Purgatory, Canto 2
The Ship of Souls arrives at the Island, steered by an Angel, and bringing a boat-load of the newly-dead from the mouth of Tiber to Purgatory. One of the souls is Dante’s friend, Casella the Musician. He recognises the Poet, and delights him and the other spirits by singing one of Dante’s own songs. The party is broken up by Cato, who chides them for lingering and sends them about their business.
The Prepatory Lecture
Music in the Canto
The Hymn on the Ship of Souls, Psalm 114 (15)
WHEN Israel came out of Egypt: and the house of Jacob from among the strange people,
Judah was his sanctuary: and Israel his dominion.
The sea saw that, and fled: Jordan was driven back.
The mountains skipped like rams: and the little hills like young sheep.
What aileth thee, O thou sea, that thou fleddest: and thou Jordan, that thou wast driven back?
Ye mountains, that ye skipped like rams: and ye little hills, like young sheep?
Tremble, thou earth, at the presence of the Lord: at the presence of the God of Jacob;
Who turned the hard rock into a standing water: and the flint-stone into a springing well.
Questions for Reflection
Purgatory, Canto 2 © Jan Hearn
The Ship of Souls. The imagery of this canto hardly needs elucidation, but it is interesting to note the parallels and contrasts with the corresponding imagery in Inf. iii. The souls of the damned assemble on the bank of the River Acheron, and are ferried to Hell by the Demon Charon: the souls of the saved assemble at the mouth of the River Tiber, and are ferried by an Angelic Pilot across the whole width of the world to Purgatory. In each case, the ferryman selects his own boat-load. Charon plies an oar (which he uses, incidentally, to thump his passengers into submission): the Angel needs “no oar, no sail but his own wings”. The damned, wailing and blaspheming, embark one by one (fellowship is lost); the saved sing their hymn in unison and disembark all together (fellowship is recovered).
Mark Vernon's Lecture