Purgatory - Dante Alighieri - ebook

Purgatory ebook

Dante Alighieri



In Roman Catholic theology, Purgatory is an intermediate state after physical death in which some of those ultimately destined for heaven must first "undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven," holding that "certain offenses can be forgiven in this age, but certain others in the age to come." And that entrance into Heaven requires the "remission before God of the temporal punishment due to [venial] sins whose guilt has already been forgiven," for which indulgences may be given which remove "either part or all of the temporal punishment due to sin," such as an "unhealthy attachment" to sin. Only those who die in the state of grace but have not yet fulfilled the temporal punishment due to their sin can be in Purgatory, and therefore no one in Purgatory will remain forever in that state nor go to hell. The notion of Purgatory is associated particularly with the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church (in the Eastern sui juris churches or rites it is a doctrine, though it is not often called "Purgatory", but the "final purification" or the "final theosis"); Anglicans of the Anglo-Catholic tradition generally also hold to the belief. Eastern Orthodox Churches believe in the possibility of a change of situation for the souls of the dead through the prayers of the living and the offering of the Divine Liturgy, and many Orthodox, especially among ascetics, hope and pray for a general apocatastasis. Judaism also believes in the possibility of after-death purification and may even use the word "Purgatory" to present its understanding of the meaning of Gehenna. However, the concept of soul "purification" may be explicitly denied in these other faith traditions. The word Purgatory has come to refer also to a wide range of historical and modern conceptions of postmortem suffering short of everlasting damnation, and is used, in a non-specific sense, to mean any place or condition of suffering or torment, especially one that is temporary.

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Copyright © 2017 by Dante Alighieri.

All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations em- bodied in critical articles or reviews.

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organiza- tions, places, events and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

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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.


Sunrise.—The Poets on the shore.—Coming of a boat, guided by an angel, bearing souls to Purgatory.—Their landing.—Casella and his song.—Cato hurries the souls to the mountain.

Now had the sun reached the horizon whose meridian circle covers Jerusalem with its highest point; and the night which circles opposite to it was issuing forth from Ganges with the Scales that fall from her hand when she exceeds;[1] so that where I was the white and red cheeks of the beautiful Aurora by too much age were becoming orange.

[1] Purgatory and Jerusalem are antipodal, and in one direction the Ganges or India was arbitrarily assumed to be their common horizon. The night is here taken as the point of the Heavens opposite the sun, and the sun being in Aries, the night is in Libra. When night exceeds, that is, at the autumnal equinox, when the night becomes longer than the day, the Scales may be said to drop from her hand, since the sun enters Libra.

We were still alongside the sea, like folk who are thinking of their road, who go in heart and linger in body; and lo! as, at approach of the morning, through the dense vapors Mars glows ruddy, down in the west above the ocean floor, such appeared to me,—so may I again behold it!—a light along the sea coming so swiftly that no flight equals its motion. From which when I had a little withdrawn my eye to ask my Leader, again I saw it, brighter become and larger. Then on each side of it appeared to me a something, I know not what, white, and beneath, little by little, another came forth from it. My Master still said not a word, until the first white things showed themselves wings; then, When he clearly recognized the pilot, he cried out, "Mind, mind, thou bend thy knees. Lo! the Angel of God: fold thy hands; henceforth shalt thou see such officials. See how he scorns human means, so that he wills not oar, or other sail than his own wings between such distant shores. See, how he holds them straight toward heaven, stroking the air with his eternal feathers that are not changed like mortal hair."

Then, as nearer and nearer toward us came the Bird Divine, the brighter he appeared; so that near by my eye endured him not, but I bent it down: and he came on to the shore with a small vessel, very swift and light so that the water swallowed naught of it. At the stern stood the Celestial Pilot, such that if but described he would make blessed; and more than a hundred spirits sat within. "In exitu Israel de Egypto"[1] they all were singing together with one voice, with whatso of that psalm is after written. Then he made the sign of holy cross upon them; whereon they all threw themselves upon the strand; and he went away swift as he had come.

1 "When Israel went out of Egypt." Psalm cxiv.

