/ The Divine Comedy /
The Island of Purgatory
Dante and Virgil, now on dry land out of the fire, stand on the shores of an island. Dante describes that he feels his ability to travel through Hell means he is like a boat about to cross calmer waters. He prays to the Muses again so that his poem may rise from the ashes of tyranny that Hell has given it. He is relieved to be out of hell. He looks at the constellations in the sky. To the east he sees Venus, appearing like a bright star.
He looks south and sees four stars that he describes as being old enough to be seen by the first peoples. Finally, looking north he sees a constellation he recognises and tries to determine the exact time of day. A man interrupts him. He is very wise looking, with a long white beard and an appearance that demands respect and attention. He head is framed by the four stars to the south. He orders Dante to explain how he escaped from Hell, whether the laws of Hell have changed or broken or have the powers of Hell been changed? Virgil makes Dante kneel to the man. Virgil tells the man that the Virgin Mary sent him to teach Dante a great lesson. He explains that he guided Dante through Hell and now intended to do the same for Purgatory. He asks for the man’s blessing. Virgil identifies the man as Cato.
He tell him that he knows Cato’s true love Marcia (she is in Limbo in Hell, where Virgil is from) and that he will send Cato’s condolences to her in return for his blessing. Cato tells Virgil that Marcia no longer has power over him through love as she resides in Hell. He then informs Virgil that if he is under instruction from the Virgin Mary, then that is all the authority Virgil will need to pass. There’s no need for flattery. Cato tells Virgil to make sure Dante is cleaned up for the journey ahead. He orders Dante forge a new belt from the plant reeds on the island as well as wash his face. Cato disappears as the poets head to the shore for the plant reed. The sun rises in the distance and Dante describes how beautiful it is. Virgil kneels beside dew on nearby grass and gestures for Dante to wash his face with the dewdrops. Dante feels special in that he is the first living man to have ever stepped on these shores. Virgil ties a reed around Dante’s waist. Where the reed was plucked another immediately replaces it. As the sun continues to rise, Dante spots what he describes as something ‘glowing like Mars’. He says it is flying like a bird bouncing down the water on the shore. Dante asks Virgil what it is and Virgil urgently tells Dante to begin kneeling and praying. The glowing figure is clad in white. It is an Angel.
Virgil raves adoringly about the Angel, complimenting the Angel using it’s wings as sails on the water and how its perfect form points towards heaven beautifully. With the Angel fast approaching, Dante has to avert his eyes to stop from being blinded by light. The Angel reaches the shore and it is guiding a boat with at least 100 souls seated upon it. The souls are all singing a Psalm.
“During the departure of Israel from Egypt.”
The Angel makes the sign of the cross and the souls drop down in reverence. When they land on the shore they step off the boat bemused and the Angel leaves. They head straight for Dante and ask him how they can climb the mountain. The poets say they have no answers here. The souls are penitents, sent to Purgatory to purge their souls of sin. They stare fixed on Dante, noticing that he is alive. Dante becomes the centre of attention to the souls and Dante describes himself to them as a messenger of peace. One of the souls tries to hug Dante and the poet recognises him. After three attempts, Dante realises he cannot interact with the soul’s non-corporeal form. The soul is named Casella. Dante asks him why he took so long to arrive on the island considering he died long ago.
Casella says that the Angel which directs the souls picks and choses souls as it wishes. He felt no ill towards the Angel, stating the Angel’s will is God’s will and must be respected. He waited at Ostia on the banks of the Roman river Tiber to cross to the island of Purgatory. Dante asks his former friend to sing and it is discovered that the two were once musical partners. Dante wrote poetry and Casella sung it. Casella sings a love song. The song is so beautiful it even hypnotises Virgil. Many of the souls gather around to enjoy the singing. Cato suddenly appears once more and tells all the souls to stop standing around. He tells them to begin climbing Mount Purgatory.
Dante compares it to a flock of doves being disturbed by a beast. The poets follow the souls to the foot of the mountain. Dante stays close to Virgil and they both slow when Dante discovers only he alone has a shadow. Virgil quite simply explains that it is because Dante is alive. Virgil’s body is buried in Naples long away. Virgil dismays when he states that the reason for why this occurs is unclear. His head lowers when he explains that God is great in letting someone understand how something happens but never why. It reminds him of his friends Aristotle and Plato in Hell. They reach the foot of the mountain and discover quite a steep verge between them and the mountain.
Ante-Purgatory Entrance, The Late Repentants & The Excommunicates
Whilst Virgil seeks out a path upwards, Dante spots a group of people on a ledge above them. He rudely asks Virgil to call upon the wandering souls to help. Happy to help, Virgil shouts to them and they approach the edge like a flock of sheep. The souls become intrigued by Dante having a shadow. One of the souls asks Dante if he recognises him. Dante does not. The soul says that his name is Manfred and he points out a massive chest wound that he has. He says he is the grandson of Empress Constance.
Manfred requests that Dante inform his daughter that he is not in Hell. Manfred fought in the battle of Benevento against Pope Clement IV. There he received fatal wounds. Whilst dying he repented and gave himself to the mercy of God. Pope Clement IV excommunicated his buried body outside of papal territory and Mafred snubs the Pope’s authority. Most important Manfred states that God forgives everyone that repents, in spite of the Pope’s sentence. If souls die with their hearts set against the church, they must wait thirty times the length of their sin on the shores of Purgatory. If they receive prayers, those sentences can be shortened. Manfred asks Dante to tell his daughter to pray for him.
The fascinating tale causes Dante to lose track of time. The Sun has risen 50 degrees into the sky. He uses this distraction to speak against one of Plato’s theories. Namely that a human can have more than one soul (life,intellect,sensation,movement). Dante postulates that if man had more than one soul, the passage of time would be clear because not all souls would be fixated on something at the same time. The group of souls have found a pathway up the mountain that Dante and Virgil can climb. The pathway and opening is so narrow that the two poets have to travel in single file.
Dante asks Virgil where they are going and Virgil tells Dante to keep quiet and look for someone to provide directions. Dante is slightly shocked as he believed Virgil knew where he was going. They climb and climb. The mountain seems endless in the sky, like staring at the peak of Everest beyond the clouds multiplied by a thousand. Dante becomes tired and asks Virgil for a rest. Virgil tells dante to climb the ridge he is standing on and they will take a break together.
He takes a seat and looks down, proud of his progress.
Ante-Purgatory Spur 1, The Indolent
Dante is shocked to see that the Sun is somehow on the left. It is like the world has turned upside down again. Virgil explains that it is quite a simple problem which Dante has not yet totally comprehended. He has changed hemisphere, so everything in the sky runs in reverse. Dante shows off by calculating their distance from the equator and then their distance from Jerusalem. Virgil states that Dante should not worry, the climb is much worse at the bottom. A voice shouts out that maybe they should sit before reaching the easier climes.
The poets notice a gigantic boulder they didn’t notice before. Behind the boulder they discover a group of exhausted naked souls. One of them sits with head in hands and Dante makes fun of his laziness. The penitent soul retorts that perhaps if Dante is so vigorous, maybe he should continue climbing then. Dante recognises the man’s voice and sits beside him worried. Dante is concerned that Belacqua, as he names him, has fallen into his old trope of laziness. However, he is relieved to not have seen him languishing in hell. Depressed, Belacqua asks Dante what the point of climbing is if he is not allowed to pass the guardian angel until penance is paid.
