Purgatorio -- Canto XXXII

The Chariot Transformed







8 The three theological virtues are now called goddesses.






18 The procession turns back to the east, the direction it has come, and faces the morning sun.

22 The twenty-four elders lead the vanguard, followed by the seven ladies (three and four) on the right and left of the chariot (l. 25).



28 The woman again is Matilda.

30 The chariot swings on a lesser arc to the right.






38 The tree of the knowledge of good and evil represents the Law, both of God and of the secular State, here the Holy Roman Empire.

42 India was famous for the tall trees of its forests.




49 The griffin approaches the tree and ties the chariot pole, symbolic of the cross, to the tree which breaks into blossoms, as plants do in sunlight during spring (ll. 50-57).








64 The hundred-eyed Argus, at the order of Jupiter, was slain by Mercury who lulled him to sleep with the tale of the nymph Syrinx (Metamorphoses 1, 568-747).





76 Peter, James, and John witnessed the transfiguration of Jesus with Moses and Elijah on the mountaintop (Matthew 17:1-8).









89 The griffin ascends into heaven with his attendants, leaving Beatrice alone with her seven handmaiden virtues.














112 The bird of Jove, the eagle, first represents Rome’s stormy persecution of the Church in the first centuries. The eagle’s feathering the chariot symbolizes the Donation of Constantine (see Inferno XIX, l. 115, and note). More feathers or worldly property were added by Pepin and Charlemagne (ll. 124-29).

119 The fox represents the heresies that have beset the Church.







131 The dragon is the devil. Some take it to be Islam or the Great Schism.







142 The transformation of the chariot into a monstrous beast with seven heads and ten horns derives from Revelation 17:1-3.



148 The whore is the papacy in Dante's time; the giant, the French monarchy: Philip IV contrived to have the papal seat shifted to Avignon in 1309 (see Inferno XIX, l. 82, and note).

