Purgatorio -- Canto XIX

The Dream of the Siren, Pope Adrian V



2 The planet Saturn was thought to cause cold weather when close to the horizon; moonlight had the same effect. Geomancers or soothsayers would study patterns in the constellations, like the figure of Fortuna Major, to forecast the future.

7 Dante’s second dream involves the Siren, representing the sins of the flesh that remain to be purged: avarice, gluttony, and lust. He is aided by the lady of good conscience (l. 26). Some see Virgil as acting in line 31.






22 More on Ulysses in Inferno XXVI, although the Greek hero never refers to the Siren when he gives an account of his death.















46 As in previous terraces, the angel performs the ritual that allows the passages to the next terrace by removing a P from the pilgrim's forehead and giving him directions. The beatitude here is Qui lugent (l. 50).















73 The souls cite Psalm 118 (119): Adhaesit pavimento anima mea.
















97 Pope Adrian V reigned for only one month before his death in 1276. He speaks in Latin in line 99: scias quod ego fui successor Petri.. He was of the Fieschi family of Genoa, counts of Lavagna (l. 101) in Liguria. His niece Alagia (l. 142) was the wife of Morello Malaspina, a friend of Dante in exile.






















137 From Matthew 22:29-30: Neque nubent. The message is that earthly attachments (e.g. marriages) do not continue after death.

          At the hour when the heat of day,
          Beaten by earth’s cold or, sometimes, Saturn’s,
          No longer can warm up the moonlit chill,
          When geomancers view Fortuna Major
5         Rising in the east before the dawn
          Along a path just briefly dark for it,
          There came to me in dream a stuttering woman
          With eyes crossed-up and crooked on her feet,
          With crippled hands and sickly pale complexion.
10       I gazed at her. And as the sun gives comfort
          To the cold limbs which night had left benumbed,
          So did my look make her tongue loosen up
          And in a short time set her fully straight
          And, as love wishes, brought the color back
15       Into her pallid features while I looked.
          When in this way she had her speech set free,
          She then began to sing so that it would
          Be hard for me to turn my eyes from her.
          "I am," she sang, "I am the charming Siren,
20       She who allures the sailors in midsea.
          So fully pleasing am I to hear sing!
          "I turned Ulysses from his longed-for journey
          To my songs, and he who dwells with me
          Seldom departs, I satisfy so well."
25       Her mouth had not yet shut when at my side
          A lady, saintly and alert, appeared,
          To thrust the Siren into sheer confusion.
          "O Virgil, Virgil, who is this?" she asked
          Resentfully, and he came forward then
30      With his eyes fixed on the high-minded one.
          She seized the other, stripped her bare in front,
          Ripping her clothing, and showed me her belly;
          The stench that sprang from it awakened me.
          I turned my eyes, and my good master said,
35       "Three times at least I’ve called you. Rise and come!
          Let’s find the opening where you may enter."
          I rose up. And already all the circles
          Around the holy mountain filled with daylight,
          And we walked with the new sun at our backs.
40       Following him, I held my brow bowed down
          Like one who feels it burdened with his thoughts,
          Who bends himself like the archway of a bridge,
          When I heard then: "Come, here’s the passageway,"
          Spoken in a tone so kind and gentle
45      As one does not hear in this mortal region.
          With outspread wings that seemed to be a swan’s,
          He who had so addressed us pointed us
          Upward between the two walls of hard rock.
          Then he moved his feathers and he fanned us
50       As he affirmed that "they who mourn" are blessed
          For they shall have their souls richly consoled.
          "What’s wrong, that you keep gazing on the ground?"
          My guide began to say to me, just when
          We had both climbed a bit above the angel.
55       And I: "A strange new vision makes me trudge on
          With such mistrust: it bends me inwardly
          So that I cannot stop from thinking of it."
          "You have beheld," he said, "that ancient witch
          For whom alone those now above us weep:
60       You saw how man sets himself free from her.
          "That is enough! now beat your heels on earth
          And turn your eyes up to the lure spun from
          The mighty spheres by the eternal King."
          Like a falcon that first stares at his feet,
65       Then turns up at the call and spreads his wings,
          Out of desire for food that draws him there,
          So I became, and so I went, as far
          As the cleft rock allowed one to climb through
          Up to the ledge where further circling starts.
70       When I stepped out into the fifth circle,
          I witnessed people on it who were weeping,
          Lying on the ground with faces downward.
          "My soul cleaves to the dust," this psalm I heard
          Them murmuring with sighs so deep and gasping
75       That scarcely could the words be understood.
          "O chosen souls of God, whose sufferings
          Justice and hope render less difficult,
          Direct us toward the stairs for mounting higher."
          "If you come here exempt from lying prostrate
80       And want to find the way most rapidly,
          Then keep your right side toward the outer edge."
          This did the poet ask, and this response
          Came from a short way on, so by the words
          I could make out which hidden face had spoken.
85       I turned my eyes then to my master’s eyes;
          At this, with gladdening sign he gave assent
          To what my look of longing sought from him.
          Then I was free to do just as I wished.
          I drew ahead to be above that person
90      Whose voice before had made me notice him,
          And said, "Spirit whose weeping ripens penance
          Without which there is no return to God,
          Put off a while your greater care, for my sake.
          "Tell me who you were, and why your backs
95       Are so turned up, and if you’d have me gain
          Something for you where I — alive — come from."
          And he told me, "Why heaven has turned our backs
          To heaven, shortly you shall know, but first
          Know that I was a successor of Saint Peter.
100      "Between Sestri and Chiavari tumbles
          A pleasant stream, and from its name derives
          The title that adorns our family crest.
          "In little more than one month’s time I learned
          How the great mantle weighs on him who guards it
105      From mire — all other burdens seem like feathers!
          "My conversion was — ah wretched! — tardy,
          But when I was appointed Roman shepherd,
          Then I found out the falsity of life.
          "I saw that there the heart would not have rest,
110     Nor could one mount up higher in that life,
          And so the love of this life kindled in me.
          "Up to that time I was a careworn soul,
          Cut off from God and full of avarice;
          Now, as you see, in this place I am punished.
115      "What avarice does is here made plain to see
          In purging turned-around — ‘converted’ — souls:
          The mountain has no harsher punishment.
          "As our eyes, riveted to earthly things,
          Never lifted themselves to look on high,
120      So justice here has sunk them to the ground.
          "As avarice quenched all our love for good
          And, in the end, left all our labor lost,
          So on this level justice holds us fast,
          "With feet and hands bound up and pinioned,
125     And for as long as our just Lord is pleased
          We shall lie here outstretched and motionless."
          I had kneeled down and wished to speak to him,
          But when I started and — just through my tone
          Of voice — he sensed that I would do him reverence,
130      He said, "What cause has bent you down like this?"
          And I told him, "Because of your high rank
          My conscience troubled me for standing straight."
          "Straighten your legs, my brother, on your feet!"
          He answered, "Make no mistake: with you and others
135      I am a fellow-servant of one Power.
          "If ever you have understood the word
          The Holy Gospel sounds in ‘They neither marry,’
          You can see clearly why I speak this way.
          "Now move along: I would not have you stay
140      Since your remaining here keeps me from weeping
          The tears to ripen penance which you spoke of.
          "On earth I have a niece who’s named Alagia;
          In herself she is good, so long as our house
          Does not, by bad example, make her bad,
145     "For she alone is left to me back there."
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