Verse > Harvard Classics > Dante Alighieri > The Divine Comedy
Dante Alighieri (1265–1321).  The Divine Comedy.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
Canto XXII
ARGUMENT.—Dante, Virgil, and Statius mount to the sixth cornice, where the sin of gluttony is cleansed, the two Latin Poets discoursing by the way. Turning to the right, they find a tree hung with sweet-smelling fruit, and watered by a shower that issues from the rock. Voices are heard to proceed from among the leaves, recording examples of temperance.
NOW we had left the Angel, who had turn’d
To the sixth circle our ascending step;
One gash from off my forehead razed; while they,
Whose wishes tend to justice, shouted forth,
“Blessed!” 1 and ended with “I thirst”; and I,        5
More nimble than along the other straits,
So journey’d, that, without the sense of toil,
I follow’d upwards the swift-footed shades;
When Virgil thus began: “Let its pure flame
From virtue flow, and love can never fail        10
To warm another’s bosom, so the light
Shine manifestly forth. Hence, from that hour,
When, ’mongst us in the purlieus of the deep,
Came down the spirit of Aquinum’s bard,
Who told of thine affection, my good will        15
Hath been for thee of quality as strong
As ever link’d itself to one not seen.
Therefore these stairs will now seem short to me.
But tell me: and, if too secure, I loose
The rein with a friend’s license, as a friend        20
Forgive me, and speak now as with a friend:
How chanced it covetous desire could find
Place in that bosom, ’midst such ample store
Of wisdom, as thy zeal had treasured there?”
  First somewhat moved to laughter by his words,        25
Statius replied: “Each syllable of thine
Is a dear pledge of love. Things oft appear,
That minister false matter to our doubts,
When their true causes are removed from sight.
Thy question doth assure me, thou believest        30
I was on earth a covetous man; perhaps
Because thou found’st me in that circle placed.
Know then I was too wide of avarice:
And e’en for that excess, thousands of moons
Have wax’d and waned upon my sufferings.        35
And were it not that I with heedful care
Noted, where thou exclaim’st, as if in ire,
With human nature, ‘Why, thou cursed thirst
Of gold! dost not with juster measure guide
The appetite of mortals?’ I had met        40
The fierce encounter of the voluble rock.
Then was I ware that, with too ample wing,
The hands may haste to lavishment; and turn’d,
As from my other evil, so from this,
In penitence. How many from their grave        45
Shall with shorn locks 2 arise, who living, ay,
And at life’s last extreme, of this offence,
Through ignorance, did not repent! And know,
The fault, which lies direct from any sin
In level opposition, here, with that,        50
Wastes its green rankness on one common heap.
Therefore, if I have been with those, who wail
Their avarice, to cleanse me; through reverse
Of their transgression, such hath been my lot.”
  To whom the sovran of the pastoral song:        55
“While thou didst sing that cruel warfare waged
By the twin sorrow of Jocasta’s womb 3
From thy discourse with Clio there, it seems
As faith had not been thine; without the which,
Good deeds suffice not. And if so, what sun        60
Rose on thee, or what candle pierced the dark,
That thou didst after see to hoise the sail,
And follow where the fisherman had led?”
  He answering thus: “By thee conducted first,
I enter’d the Parnassian grots, and quaff’d        65
Of the clear spring: illumined first by thee,
Open’d mine eyes to God. Thou didst, as one
Who, journeying through the darkness, bears a light
Behind, that profits not himself, but makes
His followers wise, when thou exclaimed’st, ‘Lo!        70
A renovated world, Justice return’d,
Times of primeval innocence restored,
And a new race descended from above.’
Poet and Christian both to thee I owed.
That thou mayst mark more clearly what I trace,        75
My hand shall stretch forth to inform the lines
With livelier colouring. Soon o’er all the world,
By messengers from Heaven, the true belief
Teem’d now prolific; and that word of thine,
Accordant, to the new instructors chimed.        80
Induced by which agreement, I was wont
Resort to them; and soon their sanctity
So won upon me, that, Domitian’s rage
Pursuing them, I mix’d my tears with theirs;
And, while on earth I stay’d, still succor’d them;        85
And their most righteous customs made me scorn
All sects besides. Before I led the Greeks,
In tuneful fiction, to the streams of Thebes,
I was baptized; but secretly, through fear,
Remain’d a Christian, and conform’d long time        90
To Pagan rites. Four centuries and more,
I, for that lukewarmness, was fain to pace
Round the fourth circle. Thou then, who hast raised
The covering which did hide such blessing from me,
Whilst much of this ascent is yet to climb,        95
Say, if thou know, where our old Terence bides,
Cæcilius, Plautus, Varro: if condemn’d
They dwell, and in what province of the deep.”
