As the three poets move toward the stairs to the sixth terrace, another mark is erased from Dante’s forehead. As earlier Statius had told Virgil of his great affection for him, Virgil tells Statius of his undying friendship for him, as well. And he asks Statius, if he was such an honorable man, how he could end up punished with the avaricious. Statius clarifies this, noting that his sin was prodigality, and that two opposite sins are punished on the same terrace. In a touching moment of gratitude, Statius proceeds to tell Virgil that he owes his conversion and salvation to Virgil’s poetry. Statius also explains that he kept his Christian faith a secret, and for this he was punished for an additional four hundred years. Asked where many of their poet-colleagues are now, Virgil tells Statius that they are with him in Limbo. Arriving at the sixth terrace, the threesome are soon stopped by a great tree in the middle of the road that speaks.
We had already passed the angel who directed us to the sixth terrace, and who erased another mark from my forehead. As he did so, he proclaimed blessed those who hunger for righteousness–ending the statement at sitiunt. I was now feeling much lighter than before, and it was easy to follow Virgil and Statius as they moved quickly up the stairs.The “We” at the beginning of this passage now includes all three poets: Dante, Virgil, and Statius. The angel who shows them the way to the next terrace is named by some commentators as the Angel … Continue reading
Virgil was speaking: “Love, kindled by virtue’s flame always kindles more love, as long as the first flame was virtue. And so, when Juvenal joined us in Limbo and told me of your love for me, I have continued to love you more than anyone else. And with you here beside me, this climb is a short one. But let me ask you a question–as a friend, and forgive me if I seem rude–tell me how a man like you, with a lifetime of wisdom and virtue–tell me how avarice could find a place in your heart?Virgil actually has two questions for Statius, and we have the first one here. Knowing that Statius has a great love and admiration for him as the source of his poetry, and loving him in return, … Continue reading
Smiling for a moment, Statius replied: “Your love for me is quite evident. And it’s true that what one sees outside may not reveal the truth within. However, your question assumes my sin was avarice–probably because that is where you found me. Actually, I never committed that sin. For me it was just the opposite. The sin I purged for so many centuries below was prodigality. And the only reason I am not in Hell rolling stones against other sinners is because I changed my ways after reading a passage in your Aeneid where, outraged at human nature, you wrote: ‘Curse you, O lust for gold! To what extremes will you drive the human appetite?’Hollander quotes Benvenuto da Imola here: “Statius now smiles at Virgil’s mistake just as Dante had smiled, earlier, at Statius’s mistake.” When he replies he gives us new information about … Continue reading
“When I came to my senses and realized that one can sin by careless spending, then I repented for that and all my other sins as well. Think about how many, through sheer ignorance, shall find themselves bald on the Last Day–it being too late to repent? But know this: a sin that is opposite a sin that is punished here–both are purged away on the same terrace together. So, though my punishment was to spend centuries among the avaricious, my sin was just the opposite of theirs.”Like his earlier self-identification, Statius’s answer to Virgil’s question about the nature of his sin is slow in coming as he continues to explain his sin of prodigality. At the same time, this … Continue reading
“Tell me,” said Virgil, who wrote the Bucolics, “when you were inspired by the Muse, Clio, to write about the fatal conflict between Jocasta’s twin sons, I don’t think you were yet among the faithful whose faith can save. If this is the case, what light from Heaven or earthly lamp lit your way so that you could travel with the great Fisherman?”This is Virgil’s second question to Statius, and it will soon lead to Statius’s account of his conversion to, and salvation by, the Christian faith. The Bucolics are a series of ten pastoral … Continue reading
“It was you, Virgil, who led me to drink the waters of Parnassus,” said Statius. “It was you who lit the path to God for me. You were the one traveling in the dark, holding the light behind you, not for yourself, but so that others could see the way. You were the one who wrote: ‘Now is the world reborn and the procession of the centuries begins again–the first age–and a new generation comes down from Heaven.’ It was because of you that I was a poet, because of you that I was a Christian. Let me explain.Now we have the specific answer to Virgil’s question: “…what light from Heaven or earthly lamp lit your way…?” We have already seen gracious examples of Statius’s admiration and affection … Continue reading
“At that time in my life, the true faith was beginning to grow; its seeds planted by those messengers of the Kingdom of Heaven. But the words of yours I just quoted fit so well with the message of the new preachers that I often used to listen to them speak. Such holy men these messengers were that I would weep when Domitian persecuted them, and for the rest of my days, I supported them. I learned, by following their example, that there was no other faith but theirs. Mid-way through my Thebiad, I was baptized into the Christian faith, but kept it a secret out of fear. And so, for many years, I pretended to be a pagan. It was for hiding my faith like this that I spent four hundred years with the slothful on the fourth terrace. But now tell me, you who lit the path of virtue I now praise–and while we still have time to climb–where are our poets Terence and Plautus, Caecilius and Varius? Do you know? Are they in Hell? And if they are, where have they been placed?”As he begins the explanation of his conversion to the Christian faith, Statius uses the images of seeds growing–seeds of faith growing in the newly-planted Christian community in Rome, and seeds of … Continue reading
