“Wait ’til I come back”
“But what if you don’t come back?”
“I must do my duty”
NOTE: The Roman Emperor Trajan is an example of humility. He was just beginning to lead his soldiers out of Rome to fight a war when a widow stopped him and asked him for justice for her son, who had been murdered. He said, “Wait ’til I come back.” She replied, “But what if you don’t come back?” Knowing that his duties as Emperor included dispensing justice, he then stayed in Rome until he got justice for the murder of the widow’s son.
PURGATORIO CANTO X
The exalted glory of the Roman prince, Whose mighty worth moved Gregory to earn His mighty conquest, Trajan the Emperor. A widow at his bridle stood, attired In tears and mourning. Round about them troop'd Full throng of knights; and overhead in gold The eagles floated, struggling with the wind. The wretch appear'd amid all these to say: "Grant vengeance, Sire! for, woe beshrew this heart, My son is murder'd." He replying seem'd: "Wait now till I return." And she, as one Made hasty by her grief: "O Sire! if thou Dost not return?" - "Where I am, who then is, May right thee." - "What to thee is other's good, If thou neglect thy own?" - "Now comfort thee;" At length he answers. "It beseemeth well My duty be perform'd, ere I move hence: So justice wills; and pity bids me stay." [1: "Gregory." St. Gregory's prayers are said to have delivered Trajan from hell. See Paradise, Canto xx. 40.]
Paradiso Canto XX Argument The eagle celebrates the praise of certain kings, whose glorified spirits form the eye of the bird. In the pupil is David; and, in the circle round it, Trajan, Hezekiah, Constantine, William II of Sicily, and Ripheus. It explains to our Poet how the souls of those whom he supposed to have had no means of believing in Christ, came to be in Heaven; and concludes with an admonition against presuming to fathom the counsels of God. When, disappearing from our hemisphere, The world's enlightener vanishes, and day On all sides wasteth; suddenly the sky, Erewhile irradiate only with his beam, Is yet again unfolded, putting forth Innumerable lights wherein one shines. Of such vicissitude in Heaven I thought; As the great sign, that marshaleth the world And the world's leaders, in the blessed beak Was silent: for that all those living lights, Waxing in splendour, burst forth into songs, Such as from memory glide and fall away. [1: The eagle, the imperial ensign.] Sweet Love, that doth apparel thee in smiles! How lustrous was thy semblance in those sparkles, Which merely are from holy thoughts inspired. After the precious and bright beaming stones, That did ingem the sixth light, ceased the chiming Of their angelic bells; methought I heard The murmuring of a river, that doth fall From rock to rock transpicuous, making known The richness of his spring - head: and as sound Of cittern, at the fret - board, or of pipe, Is, at the wind - hole, modulate and tuned; Thus up the neck, as it were hollow, rose That murmuring of the eagle; and forthwith Voice there assumed; and thence along the beak Issued in form of words, such as my heart Did look for, on whose tables I inscribed them. [2: "After." "After the spirits in the sixth planet (Jupiter) had ceased their singing."] "The part in me, that sees and bears the sun In mortal eagles," it began, "must now Be noted steadfastly: for, of the fires That figure me, those, glittering in mine eye, Are chief of all the greatest. This, that shines Midmost for pupil, was the same who sang The Holy Spirit's song, and bare about The ark from town to town: now doth he know The merit of his soul - impassion'd strains By their well - fitted guerdon. Of the five, That make the circle of the vision, he, Who to the beak is nearest, comforted The widow for her son: now doth he know, How dear it costeth not to follow Christ; Both from experience of this pleasant life, And of its opposite. He next, who follows In the circumference, for the over - arch, By true repenting slack'd the pace of death: Now knoweth he, that the decrees of Heaven Alter not, when, through pious prayer below, To - day is made to - morrow's destiny. The other following, with the laws and me, To yield the Shepherd room, pass'd o'er to Greece; From good intent, producing evil fruit: Now knoweth he, how all the ill, derived From his well doing, doth not harm him aught; Though it have brought destruction on the world. That, which thou seest in the under bow, Was William, whom that land bewails, which weeps For Charles and Frederick living: now he knows, How well is loved in Heaven the righteous king; Which he betokens by his radiant seeming. Who, in the erring world beneath, would deem [3: "Who." David.] [4: "Trajan. See Purgatory, x. 68.] [5: "He next." Hezekiah.] [6: The eternal counsels of God are indeed ummutable, though they appear to us men to be altered by the prayers of the pious.] [7: Constantine. No passage in which Dante's opinion of the evil that had arisen from the mixture of the civil with the ecclesiastical power is more unequivocally declared.] [8: Left the Roman State to the Pope, and transferred the seat of the empire to Constantinople.] [9: William II, called "the Good," King of Sicily, at the latter part of the twelfth century. He was of the Norman line of sovereigns. His loss was as much the subject of regret in his dominions, as the presence of Charles II of Anjou, and Frederick of Arragon, was of sorrow.] That Trojan Ripheus, in this round, was set, Fifth of the saintly splendours? now he knows Enough of that, which the world cannot see; The grace divine: albeit e'en his sight Reach not its utmost