"Deh, quando tu sarai tornato al mondo
Pia's brief appearance at the conclusion of Purg. 5 has been interpreted by a number of twentieth-century readers in a sentimental light; as a type of solicitous addendum or poised delivery, effective in its restoration of decorum and civility after the disordered upheaval of the natural world evoked by Bonconte's tempest-driven, blood-stained corpse being dragged and submerged by the raging fluvial torrents of the Archiano and the Arno. Vying amidst twentieth-century critical views of Pia are those of a genteel, even maternal, petitioner and a timid, fragile soul: "una gentilissima" (Vannucci, 1961); "sollecitudine tutta femminile, anzi materna, per le piccole cose della nostra vita" (Bosco, 1966); "una fragile donna che si spegne silenziosamente" (Puppo, 1968); "ella parla con timidezza e con riserva" (Chiari, 1977). However, a closer look at the context of Pia's exchange with the Wayfarer reveals an augurial formula that is charged with dramatic intensity.
Evidence regarding Pia's historical identity remains inconclusive, in spite of scholarly attempts to establish the identity and marital status of Pia de' Tolomei, Pia Guastelloni and Pia Malavolti. Traditional Dante commentary supports a theory of uxoricide, whereby Pia's husband, Nello d'Inghiramo de' Pannocchieschi, allegedly disposed of his spouse, Pia de' Tolomei, at his castle near Massa Marittima in order to marry Countess Margherita Aldobrandeschi, with whom he was amorously involved. Twentieth-century critics have advanced the view that Pia was the widow of Tollo (Bertoldo) di Prata and that she had died while under the protective custody of Nello d'Inghiramo, who had once acted as proxy for Tollo (see Ciacci, 1935; Lisini & Bianchi Bandinelli, 1939; Varanini's entry on Pia in ED). Whilst it is unlikely that Pia is a fictional character with no historical basis, the documentary evidence remains inconclusive and over the years her persona has acquired a somewhat romanticized aura.
In elucidating possible literary sources for Pia's salutatio and epitaph, Gmelin's commentary (1955) links the palindromic "Siena mi fé, disfecemi Maremma" (134) to Donatus' epitaph of Virgil, Mantua me genuit, Calabri rapuere, and Pia's allusion to betrayal (135-136) to a possible Virgilian source; that is, Dido's recollection of the death of her husband, Sychaeus (Aeneid 4.28f). Pia's petition to Dante, ricorditi di me, also contains a lexical clue, in the form of a biblical reminiscence from Luke's Gospel, that has repercussions for a more cogent understanding of the personal salvation drama of the souls in Purg. 5. The biblical echo suggests that underpinning the events recalled in Purg. 5 and its interlocutors' need for prayers from the living is an episode at the heart of the Christian faith: Christ's death on the cross at Golgotha and, in particular, one of the events surrounding it, the episode of the two robbers who are crucified with Christ. The presence of the crucified robbers is recorded in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, but only Luke's Gospel (23: 39-43) reports the verbal exchange between Christ and the thieves: Unus autem de his, qui pendebant, latronibus, blasphemabat eum, dicens: Si tu es Christus, salvum fac temetipsum, et nos. Respondens autem alter increpabat eum, dicens: Neque tu times Deum, quod in eadem damnatione es. Et nos quidem juste, nam digna factis recipimus: hic vero nihil mali gessit. Et dicebat ad Jesum: Domine, memento mei, cum veneris in regnum tuum. Et dixit illi Jesus: Amen dico tibi: Hodie mecum eris in paradiso. [One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, "Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!" But the other rebuked him, saying, "Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we justly; for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong." And he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingly power." And he said to him, "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise."]
