Purgatorio -- Canto XXVI

The Rein of Lust, Guido Guinizelli




4 It is late afternoon in the Tuesday of Easter week as the three poets continue to climb along the seventh terrace of the lustful.













25 The speaker is Guido Guinizelli (d. 1276?), head of a school of Bolognese poets. Guinizelli was the poet who first used rhymes Dante defined as Dolce Stil Novo "Sweet New Style"— See Canto XXIV, 57.







40 Sodom and Gomorrah were cities destroyed by God because of their sexual immorality (Genesis 18:16-33, 19:1-28).

41 Pasiphae, wife of King Minos of Crete, had a wooden cow built by Daedalus so that she could make love to a bull which Poseidon made her lust after; from this union the Minotaur was born (see Inferno XII, ll. 12-18).

44 The Riphean Mountains were generally believed to loom in the distant northern regions of Europe. The sands of the African deserts lie to the south.


















78 Caesar was rumored to have had a relationship with Nicomedes, king of Bithynia, and was called "Queen" by his own soldiers.







92 Guido here identifies himself and Dante responds by honoring his mastery of love poetry, giving it a new direction and style. Nevertheless, the sensual limits of such verse do not lead his work to the heights that Dante shall reach through Beatrice.

94 Hypsipyle, wife of Jason, was ordered by Lycurgus, king of Nemea, to be executed for not preventing his son’s death when bitten by a snake. On her way to execution, her two long-lost sons recognized her, rushed to embrace her, and managed to have her released.











117 Arnaut Daniel (d. 1210?), the Provenšal poet-courtier, wrote poems in that language that are famed for their elegance, hermeticism, and earthiness. He speaks in his own tongue in lines 140-47.

120 Giraut de Bornelh (1175-1220), another troubadour poet, was from Limoges.

124 For Guittone d’Arezzo, see note to Canto XXIV, l. 56.



131 The last petition of the Lord’s prayer, "Lead us not into temptation," no longer applies to the penitents (see Canto XI, ll. 22- 24).