          My eyes were so intent and fixed on her
          To satisfy the thirst of those ten years
          That every other sense was quenched in me.
          On one side and the other, my eyes were walled
5        By indifference to all else: the holy smile
          So drew them to itself with the old net
          When I was forced to turn my face leftward
          By those three goddesses because I heard
          From them the words, "You gaze too fixedly!"
10       And my sight was in such a state as when
          The eyes have just been struck by too much sun,
          So that for some time I could make out nothing;
          But when my sight grew used to lesser objects
          (I say "to lesser" in relation to
15       The greater one from whom I turned by force),
          I saw that the magnificent army there
          Had wheeled round to the right, and now was turning
          With faces toward the sun and the seven flames.
          Just as a squadron, underneath their shields,
20       Turn to retreat and, with the standard, wheel
          Around before the rest can swing about,
          So the militia of the celestial realm
          In the advanced guard passed in front of us
          Before the chariot circled on its pole.
25       At that the women turned back to the wheels,
          And then the griffin pulled his blissful burden
          In such a way none of his feathers stirred.
          The lovely woman who towed me at the ford,
          And Statius, and I, were following
30       The wheel that makes the smaller arc in turning.
          So pacing through the soaring forest, empty
          Because of her who trusted in the serpent,
          Our steps kept time to an angelic tune.
          We had advanced about the distance covered
35       By three flights of an arrow shot from its bow,
          When Beatrice stepped down from the chariot.
          I heard them all there murmuring "Adam,"
          And then they gathered round a tree stripped bare,
          On every branch, of foliage and flowers.
40       Its branches, which spread wider as they grow
          Higher up, would, with their towering height,
          Make even Indians marvel in their forests.
          "Blessed are you, griffin, that your beak
          Tears nothing from this sweetly-tasting tree
45       Which sadly racks the stomach afterward!"
          Around the sturdy tree, the others cried
          These words; and the two-natured animal:
          "So is preserved the seed of all justice."
          And turning to the pole-shaft he had pulled,
50       He dragged it to the foot of the widowed trunk
          And tied it to the wood from which it came.
          Just as our trees, when the strong light of spring
          Streams downward mingled with the rays that glow
          Behind the stars of the celestial Fish,
55       Swell into bud, and then renew themselves
          In each one’s coloring, before the sun
          Yokes its steeds under a new constellation,
          So, showing color less deep than the rose
          But darker than the violet, the tree
60       That first had boughs so barren was renewed.
          I did not understand — it is not sung
          On earth — the hymn that company sang there,
          Nor could I hear the music to the end.
          Could I portray the ruthless eyes of Argus
65       Lulled to sleep, hearing the tale of Syrinx —
          The eyes whose long-kept watching cost so dear —
          Then like a painter who paints from a model,
          I here would picture how I fell asleep,
          But let whoever wants to depict sleeping!
70       I move on, then, to when I came awake,
          And I tell you a bright light rent the veil
          Of sleep, and a voice: "What are you doing? Rise!"
          Just as, when brought to see the blossoms of
          The apple tree whose fruit the angels crave
75       And makes an endless marriage-feast in heaven,
          Peter and John and James were overpowered
          And, coming to themselves at that same word
          By which slumbers more profound were broken,
          They saw their company dwindle away
80       When Moses and Elijah disappeared,
          And viewed their Master’s raiment changed again:
          So I came to myself and saw that same
          Compassionate woman standing over me
          Who first had led my steps along the shore.
85       And all perplexed, I asked, "Where is Beatrice?"
          She answered, "See her seated on the roots
          Of that tree there with its fresh foliage.
          "See all the company surrounding her;
          The rest behind the griffin rise to heaven
90       With sweeter and with deeper melodies."
          If she said more than this I do not know,
          For already my eyes filled with sight of her
          Who shut me off from every other thought.
          She sat there all alone on the bare ground,
95       Left like a lookout for the chariot
          Which I had seen the two-form animal tie.
          In a ring the seven nymphs now fashioned
          A shelter for her; in their hands they held
          The lamps the north and south winds cannot quench.
100     "Here, for a short time, you'll be a forest wayfarer;
          Then you shall live with me a citizen
          Forever of that Rome where Christ is Roman.
          "To benefit the world, then, that lives badly,
          Fix your eyes on the chariot. What you see,
105     Make sure you write it down when you return there."
          So Beatrice spoke. And I, who at the feet
          Of her commands was all obedience,
          Attached my mind and eyesight where she wished.
          Lightning never fell with such swift motion
110     Down from the densest cloud, when it descends
          From out the region that lies most remote,
          As did the bird of Jove which I watched swoop
          Down through the tree, tearing at the bark
          And also at the flowers and new leaves.
115     It struck the chariot with its full force,
          Making it reel like a ship in a storm,
          Tossed, now to starboard, now to port, by waves.
          Then I saw leaping up into the body
          Of the triumphal vehicle a fox
120     Seemingly starved of wholesome nourishment.
          But, reprimanding it for foul offenses,
          My lady sent it flying off as fast
          As those bones bare of flesh would let it go.
          Then, from the tree where it had flown before,
125     I saw the eagle dive inside the chariot
          And leave it coated over with its feathers.
          And, as a voice breaks from a heart in grief,
          There came a voice from heaven and it cried,
          "O my small ship, how you are laden down!"
130     Then the ground, it seemed to me, opened up
          Between the two wheels, and I saw a dragon
          Come out and dash its tail up through the carriage;
          And, as a wasp retracts its sting, it drew
          Its poisoned tail back to itself, tore out
135     Part of the floor, and gloating wandered off.
          What was left was covered once again —
          As fertile land with grasses — with the feathers,
          Offered perhaps with true and kind intention.
          Both one wheel and the other and the pole-shaft
140     Were once more covered with them in less time
          Than it would take the mouth to heave a sigh.
          Transformed in this way, the sacred structure
          Sprouted heads upon its different parts,
          Three on the pole and one each at the corners.
145     The three were horned like oxen, but the four
          Had just a single horn upon their foreheads:
          Never was seen a monster like that rig!
          Seated there securely, like a fortress
          On a steep hill, a whore appeared to me,
150     Ungirt, with eyes agog to rove about.
          And I saw standing by her side a giant,
          As if he watched that no one take her from him,
          And they, time after time, kissed one another.
          But when she turned her lustful, roving eyes
155     On me, then that ferocious paramour
          Beat her unmercifully from head to foot.
          Then filled with jealousy and fierce with rage,
          He tore the monster loose, and dragged it off
          So far through the woods that just the trees
160     Screened me from the whore and that strange beast.
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