A new translation by Anthony Esolen
Illustrations by Gustave Doré
Written in the fourteenth century by Italian poet and philosopher Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy is arguably the greatest epic poem of all time—presenting Dante’s brilliant vision of the three realms of Christian afterlife: Inferno, Purgatory, and Paradise. In this second and perhaps most imaginative part of his masterwork, Dante struggles up the terraces of Mount Purgatory, still guided by Virgil, in a continuation of his difficult ascent to purity. Anthony Esolen’s acclaimed translation of Inferno, Princeton professor James Richardson said, “follows Dante through all his spectacular range, commanding where he is commanding, wrestling, as he does, with the density and darkness in language and in the soul. It is living writing.” This edition of Purgatory includes an appendix of key sources and extensive endnotes—an invaluable guide for both general readers and students.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
Author: Dante; Anthony Esolen; Gustave Dore
omai la navicella del mio ingegno,
che lascia dietro a sé mar sì crudele;
e canterò di quel secondo regno
dove l’umano spirito si purga
e di salire al ciel diventa degno.
Ma qui la morta poesì resurga,
o sante Muse, poi che vostro sono;
e qui Calïopè alquanto surga,
seguitando il mio canto con quel suono
di cui le Piche misere sentiro
lo colpo tal, che disperar perdono.
Dolce color d’orïental zaffiro,
che s’accoglieva nel sereno aspetto
del mezzo, puro infino al primo giro,
The poets emerge from Hell and find themselves at the base of a tall mountain, just before dawn on Easter Sunday. There they meet Cato of Utica, the guardian of Purgatory. Following Cato’s instructions, Virgil washes Dante’s face and girds him with the reed of humility.
My little ship of ingenuity
now hoists her sails to speed through better waters,
leaving behind so pitiless a sea,
And I will sing about that second realm
given the human soul to purge its sin
and grow worthy to climb to Paradise.
Here rise to life again, dead poetry!
Let it, O holy Muses, for I am yours,
and here, Calliope, strike a higher key,
Accompanying my song with that sweet air
which made the wretched Magpies feel a blow
that turned all hope of pardon to despair.
Sweet sapphire of the morning in the east,
gathering in the starlit face of Heaven,
pure from the zenith to the nearest ring,
better waters: Purgatory, rather than pitiless Hell.
Calliope: muse of epic poetry, also invoked by Virgil, Aeneid 9.520. She defeated the daughters of Pierus, king of Thessaly, in a singing match, and then, to punish their presumption, turned them into magpies (see Ovid, Metamorphoses 6.294–340, 662–78).
nearest ring: the horizon.
a li occhi miei ricominciò diletto,
tosto ch’io usci’ fuor de l’aura morta
che m’avea contristati li occhi e ’l petto.
Lo bel pianeto che d’amar conforta
faceva tutto rider l’orïente,
velando i Pesci ch’erano in sua scorta.
I’ mi volsi a man destra, e puosi mente
a l’altro polo, e vidi quattro stelle
non viste mai fuor ch’a la prima gente.
Goder pareva ’l ciel di lor fiammelle:
oh settentrïonal vedovo sito,
poi che privato se’ di mirar quelle!
Com’ io da loro sguardo fui partito,
un poco me volgendo a l’altro polo,
là onde ’l Carro già era sparito,
vidi presso di me un veglio solo,
degno di tanta reverenza in vista,
che più non dee a padre alcun figliuolo.
Lunga la barba e di pel bianco mista
portava, a’ suoi capelli simigliante,
de’ quai cadeva al petto doppia lista.
Li raggi de le quattro luci sante
fregiavan sì la sua faccia di lume,
ch’i’ ’l vedea come ’l sol fosse davante.
“Chi siete voi che contro al cieco fiume
fuggita avete la pregione etterna?”,
diss’ el, movendo quelle oneste piume.
“Chi v’ha guidati, o che vi fu lucerna,
uscendo fuor de la profonda notte
che sempre nera fa la valle inferna?
Son le leggi d’abisso così rotte?
o è mutato in ciel novo consiglio,
che, dannati, venite a le mie grotte?”.
