David Bruce: Dante’s PURGATORY: A Discussion Guide — “Canto 29: Forest of Eden — Pageant of Revelation”

Canto 29: Forest of Eden — Pageant of Revelation

  • What Dante the Pilgrim sees in Canto 29 is a spectacular pageant. Describe briefly what he sees.

In Canto 29, Dante sees a spectacular pageant.

Later, he will see another spectacular pageant.

Both pageants are allegorical.

The first spectacular pageant has figures that symbolize the books of the Bible.

Dante sees this spectacular pageant before Beatrice arrives.

The first spectacular pageant is like a parade. Dante sees these things:

7 golden candlesticks

24 elders

4 creatures (behind the elders)

A chariot led by a Griffin (this appears in a square formed by the 4 creatures)

3 ladies to the right of the chariot (1 red lady, 1 white lady, and 1 green lady)

4 ladies to the left of the chariot (all of the ladies are wearing purple)

2 aged men

4 humble men

1 old man by himself

A thunderclap sounds, and the procession stops in front of Dante the Pilgrim.

  • The spectacular pageant that Dante the Pilgrim sees in Canto 29 is allegorical. Define “allegory.”

Here is a definition of “allegory”:

Typically a narrative in prose, verse, or drama that self-consciously presents its meaning through concrete symbols. The significance of a given symbol, however, is determined [by] the conventions of the allegory as a whole. An allegory has at least two levels of meaning: the literal level of the immediate narrative and the political, historical, philosophical or moral commentary the author intends to be recognized. Thus allegories are generally didactic in focus.

Source: www2.cumberlandcollege.edu/acad/english/litcritweb/glossary.ht

For example, Dante the Pilgrim sees seven candlesticks (an image from the Book of Revelation) that have symbolic values of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

  • What allegorical interpretation can be made of the seven candlesticks in the spectacular pageant that Dante the Pilgrim sees in Canto 29?

The seven candlesticks are an image from the Book of Revelation.

The seven candlesticks can be interpreted as representing the gifts of God’s spirit:

Wisdom

Understanding

Counsel

Might

Knowledge

Piety

Fear of (aka Reverence for) The Lord

  • What allegorical interpretation can be made of the 24 Elders in the spectacular pageant that Dante the Pilgrim sees in Canto 29?

The 24 elders can be interpreted as representing the books of the Old Testament, assuming that we count the books of the 12 minor prophets as 1 book. Of course, the Old Testament can have a varying number of books, depending on your religion. The Catholic Old Testament contains more books than the Protestant Old Testament. The count used here is the count of Saint Jerome, who translated the Bible into Latin in what is known as the Vulgate Bible. The word “Vulgate” is Latin, and it can be translated as “widespread.” Of course, the purpose of translating the Bible into Latin was the same as that of other translations: to make it more available to more people.

Dante believed that God revealed himself in three stages during Biblical times:

1) The Hebrew Testament, aka Old Testament

2) The 4 Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John)

3) The later books of the New Testament

In the pageant, we will see figures representing all of the books.

The 24 elders are dressed in white, a color that is symbolic of illuminating faith.

In Revelation 4:4 (King James Version), we read: “And round about the throne were four and twenty seats: and upon the seats I saw four and twenty elders sitting, clothed in white raiment; and they had on their heads crowns of gold.”

These are the 12 minor prophets:

Hosea

Joel

Amos

Obadiah

Jonah

Michah

Nahum

Habakkuk

Zephaniah

Haggai

Zechariah

Malachi

  • What allegorical interpretation can be made of the Griffin drawing a great chariot in the spectacular pageant that Dante the Pilgrim sees in Canto 29?

A Griffin is a figure from mythology; it has two natures because it is half-lion and half-eagle.

The Griffin is a symbol of Jesus, who also has two natures: Jesus is fully human, yet fully divine.

The chariot drawn by the Griffin is a symbol that represents the Church.

  • What allegorical interpretation can be made of the women at either wheel of the chariot in the spectacular pageant that Dante the Pilgrim sees in Canto 29?

These three women at the sides of the wheels of the chariot represent the three Christian virtues.

3 ladies to the right of the chariot (1 red lady, 1 white lady, and 1 green lady)

These ladies are symbolic of three Christian virtues:

Faith (White)

Hope (Green)

Charity/Love (Red)

These are known as the theological virtues.

4 ladies to the left of the chariot (all of the ladies are wearing purple)

These four ladies are symbolic of four virtues from classical antiquity:

Prudence

Justice

Temperance

Fortitude

These are known as the cardinal virtues.

One of these ladies has three eyes; this lady symbolizes Prudence. Why? Prudence can see the past, the present, and the future.

Joseph Gallagher, author ofA Modern Reader’s Guide to Dante’sDivine Comedy, writes this:

For her triple vision, Dante gives prudence a third eye. Some find this feature “grotesque,” or ‘a lapse of taste,” but many depictions of the Buddha give him some sort of third eye symbolizing inward vision. In yoga tradition, the sixth chakra (center of psychic energy) radiates through the imagined third eye, located in the center of the forehead. (119)

  • What allegorical interpretation can be made of the two living beasts in front of the chariot and the two living beasts in back of the chariot in the spectacular pageant that Dante the Pilgrim sees in Canto 29?

