David Bruce: Dante’s PURGATORY: A Discussion Guide — “Canto 30: Forest of Eden — Entrance of Beatrice and Exit of Virgil)”

Canto 30: Forest of Eden — Entrance of Beatrice and Exit of Virgil)

  • What is the purpose of the spectacular pageant that Dante the Pilgrim sees in Canto 29?

In Canto 30, we find out the purpose of the spectacular pageant in Canto 29. Its purpose is preparation for the arrival of Beatrice, who makes a spectacular entrance.

Canto 29 can be regarded as public and impersonal. In contrast, Canto 30 can be regarded as private and personal.

Canto 29 used symbols that are well known in the history of the church. In contrast, Canto 30 has the arrival of Beatrice, with whom Dante has a personal relationship.

We know very little about Beatrice, other than that Dante saw her when they were young and that he loved her and wrote poetry for her. We know that Beatrice died when she was young. Of course, she also arrives now to be Dante’s guide.

  • What is the importance of Beatrice to Dante?

The Church is a means of salvation for many people. For Dante, individually, Beatrice is a means of salvation.

Beatrice is now Dante’s guide. She has been involved in his trip through the Afterlife; after all, she is the one who asked Virgil to be Dante’s guide through the Inferno and the Mountain of Purgatory. Now she will help Dante prepare for his trip to Paradise and she will take him upwards to Paradise, where he will meet his final guide.

The Divine Comedyis both personal and universal. It is personal in that it is about Dante’s salvation. It is universal in that many people can learn about salvation.

Christians believe that anyone can be saved — God offers salvation to all, not just to a few. However, the way that people can be saved can vary, although it will always involve confessing and repenting our sins.

God reaches people in many ways. In Dante’s case, God reaches him through Beatrice. Beatrice is able to show Dante the way to Paradise.

God can reach other people in different ways. For example, a number of people have had near-death experiences in which beings of light and kindness have come to them. Believe it or not, many people have seen Elvis Presley at such times. Apparently, Elvis has been important to them, and so God uses Elvis to reach these people and bring them to Paradise. For more information, see this book:

Moody, Jr., Raymond A. Elvis after Life: Unusual Psychic Experiences Surrounding the Death of a Superstar. Atlanta, GA: Peachtree Publishers, 1987.

  • What kind of language is used to describe the coming of Beatrice?

Dante uses much Latin, especially Latin from a translation of the Bible, and some from the Aeneid, to describe the coming of Beatrice:

Even as the Blessed at the final summons

Shall rise up quickened each one from his cavern,

Uplifting light the reinvested flesh,

So upon that celestial chariot

A hundred rose ‘ad vocem tanti senis,’

Ministers and messengers of life eternal.

They all were saying, “Benedictus qui venis,”

And, scattering flowers above and round about,

Manibus o date lilia plenis.”

(Longfellow 30.13-21)

Benedictus qui venis, in English, means “blessed are you who come.” The Mass uses a very similar line from Matthew 21:9:Benedictus qui venit. This line means “Blessed is he who comes.” In Latin, Benedictushas a masculine ending, so it still refers to Christ, as well as to Beatrice.

Beatrice is being compared to Christ here. Christ saved people’s souls, and here Beatrice is on a mission to save Dante’s soul. Beatrice is here a Christ-figure.

Another Latin line comes from Virgil’s Aeneid: Manebis, O, date lilia plenis. In English, this line means, “Oh, give lilies with full hands.” This line appears in the section of the Aeneidin which Aeneas visits the Land of the Dead and sees his future descendants. One of them is Marcellus, who was a nephew of Caesar Augustus, and of whom great things were expected, but he died young and so was not able to fulfill his potential. Of course, Beatrice also died young. This line can be interpreted as saying to scatter lilies with both hands before Beatrice. The angels in fact are scattering flowers in the air in preparation for the arrival of Beatrice.

Note that the 100 angels sing this line from the Aeneid. This is high tribute to Virgil. We can hope that he is present to hear the angels and has not yet disappeared.

Here we have Latin from a translation of the Bible and Latin from the Aeneidappearing very close together. Dante is paying a major compliment to Virgil in these three lines (Musa 30.19-21).

Beatrice certainly knows how to make an appearance. One hundred angels sing and toss flowers into the air to announce her coming.

  • What is the allegorical meaning of the three colors that Beatrice is wearing when she arrives?

Beatrice is wearing three colors here, colors that have religious significance. Thethree colors represent the theological virtues:

Faith (white)

Hope (green)

Charity/Love (red)

Note that these three colors are the colors of the three women who represent the theological virtues in the Pageant of Revelation.

Beatrice wears a red gown with a green cloak and a white veil, and a crown with olive leaves — which symbolize wisdom.

  • Why does Virgil disappear?

Dante sees Beatrice, and he turns around because he wishes

to say to Virgil: “Not one drop of blood

is left inside my veins that does not throb:

I recognize signs of the ancient flame.”

(Musa 30.46-48)

The words “I recognize signs of the ancient flame” (Musa 30.48) is a quotation from the Aeneid 4:23. Dido says these words when she realizes that she is falling in love with Aeneas. In the Aeneid, this is not a good thing because of two reasons:

1) After the death of her husband, Sichaeus, Dido vowed to remain true to his memory and not be remarried, and

2) Dido’s love affair with Aeneas ends unhappily, and she commits suicide.

Virgil wrote about the love between Aeneas and Dido in the Aeneid, a love that ended unhappily, with Dido’s suicide. Here, the love of Dante and Beatrice ends happily. In a way, Dante is rewriting the story of Aeneas and Dido, with himself and Beatrice playing the star roles.

