Purgatorio Purgatory Canto VIII (Ante-Purgatory: the Valley of the Rulers) Summary
Dante opens this canto rather romantically, describing the sunset as “the hour that makes [seafarers’] hearts grow tender” and that “pierces the new traveler with love when he has heard, far off, the bell that seems to mourn the dying of the day.” In plain English, the sunset is beautiful.
In the midst of this reverie, one of the penitents raises his hand for attention, turns to face the east, and begins a hymn called “Te lucis ante.” Everyone follows suit.
This, too, is beautiful, so Dante listens.
Then a miracle happens! It’s so…well…miraculous that Dante directly calls on the reader to take notice.
From the gorgeous sky descend two angels holding flaming swords with broken tips. They’re dressed in vibrant green and their wings are green too.
One angel lands above Dante, the other on the opposite bank.
Dante notes that they are blond.
Sordello, who’s familiar with angels, explains that they come from the Virgin Mary herself and serve as guards for the valley against the serpent. What serpent? Read on if you’re curious.
Dante must be afraid of snakes because at the mention of “serpent,” he keeps turning around to see if a serpent is approaching and he hides behind Virgil.
Quite unaware of Dante's fear, Sordello calmly proceeds to lead them down the bank with the intent of talking to the singing penitents.
Dante takes three mincing steps before he realizes someone’s watching him – a soul trying to recognize Dante.
Dante thanks his lucky stars that it hasn’t yet grown so dark that he can’t identify his stalker. Turns out to be an old pal…Judge Nino!
Dante’s relieved to find his friend among the penitents and not among the damned in Hell.
When Nino asks where Dante has come from, Dante answers that he has just arrived in Purgatory this morning…while still alive.
This turns some heads – namely, Nino’s and Sordello’s. (Sordello has gone all this time not realizing that Dante has a solid body.)
The gape-mouthed judge calls a guy named Currado to greet Dante.
Then he turns to Dante and humbly asks for a favor. He requests that when Dante returns to the living world, he visit Nino’s daughter, Giovanna, and ask for her prayers.
This seems like a harmless request. But then Nino starts babbling about his grudges against his former wife. He prophecies that she’ll regret re-marrying because her new husband will soon experience hard times and not be able to provide for his family.
Dante, meanwhile, has stopped listening and has fixed his eyes on the horizon. Virgil, also not paying attention to Giovanna, asks him what he’s looking at. Dante answers that he’s watching three stars on the south pole. Fascinating.
Virgil explains that the four stars Dante saw earlier are now setting, which is why only three are visible.
Sordello then points out something truly fascinating: the serpent! Remember that?
At the edge of the valley, an “evil streak” slithers amongst all the pretty flowers, stopping occasionally to preen its back.
Suddenly, it’s gone. Why?
Dante explains that the two blond angels have made their move so swiftly in the air that human eyes couldn’t follow it. They’ve swept down on the serpent and scared it away.
Now that the venomous threat has been conquered, Dante notices that Currado is staring at him.
After several awkward moments, Currado speaks. He wishes Dante luck in his endeavors up in Purgatory, and then asks for news about his homeland, Val di Magra. He introduces himself as Currado Malaspina II, son of Currado Malaspina.
Dante replies courteously, heaping praise on Currado’s homeland. He goes on sucking up, claiming that although everyone else is affected by the “evil head” (Satan), the Malaspina family alone walks the true path.
Currado concurs. He prophecies that in seven years’ time, Dante will experience first-hand the greatness of the Malaspina family.