David Bruce: Dante’s PURGATORY: A Discussion Guide — “Canto 27: Seventh Ledge — Lust (Third Prophetic Dream)”

Canto 27: Seventh Ledge — Lust (Third Prophetic Dream)

  • How are the Lustful purged on the last of the seven terraces of the seven-storey mountain, and why is that purgation fitting?

The sin of lust is a burning sin — one can burn with lust — and therefore the sin of lust is purged with fire.

The souls who need to be purged of lust do so by staying in a fire until the sin is purged.

Dante will have to pass through fire in order to climb higher. When he does that, the 7th and final P will be erased from his forehead. He will have purged his sins, but he will have to again purge his sins after he dies. (Apparently, he will sin — as all of us do — when he returns to Earth.)

Everyone will have to pass through the fire when they climb this high up the Mountain of Purgatory, whether or not they are guilty of the sin of lust. Going through the fire is the only way to reach the Earthly Paradise.

  • What must Dante do to reach the Earthly Paradise and to see Beatrice?

Dante, Virgil, and Statius now see the Angel of Chastity, who tells them, “Beati mundo corde!” (Musa 27.8), the beginning of the beatitude “Blessed are the Pure of Heart.”

Dante now learns that he must pass through the fire in order to reach the Earthly Paradise and to see Beatrice. Dante would be burned alive in Florence if he were to return from exile, so he is afraid of the fire. Dante also tells us that he has seen burned corpses.

The angel tells them, “Holy souls, no farther can you go / without first suffering fire” (Musa 27.10-11). The angel also tells them to listen to the song as they pass through the fire.

Dante is afraid, so Virgil tells him, “O my dear son, / there may be pain here, but there is no death” (Musa 27.20-21). Virgil reminds him that he has always been safe, even when doing frightening things such as riding on the back of Geryon in the Inferno. Virgil also tells him to test the fire with the hem of his robe. Apparently, the robe will not catch on fire.

Dante continues to hesitate, so Virgil reminds him that in order to see Beatrice, he must pass through the fire. This convinces Dante to pass through the fire.

Virgil knows exactly what to say to encourage Dante to walk through the fire. He tells Dante, “Already I can see her eyes, it seems!” (Musa 27.54). “[H]er eyes” are Beatrice’s eyes. This is excellent rhetoric. Virgil knows how to motivate Dante.

Virgil, ever the protective guide, walks into the fire first. He also asks Statius to enter the fire last. Dante follows next, with Statius bringing up the rear.

The fire is hot. Dante says,

“When I was in it, into molten glass

I would have cast me to refresh myself,

So without measure was the burning there!”

(Longfellow 27.49-51)

The words that they hear sung are these: “Venite, benedicti Patris mei” (Musa 27.58). The words mean, “Come, ye blessed of my father.” Jesus said them to the elect; they are words spoken to those who are entering the kingdom of Heaven.

This is the passage from Matthew 25:31-46 (King James Version):

31: When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory:

32: And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats:

33: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.

34: Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:

35: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:

36: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me

37: Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink

38: When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?

39: Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?

40: And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

41: Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:

42: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink:

43: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.

44: Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?

45: Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.

46: And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.

  • Explain Dante’s third prophetic dream (about Leah and Rachel).

The three poets emerge from the fire, and they climb upward on a staircase.

Night arrives, and the stars look bigger to the three poets than they do to us.

Dante knows that dreams can be prophetic:

Thus ruminating, and beholding these [stars],

Sleep seized upon me, — sleep, that oftentimes

Before a deed is done has tidings of it.

(Longfellow 27.91-93)

Tired, Dante falls asleep, and he has his third prophetic dream:

  • Canto 9: In the first dream, he dreamed that an eagle carried him higher up the mountain. While he was asleep, Saint Lucia did exactly that.
  • Canto 19: In the second dream, he dreamed about being rescued from a Siren by a heavenly lady, who tells Virgil to protect Dante.
  • Canto 27: In the third dream, Dante dreams about Rachel and Leah.

In this third prophetic dream, Rachel and Leah are symbolic.

Leah symbolizes the active life and Rachel symbolizes the contemplative life.

In the dream, Leah is active. Leah walks through a meadow, gathering flowers to make a garland for herself. Rachel, on the other hand, looks in a mirror all day, contemplating her eyes.

Leah sings, “her joy is in reflection, mine in act” (Musa 27.108).

Dante wakes up early, and Virgil tells him,

“That apple sweet, which through so many branches

The care of mortals goeth in pursuit of,

To-day shall put in peace thy hungerings.”

(Longfellow 27.115-117)

The three poets then climb. Today they will leave Purgatory Proper and will reach the Earthly Paradise.

  • Explain the last words that Virgil speaks in Purgatory: “I crown and miter you lord of yourself” (Purgatory27.142). What is a miter?

Virgil’s job is now done. He has done it well. He will be around for a while, but not for much longer. His last words to Dante are these:

“Until those lovely eyes rejoicing come,

which, tearful, once urged me to come to you,

you may sit here, or wander, as you please.

Expect no longer words or signs from me.

Now is your will upright, wholesome and free,

and not to heed its pleasure would be wrong:

I crown and miter you lord of yourself!”

(Musa 27.136-142)

Dante still needs a guide, but that guide will be Beatrice. Virgil has taken Dante the Pilgrim as far as he can. Virgil will say no more words to Dante after these because his job is done. All he will do now is accompany Dante until Beatrice arrives.

Now that Dante has passed through Purgatory Proper, his will is free. He is no longer shackled by sin. He controls his desires; they do not control him. This does not mean that Dante is a robot without Free Will. Instead, it means that his Free Will is perfect and is unrestrained.

Virgil’s last words to Dante are “I crown and miter you lord of yourself!” (Musa 27.142).

A crown is what a king wears. A miter is what a bishop wears; it is a headdress. Because Dante has perfected his Free Will, been restored to innocence, and is purged of sin, he no longer needs a king or a bishop to guide him. Instead, Dante is now his own king and his own bishop.

Restored to innocence, Dante no longer needs the guidance and restraint of Church or state. He has become his own king and bishop, indeed his own emperor and pope.

  • Once Dante and Virgil pass through the last of these seven terraces up the mountain, where do they find themselves?

Once Dante and Virgil pass through the last of these seven terraces up the mountain, they enter the Earthly Paradise, aka the Garden of Eden, although here Dante calls it the Forest of Eden. Italy is hot in the summer, and a forest is cool, so perhaps that is why Dante calls the Earthly Paradise a forest.

The Garden of Eden is a place of innocence. It is an earthly taste of the Heavenly Paradise. Souls who have been purged of sin come here in order to do the final few things that are necessary before they go to the Heavenly Paradise.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved





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