Renewed my joy in looking on the skies
as soon as I had come from the dead air
which had saddened my heart and dimmed my eyes.
The radiant planet fostering love like rain
made all the orient heavens laugh with light,
veiling the starry Fishes in her train.
I turned to the right hand, and set my mind
to scan the southern pole, and saw four stars
no one has looked on since the first mankind.
The heavens seemed delighted in their flame!
O widowed region of the northern stars,
you who have been deprived the sight of them!
When of that vision I had taken leave
and turned a little toward the other pole,
where the Great Bear had disappeared below,
I saw beside me an old man, alone,
so reverend in his bearing and his look,
no father claims more honor from his son.
His beard was long and mingled with white strands,
similar to the color of his hair.
It lay upon his breast in double bands.
The rays of the four holy stars on high
adorned his face with such a brilliant gleam,
it seemed the sun shone full upon his eye.
“Who are you, who have come up the blind stream
to flee the prison of eternity?”
said he, shaking those venerable plumes.
“Who was your guide? What lamp has led your feet
escaping from the sea of that deep night
forever blackening the infernal pit?
Are the abyss’s laws so broken? Or
has Heaven changed and set a new decree—
that you, the damned, come to my rocky shore?”
°fostering love: Dante refers to the influence of Venus upon the earth; see notes.
°blind stream: the underground or “blind” stream falling from Purgatory down to Hell (cf. Inf. 34.130).
Lo duca mio allor mi diè di piglio,
e con parole e con mani e con cenni
reverenti mi fé le gambe e ’l ciglio.
Poscia rispuose lui: “Da me non venni:
donna scese del ciel, per li cui prieghi
de la mia compagnia costui sovvenni.
Ma da ch’è tuo voler che più si spieghi
di nostra condizion com’ ell’ è vera,
esser non puote il mio che a te si nieghi.
Questi non vide mai l’ultima sera;
ma per la sua follia le fu sì presso,
che molto poco tempo a volger era.
Sì com’ io dissi, fui mandato ad esso
per lui campare; e non lì era altra via
che questa per la quale i’ mi son messo.
Mostrata ho lui tutta la gente ria;
e ora intendo mostrar quelli spirti
che purgan sé sotto la tua balìa.
Com’ io l’ho tratto, saria lungo a dirti;
de l’alto scende virtù che m’aiuta
conducerlo a vederti e a udirti.
Or ti piaccia gradir la sua venuta:
libertà va cercando, ch’è sì cara,
come sa chi per lei vita rifuta.
Tu ’l sai, ché non ti fu per lei amara
in Utica la morte, ove lasciasti
la vesta ch’al gran dì sarà sì chiara.
Non son li editti etterni per noi guasti,
ché questi vive e Minòs me non lega;
ma son del cerchio ove son li occhi casti
My guide then took me firmly by the hand
and by his words and signs and touch he made
my knee and brow incline in reverence.
“I’ve not come on my own,” responded he.
“A Lady° came from Heaven, and by her prayers
I went to help him by my company.
But since it is your will that we should more
fully reveal the truth about our state,
my will cannot refuse. This man has not
Yet seen the final setting of his sun,
but by his folly he had drawn so near,
it left him very little time to turn.
Then, just as I have mentioned, I was sent
to rescue him, to free his soul: there was
no other way but that by which I went.
I’ve shown him all the people steeped in crime;
now I should like to show those souls that purge
their sins under your custody. A long time
I’d need, to tell you how I brought him through.
From on high comes the power that is my help,
leading him here at last to look on you
And hear your words. Favor his coming, then!
He seeks his freedom—and how dear that is,
he who refused his life for it knows well.
You know it—for you did not find it bitter
to die for liberty in Utica,
where you sloughed off the garment° that will shine
So bright on the great day. We do not break
the eternal laws, for he is still alive,
and I come from the ring, not bound by Minos,
A Lady: Beatrice (Inf. 2.70).
the garment: His flesh, to be resurrected on Judgment Day.
Minos: judge of the damned in Hell (Inf. 5.4). Virgil comes from Limbo, the circle of the virtuous unbaptized; he is not under Minos’s jurisdiction.
From the Hardcover edition.