Purgatorio -- Canto VIII

Negligent Rulers

 

Notes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

13 This Ambrosian hymn, Te lucis ante, is sung at compline after vespers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

47 Nino de’ Visconti of Pisa, a notable Guelph and judge for Gallura in Sardinia, married Beatrice of Este; they had a daughter Giovanna (l. 71). After Nino’s death in 1296, Beatrice married Galeazzo Visconti of Milan who was expelled from the city in 1302. The devices on the two family coats of arms are mentioned in lines 70-91.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

89 The three stars represent Faith, Hope, and Charity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

118 Currado II of the Malaspina family was a Ghibelline marquis of Villafranca in Lunigiana; he died in 1294.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

133 Currado predicts an unexplained event that happened in 1306, during the early years of Dante’s exile, when he was a guest of the Malaspina family.

          Now was the hour when voyagers at sea
          Pine to turn home and their hearts soften,
          This first day out, for friends they bid good-bye,
 
          The hour when outsetting pilgrims ache
5         With love to hear the far-off tolling bell
          That seems to mourn the dying day with tears,
 
          When I began to let my listening fade
          And gazed instead at one of the souls there
          Who had stood up and gestured to be heard.
 
10       He folded his hands in prayer and lifted them,
          With his eyes fastened on the east, as if
          Saying to God, "I care for nothing else!"
 
          "To You before the light is done" — devoutly
          Came from his lips with such melodious tones
15       That it made me step straight out of myself.
 
          Then the rest with sweetness and devotion
          Harmonized with him through the whole hymn,
          Fixing their eyes on the spheres of heaven.
 
          Hone your sight, reader, keenly on the truth,
20       For here the veil is now made so transparent
          That passing to the interior is easy.
 
          I saw that noble host of souls in silence,
          After they had sung the hymn, gaze upward,
          Subdued and pale, as if in expectation.
 
25       I saw sweep from above and then fly down
          Two angels with two flaming swords that were
          Broken short and snapped off at their points.
 
          Green as tender leaves in bud, their robes
          Billowed out behind them in the breeze
30       Which their green wings beat and fanned about them.
 
          One came to stand just a short way above us,
          And one alighted on the farther bank
          So that the company was held between them.
 
          I could quite clearly see their hair of gold,
35       But their bright faces dazzled my eyesight,
          As sense is overwhelmed by too much light.
 
          "Both of them come down from Mary’s bosom,"
          Sordello said, "to guard those in the valley
          Against the serpent that will soon appear."
 
40       So I, not knowing what way he would come,
          Turned all around and, chilled right to the bone,
          Pressed closer to my escort’s trusty shoulders.
 
          And Sordello added, "Now let us go down
          Among the mighty shades and speak to them,
45       For they will be most gratified to see you."
 
          Only three steps, I think, I then went down
          And came below, and I saw one who gaped
          At me alone, as if he ought to know me.
 
          Now it was at the time when air grows darker,
50       But not so dark that we could not make out
          Between his eyes and mine what had been hidden.
 
          He made toward me and I made way toward him:
          Noble Judge Nino! what a joy it was
          To see you there and not among the damned!
 
55       We showed each other every sign of welcome;
          Then he asked me, "How long since you have come
          Over wide waters to this mountain’s base?"
 
          "Oh!" I told him, "I’ve come this morning from
          The sad pit, and I am still in my first life,
60       Although I gain the second by this journey."
 
          And as soon as they both heard my response,
          Nino and Sordello started backward,
          Like people suddenly caught by surprise.
 
          One turned to Virgil,  the other to a soul
65       Seated there and cried out, "Get up, Currado!
          Come see what God, by his grace, has now willed!"
 
          Then he turned to me: "By the singular thanks
          You owe Him who so hides His primal purpose
          In depths we have no way to ford across,
 
70       "When you are there beyond the wide vast waters,
          Tell my Giovanna to pray for me
          In the world where the innocent are answered.
 
          "I doubt her mother loves me any longer
          Since she put off her widowhood’s white bands
75       Which she, poor soul, must once more want to wear.
 
          "By her behavior one may easily learn
          How long the flame of love lasts for a woman
          If sight and touch not often kindle it.
 
          "The viper that leads the Milanese afield
80       Will not provide so fine a coat of arms
          For her tombstone as would Gallura’s rooster."
 
          So he spoke to me with his features stamped
          By the impression of that righteous ardor
          Which burns with true control within the heart.
 
85       My feasting eyes gazed solely at the sky,
          Exactly at the point the stars move slowest,
          As at the point a wheel turns on its axle.
 
          And my guide: "Son, what do you stare at there?"
          And I told him, "I stare at those three torches
90       Which set this polar region all ablaze."
 
          He said to this, "The four bright stars you saw
          This morning have now dipped below the hillside,
          And these are risen here to take their place."
 
          While he was talking, Sordello seized his arm
95       And cried to him, "Look there! Our adversary!"
          And pointed with his finger where to peer.
 
          Along the side on which the little valley
          Has no abutment moved a snake, the same
          Perhaps that offered Eve the bitter fruit.
 
100      Amid the grass and flowers slid the streak
          Of sin, turning its head from time to time,
          And licking its back like a preening beast.
 
          I did not see and so I cannot say
          Just how the hawks of heaven set to move,
105      But I saw clearly both of them in motion.
 
          Hearing the green wings slicing through the air,
          The snake crawled off; the angels wheeled around
          In parallel flights back up to their two posts.
 
          The shade who had drawn closer to Judge Nino
110      When he called out, through that whole incursion
          Did not take his eyes off me for an instant.
 
          "So may the lamp that leads you here on high
          Find in your will all of the oil it needs
          To take you up to the enameled peak,"
 
115      He began, "if you have accurate news
          Of Val di Magra and its neighboring lands,
          Tell me, for there I once was prominent.
 
          "My name was Currado Malaspina:
          I am not the elder but his grandson.
120     The love I bore my own is here made pure."
 
          "Oh," I said to him, "I have yet to visit
          Your countrylands, but where in all of Europe
          Do men not mention them with high regard?
 
          "The fame that brings such honor to your house
125      Heralds its lords and realms so far abroad
          That folk who have not been there know of them.
 
          "And I swear to you by my hope to reach
          The top, your honored line has never shed
          The renown of its royal purse and sword.
 
130      "Custom and nature have so endowed it that,
          Although the Head of Sin perverts the world,
          It still stays straight and scorns the evil road."
 
          And he: "Go now, for the sun shall not rest
          Seven times in the bed the Ram bestrides
135     And covers up with all four feet spread out,
 
          "Before the gracious judgment you just gave
          Shall be nailed to the center of your head
          With stouter nails than all the talk of men,
 
          "Unless the course of justice can be stayed!"
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