Divine Comedy, Purgatory

Author: Dante Alighieri

Canto I.

Invocation to the Muses.—Dawn of Easter on the shore of
Purgatory.—The Four Stars.—Cato.—The cleansing of Dante from the stains of Hell.

To run over better waters the little vessel of my genius now hoists its sails, and leaves behind itself a sea so cruel; and I
will sing of that second realm where the human spirit is purified and becomes worthy to ascend to heaven.

But here let dead poesy rise again, O holy Muses, since yours I
am, and here let Calliope somewhat mount up, accompanying my song with that sound of which the wretched Picae felt the stroke such that they despaired of pardon.[1]

[1] The nine daughters of Pieros, king of Emathia, who,
contending in song with the Muses, were for their presumption changed to magpies.

A sweet color of oriental sapphire, which was gathering in the serene aspect of the sky, pure even to the first circle,[1]
renewed delight to my eyes soon as I issued forth from the dead air that had afflicted my eyes and my breast. The fair planet which incites to love was making all the Orient to smile, veiling the Fishes that were in her train.[2] I turned me to the right hand, and fixed my mind upon the other pole, and saw four stars never seen save by the first people.[3] The heavens appeared to rejoice in their flamelets. O widowed northern region, since thou art deprived of beholding these!

[1] By "the first circle," Dante seems to mean the horizon.

[2] At the spring equinox Venus is in the sign of the Pisces,
which immediately precedes that of Aries, in which is the Sun.
The time indicated is therefore an hour or more before sunrise on
Easter morning, April 10.

When I had withdrawn from regarding them, turning me a little to the other pole, there whence the Wain had already disappeared, I
saw close to me an old man alone, worthy in look of so much reverence that no son owes more unto his father.[1] He wore a long beard and mingled with white hair, like his locks, of which a double list fell upon his breast. The rays of the four holy stars so adorned his face with light, that I saw him, as if the sun had been in front.

[1] These stars are the symbols of the four Cardinal Virtues,—
Prudence, Temperance, Fortitude, and Justice,—the virtues of active life, sufficient to guide men in the right path, but not to bring them to Paradise. By the first people arc probably meant
Adam and Eve, who from the terrestrial Paradise, on the summit of the Mount of Purgatory, had seen these stars, visible only from the Southern hemisphere. According to the geography of the time
Asia and Africa lay north of the equator, so that even to their inhabitants these stars were invisible. Possibly the meaning is that these stars, symbolizing the cardinal virtues, had been visible only in the golden age.

This old man, as soon appears, is the younger Cato, and the office here given to him of warden of the souls in the outer region of Purgatory was suggested by the position assigned to him by Virgil in the Aeneid, viii. 670. "Secretosque pios, his dantem jura Catonem."

It has been objected to Virgil’s thus putting him in Elysium,
that as a suicide his place was in the Mourning Fields. A similar objection may be made to Dante’s separating him from the other suicides in the seventh circle of Hell (Canto XIII.). "But," says
Conington, "Virgil did not aim at perfect consistency. It was enough for him that Cato was one who from his character in life might be justly conceived of as lawgiver to the dead." So Dante,
using Cato as an allegoric figure, regards him as one who, before the coming of Christ, practised the virtues which are required to liberate the soul from sin, and who, as be says in the De
Monarchia (ii. 5), "that he might kindle the love of liberty in the world, showed how precious it was, by preferring death with liberty to life without it." This liberty is the type of that spiritual freedom which Dante is seeking, and which, being the perfect conformity of the human will to the will of God, is the aim and fruition of nil redeemed souls.

In the region of Purgatory outside the gate, the souls have not yet attained this freedom; they are on the way to it, and Cato is allegorically fit to warn and spur them on.

"Who are ye that counter to the blind stream have fled from the eternal prison?" said he, moving those venerable plumes. "Who has guided you? Or who was a lamp to you, issuing forth from the deep night that ever makes the infernal valley black? Are the laws of the abyss thus broken? or is a new design changed in heaven that,
being damned, ye come unto my rocks?"