Two living beasts are in front of the chariot, and two living beasts are in back of the chariot.

These beasts represent the four authors of the gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

Why are these four authors represented as beasts? The image comes from Revelation 4:6-8 and from Ezekiel 1:4-14.

Revelation 4:6-8 (King James Version):

6: And before the throne there was a sea of glass like unto crystal: and in the midst of the throne, and round about the throne, were four beasts full of eyes before and behind.

7: And the first beast was like a lion, and the second beast like a calf, and the third beast had a face as a man, and the fourth beast was like a flying eagle.

8: And the four beasts had each of them six wings about him; and they were full of eyes within: and they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come.

Ezekiel 1:4-14 (King James Version):

4: And I looked, and, behold, a whirlwind came out of the north, a great cloud, and a fire infolding itself, and a brightness was about it, and out of the midst thereof as the colour of amber, out of the midst of the fire.

5: Also out of the midst thereof came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance; they had the likeness of a man.

6: And every one had four faces, and every one had four wings.

7: And their feet were straight feet; and the sole of their feet was like the sole of a calf’s foot: and they sparkled like the colour of burnished brass.

8: And they had the hands of a man under their wings on their four sides; and they four had their faces and their wings.

9: Their wings were joined one to another; they turned not when they went; they went every one straight forward.

10: As for the likeness of their faces, they four had the face of a man, and the face of a lion, on the right side: and they four had the face of an ox on the left side; they four also had the face of an eagle.

11: Thus were their faces: and their wings were stretched upward; two wings of every one were joined one to another, and two covered their bodies.

12: And they went every one straight forward: whither the spirit was to go, they went; and they turned not when they went.

13: As for the likeness of the living creatures, their appearance was like burning coals of fire, and like the appearance of lamps: it went up and down among the living creatures; and the fire was bright, and out of the fire went forth lightning.

14: And the living creatures ran and returned as the appearance of a flash of lightning.

The two accounts differ in the number of wings the creatures have. Dante gives each creature six wings — the same number that Saint John, the author of the Book of Revelation, gives them.

  • What allegorical interpretation can be made of the remaining figures in the spectacular pageant that Dante the Pilgrim sees in Canto 29?

The allegorical interpretation that we can make of the remaining figures in the spectacular pageant that Dante the Pilgrim sees in Canto 29 is that they represent all of the remaining books of the New Testament.

Then we have figures that represent as well all the other books of the New Testament.

Joseph Gallagher, author ofA Modern Reader’s Guide to Dante’sDivine Comedy, writes this:

Third, seven white-robed men, balancing the seven candles in front and the seven ladies around the chariot, represent the follow-up books of the New Testament: side by side, the healing physician Luke (author of the Acts of the Apostles) and Paul (author of the major epistles) with his frightening, sin-wounding sword; then two more sets of men representing other epistle writers: Peter, James. John, and Jude. Last of all is an old man who sleeps but sees keenly as he walks — John the Divine (supposed author of the Book of Revelation). Though dressed in the same white robes of faith as the 24 elders, these final seven are crowned with roses and other red flowers emblematic of the charity emblematic of the charity energized into the world by Christ’s coming. (119)

  • How many times does John appear in the spectacular pageant that Dante the Pilgrim sees in Canto 29?

Johnappears three times:

1) one time as the fourth Gospel

2) one time as the author of Letters (1 John, 2 John, 3 John)

3) one time as the author of the Book of Revelation.

John is the old man who appears at the end of the procession because he is the author of the last book that appears in the New Testament: the Book of Revelation.

Thunder sounds, and the procession stops in front of Dante.

  • What does Virgil think of the spectacular pageant?

Virgil is just as amazed by the spectacular pageant as Dante the Pilgrim is:

I turned me round, with admiration filled,

To good Virgilius, and he answered me

With visage no less full of wonderment.

(Longfellow 29.55-57)

Virgil is amazed by the pageant. As a pagan, he cannot understand it. At this point, Virgil has gone beyond his competence. All that is left for Virgil to do is to wait until Beatrice’s arrival is imminent, and then return to Limbo.

We will find out later that this is the last time Dante sees Virgil.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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PURGATORY: CANTO 28 RETELLING

https://davidbruceblog.wordpress.com/2017/03/02/dantes-purgatory-canto-28-retelling-forest-of-eden-matelda/

PURGATORY: CANTO 29 RETELLING

https://davidbruceblog.wordpress.com/2017/03/03/dantes-purgatory-canto-29-retelling-forest-of-eden-pageant-of-revelation/

PURGATORY: CANTO 30  RETELLING

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PURGATORY: CANTO 31 RETELLING

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PURGATORY: CANTO 32 RETELLING

https://davidbruceblog.wordpress.com/2017/03/06/dantes-purgatpry-canto-32-retelling-forest-of-eden-pageant-of-church-history/

PURGATORY: CANTO 33 RETELLING

https://davidbruceblog.wordpress.com/2017/03/07/dantes-purgatory-canto-33-retelling-forest-of-eden-purgation-completed/

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PARADISE: CANTO 1  RETELLING

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