Dante: The Divine Comedy
Notes to Dante's Purgatorio
- PurgNote 1. Structure
- PurgNote 2. Chronology, See also the Chronology of the Inferno and Paradiso.
- PurgNote 3. The planet Venus and the Southern Cross.
- PurgNote 4. Dawn in Purgatory.
- PurgNote 5. The singing in Purgatory, the Psalms and Beatitudes.
- PurgNote 6. The sun’s position south of the equator.
- PurgNote 7. Dante’s speech concerning the state of Italy.
- PurgNote 8. The three stars.
- PurgNote 9. Dante’s three dreams.
- PurgNote 10. The Gate of Purgatory.
- PurgNote 11. The public records and the standard measure.
- PurgNote 12. The letters OMO.
- PurgNote 13. The Divine Pageant.
- PurgNote 14. The Mystic Tree.
- PurgNote 15. The Church past, present and future.
PurgNote 1. Structure
The pattern of three, divided to make seven, augmented to nine and then ten, is the fundamental architecture of Hell, Purgatory and Paradise. (The keynote of Hell is Charity or Pity, of the Purgatorio, Hope, and of the Paradiso, Faith.)
When Satan fell into Hell, he threw up behind him the mountain of Purgatory, at the opposite side of the earth to Jerusalem. The ascent of Purgatory is an ethical journey to recover the life of Eden, the Garden of Eden and Earthly Paradise. Cato, the embodiment of moral virtue, is the guardian of the Mount, and Virgil, the embodiment of human philosophy is the guide. The Earthly Paradise is the goal, where Beatrice will appear to point the way onward, beyond the ethical towards spiritual Revelation.
There are seven circles of purgation of the deadly sins, arranged in three groupings, consisting of (see Canto XVII) those arising from a perverse desire to see others fail or suffer, namely pride, envy, and anger (Circles 1-3); that arising from inadequate desire, namely spiritual and intellectual sloth (Circle 4); and those arising from excessive desire, namely avarice, gluttony, and lust (Circles 5-7). Added to these are the excommunicated, at the base of the mountain, and the late-repentant below the gate. There are therefore nine major divisions, plus the Earthly Paradise, beyond Purgatory proper, at its summit, making ten in all.
Cantos III and IV. The Excommunicates. Those disobedient against the Church.
They must wait for thirty times the period of their disobedience before ascending the mountain.
They must live excluded from purgation for as long as they were impenitent on earth, unless aided by the prayers of souls in grace.
They are bent, in humility, under the burden of huge stones.
Their eyelids are sealed, and they lean together in supportive love.
They are covered in a dark fog.
Canto XVII. The structure of Purgatory.
Virgil explains the nature of defective, excessive and perverted love.
They run in a great throng, to demonstrate new fervour.
They lie bound and motionless, as in life they were bound to earthly things.
They are wasted by hunger.
They exist in the flames of purgation.
Canto XXVII. Through the flames. Virgil’s Departure.
Virgil sends Dante forward to meet Matilda in the Garden of Eden.
Cantos XXVIII-XXIX. Dante and Matilda.
The Divine Pageant.
Cantos XXX-XXXIII. The meeting with Beatrice.
Lethe. Beatrice. Dante’s purification.
Dante and Virgil reach the Mountain of Purgatory at dawn on Easter Monday.
Purgatorio Canto II:46-79. The stars have vanished (55-57) but there are no shadows yet (67-68). The light of the rising sun in Aries has blotted out Capricorn in the mid-heaven which is ninety degrees from it on the zodiac.
Purgatorio Canto III:1-45. The sun is up, and it is Vespers (3pm-6pm) the last of the four divisions of the day, that is evening, in Italy, when it is dawn in Purgatory.
Purgatorio Canto IV:88-139. The conversation with Belacqua takes Dante to noon in Purgatory, where the midday sun is in the north. It is sunrise on the Ganges, and sunset in Spain. (In Dante’s geography Jerusalem is the centre, with the Ganges at the extreme east, Gibraltar at the extreme west, and Rome midway between Jerusalem and Gibraltar.)
Purgatorio Canto VI:49-75. The poets are on the east of the mountain, and the sun disappears behind the mountain, so that Dante casts no shadow.
