Study Guide

Purgatorio Purgatory Canto XIII (Second Terrace: the Envious)

By Dante Alighieri

Purgatory Canto XIII (Second Terrace: the Envious)

  • Dante and Virgil arrive at the top of the stairs and the official starting line of the second terrace.
  • It looks much the same as the first terrace except it’s smaller in circumference (not surprising, because as you go up a mountain, it gets narrower), there are no strange sculptures, and the color of the rock is a weird bluish black.
  • Just as Dante begins settling down to wait for the next passersby so they can ask directions, Virgil says no, they’d be wasting too much time waiting.
  • Instead, Virgil does what any good guide would do: he uses a compass. Actually, a natural compass. The sun.
  • First, Virgil utters a prayer to the sun that it guide them safely.
  • Virgil now turns to face the sun and starts walking. Don’t ask us how that doesn’t take him straight off the cliff and plunging into the abyss, but it doesn’t. Mystified but blindly loyal, Dante follows.
  • They’ve traveled a mile making good time when they’re interrupted by the sound of souls speaking all around them. It's not the usual “hey, how are you?” greeting, but words of love.
  • Dante hears such things as “vinum non habent,” “I am Orestes,” and “Love those by whom you have been hurt.” Instead of running away screaming, Dante calmly asks Virgil what’s going on.
  • Virgil explains: this is the terrace in which envy is purged. So what’s the opposite of envy? Love.
  • Just in case Dante is beginning to relax too much, Virgil warns him that he’ll get to hear the punished envious soon enough.
  • He directs Dante’s attention towards the path in front of them, where a crowd of souls sits.
  • Dante opens his eyes and sees people wearing clothes the same color as the stone all around them. Medieval camo.
  • As Dante and Virgil approach, the souls cry out to famous Biblical people who were full of love, like the Virgin Mary.
  • As he gets closer, Dante realizes that he’s witnessing the punishment of envious souls, and his eyes immediately fill with tears.
  • Their punishment? Well, for starters they’re all wearing “coarse haircloth.” Here, as conscientious readers, we must stop and ask the question that’s on the tip of everyone’s tongue: where in the world did they get blue-black fur? What kind of shameless animal goes around everyday with a bruise-colored coat?
  • Each envious soul rests his hands on his neighbor’s shoulder, like the blind leading the blind. Dante, being a tender-hearted chap, cries at the thought of poor, blind beggars.
  • Lo and behold, the Envious really are blind. Their eyelids are sewn shut with iron wires! Dante compares them to hooded hunting hawks, blinded so that they’re easier to handle. Poor guys, Dante says, they can't see the light of heaven.
  • Dante turns to Virgil with the comment that it’s rude for them to pass through the midst of the Envious without being seen.
  • Virgil, quite vexed, allows Dante to say what he will to the Envious souls, provided he keeps it short.
  • As he approaches them, Dante becomes highly aware of the local geography. Virgil is to his right, protecting him from falling off the mountain; to his left are the souls with their eyes sewn shut and tears on their cheeks.
  • Dante calls on his mighty orator’s skills. He first praises the Envious because they are destined to eventually enter Heaven and to regain their sight and memory. Then he gets down to real business. He asks if anyone there is Italian. Dante suggests that he might be able to help his fellow countrymen.
  • One soul answers rather impudently, correcting Dante. She claims that everyone here is a citizen of “one true city” and what Dante meant to say was “one who lived in Italy as a pilgrim.”
  • Not used to being corrected, Dante fixes his eyes on the speaker—who can’t see him—and asks her who she is.
  • She answers that she’s Sienese and that she’s sorry for her vices in life. She says, “I was not sapient, though I was called Sapia” (nice pun). She also took more joy in others’ misfortune than in her own good luck.
  • She tells Dante how her fellow Sienese backed the Ghibelline leader Colle di Val d’Elsa, while she was envious of their power. When they were defeated in battle, Sapia rejoiced and dared to turn her face to God to say “Now I fear you no more!” Bad move.
  • However, she continues, she repented at the end of her life and thus ended up in Purgatory. She also gives a shout-out to a friend named Pier Pettinaio, whose prayers have already gotten her into Purgatory proper.
  • Now she turns her attention to Dante and asks who he is, that he should be able to see and to use breath to speak. In other words, she’s curious why he’s alive and allowed in Purgatory.
  • Dante answers that he’ll pass through here eventually too and be blinded for a little while, but not for long, because he never was really envious in his life. Instead, he's more afraid of the first terrace. Dante must think he’s proud and most likely to end up among the Prideful.
  • Sapia’s not finished with Dante. She asks who guided him up here.
  • Dante avoids her question by saying only that his guide is a soul just like them. He also asks if she wants him to pray for her.
  • That tactic works. She immediately jumps on his offer. She tells him that, miraculously, he already has “God’s love” and says yes, please pray for her. Greedily, she also asks him to give her a good reputation back on earth.
  • Sapia ends with a prophecy. Among the Sienese, she claims, there are still envious people. These people can be easily identified because they either invest in or work at the port of Talamone in Genoa. Being a dead person, Sapia can foresee that the venture will end badly.
  • Now for a short history lesson: Talamone was doomed from the start. Its banks contained a large amount of silt, requiring frequent (and expensive) dredging to clear up the water so that ships could safely dock. Also, Talamone was infested with malaria.
  • Thus Sapia predicts that the admirals at Talamone “will lose the most.” She doesn’t just mean their money.