          While we walked on this way along the edge
          In single file, my gentle master often
          Calling, "Watch out! Make good use of my warning,"
          The sun, which by now with its beams of light
5        Was changing the whole face of the western sky
          From blue to white, struck me on my right shoulder.
          And with my shadow there I made the flames
          Seem to glow more, and simply at that sign
          I saw many souls in passing pay attention.
10       This was the reason to give them an opening
          To talk about me, and they began by saying,
          "He does not seem to have a spirit’s body."
          Then some of them approached as near to me
          As they were able to, always careful
15       Not to step out where they would not be burned.
          "O you who move, not out of sluggishness
          But deference perhaps, behind the others,
          Answer me who burn in thirst and fire.
          "Not I alone have need of your response:
20       All these thirst for it more than Indians
          Or Ethiopians thirst for cold water.
          "Tell us how it is that you can make
          Yourself a wall before the sun, as if
          You were not yet caught in the net of death."
25       So one of them said to me, and I should
          Now have revealed myself, had I not been
          Absorbed in something strange which then appeared,
          For down the middle of the burning road
          Came people with their faces opposite
30       To these, and they made me stare in suspense.
          There I saw all the shades on either side
          Hurrying and kissing one another
          Without halting, content with this brief greeting:
          As ants in black battalions rub their muzzles,
35       One with another, so as to seek out,
          Perhaps, their prospects and their way ahead.
          As soon as these break off their friendly welcome,
          Before they take the first step to set off,
          Each one attempts to outshout all the rest,
40       The newcomers crying "Sodom and Gomorrah!"
          The others, "Pasiphae climbs in the cow
          To let the bull come gallop to her lust!"
          Then just like cranes that fly away, some
          To the Riphean mountains, some toward the sands,
45       These to escape the frost and those the sun:
          One group of people leaves and one comes on,
          And they return in tears to their first chants
          And to the shout most suitable for them.
          And those same shades who’d first entreated me
50       Drew near to me as they had done before,
          Their looks declaring their intent to listen.
          I, having seen their wish a second time,
          Began, "O souls secure in your inheriting,
          Whenever it may be, a state of peace,
55       "My limbs have not been left mature or green
          There in the world, but here they are with me,
          With their blood and with their bones intact.
          "From here I go up, to be blind no longer.
          Above, a lady’s won this grace for me
60       That I may bear my body through your world.
          "But — so may your best longing soon be filled
          So that the heaven which is full of love
          And spreads most spaciously may shelter you —
          "Tell me, that I may yet put it on paper,
65       Who are you all and what that crowd is there
          Which is retreating now behind your backs."
          No less astonished than a mountain-dweller
          Who, gawking in a stupor, is struck dumb
          When, rough and rustic, he comes into town,
70       Was each shade there, with a blank expression;
          But when they threw off their bewilderment —
          Which in a noble heart is quickly banished —
          He who’d asked me before, began, again,
          "Blessed are you who for a better death
75       Store in your ship experience of our lands!
          "The people who don’t come with us offended
          By that same sin for which Caesar in triumph
          Once heard a voice call out against him, ‘Queen!’
          "And that is why they run off shouting ‘Sodom!’
80       Railing against themselves, as you have heard,
          And so support the burning with their shame.
          "In sinning we were heterosexual:
          But since we did not yield to human law,
          Following our appetites like beasts,
85       "To heap opprobrium upon ourselves,
          Leaving those shades, we blare the name of her
          Who bestialized herself in beast-like planks.
          "Now you know our acts and what our guilt is.
          If you should wish to know us each by name,
90       There is no time to tell, nor could I do it.
          "In my regard I’ll set your heart at rest:
          I am Guido Guinizelli, and purged here
          Since I repented well before the end."
          As, while Lycurgus raged with grief, two sons
95       Rejoiced to see their mother once again,
          So I responded (but with more restraint)
          When I heard that spirit name himself the father
          Of me and of my betters, all who ever
          Inscribed the sweet and gracious rhymes of love.
100     And without hearing or speaking, full of thought,
          I walked along, a long while gazing on him,
          Not drawing nearer to him, for the fire.
          When I had fed my sight on him, in full
          I offered myself ready for his service
105     With such an oath as will compel belief.
          And he: "You leave, through what I hear from you,
          A trace so deep within me, and so clear,
          That Lethe cannot dim or cancel it.
          "But if your words just now have sworn the truth,
110      Tell me why you show in speech and look
          That you are so affectionate toward me?"
          And I said to him, "Those sweet-sounding verses
          It is, which as long as modern usage lasts
          Will make the ink itself a thing to love."
115     "O brother, the one I point to with my finger,"
          He spoke, and pointed to a soul in front,
          "Was a better craftsman of the mother tongue.
          "In poems of love and prose tales of romance
          He overtook them all — and let fools talk
120     Who think Limoges produced a better poet!
          "They turn an ear to rumor, not to truth,
          And in this way they fashion an opinion
          Before listening to reason or to art.
          "So, many of our fathers praised Guittone,
125     With hue and cry giving him first prize,
          But truth at last has won out with most men.
          "Now if you have so large a privilege
          That you’re permitted to go into the cloister
          In which Christ is the abbot of the college,
130     "Say a paternoster there for me,
          As much of it as we need in this world
          Where we no longer have the power to sin."
          Then, to give a place perhaps to someone close
          Behind him, he disappeared in the fire,
135     As a fish dives through water to the depths.
          I moved a bit ahead to him who had been
          Pointed out to me, and said that my desire
          Made ready for his name a grateful place.
          He willingly began to speak to me:
140     "Your courteous request so pleases me,
          I neither can nor would hide myself from you.
          "I am Arnault, who weep and, strolling, sing.
          With sorrow I see now my bygone folly
          And see ahead with joy my hoped-for bliss.
145     "Now I petition you, by that kind Power
          Escorting you to the summit of the staircase,
          At the appropriate time, recall my pain."
          Then he hid himself in the refining fire.
arrowleft_anie.gif (690 bytes)return to Purgatorio XXV


go to Purgatorio XXVII arrowright_anie.gif (691 bytes)