depth." Like to the lark, That warbling in the air expatiates long, Then, trilling out his last sweet melody, Drops, satiate with the sweetness; such appear'd That image, stampt by the everlasting pleasure, Which fashions, as they are, all things that be. [10: "Then Ripheus fell, the justest far of all the sons of Troy." - Virgil, Aeneid. lib. ii. 427.] I, though my doubting were as manifest, As is through glass the hue that mantles it, In silence waited not; for to my lips "What things are these?" involuntary rush'd, And forced a passage out: whereat I mark'd A sudden lightening and new revelry. The eye was kindled; and the blessed sign, No more to keep me wondering and suspense, Replied: "I see that thou believest these things, Because I tell them, but discern'st not how; So that thy knowledge waits not on thy faith: As one, who knows the name of thing by rote, But is a stranger to its properties, Till other's tongue reveal them. Fervent love, And lively hope, with violence assail The Kingdom of the Heavens, and overcome The will of the Most High; not in such sort As man prevails o'er man; but conquers it, Because 'tis willing to be conquer'd; still, Though conquer'd, by its mercy, conquering. "Those, in the eye who live the first and fifth, Cause thee to marvel, in that thou behold'st The region of the Angels deck'd with them. They quitted not their bodies, as thou deem'st, Gentiles, but Christians; in firm rooted faith, This, of the feet in future to be pierced, That, of feet nail'd already to the Cross. [11: "This." Ripheus.] [12: "That." Trajan.] One from the barrier of the dark abyss, Where never any with good will returns, Came back unto his bones. Of lively hope Such was the meed; of lively hope, that wing'd The prayers sent up to God for his release, And put power into them to bend his will. The glorious Spirit, of whom I speak to thee; A little while returning to the flesh, Believed in Him, who had the means to help; And, in believing, nourish'd such a flame Of holy love, that at the second death He was made sharer in our gamesome mirth. The other, through the riches of that grace, Which from so deep a fountain doth distil, As never eye created saw its rising, Placed all his love below on just and right: Wherefore, of grace, God oped in him the eye To the redemption of mankind to come; Wherein believing, he endured no more The filth of Paganism, and for their ways Rebuked the stubborn nations. The three nymphs, Whom at the right wheel thou beheld'st advancing, Were sponsors for him, more than thousand years Before baptizing. O how far removed, Predestination! is thy root from such As see not the First Cause entire: and ye, O mortal men! be wary how ye judge: For we, who see our Maker, know not yet The number of the chosen; and esteem Such scantiness of knowledge our delight: For all our good is, in that Primal Good, Concentrate; and God's will and ours are one." [13: The prayers of St. Gregory.] [14: "The three nymphs." Faith, Hope, and Charity. Purgatory, Canto xxix. 116.] So, by that form divine, was given to me Sweet medicine to clear and strengthen sight. And, as one handling skilfully the harp, Attendant on some skilful songster's voice Bids the chord vibrate; and therein the song Acquires more pleasure: so the whilst it spake. It doth remember me, that I beheld The pair of blessed luminaries move, Like the accordant twinkling of two eyes, Their beamy circlets, dancing to the sounds. [15: Ripheus and Trajan.]
He Intercedes for the Emperor Trajan
In the time that Trajan the emperor reigned, and on a time as he went toward a battle out of Rome, it happed that in his way as he should ride, a woman, a widow, came to him weeping and said: I pray thee, sire, that thou avenge the death of one my son which innocently and without cause hath been slain.
The emperor answered: If I come again from the battle whole and sound then I shall do justice for the death of thy son.
Then said the widow: Sire, and if thou die in the battle who shall then avenge his death?
And the emperor said: He that shall come after me.
And the widow said: Is it not better that thou do to me justice and have the merit thereof of God than another have it for thee?
Then had Trajan pity and descended from his horse and did justice in avenging the death of her son.
On a time St. Gregory went by the market of Rome which is called the market of Trajan, and then he remembered of the justice and other good deeds of Trajan, and how he had been piteous and debonair, and was much sorrowful that he had been a paynim, and he turned to the church of St. Peter wailing for the horror of the miscreance of Trajan.
Then answered a voice from God saying: I have now heard thy prayer, and have spared Trajan from the pain perpetual.
By this, as some say, the pain perpetual due to Trajan as a miscreant was somedeal taken away, but for all that was not he quit from the prison of hell, for the soul may well be in hell and feel there no pain by the mercy of God.
The eighth and final chapter briefly surveys the history of posthumous salvation after Augustine. Central is a story told about Pope Gregory the Great (sixth century), who supposedly uttered a prayer for the salvation of the pagan Roman emperor Trajan, who had lived in the second century. In Eastern Orthodoxy, this prayer is often combined with that of Thecla for Falconilla as two examples of God’s mercy even upon dead pagans. In the west, because of Augustine’s influence, the story is retold to include the resurrection of the body of Trajan, since without physical baptism, no one who lived after Christ can be saved.