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THE STORY OF THE DIVINE COMEDY.
As morning dawned and the poets slowly climbed out of the infernal region and stepped upon the isle from which the Mount of Purgatory rises, they were accosted by an old man with long white hair and beard, Cato of Utica, who demanded the reason of their coming, and only permitted them to remain when he heard that a lady from Heaven had given the command. Then he ordered Vergil to lave the smoke of Hell from Dante's face in the waves of the sea, and to gird him with the reed of humility. As the sun rose a radiant angel, guiding a boat laden with souls, appeared, and the poets fell on their knees until he departed.
As the newly-landed spirits questioned Vergil of the way up the mountain, Dante recognized among them his beloved friend Casella, the musician, and tried in vain to embrace his spirit body. At Dante's request, Casella began to sing, and the enchanted spirits were scattered only by the chiding voice of Cato.
Vergil surveyed the insurmountable height before them, and hastened with Dante to inquire the way of a troop of souls coming towards them. As they talked, Dante recognized one, blond and smiling, with a gash over one eyebrow and another over his heart. It was Manfredi, King of Apulia and Sicily, who was slain at Benevento by Charles of Anjou, and, being under excommunication, was not allowed Christian burial. He asked Dante to make him happy by telling his daughter that by faith he was saved from eternal destruction, but because of his sins he must spend thirty times the time that his presumption had endured at the foot of the mount, unless his time was shortened by the righteous prayers of his friends on earth.
It was with the greatest difficulty that the poets clambered up the steep and narrow path to the next terrace, and only the assurance that the ascent would grow easier as he neared the summit sustained Dante. As Vergil explained to him while resting on the next terrace that the sun appeared on his left because Purgatory and Jerusalemn were in different hemispheres, some one spoke, and turning they saw a group of persons in an attitude of indolence, among them a Florentine acquaintance, Belacqua, a maker of musical instruments, who sat waiting the length of another lifetime for admission above because he had postponed conversion from time to time, through negligence.
Proceeding, the poets met a concourse of souls who had suffered violent death, chanting the Miserere, who perceiving Dante to be living, sent messages to their friends on earth. Among these were Giacopo del Cassero and Buonconte di Montefeltro, son of Dante's friend, Guido di Montefeltro, who fell in the battle of Campaldino, in which Dante had taken part. Wounded in the neck, he fell, and had just time to breathe a prayer to Mary, thus saving his soul from the Evil One, who was so incensed that, raising a great storm, he caused the rivers to overflow and sweep away the lifeless body, tearing from it the cross he had made with his arms in his last agony, and burying it in the mire of the Arno. The third shade bade him think of her when, returned home, he sang of his journey. She was Pia, born at Sienna, who died at Maremma, by the hand of her husband.
Dante at last managed to escape from these shades, who implored him to ask for prayers for them on earth, and moved on with Vergil until they met the haughty shade of Sordello, who clasped Vergil in his arms when he learned he was a Mantuan. Touched by this expression of love for his native land, Dante launched into an apostrophe to degenerate Italy, to that German Albert who refused to save the country groaning under oppression, and to lost Florence, torn by internecine wars.
When Sordello learned that the Mantuan shade was Vergil, he humbled himself before him, and paid him reverence, asking eagerly in what part of the underworld he dwelt. The sun was sinking, and as the poets could not ascend by night, he urged them to pass the night with him. Leading them to a vale carpeted with emerald grass and brilliant with flowers, he pointed out the shades singing “Salve Regina" as the Emperor Rudolph, — he who made an effort to heal sick Italy, — Philip III. of France, Charles I. of Naples, and Henry III. of England. As the hour of twilight approached, that hour in which the sailor thinks of home, and the pilgrim thrills at the sound of vesper bells, Dante beheld a shade arise, and lifting its palms begin to sing the vesper hymn. Soon two radiant angels clad in delicate green descended from Heaven, holding flaming swords. These, Sordello explained, were to keep off the serpent that threatened this fair vale at night.
