- Dante began the story of his travels through Purgatory by invoking the muses. At this point, he was glad to be out of Hell & the darkness. The sky seemed brighter & clearer than before. This sky was one you’d see in the Southern Hemisphere, totally different starts, constellations & points of reference.
- Dante looked to the North & spotted an old man, with a beard & 4 Holy Stars shining around his face. He asked Dante for his particular details, like who his guide through Hell was & how they’ve managed to get out.
- Virgil motioned that he would answer & that Dante should kneel to pay his respects to the man. Virgil explained that Heaven wanted him to go to Hell by way of a lady’s prayer to help his new underling. Dante was still alive but was going on a path to nowhere. So he’d been sent to rescue him by showing him Hell & its inhabitants. Now he was here to show him Purgatory. He asked for admission. Then he mentioned then man’s wife, Marcia, was in the Circle of Hell & bits of his life Utica, such as him dying for freedom. All of this was to try to butter him up.
- The man was Cato of Utica. He spoke of his feelings towards Marcia. Now that they were both dead & she was in Limbo, she did not move him anymore. But since Virgil mentioned that a heavenly lady asked for help, he would help.
- He told Virgil to wrap around Dante’s waist & wash Dante’s face. He couldn’t get into Heaven clouded eyes. The island was covered with reeds. They were to continue moving forward & not back.
- As the sun was just rising, it would show them how to climb the mountain more easily. Then Cato disappeared.
- Dante got up. Virgil told him to follow carefully in his footsteps as they crossed the plain. Dante felt himself leaving the wrong path & going to the right one. Virgil grasped a reed & took the dew from it to wash the tears away from Dante’s face. Dante would not enter with tears from Hell.
- When they got to the shore, Dante saw that it had never seen another living soul there. Virgil tied another read around Virgil’s waist. As soon as he’d plucked, another one sprouted up in its place.
Notes According to Dorothy Sayers
- Cato of Utica – was for the Romans, and also for the men of the Middle Ages, the accepted type of the (natural) moral virtues. For the purposes of the story, he is chosen to guard the approach to Mount Purgatory; since the ascent of the Mountain is a moral progress in which the natural virtues are purified & strengthened by Grace. Dante thus emphasizes allegorically the Catholic assertion that Grace does not oust or destroy Nature, but redeems & perfects it. The passage about Marcia makes it, however, clear that when natural morality is taken up into the Christian life, it cannot retain its former attachments, but must spring from a new root & be wholly reorientated.
- When this has been said, there remain some puzzling factors about Dante’s treatment of this figure. Cato has been taken out of Limbo, detached from his former associations & affections, & set, until the end of time, on what may be called “Christian territory”. Yet there is no suggestion that he will ever himself climb the Mountain which he guards; nor, although we are assured that Cato’s resurrection body will be a glorious, is it ever specifically stated that he will eventually enter Heaven like the redeemed pagans Trajan & Rhipeus. It may be, as J.S. Carroll suggests, that in the Last Day he will return to become the brightest & most authoritative inhabitant of the Elysian Fields in Limbo, “giving the laws there to the good in the hidden place”, as Virgil wrote of him. Certainly, Cato does not bear about with him the atmosphere of Grace: when we compare him with the souls actually redeemed in Purgatory, & still more with the angel-guardians of the Cornices, we see that he lacks the intensity, the exuberance, & the courtesy which are the marks of those in Grace; he is, in a word, ungracious. He is a moral imperative, founded in duty rather than in love: a preparation for penitence, but not penitence itself; as such a very recognizable figure, & acceptable enough if we concentrate on his allegorical function rather than on his personal destiny as a character in the story.
- The Four Stars – These typify the Cardinal Virtues (Justice, Prudence, Temperance & Fortitude) belonging to natural morality, & so common to good pagan & Christian alike. These virtues are called “cardinal” (from cardo, a hinge) because all natural morality hangs & turns upon them.
- The Dew – Before ascending the Mountain, Dante’s face must be cleansed from the tears he shed in Hell. The penitent’s first duty is cheerfulness: having recognized his sin he must put it out of his mind & not wallow in self-pity & self-reproach, which are forms of egotism.
- The Reed – The reader will remember that Dante’s original rope-girdle was thrown over the Great Barrier between Upper & Nether Hell, to call up the monster Fraud (Hell, 16). He is now given a new one, made of the pliant reed which symbolizes Humility, as a safeguard against Pride, which is the head & source of all the Capital Sins.
- Now the sun had actually reached the horizon in Jerusalem cause the sky to have a rose tint to it. The pair were still standing at the shore, unsure of how they’d carry on.
- Dante looked out & saw a light coming across the water, getting closer & brighter. Virgil kept quiet until it became clear that the light coming towards them was a pair of wings.
- Virgil told him to fold his hands & bow to his knees. This was an angel & there’d be more of them along the way. The angel didn’t need oars or a sail, or anything earthly – his wings did all the work.