Here again Dante pays tribute to Virgil. He says goodbye to Virgil by using a line from Virgil’s Aeneid.

However, Dante says, “But Virgil was not there” (Musa 30.49).

Virgil’s job is done, so he leaves, and he leaves without saying goodbye. Virgil’s job was to take Dante through the Inferno and up the Mountain of Purgatory to the Earthly Paradise and to deliver Dante into the hands of Beatrice, his next important guide. Virgil has done that, so he now returns to Limbo.

Dante cries, but Beatrice tells him not to weep yet because he will soon have to weep for another reason. He will have to weep for his sins.

  • Why does Beatrice speak so harshly to Dante the Pilgrim?

Beatrice is a harsh judge for Dante at this point. To be ready for his journey to and through Paradise, Dante must confess and repent his sins. Beatrice is stern as she talks about the bad things that Dante has done and about the good things that he has failed to do. Beatrice is taking her job as guide seriously, as she should. Beatrice wants Dante to end up in Paradise rather than in the Inferno.

Beatrice says to Dante,

“Dante, because Virgilius has departed

Do not weep yet, do not weep yet awhile;

For by another sword thou need’st must weep.”

(Longfellow 30.55-57)

Interestingly, the name “Dante” does not appear in The Divine Comedyexcept in this section. Also, interestingly, “Dante” is the first word that Beatrice says to Dante.

Beatrice says to Dante,

“Yes, look at me! Yes, I am Beatrice!

So, you at last have deigned to climb the mount?

You learned at last that here lies human bliss?”

(Musa 30.73-75)

Dante has not been paying attention to spiritual things until recently, at the intervention of the three heavenly ladies. Beatrice criticizes him harshly for his inattention.

We think of God as being omnibenevolent, but apparently God can be critical as well. Sometimes God is like a strict schoolmaster, as we see on the Mountain of Purgatory, where the focus is on education.

Dante is ashamed; he knows that he has not acted correctly:

Mine eyes fell downward into the clear fountain,

But, seeing myself therein, I sought the grass,

So great a shame did weigh my forehead down.

As to the son the mother seems superb,

So she appeared to me; for somewhat bitter

Tasteth the savour of severe compassion.

(Longfellow 30.76-81)

Beatrice turns to speak to the beings in the spectacular pageant, and she explains why she is so harsh to Dante:

“Ye keep your watch in the eternal day,

So that nor night nor sleep can steal from you

One step the ages make upon their path;

Therefore my answer is with greater care,

That he may hear me who is weeping yonder,

So that the sin and dole be of one measure.”

(Longfellow 30.103-108)

Dante must recognize that he has sinned, and he must repent his sins and grieve over them.

  • What does Beatrice think about the way that Dante has been leading his life?

Beatrice explains what she thinks of Dante’s life. She is not pleased.

Basically, Beatrice knows that Dante has been leading his life the wrong way.

In fact, Dante’s life has been so messed up that to save him the three heavenly ladies had to make sure that Dante took this journey through the three parts of the afterlife.

Beatrice says,

“Not only by the work of those great wheels,

That destine every seed unto some end,

According as the stars are in conjunction,”

(Longfellow 30.109-111)

The stars (today we would say heredity and environment) may influence us, but other things are important in determining who we are. God can endow us with gifts, and we have Free Will and knowledge of what is right and wrong.

Beatrice continues,

“But by the largess of celestial graces,

Which have such lofty vapours for their rain

That near to them our sight approaches not,

Such had this man become in his new life

Potentially, that every righteous habit

Would have made admirable proof in him;”

(Longfellow 30.112-117)

Beatrice points out that Dante is gifted by God; unfortunately, Dante did not allow “his gifts / to bloom” (Musa 30.116-117). Instead, Dante messed up his life. Dante had potential, but he messed up.

Beatrice says,

“As soon as ever of my second age

I was upon the threshold and changed life,

Himself from me he took and gave to others.”

(Longfellow 30.124-126)

In other words, Dante deserted her after she died. The “others” (Musa and Longfellow 30.126) mentioned here need not be women; after all, Beatrice is a spiritual figure here and may be understood to be a symbol of Revelation. Beatrice is saying that Dante ignored spiritual matters after she died. Instead, Dante pursued lesser things:

“When from the flesh to spirit I ascended,

And beauty and virtue were in me increased,

I was to him less dear and less delightful;

And into ways untrue he turned his steps,

Pursuing the false images of good,

That never any promises fulfil;”

(Longfellow 30.127-132)

Instead of pursuing what is truly good, Dante pursued things that only seemed to be good. In Canto 1 of the Inferno, Dante is lost in the Dark Wood. He is lost because he has “wandered from the path that leads to truth” (Musa 30.130).

Beatrice continues to speak, saying that Dante had messed up so badly that he had to visit the Inferno:

“To such depths did he sink that, finally,

there was no other way to save his soul

except to have him see the Damned in Hell.”

(Musa 30.136-138)

Beatrice, therefore, took steps to make that happen. However, Dante must do more than simply journey through the Inferno. Like other souls, he must purge and repent his sins. He will have to repent his sins by confessing them and by mourning that he committed them. In order for this happen, Beatrice visited Virgil in Limbo:

“For this I visited the gates of death,

And unto him, who so far up has led him,

My intercessions were with weeping borne.

God’s lofty fiat would be violated,

If Lethe should be passed, and if such viands

Should tasted be, withouten any scot

Of penitence, that gushes forth in tears.”

(Longfellow 30.139-145)

By the way, a scot is a tax.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved





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