Dante – Purgatorio/Purgatory from the Divine Comedy, 31-33

Canto 31

  • Beatrice returned to her sharp speech against Dante: “You there, say it if it’s true, your charge requires a confession. So, out with it.” Dante was confused about the words resounding in him long after they’d been said. She waited & then asked him what he was thinking of. His sad memories weren’t yet drowned in the water of oblivion. The terror & shame put his lips together to utter a barely audible “Yes”. He collapsed under the weight of the charge against him & out came a stream of sobs & signs until his voice died trying to say anything else.
    • Beatrice said: “Your desire for me which led you to see the good beyond which there’s nothing to be eager for – what did you find? What pitfalls were there in the road? What chains tied you? That you should throw away all hope of going to Heaven? What allure or advantage did you find in them that made you follow them instead?
      • Dante mustered the strength to answer: “Passing things with their false delight, pulled me away once you left”.
      • Beatrice answered: “If you had kept your silence or denied what you’ve just confessed, your crime would still be known to the Judge. But when the prisoner’s mouth confesses, the grindstone is set to blunt the stone. In order for you to learn to be ashamed of your guilt & put on a better show of strength when the Siren calls, you should not sow the seed of your tears. Then you could listen all you want. Listen to me & you’ll hear how my buried body could’ve sent you in a different direction.
      • “Nothing in art or nature matched the joy that my body gave you but now it is just dust. When my death destroyed all the joy in you, what passing thing should there have been whose clutch would bring you to it in your desire? You should’ve risen above it all, thinking these temporary things false. You should not have sat around waiting for the next passing thing – a girl or whatever. You should have soared for something permanent.” Dante just stood there quiet like a schoolboy who’d just be scolded – eyes downcast, sniffling, listening & overcome with guilt.
      • Beatrice kept talking: “If hearing all that hurts, then lift up your head & you’ll see something that’ll give you more grief.” Dante lifted his head & looked at the Angels of the Pageant standing still. Then he looked at the Gryphon [the 2 natures of Christ in one form]. Under Beatrice’s veil & beyond the stream, she seemed better than the girl he knew in the past.
      • That really stung Dante. Of all the objects of his love, he hated most what he’d doted on most. The self-reproach broke his heart. She knew everything of what he’d done & had become. When his heart came around, he saw the 1st lady he’d met in the garden alone. She said to him “Hold on to me”. She pulled him into the river & dragged him through the water.
    • When Dante was pulled to the edge, he heard, “Asperges me” (Cleanse me), as if to drown all of his memory. She held his head, & washed & cleaned him. The 4 dancers took him & started singing: “Here are we nymphs & stars in Heaven. We were asked to be Beatrice’s handmaids when she was sent to Earth. We’ll lead you to her.”
      • They led him to the Gryphon where Beatrice stood. They told him that he ought not spare his eyes because they put him in front of Beatrice’s bright emerald eyes that had once sent love to him. Thousands of desires hotter than any fire fixed his eyes to the Gryphon’s 2 forms. His soul was fed on its food. The 3 other dancers came forth & sang to Beatrice that she was to turn her holy eyes on Dante, who’d toiled long & hard to get to her.

Notes According to Dorothy Sayers

  • Dante’s conviction of Sin: It may seem strange that Dante’s overwhelming conviction of sin, & his abject confession, should be placed at this point, after his (symbolical) purgation by the ascent of the Mountain. He has already “seen himself as he is” & made his act of contrition at Peter’s Gate (Purgatory, 9), without any such violent psychological disturbance. What is meant, I think, is that not until the state of innocence has been recovered can sin be apprehended in its full horror. So long as any taint of sinfulness remains, there is always something in the soul that still assents to sin; only when the last, lingering vestige of unconscious assent has been purged away can one see one’s own sin as it appears to God – as something unspeakably vile & hideous. The sight is unbearable to human nature; therefore, as soon as realization is complete & confession made, the remembrance of sin is mercifully drowned in oblivion.

