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.
O empty glory of the powers of humans!
How briefly green endures upon the peak –
unless an age of dullness follows it.
In painting Cimabue thought he held
the field, and now it’s Giotto they acclaim –
the former only keeps a shadowed fame.
So did one Guido, from the other, wrest
the glory of our tongue – and he perhaps
is born who will chase both out of the nest.
Worldly renown is nothing other than
a breath of wind that blows now here, now there,
and changes name when it has changed its course. (Purg. XI, 91-102)
Oderisi expounds on the transience of human glory. As an artist he has experienced just how fleeting celebrity can be. He describes human glory as “a breath of wind that blows now here, now there”; this is reminiscent of Dante’s rant against Florence’s fickleness.
[Forese]: “Now you remain behind, for time is costly
here in this kingdom; I should lose too much
by moving with you thus, at equal pace.”
Just as a horseman sometimes gallops out,
leaving behind his troop of riders, so
that he may gain the honor of the first
clash – so, with longer strides, did he leave us;
and I remained along my path with those
two who were such great marshals of the world. (Purg. XXIV, 91-99)
The penitents, like Dante and Virgil, have a sense of haste as well. Here, Forese refuses to keep walking at Dante’s too-slow pace because “time is costly” and he “should lose too much / by moving with you thus, at equal pace.” Forese’s departure is compared to that of a knight rushing out to win “the honor of the first clash,” revealing that the penitents' haste is for a good cause: honor.
[Matilda]: “The water that you see does not spring from
a vein that vapor – cold-condensed – restores,
like rivers that acquire or lose their force;
it issues from a pure and changeless fountain,
which by the will of God regains as much
as, on two sides, it pours and it divides.
On this side it descends with power to end
one’s memory of sin; and on the other,
it can restore recall of each good deed.
To one side, it is Lethe; on the other,
Eunoe; neither stream is efficacious
unless the other’s waters have been tasted:
their savor is above all other sweetness.” (Purg. XXVIII, 121-133)
These two streams, the Lethe and the Eunoe, can effectively bring man back to the start of his life by wiping his memories clean. By drinking from the Lethe, one can ‘stop time’ and return to a state of innocence. For our purposes, however, the Lethe functions as preparation for immortality – eternal innocence in Heaven.