Purgatorio -- Canto XXII

Statius, Gluttons

 

Notes.

 

5 The Beatitude, quoted in Latin by the angel, is "Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after justice, for they shall be filled." The phrase  "they who hunger" is here omitted to reserve it for the gluttons on the terrace above.

10 Virgil is continuing his discourse that began in Canto XVII.

 

13 Juvenal (d.140 A.D.?) was a Roman satiric poet who mentions the poverty of Statius in his Satires.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

40-41 See Aeneid III, 56-57. Dante, either on purpose or by mistake, reads into Virgil's text a meaning not in the original.

 

42-48 See Inferno VII where the prodigals and avaricious are punished.

 

 

 

 

 

56 Jocasta, mother and wife of Oedipus, saw her twin sons Eteocles and Polynices slay one another.

58 Clio, the muse of history, is invoked at the beginning of the Thebaid.

 

 

 

 

 

 

70 Statius quotes the celebrated passage from Virgil’s fourth Eclogue of his Bucolics which predicts the coming of a child to issue in a new age.

 

 

 

 

 

83 Domitian was emperor of Rome from 81 to 96 A.D.

 

 

 

88 Before reaching the seventh book of the Thebaid, where the Greeks approach the Theban rivers, Statius became a Christian. No historical evidence indicates that he was a convert.

 

 

 

97 Terence and the others here were Roman playwrights; Persius (l. 100) was a satirist.

 

102 Homer and other pagan poets are in Limbo. See Inferno IV.

 

106 Euripedes and the rest were Greek playwrights and poets.

 

110 Antigone and the others are characters in Statius’ epics. Hypsipyle pointed out the spring of Langia in the Thebaid, and Manto is the daughter of Tiresias. Dante actually placed Manto not in Limbo but among the soothsayers in Inferno XX.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

142 Five examples of fasting follow: Mary at the feast of Cana, noble matrons of Rome, Daniel at the king’s table, primitive people, and John the Baptist who ate locusts and wild honey (Matthew 3:4 and Mark 1:6).

          By now the angel had been left behind us,
          The angel who’d turned us to the sixth circle,
          Having erased a letter from my face,
 
          And he’d told us that those who crave for justice
5        Are blessed, and his words had accomplished this
          With "they that thirst" and no more of the text.
 
          And, lighter than through other passes, I
          Walked on, so that without the least fatigue
          I followed the swift spirits toward the heights,
 
10       When Virgil began, "Love, enkindled by
          Virtue, has always kindled love in others,
          As long as its own flame showed outwardly;
 
          "So from the hour when Juvenal came down
          Among us in the limbo of that hell
15       And made your own affection known to me,
 
          "My goodwill toward you has been truer than
          That ever paid a person one’s not seen,
          And so these stairs shall now seem short to me.
 
          "But tell me — and forgive me as a friend
20       If overconfidence relax my reins,
          And now as with a friend you talk with me —
 
          "How was it possible that avarice
          Lodged in your breast which by your diligence
          You filled with such abundant store of wisdom?"
 
25       These words at first made Statius start to smile
          A little, and then he replied, "Each word
          Of yours is for me a dear sign of love.
 
          "But truly things do often so appear
          That they give us false grounds for some suspicion
30       Because the real reasons remain concealed.
 
          "Your question makes it clear to me you think —
          Perhaps based on the circle I was in —
          That I was greedy in the other life.
 
          "Know now that avarice was far removed
35       From me, but for my want of moderation
          Thousands of months have meted punishment.
 
          "And had I not set my endeavors straight
          When I perused the lines where you call out,
          As if in anger against human nature:
 
40       " ‘Why, O religious hunger after gold,
          Do you not rule the appetite of mortals?’
          I would be rolling weights at the grim jousts.
 
          "Then I perceived our hands could spread their wings
          Too wide in spending, and I grew repentant
45       Of that as well as of my other sins.
 
          "How many shall rise up again with hair
          Cropped short, in ignorance which keeps them from
          Repenting this sin in life and at the end!
 
          "And know that the offence which counters vice
50       With the directly opposite offence
          Loses here its greenness, and both wither.
 
          "So then, if I have been among those people
          Who mourn their avarice, for my purgation,
          It is its opposite that brings me here."
 
