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Canto V
Dante Alighieri

Charles Eliot Norton prose translation

English translations in notes windowDante's original Italian
C.E. Norton prose translationIn NOTES frame
H.F. Cary poetic translationIn DEFINTIONS frame
H.W. Longfellow poetic translationIn AUXILARY window
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CANTO V. Ante-Purgatory.--Spirits who had delayed repentance, and met with death by violence, but died repentant.--Jacopo del Cassero.--Buonconte da Montefeltro--Via de' Tolomei.

     I had now parted from those shades, and was following the footsteps of my Leader, when behind me, pointing his finger, one cried out, "Look, the ray seems not to shine on the left hand of that lower one, and as if alive he seems to hear himself." I turned my eyes at the sound of these words, and I saw them watching, for marvel, only me, only me, and the light which was broken.

     "Why is thy mind so hampered," said the Master, "that thou slackenest thy going? What matters to thee that which here is whispered? Come after me, and let the people talk. Stand as a tower firm, that never wags its top for blowing of the winds; for always the man in whom thought on thought wells up removes from himself his aim, for the force of one weakens the other." What could I answer, save "I come"? I said it, overspread somewhat with the color, which, at times, makes a man worthy of pardon.

     And meanwhile across upon the mountain side, a little in front of us, were coming people, singing "Miserere," verse by verse. When they observed that I gave not place for passage of the rays through my body, they changed their song into a long and hoarse "Oh!" and two of them, in form of messengers, ran to meet us, and asked of us, "Of your condition make us cognizant." And my Master, "Ye can go back, and report to them who sent you, that the body of this one is true flesh. If, as I suppose, they stopped because of seeing his shadow, enough is answered them; let them do him honor and he may he dear to them."

     Never did I see enkindled vapors at early night so swiftly cleave the clear sky, nor at set of sun the clouds of August, that these did not return up in less time; and, arrived there, they, with the others, gave a turn toward us, like a troop that runs without curb. "These folk that press to us are many, and they come to pray thee," said the Poet; "wherefore still go on, and in going listen." "O soul," they came crying, "that goest to be happy with those limbs with which thou wast born, a little stay thy step; look if thou hast ever seen any one of us, so that thou mayest carry news of him to earth. Ah, why dost thou go on? Ah, why dost thou not stop? We were of old all done to death by violence, and sinners up to the last hour; then light from Heaven made us mindful, so that both penitent and pardoning we issued forth from life, at peace with God, who fills our hearts with the desire to see him." And I, "Although I gaze upon your faces, not one I recognize; but if aught that I can do be pleasing to you, spirits wellborn,[1] speak ye, and I will do it by that peace which makes me, following the feet of such a guide, seek for itself from world to world." And one began, "Each of us trusts in thy good turn without thy swearing it, provided want of power cut not off the will; wherefore I, who alone before the others speak, pray thee, if ever thou see that land that sits between Romagna and the land of Charles,[2] that thou be courteous to me with thy prayers in Fano, so that for me good orisons be made, whereby I may purge away my grave offences. Thence was I; but the deep wounds, wherefrom issued the blood in which I had my seat,[3] were given me in the bosom of the Endoneuria,[4] there where I thought to be most secure; he of Este had it done, who held me in wrath far beyond what justice willed. But if I had fled toward Mira,[5] when I was overtaken at Oriaco, I should still be yonder where men breathe. I ran to the marsh, and the reeds and the mire hampered me so that I fell, and there I saw a lake made by my veins upon the ground."

[1] Elect from birth to the joys of Paradise, in contrast with the ill-born, the miscreants of Hell.

[2] The March of Ancona, between the Romagna and the kingdom of Naples, then held by Charles II. of Anjou. It is Jacopo del Cassero who speaks. He was a noted and valiant member of the leading Guelph family in Fano. On his way to take the place of Podesta of Milan, in 1298, he was assassinated by the minions of Azzo VIII. of Este, whom he had offended.

[3] The life of all flesh is the blood thereof." Levit., xvii. 14. Or, according to the Vulgate, "Anima carnis in sanguine est."

[4] That is to say, in the territory of the Paduans, whose city was reputed to have been founded by Antenor.

[5] Mira is a little settlement on the bank of one of the canals of the Brenta. Why flight thither would have been safe is mere matter of conjecture.

     Then said another, "Ah! so may that desire be fulfilled which draws thee to the high mountain, with good piety help thou mine. I was of Montefeltro, and am Buonconte.[1] Joan or any other has no care for me, wherefore I go among these with downcast front." And I to him, "What violence, or what chance so carried thee astray from Campaldino,[2] that thy burial place was never known?" "Oh!" replied he, "at foot of the Casentino crosses a stream, named the Archiano, which rises in the Apennine above the Hermitage.[3] Where its proper name becomes vain[4] I arrived, pierced in the throat, flying on foot, and bloodying the plain. Here I lost my sight, and I ended my speech with the name of Mary, and here I fell, and my flesh remained alone. I will tell the truth, and do thou repeat it among the living. The Angel of God took me, and he of Hell cried out, "O thou from Heaven, why dost thou rob me?[5] Thou bearest away for thyself the eternal part of him for one little tear which takes him from me; but of the rest I will make other disposal." Thou knowest well how in the air is condensed that moist vapor which turns to water soon as it rises where the cold seizes it. He joined that evil will, which seeketh only evil, with intelligence, and moved the mist and the wind by the power that his own nature gave. Then when the day was spent he covered the valley with cloud, from Pratomagno to the great chain, and made the frost above so intense that the pregnant air was turned to water. The rain fell, and to the gullies came of it what the earth did not endure, and as it gathered in great streams it rushed so swiftly towards the royal river that nothing held it back. The robust Archiano found my frozen body near its outlet, and pushed it into the Arno, and loosed on my breast the cross which I made of myself when the pain overcame me. It rolled me along its banks, and along its bottom, then with its spoil it covered and girt me."

[1] Son of Count Guido da Montefeltro, the treacherous counsellor who had told his story to Dante in Hell, Canto XXVII. Joan was his wife.

[2] The battle of Campaldino, in which Dante himself, perhaps, took part, was fought on the 11th of June, 1289, between the Florentine Guelphs and the Ghibellines of Arezzo. Buonconte was the captain of the Aretines. Campaldino is a little plain in the upper valley of the Arno.

[3] The convent of the Calmaldoli, founded by St. Romualdo of Ravenna, in 1012.

[4] Being lost at its junction with the Arno.

[5] St. Francis and one of the black Cherubim had had a similar contention, as will be remembered, over the soul of Buonconte's father.

     "Ah! when thou shalt have returned unto the world, and rested from the long journey," the third spirit followed on the second, "be mindful of me, who am Pia.[1] Siena made me, Maremma unmade me; he knows it who with his gem ringed me, betrothed before."

[1] This sad Pia is supposed to have belonged to the Sienese family of the Tolomei, and to have been the wife of Nello or Paganello de' Pannocchieschi, who was reported to have had her put to death in his stronghold of Pietra in the Tuscan Maremma. Her fate seems the more pitiable that she does not pray Dante to seek for her the prayers of any living person. The last words of Pia are obscure, and are interpreted variously. Possibly the "betrothed before" hints at a source of jealousy as the motive of her murder.

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