Dante’s Purgatory: Canto 7 Retelling — Prepurgatory — The Negligent Princes

Chapter 7: Prepurgatory — The Negligent Princes (Purgatory)

Sordello and Virgil embraced three or four times.

Dante thought, I have heard of Sordello. He was a poet of both political and moral poetry, and he was a climber into the bedroom windows of many women. He was passionate about politics as well and denounced political corruption.

Then Sordello asked, “Who are you? What are your names?”

Virgil replied, “Before the Harrowing of Hell, in which many souls were taken to this mountain, the Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus, previously known as Octavian, buried me. I am Virgil. I lost residence in Paradise not for any fault in virtue, but because I lacked Christian faith.”

Sordello was both believing and disbelieving. “This cannot be the truth — but it is the truth!” Sordello again embraced Virgil, but this time he knelt and embraced Virgil’s knees to show respect to him.

Sordello said to Virgil, “You are the glory of the Romans. You showed that the greatest poetry could be written in Latin. You are the greatest of poets. How am I worthy — or lucky — enough to see you? Are you from the Inferno, and if you are, from what part?”

Dante thought, Sordello has his faults, although he is a saved soul. He was alone when we met him, but this mountain is a place of community. He was happy to learn that Virgil, whose identity he did not then know, is from his own city, but he ought to be friends with people from other places as well. One day, he will be a citizen of Paradise, whose inhabitants come from many cities.

Also, Virgil asked him for directions, but Sordello ignored that request, although this is a place where one can ask for help and usually get it. Sordello apparently was hoping to find someone from his own hometown, which is a form of community. Sordello is a hero-worshipper — as am I. When he learned Virgil’s identity, he was so star-struck that he stopped listening to Virgil’s explanation of where he came from — Limbo — and why he is there. We both adore the poetry of Virgil. But Sordello so hero-worships Virgil that he is ignoring me, who is standing next to him. Also, Sordello is so impressed by Virgil that he is forgetting to keep his eyes on the prize. Still, Sordello is a saved soul. One need not be perfect — which is impossible for mortal men and women — to be saved. Note that Sordello was surprised that this is Virgil. Surprises in Prepurgatory are good.

Virgil replied to Sordello, “Through all the circles of the Inferno, I have come to this mountain. I am here on a mission from a Heavenly lady. I am denied entrance into Paradise not because of any sin I committed but because of a lack of Christian faith. In the Inferno is a place where sighs are heard instead of shrieks. The sadness of the souls there is due to being separated from God. I am there with unbaptized children who still have the sin of Adam. I am there with those who had the four cardinal virtues of Prudence, Temperance, Justice, and Fortitude in abundance, but lacked the three theological virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity.

“But can you help us? We need to climb higher and find the path to where Purgatory Proper begins. Can you help us find that path?”

Sordello replied, “Souls in Prepurgatory can go where they wish in Prepurgatory, and so I will be your guide as far as I am allowed to climb. But now night is coming, and it is forbidden to climb higher during the night, so let us find a good place to sleep. To the right is a group of souls that I think you would like to see. With your permission, I will take you there.”

Virgil asked, “Why can’t a soul climb higher during the night? Would someone or something stop him physically? Or would the will of the soul be such that the soul cannot climb higher?”

Sordello used a finger to draw a line on the ground of the upward slope and said, “After nightfall, you would not be able to move past this line. The shadows of night sap the soul and make it unable to move higher. During the night, we can move down the slope, but not up the slope.”

Virgil, surprised by what he had heard, said, “Then please take us to the place you mentioned so that we can rest.”

They walked and they came to a valley and looked down into it.

Sordello said, “Now we will go a little further and then rest.”

The valley was beautiful both in color and in scent. The sound coming from the residents of the valley was also beautiful. It was the song Salve Regina, or “Hail, Holy Queen,” a song to Mary, mother of Jesus:

“Hail, holy Queen, Mother of Mercy!

“Our life, our sweetness, and our hope!

“To you do we cry, poor banished children of Eve,

“To you do we send up our sighs,

“Mourning and weeping in this valley of tears.

