Chapter XXIII The pilgrim investigates the Castle of Fortune
Virtue, a forgotten gate to fame
Arriving before that fine castle, I caught sight, first of all, of a large crowd of people gathered there from all the streets of the city, walking around it and seeking entrance into it. There was but a single steep and narrow gate leading into the castle; but it was in ruins, having been choked with debris and overgrown with thorns; it was called, I think, Virtue. I was told that in former times this had been built as the only means of access to the castle, but that it had been ruined soon afterwards in some accident; thereupon, many smaller gates were made and the original gate was abandoned on account of its steepness, inaccessibility, and difficulty of entrance.
2 The walls, then, having been broken through, several smaller gates had been built from both sides; I scanned the names inscribed over them: Hypocrisy, Lie, Flattery, Unrighteousness, Cunning, Force, and so forth, but while I was reading them aloud, those who were entering the gates heard me and were incensed with anger against me and threatened to throw me down the hill; I was, therefore, forced to be silent. I also perceived that a few were still clambering up through the debris and the thorns to the old gate, but only a few of them were able to get through, while the rest failed; these latter returned and went to the lower gates and entered through them.
Fortune promotes those whom she seizes by chance
3 Having also entered, I saw that this was not the castle proper but only its forecourt, in which were multitudes of people, wistfully looking up to the higher palaces and sighing. When I inquired what they were doing, I was informed that they were awaiting a glance from the gracious Dame Fortune in order to be admitted into the castle.
“But will not all these people in the end gain admittance?” I asked,
“they all have toiled faithfully for that purpose.” —
“It is up to each one to exert himself as much as he knows how or is able to,” my guide answered;
“in the end, however, it rests with Dame Fortune whether or not she wishes to admit him. You may observe for yourself how it works.” I then noticed that there were neither steps nor gates leading higher up but only a large wheel perpetually in motion. By grasping it, a man could be lifted to the floor above, where he would then be received by Dame Fortune and allowed to proceed further. However, not every one below was able to grasp the wheel, but only such as had been led to it or had been placed upon it by an official of Dame Fortune, Chance by name: it slipped out of the grasp of all the rest. This regent, Chance, walked among the crowd, selecting people in a haphazard fashion and seating them on the wheel: but although others pressed themselves into her view or stretched their hands toward her and begged her, pleading their past toil, sweat, callouses, scars, or other deserts, it was all in vain. I hold that she must have been totally deaf and blind, for she neither looked at anyone nor heeded his pleading.
The sad case of those who seek fortune
4 Many people of various classes entered by means of their profession through the gate of Virtue or through the side-gates; as I had observed them previously, they had spared no toil or trouble, but awaited happiness in vain; yet another, who perhaps had not been even thinking about the matter, was taken by the hand and lifted up. Many of these who waited were filled with utter despondency that their turn would not come, so that now a few of them grew grey in the meantime; many in despair gave up all hope of happiness and returned to their drudgery; but some were again seized with longing and returned to the castle, pushing themselves before the eyes and within the reach of Dame +69Fortune; thus I observed that in either case the state of these people as wretched and miserable.