And Virgil replied: “These you mention, along with Persius, me, and many more are with Homer, that prince of poetry favored by the Muses more than anyone else. All of us reside in the first of Hell’s dark circles, and there we often speak about Parnassus, eternal home of those Muses who nourished our poetic gifts. The great Euripides makes his home with us, as do Antiphon, Simonides, Agathon, and all the rest of that brotherhood of Greeks who wear the laurel crown. Also residing there are those from your own works: Antigone, Deiphyle, Argia, sad Ismene, Hypsipyle and Thetis, Manto, and Deidamia and her sisters.”As Statius finished the story of his conversion, he asked Virgil (his heavenly light) about four other pagan Roman writers: Terrence, Plautus, Caecilius, and Varius (see the note above). Responding, … Continue reading
Having finished for the moment, and free now from walls and stairs, Virgil and Statius stood silently on the sixth terrace looking around to see what was there. By now it was beyond mid-morning, when my guide said: “Let’s proceed, as we have on the terraces below, with the edge of the cliff to our right.” Following our custom, then, we moved on with more certainty since Statius was with us now and he agreed. So, the two poets walked ahead of me, talking about the art of poetry, while I followed them, listening carefully to everything they said and learning more about their art.All during this conversation about Status’s conversion, the three poets have been climbing up out of the Terrace of Avarice and now arrive at the sixth level about 10:30 in the morning. After … Continue reading
Soon, however, their pleasant conversation was interrupted by the appearance of a great tree in the middle of the road. It was filled with fruit, and its lovely fragrance filled the air. You know how a fir tree tapers more and more toward its top. Well, this one did the opposite–it tapered downward. I suppose that was to stop the souls there from climbing it. And from high up on the wall a stream of clear water poured down into the topmost branches.This unusual tree and the water falling down upon it from above is one of the stranger sights we’ve seen in Purgatory. From the way it’s described, we might, at first, think it’s actually … Continue reading
As Virgil and Statius approached that tree, a voice from within it shouted at us: “You may not eat or drink here!” Then in a moment, it continued: “At the wedding feast, Mary was more concerned with the guests than with her own words–which now plead on your behalf. In ancient Rome, women were satisfied with plain water as their drink. And Daniel, scorning food, gained wisdom. The first age of man was golden; acorns filled the hungry, and any stream satisfied thirst. In the wilderness, locusts and honey were the food of John the Baptist–for which he is famous, as the Gospel tells you.”The mystic voice that shouts from the tree (it is never identified) completes the way Dante structures our fascination. One is reminded here of the injunction in Genesis (2:17) where God forbids Adam … Continue reading
Notes & Commentary
|↑1||The “We” at the beginning of this passage now includes all three poets: Dante, Virgil, and Statius. The angel who shows them the way to the next terrace is named by some commentators as the Angel of Liberality, by others the Angel of Moderation. From what we will soon learn about Statius, moderation seems more likely. As at previous terrace-transitions, this angel erases the fifth P from Dante’s forehead, but not from Statius’s. As has been noted in my comments for earlier cantos, it appears that the “adornment” (to use Hollander’s word) on Dante’s forehead seems to be reserved for him alone among the souls in Purgatory. While removing this P, the angel quotes from the fourth of the Beatitudes noted in St. Matthew’s Gospel (5:6): “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.” However, the verse is actually truncated so that it would read: “Blessed are they who…thirst for righteousness.” This makes sense for the avaricious who thirsted for material wealth. The “hunger” part of the verse will make sense on the Terrace of Gluttony to which we are headed.|
|↑2||Virgil actually has two questions for Statius, and we have the first one here. Knowing that Statius has a great love and admiration for him as the source of his poetry, and loving him in return, Dante the Poet gives us a sense here of Virgil’s difficulty in asking a man he loves dearly a delicate question about his sins and how they led him to this place in Purgatory.|
The reader might also be asking questions. How did Virgil know about Statius’s love for him? Interestingly enough, he tells us here–not where we might have expected it in Canto 4 of the Inferno–that Juvenal brought word of this love when he arrived in Limbo. All of this, of course, is being made up by Dante. And one would think, by the way, that both Virgil and Dante would have expressed a rather immediate surprise at meeting Statius, a pagan as far as they knew, here and not in Limbo. But Dante will take care of this issue soon enough when Virgil asks his second question.