Without souls to pray for him, his sentence of living there the entire length of his life will never be shortened. Before Dante can respond, Virgil tells him that it is time to keep moving. The poets leave Belacqua behind. As they leave, some of the souls see Dante’s shadow and proclaim that Dante is alive. Virgil tells Dante to ignore them and keep moving. He tells Dante to be a strong tower in the face of strong winds and Dante becomes shamed. They continue onwards.
Ante-Purgatory, Spur 2 – Those That Died By Violence & Without Last Rites
Climbing on, the poets encounter a band of singing souls. The repenters are chanting a sad hymn. The singing stops when they see the living poet show up and two souls promptly rush over to him. They ask Dante who he could possibly be and Virgil speaks for him. Virgil questions if they are welcome to continue? The two souls rush back to their troupe and so Virgil tells Dante to continue on. Virgil is tired of the fame Dante is receiving. Some of the souls shout after the pair of poets. They ask Dante to give them news of the living world. They announce that they all died by violence but repented at the last moment. Dante says he doesn’t recognise any of them but is happy to assist.
One of the souls asks about the town of Fano and tells the story of his death. He was betrayed and murdered by Padua and regrets fleeing to Oriaco instead of Mira; Oriaco being in on the scheme to kill him. Had he fled to Mira, he may have yet survived instead of bleeding out in a swamp. Dante identifies the man as Jacopo del Cassero. Another soul asks of Montefeltro, the same place for which Guido da Montefeltro (in Hell) originated. He identifies himself as Buonconte da Montefeltro. Dante asks him how he died, noting that the information he knows of this man stated that he disappeared during the battle of Campaldino… his body was never found.
The soul replies that he suffered a throat wound during the battle, fell along the banks of the Archiano, repented and died. A storm buried his body in rock and silt. Buonconte urges Dante to tell his true story in the living world, dispelling any rumours about him. He says that in heaven, a Demon petitioned for him to be sent to Hell, but an Angel took him to Purgatory instead. A third soul approaches Dante, her name is La Pia. She says that her treacherous husband caused her death despite his wedding vows to her. She asks Dante to tell her story to the living world. Dante begins to feel as the winner of a dice game, attracting all of the attention whilst the loser sulks alone. The penitents tug at him, tap him and try to draw his attention from all sides.
They all want to be remembered so that people may pray for them. They are praying him to obtain prayers. Dante notices Benincasa da Laterina, Federigo Novello, Gano of Pisa, Count Orso, and Pier de la Brosse. He manages to break free and speaks to Virgil. Curious, Dante asks his companion why in his poem The Aenied, Virgil states that prayer cannot bend the rules of heaven… yet this is exactly what is happening here. Virgil responds that this only applies to Pagan souls, who’s empty prayer has no direct route to God. Christians are fine. He tells Dante to wait until he meets Beatrice, who will defend his words. At the mention of Beartrice, Dante urges Virgil to move on as quickly as possible. Virgil tells Dante they they will climb as much as possible during the day but to calm down. They cannot reach the summit before sunset after all. The poets spot a quiet repenter seated alone. They approach and the soul stares at them. Dante compares it to a lion staring down prey. The man asks who the two poets are and where they are from. Virgil answers Mantua. As if his personality suddenly changed the repenter stands up and names himself as Sordello of Mantua before hugging Virgil.
Dante finds quick respect for Sordello, saying that finding love for another at the mere mention of their hometown is something to be admired. He scorns Italy for being a land of backstabbers, where corruption and war follow such scenarios. He compares Italy’s leader to a horse without a saddle and complains at the church for stealing power… turning the country into a land of lawlessness. The insults continue. Dante reprimands Albert I of Austria for failing to quell the internal battles of Italy by ignoring the country entirely. He shouts out directly to Albert I to come and see the fruits of his reign. As a surprise mention, Dante feels bad for the Ghibellines (his faction the Guelph’s riva), lamenting that strong leadership may have resolved many of the conflicts well before it got out of hand. Dante mentions that Florence, his hometown, is mostly excused from his ramblings of lawlessness as at least Florence is talking about justice instead of just complaining about it. Florence changes laws regularly. He laments afterwards and concedes that Florentine is however a ‘sick woman’. Dante looks to God above and asks why this strife in Italy is allowed to continue. Sordello asks Virgil who he is and Virgil states that he is a sinner on a journey. Sordello falls to his knees and asks if Virgil is from Hell, which the poet confirms… but only Limbo, which isn’t really true Hell.
Virgil says that he has been granted permission by God to enter Purgatory, a place from which he is not normally permitted.
Ante-Purgatory, Spur 3 – The Valley of the Rulers
Virgil asks Sordello to point the two in the direction of the simplest path to Mount Purgatory. Sordello offers to guide them but only after the night has ended. He asks them to join his people to rest. Virgil asks why they cannot climb at night and the soul responds that the darkness saps people of their will. At night people physically cannot climb up, only down. Sordello leads them to an area of a nearby valley which is so beautiful in colour that Dante compares nature to a painter.
Whilst hiking through, they come across some seated souls singing a hymn. “Hail, Queen” Sordello sits down and says that this is the best view in the whole valley. He points out Emperor Rudolph and laments that he is the only ruler who may have brought peace to Italy. He indentifies another as Ottokar II and says the soul is a lass lazy man than his son Wenceslaus. Another man, described as having a small nose, is pointed out to be Philip III of France. This French king was disgraced for losing a battle, an event Dante refers to as “deflowering the lily” (the lily being the symbol of France). Besides him his his friend Henry I. Sordello names Philip III as the father-in-law of “the pest of france”., Philip IV. This pest supported making Clement V Pope. This Pope ended up being abducted from Rome. Dante describes the next soul as having a very masculine nose. Charles of Anjou is the soul in question and the man beside him Pedro III of Aragon.
Sordello says that whilst they sing in harmony here, they were rivals to a throne in life. Behind them sits Pedro, Pedro III’s son. Sordello sadly states that had Pedro succeeded the throne he may have finally brought virtue to it. Sordello complains that few Kings have honourable children, pointing out only Henry III of England having a worthy son. The last soul Sordello points out is William the Marquis whose son brought war between Monferrato and Canavese. After naming him, Sordello finishes his extensive knowledge of the souls in this valley. Dante goes into great detail explaining how beautiful the sunset is. One of the penitents, agreeing, raises his hand to obtain attention, faces east and begins singing a hymn named “Te lucis ante.” Dante listens as it is beautiful. Suddenly out of nowhere, two Angels descend from the sky holding burning swords. Their wings are green and they are also clad in green robes.
One lands on the bank above Dante and the other on the opposite bank. Sordello explains that he is familiar with these two Angels. He says that they are sent directly from the Virgin Mary herself. They guard the valley from the serpent. Dante hides behind Virgil at the mention of snakes. Sordello calmly stands and directs them to follow him closer to the singing souls in the valley. Dante notices a repenter trying to identify him. He thanks the stars that it is not yet dark enough not to see who this stalker is. It is his old friend Judge Nino! Dante is relieved to see him in Purgatory, not Hell.
The poet says that he arrived just this morning, and that he is still alive. Sordello turns confused, only just realising that Dante is still alive. Nino calls over a friend named Currado and then asks Dante to plead his daughter to pray for him. Nino spends the next few moments cursing his wife and predicting her fall from fortune. Her new husband will be unable to provide for the family. Dante has stopped listening and Virgil, not paying attention anyway, asks Dante what he is looking at. The living poet says that he is looking at three stars sinking into the horizon.
