Purgatorio -- Canto VII

The Valley of the Princes

 

Notes

 

 

6 Octavian is the Emperor Augustus. See Canto III, note 26.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

35 The three virtues are faith, hope, and charity; the four moral or cardinal virtues are justice, prudence, temperance, and fortitude.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

82 Salve Regina is a liturgical song in praise of Mary, the Mother of Christ.

 

 

 

 

91 Rudolph I of Hapsburg, emperor from 1273 to 1292 shared the blame with his son Albert for the chaotic political situation in Italy (see note to Canto VI, l. 97).

 

 

 

100 Ottokar II of Bohemia opposed Rudolph who defeated and killed him in 1278. Ottokar’s son, Wenceslaus II, married Rudolph’s daughter.

103 Philip III, king of France from 1270-1285, called the Bold or the Snubnose, is pictured here with Henry I the Fat, king of Navarre from 1270 to 1274. Philip and Henry are the two described in lines 106-108.

109 Philip IV the Fair, king of France from 1285 to 1314, was the son of Philip and son-in-law of Henry.

112 Peter III of Aragon (1276-1285) is here with his former foe Charles I of Anjou (1220-1282), king of Naples and Sicily (1266-1282).

115 Alfonso III of Aragon, known as the Magnificent, was the eldest son of Peter III; he died in 1291 after a reign of six years. Peter’s other sons (l. 119) were James II, king of Spain and Aragon, and Frederick II, king of Sicily.

124 Charles I of Anjou was the husband first of Beatrice of Provence and then of Margaret of Burgundy (l. 129). Peter III of Aragon (l. 125) was married to Constance (l. 129). Charles II (l. 127) is as inferior to his father as he, Charles I, was inferior to Peter III.

130 Henry III was king of England from 1226 to 1272 and father of Edward I who reigned until 1307.

134 William VII, marquis of Monferrato and Canavese, was captured by the people of Alessandria and displayed in an iron cage until he died: his son invaded the districts in revenge, but the Alessandrians defeated him and took over the area.

          After this gallant and warm-hearted greeting
          Again had been given three or four times more,
          Sordello stepped back and asked, "Who are you?"
 
          "Before those souls worthy of climbing up
5         To God were turned toward this mountaintop,
          My bones were buried by Octavian:
 
          "I am Virgil, and for no other fault
          Have I lost heaven than for want of faith."
          This then was the answer my guide gave him.
 
10       As one who sees suddenly before him
          Something to make him wonder, in belief
          And disbelief he says, "It is ... It isn’t so!"
 
          So that shade seemed, and then he bowed his head
          And, humbly coming to my guide again,
15       Embraced him as a minion clasps his lord.
 
          "O glory of the Latin race," he cried,
          "Who proved the power of our native tongue,
          O everlasting honor of my birthplace,
 
          "What merit or what grace brings you to me?
20       Should I be worthy to hear your words, tell me
          If you come here from hell, and from which cell?"
 
          "Through all the circles of that realm of pain,"
          He answered him, "have I come to this place.
          Heaven’s might moved me: by its help I came.
 
25       "Not what I did but what I did not do
          Lost me the sight of that high sun you crave
          And which I came to recognize too late.
 
          "There is a place down there not cursed by tortures
          But only by the darkness, and distress
30       Has not the sound of cries but of deep sighs.
 
          "There I stay with the infant innocents
          Bit off by the strong teeth of death before
          They were delivered from our human guilt.
 
          "There I stay with those souls who did not don
35       Three holy virtues, but who, free from vice,
          Knew all the other virtues and followed them.
 
          "But if you know and are allowed to tell,
          Teach us how we may reach most quickly
          Where purgatory properly begins."
 
40       He answered, "No particular place is set us:
          I am permitted to amble up and around:
          As far as I may travel I shall guide you.
 
          "But look! already daylight is declining,
          And it is not possible to climb at night:
45       It’s best to think then of a resting-place.
 
