Meditations on the Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri
Purgatorio Cantos XXIX-XXXIII
A. S. Kline Authored by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2002, All Rights Reserved.
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- Meditation LXIII: Purgatorio Canto XXIX
- Meditation LXIV: Purgatorio Canto XXX
- Meditation LXV: Purgatorio Canto XXXI
- Meditation LXVI: Purgatorio Canto XXXII
- Meditation LXVII: Purgatorio Canto XXXIII
Meditation LXIII: Purgatorio Canto XXIX
MedLXIII:1 The Divine Pageant: Purgatorio Canto XXIX:1
Singing, like a lady in love, Matilda confirms her symbolic role as the keeper of the threshold of reconciliation and forgiveness. She sings ‘Beati, quorum tecta sunt peccata: Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.’ (Psalm 32: verse 1). She wanders along like a classical nymph of the woodlands, with Dante tracking her course, on the far side of the stream. Their steps curve with the banks of the stream towards the religiously symbolic East, direction of the risen sun, and a great light floods the forest accompanied by a sweet melody. Dante regrets the Fall that robbed Man of this bliss, and so delayed his own awareness of it.
Dante now invokes the Muses, the sacred Mount, Helicon (its streams were Aganippe and Hippocrene), one of their haunts, and above all Urania, the Muse of Astronomy, the Heavenly Spheres and their music. She was also the mother of Linus the mythical poet. Once more it is hard to find expression in words for things seen in the Vision. What appears is the Divine Pageant, which stuns Virgil also. The whole thing is a symbolic procession representing the Church.
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. Dante at first believes them to be seven golden trees but as he nears is undeceived. 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. ‘Hosanna’ is being sung, the word with which the Jews hailed Jesus on entering Jerusalem (Matthew xxi:9, Mark xi:9, John xii:13).
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.
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. They sing ‘Blessed art thou among women’ the words of the Angel Gabriel, and of Elizabeth, to Mary. See Luke i 28 and 42.
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 the writings of St John the Divine, taking the New Testament as more authoritative.
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.
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 ‘humble’ 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, that the seven wear represent Charity, where the Old Testament Elders wore white lilies representing Purity.
There is a clap of thunder and the whole panoply halts. Signalled by that last figure of Saint John the Divine we are entering a moment of Visionary Revelation.
Meditation LXIV: Purgatorio Canto XXX
MedLXIV:1 Beatrice: Purgatorio Canto XXX:1
The seven candlesticks (the gifts of the Holy Spirit) that guide the faithful, as the Little Bear guides sailors, come to a halt. The twenty-four Elders (the Books of the Old Testament) turn to face the chariot of the Church, and the Elder representing the books of Solomon sings, three times, ‘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 rise from their tombs, their spirits re-united with their bodies, and sing Alleluia, on the Day of Judgement, this an un-translated Hebrew word used as a chant of praise, taken over from synagogue usage (the Hebrew halleluyah meaning ‘praise ye Jehovah’). The Church is the bride: the spouse of Christ: and Dante places a significant weight on the greatness of Solomon, which he will re-iterate later in the Paradiso.
The hundred spirits who rise in the chariot, sing the Benedictus, prescribed for Lauds, the first day-hour, by Saint 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.), the words said at Christ’s entry into Jerusalem, and repeat words from Aeneid vi 884, ‘Manibus o date lilia plenis: Give lilies from full hands! I too shall scatter scarlet flowers...’ the words said by Anchises regarding the funeral of Iulus (Ascanius) his grandson.’
Dante therefore combines, in the singing and speech, the Church as the bride of Christ: the words at the entry of Christ as the city welcomes him extended to all the blessed representatives of that Church: a parallel between the high virtues of Christ, and those of Ascanius in the full passage from Virgil, and in both cases their brief visit to earth, so linking the Advent, and the Church, with the Roman Imperial succession. Roman history and Christian history are both, Divinely, necessary and inevitable, both interlinked in the essential world history, according to Dante.