Decius Junius Juvenal (47-130AD) was a famous Roman satirist who was born 2 years after Statius and outlived him by 34 years. We really don’t know whether they were friends, but Statius, who often flattered the emperor Domitian in his poetry (Juvenal apparently hated the emperor), was apparently the object of one of Juvenal’s satires against Rome’s extravagance and its flattery. Dante seems to have known the Satires and noted Juvenal in some of his prose writings. In the Seventh Satire, Juvenal alludes to Statius’s poverty, but there is nothing historically to back this up. Juvenal writes there:
|↑3||Hollander quotes Benvenuto da Imola here: “Statius now smiles at Virgil’s mistake just as Dante had smiled, earlier, at Statius’s mistake.” When he replies he gives us new information about how sins are punished in Purgatory. Before he answers, though, he reminds Virgil that appearances can be deceiving unless one knows the truth that is within. Virgil had assumed (most likely, Dante, too) that the sin was avarice. But it’s exactly the opposite, Statius tells him candidly. His sin was prodigality, which, I suspect, most of us don’t think about as being sinful. In this case, we, too, tend to judge by appearances until we know the truth.
Then comes something quite unexpected. Statius tells Virgil that he might well have been in Hell with the misers and spendthrifts (Canto 7) if he hadn’t read a passage in his Aeneid (Book 3:55-58). Like avarice, prodigality is an over-concern for material things, but manifested by a riotous, careless style of living rather than greed and grabbing so often characteristic of avarice. As noted above, however, we have no historical evidence to make any claims about Statius’s financial condition. Juvenal teased him about being poor, but that was in the context of satire.
|↑4||Like his earlier self-identification, Statius’s answer to Virgil’s question about the nature of his sin is slow in coming as he continues to explain his sin of prodigality. At the same time, this slow explanation matches what appears to be his slow realization while living that prodigality was, in fact, also sinful. His full realization lead, as he says, to his repentance.
But there’s a curious issue that arises here. Statius refers to the unfortunate ignorance of those who find themselves in Hell because they didn’t realize–one supposes–that prodigality was a sin and, obviously, too late to repent. His reference to those who will “find themselves bald on the Last Day” comes from Canto 7 in the Inferno where Dante and Virgil encounter the hoarders and spenders. For all eternity, they joust, as it were, by rolling great boulders against each other, shouting “Why do you hoard?” and “Why do you spend?” Dante was surprised to notice among these sinners many with the tonsure, a shaved circular area on top of the heads of monks and other churchmen. This is what Statius refers to here. The question, however, is how does he know about the specific punishment/contrapasso of those sinners in Hell? Do the sinners in Purgatory know this kind of detailed information? Or is this simply a place where Dante the Poet inserts a small detail from his Inferno into the conversation to give it more substance or to create some continuity between the fact that two sins are punished in the same place in the Inferno and the same two are also punished together here. I tend to follow this latter possibility. The reader will also remember that there are two separate instances of prodigality in the Inferno: one in Canto 7 and the other at the end of Canto 13. The difference between them is that the former is a sin of weakness, whereas the later is a deliberate act of the will in recklessly squandering/ruining one’s possessions.
Let us remind ourselves, moreover, that all the human characters in the Comedy were, in fact, real people. But the Poem itself is a fantasy, a creation of Dante’s imagination, and the details, like the bald sinners, are all fictions within which the human characters live and interact in the world of the Poem. Not only that, the reader must be thinking already that Statius was a Christian. Otherwise, why would he be talking about repentance during his lifetime, and why would he be here in Purgatory, not forgetting that he’s just been released for Paradise? Yet we have no real historical evidence that he was a Christian. Just as we have no real evidence that he was poor.