Virgil responds that it is the four stars from earlier, now disappearing with time. “The Serpent!” Sordello shouts. On the edge of the valley, a streak that seems evil slithers across the flowers. It stops periodicall and then suddenly disappears. Sordello explains that the Angels made their move so quickly that human eyes could not comprehend their speed. Dante sees Currado staring at him and after a few awkward moments the soul begins to speak. He introduces himself as Currado Malaspina II, son of Currado Malaspina I. He asks about his hometown of Val di Magra.
Dante is actually very supportive, stating that although many places are corrupted by Satan, the peoples of Malaspina walk ‘the true path’. Currado agrees with Dante and predicts that seven years after these events, Dante would witness their greatness first-hand. Night has fallen and the Constellation of Scorpio has become visible. Roughly 2/3 of the night have passed by at this point. Dante concedes to the souls that he still “has something of Adam”, indicating it’s time for him to go to sleep.
The Adamant Gate to Purgatory
Just before dawn Dante dreams of a Golden Eagle ready to swoop down and imagines that the animal can only hunt in Purgatory. The Eagle swoops down like a lightning bold and snatches Dante up. As the bird lifts him to the sky they both burn. In medieval times, dreams before waking up were commonly believed to come true. Dante wakes up, scared and pale. He compares the awakening to Achilles being awoken in a new kingdom after being carried there by his mother. Virgil comforts him.
It is already a couple of hours into the day and Dante spots the Sea, something he could not see during the night. They are also now at the Adamant (Diamond) Gate of Purgatory. Virgil explains that during the night a woman named Lucia (the Saint) appeared and offered to speed Dante along to the gate. She placed Dante down safely, Virgil in tow and then disappeared. They both walk to the entrance. Whilst it comes into view, Dante sees three steps all of different colours. Upon the top step sits a guard brightly glowing. The guard is so bright Dante has trouble even looking at him. To make matters worse for Dante, the guard is holding an unsheathed sword which is reflecting light into the poet’s eyes. The guard asks the two where their escort is and warns them in their approach. Virgil responds that a lady from heaven pointed them to this location. The guard relaxes and invites them to come closer. Dante points out the colour of each step as he climbs them. The first is white marble, reflectively polished.
The second is made out of a purple cracked rock and the third looks made from blood-red porphyry. Now standing on the top step is the Guardian Angel of the Adamant Gate. Virgil tells Dante to beg the Angel for entrance and Dante begins a strange performance. He beats his chest three times and then throws himself down in front of the Angel. The Angel lifts its sword and then carves seven letter P’s into the poet’s forehead. He tells Dante that he will be able to earn the ability wash away these wounds once inside of Purgatory. The Angel pulls two keys from its ash coloured robes, one gold and one silver. He places them into the gate and unlocks it. He turns to Dante and says that although one is more valuable, the other is requires more skill to use.
He says that the keys were given to him by St Peter and that if ever doubtful he should let souls pass rather than deny them entry. He tells them that if they enter then they cannot return or else be ousted. The gate groans open. A hymn called “Te Deum laudamus” can be heard from behind it. This is roughly translated as “We praise you Lord”. The poets step forwards and cross the threshold into Purgatory.
Terrace 1, The Prideful
Dante is proud to be one of the rare few allowed to cross the gate into Purgatory. He and Virgil begin their climb. It becomes clear very quickly that it will not be an easy road, with a long winding rocky path. It takes almost an entire day for Dante to reach their first destination. The poets reach a large clearing, realise they are lost, then stop. The ledge of the mountain is very very sheer and also quite high. Dante, distressed, takes the time out to measure it in his head. On an opposite embankment, Dante spots that it has a much more pleasant incline. On that embankment is a layering of shined marble and a multitude of intricately made carvings. He states that the carvings are so detailed that Nature herself would be overwhelmed.
The carvings show the Angel Gabriel, whom opened heaven for men after Adam and Evil were banished from Eden. The carving appears so realistic that Dante feels he can almost hear the rendering say “Hail” to another image of the Virgin Mary beside him. Her carving responds to the marble angel with “Behold the handmaiden of the Lord”. Virgil tells Dante to examine more of the carvings. One is of an Oxen carrying a sacred oak with a group of people standing in front of it, divided into 7 choirs.
Again Dante sees the realism in these pieces of art. He states that he can hear the choirs singing. His nose is confused as he feels he should be smelling incense in the rendering. Beyond that image is another, Emperor Trajan mounted and surrounded by Golden Eagle banners. Beside him stands a widow who Dante can hear asking for the Emperor to avenge her son. The Emperor replies that he will do so after returning. On asked what happens if the Emperor does not return, he states his regent will fulfil her request. Dante is in wonderment at the carvings, crying at their beauty. He says that it is incredible that God could create something which seemed so real. Virgil replies that it is because God sees nothing new, whilst men are intrigued by novelties almost daily. Virgil spots a number of approaching souls and snaps Dante out of his fascination. Virgil hopes they will show the pair how to continue onwards. Dante turns to the penitents and wipes the tears from his eyes. He continues to warn the reader not to be shocked by the punishments to come and only to think about the salvation that will come after Judgement Day. The souls approaching them don’t appear to look like people, and Dante presumes his eyesight has broken in some way. He shares this with Virgil who responds that his eyesight is just fine. The people approaching carry heavy weights on their backs and are bent over to support them. Dante laments that men can be blind enough with pride that they are forced to walk backwards. He compares men to worms and that only through the trials of purgatory may they become Angelic butterflies. Why do men still fly if they are but still worms, he asks. Dante compares the men to brackets supporting a roof. These brackets are shaped like men with their knees squeezed up to their chests.
Different souls are squeezed up differently as they have different weights on their backs. Some are almost falling over. Despite this torment the souls are actually praying. The group of them praise God and ask for forgiveness of all the sinners so that they may join him in his paradise. They ask that God set them and all living men free from evil. Dante suggests to the reader that as these penitents are praying for the living, it would be fair for the living to pray for them in return. Virgil tells the wandering souls that he will pray for them if they help the two find the best climb upwards. Virgil also points out that Dante is alive… so maybe not as athletically capable as the spirits of Purgatory. One of the penitents gestures for the poets to come with him. He knows a path that a living man can climb. The soul cannot lift his head, due to the weight he carries. He wishes that he could so that he could see Dante and ask him for his prayers. The man names himself as the son of Guiglielmo Aldobrandesco, whom he states is a great man. The speaker takes excessive pride in his family, and is quite pompous. Omberto, as he finally identifies himself, feels bad for his arrogance stating that the trait has affected his entire family. He feels that he is finally shouldering the burden he could not in life.
Dante himself enters the posture of the prideful souls which allows Omberto to see his face. Dante instantly recognises him as Oderisi, the illuminator. In life the man created illustrated versions of the Bible. Oderisi, suddenly pleased to be known as a famous man, shows how he has grown as a less prideful soul. He complements his colleague Franco Bolognese as the better painter. The painter goes on to scorn the prideful Earth, saying that those who are great don’t stay so for very long.
