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In the time between the last canto and this one, our heroes—now three in number, including Statius —have reached the Angel of Justice, Dante has had another P purged from his brow, and the angel has blessed them with part of a Beatitude condemning thirst and hunger. The angel, however, stops at the word thirst. It is implied that we’ll hear the rest of the Beatitude later, after our heroes have passed through the terrace of the Gluttonous.
Dante follows his two guides, his feet light and his heart happy.
Virgil begins speaking about “love that is kindled by virtue” and how it always is reciprocated. We ask, “what?” He continues, talking about how Statius’ love for him has come down to him in Hell, making Virgil know he likes Statius too.
Now Virgil asks Statius as a friend, how he became avaricious (remember, they found him on the fifth terrace) when he seems like such a nice guy.
Statius answers that Virgil is assuming his sin was avarice, but it was really the opposite—prodigality. (They’re both punished on the fifth terrace, remember?) Statius was a spendthrift and he paid for it with many months’ penance in Purgatory. But, he says, he’s thankful because if he hadn’t realized his sin, he’d be pushing weights along with the prodigal in Hell.
Virgil continues his questioning. Well, he says, in your Thebiad, you didn’t sound Christian. So what converted you to following the faith (Christianity) of Peter the fisherman?
Statius answers, “You.” (“You were… the first who, after God, enlightened me.”) He goes on: you’re like a lantern-bearer; you yourself gain nothing by carrying the light, but it lights the path for the ones who come behind you. He then quotes Virgil and tells him it was by reading his works, he (Statius) converted to Christianity.
Hmm, Virgil the pagan converting someone? This sounds like an important passage.
Statius goes on to “color what I sketch”; in other words, he’ll give more details now. In his lifetime, Christianity had already spread and was widely practiced. The preachers communicated messages that Statius found in Virgil’s writings, so that he often hung out with them. But Emperor Domitian was stoutly pagan and had all the Christians persecuted. Statius felt sympathetic for the Christians. He converted secretly, was baptized, and hid his new faith for a long time. For this reluctance to show his faith, he was punished for a long time in Purgatory. Ouch.
Now, Statius wants to ask Virgil some questions. He asks about the location of some poets he knew —Terence, Caecilius, Plautus, and Varius.
Virgil answers that they all reside in Limbo, a part of Hell. He names a ton of other poets who reside there as well. Homer stands out, but we won’t get into the rest.
Now both of them fall silent and content themselves with walking.
Dante notices the position of the sun in the sky and concludes it’s about 10 a.m.
Virgil, deciding where to go, orders everyone to turn so that the terrace is on their right hand side. They travel like this for a little while, the two guides ahead, Dante behind, listening in on their talk of poetry and learning a lot.
They’re soon interrupted by the sight of a huge tree in front of them, fragrant with the scent of ripe figs. It is shaped weirdly, though: instead of branching up and out, all the branches taper downward, making it impossible to climb. Beneath the tree is a pool of bright water.
As they approach the tree, a disembodied voice cries out, “This food shall be denied to you.”
The voice goes on, citing examples of temperance (the corresponding virtue for the sin of gluttony). It talks about Mary, who noticed at the marriage feast of Cana that there was no wine for her guests. This shows she was more concerned about her guests than her own hunger and thirst.
The voice goes on to talk about how Roman women only drank water, never wine.
Then it mentions how Daniel refused food and drink to gain wisdom.
Then, in the age of gold, men ate only acorns and drank only nectar and life was good.
Finally, the voice cites the example of John the Baptist in the wilderness. He ate only honey and locusts.