What is important here, however, is that we continue to learn more about how Purgatory actually works the more we continue through it and interact with its inhabitants. In his commentary here, Mark Musa confirms that there is some confusion here. “It may seem strange,” he writes, “that Virgil, who in Canto 17 showed a knowledge of the purgatorial system that he need not have been expected to possess, here seems ignorant of the fact that prodigality is punished on the same terrace with avarice, though in Hell we find the same arrangement. And yet the presence on this terrace of souls repenting for their prodigality comes as a surprise also to the reader, who has not been given a hint of it up to now.”
Lest we stray too far from Statius’s explanation, he now clearly states that sins and their direct opposites are punished in Purgatory on the same terrace. His sin was prodigality, which is the opposite of the sin of avarice. However, attentive reading of the rest of this Canticle will reveal that this is the only place in the Purgatorio where this actually happens, in spite of the fact that Dante suggests rather authoritatively (when Statius states above: “But know this…”) that this is the way things work up and down the Mountain.
|↑5||This is Virgil’s second question to Statius, and it will soon lead to Statius’s account of his conversion to, and salvation by, the Christian faith. The Bucolics are a series of ten pastoral poems called Eclogues, written by Virgil with mostly rural themes. John Ciardi notes in his commentary here that, “this is the first time that Virgil has been cited as the author of any work except the Aeneid.” In a moment, one of these poems will become quite important to the conversation here. Clio was the Muse of History, and Statius invoked her aid at the beginning of his famous epic, the Thebaid, about the war of the Seven against Thebes (which preceded the Trojan War by a generation). Statius also set out to write an epic about Achilles (the Achilleid) but died before he could finish it.
A bit of further background: The “fatal conflict between Jocasta’s twin sons” is a reference to one of the most famous ancient Greek stories involving Oedipus. Oedipus’ father, Laius, had been warned by an oracle from Delphi not to have a child or it would grow up to kill him and marry his wife, Jocasta. Laius failed to heed the warning, but thinking he could evade the prophecy, he gave the child to a shepherd to expose it on a mountainside. Instead, the shepherd raised Oedipus, who later returned to do exactly what the Delphic oracle had predicted.
Unwittingly marrying his mother, Jocasta, she produced the twins Eteocles and Polynices. Later, when the incest was revealed, Oedipus, now King, blinded himself and spent the rest of his life in exile. In the mean time, Eteocles and Polynices were left to share the rule of Thebes, each one on alternating years. But Eteocles refused to surrender the throne after the first year, which led to the famous war of the Seven against Thebes, during which the twins killed each other in hand-to-hand combat as they had been doomed to do by their father’s curse.
Some points of comparison: Virgil was born in 70BC and died in 19BC. Statius was born in 45AD (64 years after the death of Virgil) and died in 96AD. Virgil’s Aeneid was written in the 10-year period before his death in 19BC. Statius’s Thebaid was written between 80AD and 92AD.
Here, Virgil doesn’t think Statius was a Christian when he wrote the Thebaid (close to a hundred years after Virgil died) and wants to know what inspired his conversion (“…travel with the great Fisherman”–a reference to St. Peter). In a sense, Statius’ epic poem isn’t really the major focus in this conversation, except that Virgil (Dante) has a rather convoluted way of addressing Statius by way of that poem. Virgil, of course, could not have read the Thebaid himself, though some commentators suggest that Dante treats him as if he had. But he obviously knows about it–most likely from other Roman poets who arrived in Limbo after it had been written. Dante must surely have read it and he must have had an admiration for Statius, bringing him into the Poem as he does in these cantos (and for the rest of the Purgatorio), and even comparing him with the post-Resurrection Christ in the previous canto. It’s also interesting to consider that just as Virgil saved Dante as his guide and mentor in the Comedy, it was Virgil’s poetry that saved Statius.
|↑6||Now we have the specific answer to Virgil’s question: “…what light from Heaven or earthly lamp lit your way…?” We have already seen gracious examples of Statius’s admiration and affection for Virgil. Statius’s further response here now lavishes on Virgil the highest praise he can offer: not only does he owe his inspiration as a poet to Virgil, he also owes to him his conversion to the Christian faith.
The opening reference to Parnassus takes us to the famous mountain by that name in Greece. Mythologically, it was a place sacred to the god Apollo and also inhabited by the Muses: appropriate here because the Muse of Poetry, Calliope, lived among them. On the mountain, near Delphi, was also the sacred fountain of Castalia to which Statius refers. Virgil, having already drunk from that sacred fountain, inspired Statius to do the same. Furthermore, and without his realizing it, Virgil himself was the “light from Heaven” that led Statius to the Christian faith.