He examples Cimabue, whose glory gave way to Giotto’s, whose glory gave way to Guido’s. He says that human glory is like a wind always changing course. Pride is nothing in comparison to the power of God, he says. Oderisi points out a man in front of him as being the once pride of Siena after winning a great battle against the Ghibellines in Florence… but look at him now. His greatness was just as fleeting as the rest. Dante is curious to discover who this man is and with a sudden great humility asks Oderisi to identify him. The man is called Provenzan Salvani and he is prideful because he tried to conquer all of Siena. Dante asks Oderisi how the man could have arrived on this first terrace so quickly, indicating he knows the man died pretty recently. All of the souls have to pray for their lifetimes before they can even enter Purgatory, don’t they? Apparently Provenzan one day completely changed from being pompus to being a very good man. When one of his friends was confined in Charles of Anjou’s prison, Provenzan raised ransom money by begging on the streets.
The humility after the change is what sped up his progress in Purgatory. Oderisi predicts that Dante will understand more by witnessing his neighbours acts… which will free him from Ante-Purgatory. Virgil tells Dante that it is time to continue on. Dante stops hunching but says that his thought’s are now still bent and humble.
Terrace 2, The Envious
Virgil tells Dante to look down as it will make him feel better. Doing so he sees some statues below him protruding from the mountainside. Dante compares them to the stones placed on tombs to indicate who is inside. He states that the reminders of dead loved ones can be very upsetting. On one side of the statues is Lucifer falling from heaven. At the other end is Briareus the giant impaled on a thunderbolt. He saw other statues of famous figures that suffered for their pride. Mars, Nimrod (the Giant in Hell that built the tower of Babel), Arachne and the city of Troy are all mentioned in the list Dante gives. Dante believes they look very lifelike and curses the “sons of Eve” for not turning their back on evil. The poet eventually looks up and sees the position of the sun. He realises he has been staring at these statues for quite a while.
Virgil tells Dante to greet the Angel that is approaching them. He reminds Dante to be polite, as the Angel could stop their journey at any time. Dante describes the Angel as handsome and glowing like a star in the sky. The Angel is apparently very kind, opening his arms almost immediately to the two poets and congratulating them on coming so far. Very few humans do. The Angel directs them to a crack in the wall and hits Dante on the head with his wing. Entering the crack they hear “beati paupers spiritu” being sung. Dante denotes how beautiful Purgatory is compared to Hell (mostly that singing is preferable to screams of agony). Dante realises that it is easier to climb a staircase and wonders if it because he’s getting stronger. Virgil tells him to stop being so naive and points out that a P has been erased from his head. Every time a P is removed, the climb gets easier as the burden of climbing is reduced.
Virgil laughs at Dante feeling up his head for the missing P. At the top of the stairs, the poets now look upon the second terrace. The terrace is smaller because as they get closer to the top of the mountain, the space available shrinks. The colour of the rock is a strange blue-black. Instead of waiting around for a passer by and directions, Virgil uses the Sun to direct him onwards. After around a mile they hear sounds of souls chattering around them. Instead of the usual greetings they receive in these situations, the speakers offer gestures of love. Dante asks Virgil what is happening. Virgil responds that this is the place where envy is purged, leaving nothing behind but the opposite of envy… love. As the pair continue on, they see another set of souls sat and wearing the same blue-black colour robes as the stones around them. Passing by, the souls shout out biblical characters that were famous for their love like the Virgin Mary.
The punishment for these envious souls is to wear a coarse haircloth covering their eyes. Each one holds their neighbours hand on their shoulder. Kind of like the blind leading the blind, Dante is reminded of blind beggars. The souls turn out to actually be blind, with iron wire sewing shut their eyelids. Dante feels bad because they cannot see the light of heaven. Our poet asks if any of them are Italian. One soul rudely corrects Dante, stating that all of them there are citizens of one true city and merely lived in Italy as a pilgrim at one time. Dante asks her who she is and she replies that she is Sienese.
The soul says that she is called Sapia but was never sapient (wise) in life. She took joy in the misfortune of others instead of her own good luck. When her fellow Sienese backed the Ghibelline leader Colle di Val d’Elsa she was envious of the leader’s power. When the leader was defeated in battle she even dared to say “I fear you no more!” to God. After repenting she ended up in Purgatory. She thanks her friend Pier Pettinaio for praying for her and getting her into Purgatory proper (instead of ante-Purgatory). The woman then asks Dante who he is and asks why he requires breathe to speak… realising the man is alive. Dante replies vaguely that he will pass through here one day too but not be blinded as he is not very envious. Dante fears that he will become one of the prideful when dead. She asks Dante who guided him so far and he tells her about Virgil. Dante asks if she wishes him to pray for her and she excitedly replies yes. Greedily she also wants Dante to make her famous back in real life. Sapia ends with a prediction. She says there are still envious among the Sienese. She says they can be identified as those that work at the port of Talamone in Genoa. She foresees the venture will end badly.
The poets see two other envious souls talking. One turns to the other and says to ask Dante the question because he’s closer. The poets are amused at the argument. One of them asks Dante who he is. Dante responds in a very cryptic way, stating he’s from a Tuscan land with a river “born in Falterona”. He says he doesn’t want to share his name as it has not yet gained much fame. The two souls begin to argue about Dante’s geographic knowledge, tracing back the origins of the river Arno and wondering why Dante hid the name of the river from them. They then say they shouldn’t speak of the place by saying of it’s people “virtue is seen as serpent, and all flee from it.” According to one of them the place is full of foul hogs that descend to a land of dogs and fight civil wars amongst themselves. Apparently the place is so foul that even the river turns away from them. As the river moves on the people becomes as wolves and then foxes.
The soul then predicts that his grandson is a wolf hunter on the banks of the river. The wolves fear him as he sells their flesh whilst they are still living and then kills them all… like the Devil. The man instills such fear in the forest it is never the same when he leaves. Dante interrupts by asking who they are. The first says that Dante never gave his name but gives his anyway as Guido del Duca. He confesses his jealousy for the happiness of his neighbours. Rinieri da Calboli is the other soul, says Guido. Apparently Rinieri is a good man that didn’t pass on his goodness to his sons. Guido laments Tuscany as a place where good souls get corrupted. Bernadin di Fosco, Ugolino d’Azzo, Guido da Prata, Ugolino de’ Fantolini, and the houses of Bagnacaval, Castrocuro, Conio, and Pagani are all mentioned. Guido gets upset and sends the poets away.
On their way onwards they hear a voice say “whoever captures me will slaughter me.” and “I am Aglauros, who was turned to stone.” Dante is pretty surprised and moves towards Virgil for protection. Virgil states that they are examples of punished envy, made to suffer to be taught a lesson. He berrates Dante for recognising good souls as evil. The pair head onwards to the third terrace.
Terrace 3, The Wrathful
Dante tells the reader that it is around 3pm. He is shielding his eyes from the Sun. The poet soon realises it is not just the Sun… the light is moving closer. Virgil tells him not to fear, as it is just an Angel sent to welcome them. The Angel arrives and tells them to keep moving and that the incline has reduced even more than before. The pair head for the staircase that the Angel directs them to. Dante hears “beati misericordes” being sung and asks Virgil what Guido meant when he said “sharing cannot have a part.” Virgil explains that dividing up anything on Earth inspires envy because the pieces obtained are small. He says that if people direct themselves heavenward then they realise that the more people there are, the more love there actually is to be divided up.