Purgatorio Canto VIII:1-45. The souls sing their hymn at sunset (1-18: sunset of Easter Monday)......
Purgatorio Canto VIII:46-84 and the poets descend after sunset (they cannot ascend, see VII:58-59)
Purgatorio Canto IX:1-33. It is just after 8.30pm on the Monday evening when Dante falls asleep (1-12). Full moon and moonset was at sunrise on the Friday morning, so three days have passed (sunrise in Hell is sunset in Purgatory!). The moon moves 12 degrees, which equates to 48 minutes a day, so it is now approximately 2 and a half hours after sunset, and it is moonrise, in Purgatory, that is about 8.30pm, and the moon on the zodiac has passed through Libra and is in Scorpio. The first stars of Scorpio and the lunar aurora are on the horizon.
Purgatorio Canto X:1-45. It is moonset on Tuesday morning. The moon retardation now, after three and a half days, equates to about 42 degrees, or three hours so it is about 9am.
Purgatorio Canto XII:64-99. The sixth handmaiden (or hour that serves the day) is returning, indicating that it is noon on Tuesday, since sunrise was at 6am.
Purgatorio Canto XV:1-36. It is 3pm, Vespers, (1-9), i.e. as much of the sun’s course is left to run on the zodiac before sunset (nominally at 6pm at the equinox) as it passes in the first three hours of the day between 6am and 9am. The poets are heading due west, and have reached the northern quarter of the mount from the east. It is still evening at line 139.
Purgatorio Canto XVII:1-39. It is just after sunset on the Tuesday evening at the base of the mountain(12) and sets for the poets at the fourth circle.
Purgatorio Canto XIX:37-69. It is daylight of the Wednesday morning when Dante wakes and the poets travel west with the risen sun behind them.
Purgatorio Canto XXII:115-154. It is after 10am in the sixth circle (four handmaidens of the sun have retired i.e. hours of the day, the fifth is in place. Sunrise is 6am).
Purgatorio Canto XXIII:91-133. Dante casts a shadow, and they are well to the west.
Purgatorio Canto XXV:1-79. It is after 2.0pm Wednesday. Taurus the Bull rises at 8.00am at the equinox and will be on the meridian six hours later, i.e. at 2.0pm. Its opposite sign Scorpio will be at the nadir.
Purgatorio Canto XXVI:1-66. Dante walks due south with the sun on his right (due west) near sunset.
Purgatorio Canto XXVII:1-45.The sun sets at approx. 6pm Wednesday at the base of the mountain.(1-6).
Purgatorio Canto XXVII:46-93. The sun sets higher up on the mountain where the poets are (61-69).
Purgatorio Canto XXVII:115-142. The sun shines full on their faces as they enter the Earthly Paradise, facing east, from the west (133).
Purgatorio Canto XXXIII:103-145. It is noon Thursday as they reach the source of Lethe.
Purgatorio Canto I:1-27. Venus is taken as being in Pisces at the time of the Creation, with the sun in Aries. Pisces was the sign of the spring equinox during the Christian era. Venus is depicted in that position in the Collegiate Church at San Gimignano. The four stars of the Southern Cross (Note: Dante’s obvious knowledge of it, but the freshness of that knowledge, suggests a recent report of its existence from a voyage south of the equator after 1300.) represent the four Cardinal moral virtues: Prudence, Justice, Temperance and Fortitude. The prima gente may be Adam and Eve, driven out of the Earthly Paradise into the uninhabited world.
Purgatorio Canto I:28-84. Only part of the Wain, the constellation Bootës, is ever visible in the southern hemisphere, and it is never visible from Purgatory (latitude 32 degrees south, as Jerusalem, opposite it, is approximately 32 degrees north).
Purgatorio Canto II:1-45. Purgatory and Jerusalem are on the great circle that forms the horizon at dawn and the zenith meridian at noon for both places. It is midnight on the Ganges in India, sunset (notionally 6pm at the equinox) at Jerusalem, and dawn (notionally 6am) on the Mountain of Purgatory. Night falls on the Ganges with Libra rising, since the sun is rising in the opposite sign of Aries at the Visionary equinox. Libra falls from night’s hand at the autumn equinox when the sun enters and blots out the constellation, and the days become shorter.