Then comes an amazing compliment to Virgil that should inspire not only poets and artists, but anyone in a position of leadership: Virgil led the way for Statius–poetically and spiritually–not by holding the light in front of himself, but by holding it behind him so others (Statius, but many other poets besides) could follow.
Not to cast a shadow on Statius’s conversion, though, it is the estimation of many commentators that this is a complete poetic invention of Dante’s. The arguments are wonderfully convoluted, and it may even be possible that Dante had access to material we no longer have. But in the end, we simply have no evidence. However, this is a good place to remind ourselves that the Divine Comedy is a work of fiction which, at the same time, its author insists we take for complete truth. This is the “willing suspension of disbelief,” to quote Samuel Taylor Coleridge, where, to enjoy a work of art or a fiction to the fullest, we let go the brakes of our critical faculties and willingly believe everything we read–for the sheer pleasure of it!
Now, Statius does offer “proof”–a passage from Virgil’s Fourth Eclogue (vv.5-7): “The great line of the centuries begins anew; / now the Virgin returns, the reign of Saturn returns; / now new progeny descends from heaven on high.” As Dante has done with Statius’s so-called conversion, Statius does with these lines from Virgil: he makes slight adjustments which could be construed as a kind of prophecy about the New Age ushered in by the birth of Jesus and the ensuing Christian faith. Note Dorothy Sayers’s fascinating commentary here: “Written apparently to celebrate the expected birth of a son to Octavian (or perhaps to Antony), these lines were not unnaturally received by the early Church as an inspired, though unconscious, prophecy of Christ; and for many years, during the Middle Ages, Virgil was commemorated at the Christmas Mass in Rouen and elsewhere as ‘Maro, Prophet of the Gentiles’.”
Before explaining how his conversion came about, Statius tells Virgil plainly that it was because of him that he (Statius) became both a poet and a Christian. Note how, with the full energy of his Christian Poem, Dante forges a link here between poetry and the Christian faith – between art and faith. In the Italian here, Statius says, “…a colorare stenderò la mano,” meaning that he will now color in the outline he has already drawn for us. This coloring-in suggests how each aspect of a life-story is a work of art. And since he has fabricated this story about Statius, Dante takes up the brushes and fills in the details of the poet’s conversion.
|↑7||As he begins the explanation of his conversion to the Christian faith, Statius uses the images of seeds growing–seeds of faith growing in the newly-planted Christian community in Rome, and seeds of faith growing within himself as he pondered Virgil’s words and saw how they meshed so neatly with the words of the Christian evangelist(s). One is reminded here of Jesus’ Parable of the Sower in chapter 13 of St. Matthew’s Gospel. The seed is the Word of God sown by evangelists and teachers, and the soil is represented by those who hear it. From what we know of the travels of the great Apostles, Peter and Paul, it would have been quite possible that Statius actually heard them preach, and thus proclaim the new age that Virgil unknowingly prophesied.
The Word of God obviously took root in Statius as he both listened to the words of Christian evangelists and soon enough became a baptized member–although a secret one–of the Christian community itself. This happened, he tells us, when he was half way through the writing of his famous epic, the Thebiad. (Recall how, earlier, Virgil remarked to Statius that he doubted he was a Christian while writing his great poem.)
Nevertheless, Statius adds more to his story. He reveals that, out of fear for his life, he remained a secret Christian for the rest of his life, though he seems willingly to have supported them whenever he could. In the meantime, he pretended to be a pagan. As a result of this pretense, Statius tells Virgil and Dante that he spent 400 years on the Terrace of the Slothful. And here, we need to pause for a moment and consider the amount of time Statius may have had to spend in Purgatory. Dante’s Comedy is set in the year 1300AD. Statius died in 96AD, some 1,204 years earlier. He just told us that he spent 400 years on the Terrace of Sloth, and earlier he told us he spent the last 500 years on the Terrace of Avarice and Prodigality. That leaves us with 304 years unaccounted for, but Dante doesn’t give us any information about them. Three possibilities, among others–including our imagination–might fill in the time. He might have had to wait at the mouth of the Tiber River where souls were ferried to Purgatory, as we saw in Canto 2. He might have spent time in ante-Purgatorio because of his sloth. Or he might have spent time on other levels of the Mountain purging other sins.
