Dante’s Purgatory: Canto 5 Retelling — Prepurgatory — Those Who Repented While Meeting Violent, Sudden Deaths

Chapter 5: Prepurgatory — Those Who Repented While Meeting Violent, Sudden Deaths (Purgatory)

Dante had turned to follow Virgil, when one of the spiritually lazy souls said, “Look! He is casting a shadow! He seems to be still alive!”

Dante turned around and saw the souls staring at him and his shadow.

Virgil turned around and asked Dante, “What has distracted your attention now? Focus on your real reason for being here. Do not care if the souls here whisper about you. Follow me and let me lead you upward. Be like a stone tower that resists the winds. Don’t be like a man whose attention is easily distracted from what is important.”

Virgil thought, I can see why Cato is needed here. Too often, souls here — even myself earlier — allow themselves to be distracted. Cato is needed to remind these souls to keep their eyes on the prize.

Dante, shamed and blushing, said, “I am coming now.”

Another group of souls was coming and chanting the Miserere, a Psalm asking for the forgiveness of sins. Some souls sang one part, and the other souls sang another part, alternating parts until all the lines of the Psalm had been sung. The first lines they sang were these:

“Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness: according to the multitude of Your tender mercies blot out my transgressions.

“Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.

“For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me.”

Dante thought, Music is a part of at least Prepurgatory. It may also be a part of Purgatory Proper and maybe even beyond. Music is not a part of the Inferno. Music and the Psalms are an important part of the life of monks. Preparing for Purgatory can be started while one is still alive on Earth. The monks do that.

This group of souls also noticed that Dante was casting a shadow, and two of this group of souls came running toward Dante. These souls asked, “Who are you? Please tell us your stories.”

Virgil replied, “You may return and tell the other souls that this man beside me is still alive. I know that they must be surprised because he is casting a shadow. These souls may profit from becoming acquainted with him.”

The two souls ran back to the other souls, and all the souls came running up to Dante and Virgil.

Virgil said, “Many souls are coming toward us. Each will want a favor from you. Listen to them, but keep walking as you listen.”

The souls asked Dante, “You, who are still alive, please look at us and see if you recognize any of us. If you do, please bring back news of that person to those still living. Please stop and listen to us. All of us met a violent death, and all of us repented in our last moments of life. When we died, we were at peace with God. We left life longing to see God.”

Dante replied, “I clearly see your faces, but I do not recognize any of you saved souls. But if I can do something to help you, please tell me, and I will help you.”

One of the souls said, “We know that you will keep your word unless you are prevented by some powerful reason. I will make my plea first. If you ever go to the town of Fano, please tell the souls there to pray for me so I may sooner begin my journey through Purgatory Proper. I came from Fano, but I died away from home, in a region where I thought I would be safe. Azzo of Este had me killed. I was taken by surprise, and if I had fled toward Mira I would still be alive. Instead, I fled into a swamp and the reeds slowed me down and tripped me and I was slaughtered and watched the blood flow out of my body and form a pool.”

Dante thought, I have heard of this person. This is Jacopo del Cassero, who opposed Azzo VIII, who was both powerful and without pity. In 1298, Jacopo was traveling to Milan, but Azzo sent assassins to ambush him at the town of Oriago. As Jacopo said, he died a violent death.

A second soul said, “I hope that your journey up the mountain will be successful, and I hope that you will help me. I am Buonconte, and I am from Montefeltro. No one — not even my wife, Giovanna, cares for me. I am ashamed.”

Dante thought, Apparently, no one — not even his wife, Giovanna — is saying prayers for his soul.

Dante asked, “No one ever found the place where you were buried. What happened to your body?”

Buonconte of Montefeltro replied, “In 1289 I led my forces — the Ghibellines of Arezzo — against the Guelfs of Florence. In this battle — the Battle of Campaldino — I was defeated and mortally wounded. I made my way to the river Archiano. My throat was an open wound. I went blind from loss of blood. I murmured one word — ‘Mary’ — and I shed a tear of true repentance. Then I died.

“Because I had repented at the very last moment of life, an angel from Paradise and a fiend from the Inferno showed up. The angel took my soul, and the fiend said, ‘You are stealing what I thought would be mine. But although you have charge of Buonconte’s immortal soul because of a single word and a single tear, I am taking charge of what remains of his mortal part: his corpse.’ The fiend called up a storm, great torrents of water fell from the stormy sky, and my corpse was swept into the river Arno.”

Dante thought, The father of Buonconte of Montefeltro is Guido da Montefeltro, whom I saw in the Inferno. Their stories are very different. Guido da Montefeltro thought that he was going to Paradise, and Saint Francis even came for his soul, but a black devil intervened and pointed out that Guido had not truly repented his sins. So at the last moment, his soul was snatched into Hell. Buonconte of Montefeltro, however, called on Mary’s name at the last moment of his life, and at the last moment he truly repented his sins and therefore he will eventually be in Paradise. Guido attempted to scam God with a fake repentance. Pope Boniface VIII scammed Guido into going back to his evil ways. In contrast, Buonconte’s repentance is sincere. He utters one sincere word with his last breath, and that is enough to save him. The devil that comes to collect Buonconte’s soul is angry and abuses his corpse, but the corpse is not important — the soul is. Repentance must be sincere; no one gets away with trying to scam God. It is interesting to note that my political enemies can make it into Paradise. I was a Guelf, and Buonconte was a Ghibelline, an enemy of the Guelfs, but Buonconte will make it into Paradise.

Then a third soul, a woman, spoke to Dante: “After you have rested from your journey once you are back in the Land of the Living, please remember me. My name is Pia. I was born in Siena; I died in Maremna. My husband, who pledged faith to me when he put a ring on my finger, killed me.”

Dante thought, This is La Pia, whose jealous husband thought that she had committed adultery and threw her out of a window. I spoke to only one woman — Francesca da Rimini — in the Inferno. La Pia is the first woman I have spoken to on the Mountain of Purgatory. The two souls are very different. La Pia is courteous. She wants me to remember her after I am rested from his journey. La Pia is simply charming. La Pia also sincerely repented her sins. Francesca put herself at the center of the universe, while La Pia wants me to rest first, and then remember her. These souls in Prepurgatory want me to remember them. One reason, of course, is that souls in Purgatory will benefit from prayers that are said for them. Living people do pray for the souls of deceased loved ones, and if we are pure of heart, our prayers will be heard in Heaven. The souls in Prepurgatory also want loved ones to know that they will make it to Paradise.

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce

This is an excerpt from Dante’s Divine Comedy: A Retelling in Prose by David Bruce, available here:

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