Dante is confused and Virgil continues that wherever God sees love he is attracted by it and he adds to it. Virgil tells Dante to wait for Beatrice, who will explain things further. Virgil wants to hurry so that the remaining 5 P’s on Dante’s head can be erased. Apparently one was removed without Dante realising. Speeding along, Dante suddenly has a vision. In his vision he sees a woman standing in a temple, lecturing a boy. She asks the boy why he did what he did. Dante is reminded of the story of a young Jesus whom disappeared for 3 days and his parents returned to find him debating with scholars. The next vision shows a woman debating her husband King Pisistratus of Athens to seek revenge on the man who touched their daughter.
The King replies no, asking why one should treat someone like an enemy if all he was seeking is love. The next vision has a mob chanting “KILL KILL KILL” whilst a boy is being stoned to death. Whilst dying the boy asks god to forgive his attackers. Dante wakes up and Virgil asks him why he has been walking crooked for “almost half a league”. Dante is about to explain when suddenly Virgil chimes in that he already knows. Virgil seems to be able to read Dante’s mind, saying that not even 100 masks could conceal the truth from him. They are visions of gentleness, Virgil says, sent to free Dante of the wrathful thoughts in his head. The pair continue until they reach evening prayers. Suddenly they are swallowed up by a black smoke which engulfs them and blinds them. Dante says it is darker than Hell and a Moonless night. Dante is forced to close his eyes and Virgil moves closer to help guide him away.
A hymn can be heard in the black. “Agnus Dei” is being sung in perfect harmony. From the harmonious sounds, Dante believes that the sinners actually enjoy each others company. The singers are the Wrathful, Virgil says, trying to purge wrath away. A speaker in the smoke asks who Dante is, that walks with a physical body in their smoke and appears to be one who measures time by months. Virgil tells Dante to answer and then ask for directions. Dante congratulates the soul on being a penitent and then offers the soul to follow them…apparently completely ignoring Virgil. The soul says to Dante that he will follow as much as he is permitted and that he can hear them through the smoke, so don’t worry about not keeping up. Dante explains who he is and that he is on a journey through Hell, Purgatory and beyond. He then demands to know who the sinner is by God’s right. The soul is intimidates and says his name is Marco from Lombard and from a time when morality meant more than it does now. Marco tells them how to move on and then asks Dante to pray for him. Reminded of Guido del Duca, Dante asks the soul if the wickedness of man is caused by Heaven or Earth. Marco says that mortals believe that Heaven preordains everything. People believe that Heaven is the source of everything that happens. Marco explains that this breaks down when you factor in free will. If there was no free will, there wouldn’t need to be a Hell/Purgatory system in the first place. Man could not be blamed for his sins or rewarded for his virtues. All heaven does is awaken some of ones desires. Free will then takes over. If the world is a bad place then man only has itself to blame. God made the soul of men like a child, interested in only pleasing itself and also not knowing what’s good or bad.
This is why laws exist, to restrain people and keep them in check, and a ruler assigned to lead them to God’s kingdom. Marco spends the next while talking about Pope Benefice VII (whom Dante still hates) not being able to split up religious and state rulership. He blames the Pope for setting a bad example and causing everything sinful to happen. He asserts that when Rome used to have the two rulers split “one with the crook and one with the sword”, both had reason to fear each other and the system was altogether better. Marco says that Lombardy was once a place of “valor and courtesy” but now has people afraid to consult the righteous. He names Currado da Palazzo, Gherardo, and Guido da Castel as moral exemplars. Dante asks who Gherardo is. Marco is insulted that Dante doesn’t recognise Gherardo the father of Gaia and promptly ends the conversation.
Marco leaves and the blackness begins to clear. As the smoke dissipates the two poets realise the Sun is setting.
Terrace 4, The Slothful
Before resting to slumber, Dante is interrupted by a crowd of singing souls. They are repenting sloth. Most of their songs are about rushing about and getting things done. Some of the souls are rushing about themselves, saying that there is little time and that they need to remain productive. Virgil tries to calm them by saying that Dante, a living man, will pray for them if they show them up the mountain. One of the souls hurries over to them and tells them to follow him. He apologizes for the hurry as it is their punishment for laziness on Earth.
Dante finds it hard to understand the soul, whom is talking very very fast. He find out the soul was The Abbot of St. Zeno in Verona. With the rush of the crowd, the man is pulled away from them. As the souls rush away, Dante overhears two of them speaking of Slothful souls. Firstly he hears of The Israelites who didn’t to follow Moses to the Promised Land… they died in the desert. The Trojans who faked exhaustion to not have to follow Aeneas to Italy died cowardly deaths. With that, the souls are gone. Dante decides to sleep and again has some strange dreams.
Once again, just before dawn (which remember the medieval people believed would come true at this time), he dreams he sees a woman. The woman’s eyes are crossed, her feet crocked and her arms crippled. She speaks with a stammer and she is very pale. He turns to look at her and her body contorts itself into the form of a beautiful woman with a wonderful articulation of words. The woman has become a siren. She says that she remembers seducing men to their deaths, attracting Ulysses etc.
Dante is glamoured by her beauty. Just as she is finishing her song, another woman appears and the Siren goes silent. In the dream, the woman is saintly and asks Virgil the identity of the siren, she scorns the siren. Virgil approaches the siren and rips all her clothes off. Dante is suddenly repulsed by a rotting smell coming from the Siren’s beautiful stomach. Dante wakes up in a cold sweat. Virgil, not caring about Dante’s dream wants to get moving up the mountain. He’s already told Dante three times to wake up. Dante follows obediently and the two eventually reach another Angel speaking. The Angel fans them with it’s wings and says that those who mourn their sinfulness will have consolation in their souls. One more P has been taken from Dante’s head. Virgil asks Dante why he appears depressed and Dante finally gets him to listen to his dream.
Virgil comforts Dante and says that the siren merely represents the sins which will be wiped clean further on. Virgil is using it as a clever way to get them to move on quicker. He tells Dante to focus on what’s in front, not the dream. Dante feels inspired and climbs on.
Terrace 5, The Avaricious & The Prodigal
The poets see the penitents on this terrace almost immediately. They are laying on the ground, chained down and weeping. Virgil prays for them and asks where the path to continue is. One of the souls responds that if they are not to lay with the fellow souls nearby then they should take the path “over there”. Dante recognises the voice and looks at Virgil. Already knowing what Dante is going to say, he tells Dante to do as he wants. Dante tells the soul that he will pray for him if he identifies himself. The soul responds that he once wore the ‘great mantle’ and was the ‘Roman Shephard’.
In other words, he was a Pope. The former Pope says that he only obtained his title after converting and finding more joy in saving his soul than being a greedy child. He says that his earlier life with wrought with avarice. He explains the souls on this terrace only cared for material possession on Earth so never looked up for God. The punishment is to be chained down by justice with ones eyes averted to the ground and being unable to move. Dante kneels and the soul hears him.
The soul asks why he is kneeling and Dante responds that he felt ashamed to stand over the man. The man tells Dante to stand as to not undermine the justice of God. The pope, slightly angry, tells Dante and Virgil to leave him be. As they are leaving he shouts to them that his good niece Alagia is still alive and Pious. Dante takes it to mean he wants the poet to get her to pray for him. Walking away, trying to avoid laying penitents they hear some cry out acts of poverty and generosity. Such as the act of Mary giving birth in a stable. The stories of poverty and generosity counteract their sins of being avaricious and prodigal (reckless spenders).
