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.
“How is that?” he was asked. “Is it that he
who tried to climb by night would be impeded
by others, or by his own lack of power?”
And good Sordello, as his finger traced
along the ground, said: “Once the sun has set,
then – look – even this line cannot be crossed.
And not that anything except the dark
of night prevents your climbing up; it is
the night itself that implicates your will.
Once darkness falls, one can indeed retreat
below and wander aimlessly about
the slopes, while the horizon has enclosed
the day.” (Purg. VII, 49-61)
Time dictates each soul’s progress up Mount Purgatory. Souls can only travel upwards during the day. Night immobilizes their movement. Thus, this cuts in half the amount of time that one might conceivably spend climbing the mountain, which also explains why the souls are in such a hurry to get to the top.
My avid eyes were steadfast, staring at
that portion of the sky where stars are slower,
even as spokes when they approach the axle.
And my guide: “Son what are you staring at?”
And I replied: “I’m watching those three torches
with which this southern pole is all aflame.”
Then he to me: “The four bright stars you saw
this morning now are low, beyond the pole,
and where those four stars were, these three now are.” (Purg. VIII, 85-93)
The position of the stars in the sky is used to indicate the passing of time. That the cluster of four stars Dante sees at dawn is now reduced to three (because one of them has set) means that a certain amount of time has passed, and serves as a reminder to Dante to hurry up.
Our upward pathway ran between cracked rocks;
they seemed to sway in one, then the other part,
just like a wave that flees, then doubles back.
“Here we shall need some ingenuity,”
my guide warned me, “as both of us draw near
this side or that side where the rock wall veers.”
This made our steps so slow and hesitant
that the declining moon had reached its bed
to sink back into rest, before we had
made our way through that needle’s eye; but when
we were released from it, in open space
above, a place at which the slope retreats,
I was exhausted; with the two of us
uncertain of our way, we halted on
a plateau lonelier than desert paths. (Purg. X, 7-21)
The terrain of Purgatory proper, unlike the wide-open spaces of ante-Purgatory, is narrow, steep, and difficult to navigate. This slows down all climbers’ progress. The message seems to be that the labor of penance is meant to be time consuming, difficult, and tedious.