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Dorothy L. Sayers

from her Commentary included in her translation of

The Comedy of Dante Alighieri The Florentine


Penguin Books Ltd, London1955.


Commentary on the Images  in Canto XXV


Lust.  The penance of the Lustful: the fire.  By contrast with the common run of eschatological writers, Dante is strangely economical in his use of fire.  Even in Hell, the naked flame makes only four appearances (in the Sixth Circle, Ring ii of the seventh, and Bowges iii and viii of the Eighth), and is never unaccompanied by some touch of greatness amid the squalor: Farinata, Capaneus and the Three Noble Florentines, Ulysses, the outraged majesty of the Most High Keys.   On the Blissful Mountain, the traditional "Purgatory Fire" is conspicuous by its absence: only on its last and highest and most triumphant Cornice does this great Scriptural image blaze out with a sudden splendid lucidity.


"For He is like a refiner's fire"; "the fining-pot is for silver and the furnace for gold"; "the words of the Lord are pure words, even as the silver, which from the earth is tried, and purified seven times in the fire."  Fire, which is an image of Lust, is also an image of Purity.  The burning of the sin, and the burning charity which is its opposing virtue, here coalesce into a single image and a single experience; here, where the souls of great poets go singing and weeping through the flame, the noblest of earthly lovers is purged and set in order.