Terence, Plautus, Caecilius, and Varius were Roman playwrights and are with Virgil in Limbo. Varius was a close friend of Virgil’s and one of the editors of the Aeneid after Virgil’s death. Dante’s (probably minor) exposure to them would (probably) have been through the Roman poet Horace.
|↑8||As Statius finished the story of his conversion, he asked Virgil (his heavenly light) about four other pagan Roman writers: Terrence, Plautus, Caecilius, and Varius (see the note above). Responding, Virgil adds 14 more famous figures from antiquity. Keeping in mind the idea of Virgil as the prophet of the Christian era, Ronald Martinez notes here in his commentary: “Along with Limbo (Inf. 4.79-144), this is the most extensive catalogue of classical figures in the Comedy; both lists include historical personages (in Inferno 4 mostly political figures and philosophers, here exclusively poets) and characters of myth (here figures from Statius’s poems). They are a reminder of the richness of classical civilization, both Greek and Latin, culminating in Virgil, which prepared for the advent of Christianity.”
A Who’s Who in order of mention:
The following characters are mentioned in Statius’s Thebaid and Achilleid:
Mark Musa writes in his commentary here that: “It is interesting to note that Dante jumps with the greatest of ease from real authors to fictional characters. What both groups have in common, however, is their connection with literature, and at this point Dante wants to keep literature in our minds in order to prepare for the discussions of poetry that will take place on the terraces of gluttony and lust.”
|↑9||All during this conversation about Status’s conversion, the three poets have been climbing up out of the Terrace of Avarice and now arrive at the sixth level about 10:30 in the morning. After scanning the new landscape, Virgil leads them to the right along their accustomed route–along the terrace’s edge. Note that Statius’s agreement with their route indicates his confidence in Virgil’s leadership. Even though he has already been freed from purgatorial penitence, he willingly follows Dante and Virgil who are bound to the Mountain in a way that he no longer is. Dante notes that they (most likely he and Virgil) were more at ease now that they had Statius with them. Good student that he is, he follows behind his two poetic masters listening and learning as they discuss the art of poetry. Given the fame and grandeur of Dante’s Comedy, we might read this line with tongue in cheek. What more, we might ask, can Dante possibly learn about poetry? Yet he’s had one of the greatest poets from antiquity as his guide all along his journey, and another great one has just joined them. It’s one thing to read their works. Imagine what it was like to hear them talk about the art that made all three of them famous. There’s humility in Dante’s words here, and there’s a subtle harkening back to Statius’s great compliment to Virgil: a good leader doesn’t only light his own path. He also makes sure that others can follow.|
|↑10||This unusual tree and the water falling down upon it from above is one of the stranger sights we’ve seen in Purgatory. From the way it’s described, we might, at first, think it’s actually upside-down. But the text gives us no indication that this is the case, although some commentators through the ages have stated that it was upside-down. And there are some late Medieval illustrations showing an actual upside-down tree with its roots in the air. But since Dante himself suggests that the tree’s unusual tapering is probably intended to keep the souls from climbing it (though we haven’t seen any of them yet), it may be that the branches actually get longer toward the top and bend downward instead of upward. This would make it hard to climb.
Though we have not been told yet, we can correctly assume that the three poets have now arrived at the Terrace of Gluttony. The lush evergreen tree, filled with fruit, and splashed with abundant water from above will be symbolic and play directly into the contrapssso for the sinners we will meet on this Terrace.
|↑11||The mystic voice that shouts from the tree (it is never identified) completes the way Dante structures our fascination. One is reminded here of the injunction in Genesis (2:17) where God forbids Adam and Eve to eat from the Tree of Knowledge. This is immediately followed by a series of examples of temperance and moderation, beginning, as always, with the virtue of Mary, the mother of Jesus. His first miracle in the Gospel of St. John (2:1-11) takes place at a wedding celebration. Seeing that the hosts had run out of wine, Jesus’s mother brought this to his attention and he changed water into wine. Note how Mary’s compassion for the bride and groom is highlighted here and how the voice tells the poets that that same compassion pleads on our behalf in heaven.
Following this, other examples of moderation are given, all of which comprise the “whip” of Gluttony (virtues opposed to the sin) that ends this canto. The first is actually noted in St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica (2a 2ae q. 149 a. 4)–in ancient Rome, women drank water instead of wine. Second, Daniel, in the Book of Daniel (1:17), was given wisdom and understanding when he refused to blaspheme and eat the food the king sent to him. The third example comes from Ovid’s Metamorphoses (1:103ff): early humans in the Golden Age satisfied themselves with acorns and water. And, finally, John the Baptist ate locusts and wild honey as noted in St. Matthew’s Gospel (3:4).