As the hour of night approached in which the swallow laments its woes, Dante fell asleep on the grass and dreamed that he was Ganymede snatched from Mt. Ida by Jove's eagle. Awaking, he found himself alone with Vergil in a strange place, with the sun two hours high. Lucia, symbolical of the enlightening grace of Heaven, had conveyed him to the spot and pointed out to Vergil the gate of Purgatory. Cheered and confident, he rose, and they went together to the portal and mounted the three steps, the first of shining white marble, the second of purple stone, cracked and burnt, and the third of flaming red porphyry. There, on the diamond threshold, sat an angel with a naked sword, clad in a robe of ashen gray, whose face was too bright to look upon. When Dante fell on his knees and implored entrance, the angel imprinted on his forehead seven “ P's” for the seven sins (Peccata), and opening the gate with the gold and silver keys, ushered them into the mighty portals. “ From Peter I have these keys. Me he instructed to err rather in opening than in keeping shut. But see that ye look not behind, or ye will at once return."
With much difficulty the two poets ascended the steep and winding path, and paused to view the wonderful sculptures on the embankment, that would put Nature herself to shame, so natural were they. Many examples of Humility were there portrayed, — the Virgin Mary, the Holy Ark, drawn by oxen, the Psalmist dancing before the Lord, while Michal looked forth in scorn from her palace window, and Trajan, yielding to the widow's prayer. As they stood there, the souls came in sight. “Reader, attend not to the fashion of the torment, but think of what follows." The unhappy ones crept around the terrace, bowed under a heavy burden of stones, and the most patient, as he bent under his burden, exclaimed, with tears, “I can do no more !” As they walked they repeated the Lord's Prayer, and kept their eyes fixed on the life-like sculptures on the floor of those who had suffered before them for the sins of pride : Lucifer, falling from Heaven ; Briareus and Nimrod overcome by the bolts of Jove ; Niobe, weeping among her dead children ; Cyrus's head taunted by Tomyris ; Troy humbled in ashes.
As Vergil approached the penitents to inquire the way to the next terrace, he and Dante were invited to join the procession and talk with one who could not lift his face enough to see them. This was Omberto, who had been slain by the Siennese for his unbearable pride. Dante also talked with his friend Oderigi, an illuminator of manuscript, who now humbly acknowledged that he was far surpassed by Franco Bolognese. “What is mundane glory?” he exclaimed, as he pointed out Provenzano Salvani, with whose fame Tuscany once rang, but who barely escaped Hell by his voluntary humiliation for a friend. thy face!” commanded Vergil, as Dante walked with his head bowed, absorbed in the floor-sculptures; and as he looked, the white-robed angel whose face was like “a tremulous flame" approached, and struck Dante's forehead with his wings. Dante marvelled at the ease with which he mounted, until his master explained that the heaviest sin, the sin that underlies all others, had fallen from him when the angel struck the “P” from his forehead, and that the ascent would grow still lighter from terrace to terrace. “ Blessed are the poor in spirit!" sung by sweet voices, greeted the mounting poets.
The second terrace was of livid stone unrelieved by any sculpture. The air was full of voices inculcating charity
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and self-denial, and others lamenting the sin of envy. Here envy was punished, and here the sharpest pain pierced Dante's heart as he saw the penitents sit shoulder to shoulder against the cliff, robed in sackcloth of the same livid color, their eyelids, through which bitter tears trickled, sewed together with wire. Sapia of Sienna first greeted Dante and entreated him to pray for her. When she had told how, after having been banished from her city, she had prayed that her townsman might be defeated by the Florentines, Dante passed on and spoke with Guido of Duca, who launched into an invective against Florence to his companion Rinieri. “ The whole valley of the Arno is so vile that its very name should die. Wonder not at my tears, Tuscan, when I recall the great names of the past, and compare them with the curs who ave fallen heir to them. Those counts are happiest who have left no families.” Guido himself was punished on this terrace because of his envy of every joyous man, and the spirit with whom he talked was Rinieri, whose line had once been highly honored. “Go, Tuscan," exclaimed Guido, "better now I love my grief than speech.” As the poets passed on, the air was filled with the lamentations of sinful but now repentant spirits.
Dazzled by the Angel's splendor, the poets passed up the stairs to the third terrace, Dante in the mean time asking an explanation of Guido's words on joint resolve and trust.
“ The less one thinks of another's possessions,” replied his guide, “and the more he speaks of our' instead of 'my,' the more of the Infinite Good flows towards him. If you thirst for further instruction, await the coming of Beatrice.”
As they attained the next height, Dante, rapt in vision, saw the sweet Mother questioning her Son in the Temple, saw Pisistratus, his queen, and the martyred Stephen blessing his enemies in death. As he awoke, they passed on, to become involved in a thick cloud of smoke, through which it was impossible to distinguish any object, and whose pur