Dante’s Purgatory — Canto 29 Retelling — Forest of Eden — Pageant of Revelation

Chapter 29: Forest of Eden — Pageant of Revelation (Purgatory)

The lady then sang, “Blessed are they whose sins are forgiven.”

Dante thought, The sins of anyone who is allowed to drink from the stream named Lethe are forgiven.

The lady began to walk along the stream. Dante followed her, and the two poets followed him. She walked like a beautiful woman who was at home in Nature. She walked upstream with small steps, and Dante walked slowly with short steps so that he did not outpace her.

The stream curved, and Dante faced East. The lady stopped and said to Dante, “Look and listen.”

The sky brightened and at first Dante thought that lightning had flashed, but the brightness did not diminish but instead increased. Dante also heard a melody.

The beauty of what he was experiencing made him angry at Eve, whose sin banished Humankind from the Earthly Paradise until such time as a saved soul could climb the Mountain of Purgatory. If not for Eve, Dante could have enjoyed the Earthly Paradise during all of his previous and future life.

Here was the beginning of the happiness of Paradise, and Dante longed for the greater happiness to come.

The light grew brighter among the green leaves, and the sound grew louder into a chant.

Dante prayed to the Muses — the Holy Virgins — for help in relating what he was seeing and hearing: If I have labored long and hard to write good poetry, for a reward I want to write better poetry on a better subject. Let the waters of the sacred stream of you Muses pour upon me, and let Urania, the Muse of astronomy — and thus of Heavenly things — inspire me as I write.

Dante saw what appeared to be seven golden trees, but he was mistaken because of the objects’ distance from him. When the objects came closer, he saw that they were seven golden candlesticks.

He also heard the word Hosanna — “Save, we pray!” — being sung.

Above the gold of the candlesticks was a brilliant light.

In amazement, Dante turned and looked at Virgil, who answered his glance with his own look of amazement.

Virgil thought, I am not a Christian. I have no knowledge of what I am seeing.

Dante turned back.

The religious procession moved slowly, and Dante looked at the seven golden candlesticks. The lady, impatient, said to him, “Why are you looking only at the seven golden candlesticks? Look also at what follows them!”

Dante then looked past the candlesticks, and he saw a spectacular pageant, and he realized that he was looking at a religious procession in which Heavenly figures dressed themselves in allegorical guises. Some of the Heavenly figures may have actually been themselves. Each guise, including the candlesticks, had a religious and specifically Christian meaning.

Dante thought, The seven golden 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, and Fear of (aka Reverence for) the Lord.

Following the candlesticks were 24 figures dressed in white. The whiteness was reflected in the stream to Dante’s left, and Dante saw his left side reflected there. He moved as close to the stream as he could, and then he looked at the pageant.

The seven candlesticks advanced, and in the sky they left seven streams that were the seven colors of the rainbow. The pennants of color stretched further back than Dante could see. The width of each stream of color was fully 10 strides.

Next came 24 elders, marching two by two, and wearing crowns of lilies. The 24 elders sang to the Virgin Mary, “Blessed be You of all of the daughters of Adam. Blessed be your beauty forever.”

Dante thought, The 24 elders represent the books of the Old Testament in the Vulgate Bible of Saint Jerome, counting the books of the 12 minor prophets as one book. Saint Jerome 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.

It is important that these figures who represent the books of the Old Testament are praising the Virgin Mary. This shows their prophetic power.

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

These are the 12 minor prophets: Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Michah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi.

Following these 24 elders came four beasts that were wearing forest-green crowns. Each beast had six wings, each of which was covered with eyes.

Dante thought, 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. The crowns of green signify hope.

The four beasts were spaced around a two-wheeled chariot that was drawn by a Griffin — which is part eagle and part lion — with wings raised high. The part of the Griffin that was an eagle was gold, and the part of the Griffin that was a lion was white with dark red marks.

Dante thought, A Griffin is a figure from mythology; it has two natures because it is half-eagle and half-lion. The Griffin is a symbol of Jesus, Who also has two natures: Jesus is fully human, yet fully divine.

The chariot was splendid — more splendid than the triumphal chariot ridden in by Scipio Africanus, who finally conquered the Carthaginian general Hannibal, who had crossed the Alps with his elephants in order to war against the Romans. It was also more splendid than the triumphal chariot ridden in by Caesar Augustus, the first Roman Emperor. It was even more splendid than the chariot of the Sun ridden in by Phaeton when he could not control the horses and nearly burned up the planet Earth — Jupiter destroyed him in order to save the Earth.

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

Beside the left wheel of the chariot were four ladies, all of whom were dressed in purple, and one of whom had three eyes. All four ladies were dancing.

Dante thought, These ladies are symbolic of the four virtues from classical antiquity: Prudence, Temperance, Justice, and Fortitude. These are known as the cardinal virtues. The lady with three eyes symbolizes Prudence. Why? Prudence can see the past, the present, and the future.

Circling in a dance by the right wheel of the chariot were three ladies. One lady was fiery red. One lady was emerald green. One lady was as white as newly fallen snow. Sometimes, the white lady led the dance, and sometimes the red lady led the dance.

Dante thought, These women at the sides of the wheels of the chariot are symbolic of the three Christian virtues: Faith (White), Hope (Green), and Charity (Red). These are known as the theological virtues.

Then came two aged men in the procession. One aged man was wearing the garments of a follower of Hippocrates, a healer of the ill. The other aged man bore a sharp sword that frightened Dante.

Dante thought, Side by side, these two figures represent the healing physician Luke (beloved physician and author of the Acts of the Apostles) and Paul (author of the major epistles) with his frightening, sin-wounding sword.

Behind the two aged men came four humble men.

Dante thought, These figures represent the other epistle writers: Peter, James, John, and Jude.

Then came one old man by himself. The old man appeared to be dreaming, and his face was inspired.

Dante thought, This is John the Divine, the author of the Book of Revelation.

All of these seven figures at the end of the procession were dressed in white and were wearing wreaths with red roses and other red flowers, giving the effect — from far away — of flames. When the chariot was opposite Dante, thunder boomed, and each part of the procession stopped at exactly the same time.

Dante thought, God revealed himself in three stages during Biblical times: 1) The Hebrew Testament, aka Old Testament, 2) The four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), 3) The later books of the New Testament. In the pageant, I have seen figures representing all of these books.

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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