Purgatorio -- Canto XX

The Avaricious, Hugh Capet











15 See Inferno I, 101-111, and note 101, for Dante's prediction about a future deliverer of Italy.




22 The first example opposed to avarice tells of Mary when she gave birth to Christ in the stable of the inn.

25 Gaius Luscinus Fabricius, Roman commander and consul (282 B.C.), was famous for his refusal to take bribes: he died in self-chosen poverty (see Aeneid VI, 843-844).


32 Saint Nicholas, bishop of Myra in Asia Minor during the time of Constantine, generously provided dowries for the daughters of an impoverished nobleman.






43 Hugh Capet — or as some believe, his father Hugh I — is the speaker. Founder of the Capetian dynasty in 987, he ruled France until his death in 996.

46 These towns in Flanders were invaded by Philip the Fair between 1297 and 1304. The French were routed at the battle at Courtrai in 1302.


54 Charles, Duke of Lorraine, the last Carolingian, died in prison in 991; he was not a monk.





61 Charles of Anjou married Beatrice of Provence in 1246.



67 Charles of Anjou usurped the Kingdom of Naples and Sicily in 1266; two years later he defeated and executed the rightful heir Conradin, Manfred's son.

69 Charles was rumored to have poisoned Thomas Aquinas.

71 Charles of Valois (1270-1325), at the summons of Boniface VIII, took over Florence in 1301, leading to the exile of the White Guelphs and Dante.


79 Charles II, king of Naples and son of Charles of Anjou, was defeated in a naval fight with Philip III of Aragon in 1284. He married off his daughter Beatrice to Azzo VIII of Este for an expensive settlement.



87 Boniface VIII was captured in 1303 by the troops of Philip the Fair, king of France, who was about to be excommunicated. Philip also persecuted the Templar Knights (l. 93).









103 Pygmalion, king of Tyre and brother of Dido, murdered her husband Sychaeus for his wealth (Aeneid I, 343-359).

106 Midas, king of Phrygia, asked and received from Bacchus the power to turn whatever he touched into gold (Metamorphoses XI, 85-193).

109 Achan, son of Carmi, stole some of the spoils of Jericho which Joshua had consecrated to God (Joshua 7:1-26).

112 Sapphira and her husband Ananias withheld from the apostles profits from the sale of property held in common. Rebuked by Saint Peter, they fell dead at his feet (Acts 5:1-11).

113 Heliodorus, sent by the Syrian king to loot the treasures from the Jerusalem temple, was kicked by a horse as he fled (2 Maccabees 3:25-27).

115 Polymnestor, king of Thrace, was entrusted with the care of Polydorus, son of Priam, and a large sum of money. After Troy fell, the king killed the boy and kept the money.

116 Marcus Licinius Crassus was a triumvir with Pompey and Caesar. Famed for his greed, he was defeated by the Parthians in 53 B.C. They sent his head to their king who poured molten gold down its throat.

