Purgatory, Canto 7
AFTER repeatedly embracing his fellow-Mantuan, Sordello asks who the travellers are, and Virgil names himself Sordello at once drops down to clasp his knees, inquiring anxiously about Virgil’s fate in the after-life, and is answered. In reply to Virgil’s question, he then explains the Rule of the Mountain, which prevents any climbing after sunset. He then leads the Poets to a beautiful Valley, where they see a group of highly distinguished persons, representing the Third Class of the Late-Repentant — the Preoccupied — many of whom Sordello points out and names.
The Prepatory Lecture
Questions for Reflection
Purgatory, Canto 7 © Jan Hearn
The Rule of the Mountain: Throughout the Purgatory, the Sun is frequently taken as the symbol of God (e.g. in l. 26 of this canto). Allegorically therefore, the meaning of the Rule of the Mountain, which prevents all ascent between sunset and sunrise, is that no progress can be made in the penitent life without the illumination of Divine Grace. When this is withheld, the soul can only mark time, if it does not lose ground, while waiting patiently for the renewal of the light. Nights in Purgatory thus correspond to those periods of spiritual darkness or “dryness” which so often perplex and distress the newly-converted. (Cf. John xi. 9-10.)
The Late-Repentant: (3) The Preoccupied. The third class of the LateRepentant is composed of those who neglected their spiritual duties through too much preoccupation with worldly cares. They occupy the highest and most beautiful place upon the Second Terrace, because their concern was, after all, for others rather than for themselves. As with the other inhabitants of Ante-Purgatory, the taint or habit of their former sin still clings to them: they continue to discuss and worry about the affairs of the family or the nation. As we learn from Para. xvii. 136-42, Dante in his vision is shown only the most striking and illustrious representatives in each category; but we need not doubt that he would place in this class not only kings and statesmen, but also humbler examples of the Preoccupied, such as anxious parents, overburdened housewives and breadwinners, social workers, busy organizers, and others who are so “rushed off their feet” that they forget to say their prayers. In his Convivio (see Inf. Introduction, p-2) Dante speaks with sympathy of “the domestic and civic cares by which the greater number of people are quite properly absorbed, so that they have no leisure for speculation.”
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