55       "Now, when you sang of the cruel clash of arms
          Between the twins that gave Jocasta sorrow,"
          Replied the singer of the Bucolic poems,
 
          "From what Clio inspired in you there,
          It does not seem that you were yet turned faithful
60       To the true faith without which good works falter.
 
          "If this is so, then what sun or what candles
          So drove your darkness out that you set sail
          Straight in the wake behind the Fisherman?"
 
          And he told him, "You were the first to send me
65       Toward Parnassus to drink within its caves,
          And you the first to light my way to God.
 
          "You were like one who, traveling by night,
          Carries the torch behind — no help to him —
          But he makes those who follow him the wiser,
 
70       "When you announced, ‘The ages are made new:
          Justice returns and the first world of man,
          And a new progeny comes down from heaven.’
 
          "Through you I was a poet, through you a Christian.
          But that you may more clearly see my sketch,
75       I will stretch out my hand to color it.
 
          "By then the whole world was in labor with
          The one true faith which had been sown abroad
          By the messengers of the eternal kingdom,
 
          "And those words of yours which I just mentioned
80       Were so in harmony with the new preachers
          That I would often go to meet with them.
 
          "They then became so saintly to my sight
          That when Domitian persecuted them
          My teardrops mingled with their lamentations.
 
85       "And as long as I lived there in the world
          I gave them aid, and their straightforward ways
          Made me feel scorn for every other sect.
 
          "And before I had led the Greeks in my poem
          To the stream of Thebes, I was baptized;
90       But out of fear I was a secret Christian,
 
          "Long putting on a show of paganism,
          And for this lukewarmness I had to circle
          The fourth circle more than four centuries.
 
          "You, then, who lifted up the covering
95       That hid from me the great good I described,
          While we have time remaining yet to climb,
 
          "Tell me where our ancient Terence is,
          Caecilius, Plautus, Varro, if you know;
          Tell me if they are damned, and in what region?"
 
100     "They, and Persius and I, and many others,"
          My guide replied, "are with that Greek to whom
          The Muses gave more milk than to the rest,
 
          "In the first circling of the darkened prison.
          Often we converse about the mountain
105     On which our nurses always have their dwelling.
 
          "Euripides is with us, Antiphon,
          Simonides, Agathon, and many more
          Greeks who once wore laurel on their brows.
 
          "We see there of the people whom you noted
110     Antigone, Deiphyle, and Argia,
          And Ismene, as sad as she once was.
 
          "Hypsipyle, who showed men Langia’s spring,
          We see there; Thetis and Tiresias’ daughter,
          And there Deidamia with her sisters."
 
115     Both the poets had by now grown silent,
          Intent once more on looking all around,
          Free of the climbing stairs and of the walls;
 
          And by now the four handmaids of the day
          Were left behind, and at the chariot-pole
120     The fifth still steered its fiery tip upward,
 
          When my guide said, "I think that we three should
          Turn our right shoulders to the outer edge,
          Circling the mountain in the usual way."
 
          In this way, custom was our standard there,
125     And we took to the road with less mistrust
          Because that worthy soul showed his assent.
 
          They strode in front and I walked on behind,
          By myself, listening to their dialogue
          Which much enlightened me on poetry.
 
130     But soon that pleasant talk was broken off
          When we came on a tree right in our path,
          With fruit unspoiled and fragrant to the smell.
 
          And as a fir-tree tapers toward the top
          From branch to branch, this tree tapered downward,
135     To let no one climb it, I imagine.
 
          On the side where our way was walled off,
          Clear sparkling water fell from the high rock
          And spread itself among the leaves above.
 
          As the two poets drew near to the tree,
140     From deep within the foliage a voice
          Cried out, "This food shall be beyond your reach!"
 
          Then it said, "Mary thought more how to make
          The wedding-feast complete and honorable
          Than on her own mouth, which now pleads for you!
 
145     "And in Rome of old the women were content
          With water for their drink! And Daniel too,
          By his disdaining food, gained understanding.
 
          "The first age was as beautiful as gold:
          Then hunger made the taste of acorns sweet,
150     And thirst turned every streamlet into nectar.
 
          "Honey and locusts were the sustenance
          That fed the Baptist in the wilderness:
          For this he is in glory and made great,
 
          "As in the Gospel you shall find revealed."
arrowleft_anie.gif (690 bytes)return to Purgatorio XXI

Home

go to Purgatorio XXIII arrowright_anie.gif (691 bytes)