Canto 32

  • His eyes were so busy quenching their 10-year thirst [it’s been 10 years since he’d last seen Beatrice], that all other senses were ignored. Her smiled pulled him into her holy net until one of the goddesses said his stare was too fixed. His vision was partially blind as if he’d been staring at the sun. He looked at the pageant which was making its return towards him with the 7 lights in front. Each member kept the same place in the parade.
    • The Lady, Statius & Dante followed the right wheel as it was turning. They walked in the rhythm of the music being played. They went about as far as an arrow could be shot when Beatrice got down from the car. Everyone whispered “Adam” & stood beneath a tree whose branches were completely bare. The higher it went, the wider it spread.
    • They all cried out: “Blessed are you, Gryphon, that your bill doesn’t pluck a single leaf from this tree because they make you sick.” They all circled around the tree.
      • The Gryphon spoke: “So the seed of all that is just is preserved.” He turned to the pole he’d drawn, & used his strength to drag it to the tree & what come from it (Cross) he left bound to it. The tree came to life with flowers just as it would do in spring.
      • Dante didn’t know what hymn everyone was singing. He fell asleep without realizing it only to wake up to a bright light & a voice calling: “Up! What are you doing?” Dante felt like what the Apostles must have felt like after passing out having just seen the Transfiguration. He saw the lady next tom him & asked her where Beatrice was.
      • She said: “She’s under the tree’s leaves. Look at her friends surrounding her, hanging out with the risen Gryphon & singing.” If she said any more than that, Dante wouldn’t have known because he was too distracted by the sight. The 7 nymphs stood around her.
      • Beatrice spoke: “You will stay here & then you will join me in Heaven. To help the world which lives in sin, fix your eyes on the chariot & write well about it when you return.” Dante was obedient to anything she asked.
      • He saw an eagle [Emperor Constantine who endowed the Church with the riches which led to her corruption] fly down on to the tree, ripping off the bark & scattering the new foliage & flowers that had just grown. This struck such a blow that rattled the chariot below.
        • Then Dante saw a starving fox [Heresies of the Early Church] jump into the triumphal car. The lady chased it away, rebuking it for its sins. Then the eagle dropped into the body of the chariot & leaving some of its feathers there. A voice [Peter] from Heaven cried out, “Oh, my little keel, how laden with disaster you are.” It appeared that the earth began to gape between the 2 wheels & a dragon [(1) Anti-Christ, (2) the Devil, (3) the spirit of Cupidity, OR (4) the schism brought about in the 6th Century by Mohamed] came up from below pushing its tail through the bottom of the chariot, tearing off a piece & running off.
        • What was left of the chariot went back to as it had been before. The chariot then covered itself with feathers & the thing began to sprout horned heads all over it [The corruption caused by riches now runs riot, & the Car of the Church turns into the Beast of the Apocalypse from Revelations]. Then enthroned there were a harlot [the corrupt & usurping Papacy], loosely dressed & a giant [France, particularly Philip IV]. They embraced & kissed [The giant, Philip IV by whose connivance Pope Clement V transferred the Papal See to Avignon] but soon the harlot whipped the giant out of jealousy when it looked at Dante. The giant got angry, untied the monster & dragged the chariot off into the woods.

Notes According to Dorothy Sayers

  • The Interlude & the Second Masque: The Pageant which follows the dramatic human scene between Dante & Beatrice is divided, as it were, into 2 acts. The first, which I have called for want of a better name, “The Interlude”, is theologically the more important of the 2, & provides the clue to the interpretation of the whole series.
    • The Interlude: The Chariot & the Tree: According to tradition, the Cross of Christ was made from the wood of the Forbidden Tree. This legend supplies the richly allusive allegory of lines 37-60.
      • As soon as we see the Tree, we recognize it, from its peculiar shape as the “stock” from which the “scions” in Cornice 6 were taken: i.e. as the Tree of Knowledge (Purgatory, 24). The key to the whole passage is thus seen to be: “& what came from it he left bound to it”, which gives us to understand that the pole of the Church’s chariot is the Cross itself. The murmur of the heavenly company has further identified the Tree, in its bare & ruined state, as an image of Adam in his fallen nature. We shall thus have no difficulty in identifying the Chariot-pole (Cross, or “Tree of Glory”) as an image of Christ, the Second Adam, in His unfallen Humanity – each Adam being figured, that is, by his particular Tree.
        These identifications made, the interpretation is quite straight-forward. When, by means of the Incarnation (the Gryphon), the Second Adam (the Chariot-pole) is united (bound) to the First Adam (the Tree) of whose race He came but whose Fall He did not share, Man’s ruined nature is redeemed & receives new life from the perfect Nature of Christ (the dry Tree breaks into blossom).
    • The Second Masque: The Pageant of Church & Empire: As the first Masque showed the history of the Church up to & including the Incarnation, so the second Masque shows her history from Apostolic times to Dante’s own day. The Tree now represents Man in his redeemed nature: in other words, it has become the image of Christendom, &, in an especial sense, of Rome, the spiritual & temporal center of Christendom. Its condition is thus tragically affected by the relations between Church & Empire.
  • Statius: Throughout these last 3 cantos, Dante has an air of forgetting Statius, only throwing in a casual reference now & again, to show that he is still there. We infer that he has cross the Lethe, & we are told that he drinks of Eunoë; but he is excluded altogether from the interview with Beatrice, who appears to pay no attention to him. Obviously, he could have no part in that intimate scene; yet, if the poet had found his presence embarrassing, he could easily have got rid of him earlier (by supposing, for example, that he needed to stay behind & do penance on the 9th Cornice, or in some other way). He is doubtless here to show that the drinking of the 2 waters is part of the regular purgation of all spirits. But we may reasonably ask what the appearance of Beatrice means to him, & whether he undergoes any experience corresponding to Dante’s. My own conjecture (for it can be no more than that) is that what Statius beholds upon the Car is not Beatrice, but whatever is, for him, the personal God-bearing image; & that his experience is here as private from Dante as Dante’s is from him. In which case, the reason why Dante (the poet) tells us nothing, is that Dante (the Pilgrim) knew nothing about it.


