Canto 4 - Ante-Purgatory: Nature of the Mountain. Last-minute Repentants. Belacqua.
Manfred's account is an important lesson for the pilgrim - indeed, for any pilgrim in any worthy endeavor in life - another warning concerning the ever-attendant danger of distraction from the greater task in hand. One of the souls put them on the path up the mountain by pointing the way forward through a narrow crevice in the rock. Dante soon tires and Virgil urges him to keep going:-
And he to me: "No step of thine descend;
still up the mount behind me win thy way,
till some sage escort shall appear to us."
They pause to rest and Virgil explains the geography and astronomy of Purgatory, believed to be set at the polar opposite of the world as known in medieval times. Virgil explains the nature of progress up the mountain:-
And he to me: "This mount is such, that ever
at the beginning down below 'tis tiresome,
and aye the more one climbs, the less it hurts.
Therefore, when it shall seem so pleasant to thee,
that going up shall be to thee as easy
as going down the current in a boat,
then at this pathway's ending thou wilt be;
there to repose thy panting breath expect;
no more I answer; and this I know for true."
And as he finished uttering these words,
a voice close by us sounded: "Peradventure
thou wilt have need of sitting down ere that."
The sarcastic voice belongs to Belacqua, a lute-maker from Florence, famous for his indolence. He is here on this terrace amongst the Late Repentants, who through laziness and procrastination put off their repentance until the very end of their lives - in articulo mortis as the Church expresses it. They are destined to spend a period of time equal to the length of the life they lived before being allowed to begin purgation.