Now Dante, like an initiate at Eleusis, at the mysteries of Demeter and Persephone, who has travelled through the underworld, and climbed the Mount of Purgation, is fit for visionary revelation. He is ready, knowing now some of the secrets of life and death and the afterlife, to see his lost Persephone again, returned from the dead, beyond the dead, among the dead. And Beatrice appears, among the cascade of flowers, like the rising regenerated, re-born sun among veiled cloud, like the ‘goddess’ of Dante’s emotional and spiritual life returning from the darkness of loss and memory and winter. She is crowned with the olive of wisdom, and clothed in the colours white, green and red of the three theological virtues, faith, hope and charity. She is the Beatrice of ten years or so previously: the Beatrice dying young in 1290: the Beatrice of the Vita Nuova. Even before his eyes have brought him knowledge that it is she, the traditional way that the exponents of Courtly Love felt the power of their lady, he feels the virtue of her presence as of old. And she is Divine Philosophy, carried in the chariot of the Church, and its great glory.
He had been transfixed by sight of her when he was nine years old, and she a little younger, and he turns now as he recognises her, in her unchanged spiritual form, in her former beauty, turns towards Virgil, speaking words that translate Aeneid iv:23, ‘Agnosco veteris vestigia flammae: I know the tokens of the ancient flame.’ But as Beatrice arrives to guide Dante onwards, Virgil vanishes, his guidance no longer needed or possible, and not even Beatrice’s beauty can prevent his tears at the loss of Virgil’s companionship. (Statius remains until the end of the Purgatorio.)
Beatrice directs her gaze at Dante across the stream, naming him (he does not name himself in the Commedia or elsewhere in his major writings, ascribing to the ancient ideas of literary modesty) encouraging him, and at the same time warning him that he will soon have more to weep over. Repeating the word ben: truly, three times she impresses upon him her reality, her identity, and her condemnation of the life he was leading, his temerity at approaching the Mount, so that he glances inadvertently at the water of Lethe which erases memory, but sees there his own face and his own memories, and looks away ashamed, like a child before its mother, at the severe and bitter taste of her pity for him. The eyes here are the windows of the soul. ‘Look at me’ she says.
Angelic singing begins again: 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.’ Dante, frozen by Beatrice’s severity and his own shame, in a fine analogy with the Apennine snows melting like candle-wax at the touch of warmth from the African winds, weeps openly at the compassionate singing of the Angels who are tuned to the music of the eternal spheres.
Beatrice stands on the left, the heart-side, and the meditative rather than active side of the chariot, and speaks to the Angels, the alert watchers of night and day. Dante, blessed by the stars that create human tendencies, but also with divine graces, should in his ‘new life’ of Love have been set fair towards virtue. While Beatrice was alive her eyes, and the cardinal virtues demonstrated by her, directed him to virtue, but at her death he turned towards other physical manifestations of love, and away from the spiritual, future life, beyond death, she represented. Her presence in his dreams failed to rouse him. Only his journey through Inferno could do that, and so she went to Virgil and sent him to Dante as his guide. To pass beyond Lethe he must also repent with tears.
Meditation LXV: Purgatorio Canto XXXI
MedLXV:1 Dante’s Confession: Purgatorio Canto XXXI:1
We are at the crucial stage of Dante’s journey, in terms of his own spiritual life, and the thread of personal history that he has woven through the Inferno and Purgatorio. The Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso represent an analogue to his own Past, Present and Future: his past of moral and intellectual failing, his present of repentance and confession, and his hoped-for future of redemption. He is on the threshold of Paradise, Earthly and Heavenly, as he stood previously at the foot of the stair that led into Purgatory proper. Those three steps signified the three stages of the sacrament: Repentance, Confession and Forgiveness. Here Beatrice acts as the Confessor. His past life has idealised her, and carried him towards her, now he must exalt her, and go beyond her physical being to what she represents and herself points towards, Universal Love.
She points the blade of accusation against him, as she has previously touched him with its edge, and he breaks under her questioning like the taut string of a crossbow under the stress. And he confesses to worldly distraction, to unspecified moral failing. Beatrice refers to the Siren, implying the seductions of lust and pride, of excess. The memory of her beauty, which was (and is here) supreme, should have stifled his interest in other mortal things. It should have inspired him to rise beyond the temptations of a young girl (pargoletta) or other vanities. He should have displayed a mature mind, been fully-fledged. (Dante employs an image derived from Prov. i.17 in the Vulgate: ‘Frustra jacitur rete ante oculos pennatorum: the net is cast in vain before the eyes of the winged’). Like a child he stands there ashamed, in repentance and confession, and she rebukes him, forces him to look up towards her as she gazes at the Grifon of Christ, the Angels having ceased to strew flowers over her, obscuring her. Under the veil of faith, and pure, beyond the stream of Lethe, beyond memory of sin, Beatrice is more beautiful than before, and Dante falls, stunned with remorse. Remember that he fell, stunned with pity, at the end of Canto V of the Inferno in the circle of Lovers, at the finish of Francesca’s speech to him. Dante’s hatred now is greatest for that Lust and that worldly Love that most consumed him, love of women, excessive love of earthly philosophy alone, love of the transient, of ‘false things’ and ‘false delights’.