Dante interacts with other souls along the way, including a former King of France whom name drops a man whom refused political bribery. Just as the pair are leaving, there is a sudden Earthquake and Dante becomes terrified. The entire mountain shakes. As it does do, Virgil tells dante to not be afraid. Strangely, the formerly sad penitents start singing “Gloria in excelsis Deo.”. As the shaking stops they return to crying. Dante looks at Virgil with confusion but Virgil simply tells them to keep moving onwards.
Terrace 6, The Gluttonous
The three poets arrive at the Angel of Justice whom wipes another P from Dante’s head. The Angel gives them a segment of a beatitude condemning thirst and hunger. However when the Angel reaches hunger, it halts. The three move on, Dante is feeling quite joyous. Virgil talks about how virtue is the kindling of love. He says that even though he was in Hell, the love of Statius still reaches him. He reciprocates it to Statius and asks him how he found himself in the realm of the avaricious. Statius replies that he was actually one of the prodigal, a reckless spender. Statius blesses understanding his sin before his death, as it saved him the wrath of pushing weights in Hell. Virgil asks Statius how he managed to repent if he was not a Christian (Virgil is familiar with Statius’s work). Statius responds that it was Virgil who lit the torch for him to follow towards Christianity.
It’s important to note here that Virgil was actually a pagan. Statius continues that in his time Christianity was already abundant and that he found the same teachings of Christianity in Virgil’s work. Emperor Domitian the pagan had all of the Christians persecuted, so Statius converted in secret and was baptised. Due to his fear of conveying his belief, he was sentenced to a longer than usual punishment in Purgatory. Statius asks Virgil about other famous poets such as Homer, Plautus and Varius. Virgil tells him they all too reside in Limbo. It is around 10am and Virgil directs the other two poets to the next Terrace on their right. Dante walks behind the other two enjoying their talk about poetry and learning. The trio are suddenly obstructed by a large tree. A fragrance of figs fills the air. The branches of the tree taper down making it impossible to climb. At its base is a pool of bright and pure water. The three approach the tree and a sudden voice is heard telling them that the food will be denied to them. The voice goes on to cite examples of temperance (the opposite of gluttony). One of the tales is of Mary caring more for the needs of her guests at the marriage feast of Cana than for her own needs. The voice says that Roman women only drink water, not wine and that Daniel chose wisdom over food and drink. Dante is hypnotised by the voice but Virgil tells him they need to move on. Pressing further they hear the hymn “O Lord, open thou my lips” and Virgil tells Dante that it is likely the penitents. Out of nowhere the three of them are overtaken by souls rushing past them.
The poets and penitents examine each other. The souls are so thin that they appear as skeletons. Dante compares them to Erysichthon of Thessaly, the man who accidentally chopped down the tree of a goddess and was made to starve (he tries to eat himself in the story). Dante can clearly see the OMO on their faces (Homo as in Homo-Sapien comes from the idea that ancient people saw OMO inscribed on peoples faces from their eyes and forehead). One of the souls turns to Dante and his face is so emaciated that Dante only recognises him by his voice. He is Dante’s friend, Donati Forese.
Donati begs Dante not to worry about his thin frame and instead tell him who his two companions are. Dante answers by asking the man why he is in Purgatory. Donati explains that the punishment here is to constantly circle the mountain smelling fresh fruit from the large trees and clean water from the pools but never be able to consume them. Donati says that their torment is pain but then corrects himself by saying it is solace. He explains that they walk Christ’s path to God. Dante, after doing a quick bit of Maths, determines the man died 5 years ago. The poet asks Donati why he is still not in Ante-Purgatory. The penitent soul replies that his wife has been praying for him, winning over the love of God to his side. He says she is more modest than the Florentine women who walk around bare breasted. Donati predicts there will be a time when bare breasted-ness will not be permitted in Florence. If they could see what was coming they would howl in pain. Realising Dante never answered his question, he begs Dante to reveal who his companions are. Dante introduces Virgil and explains their relationship to that point. With Statius, Dante merely names him as “the shade for whom, just now, your kingdom caused its every slope to tremble as it freed him from itself.” The penitents start to gather around Dante, amazed at his shadow. Dante asks Donati about his sister, and Donati replies that she has already found her way to heaven. Donati sees the approaching souls and begins to introduce a few. Dante is only interested in one, Bonagiunta da Lucca, a fellow poet and a friend. Bonagiunta da Lucca immediatedly predicts that a woman named Gentucca will welcome him when he next visits Bonagiunta’s homeland. The poet asks Dante who is is in a very roundabout poetic way.
This is all for show. He asks Dante if he was the one who wrote “Ladies who have intelligence of love” before professing his adoration for Dante’s poetic style. It’s a nice ego boost for Dante. Suddenly all the souls rush away like a fock of birds apart from Donati. Donati asks when he will see Dante again and is answered with uncertainty. Donati wishes Dante well, telling him not to waste any time. Dante, Virgil and Statius continue onwards. They see another tree, with penitents reaching longingly for it’s fruit, the branches just out of their reach. The soul eventually give up and walk away. A voice again echoes to the three poets to stay away from the tree as it is related to the great tree of knowledge from which Eve ate form. As the three of them move away from this terrace, they hear tales of gluttony being punished.
Terrace 7, The Lustful
The three poets encounter the Angel of Temperance who takes them by surprise. The Angel glows a magnificent red and tells them to turn right or else they’ll lose their way. They obey and Dante feels the Angel’s wing sweep him on the forehead, removing another P. As they leave, the angel sings the end of the beatitude, which the Angel of Justice started before the last Terrace. It praises those who use moderation whilst eating. It is around 2pm and the three climb a narrow and short stairway to the 7th and final terrace. Dante is concerned and Virgil tells him to speak, reading his mind.
Dante asks how a soul can become so thin and malnourished if it doesn’t need to eat. Virgil tells Statius to answer. Statius starts talking about how a soul is born (ancients believed that food digestion went through four rounds… including the heart). Statius says that when the food reaches the fourth stage of digestion, it leaves the heart and is changed into perfect blood. Not all of it is converted, some of it is imperfect. The imperfect blood transforms and travels to the genital area as semen. After flowing into it’s “natural receptacle” (a.k.a the womb) the blood of the man and woman mix, his semen and her menstrual blood. When everything coagulates together you get a soul. The soul then works to form senses, limbs. When the child is ready to be born, God breathes new spirit into it and it obtains consciousness. After death the formative power that shaped it, works again to form a body for the soul and they become shades. After that the shades can do anything a living human can, including grow thin. The three poets turn a corner and encounter a wall of flame blocking their path. Strong winds hold it together.
The three walk between the flame and the cliff edge, a difficult path to take. Virgil tells the other two not to be distracted by the flames or they could fall over the ledge to their doom. “God of Greatest Mercy” can be heard singing from within the flames and Dante disobeys Virgil to look for the source. There are penitents singing and walking within the fire. Finishing their song, they begin shouting examples of punished Lust. Virgil tells Dante not to forget his warning and the poet ignores him.
