David Bruce: Dante’s PURGATORY: A Discussion Guide — “Canto 8: Prepurgatory — The Serpent and the Two Angels” and “Canto 9: Prepurgatory — First Prophetic Dream and Saint Peter’s Gate”

Canto 8: Prepurgatory — The Serpent and the Two Angels

  • Why do two angels dressed in green (the color of hope) and bearing blunted swords appear at the beginning of Canto 8?

As sunset occurs on Easter Sunday, a soul leads the other souls in a Vesper hymn, “Te lucis ante terminum” (“Thee, before the end of the light, [we pray …]”). Night is coming, and the hymn asks for God’s protection during the night, which of course they will get.

The prayer is answered immediately. Two angels in green arrive bearing blunted swords to frighten away a serpent. Of course, God could destroy the serpent, but he does not. He allows this ritual to be repeated each evening. This ritual bears a message: I will protect you, and I will answer your prayers. The saved souls know that they are in no danger from the serpent — the angels are bearing blunted swords because they don’t even need full weaponry here. However, the saved souls watch this ritual because God is showing them that He keeps His promises and that He answers prayers. Of course, each soul wants to climb the Mountain of Purgatory, and God is letting them know that yes, eventually they can climb the Mountain of Purgatory. Also of course, God is a Protector in addition to a Promise-Keeper.

We read:

Upon the side on which the little valley

No barrier hath, a serpent was; perchance

The same which gave to Eve the bitter food.

’Twixt grass and flowers came on the evil streak,

Turning at times its head about, and licking

Its back like to a beast that smoothes itself.

I did not see, and therefore cannot say

How the celestial falcons ’gan to move,

But well I saw that they were both in motion.

Hearing the air cleft by their verdant wings,

The serpent fled, and round the Angels wheeled,

Up to their stations flying back alike.

(Longfellow 8:97-108)

  • What does Judge Nino Visconti request of Dante?

Dante talks with a Guelf, Judge Nino Visconti (died 1296), who wants his daughter to pray for him. His widow has remarried.

Judge Nino Visconti says,

“When thou shalt be beyond the waters wide,

 Tell my Giovanna that she pray for me,

 Where answer to the innocent is made.”

(Longfellow 8.70-72)

  • Which prophecy concerning Dante does Conrad Malaspina make?

Dante also talks with a Ghibelline, Conrad Malaspina (died c. 1294), who wants news of the coast of Tuscany, where he had been well known. Dante praises the generosity of the Malaspina family, and Conrad makes a prediction: within seven years Dante will have need of that generosity. This is yet another prophecy of Dante’s coming exile.

Canto 9: Prepurgatory — First Prophetic Dream and Saint Peter’s Gate

  • Canto 9 is transitional — We go from Prepurgatory to Purgatory Proper.

In Canto 9, Dante goes through the gates into Purgatory Proper.

  • What is the good deed that Saint Lucia does for Dante the Pilgrim?

Dante has a dream. He dreams that a Golden Eagle carries him through the air. When he wakes up on Easter Monday, he is at the top of Prepurgatory. Sordello, their very kind guide, has been left behind, and Virgil tells Dante that Saint Lucia carried him in the night to the top of Prepurgatory.

We remember that Saint Lucia was blinded while living, but here she uses “her lovely eyes” (Musa 7.61) to indicate to Virgil where the gate to Purgatory Proper is. Saint Lucia has been rewarded for her martyrdom. In addition to being in Paradise, she has sight again.

  • Write a short description of the steps and gates of Purgatory.

An angel is present here, and Dante must climb three steps of different colors: white, darker than purple-black, and red. The three colors may represent the three stages of repentance:

1) self-examination: white

2) sorrow for sin, contrition: darker than purple-black

3) penance: red

Note: The red color is compared to that of porphyry, an igneous rock.

To unlock the gate of Purgatory, the angel must use two keys: one is gold and one is silver.

The angel represents ecclesiastical authority, and the keys come from Saint Peter, whom we will see in Paradise.

We read about the keys that Jesus gave to Peter in Matthew 16:18-19 (King James Version):

18: And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

19: And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

  • What do the seven P’s written on Dante the Pilgrim’s forehead stand for?

P stands for Peccatum, which is Latin for sin. The seven P’s stand for each of the seven deadly sins. As Dante climbs up the Seven-Storey Mountain and purges each sin, for each sin that is purged, a P will be erased from his forehead.

As Dante goes through the gate, he hears a hymn, the Te Deum, which is the Church’s hymn of jubilation: “Te Deum laudamus” (“We Praise Thee As God”).

We read:

At the first thunder-peal I turned attentive,

And “Te Deum laudamus” seemed to hear

In voices mingled with sweet melody.

Exactly such an image rendered me

That which I heard, as we are wont to catch,

When people singing with the organ stand;

(Longfellow 9.139-144)

Of course, we see more ritual here. Hearing the sound of the Te Deumreminds Dante of the ritual of church service.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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PURGATORY: CANTO 6 RETELLING

https://davidbruceblog.wordpress.com/2017/02/08/dantes-purgatory-canto-6-retelling-sordello/

PURGATORY: CANTO 7  RETELLING

https://davidbruceblog.wordpress.com/2017/02/09/dantes-purgatory-canto-7-retelling-prepurgatory-the-negligent-princes/

PURGATORY: CANTO 8 RETELLING

https://davidbruceblog.wordpress.com/2017/02/10/dantes-purgatory-canto-8/

PURGATORY: CANTO 9 RETELLING

https://davidbruceblog.wordpress.com/2017/02/11/dantes-purgatory-canto-9-retelling-prepurgatory-first-prophetic-dream-and-saint-peters-gate/

PURGATORY: CANTO 10 RETELLING

https://davidbruceblog.wordpress.com/2017/02/12/dantes-purgatory-canto-10-retelling-first-ledge-pride-purgatory/

PURGATORY: CANTO 11  RETELLING

https://davidbruceblog.wordpress.com/2017/02/13/dantes-purgatory-canto-11-retelling-first-ledge-aldobrandesco-oderisi-provenzan/

PURGATORY: CANTO 12 RETELLING

https://davidbruceblog.wordpress.com/2017/02/14/dantes-purgatory-canto-12-retelling-first-ledge-exempla-of-pride/

PURGATORY: CANTO 13 RETELLING

https://davidbruceblog.wordpress.com/2017/02/15/dantes-purgatory-canto-13-retelling-second-ledge-envy-sapia/

PURGATORY: CANTO 14 RETELLING

https://davidbruceblog.wordpress.com/2017/02/16/dantes-purgatory-canto-14-retelling-second-ledge-envy-guido-del-duca-rinier-da-calboli/

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PURGATORY KINDLE EBOOK

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DIVINE COMEDY  PAPERBACK

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