by Dante Alighieri
Purgatorio Time: Haste, Change Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Canto, Line). We used Allen Mandelbaum's translation.
[Virgil to the Late-Repentant souls]: “…please tell
us where the slope inclines and can be climbed;
for he who best discerns the worth of time
is most distressed whenever time is lost.” (Purg. III, 75-78)
Virgil, like Cato, understands that time is of the essence in Purgatory; he thus loses no time in asking every penitent soul he meets what is the quickest way up the mountain.
[Manfred]: “But it is true that anyone who dies
in contumacy of the Holy Church,
though he repented at the end, must wait
along this shore for thirty times the span
he spent in his presumptuousness, unless
that edict is abridged through fitting prayers.” (Purg. III, 136-141)
One of the reasons that everyone in Purgatory is in such a rush to get to the top of Mount Purgatory is that many of them have been there for so long. As Manfred explains here, each penitent must languish in ante-Purgatory – not even Purgatory proper – “for thirty times the span / he spent in his presumptuousness.” In other words, every soul must stay for thirty lifetimes out on the shores before even beginning the labors of purgation. Prayer is the one expedient that can speed up waiting time.
Compared to you [Florence], Athens and Lacedaemon,
though civil cities, with their ancient laws,
had merely sketched the life of righteousness;
for you devise provisions so ingenious –
whatever threads October sees you spin,
when mid-November comes, will be unspun.
How often, in the time you can remember,
have you changed laws and coinage, offices
and customs, and revised your citizens! (Purg. VI, 139-147)
In general, haste is seen as a positive thing in Purgatory. Here, however, Dante shows the other side of haste. In his diatribe against Florence, he lampoons the city for “chang[ing] laws and coinage, offices / and customs” so often and so quickly (from “October” to “mid-November”) that nothing can get done in the city and it falls prey to the bickering of politicians who cannot make up their minds.