Now we had left the angel, who had turn'd
To the sixth circle our ascending step,
One gash from off my forehead raz'd: while they,
Whose wishes tend to justice, shouted forth:
"Blessed!" and ended with, "I thirst:" and I,
More nimble than along the other straits,
So journey'd, that, without the sense of toil,
I follow'd upward the swift-footed shades;
When Virgil thus began: "Let its pure flame
From virtue flow, and love can never fail
To warm another's bosom' so the light
Shine manifestly forth. Hence from that hour,
When 'mongst us in the purlieus of the deep,
Came down the spirit of Aquinum's hard,
Who told of thine affection, my good will
Hath been for thee of quality as strong
As ever link'd itself to one not seen.
Therefore these stairs will now seem short to me.
But tell me: and if too secure I loose
The rein with a friend's license, as a friend
Forgive me, and speak now as with a friend:
How chanc'd it covetous desire could find
Place in that bosom, 'midst such ample store
Of wisdom, as thy zeal had treasur'd there?"
First somewhat mov'd to laughter by his words,
Statius replied: "Each syllable of thine
Is a dear pledge of love. Things oft appear
That minister false matters to our doubts,
When their true causes are remov'd from sight.
Thy question doth assure me, thou believ'st
I was on earth a covetous man, perhaps
Because thou found'st me in that circle plac'd.
Know then I was too wide of avarice:
And e'en for that excess, thousands of moons
Have wax'd and wan'd upon my sufferings.
And were it not that I with heedful care
Noted where thou exclaim'st as if in ire
With human nature, 'Why, thou cursed thirst
Of gold! dost not with juster measure guide
The appetite of mortals?' I had met
The fierce encounter of the voluble rock.
Then was I ware that with too ample wing
The hands may haste to lavishment, and turn'd,
As from my other evil, so from this
In penitence. How many from their grave
Shall with shorn locks arise, who living, aye
And at life's last extreme, of this offence,
Through ignorance, did not repent. And know,
The fault which lies direct from any sin
In level opposition, here With that
Wastes its green rankness on one common heap.
Therefore if I have been with those, who wail
Their avarice, to cleanse me, through reverse
Of their transgression, such hath been my lot."
To whom the sovran of the pastoral song:
"While thou didst sing that cruel warfare wag'd
By the twin sorrow of Jocasta's womb,
From thy discourse with Clio there, it seems
As faith had not been shine: without the which
Good deeds suffice not. And if so, what sun
Rose on thee, or what candle pierc'd the dark
That thou didst after see to hoist the sail,
And follow, where the fisherman had led?"
He answering thus: "By thee conducted first,
I enter'd the Parnassian grots, and quaff'd
Of the clear spring; illumin'd first by thee
Open'd mine eyes to God. Thou didst, as one,
Who, journeying through the darkness, hears a light
Behind, that profits not himself, but makes
His followers wise, when thou exclaimedst, 'Lo!
A renovated world! Justice return'd!
Times of primeval innocence restor'd!
And a new race descended from above!'
Poet and Christian both to thee I owed.
That thou mayst mark more clearly what I trace,
My hand shall stretch forth to inform the lines
With livelier colouring. Soon o'er all the world,
By messengers from heav'n, the true belief
Teem'd now prolific, and that word of thine
Accordant, to the new instructors chim'd.
Induc'd by which agreement, I was wont
Resort to them; and soon their sanctity
So won upon me, that, Domitian's rage
Pursuing them, I mix'd my tears with theirs,
And, while on earth I stay'd, still succour'd them;
And their most righteous customs made me scorn
All sects besides. Before I led the Greeks
In tuneful fiction, to the streams of Thebes,
I was baptiz'd; but secretly, through fear,
Remain'd a Christian, and conform'd long time
To Pagan rites. Five centuries and more,
T for that lukewarmness was fain to pace
Round the fourth circle. Thou then, who hast rais'd
The covering, which did hide such blessing from me,
Whilst much of this ascent is yet to climb,
Say, if thou know, where our old Terence bides,
Caecilius, Plautus, Varro: if condemn'd
They dwell, and in what province of the deep."
"These," said my guide, "with Persius and myself,
And others many more, are with that Greek,
Of mortals, the most cherish'd by the Nine,
In the first ward of darkness. There ofttimes
We of that mount hold converse, on whose top
For aye our nurses live. We have the bard
Of Pella, and the Teian, Agatho,
Simonides, and many a Grecian else
Ingarlanded with laurel. Of thy train
Antigone is there, Deiphile,
Argia, and as sorrowful as erst
Ismene, and who show'd Langia's wave:
Deidamia with her sisters there,
And blind Tiresias' daughter, and the bride
Sea-born of Peleus." Either poet now
Was silent, and no longer by th' ascent
Or the steep walls obstructed, round them cast
Inquiring eyes. Four handmaids of the day
Had finish'd now their office, and the fifth
Was at the chariot-beam, directing still
Its balmy point aloof, when thus my guide:
"Methinks, it well behooves us to the brink
Bend the right shoulder' circuiting the mount,
As we have ever us'd." So custom there
Was usher to the road, the which we chose
Less doubtful, as that worthy shade complied.
They on before me went; I sole pursued,
List'ning their speech, that to my thoughts convey'd
Mysterious lessons of sweet poesy.
But soon they ceas'd; for midway of the road
A tree we found, with goodly fruitage hung,
And pleasant to the smell: and as a fir
Upward from bough to bough less ample spreads,
So downward this less ample spread, that none.
Methinks, aloft may climb. Upon the side,
That clos'd our path, a liquid crystal fell
From the steep rock, and through the sprays above
Stream'd showering. With associate step the bards
Drew near the plant; and from amidst the leaves
A voice was heard: "Ye shall be chary of me;"
And after added: "Mary took more thought
For joy and honour of the nuptial feast,
Than for herself who answers now for you.
The women of old Rome were satisfied
With water for their beverage. Daniel fed
On pulse, and wisdom gain'd. The primal age
Was beautiful as gold; and hunger then
Made acorns tasteful, thirst each rivulet
Run nectar. Honey and locusts were the food,
Whereon the Baptist in the wilderness
Fed, and that eminence of glory reach'd
And greatness, which the' Evangelist records."