“Turn, then, most gracious advocate,

“Your eyes of mercy toward us;

“And after this our exile show unto us the

“Blessed fruit of your womb — Jesus —

“O clement, O loving, O sweet virgin Mary.”

Dante looked down into the valley, and there he saw saved souls.

Sordello said, “Please don’t ask me to take you down into the valley until after the Sun has set. From here, you can easily see the faces of the saved souls.”

Sordello then explained the identities of these saved souls:

“Rudolf of Hapsburg concerned himself with political affairs in Germany and ignored those of Italy. If only he had thought about Italy, he could have united it. Because he ignored Italy, he now looks as if he has left something undone that should have been done. The other rulers are singing, but he is not. Rudolf of Hapsburg was a Negligent Ruler.

“Ottokar II, King of Bohemia, was Rudolf’s enemy, but now he comforts him. While alive, Ottokar II twice rebelled against Rudolf, failing both times. The second time, this valiant warrior died in battle. Ottokar II is a good father who had a bad son: Wenceslaus. Ottokar II was a Negligent Ruler.

“Philip III of France, who has a snub nose, fathered Philip IV, who is also known as Philip the Fair. Philip III is a good father who had a bad son. Philip III was a Negligent Ruler.

“Henry the Fat of Novarre, who looks kind, died by being suffocated with his own fat. Henry the Fat’s daughter married Philip the Fair, aka the Plague of France. Henry the Fat was a Negligent Ruler.

“Peter III of Aragon, who looks sturdy, married Constance, the daughter of Manfred. Peter III was a Negligent Ruler.

“Charles I of Anjou, who has a big nose, defeated Manfred at Benevento in 1266. In life, Peter III and Charles I were enemies, but now they are reconciled. Charles I’s son, Charles II, was not as good as his father. Charles I was a Negligent Ruler.

“Alfonso III of Aragon is the eldest son of Peter III of Aragon. In this case, a good father had a good son. However, Peter III’s other two sons — James II of Aragon and Frederick II of Sicily — were bad sons. Alfonso III was a Negligent Ruler.

“All too often, a good father has a bad son. Nobility of character is not acquired by birth.

“Henry III of England was strong in faith, but he attended so many masses that he ignored his duties as King of England. Henry III was a Negligent Ruler.

“William VII, also known as Longsword, was the Marquis of Montferrat. He failed to stop a revolt in the city of Alessandria, was taken prisoner, and was kept in an iron cage and displayed to the public until he died. William VII was a Negligent Ruler.”

Dante thought, Most of the Negligent Rulers were negligent in taking care of their own souls. They kept God waiting, so God is keeping them waiting for a while before he allows them into Purgatory Proper. They were so occupied with Earthly matters that they had no time for Heavenly matters. In addition, they sometimes didn’t do very well in taking care of Earthly matters. One ruler — Henry III of England — was noted for his piety. His negligence was toward his kingdom. Kings must take care of their spiritual as well as of their secular matters. A good King can do much good for his people, but of course, a good King must also take care of his own soul. God wants Kings to be good to the people they rule.

We also see that bad sons can be born to good fathers, and no doubt good sons can be born to bad fathers. Nobility of character is an acquired, not hereditary, virtue.

We also see that no one has to be perfect — an impossibility for mortal men and women — to climb the Mountain of Purgatory and enter Paradise.

We also see that enemies are reconciled in Prepurgatory. In the Inferno, enemies were not reconciled.

During my day in Prepurgatory, I have seen many saved souls. The souls of dead sinners who sincerely repented their sins arrive in Prepurgatory, where they wait until they are ready to pass through the Gate of Purgatory to Purgatory Proper. A number of groups of people have to wait to climb the Mountain of Purgatory, but waiting is proper for them. These souls — the late repentant — must wait longer than others. The late repentant are these:

1) those who died while excommunicated.

2) the slothful (who kept putting off spiritual matters).

3) those who repented only in their final — sometimes violent — moments of life.

4) those who ignored spiritual matters while concentrating on worldly matters, and those who ignored worldly matters while concentrating on spiritual matters (the Negligent Rulers).

These souls kept God waiting, and God makes them wait to enter Purgatory Proper. However, I have learned that these souls can enter Purgatory Proper more quickly if good people pray for them.

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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