- As the Angel got closer, the Angel spoke reciting the opening line of a Psalm, “When Israel came out of Egypt…” There were hundreds of souls in the boat & the Angel made the sign of the cross over all of them. They disembarked & the Angel left.
- Those who were left on the shore were stunned about their new surroundings. The newly arrived turned to Dante & Virgil asking if they knew the way up the mountain.
- Virgil told them they’d only just arrived & were just as much in the dark as they were. But the route they’d just come by was so that the climb up would be a piece of cake.
- They looked at Dante & saw him breathing, showing he was alive. They were so surprised they’d forgotten about their new surroundings. One was so happy that he hugged Dante & Dante hugged him back (definitely a different vibe from Hell). Suddenly, Dante realized who the guy was – Casella, a very old friend & collaborator of Dante’s. Dante explained that he wasn’t exactly on the same path he was on. Casella told him he’d been waiting for the last 3 months to get on the boat that sails from the Tiber to the mountain island.
- Dante asked if there was no rule against, would he mind singing something? It was going to be a long journey & a song might make it easier. Casella obliged & made Dante, Virgil & anyone who heard it happy.
- Cato came out berating everyone for lying around singing songs. They had work to do before they could meet God. They stopped the celebration & rushed towards the mountain.
Notes According to Dorothy Sayers
- The Ship of Souls – The imagery of this canto hardly needs elucidation, but it is interesting to note the parallels & contrasts with the corresponding imagery in Hell. The souls of the damned assemble on the bank of the River Acheron, & are ferried to Hell by the Demon Charon: the souls of the save assemble at the mouth of the River Tiber, & are ferried by an Angelic Pilot across the whole width of the world to Purgatory. In each case, the ferryman selects his own boat-load. Charon plies an oar (which he uses, incidentally, to thump his passengers into submission): the Angel needs “no oar, no sail but his own wings”. The damned, wailing & blaspheming, embark one by one (fellowship is lost); the saved sing their hymn in unison & disembark all together (fellowship is recovered).
- As the other souls rushed to the mountain, Dante moved towards Virgil. He wondered why his first impulse was to go without his guide & master. How would he have gotten up the mountain without him?
- Dante looked at Virgil who seemed upset with himself for letting Dante get carried away. Dante felt powerless to help him forget about it. Dante looked at the massive mountain they would have to climb. He was aware that he was the only living being there by the bright sun rays casting a shadow behind him.
- Virgil asked him if he’d always mistrust him. He’d be with him the whole way. They were no capable of understanding the complexities of God & it would be crazy to pretend. Man should be content with what he saw. If people had been able to see the whole truth, there’d be no need for Mary to have Jesus, & the desire to know why would not end in eternal pain.
- They moved to the foot of the mountain. It looked like a wall, seemingly impossible to climb. Virgil stopped & wondered aloud how anyone without wings would be able to climb it.
- Dante looked up & spotted several souls moving slowly towards them from about 1000 paces away. Dante asked Virgil if they would know the way up. Virgil’s face lit up & they rushed towards them. When they were close enough, Virgil asked them where the path up the mountain began. The group moved forward. It became clear to them that Dante was alive from his shadow, so they backed up a bit.
- Virgil announced that Dante was indeed a living man, so they should not be afraid. It was Heaven’s will that Dante & Virgil were there. They asked him to turn around & go in front of them to lead them.
- One spoke up asking Dante if he recognized him. Dante confessed that he did not. The soul introduced himself as Manfred, Emperor Frederick II’s son, & grandson of Empress Constance. He asked Dante to tell his daughter, mother of the rulers of Sicily & Aragon, the truth of his whereabouts, instead of letting rumors fly.
- He had had 2 strokes that would eventually kill him. He spent his last moments crying out to God for mercy. His sins had been pretty bad but he trusted that God would forgive him.
- Before all this, he’d been excommunicated. But after his death, he was allowed to have a proper burial. The curse of the Church shouldn’t condemn a man forever. A soul who dies in contumacy (refusal to obey authority) in the scorn of the Church must remain in Purgatory 30 years for every year spent out of the good graces of the Church. If Dante & Virgil couldn’t speed up the process, he wanted Dante to relieve the mind of his daughter back in the living world
Notes According to Dorothy Sayers
- The Excommunicate – Those who have incurred excommunication, & have thus been cut off from the sacraments, guidance, & fellowship of the Church, are condemned to wander “as sheep that have no shepherd” thirty times as long as their contumacy lasted upon earth. Although they repented in their last hour (otherwise they would never have reached Purgatory) they left themselves no time for formal reconciliation, & no opportunity to make satisfaction; satisfaction must therefore be made here, & their punishment (like all other penal inflictions in the Comedy) is simply the sin itself: the old self-banishment & the old delay. But, unlike the impenitent in Hell, they endure their suffering in hope & patience.
No prayer is allotted to the Excommunicate – doubtless because of their severance from the Church.