Chapter 27: Seventh Ledge — Lust (Third Prophetic Dream) (Purgatory)
The time was 6 p.m., and soon the Sun would set.
Dante saw an angel on the other side of the fire. He was singing, “Blessed are the Pure of Heart.”
Then the angel said, “Souls, to climb higher on the mountain, you must pass through the fire. Whatever sins are left in you will be purged. Enter the fire, and remember, ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.’”
Statius thought, Going through fire is the only way to reach the Earthly Paradise.
Dante was afraid when he learned that he must pass through the fire. He had seen burned bodies at public executions, and he remembered what those bodies looked like.
Virgil thought, Dante, when you are exiled from Florence, the penalty for coming back to Florence will be death by fire.
Both Virgil and Statius turned to Dante, and Virgil said, “Remember what we have already been through! We have safely gone through the Inferno! Remember when we rode the back of Geryon! If I kept you safe then, won’t I be able to keep you safe now, when we are so much closer to God! Believe me. If you were to stay one thousand years in this fire, it would not singe even a hair on your head. Test the fire. Put the hem of your robe into the fire — the fire will not burn your robe. You will feel pain in the fire, but you will not die. It’s time to take this step forward. Don’t be afraid. Come with me.”
But Dante stood still. He was ashamed, but he stood still.
Virgil was annoyed, but he knew the right way to motivate Dante. He said, “This is the path you must take if you are to see Beatrice.”
Just like a dying lover hearing the name of his beloved, Dante was all attention. He was now ready to walk through the fire. He turned toward Virgil, who said, “Let’s go.”
Virgil asked Statius to bring up the rear, and then Virgil walked into the fire. Dante followed, and although the fire did not burn flesh or clothing, it was so hot that Dante would have eagerly jumped into boiling glass in order to cool down.
Virgil continued to motivate Dante to walk across the fire, saying, “I think I can already see the eyes of Beatrice.”
The three poets walked through the fire, and they heard an angel singing, “Come, you blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” These are the words spoken to those who are entering Paradise.
The angel was so bright that Dante had to turn his eyes away from him. The last of the seven P’s vanished from Dante’s forehead.
The angel then said to the three poets, “The Sun is setting, but do not waste time. Climb as many steps as you are able before the Sun completely sets.”
The three poets had climbed only a few steps before the Sun set and Dante’s shadow vanished. The stars looked bigger to the three poets than they do to people in the Land of the Living.
The rule of the mountain still held: At night no one can climb higher.
Each poet slept on a stair of his choosing, and Dante was like a goat or lamb protected by two goatherds or shepherds against carnivorous beasts.
Dante dreamed during the hour before dawn; such dreams sometimes bring knowledge of the future.
Dante dreamed that he saw a young, lovely girl picking flowers in a meadow. The girl said, “My name is Leah. I spend my time picking flowers and weaving garlands. I am an artist, and I admire my creations when I look in the mirror. My sister’s name is Rachel, and she sits and looks at her eyes in the mirror and never looks away from the mirror. Rachel looks, and I do, and both of us are happy.”
Dante thought later, In the dream, Leah is a doer; she 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. Rachel is contemplative. Both are good ways of living life. Although Leah is mostly active, she also contemplates herself in the mirror, but much less often than Rachel. One can be mostly active, or one can be contemplative. In Genesis, Leah and Rachel were the wives of Jacob. If this dream gives knowledge of the future, it means that I will meet two more guides. One, of course, will be Beatrice.
This is the third dream I have had on the mountain. In the first dream, I dreamed that an eagle carried me higher up the mountain. While I was asleep, Saint Lucia did exactly that. In the second dream, I dreamed about being rescued from a Siren by a Heavenly lady. In this, the third dream, I dreamed about Rachel and Leah.
The Sun rose, and Dante woke up. Both Virgil and Statius were already awake.
Virgil said to Dante, “The eternal happiness that all men search for will — today — be yours.” The words also applied to Statius. On this day, the two poets would reach the Earthly Paradise and make the final preparations for Paradise.
The three poets climbed higher, and Dante felt light — so light that he felt as if he were growing wings.
They reached the top of the stairs, and Virgil said to Dante, “You have journeyed through the eternal fire of the Inferno and the temporary — because it will disappear on the Day of Judgment — fire of Purgatory. We have traveled through the places of which I have knowledge. Here my knowledge ends. I have led you here, and I have done that with skill and intelligence. From now on, your Free Will is perfected. You are the master of your desires; they are no longer the master of you. You can no longer desire the wrong things, but only the right things, so let pleasure be your guide. Do what you want to do because that will be the right thing to do. The narrow path to follow lies below; here you are free to wander anywhere. Soon you will see the eyes of Beatrice. You no longer need me to be your guide. Your Will is now Free and perfect, and you are now the King of yourself and you are now the Bishop of yourself. I crown and miter you lord of yourself!”
Dante thought, I still need a Christian guide, and that guide will be Beatrice. Virgil has taken me as far as he can. Virgil need say no more words to me because his job is done except for delivering me to Beatrice.
Now that I have passed through Purgatory Proper, my Will is Free. I am no longer shackled by sin. I control my desires; they do not control me. My Free Will is perfect and is unrestrained.
Virgil said, “I crown and miter you lord of yourself!”
A crown is what a King wears. A miter is what a Bishop wears; it is a headdress. Because I have perfected my Free Will, been restored to innocence, and am purged of sin, I no longer need a King or a Bishop to guide me. Instead, I am now my own King and my own Bishop.
Restored to innocence, I no longer need the guidance and restraint of Church or State. I have become my own King and Bishop.
However, I will return to the Land of the Living, and I will return after my death to the Mountain of Purgatory. Like all living people, I will sin again, and I will need to purge my sins again.
Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce
This is an excerpt from Dante’s Divine Comedy: A Retelling in Prose by David Bruce, available here:
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