MedLXV:2 Lethe: Beatrice Unveiled: Purgatorio Canto XXXI:91
Matilda, now, the agent of forgiveness, the power of active virtue, speeds over the water of Lethe like a shuttle over the loom, drawing Dante through the stream. Near the other shore he hears Psalm 51: ‘Asperges me: cleanse me’ sung so sweetly he cannot remember nor describe the quality of the singing. Matilda submerges him as in baptism, and forces him to drink the Lethe water, that takes away memory of sinful actions.
Dante is led among the dance of the cardinal virtues, by the left-hand wheel contemplative wheel of the Chariot. They are Beatrice’s ‘helpers’, who appear as nymphs here: but in heaven they are the four stars of the Southern Cross, which Dante saw in Purgatorio Canto I. They will lead him to Beatrice’s eyes that are their earthly analogue. So they are a triplicity also: of eyes, nymphs and stars. They acknowledge the deeper vision of the three theological virtues who are on the right hand, active, side of the Chariot.
Dante now sees Christ the Grifon’s double nature reflected in Beatrice’s eyes, that contain the cardinal virtues, His divine and human reality alternating, while His true being remains indivisible. The three theological virtues (who are also the three Graces) now dance, asking Beatrice to turn towards her faithful Dante, and out of grace which is needed to supplement human wisdom, unveil her face for him, and reveal her ‘second beauty’, second to her eyes, that of her smile, which signifies their own triple virtues of faith, hope, and now charity which is also forgiveness.
She does so, now that Dante has confessed and regained the state of innocence by drinking from Lethe. But once more the poetic capability falls short of the desire to depict its object, in this case Beatrice’s revealed beauty.
Meditation LXVI: Purgatorio Canto XXXII
MedLXVI:1 The Mystic Tree of Empire: Purgatorio Canto XXXII:1
Dante, still thirsting from the ten-year dearth since her death (in 1290), gazes too intensely at Beatrice, and is rebuked by the Virtues. Turning away he adjusts his sight, and watches the Divine Pageant turn away to the (active) right, like a military formation (the Church Militant). Dante, Matilda and Statius follow the right wheel and walk with it through the forest of the Earthly Paradise, empty since the Fall. Dante, purified, his mind clear, his personal and spiritual destiny renewed, is now ready to understand revelations concerning the Church and the Empire.
Three flights of an arrow further on, Beatrice descends from the Chariot and they all stand around a naked tree. This is the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, see Genesis ii 9, that Adam ate from, the symbol of the temporal powers of the earth, the Empire and obedience to it, since the prohibition to eat of it was the origin of law and duty. The Tree, strangely, increases in breadth as it climbs higher since the Empire and its justice is destined to flourish with time according to Dante, while Justice is greater the nearer it is to God.
Christ was blessed in taking nothing from the temporal powers, and so leaving the Church to embrace radical poverty and dominion over the spiritual sphere alone. Justice and righteousness was maintained when the Church followed 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. Christ bound it to the Tree, linking the Chariot of the Church and the Tree of Empire, but maintaining each in its proper sphere, and the Empire blossomed in royal or Imperial purple after the advent of Christianity (the sun, shining from Aries at the Nativity) in Pisces the sign of the Christian era (since the spring equinox fell in Pisces, due to the precession of the equinoxes) just as the world renews in the Springtime. The Empire benefited from the spiritual sphere of the Church, and should not usurp its dominion over that sphere.
Matilda is present at this revelation since she (historically) represents that reconciliation of Church and Empire (Pope Gregory VII and the Emperor Henry IV) previously discussed. Dante cannot understand the nature of the hymn the people sang, and its melody overcomes his mind.
