Purgatorio -- Canto XXXIII

Promise and Rebirth



1 The women sing the opening line of Psalm 78(79), Deus, venerunt gentes.




10 These lines, Modicum, et non videbitis me; et iterum, ... modicum, et vos videbitis me are spoken by Jesus at the last supper when he announced his upcoming death (John 16:16).

15 Matilda and Statius still attend the poet.



















43 The numbers transposed into Roman numerals read: DXV. Numerous solutions to the cryptogram involving dates and historical references to a DUX (Latin for leader) have been offered, but the prophecy, perhaps deliberately, remains mysterious. The answer may simply be: Deus X Vir (God X Man).

47 Themis, angered that Oedipus had solved the riddle of the Sphinx, sent a wild fox to ravage the crops of the Thebans. Dante's text of Ovid (Metamorphoses VII, 759) erroneously read "Naiades" for "Laiades" (son of Laius = Oedipus). So Naiads (I. 49) should correctly read Oedipus.







67 The Elsa is a tributary river of the Arno, known for its petrifying effect on objects left in the water.

69 The white mulberry turned to red with the blood of Pyramus (see Canto XXVII note to line 37).










85 Beatrice's theology is as far above Aristotle's philosophy as the Primum Mobile is high above the earth (l. 90). Ironically, Aristotle himself originated the idea of the Prime Mover.




96 Again, the water of Lethe wipes out all memories of evil.





104 It is now noon on Wednesday of Easter week.





112 These rivers of Asia Minor were traditionally said to flow from the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:10-14).










129 The waters of Eunoč revive memories of good works done on earth, preparing the soul for its ascent into heaven.

          "O God, the Heathen Come," alternating
          Now three, now four, melodic psalmody,
          The weeping women now began to sing;
          And Beatrice, sighing and sympathetic,
5        Listened to them, so changed in her features
          That Mary at the cross looked no more sad-faced.
          But when those other virgins each gave way
          For her to speak, rising to her feet,
          She stood up straight and, coloring like fire,
10       "A little while and you shall not see me,
          And again," she said, "my dearest sisters,
          Another little while and you shall see me."
          Then she set all the seven in front of her,
          And at her back, with just a nod, she placed
15       Me and the lady and the sage who'd stayed.
          So she moved onward, and I do not think
          That she had put ten steps upon the ground
          When instantly she struck my eyes with her eyes,
          And with a tranquil look she spoke to me,
20       "Come forward more, that if I speak with you,
          You may be better placed to listen to me."
          As soon as I was with her as I should be,
          She said to me, "Brother, why not venture
          To question me, now that you come with me?"
25       Like those who with excessive reverence
          Speak in the presence of superiors
          And catch their living voices in their teeth,
          That was my case when with stumbling diction
          I began, "My lady, you know what
30       I need, and what will do me good you know."
          And she told me, "I want you from now on
          To tear yourself away from fear and shame
          And talk no more like someone in a dream.
          "Know that the vessel which the serpent smashed
35       Was, and is not. But he who bears the blame
          Shall learn that God’s revenge fears no delays.
          "The eagle that left its feathers on the chariot
          Which then became a monster, then a prey,
          Will not for all time be without an heir,
40       "For I see clearly, and so can tell you this,
          Stars are already near, secure from check
          Or hindrance, that will bring us to a time
          "In which a five hundred, ten and five,
          God’s messenger, shall kill the thieving whore
45       Together with the giant who sins with her.
          "Perhaps my prophecy, which is as obscure
          As Themis and the Sphinx, fails to convince you
          Since, in their fashion, it clouds up your mind;
          "But soon events themselves shall be the Naiads
50       That will resolve this difficult enigma
          Without the ravaging of herds or grain.
          "Take note! and as I utter these words to you
          Do you in your turn teach them to all those
          Who live the life that is a race to death;
55       "And keep in mind, when you shall write them down,
          Not to conceal what you saw of the tree
          Which now twice over has been here stripped bare.
          "Whoever robs that tree or rends its branches
          With act of blasphemy offends God who
60       For his sole use created it all-holy.
          "For eating of its fruit the first soul yearned
          Five thousand years and more in pain and hunger
          For him who with himself paid for the eating.
          "Your mind is fast asleep if it won’t guess
65       There is a special reason why this tree
          Is so tall and inverted at its top;
          "And had vain thoughts, like waters of the Elsa,
          Not petrified your mind, and pleasure in them
          Strained it, as Pyramus the mulberry,
70       "Then simply by details of height and width
          You would have recognized the moral sense
          Of God’s justice when he forbade this tree.
          "But since I see that in your intellect
          You turned to stone, and stony, so opaque
75       The light of what I say has dazzled you,
          "I want you to take back my words within you —
          And if not written down, at least depicted —
          As a pilgrim’s staff returns enwreathed with palm."
          And I: "As wax stamped by the seal takes on
80       The impressed figure without changing it,
          So is my brain imprinted now by you.
          "But why do your own deeply longed-for words
          Soar up so high beyond my vision that
          The more I strain the more they’re lost from sight?"
85       "They soar that you may know," she said,
          "The school which you have followed, and may see
          How well its teaching follows my own words,
          "And see too that your way is as far distant
          From the divine way as the earth is from
90       The heaven that spins highest of the nine."
          I answered her then, "I do not remember
          That ever I estranged myself from you,
          Nor does my conscience gnaw at me for this."
          "And if you cannot now remember it,"
95       She smilingly replied, "then call to mind
          How you have drunk of Lethe on this day,
          "And just as smoke is sure proof of a fire,
          So your forgetting clearly indicates
          A fault in your will’s tending somewhere else.
100     "But from now on my words shall be as bare
          As it is suitable or needful for me
          To make them plain for your rude sight to grasp."
          Now more glittering, now with slower steps,
          The sun tracked the meridian circle
105     Which with one’s point of view shifts here and there,
          When, just as one who goes before a group
          As guide will halt if he should happen on
          Something strange or trace of something strange,
          The seven women halted at the edge
110     Of a pale shadow such as mountains cast
          On cold streams under green leaves and black boughs.
          In front of them I seemed to see Euphrates
          And Tigris welling from a single spring
          And, in parting, lingering like friends.
115     "O light, O glory of the human race,
          What water is this that here gushes out
          From one source and then draws itself away?"
          To this request of mine, she answered, "Ask
          Matilda to tell you." The lovely woman,
120     As if she wished to free herself from blame,
          Replied, "I told him this and other things,
          And I am sure the waters of the Lethe
          Did not cloud out his recollection of it."
          And Beatrice: "Some greater care, perhaps,
125     Which often steals away one’s memory,
          Has left the eyes of his mind in the dark.
          "But see, there is Eunoč flowing onward:
          Lead him to it and, as it is your custom,
          Bring his fainting powers back to life."
130     As a noble soul that offers no excuse,
          But of another’s will makes her own will,
          As soon as some outward sign discloses it,
          So, when the lovely woman took me with her,
          She moved ahead, and with womanly grace
135     She said to Statius, "Come with him as well."
          If, reader, I had room to write more lines,
          I would sing still, in part, of the sweet drink
          That kept me thirsting always after more,
          But since all of the pages planned beforehand
140     For this, the second canticle, are filled,
          The curb of art lets me run on no further.
          From out those holiest waves I now returned,
          Refashioned, just as new trees are renewed
          With their new foliage, for I came back
145     Pure and prepared to leap up to the stars.
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