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Purgatory by Dante;  Anthony Esolen;  Gustave Dore
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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.
Random House Publishing Group; Read online
Title: Purgatory
Author: Dante; Anthony Esolen; Gustave Dore
Per correr miglior acque alza le vele  

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,

Canto One

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.

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