Dante sleeps now (while ‘historical’ time passes) and he wakes like the disciples after the Transfiguration (see Matthew xviii 1-8) when Christ shone like the sun in white raiment, and Moses the lawgiver and Elias the prophet appeared talking with him, and after they were overcome Christ said ‘Arise, and be not afraid’. Christ is the apple-tree, in accord with the Song of Solomon ii 3, ‘As the apple tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among the sons.’ He finds the compassionate Matilda bending over him. She shows him Beatrice, and it is Beatrice who occupies all his attention once more.
The Revelation is now of the present age. 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 seven (four cardinal and three theological) Virtues, who carry the seven lights, the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit.
MedLXVI:2 The Church Past and Present: Purgatorio Canto XXXII:100
Beatrice instructs Dante to write down what he sees. The Commedia is for Dante a transcription of revelatory Vision in the style of the radical Franciscans, and in that sense more than merely a creative literary work. What is revealed is a symbolic history of the Church and Empire.
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.
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. The Church is then dragged off ‘through the wood’ to Avignon, where it lies between Italy and the French Court with its whorish French Pope.
Dante has brought together the past strands of his personal life with those of the religious and political history: all three strands are interwoven. What remains of Purgatorio must be a further revelation, a prophecy of things to come.
Meditation LXVII: Purgatorio Canto XXXIII
MedLXVII:1 Beatrice’s Prophecy: Purgatorio Canto XXXIII:1
The seven virtues bewail the corruption of the Church, singing Psalm 79: ‘Deus, venerunt gentes: O God, the heathen are come into thine inheritance; thy holy temple have they defiled.’ And Beatrice employs Christ’s words to his disciples from John xvi 16. ‘Modicum, et non videbitis me, et iterum, my beloved sisters, modicum, et vos videbitis me: a little while, and ye shall not see me, my beloved sisters, and again, a little while, and ye shall see me.’ Christ explains these words in the gospel as meaning that lamentation will be followed by joy. Beatrice implies that the Church is corrupted but will be cleansed.
Beatrice moves on with Dante, Matilda and Statius. Dante’s deft words here, that hardly a tenth step touched the ground, remind us that he has not seen her so, standing above ground, for ten years. She then calls to Dante, addresses him as Brother, demonstrating the relationship required, and asks why he does not question her. She is reminding him of the purpose of this journey, enquiry. He shows humility, and she tells him now, since his will is liberated and his mind purified, to free himself from fear and shame.
Now the prophecy. 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 (perhaps Henry VII in 1308? However he was dead by 1313, and Dante’s passionate support for him turned to dust along with the vision of an imminently renewed Holy Roman Empire) will soon arrive, and a new leader (the Roman letters for five-hundred, ten and five, DXV, rearranged, stand for dux, a leader, in the manner of Revelations xiii 18 and its numeric reference to Nero), Dante’s ‘greyhound’ perhaps (Can Grande or Henry of Luxembourg, or some later unknown saviour) will rise to rid Italy of the corrupt Papacy, the Whore, and the false French Empire, the Giant. The tree of the Empire has been twice despoiled, 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. Equally Dante refers to the two descents of the Eagle, seen in the previous Canto, which stripped power from the Empire and added it to the temporal power of the Church.
Beatrice here expresses Dante’s own (Roman) Imperialism, and his vision of the spiritualised Church free of temporal powers. She explains that 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.
Beatrice has consciously created the spectacle of the Divine Pageant to leave its symbolism and its prophecy impressed on Dante’s mind, and in answer to his intellectual confusion explains that she wanted him to see how far his own school of poetry and earthly philosophy fell short of divine revelation. Dante replies that he did not believe himself to have ever been far from divine philosophy, and smilingly she gently taunts him with his forgetfulness due to Lethe: like fire implied by its smoke, his former seduction by worldly desires is revealed by that very forgetfulness.
