How we cite our quotes:
[The Prideful]: “Try not our strength, so easily subdued,
against the ancient foe, but set it free
from him who goads it to perversity.
This last request we now address to You,
dear Lord, not for ourselves – who have no need –
but for the ones whom we have left behind.” (Purg. XI, 19-24)
Dante seems to see prayer as one of the ultimate demonstrations of faith. Here, the Prideful beg God to give them the strength to resist “the ancient foe” (Satan). However, their faith and compassion are displayed most boldly in the last three lines, where they request this not for themselves but for “the ones whom [they] have left behind” – their loved ones still living on earth who still have time to change their sinful ways and be guaranteed a place in Heaven.
[Statius]: “I had sufficient fame beyond,” that spirit
replied; “I bore the name that lasts the longest
and honors most – but faith was not yet mine.
So gentle was the spirit of my verse
that Rome drew me, son of Toulouse, to her
and there my brow deserved a crown of myrtle.
On earth my name is still remembered – Statius:
I sang of Thebes and then of great Achilles;
I fell along the way of that last labor.
The sparks that warmed me, the seeds of my ardor,
were from the holy fire – the same that gave
more than a thousand poets light and flame.
I speak of the Aeneid; when I wrote
verse, it was mother to me, it was nurse;
my work, without it, would not weight an ounce.
And to have lived on earth when Virgil lived –
for that I would extend by one more year
the time I owe before my exile’s end.” (Purg. XXI, 85-102)
Statius, originally a pagan, found his faith in God through Virgil’s Aeneid. This is heavily ironic for Virgil: he is a pagan and condemned to Hell for it, but his works have the power to inspire faith and to convert others. Statius seems sympathetic to this fact, even though he does not yet know that he is speaking to Virgil; he shows this by claiming “I would extend by one more year the time I owe before my exile’s end.” If only he could have lived on earth when Virgil did. Ostensibly, he would have tried to convert Virgil to Christianity had he lived in the same period, thereby saving Virgil from damnation.
“Now, when you sang the savage wars of those
twin sorrows of Jocasta,” said the singer
of the bucolic poems [Virgil], “it does not seem –
from those notes struck by you and Clio there –
that you had yet turned faithful to the faith
without which righteous works do not suffice.
If that is so, then what sun or what candles
drew you from darkness so that, in their wake,
you set your sails behind the fisherman?”
And he [Statius] to him: “You were the first to send me
to drink within Parnassus’ caves and you,
the first who, after God, enlightened me.
You did as he who goes by night and carries
the lamp behind him – he is of no help
to his own self but teaches those who follow –
when you declared: ‘The ages are renewed;
justice and man’s first time on earth return;
from Heaven a new progeny descends.’
Through you I was a poet and, through you,
a Christian…” (Purg. XXII, 55-72)
Statius highlights Virgil’s tragic situation. Statius puts Virgil on a level almost akin to that of God (“You were the first […] after God, who enlightened me.”) He says, “You did as he who goes by night and carries the lamp behind him – he is of no help to his own self but teaches those who follow.” However, it is hard to ascribe such a generous description to Virgil because, if he has performed this sort of selfless leadership at all, he’s done it unintentionally and certainly without the goal of converting his readers to Christianity. Thus, it is heavily ironic that Statius reads the birth of Christ into a passage that is probably just a flattering referral to the birth of renowned Roman consul Gaius Asinius Pollio.