Purgatorio -- Canto VI











13 The list of late repentant souls who died violently begins with Benicasa da Laterina, a justice of Arezzo, beheaded by the robber Ghino di Tacco; the drowned man (l. 15) may be Guccio dei Tarlati, a Ghibelline, and the Pisan (l. 17) is Gano, son of Marzucco degli Scornigiani who forgave his son's murderers. Other souls include Federigo, son of Guido Novello, killed in a skirmish; Orso of Mangona, slain by his cousin Alberto, son of Alessandro degli Alberti; and Pierre de la Brosse, chamberlain of Philip III of France, hanged in 1278 for high treason through the intrigue, it was said, of Queen Mary of Brabant (l. 23).


28 The poet refers to a passage in the Aeneid VI (492-496) in which the Sibyl rebuffs the shade of Palinurus for presuming that prayer can change divine decrees.










46 Virgil is anticipating Dante’s encounter with Beatrice, in Canto XXX.

















74 Sordello (1200?-1270?) was a northern Italian poet who wrote troubadour verse in Provenšal. Like Virgil he was born near Mantua.








88 The Emperor Justinian (d. 565) systematized Roman law. See Paradiso VI.






97 Albert of Hapsburg, emperor from 1298 to 1308 (he was assassinated) and son of Rudolph I, is here accused of neglecting the Holy Roman Empire, of which Italy was a part. The Montagues and Capulets of Verona and the Monaldi and the Filippeschi of Orvieto (l. 107) were Ghibelline and Guelph families torn by feuds and warfare. Santafiora (l. 111) was in the Sienese Maremma and held by the Ghibelline Aldobraneschi family who often battled against Siena.