The crowd which remained there seemed strange to the place, gazing round about like him who of new things makes essay. On all sides the Sun, who had with his bright arrows chased from midheaven the Capricorn,[1] was shooting forth the day, when the new people raised their brow toward us, saying to us, "If ye know, show us the way to go unto the mountain." And Virgil answered, "Ye believe, perchance, that we are acquainted with this place, but we are pilgrims even as ye are. Just now we came, a little before you, by another way, which was so rough and difficult that the ascent henceforth will seem play to us.

[1] When Aries, in which the Sun was rising, is on the horizon, Capricorn is at the zenith.

The souls who had become aware concerning me by my breathing, that I was still alive, marvelling became deadly pale. And as to a messenger who bears an olive branch the folk press to hear news, and no one shows himself shy of crowding, so, at the sight of me, those fortunate souls stopped still, all of them, as if forgetting to go to make themselves fair.

I saw one of them drawing forward to embrace me with so great affection that it moved me to do the like. O shades empty save in aspect! Three times behind it I clasped my hands and as oft returned with them unto my breast. With marvel, I believe, I painted me; wherefore the shade smiled and drew back, and I, following it, pressed forward, Gently it said, that I should pause; then I knew who it was, and I prayed it that to speak with me it would stop a little. It replied to me, "So as I loved thee in the mortal body, so loosed from it I love thee; therefore I stop; but wherefore goest thou?"

"Casella mine, in order to return another time to this place where I am, do I make this journey," said I, "but from thee how has so much time been taken?"[1]

[1] "How has thy coming hither been delayed so long since thy death?"

And he to me, "No wrong has been done me if he[1] who takes both when and whom it pleases him ofttimes hath denied to me this passage; for of a just will[2] his own is made. Truly for three months he has taken with all peace whoso has wished to enter. Wherefore I who was now turned to the seashore where the water of Tiber grows salt was benignantly received by him.[3] To that outlet has he now turned his wing, because always those assemble there who towards Acheron do not descend."

[1] The Celestial Pilot.

[2] That is, of the Divine Will; but there is no explanation of the motive of the delay.

[3] The Tiber is the local symbol of the Church of Rome, from whose bosom those who die at peace with her pass to Purgatory. The Jubilee, proclaimed by Boniface VIII., had begun at Christmas, 1299, so that for three months now the Celestial Pilot had received graciously all who had taken advantage of it to gain remission of their sins.

And I, "If a new law take not from thee memory or practice of the song of love which was wont to quiet in me all my longings, may it please thee therewith somewhat to comfort my soul, which coming hither with its body is so wearied."

"Love which in my mind discourseth with me,"[1] began he then so sweetly that the sweetness still within me sounds.[2] My Master, and I, and that folk who were with him, appeared so content as if naught else could touch the mind of any.

[1] The first verse of a canzone by Dante; the canzone is the second of those upon which he comments in his Convito.

[2] Every English reader recalls Milton's Sonnet to Mr. HenryLawes:—"Dante shall give Fame leave to set thee higher  Than his Casella, whom he woo'd to sing,   Met in the milder shades of purgatory."

Nothing is known of Casella beyond what is implied in Dante's affectionate record of their meeting.

We were all fixed and attentive to his notes; and lo! the venerable old man crying, "What is this, ye laggard spirits? What negligence, what stay is this? Run to the mountain to strip off the slough that lets not God be manifest to you."

As, when gathering grain or tare, the doves assembled at their feeding, quiet, without display of their accustomed pride, if aught appear of which they are afraid, suddenly let the food alone, because they are assailed by a greater care, so I saw that fresh troop leave the song, and go towards the hill-side, like one that goes but knows not where he may come out. Nor was our departure less speedy.


Ante-Purgatory.—Souls of those who have died in contumacy of the Church.— Manfred.

Inasmuch as the sudden flight had scattered them over the plain, turned to the mount whereto reason spurs us, I drew me close to my trusty companion. And how should I without him have run? Who would have drawn me up over the mountain? He seemed to me of his own self remorseful. O conscience, upright and stainless, how bitter a sting to thee is little fault!