MedLXVII:2 Dante drinks from Eunoë: Purgatorio Canto XXXIII:103
It is noon on Thursday and the seven virtues halt at the source of Lethe and Eunoë. Dante asks about the nature of the streams, knowledge which drinking of Lethe should not have erased from his mind, since Matilda has already explained their nature and origin. Beatrice gently implies that the stress of his confession and the revelation of the Divine Pageant has made him forget (and perhaps the reader also!) their meaning. Matilda, agent of forgiveness and reconciliation, and of active virtue, leads Dante and Statius to the waters of Eunoë that restore the memory of virtuous actions. And with one more reference to the rebirth of the vegetation in springtime, to the ancient renewal of the earth, Dante himself renewed and purified, readies himself for Paradise, with Beatrice as his guide.
MedLXVII:3 A Coda to the Purgatorio
The Purgatorio places strong emphasis on Dante’s personal and spiritual journey, culminating in the crucial scenes of his confession to Beatrice. His own major failings of pride and lust, his forgetfulness of Beatrice after her death, and his neglect of divine philosophy, are brought home to him. The guidance of Virgil (and the addition of Statius) and the wisdom of earthly philosophy have brought him as far as they can, and Dante now must understand the nature of divine philosophy and revelation. Beatrice becomes his guide, and presents a symbolic spectacle that brings in the third strand of his political life. The Empire and Church are corrupt, both need to be cleansed, and a prophetic saviour is on the way who will achieve that. Sordello, Marco Lombardo, and Hugh Capet have given us views on that corruption, the failure of the German and French emperors and kings, the confusion of spiritual and temporal powers. Rome must be recovered, that Rome which is the divinely ordained centre of both Empire and Papacy.
Beatrice is Love re-born, and transfigured. She is both the real woman, appearing in the form that he knew, and Divine Philosophy in its symbolic presence. Like the wine and wafer of the Catholic Mass, the symbol is the reality. The Divine Pageant is more than allegory. Beatrice is more than a mere illustration. She is the source of that erotic and amatory power that possessed Dante, and she is what exceeds the physical and the earthly, and transforms human love into Divine Love. Courtly Love became love of the Lady ‘Philosophy’ and that love too has been lived through, lived beyond. Beatrice is divine grace and knowledge. Her attitude to Dante is that of the sister, with wisdom, to her brother who is still learning, and of the object of one kind of love, who smilingly and compassionately wishes to divert its flow to another kind of love. She is confessor and teacher, a mother (Dante uses the image of mother and child) rather than a lover. She is the eternal feminine, and the feminine in its deepest empathetic mode, of nurturing and caring, protectively and tenderly, wise and severe as a mother to her child on occasions, but all-knowing and all-loving. In front of her he is chastened, humbled, ashamed, tearful, stunned and confused. Her beauty is greater than in life, her wisdom and power to move him are magnified. He is the anti-hero, the poor Christian, who seeks, and who through effort and steadfastness and the pain of experience, ultimately finds.
The Purgatory was a procession through a vertical cathedral, through a sacrament, from sinfulness in penitence to confession and renewal. The seven deadly sins have been purged, the seven cardinal and theological virtues have been evoked. The soul is immortal, the individual mind and feelings are continued beyond the grave. The pity evoked in Hell, has become the hope felt in Purgatory. The will has been purified and freed. The right objects of the free will have been understood. Intellect can overcome the irrationality of human passion, to direct its forces towards true human and divine Love.
The Earthly Paradise, empty and innocent still, is the possible goal of human endeavour, but in the end only a gateway, a passage beyond. It evokes the Golden Age, and the ancient re-birth of the Springtime world, and in that sense Beatrice is Persephone beyond the grave, lost but found again, and Dante is the initiate at the great Mystery of Eleusis, drawn through passages underground, assaulted by things seen, heard and done, until he is ready for the final revelation. Virgil and the pagan world must now fall back and away, returning to Limbo. Innocence is regained. Lethe has cancelled the memory of sin, Eunoë allows the virtues of the ancient world, of human intellect and reason, of human love and beauty, to persist as the soul goes forward.
What was fine within the traditions on which Dante drew, of Classical poetry and thought, Aristotle and his Arabic and Medieval commentators, the Troubadours and Courtly Love and the dolce stil nuovo, what pointed the way towards virtue in those traditions is carried forward within the new style of the Commedia, and its constant references to the noble past. But earthly love and wisdom has proved to be only a precursor to the Divine Love that gives the spirit of the lover the power to ascend to Paradise. Beatrice the woman has become Beatrice the saint. Dante the lover has become Dante the pilgrim. Hope will triumph. Love redeems.