In extremis, the crucified thief repents of his misdeeds. Acknowledging that he deserves his punishment, he turns to Christ and makes a humble request, asking only to be remembered by Him in Heaven: "Signore, ricordati di me, quando sarai venuto nel tuo regno." The thief's request is followed by the immediate confirmation, uttered by Christ, in extremis, undergoing a violent death by crucifixion, that the thief will be with Him that very day in Paradise: "Io ti dico in verità, che oggi tu sarai meco in paradiso". The robber gives us no epitaph of his life, but his sincere repentance and Christ's intercession win him eternal salvation. Thus the moment of sincere contrition, articulated through the briefest of requests, is enough to save the robber's soul for all eternity. This intense and dramatic utterance by the crucified thief -- the revelatory quality of his admission, his recognition of the apportioning of justice, and of the nature of divine reward and punishment, and the sincere request to be remembered -- constitute his personal, salvation drama, a drama of the soul before the moment of death involving self-recognition, conversion in the form of repentance and the surety of a future heavenly reward.
Purg. 5 resonates with numerous echoes, both lexical and visual, from the drama at Golgotha; for example, Jesus addresses his mother, who is standing by the cross, while Bonconte, on the point of death, utters Mary's name, "nel nome di Maria finì" (101); Bonconte folds his arms across his breast in the form of a cross and Christ dies on a cross; Jacopo's body bleeds from its open wounds and Bonconte bleeds from the throat, while Jesus' body is pierced by the spear of one of the Roman soldiers; after losing Bonconte's soul to the angel, the angry devil summons up a torrential storm, while after Christ's death, the earth is in upheaval, with the effects of the violent earthquake recorded in Matthew's Gospel (27:50-53). Underscoring the christological associations is Dante's own "figural moral function" of a descent into and subsequent emergence from Hell "on the third day" (Armour, 1981).
The figure of Pia is most often remembered in her memorable line of verse: ricorditi di me, che son la Pia (133). Her salvific rescue, achieved through her sincere contrition in extremis, along with that of her fellow late-repentants, Jacopo and Bonconte, offers a message of hope to the living and highlights the irrelevance of earthly sanctions and jurisdictions, both secular and ecclesiastical, in the face of God's infinite saving powers and the special and exclusive relationship experienced by each individual soul with its Divine Creator. The sentimentality conveyed by some critics, when discussing and analysing Pia's encounter with Dante, is entirely their own invention and is not consonant with the intention of the text, which is closely aligned to the pressing need felt by the souls in Antepurgatory for the prayers of the living, the doctrine of the suffragia mortuorum. It is this desire to begin the rite of purification in Purgatory proper that above all informs their discourse with Dante.
In the recognition of the lexical echo from the drama at Golgotha, the full resonance of Pia's words (their highly-charged intensity and biblical import) is made evident, so that her narrative provides a wider focus to the moments of high tension conveyed by Jacopo's and Bonconte's violent and disturbing tales. When linked to the crucified thief's request to Christ, Pia's simple utterance in the 'polite' imperative, ricorditi di me, reverberates in a more meaningful way and may be seen as emblematic of the soul turning to God prior to death and receiving the gift of His infinite mercy, a powerful message that fittingly and dramatically brings the canto to a close.
My sincerest thanks go to members of the editorial board of EBDSA for valuable help in preparation of the final version of this article. For a more detailed discussion of the identity of Pia see my essay, "'Ricorditi di me, che son la Pia': Purgatorio V", Esperienze letterarie, Anno XX, n. 3 (1995), 47-62.
Armour, Peter, "The Theme of Exodus in the First Two Cantos of the Purgatorio", Dante Soundings, ed. David Nolan (Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 1981), 78.
Bosco, Umberto, Dante vicino (Caltanissetta-Roma: Salvatore Sciascia, 1966), 149.
Chiari, Alberto, Ancora con Dante (Napoli: Liguori, 1977), 136.
Ciacci, Gaspero, Gli Aldobrandeschi nella storia e nella "Divina Commedia", Tomo I (Rome: Biblioteca d'Arte Editrice, 1935).
Lisini, Alessandro & Giulio Bianchi Bandinelli, La Pia dantesca (Siena, Accademia per le Arti e per le Lettere, 1939).
Puppo, Mario, Il Canto V del "Purgatorio" (Firenze: Le Monnier, 1968), 20.
Vannucci, Pasquale, Il canto V del "Purgatorio" (Torino: S.E.I., 1961), 30.