Purgatorio Canto II:46-79. ‘In exitu Israel de Aegypto’. Dante indicated the meaning of this Psalm 114, when ‘the mountains skipped like rams’ as being ‘the exit of the sanctified soul, from the slavery of this corruption, to the liberty of eternal glory.’ See Epistle to Can Grande della Scala X 7, Convitio ii. I:63-65.
Purgatorio Canto V:1-63. The Miserere is a setting of Psalm 51, a psalm of repentance (‘wash me and I shall be whiter than snow’) beginning: ‘Have mercy upon me, O God,’
Purgatorio Canto VIII:1-45. Te lucis ante terminum is the Ambrosian hymn sung at Compline, the last office of the day.
Purgatorio Canto IX:106-145. Te Deum Laudamus is the Ambrosian hymn sung at Matins and on solemn occasions. Saint Ambrose (c340-397AD) Bishop of Milan, opposed the Arian heresy, and chose simple metres to create hymns to help the uneducated understand the orthodox faith. (The favourite Ambrosian stanza, is an unrhymed, four line stanza, of iambic dimeters).
Purgatorio Canto XII:100-136. ‘Beati pauperes spiritu, Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven’, the First Beatitude from the Sermon on the Mount, see Matthew v 3.
Purgatorio Canto XV:37-81. ‘Beati misericordes, Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy’, the Fifth Beatitude from the Sermon on the Mount Matthew v 7. For the words ‘Rejoice you who conquer’ refer to Matthew v 12, Romans xii 21 and Revelation ii 7.
Purgatorio Canto XVI:1-24. The prayer from the Latin Mass, ‘Agnus Dei qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis, dona nobis pacem: Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world, have mercy on us, give us peace.’ See John i 29.
Purgatorio Canto XVII:40-69. The Third Beatitude from the Sermon on the Mount Matthew v 5, is spoken, not sung. ‘Beati pacifici: blessed are the meek’ (for they shall inherit the earth.)
Purgatorio Canto XIX:37-69. The Second Beatitude from the Sermon on the Mount Matthew v 4, is affirmed by the Angel of Zeal. ‘Beati qui lugent: blessed are they that mourn’ (for they shall be comforted.)
Purgatorio Canto XIX:70-114. Psalm 119 v25. ‘Adhaesit pavimento anima mea, my soul cleaveth unto the dust, quicken thou me according to thy word.’
Purgatorio Canto XX:97-151. ‘Gloria in excelsis Deo, pax hominibus bonae voluntatis: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill to all men.’ See Luke ii 8-14.
Purgatorio Canto XXII:1-24. ‘Sitiunt’: in the Fourth Beatitude from the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew v 6,‘Beati qui esuriunt et sitiunt justitiam: Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness.’
Purgatorio Canto XXIII:1-36. ‘Labia mea Domine: O Lord open thou my lips (and my mouth shall shew forth thy praise).’ Psalm 51 verse 15. A verse of the Miserere, see above.
Purgatorio Canto XXIV:100-154. A second reference, see above, to the Fourth Beatitude from the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew v 6, ‘Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.’
Purgatorio Canto XXV:109-139. The Matin hymn, with its opening words, as given prior to the revision of the Breviary by Pope Urban VIII in 1631: ‘Summae Deus Clementae: God of supreme mercy,’ which contains a prayer for protection against lustfulness.
Purgatorio Canto XXVII:1-45. ‘Beati mundo corde: Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.’ The Sixth Beatitude from the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew v 8.
Purgatorio Canto XXVII:46-93. The division of the sheep and goats at the last day, when the King shall say to the sheep on the right: ‘Venite benedicti patris mei: Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.’ Matthew xxv 34.
Purgatorio Canto XXIX:1-36. ‘Beati, quorum tecta sunt peccata: Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.’ Psalm 32 verse 1.