My Leader then took hold of me, and with words, and with hands,
and with signs, made my legs and my brow reverent. Then he answered him, "Of myself I came not; a Lady descended from
Heaven, through whose prayers I succored this man with my company. But since it is thy will that more of our condition be unfolded to thee as it truly is, mine cannot be that to thee this be denied. This man has not seen his last evening, but through his folly was so near thereto that very little time there was to turn. Even as I have said, I was sent to him to rescue him, and there was no other way than this, along which I have set myself.
I have shown to him all the guilty people; and now I intend to show him those spirits that purge themselves under thy ward. How
I have led him, it would be long to tell thee; from on high descends power that aids me to conduct him to see thee and to hear thee. Now may it please thee to approve his coming. He goes seeking liberty, which is so dear, as he knows who for her refuses life. Thou knowest it, for death for her sake was not hitter to thee in Utica, where thou didst leave the garment that on the great day shall he so bright. The eternal edicts are not violated by us, for this one is alive, and Minos does not bind me; but I am of the circle where are the chaste eyes of thy
Marcia, who in her look still prays thee, O holy breast, that for thine own thou hold her. For her love, then, incline thyself to us; let us go on through thy seven realms.[1] Thanks unto thee will I carry back to her, if to be mentioned there below thou deign."

[1] The seven circles of Purgatory.

"Marcia so pleased my eyes while I was on earth," said he then,
"that whatsoever grace she wished from me I did it; now, that on the other side of the evil stream she dwells, she can no more move me, by that law which was made when thence I issued forth.[1] But if a Lady of heaven move and direct thee, as thou sayest, there is no need of flattery; suffice it fully to thee that for her sake thou askest me. Go then, and see thou gird this one with a smooth rush, and that thou wash his face so that thou remove all sully from it, for it were not befitting to go with eye overcast by any cloud before the first minister that is of those of Paradise. This little island, round about at its base,
down there yonder where the wave heats it, bears rushes upon its soft ooze. No plant of other kind, that might put forth leaf or grow hard, can there have life, because it yields not to the shocks. Thereafter let not your return be this way; the Sun which now is rising will show you to take the mountain by easier ascent."

[1] The law that the redeemed cannot be touched by other than heavenly affections.

So he disappeared, and I rose up, without speaking, and drew me close to my Leader, and turned my eyes to him. He began, "Son,
follow my steps; let us turn back, for this plain slopes that way to its low limits."

The dawn was vanquishing the matin hour which fled before it, so that from afar I discerned the trembling of the sea. We set forth over the solitary plain like a man who turns unto the road which he has lost, and, till he come to it, seems to himself to go in vain. When we were where the dew contends with the sun, and,
through being in a place where there is shade, is little dissipated, my Master softly placed both his hands outspread upon the grass. Whereon I, who perceived his design, stretched toward him my tear-stained cheeks. Here he wholly uncovered that color of mine which hell had hidden on me.[1]

[1] Allegorically, when the soul has entered upon the way of purification Reason, with the dew of repentance, washes off the stain of sin, and girds the spirit with humility.

We came, then, to the desert shore that never saw navigate its waters one who afterwards had experience of return. Here he girt me, even as pleased the other. O marvel! that such as he plucked the humble plant, it instantly sprang up again there whence he tore it.[1]

[1] The goods of the spirit are not diminished by appropriation.


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Chicago: Dante Alighieri, "Canto I.," Divine Comedy, Purgatory, ed. Firth, John B. and trans. Norton, Charles Eliot, 1827-1908 in Divine Comedy, Purgatory (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1892), Original Sources, accessed July 1, 2022, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=P3EWCUAM8ZRXC7L.

MLA: Alighieri, Dante. "Canto I." Divine Comedy, Purgatory, edited by Firth, John B., and translated by Norton, Charles Eliot, 1827-1908, in Divine Comedy, Purgatory, Vol. 2, Boston, Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1892, Original Sources. 1 Jul. 2022. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=P3EWCUAM8ZRXC7L.

Harvard: Alighieri, D, 'Canto I.' in Divine Comedy, Purgatory, ed. and trans. . cited in 1892, Divine Comedy, Purgatory, Houghton, Mifflin and Company, Boston. Original Sources, retrieved 1 July 2022, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=P3EWCUAM8ZRXC7L.