          "Some souls are off here to the right, apart:
          By your leave I will take you both to them,
          And you will find delight in their acquaintance."
 
          "How do you mean?" my guide asked. "Would someone
50       Wishing to mount by night be stopped by others,
          Or would he not go on because he cannot?"
 
          Good Sordello drew his finger on the ground
          And answered, "Look! even beyond this line
          You could not dare cross once the sun has set.
 
55       "Nor is there anything else that blocks the path
          For going up except the dark of night:
          That blinds the will with inability.
 
          "One might, indeed, at nightfall turn back down
          And go wandering around the mountainside
60       While the horizon seals the daylight shut."
 
          At that my master, seemingly amazed,
          Said, "Lead us then to the place that you mention,
          Where we may find delight in our delay."
 
          We had gone on just a short way from there
65       When I observed that the hill was hollowed out,
          As valleys carve out mountains here on earth.
 
          "Out there," the shade now told us, "we shall walk
          To where the slope shapes out a lap of stone,
          And we shall all wait there for the new day."
 
70       Half steep, half level was a rambling path
          Which led us to the border of that hollow
          Whose edge fades to the middle of the slope.
 
          Gold, fine silver, white lead, cochineal,
          Indigo, self-glowing polished wood,
75       Fresh emerald at the instant it is split,
 
          The grass and flowers blooming in that valley
          Outshine them all in color — were they there —
          As finer works surpass inferior.
 
          But nature had not only painted that place:
80       Out of the sweetness of a thousand scents
          She made there one unknown and secret perfume.
 
          "Salve Regina" — I saw the souls who sang
          This hymn seated on the flowering green:
          They had been hidden till then in the valley.
 
85       "Do not wish me to guide you there among them,"
          The Mantuan conducting us began,
          "Before the setting sun drops to its nest.
 
          "From this knoll you will discover better
          The movements and the faces of them all
90       Than if you were down with them in their glen.
 
          "The one who sits highest and wears the look
          Of having failed to do what he should have done
          And neglects to move his lips with others singing
 
          "Was Rudolph the Emperor, who could have cured
95       The wounds that meant the death of Italy:
          Though someone else should help, it is too late.
 
          "The other shade who seems to comfort him
          Once ruled the land where spring up those waters
          Which the Moldau drifts to the Elbe and the sea:
 
100      "Ottokar was his name, and in babyhood
          He was braver than his grown son Wenceslaus
          In his beard, fed on idleness and lust.
 
          "That snub-nosed one who seems so thick in talk
          With the kind-looking soul next to him
105      Died fleeing and dishonoring the lily:
 
          "Watch him there — look how he beats his breast!
          See too that other one who cradles his cheek
          In the palm of his hand, the while he sighs:
 
          "They’re father and father-in-law of the Plague
110      Of France — they know his vile and vicious life,
          And that is why grief stabs them to the heart.
 
          "That one who seems so strong in build and who
          Chimes his singing with the big-nosed shade
          Was cinctured with the cord of worthiness,
 
115      "And if the young man seated at his rear
          Had succeeded him to his throne, then
          His worth would have passed on from urn to urn,
 
          "A thing that never happened to his heirs.
          James and Frederick now hold the kingdoms,
120      But neither gained the better heritage.
 
          "The sap of human goodness rarely rises
          Through its branches, and this He wills who gives
          The gift that we may call on Him for it.
 
          "My words apply to him with the big nose
125     And to the one who sings with him, Peter,
          Who caused Apulia and Provence distress.
 
          "So stunted has the family tree become
          That Constance can still boast about her husband
          More than Beatrice and Margaret could of theirs.
 
130      "See there the king who led a simple life,
          Sitting all alone, Henry of England:
          He in his branches has a sturdier stock.
 
          "The one who sits with them on lower ground,
          Gazing upward, is William the Marquis,
135      Through whom Alessandria and its war
 
          "Make Montferrat and Canavese weep."
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