Canto 33

  • “Oh God, the heathens have come (into your inheritance)” sang out the nymphs from a Psalm, lamenting the usurping of the Papal See & taking the Church in captivity. While all the pitiful sighs were going on, Beatrice looked on as compassionately as Mary stood in front of the Cross.
    • She stood up & spoke: “In a little while, you won’t see me, & again, in a little while, you will see me.” She put all 7 of the nymphs in front of her, along with the lady, Statius & Dante. She looked at Dante calmly: “Hurry up, so if I have something to say to you, you’ll be ready to hear it.” When he pulled in closer, she asked: “Don’t you have any questions for me? Won’t you ask them since you’ve got me here?”
    • She continued: “I want you to drop the extremes of fear & shame. So stop talking like a daydreamer. Just know that the chariot the dragon broke up both was & is not. The one who bears the blame can’t escape God’s vengeance. The eagle left its feathers on the car, to make it a monster & then a prey. It won’t be without heirs forever. I foresee stars approaching, safe from impediments, that will have a leader sent by God to defeat the harlot & the giant.
    • “Maybe my speech isn’t so believable because it’s dark but soon events will solve the riddle of what to do without harming the flock or the harvest. So, take note – Just as I’m delivering this message, so must you tell the living that life is a race to the death. Also note that your writings shouldn’t omit the twice-spoiled tree in this garden.
      • “Those who rob it or rip at it enact blasphemy, offending God by whom it was made & meant for his sole use – a sacred thing. One bite from the fruit has led to over 5000 years of punishment of Adam & his children. You’re mistaken if you don’t think the tree is this tall & has inverted branches for some reason. You should have realized, by knowing what this tree symbolizes, why it was forbidden to eat from it. I see that your mind has turned to stone & my words can’t illuminate you very well. I want to carry my words with you even if they’re in symbols.”
    • Dante replied: “My brain has been stamped by your words & the displays put in front of me. But why is it that the harder I try to understand them, the less I seem to succeed?”
      • Beatrice replied: “You must realize your old way of thinking – keeping religion & philosophy separate & distinct from each other – is not the heavenly way”. Dante protested that he didn’t recall that he’d ever strayed & for that he felt no twinge in his conscience.
      • Beatrice said: “If you’re forgotten it, go drink from the River to remember. You drank from the Lethe & that is why you forget. & from that we can infer your guilt because only the remembrance of sin is wiped away from drinking from it. But from now on, I promise to speak more plainly with you so your poor vision may be able to see clearly.”
  • It was then noon & the nymphs stopped at the edge of the river. Dante asked why the 2 rivers had the same source. Matilda (the first woman he’d met at the top of the mountain) said that she’d explained everything to him already. But Beatrice told her that she needed to take him to the water & have Dante drink from the river. He did so, & suddenly he felt completely revived, ready to jump up to the stars.

Notes According to Dorothy Sayers

  • Eunoë: The name (meaning “good-remembrance” or “good mind”) is “made up”, as a modern commentator observes, “from Greek words which were well known to medieval culture”. Oddly enough, they do not seem to have been known to Dante’s son Pietro, who, in his Latin commentary on the Comedy, writes the name of the river “Aonius”, & identifies it with the “Aonian waters” mentioned by Ovid: i.e. with the Muses’ fountain in Aganippe in Aonia. Pietro, however, seems to have lacked the curiosity – or perhaps the courage – to ask his father all the questions that we should like to have answered, & at one point (the notorious passage about the 3 mirrors in Paradise, 2) is reduced to saying to the reader: “Work out the rest, in fact the whole thing, for yourself, for I see nothing & understand nothing”. We may therefore ignore him & conclude that the name Eunoë (which is undoubtedly what Dante wrote) was either the poet’s own invention, or derived from some medieval or post-classical Latin source which was unknown to Pietro & had escaped the search of later commentators.
  • Matilda: The function of Matilda is now clearer to us: the handmaid of Beatrice, & of all that Beatrice signifies, she welcomes the soul, instructs it, cleanses it, & brings it, thus prepared, into the presence of the sacramental mystery. She thus figures as all levels the Active Christian Life: (1) morally, the perfecting of Nature to receive Grace; (2) historically, the visible & institutional life of the Church as the means whereby it is enabled to become the “true body” of Christ; (3) mystically, the life of good works in the world which is the necessary basis for the life of contemplation.

Author: knowit68

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