Purgatorio -- Canto XXI

Statius

 

Notes.

3 The Samaritan woman at the well asks Christ for living water to drink (John 4:5-15).

 

7 On the day of his resurrection, Christ appeared to two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-32).

10 It is the shade of the Roman poet Statius, see note 91 below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

25 Lachesis is the Fate who spins the thread of life. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

50 Iris, the rainbow, is the daughter of the centaur Thaumas and Electra.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

82 Titus, son of Vespasian, razed Jerusalem in 70 A.D. The act was long regarded by Christians as a divine reprisal for the crucifixion of Christ.

 

 

 

 

91 Statius, a Roman poet born in Naples, authored the epics Thebaid on the siege of Thebes and Achilleid, which he left unfinished at his death in 96 A.D.

          That natural thirst which is never quenched
          Except with the water which the woman
          Of Samaria sought as a source of grace
 
          Tormented me, and our haste spurred me on
5        Along the straitened path behind my guide,
          As I grieved at the payment of just penance.
 
          And look! just as Saint Luke records for us
          That Christ appeared to two along the way
          Already risen from his burial cave,
 
10       A shade appeared to us, and came behind us
          While we stared at the crowd stretched at our feet;
          Nor did we notice him till he first spoke,
 
          Saying, "My brothers, may God give you peace!"
          We quickly turned, and Virgil answered him
15       With the sign appropriate for greeting,
 
          And then began, "Within the blessed assembly
          May the inerrant court that banishes me
          To eternal exile settle you in peace."
 
          "How then?" he asked as we walked on in haste,
20       "If you are shades God's not found fit for heaven,
          Who guided you so far along his stairway?"
 
          And my teacher: "If you look at the marks
          Which this man bears and which the angel traced,
          You’ll plainly see he must reign with the just.
 
25       "Since she, however, who spins day and night
          Had not yet drawn the fiber off for him
          Which Clotho loads and packs on each one’s distaff,
 
          "His soul, which is your sister and my own,
          Ascending here, could not have come alone,
30       Because she does not see the way we do.
 
          "So I was snatched out of the gaping jaws
          Of hell to guide him, and guide him so I will
          Onward as far as my schooling can conduct him.
 
          "But tell me, if you know, why just this moment
35       The mountain shook so, and all seemed to shout
          With one voice downward to the shore-lined base."
 
          With this request he threaded the needle’s eye
          Of my desire so that with just the hope
          He made my thirst seem less insatiable.
 
40       The soul began then, "Nothing without order
          Or the support of custom is permitted
          By the holy rule of the mountain.
 
          "This place is free from every earthly change.
          What heaven receives into and from itself
45       May function here as cause, and nothing else:
 
          "So neither rain, nor hail, nor snow, nor dew,
          Nor hoarfrost falls here any higher than
          The stairway of the three short steps below;
 
          "No thick, no thin clouds ever can appear,
50       Nor lightning flash, nor Thaumas’s daughter
          Who often changes regions in your sky;
 
          "Nor does dry vapor rise up any higher
          Than to the top of the three steps I mentioned,
          On which Saint Peter’s vicar rests his feet.
 
55       "Tremors, small or large, may chance down lower,
          But here above, I don’t know why, it never
          Trembles from wind concealed within the earth.
 
          "It trembles here when some soul feels herself
          Cleansed, so that she rises or sets out
60       To leap upward, and that shout follows then.
 
          "Of this cleansing the will alone gives proof,
          Surprising the soul, now fully free to change
          Company, and powering her to will.
 
          "The soul had will before, but the desire,
65       Which divine justice turns around toward penance
          And which once bent toward sin, would not consent.
 
          "And I, who for a hundred years and more
          Have lain in this tormenting, only now
          Felt freely willing for a better threshold.
 
70       "That is the cause you felt the quake and heard
          The pious spirits up along the mountain
          Praise the Lord — may he soon send them higher!"
 
          He spoke to us this way; and since enjoyment
          Is deeper when our thirst to drink is stronger,
75       I could not tell how deep the good he did me.
 
          And my wise guide: "Now I espy the net
          That snares you here and how you slip from it,
          Why it quakes here and what makes you all glad:
 
          "Now, if it pleases you, tell me who you were,
80       And let me learn from your own lips the reason
          You have lain here so many centuries."
 
          "In the time when the good Titus, with help
          Of the highest King, avenged the wounds
          From which the blood that Judas sold poured forth,
 
85       "I bore the most enduring and most honored
          Name there in the world," replied that spirit;
          "Fame I had, but not as yet the faith.
 
          "So dulcet was the music of my verses
          That from Toulouse, Rome drew me to herself,
90       Deservedly, to crown my brows with myrtle.
 
          "Statius is my name, still heard on earth.
          I sang of Thebes and then of great Achilles,
          But, with the second labor, fell by the way.
 
          "The seeds of my ardor were the sparks
95       That warmed me from the sacred flame from which
          More than a thousand poets have been kindled:
 
          "I speak of the Aeneid, which was for me
          A mother and a nurse of poetry;
          Without it I would not be worth a farthing.
 
100     "And to have lived on earth when Virgil lived
          I would consent to add another year
          More than I owe for my release from exile."
 
          These words made Virgil turn to me and give
          A look that, by its silence, said, "Be silent!"
105     Yet power of will cannot do everything,
 
          For smiles and tears are such close followers
          On the emotions from which each proceeds,
          They least obey the will in those most truthful.
 
          I smiled — barely — as one might hint at something;
110     At that the shade grew still and looked me fully
          In the eyes which express the soul most clearly,
 
          And said, "So may your trying task end well,
          Tell me why, just now while I was speaking,
          Your face betrayed that flashing smile to me."
 
115     Now I am caught on one side and the other:
          One keeps me still, the other bids me speak,
          So that I sigh and I am understood
 
          By my master — and: "Do not be afraid
          To talk," he told me; "but speak up and tell him
120     What he now asks of you with deep concern."
 
          So I replied, "Perhaps you are amazed,
          Ancient spirit, at the smile I gave you,
          But I would have you wonder even more.
 
          "This soul here who directs my eyes on high
125     Is that same Virgil from whom you have drawn
          The power to sing about the gods and men.
 
          "If you think something else caused me to smile,
          Forget it as a falsehood, and believe
          It was those words which you then spoke about him."
 
130     Already he was bowing to embrace
          My teacher’s feet, but he said, "Brother, don’t!
          You are a shade and here you see a shade."
 
          And rising, he: "Now you can comprehend
          The depth of love that burns in me for you,
135     When I forget the emptiness we are
 
          "And treat the shades as being solid things."
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