“These,” said my guide, “with Persius and myself,
And others many more, are with that Greek, 4        100
Of mortals, the most cherish’d by the Nine,
In the first ward 5 of darkness. There, oft-times,
We of that mount hold converse, on whose top
For aye our nurses live. We have the bard
Of Pella, 6 and the Teian, 77 Agatho,        105
Simonides, and many a Grecian else
Ingarlanded with laurel. Of thy train,
Antigone is there, Deiphile,
Argia, and as sorrowful as erst
Ismene, and who show’d Langia’s wave: 8        110
Deidamia with her sisters there,
And blind Tiresias’ daughter, 9 and the bride
Sea-born of Peleus.” 10 Either poet now
Was silent; and no longer by the ascent
Or the steep walls obstructed, round them cast        115
Inquiring eyes. Four handmaids of the day
Had finish’d now their office, and the fifth
Was at the chariot-beam, directing still
Its flamy point aloof; when thus my guide:
“Methinks, it well behoves us to the brink        120
Bend the right shoulder, circuiting the mount,
As we have ever used.” So custom there
Was usher to the road; the which we chose
Less doubtful, as that worthy shade 11 complied.
  They on before me went: I sole pursued,        125
Listening their speech, that to my thoughts convey’d
Mysterious lessons of sweet poesy.
But soon they ceased; for midway of the road
A tree we found, with goodly fruitage hung,
And pleasant to the smell: and as a fir,        130
Upward from bough to bough, less ample spreads;
So downward this less ample spread; that none,
Methinks, aloft may climb. Upon the side,
That closed our path, a liquid crystal fell
From the steep rock, and through the sprays above        135
Stream’d showering. With associate step the bards
Drew near the plant; and, from amidst the leaves,
A voice was heard: “Ye shall be chary of me;”
And after added: “Mary took more thought
For joy and honour of the nuptial feast,        140
Than for herself, who answers now for you.
The women of old Rome were satisfied
With water for their beverage. Daniel 12 fed
On pulse, and wisdom gain’d. The primal age
Was beautiful as gold: and hunger then        145
Made acorns tasteful; thirst, each rivulet
Run nectar. Honey and locusts were the food,
Whereon the Baptist in the wilderness
Fed, and that eminence of glory reach’d
And greatness, which the Evangelist records.”        150
Note 1. “Blessed.” “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.”—Matt. v. 6. [back]
Note 2. “With shorn locks.” See Hell, Canto vii, 58. [back]
Note 3. “The twin sorrow of Jocasta’s womb.” Eteocles and Polynices. [back]
Note 4. “That Greek.” Homer. [back]
Note 5. “In the first ward.” In Limbo. [back]
Note 6. Euripides. [back]
Note 7. “The Teian.” Anacreon. [back]
Note 8. Hypsipile. [back]
Note 9. “Tiresias’ daughter.” Dante, as some have thought, had forgotten that he had placed Manto, the daughter of Tiresias, among the sorcerers. See Hell, Canto xx. Vellutello endeavors to reconcile the apparent inconsistency, by observing, that although she was placed there as a sinner, yet, as one of famous memory, she had also a place among the worthies in Limbo. [back]
Note 10. Thetis. [back]
Note 11. “That worthy shade.” Statius. [back]
Note 12. “Daniel.” “Then said Daniel to Melzar, whom the prince of the eunuchs had set over Daniel, Hananiah, Michael, and Azariah, ‘Prove thy servants, I beseech thee, ten days; and let them give us pulse to eat, and water to drink.’”—Dan. i. II, 12. “Thus Melzar took away the portion of their meat, and the wine that they should drink: and gave them pulse. As for these four children, God gave them knowledge and skill in all learning and wisdom: and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams.”—Ibid. 16, 17. [back]


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