Purgatorio Canto XXX:1-48. The Elder representing the books of Solomon sings ‘Veni sponsa de Libano: Come with me from Lebanon, my spouse, with me from Lebanon.’ from the Song of Solomon iv 8. Dante mentions that the Saints will sing Alleluia, on the Day of Judgement, an un-translated Hebrew word used as a chant of praise, taken over from synagogue usage (the Hebrew halleluyah meaning ‘praise ye Jehovah’)
Those in the chariot, sing the Benedictus, prescribed for Lauds, the first day-hour, by St Benedict: ‘Benedictus qui venit: Blessed is he that comest in the name of the Lord.’ See Matthew xxi 9, Mark xi 9, Luke xix 38, John xii 13.
Purgatorio Canto XXX:82-145. Psalm 31 lines 1-8. ‘In te, Domine, speravi: In thee, O Lord, do I put my trust, let me never be ashamed...thou hast set my feet in a large room.’
Purgatorio Canto XXXI:91-145. ‘Asperges me: Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.’ Psalm 51 verse 7.
Purgatorio Canto XXXIII:1-57. Psalm 79. ‘Deus, venerunt gentes: O God, the heathen are come into thine inheritance; thy holy temple have they defiled..’
Purgatorio Canto IV:52-87. The sun, regarded as a planet, by Dante, here, is a mirror (specchio) that reflects the light from the divine source towards the earth below. It is in Aries, at the equinox, but Virgil explains that if it were in Gemini, the Twins, its (June) arc being higher in the sky would take it even nearer the north (Orse= the Great and Little Bears, Ursa Major and Ursa Minor). The poets, south of the equator, looking east, see the sun, rising towards the north, the converse of what is seen in the diametrically opposite hemisphere of Jerusalem, where the sun will be to the south, towards Arabia. The strada, is the ecliptic, the path of the sun. The equator is equidistant between Mount Zion at Jerusalem, and the Mount of Purgatory.
Purgatorio Canto VI:76-151. Dante laments the state of Italy. The German Emperor Albert is absent, and indifferent. The power Justinian had to enforce the Roman Law has lapsed. The clergy have usurped secular power (the ‘people who should be obedient’). Feuding is rife. Every petty partisan is a Marcellus, an opponent of Caesar and the Empire. Florence is treated with irony and sarcasm, as a role model of how to sway backwards and forwards with the current, unstable and sick, like a patient tossing on a bed trying to find comfort. Dante shows his firm political stance, in favour of a strong Empire, enforcing the Roman legal code, with state and church separated, the Church handling spiritual, and the state, secular matters.
Purgatorio Canto VIII:85-108. The four bright stars of the Southern Cross signified the four Cardinal moral virtues Prudence, Justice, Fortitude, and Temperance. The constellation of the Southern Cross is now, after 6pm, low to their southeast, and obscured by the shoulder of the Mount. The three glowing stars that have risen signify Faith, Hope and Charity, the three Cardinal theological virtues, the keynotes to the three portions of the Comedy, but the ascent only continues in the morning when the other four are again in the sky, indicating the force of the moral virtues in the practical life. It is not clear whether the three stars were intended to indicate a real star grouping, known to Dante, low to the south-west, and near the Southern Pole, where the Southern Cross was just before dawn: none is an obvious candidate. (Note also: The Southern Cross is never visible in the northern latitudes if that is what is meant by di là in line 92)
Purgatorio Canto IX:1-33. Dante is carried upwards by Lucia, and dreams he is being carried by an eagle, as Ganymede was by Jupiter. The eagle in the medieval Bestiaries flies into the circle of fire in its old age, its feathers are consumed, and it falls blinded into a fountain, where it is renewed. It is a symbol therefore of baptismal regeneration through Divine Grace. Ganymede was a son of Tros, and an ancestor of Aeneas, linking the regeneration to Roman law and justice.
Purgatorio Canto XIX:1-36. Dante dreams of the Siren, Sensual Pleasure, the basis of the three sins remaining to be purged, avarice, gluttony and lust. The lady who comes to warn him is the light of reason. Ulysses’s sailors, and thus Ulysses himself, were drawn out of their way by the Sirens, but he, like Dante, resisted their lure.
