How we cite our quotes:
[Virgil to Dante]: …“This mountain’s of such sort
that climbing it is hardest at the start;
but as we rise, the slope grows less unkind.
Therefore, when this slope seems to you so gentle
that climbing farther up will be as restful
as traveling downstream by boat, you will
be where this pathway ends, and there you can
expect to put your weariness to rest.” (Purg. IV, 88-95)
The closer a soul is to the bottom of the mountain, the harder it is to motivate himself to climb upwards, partly because the path is so steep. As he purges himself of his sins, though, his suffering eases and he actually feels lighter as he climbs higher. The higher he climbs, the easier the path becomes, so that his virtue increases along with his willingness to suffer as he climbs.
[Belacqua]: …“O brother, what’s the use of climbing?
God’s angel, he who guards the gate, would not
let me pass through to meet my punishment.
Outside that gate the skies must circle round
as many times as they did when I lived –
since I delayed good sighs until the end –
unless, before then, I am helped by prayer
that rises from a heart that lives in grace;
what use are other prayers – ignored by Heaven?” (Purg. IV, 127-135)
Belacqua, stuck in ante-Purgatory and simply lounging around, is frustrated in his attempts to climb the mountain because he has not fulfilled his waiting time (of thirty times one’s lifespan) yet. Ironically, he suffers merely by sitting around. Even more ironically, he wants to begin his real suffering by climbing up the mountain. So Belacqua – like the rest of the penitents – suffers from something not inherently painful (waiting); essentially he suffers from not suffering enough.
…But I would
not have you, reader, be deflected from
your good resolve by hearing from me now
how God would have us pay the debt we owe.
Don’t dwell upon the form of punishment:
consider what comes after that; at worst
it cannot last beyond the final Judgment. (Purg. X, 105-111)
Despite the intense suffering of the penitents as they take on the punishments on each terrace, they should not despair and give into pain – Dante says – because, unlike the sinners in Hell, these souls are guaranteed admittance into Heaven. While they’re suffering, they should “consider what comes after,” not “dwell upon the form of punishment.” In other words, they should keep their eye on the prize to motivate themselves.