
          Suddenly by people who had come
90       Already round to us behind our backs.
          And as, of old, Ismenus and Asopus
          Saw on their banks at night fanatic crowds
          So often as the Thebans called for Bacchus,
          Such was the crowd, from what I saw, curving
95       Its way around that circle, of those who came
          With good will and just love holding the reins.
          How soon they were upon us — since that whole
          Huge company was moving at a run,
          And two of them up front cried out in tears:
100      "Mary ran with haste to the hill country!
          And Caesar to subdue Lerida thrust
          First at Marseilles and then sped on to Spain!"
          "Faster! faster! let no time be lost
          Through little love," the rest who followed cried,
105      "So zeal for good may make grace green again."
          "O people whose sharp fervor now perhaps
          Redeems the negligence and dallying
          You showed in lukewarmness for doing good,
          "This man, alive — and surely I’d not lie —
110      Would climb as soon as daylight shines on us:
          So tell us where an opening is at hand."
          These were the words spoken by my guide,
          And one of those swift spirits called, "Come,
          Follow us and you will find the gap.
115      "We are so full of passion to keep moving,
          We cannot stop, we beg your pardon, then,
          If you should take our penance for bad manners.
          "I was abbot of San Zeno in Verona
          Under the rule of worthy Barbarossa
120     Of whom Milan still talks with bitter tears.
          "And I know one with one foot in the grave
          Who soon will sorrow for that monastery
          And will regret he once had power there,
          "Because he’s put, in place of its true shepherd,
125      His son, who is deformed in his whole body
          And even more in mind, and born a bastard."
          I do not know if he said more or ceased,
          Since he by now had raced so far beyond us,
          But I heard this much and was glad to note it.
130     And he who was my help in every need
          Spoke up, "Turn round this way: observe those two
          Coming who sink their teeth deep into sloth."
          Behind them all these two declaimed, "The people
          For whom the sea had parted were all dead
135      Before the Jordan saw its promised heirs;
          "And those who to the end did not endure
          Ordeals in company with Anchises’ son
          Gave themselves up to an inglorious life."
          Then when those shades had sped so far from us
140      That they could not be sighted any more,
          A new thought worked itself up from within me,
          And from it many different thoughts were born,
          And I so drifted from one to the other
          That in my wandering off I closed my eyes,
145     And I transmuted thinking into dreaming.
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