The lowering Sun at Dante’s back actually casts a shadow on the flames and the souls within become excitedly curious. One of them steps forwards, careful not to leave the fire and asks Dante how he can be alive. The penitent says that all of the souls in this terrace beg for life and a living body like “an Ethiopian thirsts for cold water”. Before Dante can answer he sees another group walking the opposite way and is again distracted. The two groups hug one another as they pass. After hugging they shout examples of unnatural lust, such as the tale of Sodom and Gomorra or Pasiphae whom had intercourse with a bull. After separating, the souls again approach Dante and await his response. He tells them he is alive and has been permitted entry to heaven by a divine lady so that he may be virtuous in life. Dante asks who they are, citing his need to learn. One of the penitents begins to talk, naming the other group as those whom committed unnatural lust, which is why they were shouting those examples.
The group he is a part of committed natural lust with the opposite sex. He identifies himself as Guido Guinizzelli, another poet. Dante admires Guinizzelli and describes it like meeting his long lost father. He treats the man with admiration, as the first user of the style which Dante uses to conduct poems. Guinizzelli is flattered but confused about the adoration he is shown. Dante says that he loves Guinizzelli’s poems and the soul is once again flattered. Guinizzelli points out another soul and says that he is a much better poet, writing beautiful love songs. He asks that Dante pray for them both and then returns to the depths of the fire.
Dante prays and approaches the other soul. This new soul names himself as Daniel Arnaut and says that he hopes his day of salvation is near. He asks Dante to pray for him and he too heads back into the fire. It is almost sunset, so Virgil, Statius and Dante rush ahead. They encounter the Angel of Chastity which sings “Blessed are the pure of heart.”. The Angel tells them they cannot continue until they walk through the fire of the Lustful. He tells them to listen to the song in the flames. Dante becomes terrified, holding his hand up to his face to shield from the fire. Virgil comforts him, telling him to trust their friendship. He recounts the time they flew on Geryon’s back in Hell and how he trusted Virgil back then. He promises the flames will not harm Dante. Dante pushes his arm out to test but then promptly recoils. Virgil, seeing Dante’s fear, tells him that Beatrice awaits him on the other side. Virgil plunges through the flames followed by Statius. Dante speedily follows them in. It is searingly hot, but Virgil is on hand to keep reminding him of Beatrice. A song can be heard singing “Venite, benedicti Patris mei,” or “Come, ye blessed of my father.” They follow the sound of the fire. The Angel shouts behind them to hurry once out of the flames as the Sun will be fully set soon.
They leave the fire and rushingly climb a few steps of the stone staircase in front of them before Dante’s shadow vanishes and they are forced to a stop. As they lay down to rest, Dante imagines himself as a goat guarded by two herdsmen. He looks up at the stars which appear so much bigger this high up.
The Earthly Paradise – Part 1
Dante dreams of a yound lady gathering flowers in a field. She sings that her name is Leah and that she loves making flower garlands. Her sister, Rachel, delights in sitting in front a mirror all day and she herself finds joy in her work. In the tale, Jacob works for seven years as Rachel’s father’s servant to marry his daughter. At the last minute, the father replaces Rachel for Leah and then forces the man to work another seven to marry Rachel as well. Leah bore Jacob seven children and Rachel two making Leah appear as an exemplar of the active life. Dante awakens to see his companions already alert.
Virgil tells him that today is the day his desires will be fulfilled. Dante climbs very quickly out of joy. He feels as light as a feather as if he has wings. The poets reach the top and Virgil tells Dante that he is proud of him. He tells Dante that as of now his path has been guided by intellect and art and that it is now safe for Dante to follow his own pleasures. Virgil urges Dante to explore the Earthly Paradise and seek out Beatrice.
Virgil blesses him with “there I crown and miter you over yourself.” Dante sets off and looks around this new lush forested landscape. It is green and fragrant. The place is so perfect that the very wind harmonises with the songs of birds. Dante finds he has wandered so far he can no longer remember which way he came in. He approaches a stream of the purest water but dark as if filled with moving shadows. The poet turns towards the water and sees a woman gathering flowers on the other side. He asks the lady whether she can move closer so that he can hear the beautiful song she is singing more clearly. She walks to the bank of the water and raises her eyes to the poet. Dante describes her as more beautiful than Venus when struck by Cupid’s arrow.
He compares the situation as that of Leander, separated from his beloved hero by the abominable sea. The lady explains that she understand why he may be confused about the water. It is the place where original sin was committed and man’s stay in heaven was cut short. She asks if he has any more questions as she is there to satisfy him. Dante asks how there can be wind as Statius once told him all atmospheric changes occur much lower on the mountain of Purgatory. She replies that it is the music of the spheres, the movement of the cosmos that revolves around this point. They echo into the forest. She continues that the Heavenly winds strike plants and trees in the forest gently, blowing their seeds off the mountain and across the Northern hemisphere. The lady says happily that Dante may see plants and trees in this forest he has never seen before as a result.
Everything flourishes here, plants and animals, many not seen on Earth. Even the water comes from a pure unchanging fountain. The water, she says, flows with the power for one to forget their sins on one side and for one to remember their good deeds on the other. For the power to work they must be drunk one after another. Finally she says that this is the place all poets dream of, the place where mankind was once innocent. Dante heads back to Virgil and Statius and finds them nearby smiling at the information. Dante spins back to the lady but she has already finished speaking. She begins to sing “Beati quorum tecta sunt peccata!” or “Blessed are those whose transgressions are forgiven.” She starts to walk along the bank of the water and Dante follows along the opposite bank. The woman calls to him as “brother” and tells him to keep a look out. Suddenly a bright light flashes in front of him, the brightness dazzles him. Dante compares it to lightning but lasting much longer.
Dante feels hate for Eve whom banished all mankind from this beautiful place. An unbelievably gorgeous melody flows through the air. As they walk forwards Dante mistakes some golden objects on the lady’s bank to be trees. As he moves further he sees that they form one single candelabra each with a candle that is brighter than a full moon. The streams of light from each candle illuminate in a different colour. Dante turns to Virgil and finds that he is just as awestruck as Dante.
Behind the candelabra he sees a group of people approaching slowly. He compares them to brides walking down their wedding aisle. Their clothing is a brilliant white and reflects in the waters like a mirror. Dante moves to the edge of the water so he can see them more clearly. The first group of people are 24 elders wearing flowery wreaths on top of their heads. Beyond them, animals with feather wreaths and six wings elegantly trot. Further on is a four wheeled chariot being pulled by a Griffon. The Griffon tries not to block the light of the candles with its wings. Its Eagle parts are gold whilst the Lion parts are blood red and white. Dante says that the chariot is so grand that the sun chariot of Phaethon can’t rival it. Three dancing women are next. They are all clad in a different colour; white, green and red. Four more dance by on the left this time all dressed in red. More elders follow, four then two then one.
Dante recognises the first as Luke, follower of Hippocrates. As the procession passes by, a flash of thunder blocks their path with the chariot directly across the bank from Dante. Dante calls the candelabra the seven stars, reminding him of the constellation which guides sailors home. The 24 elders between the candelabra and the chariot sing “Veni, sponsa, de Libano,” or “Come with me from Lebanon, my spouse.” The 7 other elders sing back at them. They say “Benedictus qui venis” or “Blessed art thou that comest” as they scatter flowers around. Out of the mist of falling flowers, a woman appears. She wears a white veil, a green cape and a flame red dress. Her head is crowned with branches from an olive tree. Dante feels immense love emanating from her presence. Dante excitedly turns to Virgil to confirm whether this is Beatrice approaching…
But there is only silence and then immense sadness… Dante begins to cry, the dew in the air mixing with the tears on his cheek. Virgil had gone. His work was now complete. He left on the journey back to Limbo alone without uttering a word.
