Purgatorio (The Divine Comedy, Book 2)
Dante Alighieri, Robert Hollander, Jean Hollander
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Now I shall sing the second kingdom,
there where the soul of man is cleansed,
made worthy to ascend to heaven.
In the second book of Dante’s epic poem The Divine Comedy, Dante has left hell and begins the ascent of the mount of purgatory. Just as hell had its circles, purgatory, situated at the threshold of heaven, has its terraces, each representing one of the seven mortal sins. With Virgil again as his guide, Dante climbs the mountain; the poet shows us, on its slopes, those whose lives were variously governed by pride, envy, wrath, sloth, avarice, gluttony, and lust. As he witnesses the penance required on each successive terrace, Dante often feels the smart of his own sins. His reward will be a walk through the garden of Eden, perhaps the most remarkable invention in the history of literature.
Now Jean Hollander, an accomplished poet, and Robert Hollander, a renowned scholar and master teacher, whose joint translation of the Inferno was acclaimed as a new standard in English, bring their respective gifts to Purgatorio in an arresting and clear verse translation. Featuring the original Italian text opposite the translation, their edition offers an extensive and accessible introduction as well as generous historical and interpretive commentaries that draw on centuries of scholarship and Robert Hollander’s own decades of teaching and reasearch.
p. 589. Whatever the literal significance of these stars, their symbolic valence seems plain, and has so from the time of the earliest commentators: they represent the four moral (or cardinal) virtues: prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance. What is important to understand (and for a fine exposition of the point in one of the most helpful essays on Dante’s Cato ever written see Proto [Prot.1912.1]) is that these virtues were infused and not earned—which again points to Adam and Eve, the
gave birth, in the early commentators, to the repetition of a charming story. Dante, having found a book he had never seen before in Siena, read it just where he found it, in a street stall, so that he might fix it in his mind, and did so for more than three hours one afternoon. When someone later asked him whether he had been disturbed by the wedding festivities that had occurred during his reading, he expressed no awareness that any such things had occurred. This “incident” derives from
the Baptist: the Lord whom he serves will baptize “with the Holy Ghost and with fire.” Absent as far as one can tell from the commentary tradition, this citation was suggested by an undergraduate at Princeton (Joseph Taylor ’70) many years ago. The angel seems to be addressing “blessèd souls” whether in re (Statius) or in potentia (Dante); Virgil, of course, is excluded from blessedness. Trucchi (1936) observes that this angel seems to be working in collaboration with a second one (the voice
thing 54 54 should then have drawn you to desire it? ‘Indeed, at the very first arrow → of deceitful things, you should have risen up 57 57 and followed me who was no longer of them. ‘You should not have allowed your wings to droop, → leaving you to other darts from some young girl 60 60 or other novelty of such brief use. ‘The fledgling may allow even a third attempt, but all in vain is the net flung or arrow shot → 63 63 in sight of a
he apparently can see the ship, nearing shore 43–48 the angel stands at the stern, the seated “passengers” sing the entirety of the 113th Psalm 49–51 the angel signs them with the cross; they come ashore; he departs as swiftly as he had come II. Casella and his song 52–54 the crowd’s puzzled reaction to their new surroundings 55–60 as the sun rises, they ask for directions to the mount 61–66 Virgil: we are pilgrims, too, and came here a hard way 67–69 the souls