DANTE'S SUBLIME COMEDY: PURGATORY: Chapter 23
Chapter 23: The Gluttons
I gazed aloft through the green foliage
like hawker who wastes hours pursuing birds
until my more-than-father said, “Come, son! 3
Make better use of time.” Turning my face
and racing after him I heard a hymn
sung by a chorus mingling joy and pain: 6
“Lord, open up our lips.” I asked my guide,
“Father, do you know what this means?”
Said he, “Souls paying God what’s due to Him.” 9
Like travellers absorbed in thought who rush
by others with one quick enquiring look,
so, coming from behind and speeding on, 12
a crowd, silent and devout, overtook
and passed us with surprised stares. All had eyes
sunk in deep hollows, white skins clinging tight 15
to bones beneath. Erysicthon who gnawed
his limbs when wild with hunger was as gaunt,
and those starved in Jerusalem’s great siege 18
where Miriam ate her child. Skull sockets
seemed gemless rings. The nose-bone M was plain
to any who read OMO in a face. 21
I did not know the sight and scent of fruit
had famished them, but greatly wondered at
their harsh emaciation, scabbiness, 24
misery. Then one turned sunk eyes on me
and cried, “Rejoice! What good thing brings you here?”
Not by his looks I knew him, but his voice– 27
he was my friend, Farese Donati.
“Ignore,” he begged, “my withered skin and flesh.
Please tell me about you. Who are the two 30
you travel with? You must explain all this.”
“I wept to see your face when dead,” I said,
“and weep to see it now. In God’s name say 33
what starves you? Upset by your present state,
I don’t see how to answer questions now.”
“The spring of water nourishing that tree,” 36
said he, “makes me as lean as all of us
who sing as we pass under branches of
that fragrant fruit and spray. It renews our 39
hunger and thirst. We glutted appetite
to such excess in life these painful pangs
are needed to restore our holiness. 42
It feels like pain but is a comfort too.
It brings us closer to the tree where One
who died to make us free was crucified, 45
crying, ‘Lord! Lord!’.” I said, “But Farese,
you only died five years ago. I know
you were not very bad, but men as good 48
have had to wait lifetimes outside the gate
before admitted to ascend the stairs.
What lets you come so fast and far?” He said, 51
“My widow Nelly’s tears and constant prayers
heard in the court where love is highest law.
She’s that rare thing among our womenfolk, 54
a widow who still loves the man she wed
and does not seek romps in another bed.
Her prayers have raised me to and through the gate 57
and roads above to here. She’s one of few.
The savage women of Sardinia
are chaste beside most female Florentines. 60
Brother, I prophesy an evil time
when priests from holy pulpits will denounce
our noble dames for how they flaunt their tits. 63
I hear that Muslim wives dress modestly,
and wives from equally barbaric shores
need none to tell them not to dress like whores. 66
I wish they saw ahead what tragedies
will come before their baby boys grow beards.
Dear brother, it is time to tell your tale 69
not just to me: also my company.
Your shadow on the road amazes them.”
At that I said, “Farese, I will not 72
give tongue to all we did when we were young.
I left such wildness just four days ago
when my best teacher led me bodily 75
through Hell then up to here, circling this hill
that straightens folk made crooked by bad will.
He’ll be my guide till I meet Beatrice. 78
He is Virgil, the other Statius
for whom all Purgatory shook like mad
releasing him, as you will one day be. 81
How great that both of us can now be glad.”