DANTE'S SUBLIME COMEDY: PURGATORY: Chapter 20
Chapter 20: Hoarders and Wasters
While thirsting for more words with that good Pope
I found his silence stronger than my will,
so had to leave before I’d drunk my fill. 3
Between the prostrate mourners and cliff base
a narrow space left something like a path.
I paced along this, close behind my guide, 6
appalled by lamentations on our right
from those who now felt greed’s iniquity.
To Hell, you wolf of Greed! Your poisoned fangs 9
have damned more souls than any other beasts!
Your gluttony enforces poverty.
You spread starvation by your wasteful feasts. 12
Having to place our footsteps carefully
we slowly moved along this narrow way,
then from in front we heard a clear voice cry, 15
“Sweet Mary!” Like a woman giving birth
in agony that yet suggested joy,
adding, “What could exceed the poverty 18
of labour pains within a trough of hay,
between the muzzles of an ox and ass?”
A pause, then the voice said, “Fabricius 21
chose virtue and poverty, not riches
by military conquest. So should we.”
Wanting to see the soul who said these things 24
I pressed ahead, hearing him talk about
Saint Nicholas, whose generosity
brought marriage to the poorest of young maids. 27
I said, “O soul in pain announcing good,
please tell me who you were. Your words will be
recorded down on Earth when I return.” 30
Said he, “I will reply, though not because
your good report will do the Earth much good.
You have a radiance that pleases me. 33
From me sprang up that monarchy of France
which overshadows Christendom and stops
much good fruit growing there. If Douai, Lille, 36
Ghent, Bruges had strength, they’d cast it off,
for which I pray to He who judges All.
In Paris dad was butcher. I became 39
head of the royal household when the last
of Charlemagne’s great line, a monk, expired.
I had such wealth and friends that very soon 42
my son was wedded to the widowed queen.
From me, Hugh Capet, grew that lengthy line
of Phillips, Louis, commanding France, 45
their bones entombed in consecrated earth.
As long as they inherited Provence,
they did no good and very little harm 48
but riches strengthened their rapacity.
To better that, by force and fraud they took
Pointhieu and Normandy and Gascony, 51
then bettered that, killing in Italy
Conradin, and better still, poisoning
Saint Thomas Aquinas. Soon you will see 54
another prince bringing to France more fame.
Using hypocrisy (that Judas lance)
he will burst the guts of Florence, 57
gaining no land by it but gold and shame.
The less he thinks of this, the worse for him.
His brother sells his daughter to an old 60
and evil count, also for gold. O Greed,
what fouler misdeeds can you bring my race?
To make these crimes seem less, I can foresee 63
the fleur-de-lis flag enter Anagni,
see Christ’s appointed Vicar, captured, mocked,
fed with vinegar and slain between 66
two live thieves by a new Pontius Pilate
so unscrupulous, he goes on to loot
the treasury that good Knight Templars use, 69
escorting pilgrims to Jerusalem.
O Lord my God, when shall I gladly see
your vengeance smiting down these evil men? 72
You heard me calling on the Holy Ghost’s
one Virgin Bride. By day we think of Her
and others without greed; at night we brood 75
on those whose sin resembled ours, such as
Pygmalion, traitor, thief, parricide
through lust for gold; Midas whose silly greed 78
made him laughable– a king with asses ears.
We think of foolish Achan stoned to death
for keeping gold, Joshua meant for God; 81
Ananias and Saphira his wife,
stealing coin from the first of Christian kirks,
and dropping dead, rebuked. We praise the kicks 84
the angel’s horse gave Heliodorus
when by force he tried to steal the treasure
from Jerusalem’s temple. We lastly 87
shout in chorus, “Crassus, how does gold taste?”
remembering Rome’s grasping millionaire
whose mouth and throat a Parthian monarch filled 90
with molten gold. Sometimes we yell aloud
or softly sing the stories that we share
or ponder within. You heard me praise Mary. 93
Others were also thinking of her then.”
We parted from him, trying to walk fast,
but suddenly the whole great mountain shook 96
as if it fell. I felt a deathly chill.
The floating Isle of Delos could not shake more
when sunk and fixed by Jupiter, to be 99
a birthplace for the gods of sun and moon.
Mourners on every side shouted aloud.
My master drew me close, said, “Do not fear, 102
for I am guiding you.” Then I made out
from the folk nearest us the words they yelled
were Gloria in Excelsis Deo. 105
Like shepherds who first heard this news proclaimed
we stood stock-still and stupefied until
they shut their mouths. The mountain ceased to quake. 107
Again we walked upon the narrow path
beside those spirits weeping as before.
Never did ignorance make me so keen 110
to understand, or so afraid to ask.