Purgatorio -- Canto XXV

The Lustful



2 The signs of the zodiac indicate that it is 2:00 P.M..












22 Meleager, son of Althea, would live as long as a certain log of wood would burn: after he murdered his uncles, his mother in rage threw the log into the fire and he perished when it was consumed.








37 Statius begins a discourse on the generation of the body (ll. 37-60), the origin of the soul (ll. 68-75), and the nature of the soul after death (ll. 79-107).

40 Perfect blood gathers in the heart of the male, becomes sperm, and joins the female blood for conception, one acting generatively, the other passively.






52 The human soul develops through the stages of vegetable, sensual or animal, and rational growth before birth.






63 Averroes gave the rational intellect an existence of its own apart from the body-soul.










79 Lachesis is a mythological figure who was in charge of spinning the thread of life for humans. When she ran out of thread, the person would die.

82 At death the vegetable and animal faculties of the soul become inactive.

























121 "God of the Highest Clemency" is an Ambrosian hymn which asks God’s help in overcoming lust, the last sin to be purged.



128 Virum non cognosco was Mary’s answer to Gabriel (Luke 1: 34).


131 Helice, a nymph of Diana, was banished when Jupiter seduced her, then changed into a bear by Juno (Metamorphoses II, 453-465). The poison of Venus is carnal love.

          The hour came when climbing could not wait:
          The sun had left the mid-point of its circle
          To Taurus, and the night to Scorpio.
          So, like a man who does not stop to pause,
5        But goes his way no matter what occurs,
          If he be spurred on by necessity,
          We three each entered, one before the other,
          Through the gap and took the stairway up,
          So cramped that climbers squeeze up single file.
10       And as the fledgling stork that lifts its wings
          In willingness to fly, but does not dare
          To leave the nest, and lets them drop back down,
          Just so was I, with eagerness to ask
          Inflamed and dampened, going through the motions
15       Up to the point where one’s prepared to speak.
          Nor did our swift pace keep my gentle father
          From telling me, "Release your bow of speech
          Which you have drawn tight to the arrow-tip."
          I opened my mouth confidently then,
20       And I began, "How can they grow so thin
          Where no one has a need for nourishment?"
          "If you will call to mind how Meleager
          Burned while the firebrand burned out," he said,
          "This problem won’t prove difficult for you;
25       "And if you’ll think how, any move you make,
          Your image in the mirror moves as quickly,
          Then what seems hard should not be tough to chew on.
          "But now to let you rest in what you long for,
          Look, here is Statius: I call on him
30       And pray he be the healer of your wounds."
          "If I unveil to him eternal views,"
          Statius replied, "while you are here,
          Let my excuse be that I can’t refuse you."
          Then he began, "If, son, your mind takes in
35       And heeds my words, then they shall be a light
          Upon the how of what you have inquired.
          "The perfect blood — blood which the thirsty veins
          Never drink up, but which they leave behind,
          Like leftovers one clears off from a table —
40       "Takes, in the heart, the power to inform
          All of a body’s members, like that blood
          Flowing through the veins to fill the limbs.
          "Digested further, it descends to what
          Is best unmentioned, and from there it drips
45       Upon another’s blood in nature’s vessel.
          "There one blood mingles with its opposite,
          One tending to be passive and one active
          Because of the perfect place from which they flow;
          "And, joined to the other, it begins to work,
50       First coagulating, then quickening
          What it has rendered solid as its matter.
          "The active power, now become a soul
          (Like that of a plant, but with this difference:
          The plant’s fulfilled while this is on its way),
55       "So works then, that now it moves and feels,
          Like a sea sponge; and then it starts to form
          Organs for the faculties it seeded.
          "Now, son, this power that comes from the heart
          Of the begetter swells and now spreads out
60       Where nature plans a place for every member.
          "But how the animal becomes a human
          You do not see yet: this is a point
          That led astray a wiser man than you,
          "So that he taught the possible intellect
65       To be a separate substance from the soul
          Since he could see no organ suited to it.
          "Open your breast to truth about to come,
          And know that, as soon as the articulation
          Of the brain is perfect in the foetus,
70       "Then the First Mover turns to it with joy
          To find in nature such fine art, and breathes
          A newborn spirit in it, filled with power,
          "Which draws what it discovers active there
          Into its substance and becomes one soul
75       That lives and feels and thinks about itself.
          "And that you may be less dazed at my words,
          Look at the sun’s heat that is turned to wine
          When it joins with the juice that flows from vines.
          "When Lachesis has run out of her thread,
80       This soul is freed from flesh, and virtually
          Takes with it both the human and divine;
          "But with the faculties of sense now mute,
          The memory, intelligence, and will
          Are more acute in action than before.
85       "Without a pause, the soul falls on its own
          Wondrously to one shore or the other:
          And there it first finds out the road to take.
          "As soon as space surrounds it in that place,
          The informing power radiates around
90       In shape and size as in its living limbs.
          "And as the air when it is wet with showers,
          Through the sun’s outer rays reflected in it,
          Adorns itself with alternating colors,
          "So there the neighboring air assumes the shape
95       Impressed on it by power of the soul
          Which has come to a stop at that one spot;
          "And then, in the same way a flame will follow
          After the fire whichever way it moves,
          So the new form is following the spirit.
100     "Since it has its visibility from air,
          It’s called a shade, and out of air it forms
          Organs for all the senses, even sight.
          "This is how we speak and how we laugh,
          How we produce the teardrops and the sighs
105     Which possibly you heard around the mountain.
          "Just as our longings and our other feelings
          Affect us here, so the shade takes its shape:
          And that’s the cause of what amazes you."
          And we had come by now to the last turning
110     And wheeled round to the right-hand side again,
          When we were faced with still a further care.
          There fire flashes straight from out the wall,
          But from the terrace edge a wind blows upward
          To push it back and make a pathway through.
115     So we three had to go on the free side,
          One by one, and there I feared the fire,
          And over here I feared that I’d fall off.
          My guide said, "Throughout a place like this
          One must keep a tight rein upon the eyes,
120     For one false step would be an easy matter."
          "Summae Deus Clementiae" I heard then,
          Sung in the heart of the huge burning blaze,
          And this made me more ardent to turn to it:
          And I saw spirits walking through the flames,
125     So that I looked at them and at my steps,
          Dividing my gaze between one and the other.
          After that hymn had gone on to the end,
          They cried in a loud voice, "I know not man!"
          Then quietly began the hymn again.
130     When it was once more done, they cried, "Diana
          Kept to the woods and chased out Helice
          For having felt the poison lust of Venus."
          Then they returned to singing; then they cried
          In praise of wives and husbands who were chaste,
135     As virtue and the marriage vows require.
          And this way, I believe, they stir themselves
          During all the time the fire burns them:
          With such a searing cure and songful diet
          Must the last wound of all be finally healed.
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