126 Marcellus, consul in 51 B.C., opposed Julius Caesar but was forgiven by him.

          When a game of dice breaks up, the loser
          Loiters behind in a downhearted mood,
          Casting his throws again and sadly wiser,
          While all the bystanders leave with the winner:
5         One strolls ahead, one tugs him from the rear,
          And one begs for his attention at his side.
          He does not stop, but hears this one and that;
          When he gives one a handout, one more leaves,
          And in that way he wards off the whole crowd.
10       I was the same within that pressing throng,
          Turning my face this side and that to all,
          Until by promises I slipped scot-free.
          The Aretine was there who met his death
          At the cruel hands of Ghino di Tacco,
15       And the other one who drowned in hot pursuit.
          Federigo Novello was there begging
          With arms outstretched to me, and there the Pisan
          Whose death made good Marzucco show his valor.
          I saw Count Orso, and the soul cut off
20       From its body by spitefulness and hate,
          They say, and not for any crime committed:
          Pierre de la Brosse, I mean; and while she lives,
          Let the Lady of Brabant look out lest she
          May end up with the sadder flock for this.
25       As soon as I came free of all those shades
          Whose only prayer was that some others pray
          So that the way to their bliss would be hastened,
          I then began, "You seem to me expressly
          To deny, O my light, in one written passage
30       That prayer can bend the ordinance of heaven,
          "And yet these people pray for this alone:
          Shall then this hope of theirs be empty-handed
          Or is what you said not quite clear to me?"
          And he told me, "What I wrote down is plain —
35       The hope of all these souls is not mistaken,
          If you would ponder with an open mind:
          "The heights of justice are not brought down low
          Because the fire of love may in one instant
          Fulfill the debt for sin of those lodged here;
40       "And there where I asserted this clear point,
          The fault could not be straightened out by prayer
          Because the prayer had been divorced from God.
          "But surely you need not remain in so
          Deep a doubt when she who shall be the light
45       Between your mind and truth explains it to you.
          "I don’t know if you grasp — I speak of Beatrice.
          You shall see her above, blissful and smiling,
          Upon the summit of this very mountain."
          And I: "My lord, let’s walk on with more haste,
50       For now I do not tire as I did then,
          And look! by now the hillside casts a shadow."
          "We will walk on as long as daylight lasts,"
          He answered me, "as far as we still can,
          But the reality is not what you suppose.
55       "Before you reach that top, you’ll see the sun,
          Now screened behind the hillside so that you
          Do not obstruct its beams, come out again.
          "But see, right over there sits one spirit
          All alone, who looks in our direction:
60       He will mark out for us the quickest way."
          We came up to him then. O Lombard soul,
          How aloof and disdainful was your manner!
          How solemnly and slowly your eyes moved!
          He said not a thing to us, but let us
65       Keep climbing upward, only looking on
          In the same way a lion rests and watches.
          Yet Virgil drew up close to him, asking
          That he point out to us the best ascent,
          But he made no reply to his request;
70       Instead he questioned us about our country
          And way of life; and the kind guide began,
          "Mantua ... " but the shade, shut in himself,
          Now rose toward him from the place he had kept
          And cried, "O Mantuan, I am Sordello
75       From your own city!" And they embraced each other.
          Ah, slavish Italy, hostelry for griefs,
          Ship without a captain in huge storms,
          No madam of the provinces but of brothels!
          That noble spirit was so eager-hearted,
80       Just at the sweet sound of his city’s name,
          To welcome there his fellow-citizen —
          And now all those who dwell within you live
          In war; enclosed by one same wall and moat,
          One person gnaws away at another!
85       Search out, you wretched place, around the shores
          Of your own seas, and then look in your heart
          For any part of you that enjoys peace!
          What good that Justinian with his code
          Repair the bridle if the saddle’s empty?
90       Without that bit the shame would be less biting!
          Ah, people that ought to show reverence
          And allow Caesar to sit in the saddle,
          If you knew well what God prescribes for you!
          Look how this beast has become barbarous
95       By its not being checked by any spurs
          Since you have put your hands to the bridle!
          O German Albert, you abandon her
          And she has grown uncurbable and wild,
          You who should ride high astride her saddle!
100      May the just judgment from the stars fall down
          Upon your bloodline, with so strange and plain
          A sign that may make your heir shake with fear!
          Because you and your father, long diverted
          By your greediness back home, have permitted
105     The garden of the empire to waste away.
          Come see the Montagues and Capulets,
          The Monaldi and Filippeschi, you reckless man:
          The first two live in grief, the second dread it!
          Come, cruel ruler, come see the distress
110      Of your noblemen, come cure their diseases,
          And you shall see how bleak is Santafiora!
          Come see your Rome, weeping in widowhood
          All by herself, wailing day and night:
          "My Caesar, why have you abandoned me?"
115      Come see how all your people love each other,
          And if no pity moves your heart for us,
          Come feel the shame your fame has won for you!
          And if it be allowed me, O highest Jove
          Who on the earth was crucified for us:
120     Are your eyes turned away to somewhere else?
          Or is it preparation you provide
          In the depths of your counsel for some good
          Wholly cut off from our discovery?
          For all the cities of Italy are filled
125     With tyrants, and any bumpkin who learns how
          To play politics becomes a Marcellus.
          My Florence, clearly you can be content
          At this digression which does not touch you,
          Thanks to the earnest efforts of your people!
130      Many men have justice in their hearts,
          But thinking makes them slow to let shafts fly:
          Yet your people shoot off with their mouths!
          Many men refuse a public office,
          But your people answer with eagerness
135      No call at all, and cry, "I will! I’ll serve!"
          Now be glad, since you have such good reason:
          You’re wealthy, you’re at peace, and you’re so smart!
          Should I speak true, the facts will bear me out.
          Athens and Sparta which drew up the codes
140     Of ancient laws and were so civilized
          Gave just the faintest sketch of the good life
          Compared to you who take such clever care
          That by the middle of November what
          You spun back in October is undone.
145      How many times, in the years you can remember,
          Your laws and coinage, offices and customs
          Have you changed, and made new citizens with them!
          And if only you reflect and see the light,
          Then you will view yourself like the sick woman
150      Who finds no rest on her soft feather bed,
          But turns and tosses to fend off her pain.
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