Purgatorio Canto XXVII:94-114. Dante dreams of Leah, the symbol of the active life, who talks of Rachel her sister the symbol of the contemplative life. See Genesis xxix and xxx. Matilda and Beatrice are their equivalents in the Paradiso, as Martha and her sister Mary are in Luke’s Gospel x 39-42. The active life, the way of service is good, but the way of contemplation is greater.
Purgatorio Canto IX:64-105. The Gate of Purgatory has been interpreted as an allegory of the Sacrament of Penance. The Angel is the priestly confessor, while the three steps are the three stages of the Sacrament, Repentance, Confession, and Forgiveness. Repentance is cool marble, Confession rough and scorched, and breaking the stubbornness of the heart, and Forgiveness red with Christ’s blood. The adamantine threshold is the rock of the Church with its power to forgive sin, and the firmness and constancy of the confessor.
Purgatorio Canto IX:106-145. The Angel inscribes seven letter P’s on Dante’s forehead representing the seven capital sins, peccata capitali, to be purged on the Mount. The Angel’s silver key is experience by which the confessor judges the penitent’s repentance and worthiness, the golden key is the absolution he grants. His robes are ashen with the colour of humility, with which the confessor undertakes his role.
In 1299 Messer Niccola Acciaiuoli, and Messer Baldo d’Aguglione stole a page of the public records of Florence, containing evidence of a shadowy transaction that they, and the Podestà, had been involved in. At about the same time Messer Durante de’ Chiramontesi, officer of the customs for salt, reduced the standard measure.
Purgatorio Canto XXIII:1-36. The circles of the eyes stand inside the legs of the letter M, formed from the sides of the head, the forehead, and the nose. In the emaciated faces Dante sees, the sunken circles of the eyes accentuate the sharp outline of the M. Thus the whole word ‘omo’ or ‘Man’ is seen.
Purgatorio Canto XXIX:37-61. The seven candlesticks are the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. Dante employs the imagery of Revelation i 12, 20 and iv 5. According to Isaiah (Vulgate xi 2,3) the gifts are Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Might, Knowledge, Pity and Fear of the Lord. The senses are not individually deceived by their ‘proper’ objects - colour, sound, savour, scent, texture, according to Aristotle, but can be deceived by the ‘common’ objects of the senses - motion, number, shape and size.
Purgatorio Canto XXIX:61-81. The seven banners are the seven sacraments, or the working of the seven gifts. The rainbow may have been suggested by Revelation iv 3. The ten paces are probably the Ten Commandments.
Purgatorio CantoXXIX:82-105. The twenty-four elders are the books of the Old Testament (the twelve minor prophets counted as one, First and Second Kings as one, and the same with Samuel, Chronicles, and Ezra-Nehemiah). The white garments are emblematical of Faith: see Hebrews xi. The basic concept is from Revelation iv 4. The lily crowns (fleur-de-luce is iris, but the French royal emblem is equated with a lily) suggest purity of faith and teaching.
The four beasts are described in Ezekiel i 4-14 and Revelation iv 6-9. Their faces of man, lion, ox and eagle represent Matthew, Mark, Luke and John (and incidentally the four fixed Zodiacal signs of Aquarius, Leo, Taurus, and Scorpio). The green leaves indicate Hope. See I Timothy i 1. The six wings are the six laws (according to Pietro di Dante) Natural, Mosaic, Prophetic, Evangelical, Apostolic, and Canonical. The eyes indicate knowledge of past and future. John says the beasts have six wings, Ezekiel four. Dante follows St John the Divine.
Purgatorio Canto XXIX:106-132. The two wheels of the Church’s chariot are the contemplative and active life (or the Old and New Testaments, or the Franciscan and Dominican orders, or all three in simultaneous and complex allegory.). The Grifon is Christ, half eagle and half lion in his divine golden, and human red-and-white aspects. The wings are Mercy, and Truth or Justice. See Psalms 36 verses 5 7, and 10, and 57 verses 1 and 11. The three theological virtues Faith in white, Hope in green, and Charity in red, dance by the right hand wheel (They are also perhaps the Three Graces, Giving, Receiving and Thanking), Charity gives them their measure, See First Corinthians xiii 13 ‘but the greatest of these is Charity,’ while sometimes Faith leads.
