Dante’s Purgatory: Canto 33 Retelling — Forest of Eden — Purgation Completed 

Chapter 33: Forest of Eden — Purgation Completed (Purgatory)

The ladies sang words from Psalm 79, words that mourned the destruction of Jerusalem: “O God, the heathen are come into Your inheritance; Your holy temple have they defiled; they have laid Jerusalem on heaps.” Beatrice listened.

The ladies and Beatrice were mourning the vicissitudes of the Church that they had just witnessed. Beatrice mourned as much as Mary had mourned at the foot of the cross.

The ladies finished singing and Beatrice stood up. Glowing like fire, she prophesied, using the words that Jesus spoke to his disciples when he announced his resurrection: “A little while, and you shall not see me: and again, a little while, and you shall see me.”

The Church undergoes vicissitudes in the short run, but the Church shall triumph in the long run.

The seven ladies began walking, Beatrice followed, and with a nod she bade Dante, Statius, and the lady of the Earthly Paradise to follow her.

She had walked only a few paces when she said to Dante, “Walk quickly, so that if I have anything to say to you, you will be close enough to me to hear me.”

Dante walked quickly, and she asked him, “Why aren’t you asking me any questions now that I have arrived?”

Dante felt like someone who knew that he was before a superior and could barely speak, and he said with barely voiced words, “You know what I need to know, and you can tell me what I need to know.”

Beatrice replied, “From now on, I want you to speak freely like someone without fear and shame. Speak like someone who is not dreaming.

“You saw the dragon break the chariot. Know that the chariot was broken, but that it shall be fixed. Whoever is guilty of breaking the chariot will be punished. For so serious a sin, God is unwilling to be swayed by pitiful attempts at reconciliation. The eagle that you saw shedding feather will have true heirs, eventually.”

Beatrice thought, Dante may not understand me, but I know that the Church will be made whole again. I also know that although the Holy Roman Empire has no true emperor now, that someday a true secular leader will arise.

Beatrice continued, “I am telling you these things because I can see the future. I know what will happen. I know that nothing can prevent it from happening. I know that the numbers five hundred, ten, and five are important to the emissary who will kill the giant and the giant’s whore.”

Dante thought, The Roman numerals for 500, 10, and 5 are L, X, and V. Rearrange these letters and we have the Latin word LVX, or LUX, which means “leader.” But Beatrice can speak clearly, and here she is not speaking clearly, so this may not be what she means.

Beatrice continued, “My prophecy may not be clear to you. I know that my words are unclear, as were the words of the difficult-to-solve riddle of the Sphinx and of the obscure oracles of the Greek goddess Themis. But soon events shall make clear the meaning of my words without the bad consequences that followed some of the prophecies of the ancients.

“Listen carefully to my words. Repeat them to those who are living and who need to learn that life is a race with death as the finish line.

“And when you write, don’t leave out the tree that you saw despoiled twice, once when the eagle attacked the tree, and once when the giant detached the chariot from the tree.

“Whoever harms the tree sins against God.

“Adam tasted the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Because of that, he was expelled from the Earthly Paradise. He lived outside of the Earthly Paradise for 930 years, and he waited in Limbo for 4,302 years until the Harrowing of Hell.

“Since Adam and Eve tasted the fruit, the tree has grown to a great height, and its branches are inverted toward the top to make the fruit inaccessible to Humankind.

“If you think correctly, you can understand why the tree had these two strange characteristics and why its fruit is forbidden to Humankind. Some things cannot be completely understood by Humankind, and one of them is the mystery of evil. Thus, God was just when He denied this fruit to Humankind. But Adam and Eve ate of the fruit, as God — Who knows everything — knew that they would do. So now Humankind must use its knowledge and its reason and what it learns from revelation to determine to the best of its ability what is the right thing to do and to do it.

“I can see that you do not fully understand my words, but I want you to bring back to the Land of the Living at least the part that you can understand.”

Dante replied, “I will do as you ask. I cannot forget your words. They are imprinted on me the way that a seal imprints itself when pressed into wax.

“But why is it so hard for me to understand your words? They fly above my mind. I try to see them, and they fly out of my sight.”

Beatrice replied, “I speak in this way so that you may see the error you committed on Earth after my physical body died, when you pursued false paths instead of the true path that God and I wanted you to follow. Your path separated yourself from God and me.

“And I want you to understand that the false paths of Humankind are far from the true path of God.”

Dante said, “I cannot remember having ever separated myself from you. I have no guilty conscience.”

Beatrice said, “You have drunk from the stream of Lethe, and you have forgotten what you did after my physical body died. The fact that you have forgotten shows that what you did was sinful.

“From now on, however, I will speak more clearly so that you may understand me.”

The Sun was overhead now, and the seven ladies stopped walking. Ahead of them was a marvelous sight. A fountain of water shot up and divided itself into two streams.

Dante asked, “What is this water that divides itself into two streams?”

Beatrice replied, “Ask Matelda. She can explain.”

The lady of the Earthly Paradise said, “I have already explained that to him, as well as other things. This knowledge is not sinful, and drinking from the stream Lethe will not have taken that knowledge from him.”

Beatrice said, “Other things may have crowded out this knowledge from his mind.”

Beatrice thought, My reproach of him, and the spectacular pageant of the vicissitudes of the Church that he recently saw, are both important things that may have made him forget what he had previously learned.

Beatrice continued, “The fountain divides into two streams: the Lethe and the Eunoë. You have already drunk from the Lethe. Now drink from the Eunoë so that it may revive the knowledge of every good deed that you have ever done in your life.

“Matelde, lead him to the Eunoë, as you lead all saved souls.”

Matelda took Dante by the hand and said to Statius, “You come, too.”

Statius drank from the stream, and pure, renewed, and immaculate, he rose to his place in Paradise.

Dante drank from the stream.

Years later, Dante the Poet, writing about his experience on the Mountain of Purgatory, wrote, “Reader, I wish I had more space in which I would write about drinking from the stream. But I have carefully planned the writing of the three parts of my Comedy: Inferno, Purgatory, and Paradise, and I have used up my allotted number of words for the Purgatory. Art must be disciplined.”

Dante rose from the stream pure, renewed, and immaculate, and he was eager to rise as Statius had. He was ready to rise to the stars.

Afterword

Now that you have read this retelling in prose of Dante’s great epic poem Purgatory, you have a good but basic understanding of it.

Now go and read the real thing. I recommend the translation by Mark Musa. The translation by John Ciardi is also very good.

The translations in this volume are taken from works in the public domain and are sometimes altered to make the language more modern.

The translation of “Te Lucis Ante Terminum” — “Before the End of the Light” — in this volume is by J. M. Neale (1818-1866).

The translation of “Te Deum Laudamus” is by Martin Luther.

The translation of the song sung by the Lustful on ledge nine is by John David Chambers (1805-1893).

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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