the most grievous weight to bend your back

You shall leave everything you love most dearly: 

that is the arrow that the bow of exile 

shoots first. You are to know the bitter taste 

of other’s bread, how salt it is, and know

how hard a path it is for one who goes

descending and ascending other’s stairs.

But the most grievous weight to bend your back

shall be the vicious and senseless company

with whom you shall fall into this vale.

Who all ungrateful, all mad and impious,

shall act against you: but in short time they,

not you, will have red cheeks. Their end

shall furnish proof of their own bestiality

so that it will appear a handsome deed 

that you have formed a party of one. 

(Paradiso XVII:55-60)


The above passage from Dante’s Paradiso was invoked by the exiled Erich Auerbach in a March 1948 lecture at Pennsylvania State College (now Pennsylvania State University). Unbeknownst to Auerbach at the time of his lecture, the administration of the college had already decided, that due to a preexisting heart condition, he would be forced leave Penn State, his first American refuge, to seek sanctuary elsewhere (see chapter one, “Auerbach’s Scar” in Djelal Kadir’s 2011 book, Memos from the Besieged City).



Attached is the full text (including the Italian) of Paradiso Canto XVII.

Paradiso Canto XVII.pdf1.23 MB