Purgatorio -- Canto IV

The Indolent, Belacqua











15 Dante indicates that three hours have passed since sunrise; it is now after 9:00 A.M.







25 San Leo, Noli, and Bismantova are three remote mountainous towns.



















55 The poet, surprised to find the sun on his left while he faces east, is reminded that he is now in the southern hemisphere. Virgil’s elaborate explanation points out that the sun passes through different zodiac signs as it moves northward to the summer solstice. On the two sides of the equator, the two hemispheres, sharing the same celestial horizon, possess antipodal centers, Zion (Jerusalem) and Purgatory, both mountains.

61 Castor and Pollux, twin sons born of Leda and Jupiter, are stars in the constellation of Gemini.


72 Phaethon tried to drive the sun-chariot of his father Apollo.


















98 The voice belongs to Belacqua (l.123), a maker of musical instruments, known for his laziness. A Florentine, he seems to have been a friend of Dante.
























138 It is noon on the mount, midnight at Jerusalem, and dusk in Morocco.

          When the stress of pleasure or of pain,
          Which any of our senses apprehends,
          So concentrates the soul on that one sense
          That it is heedless of its other powers —
5         And this refutes the error which asserts
          One soul above another kindles in us —
          Then, when anything is heard or seen
          Which keeps the soul steadily drawn to it,
          Time passes on and we are unaware,
10       Because the sense perceiving time is other
          Than the one controlling the whole soul:
          The second is bound while the first is free.
          I had a real experience of this truth,
          Listening to that spirit and marveling,
15       For the sun had climbed fifty full degrees
          Without my noticing it, when we arrived
          There at a place where those souls called to us
          In unison, "Here, this is what you seek!"
          Often a peasant shuts a wider opening
20       In his hedges with a little forkful
          Of thorns, when his grapes grow dark and ripe,
          Than was the gap through which my leader climbed
          With me behind him, the two of us alone,
          While that flock was departing from us there.
25       Walk up San Leo or trek down to Noli,
          Mount to the summit of Bismantova,
          Still on two feet — but here a man must fly:
          I mean, fly with the rapid wings and feathers
          Of mighty longing, on behind that guide
30       Who brought me hope and who became my light.
          Upward we scaled inside the fissured rockface
          With walls on each side squeezed in close on us
          And hands and feet both needed for the stone.
          After we had reached the topmost rim
35       Of the high cliff, out on an open slope,
          "My master," I asked, "what way do we now take?"
          And he told me: "Make none of your steps downward,
          But up the mountain keep climbing after me
          Until some knowing guide appear to us."
40       The summit was so high I could not see it
          And the slope was much steeper than a line
          Drawn from mid-quadrant to a circle’s center.
          I was worn-out, when I began to moan,
          "O tender father, turn about and look:
45       I shall be left alone if you won’t pause!"
          "My son," he answered, "drag yourself up here,"
          And pointed to a ledge not much higher up
          Which circles the whole mountain on that side.
          His words so spurred me onwards that I forced
50       Myself to clamber up there after him
          Until the ledge was underneath my feet.
          We now sat down together on that spot,
          Facing the east from which we just had climbed,
          Since to gaze back that way often gives comfort.
55       I first turned my eyes to the shore below,
          Then raised them to the sun, and wondered
          How its rays shone on us from the left side.
          Sharply the poet noticed my amazement
          At seeing there the chariot of light
60       Begin its course between us and the north.
          So he said to me, "Were Castor and Pollux
          To keep close company with that bright mirror
          Which leads its light up and down the sky,
          "Then you would see the glowing Zodiac
65       Revolving even nearer to the Bears,
          Unless the sun should stray from its old path.
          "If you would understand how this can be,
          Then inwardly reflect: imagine Zion
          With this mountain so placed on the earth
70       "That they both share the same horizon but
          Two different hemispheres, so that the road
          Which Phaethon failed to drive on properly,
          "As you shall see, must pass around this mountain
          On one side and pass Zion on the other,
75       If your mind clearly comprehends this point."
          "Surely, my master," I said, "never before
          Have I seen so clearly as I now discern
          How defective was my understanding:
          "The middle circle of the heavenly motion,
80       Which in astronomy is called the Equator
          And which lies ever between summer and winter,
          "Is just as far away toward the north,
          For the reason that you give, as the Hebrews
          Used to see it toward the warmer climates.
85       "But if it please you, I should like to know
          How far we have to travel, for the hillside
          Leaps up higher than my eyes can reach."
          And he told me, "This mountain is such that
          Always at the start the climb is the hardest,
90       But the higher that one mounts the less one tires.
          "Therefore, when it seems to you so gentle
          That walking up is just as easy for you
          As riding down a river in a boat,
          "Then you will be at the end of this path:
95       There you can hope to rest from your fatigue.
          I say no more, but this I know is true."
          And after he had finished with these words,
          I heard a voice nearby cry out, "Perhaps
          Before then you will need to sit and rest!"
100      At that sound both of us then turned around,
          And we saw at our left a massive boulder
          Which neither of us had observed before.
          There we drew near, and up here there were people
          Tarrying in the shade behind the rock,
105      Like men spread out to loaf in idleness.
          And one of them, who looked to me all wayworn,
          Sat with his arms clasped fast around his knees,
          Bending his head down low between his legs.
          "O my sweet lord," I said, "fix your eyes sharply
110      On that one there who shows himself more lazy
          Than if slothfulness were his own sister!"
          Then he turned toward us to give us attention,
          Hardly raising his face above his legs,
          And said, "Then you go up if you’re so able!"
115      I knew then who he was, and that weariness
          Which still had left me short of breath did not
          Hinder me from walking to him, and when
          I came to him, he scarcely raised his head
          To say, "Have you really seen how the sun
120     Draws his chariot over your left shoulder?"
          His drowsy gestures and short-winded speech
          Moved my lips a little to a smile;
          Then I began, "Belacqua, I do not grieve
          "For you now; but tell me: what makes you sit
125      Here in this spot? Do you await an escort?
          Or have you simply slipped back to old ways?"
          And he: "O brother, why bother going up?
          God’s angel who is sitting at the gate
          Would not permit me to pass to the torments.
130      "First the heavens must revolve around me,
          With me outside them, as often as in life,
          Because I put off repenting to the end —
          "Unless there first comes to my aid a prayer
          Which rises from a heart that lives in grace:
135      What use are others if unheard in heaven?"
          By now the poet was bounding up before me,
          Calling back, "Come on now! See how the sun
          Touches the meridian, and on the shore
          "Night already sets foot on Morocco."
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