130 On the island of Delos, Latona gave birth to her twins Apollo and Diana, the Sun and Moon.


136 Gloria in excelsis Deo is sung by the angels and heard by the shepherds at the birth of Jesus (Luke 2:14).

          Against a firmer will the will fights poorly;
          Against my pleasure, therefore, to please him,
          I drew my unfilled sponge out of the water.
          I moved on, and my guide moved on through
5         Unpeopled spaces all along the rock-face,
          As one walks a wall close to the battlements;
          For those who, drop by drop, melt through their eyes
          The evil that possesses the whole world
          Lie too close to the far-side outer edge.
10       Curses fall on you, you ancient she-wolf,
          That have more prey than all the other beasts,
          Because of your bottomless deep hunger!
          O heavens, through whose revolutions men
          Believe conditions here below are changed,
15       When will he come who’ll drive the wolf away?
          We walked along with slow, infrequent steps;
          I went, attentive to the shades I heard
          Pitifully weeping and complaining,
          And by chance I heard one in front of us
20       Crying out in his lament "Sweet Mary!"
          Just as a woman does who is in labor;
          And followed by: "How truly poor you were,
          As may be ably witnessed by that hostel
          Where you did lay your holy burden down!"
25       Following that I heard: "O good Fabricius,
          You chose to possess virtue with privation
          Rather than huge wealth with wickedness."
          These sayings were so pleasing to me that
          I pressed on forward to become acquainted
30      With the spirit from whom they seemed to come.
          He went on telling, too, of the largesse
          Which Nicholas endowed upon the maidens
          To lead their youth to honorable marriage.
          "O spirit who tells tales of so much good,
35       Tell me who you were," I said, "and why
          You alone rehearse these worthy plaudits.
          "Your words to me shall not go unrewarded
          When I return to finish the short journey
          Of that life which flies on toward its end."
40       And he: "I will tell you, but not for comfort
          Which I expect from your world, but because
          Such grace shines in you before you have died.
          "I was the root of that wholesome plant
          Which overshadows all the Christian lands
45      So that good fruit is rarely plucked from it.
          "But if Douai, Lille, Ghent, and Bruges
          Had power, vengeance would be soon exacted;
          And I beg this of Him who judges all.
          "I was called Hugh Capet in that life;
50       From me have sprung the Louises and Philips
          Who lately have been ruling over France.
          "I was the son of a butcherman from Paris.
          When the ancient kings came to an end,
          Except for one who’d put on monkish gray,
55       "I found the reins that rule the government
          Tight in my hands, and I held so much power
          From new possessions and had so many friends
          "That to the widowed crown my own son’s head
          Was raised to eminence, and then from him
60       Began the consecrated bones of kings.
          "So long as the large dowry of Provence
          Had not removed all sense of shame from it,
          My line was of small worth but did no harm.
          "There with force and fraud its rapine started;
65       And then, to make amends for that, it seized
          Ponthieu and Normandy and Gascony.
          "Charles came to Italy and, for amends,
          Made Conradin his victim, and after that,
          Thrust Thomas back to heaven, for amends.
70       "I see a time not far off from this day
          That brings forth out of France another Charles
          To make himself and his race better known.
          "He comes unarmed, or only with the lance
          That Judas tilted with, and this he couches so
75       That he makes the fat paunch of Florence burst.
          "From this he’ll gain not land, but sin and shame:
          So much the heavier it will be for him
          As the more lightly he accounts such wrongs.
          "The other Charles, who once was hauled a prisoner
80       From his own ship, I see selling his daughter,
          Haggling like a pirate over female slaves.
          "O avarice, what more harm can you do us,
          Since you have so enthralled my bloodline to you
          That it shows no concern for its own flesh?
85       "That past and future evil may seem less,
          I see the fleur-de-lis enter Alagna
          And in his vicar Christ become a captive.
          "I see him mocked again a second time,
          I see renewed the vinegar and gall,
90       And see him slain between two living thieves.
          "I see the new Pilate so cruel that
          This will not placate him, but lawlessly
          He heads his greedy sails into the temple.
          "O my Lord, when shall I be made happy
95       To see the vengeance which, though hidden now,
          Sweetens your anger in your secret counsels?
          "The words I spoke about the only bride
          Of the Holy Spirit, and which made you turn
          Toward me for some sort of interpretation,
100      "These are the answer to our every prayer
          As long as daylight lasts, but when night comes,
          We take up a tune contrary to that;
          "Then we once more tell of Pygmalion
          Whose gluttonous longing after gold made him
105     A traitor and a thief and parricide;
          "And the misery of avaricious Midas,
          Which followed hard on his greed-mad demand
          And ever after causes us to laugh;
          "Then each one calls to mind the foolish Achan,
110      How he ransacked the spoils, so that the wrath
          Of Joshua seems here to sting him still;
          "Then we accuse Sapphira and her husband;
          We praise the kicks Heliodorus caught;
          And round the mountain rings the infamy
115     "Of Polymnestor who killed Polydorus;
          And last of all we cry out here: ‘Crassus,
          Tell us, since you know, what taste is gold?’
          "At times we speak, one loud, another low,
          According to the urge that spurs us on,
120     Now with a stronger, now with a lesser force:
          "So, I was not alone before in telling
          The good we speak by day, but of those here
          Nearby, no other soul raised up his voice."
          We were already gone away from him
125     And struggling to go forward on the road,
          So far as our own powers would permit us,
          When I felt — like something that is falling —
          The mountain tremble, and at that a chill
          Gripped me, as grips one going to his death.
130      Surely Delos did not shake so sharply
          Before Latona built her nest in it
          To give birth to the two eyes of the sky.
          Then such a cry on all sides started up
          That my master drew close to me and said,
135     "Don’t be afraid while I am guiding you."
          "Glory to God in the highest" they all cried,
          By what I understood from those close by,
          Where the crying could be comprehended.
          Motionless and in suspense we stood,
140     Just like the shepherds who first heard that song,
          Until the trembling stopped and the song ended.
          Then we took up again our holy road,
          Looking at shades that lay along the ground
          Already turned to their accustomed weeping.
145      No ignorance of mine has ever battled
          To make me so desirous to know why,
          If here my memory is not mistaken,
          As I seemed then to harbor in my thoughts;
          Nor in our hurry did I dare to ask;
150     Nor by myself could I see any reason:
          So, timid and thoughtful, I walked on my way.
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