When his feet left the haste that takes the seemliness from every act, my mind, which at first had been restrained, let loose its attention, as though eager, and I turned my face unto the hill that towards the heaven rises highest from the sea. The sun, which behind was flaming ruddy, was broken in front of me by the figure that the staying of its rays upon me formed. When I saw the ground darkened only in front of me, I turned me to my side with fear of being abandoned: and my Comfort, wholly turning to me, began to say, "Why dost thou still distrust? Dost thou not believe me with thee, and that I guide thee? It is now evening there where the body is buried within which I cast a shadow; Naples holds it, and from Brundusium it is taken; if now in front of me there is no shadow, marvel not more than at the heavens of which one hinders not the other's radiance. To suffer torments, both hot and cold, bodies like this the Power ordains, which wills not that how it acts be revealed to us. Mad is he who hopes that our reason can traverse the infinite way which One Substance in Three Persons holds. Be content, human race, with the quia;[1]; for if ye had been able to see everything, need had not been for Mary to hear child: and ye have seen desiring fruitlessly men such [2] that their desire would have been quieted, which is given them eternally for a grief. I speak of Aristotle and of Plato, and of many others;" and here he bowed his front, and said no more, and remained disturbed.

[1] Quic is used here, as often in mediaeval Latin, for quod. The meaning is, Be content to know that the thing is, seek not to know WHY or HOW—propter quid—it is as it is.

[2] If human knowledge sufficed.

We had come, meanwhile, to the foot of the mountain; here we found the rock so steep, that there the legs would be agile in vain. Between Lerici and Turbia[1] the most deserted, the most secluded way is a stair easy and open, compared with that. "Now who knows on which hand the hillside slopes," said my Master, staying his step, "so that he can ascend who goeth without wings?"

[1] Lerici on the Gulf of Spezzia, and Turbia, just above Monaco, are at the two ends of the Riviera; between them the mountains rise steeply from the shore, along which in Dante's time there was no road.

And while he was holding his face low, questioning his mind about the road, and I was looking up around the rock, on the left hand appeared to me a company of souls who were moving their feet towards us, and seemed not, so slowly were they coming. "Lift," said I to the Master, "thine eyes, lo! on this side who will give us counsel, if thou from thyself canst not have it." He looked at them, and with air of relief, answered, "Let us go thither, for they come slowly, and do thou confirm thy hope, sweet son.

That people was still as far, I mean after a thousand steps of ours, as a good thrower would cast with his hand, when they all pressed up to the hard masses of the high bank, and stood still and close, as one who goes in doubt stops to look.[1] "O ye who have made good ends, O spirits already elect," Virgil began, "by that peace which I believe is awaited by you all, tell us, where the mountain lies so that the going up is possible; for to lose time is most displeasing to him who knows most."

[1] They stopped, surprised, at seeing Virgil and Dante advancing to the left, against the rule in Purgatory, where the course is always to the right, symbolizing progress in good. In Hell the contrary rule holds.

As the sheep come forth from the fold by ones, and twos, and threes, and the others stand timid, holding eye and muzzle to the ground; and what the first does the others also do, huddling themselves to her if she stop, silly and quiet, and wherefore know not; so I saw then moving to approach, the head of that fortunate flock, modest in face and dignified in gait.

When those in front saw the light broken on the ground at my right side, so that the shadow fell from me on the cliff, they stopped, and drew somewhat back; and all the rest who were coming behind, not knowing why, did just the same. "Without your asking, I confess to you that this is a human body which you see, whereby the light of the sun on the ground is cleft. Marvel not thereat, but believe that not without power that comes from heaven he seeks to surmount this wall." Thus the Master:and that worthy people said, "Turn, enter in advance, then;" with the backs of their hands making sign. And one of them began, "Whoever thou art, turn thy face as thou thus goest; consider if in the world thou didst ever see me?" I turned me toward him, and looked at him fixedly: blond he was, and beautiful, and of gentle aspect, but a blow had divided one of his eyebrows.