The four moral or cardinal virtues Prudence, Justice, Fortitude and Temperance, are by the left wheel. Prudence has the three eyes, which see Past, Present and Future, and the purple dress of the four moral virtues is that of the Imperial Law.
Purgatorio Canto XXIX:133-154. The depiction of the Books of the New Testament continues. The two aged men are Luke, considered as the author of Acts. Paul calls him ‘the beloved physician’ in Colossians iv 14, and he is regarded as a spiritual Hippocrates. Paul is shown with the sword of his martyrdom, and of the spirit, see Ephesians vi 17 ‘the sword of the spirit, which is the word of God.’ Behind them come James, Peter, John and Jude, the authors of the four catholic, canonical Epistles. Finally comes John the Divine, the author of Revelation, the visionary Apocalypse. (There are alternative interpretations.)
The roses, and other crimson flowers, they wear represent Charity, where the Old Testament Elders wore white lilies representing Purity.
Purgatorio Canto XXXII:37-63. The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, see Genesis ii 9, is the symbol of the temporal power, of the Empire and obedience to it, since the prohibition to eat of it was the origin of law and duty. Justice is maintained when the Church follows Christ (the Grifon) by not usurping the temporal power of the Empire, and vice versa. The chariot pole is the Cross, which, legend has it, was taken from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. It links Church and Empire. The Empire blossoms in purple after the advent of Christianity (the sun, shining from Aries at the Nativity).
Purgatorio Canto XXXII:64-99. Beatrice, Divine Philosophy and Heavenly Wisdom, is seated at the root of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, which is Rome, the seat of the Empire, and in the shadow of the new foliage that blossomed when the Church was united to the Empire. She watches over the chariot of the Church, attended by the Virtues, who still guard the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Purgatorio Canto XXXII:100-160. The eagle represents the ten Imperial persecutions of the Church instigated by the Emperors from Nero to Diocletian. See also Ezekiel xvii 3.
The vixen represents the heresies of the early Church, suppressed by the writings of the Fathers etc.
The second descent of the eagle represents the Donation of Constantine, whereby temporal and spiritual powers were confused, the Church acquiring its earthly riches. See the entry for Constantine.
The dragon represents the Islamic schism, its form suggested by Revelation xii 3, or possibly Simony.
The fresh feathers covering the chariot are those of temporal power and worldly wealth (increased by the Carlovingian Emperors) and the Church becomes transformed into a Monster with the seven capital sins as its heads (suggested by Revelation xvii 3).
The Giant is the French dynasty, Philip the Fair specifically. His feud with Boniface ended in the death of the Pope, and he connived with Clement V at transferring the Papal Court to Avignon. If Dante here represents Florence and Italy, then the Pope was punished, and the Whore scourged, for her aspirations in Italy, that is for turning her eye towards him.
Purgatorio Canto XXXIII:1-57. Beatrice implies that the Church is no longer recognisable as the Church of God, but nothing can save the guilty from God’s vengeance (Dante says no sop will help: referring to the custom where a murderer could escape vendetta if he contrived to eat a sop of bread and wine at the murdered person’s grave, within nine days after the murder. The family kept watch to prevent it.)
Emperor Frederick II (d1250) was regarded by Dante as the last true Emperor before 1300, despite the reigns of Rudolf, Adolphus, and Albert, so that the throne is empty. But a new heir to the eagle of Empire (Henry VII in 1308) will soon arrive, and a new leader (the Roman letters for five-hundred, ten and five, DXV, rearranged, stand for dux, a leader), Dante’s ‘greyhound’ perhaps (Can Grande or Henry of Luxembourg) will rise to rid Italy of the corrupt Papacy, the Whore, and the false French Empire, the Giant.
The tree has been twice spoiled, once by Adam in the Garden of Eden, by taking the apple, secondly by the wood, the chariot pole, being taken to form the Cross.
Purgatorio Canto XXXIII:58-102. It is blasphemy to usurp the Imperial prerogatives as the Empire is divinely ordained, and is a sin comparable in its disobedience with Adam’s disobedience in eating the apple.
The height, and inverted cone of the tree, signifies the power and extent of the Empire, and its Divine origin.