The Earthly Paradise – Part 2
The woman tells Dante not to cry as he will soon be wounded by another blade. Standing beside the chariot, Dante compares her to an admiral inspecting her troops. She had an authoritative stature about her. Dante looks at her both admiringly and fearfully. She shouts to him to “Look here! For I am Beatrice, I am!”. She scolds Dante like a mother disciplines her child for crying in the Earthly Paradise… a place where people are supposed to be filled with joy. Dante looks down at the water and sees his reflection. Ashamed of his crying, he looks further to the grass below.
Suddenly a troupe of Angels that now surround Beatrice ask her to have pity on Dante. At the sound of Angels asking for his mercy, Dante begins to cry even more so than before. Beatrice turns to the Angels and tells them to not be so light on Dante. She explains to them why Dante must listen to her. She tells them that Dante is still young and that the heavenly spheres have guided him so much that his poetry is almost divine. However, she continues, his talent has become misguided.
Beatrice carries on with a little backstory. She explains that when she was young, she used to lead Dante down the path of virtue by him trusting his love for her. When she died he began to follow a crooked path. She tried to go to him in his dreams but he could never find his way back to virtue. To show him the true path, she had to show him the horrors of Hell… for that task she requested Virgil. Beatrice turns to Dante, himself shamed and uncharacteristically speechless. She demands he answer her accusations. She sees his distress and asks him more gently to speak. The waters of the Lethe have not yet cleansed his memory. Dante tries to confirm but finds it almost impossible to talk. Suddenly, like a dam bursting, his emotions flow out from him. It is so full of emotion that his words are mangled and unclear. Beatrice is merciless, she commands he confess what troubles he crossed which drew him from his path.
What temptations did he submit to? Dante manages to whisper “mere appearances turned me aside with their false loveliness, as soon as I had lost your countenance.” Beatrice, ever blunt, states that God would have known his lies had he failed to confess this and that the blade of justice would have struck more powerfully if he had not. Beatrice isn’t finished yet. She tells Dante to feel more shame in life to remain on the correct path and tells him what he should have done after she died. Arrogantly, Beatrice says that nothing should be more gorgeous to Dante than her, even after she had died. If her amazing beauty couldn’t keep him from sin, then nothing could. When he was first tempted, he should have taken the high road, she says, not be tempted by false beauty. Dante is filled with guilt. He stands alone and compares himself to a young bird pushed over the edge until he learns. Dante knows Beatrice speaks truths. To punish him even more, his love tells him to stop looking down and look at her so that he can feel the shame even more. He looks at her and notices that she is more supremely beautiful than he even remembers. She is looking at the Griffon.
Overwhelmed by emotion and shame, Dante faints. When he awakens he finds himself in the arms of a young woman holding him over the Lethe, she dunks him into it and then returns him back the Beatrice. Near the shore she dunks him under again but this time so deep he drinks some of the water. The young woman bathes him and carries him to the dancing women of the stationary group. The women introduce themselves as Beatrice’s handmaidens that are actually stars. They exist to help Dante look in her eyes. They lead him over to Beatrice and tell him to look in her eyes. Her emerald eyes are like fire and they reflect the Griffon in them. The poet gets lost in them and is completely hypnotised. Three of the handmaidens approach Beatrice and ask her to lift her veil and look upon her lover so that he may see her full beauty.
Dante invokes the muses to ask that he keep sane before looking at her full beauty. Lifting her veil quenches Dante’s “10 year thirst” so fully that he cannot see anything else. The handmaidens tell Dante to stop staring. Dante is partially blind from being fixed on Beatrice. As his eyesight returns, he notices the procession has turned East and started moving. The Griffon is so noble that the movement does not even cause his feathers to ruffle. Dante is led by Beatrice and Statius, walking beside the chariot that his companions are sat in.
The Earthly Paradise – Part 3
The troupe walks for the length of “three flights of arrows” before they reach the foot of a large tree. The tree has no leaves or flowers. As they get closer, some in the group start to mutter “Adam”. The tree is the tree of knowledge for which the forbidden fruit was eaten. The group start to praise the Griffon for not tasting the fruit which brought down mankind.
The Griffon actually responds with “Thus is the seed of every righteous man preserved.” The Griffon reaches up and ties the chariot to a branch of the tree. The tree suddenly bursts into a bloom with red and violet blossoms. The group begins singing a hymn that Dante cannot understand and he becomes immensely sleepy. He blacks out. When he awakens he finds a woman standing over him and inquires as to where Beatrice is. He sees Beatrice sitting under the tree beside the chariot with her handmaidens. He tells the readers that he will sit with her for a while and then when he dies he will sit with her forever. His job here is to document everything possible for now for his poem. Beatrice sees Dante and tells him what to write about. Out of nowhere an eagle blasts like a lightning bolt from the sky through some branches of the tree and straight into the chariot. The chariot is left in tatters. A fox appears from within the wrecked vehicle and Beatrice drives it away. The Eagle flies at the chariot again and a booming voice from the heavens shouts that the Eagle is carrying wickedness.
As if this wasn’t strange enough, the ground beneath the chariot splits open and a Dragon tail shoots out of the Earth crashing into the wreck. It pulls some of the chariot down into the ground with it. What is left of the chariot is covered in Eagle feathers. The chariot begins to sprout heads, three of them, all monstrous with horns. Then another part of the chariot, just as suddenly, turns into a naked woman of the night, guarded by a jealous giant. As the woman gazes over to Dante the giant beats her heavily. The giant unties what is left of the chariot and its three heads before dragging it and the woman into the forest. The handmaidens are horrified at the sight and sing psalms. Beatrice seems saddened as well. Beatrice says something in latin which translates as “A little while and ye shall not see me: and again, a little while, and ye shall see me…” Beatrice commands her maidens and Statius to fall in behind her as she approaches Dante.
She stares into his eyes and calls him “brother” asking if he has questions. Dante is tongue tied and basically submits authority to wise Beatrice to tell him what she will. She tells him to stop fearing and feeling shame because he no longer speaks like one who dreams. Beatrice tells Dante not to fear for the Chariot that the serpent broke because God will punish him soundly. She says that the Eagle will one day have an heir because of a constellation that she has heard of. It will one day slay the giant and his woman. Beatrice says that she knows her words aren’t making much sense but time will decipher them. She tells Dante to write this specific passage into her poem. She informs him that God made the tree solely for his own use. She says that the tree is built so hard to climb because God does not want anyone to trespass on what he decrees.
She tells Dante to write the words down so that he never forgets them and Dante replies that the words are already emblazoned in his mind. Dante asks why he still can’t understand her words fully and Beatrice replies that it is simply the gulf in reasoning between man and God. Dante says to her that he cannot remember her being so cold to him before and she tells him that it is because his mind has been cleared by the Lethe. It is noon and Beatrice informs Dante that she will try to speak in ways he understands. The group approach two rivers joining into one and Miltilda, one of the maids, tells Dante that he should know that the two rivers are the Lethe and the Eunoe. Beatrice, thinking Dante may have forgotten, orders Matilda to take the poet into the stream and restore his memories of good deeds.
Matilda takes Dante and Statius into the river and Dante tells the reader that his pages for Purgatorio have run out. We get a final glimpse of Dante saying that he soon after returned to Beatrice remade and now ready to climb the steps to Heaven.
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