When I had humbly disclaimed having ever seen him, he said, "Now look!" and he showed me a wound at the top of his breast. Then he said, smiling, "I am Manfred,[1] grandson of the Empress Constance; wherefore I pray thee, that when thou returnest, thou go to my beautiful daughter,[2] mother of the honor of Sicily and of Aragon, and tell to her the truth if aught else be told. After I had my body broken by two mortal stabs, I rendered myself, weeping, to Him who pardons willingly. Horrible were my sins, but the Infinite Goodness has such wide arms that it takes whatever turns to it. If the Pastor of Cosenza,[3] who was set on the hunt of me by Clement, had then rightly read this page in God, the bones of my body would still be at the head of the bridge near Benevento, under the guard of the heavy cairn. Now the rain bathes them, and the wind moves them forth from the kingdom, almost along the Verde, whither he transferred them with extinguished light.[4] By their [5] malediction the Eternal Love is not so lost that it cannot return, while hope hath speck of green. True is it, that whoso dies in contumacy of Holy Church, though he repent him at the end, needs must stay outside[6] upon this bank thirtyfold the whole time that he has been in his presumption,[7] if such decree become not shorter through good prayers. See now if thou canst make me glad, revealing to my good Constance how thou hast seen me, and also this prohibition,[8] for here through those on earth much is gained."

[1] The natural son of the Emperor Frederick II. He was born in 1231; in 1258 he was crowned King of Sicily. In 1263 Charles of Anjou was called by Pope Urban IV. to contend against him, and in 1266 Manfred was killed at the battle of Benevento.

[2] Constance, the daughter of Manfred, was married to Peter of Aragon. She had three sons, Alphonso, James, and Frederick. Alphonso succeeded his father in Aragon, and James in Sicily, but after the death of Alphonso James became King of Aragon. and Frederick King of Sicily. Manfred naturally speaks favorably of them, but Dante himself thought ill of James and Frederick. See Canto VII., towards the end.

[3] The Archbishop of Cosenza, at command of the Pope, Clement IV., took the body of Manfred from his grave near Benevento, and threw it unburied, as the body of one excommunicated, on the bank of the Verde.

[4] Not with candles burning as in proper funeral rites.

[5] That is, of Pope or Bishop.

[6] Outside the gate of Purgatory.

[7] This seems to be a doctrine peculiar to Dante. The value of the prayers of the good on earth in shortening the period of suffering of the souls in Purgatory is more than once referred to by him, as well as the virtue of the intercession of the souls in Purgatory for the benefit of the living. [8] The prohibition of entering within Purgatory.


Ante-Purgatory.—Ascent to a shelf of the mountain.—The negligent, who postponed repentance to the last hour.—Belacqua.

When through delights, or through pains which some power of ours may experience, the soul is all concentrated thereon, it seems that to no other faculty it may attend; and this is counter to the error which believes that one soul above another is kindled in us.[1] And therefore, when a thing is heard or seen, which may hold the soul intently turned to it, the time passes, and the man observes it not: for one faculty is that which listens, and another is that which keeps the soul entire; the latter is as it were bound, and the former is loosed.

[1] Were it true that, as according to the Platonists, there were more than one soul in man, he might give attention to two things at once. But when one faculty is free and called into activity, the rest of the soul is as it were bound in inaction.

Of this had I true experience, hearing that spirit and wondering; for full fifty degrees had the sun ascended,[1] and I had not noticed it, when we came where those souls all together cried out to us, "Here is what you ask."

[1] It was now about nine o'clock A. M.

A larger opening the man of the farm often hedges up with a forkful of his thorns, when the grape grows dark, than was the passage through which my Leader and I behind ascended alone, when the troop departed from us. One goes to Sanleo, and descends to Noli, one mounts up Bismantova[1] to its peak, with only the feet; but here it behoves that one fly, I mean with the swift wings and with the feathers of great desire, behind that guide who gave me hope and made a light for me. We ascended in through the broken rock, and on each side the border pressed on us, and the ground beneath required both feet and hands.

[1] These all are places difficult of access.

When we were upon the upper edge of the high bank on the open slope, "My Master," said I, "what way shall we take?" And he to me, "Let no step of thine fall back, always win up the mountain behind me, till some sage guide appear for us."