DANTE'S SUBLIME COMEDY: PURGATORY: Chapter 16
Chapter 16: The Wrathful
The gloom of night and Hell hid Heaven’s light
more wholly than the thickest curtain could
and stung my eyes. Again I shut them tight. 3
My trusty guide offered his shoulder now,
told me to take good hold and not let go,
so in a blind man’s state I went ahead 6
led through foul air while he kept telling me
to have great care we did not separate.
Then voices came, singing sweet harmony 9
in prayers for peace and mercy, each prayer
beginning with these words, O lamb of God.
“Master,” I asked “are these souls penitent?” 12
“Quite right,” said he. “By vocal unity
they untie knots of wrath still binding them,
preventing progress on their upward path.” 15
A new voice spoke: “Who are you walking through
our smoke, talking as though months and years still
measured time for you?” My master told me, 18
“Answer, and ask how to get out of here.”
I said, “O soul cleansing yourself of sin
till fit to face He who created you, 21
if you keep company with us I’ll tell
what brings us here. It is astonishing.”
He said, “I will – as far as Heaven allows. 24
Hearing will join us, though we cannot see.
So now, astonish me.” “I am not dead,”
Said I, “though I have travelled here through Hell. 27
God’s grace demands I see His heavenly court,
a strange idea to modern ears, but true.
Who were you when alive? And if you know 30
where the next stair is, please escort us there.”
“I was a Lombard. Marco was my name
I knew the world and loved the good at which 33
people no longer aim or greatly love.
To climb up higher go straight on,” said he,
adding, “Please pray for me when you’re above.” 36
“I promise that,” I said, “but dreadful doubt
of human virtue, doubled by your words,
is swelling me. If I don’t speak it out 39
I will explode. Your view of things confirms
what Guido of Romagna said below –
the world is overwhelmed by wickedness. 42
Folk break God’s laws. Help me to see the cause
that I can make it known. Astrologers
blame stars for our sins.” He cried out “Brother, 45
alas! Be not as blind as those!” Sighing
he said, “We would have no choice if ruled by
blind necessity. Each would be a part 48
of process without consciousness! Justice!
Joy in doing well! Misery for sin!
Our sense of choice is fact, like sense of light, 51
sound, heat, weight, pleasure, pain. Denying one
rejects all common sense reality.
Appetites are from Heaven and therefore good, 54
but wrongly understood result in greed.
Our senses let us work out what is right
and so oppose mistaken appetite. 57
Strengthened by exercise this virtuous fight
conquers all things, making a free new mind
unlimited by things since nearer God. 60
If the world goes astray, then search within!
Find in yourself the root and source of sin.
As you want guidance let me be your guide. 63
Listen. When a tiny soul comes from the hand
of He who loved it while creating it,
the soul knows nothing. The joyful maker 66
lets it move eagerly to take delight
in many small things, some of which are bad.
Thus it needs parents who will curb it well, 69
direct it to the best things it should love.
Thus we need laws and kings enforcing them,
priesthoods who point to New Jerusalem, 72
the happy state God wills us to create.
That is why he makes laws. Who do they curb?
None. None. Our shepherds do not lead their flocks 75
by peaceful waters and through pastures green
where they may safely graze. They fleece their sheep
and sell the wool for gain. When people see 78
their leaders worship wealth they too adore,
greed multiplies itself. All fight for more.
Bad government makes earth a wicked place – 81
nature is not corrupt. There was a time
when Rome strove hard to make the whole world good.
Two grand authorities like double suns 84
showed men the laws of earth and laws of God.
These quell each other now. When King and Pope
equally try to wield the sword and crook, 87
neither corrects or fears the other one.
Observe the modern state of Italy!
Courage and courtesy were here before 90
King Frederick attacked the papacy,
which fought back just like he. Now you may go
by Arno, Tiber, Adige and Po 93
nor fear to meet with honest company.
Just three old men do well in ancient ways
and won’t be there for long: good Gherardo, 96
Conrad di Palazzo, also Guido
da Castel, all famous for honesty.
Tell people that the Church of Rome’s attempt 99
to seize both Heavenly and Earthly power
corrupts itself, corrupting others too.”
“I see you’re right,” I said, “and also see 102
why Hebrew law forbad that Levi’s sons
(the Jewish priests) inherit property.
But who is this Gherardo that you say 105
still shows old virtues to this rotten age?”
“You puzzle me,” said he. “Your speech is Tuscan.
Surely all Tuscans know good Gherardo? 108
I won’t say more of him except to give
his daughter Gaia’s name. God bless you both.
Here now, alas, we have to part since I 111
see light through smoke ahead, and so goodbye.”