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.
[Cato]: “While I was there, within the other world,
Marcia so pleased my eyes,” he then replied,
“each kindness she required, I satisfied.
Now that she dwells beyond the evil river,
she has no power to move me any longer,
such was the law decreed when I was freed.” (Purg. I, 85-90)
As a guardian of the island of Purgatory, Cato no longer adheres to the same priorities he did during his lifetime. He puts emphasis on how much he has changed from the man he was on earth – one who dearly loved his wife Marcia – to the man he is now – one who is not moved any longer by thoughts of her. This is one of our first clues that human relationships in the afterlife operate differently than they do on earth.
By now the sun was crossing the horizon
of the meridian whose highest point
covers Jerusalem; and from the Ganges,
night, circling opposite the sun, was moving
together with the Scales that, when the length
of dark defeats the day, desert night’s hands;
so that, above the shore that I had reached,
the fair Aurora’s white and scarlet cheeks
were, as Aurora aged, becoming orange. (Purg. II, 1-9)
By referring to the celestial bodies – the sun and constellations like “the Scales” (Libra) – Dante shows readers that, unlike the timeless eternity of Hell, Purgatory operates on a time scale much like that of the mortal world. The reference to Aurora, the goddess of the dawn, changing from “white” to “orange,” reveals that it is morning when Dante arrives on Purgatory’s shores. The bright colors of the morning and the wide expanse of the sky emphasize the difference between Hell and Purgatory; in Hell all is darkness and close confined, there being no sky with which to tell time. Purgatory, as shown here, is much more beautiful and similar to the mortal world.
“Love that discourses to me in my mind”
he [Casella] then began to sing – and sang so sweetly
that I still hear that sweetness sound in me.
My master, I, and all that company
around the singer seemed so satisfied,
as if no other thing might touch our minds.
We all were motionless and fixed upon
the notes, when all at once the grave old man [Cato]
cried out: “what have we here, you laggard spirits?
What negligence, what lingering is this?” (Purg. II, 112-121)
Casella’s singing seems to suspend time for the listeners, but in actuality they’re wasting time that they could be spending repenting and purging their sins in Purgatory. Dante seems to suggest that the arts that so enchant us in our mortal lives become a distraction and a waste of time in Purgatory, where one must fulfill an obligation to God. Cato acts as the voice of God here, reprimanding the souls for “lingering” and being too “laggard.” As the guardian of Purgatory, he understands just how much time they’ll have to spend here and how important it is to get started.