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Sunday, October 31, 2010

Purgatory: Where Dante Meets Beatrice

Andrea Pierini 1798 - 1858
The Meeting of Dante and Beatrice in Purgatory 1853
Oil on canvas
141 x 179 cm
Galleria d'Arte Moderna, Palazzo Pitti, Florence

In Canto 27 of Purgatory, Dante approaches the Garden of Eden with Virgil, his guide who has led him through Inferno and until now part of Purgatory.

The Garden of Eden lies at the summit of Mount Purgatory. It is the Earthly Paradise Allegorically, it represents the state of innocence that existed before Adam and Eve fell from grace – the state which Dante's journey up Mount Purgatory has been recapturing

But it is only the name and thought of Beatrice which inspires Dante to go through the flames of Purgatory

In Canto 30 of the Purgatory. Beatrice finally appeaars to Dante.

She is in a magnificant procession. It is the "climax" of his Divina commedia: Dante-pilgrim's long-awaited reunion with Beatrice.

She starts by rebuking and criticising Dante for what happened after her death.

She says to him,

“When I had risen from flesh to spirit and beauty and virtue had increased in me I was less dear to him and less welcome and he bent his steps in a way not true, following after false images of good… (Purgatorio 399).”

Beatrice takes on the role of guide and teacher for Dante in the last cantos of Purgatorio and then into Paradise.


"1 When the seven-starred Wain of highest Heaven--
2 which never sets and never rises
3 and never wore a veil of fog except for sin--
4 had made all in the procession mindful of their duty
5 (as lower down those seven stars direct
6 the helmsman making for his port)--
7 came to a stop, the chosen people
8 that first appeared between it and the griffin
9 turned toward the chariot as to their peace.
10 One of them, who seemed dispatched from Heaven,
11 sang out aloud three times: 'Veni, sponsa,
12 de Libano,' and all the others echoed him.
13 As quickly as from their graves at the last trumpet
14 the blessèd shall arise, their voices
15 rejoined to flesh in joyous Hallelujahs,
16 there, on the sacred chariot, rose up
17 ad vocem tanti senis, one hundred
18 ministers and messengers of life eternal.
19 All were chanting: 'Benedictus qui venis' and,
20 tossing flowers up into the air and all around them,
21 'Manibus, oh, date lilïa plenis!'
22 At break of day, I have seen the sky,
23 its eastern parts all rosy
24 and the rest serene and clear
25 even as the sun's face rose obscured
26 so that through tempering mist
27 the eye could bear it longer,
28 thus, within that cloud of blossoms
29 rising from angelic hands and fluttering
30 back down into the chariot and around it,
31 olive-crowned above a veil of white
32 appeared to me a lady, beneath a green mantle,
33 dressed in the color of living flame.
34 And in my spirit, which for so long a time
35 had not been overcome with awe
36 that used to make me tremble in her presence--
37 even though I could not see her with my eyes--
38 through the hidden force that came from her I felt
39 the overwhelming power of that ancient love.
40 As soon as that majestic force,
41 which had already pierced me once
42 before I had outgrown my childhood, struck my eyes,
43 I turned to my left with the confidence
44 a child has running to his mamma
45 when he is afraid or in distress
46 to say to Virgil: 'Not a single drop of blood
47 remains in me that does not tremble--
48 I know the signs of the ancient flame.'
49 But Virgil had departed, leaving us bereft:
50 Virgil, sweetest of fathers,
51 Virgil, to whom I gave myself for my salvation.
52 And not all our ancient mother lost
53 could save my cheeks, washed in the dew,
54 from being stained again with tears.
55 'Dante, because Virgil has departed,
56 do not weep, do not weep yet--
57 there is another sword to make you weep.'
58 Just like an admiral who moves from stern to prow
59 to see the men that serve the other ships
60 and urge them on to better work,
61 so on the left side of the chariot--
62 as I turned when I heard her call my name,
63 which of necessity is here recorded--
64 I saw the lady, who had just appeared
65 veiled beneath the angels' celebration,
66 fix her eyes on me from across the stream.
67 Although the veil, encircled with Minerva's leaves
68 and descending from her head,
69 did not allow me unrestricted sight,
70 regally, with scorn still in her bearing,
71 she continued like one who, even as he speaks,
72 holds back his hottest words:
73 'Look over here! I am, I truly am Beatrice.
74 How did you dare approach the mountain?
75 Do you not know that here man lives in joy?'
76 I lowered my eyes to the clear water.
77 But when I saw myself reflected, I drew them back
78 toward the grass, such shame weighed on my brow.
79 As a mother may seem overbearing to her child,
80 so she seemed to me, for the taste
81 of such stern pity is a bitter taste.
82 Then she fell silent and at once
83 the angels sang: 'In te, Domine, speravi,'
84 but did not sing past 'pedes meos.'
85 Even as the snow among those living beams
86 that grow along the spine of Italy is frozen
87 when blown and packed by the Slavonian winds
88 but then, dissolving, melts into itself
89 if the land that casts no shadow merely breathes,
90 acting like a flame that makes a candle melt,
91 just so was I with neither tears nor sighs
92 before they sang who always are in tune
93 with notes set down in the eternal spheres,
94 but, when their lovely harmonies revealed
95 their sympathy for me, more than if they'd said:
96 'Lady, why do you torment him so?'
97 the ice that had confined my heart
98 was turned to breath and water and in anguish
99 flowed from my breast through eyes and mouth.
100 As yet she stood, motionless,
101 on the same side of the chariot,
102 then turned her words to the pitying angels:
103 'You keep your watch in the eternal day
104 so neither night nor sleep deprives you
105 of a single step that time takes in its course.
106 'Therefore my response is made with greater care
107 that he who is weeping over there should listen,
108 so that his sin and sorrow be of equal measure.
109 'Not only by the working of the wheels above
110 that urge each seed to a certain end
111 according to the stars that cluster with them,
112 'but by grace, abundant and divine,
113 which rains from clouds so high above
114 our sight cannot come near them,
115 'this man in his new life potentially was such
116 that each good disposition in him
117 would have come to marvelous conclusion,
118 'but the richer and more vigorous the soil,
119 when planted ill and left to go to seed,
120 the wilder and more noxious it becomes.
121 'For a time I let my countenance sustain him.
122 Guiding him with my youthful eyes,
123 I drew him with me in the right direction.
124 'Once I had reached the threshold of my second age,
125 when I changed lives, he took himself from me
126 and gave himself to others.
127 'When I had risen to spirit from my flesh,
128 as beauty and virtue in me became more rich,
129 to him I was less dear and less than pleasing.
130 'He set his steps upon an untrue way,
131 pursuing those false images of good
132 that bring no promise to fulfillment--
133 'useless the inspiration I sought and won for him,
134 as both with dreams and other means
135 I called him back, so little did he heed them.
136 'He sank so low that every instrument
137 for his salvation now fell short
138 except to make him see souls in perdition.
139 'And so I visited the threshold of the dead
140 and, weeping, offered up my prayers
141 to the one who has conducted him this far.
142 'Broken would be the high decree of God
143 should Lethe be crossed and its sustenance
144 be tasted without payment of some fee:
145 his penitence that shows itself in tears.'

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