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Purgatory is the second part of Dante's 'Divine Comedy'. We find the Poet, with his guide Virgil, ascending the terraces of the Mount of Purgatory inhabited by those doing penance to expiate their sins on Earth. There are the proud - forced to circle their terrace for aeons bent double in humility; the slothful - running around crying out examples of zeal and sloth; while the lustful are purged by fire.
Dante's Purgatory is a lofty island-mountain, the only land in the southern Hemisphere, at the antipodes of Jerusalem. On the lower irregular slopes are the souls whose penitence has, for some reason, been delayed in life and whose purgation is now delayed in death. Above that is the base of Purgatory proper, the place of active purgation, which consists of seven level terraces surrounding the mountain and rising one above another, connected by stairways in the rock.
On these terraces the seven deadly sins are purged by penance from the souls that have been beset by them. On the summit of the mountain is the Garden of Eden, or Earthly Paradise, from which the purged souls ascend to Heaven.
Purgatory (from the Latin 'purgare', to make clean, to purify) in accordance with Catholic teaching is a place or condition of temporal punishment for those who, departing this life in God's grace, are not entirely free from venial faults, or have not fully paid the satisfaction due to their providence and free transgressions. All sins are not equal before God, nor dare anyone assert that the daily faults of human frailty will be punished with the same severity that is meted out to serious violation of God's law.
On the other hand whosoever comes into God's presence must be perfectly pure for in the strictest sense His "eyes are too pure, to behold evil". For un-repented venial faults and for the payment of temporal punishment due to sin at the time of death, the Church has always taught the doctrine of purgatory.
The Catholic doctrine of purgatory supposes the fact that some die with smaller faults for which there was no true repentance, and also the fact that the temporal penalty due to sin is it times not wholly paid in this life. This doctrine that many who have died are still in a place of purification and that prayers avail to help the dead is part of the very earliest Christian tradition. If a man departs this life with lighter faults, he is condemned to fire which burns away the light materials; for God, to those who can comprehend heavenly things is called a cleansing fire. But this fire consumes not the creature, but what the creature has himself built, wood, and hay and stubble. It is manifest that the fire destroys the wood of our transgressions and then returns to us the reward of our great works, and prepares the soul for the kingdom of God, where nothing defiled may enter.
Are the souls detained in purgatory conscious that their happiness is but deferred for a time, or may they still be in doubt concerning their ultimate salvation? The ancient Liturgies and the inscriptions of the catacombs speak of a "sleep of peace", which would be impossible if there was any doubt of ultimate salvation.
Dante's layout/vision of Purgatory is as shown below:
The will fails one at night in Purgatory, and one can blindly stray about - usually downwards. Sleeping unprotected or alone in Purgatory may also cause one to be tempted by agents of the Devil, such as serpents. This can lead to a rapid descent down Mount Purgatory...
Those expiating their sins in Purgatory do not eat or drink, and like those condemned to Hell will heal from any wound or injury. They also do not cast shadows, being dead as they are.
According to Statius it is entirely possible for sinners to be condemned to different part of purgatory for their different sins in life, moving upwards from terrace to terrace until all of their sins are purged.
Although it is part of the world, Purgatory is inviolate to all merely physical forces, such as those of the weather, fire, ice, and so on. It is also guarded by angels, an angelic gatekeeper at the entrance to purgatory proper, and angels stationed at the way up from each terrace of Purgatory to the next (who when Dante travelled through Purgatory, usually indicated to him and his companions the way up). This tends to imply that if one somehow came to Purgatory without permission, and tried to ascend, it would not be long before one was stopped or turned back to ones proper place by the angels stationed throughout the terraces.
Exiting from Hell, one emerges on a flat and reed-grown seashore, with the mass of Mount Purgatory looming above. If one emerges at night, in the southern sky is a cross of four particularly noticeable stars that light up the whole sky. These stars are the symbols of the four Cardinal Virtues, Prudence, Temperance, Fortitude, and Justice - the virtues of active life, sufficient to guide men in the right path, but not to bring them to Paradise. According to the geography of the time Asia and Africa lay north of the equator, so that even to their inhabitants these stars were invisible, meaning that only Adam and Eve have ever seen these stars, from the terrestrial Paradise, on the summit of the Mount of Purgatory. Possibly the meaning is that these stars, symbolising the cardinal virtues, had been visible only in the golden age.
People are present by the exit from Hell, mostly those who guide souls up into Purgatory, and know what it is. One of them is Cato. They will challenge those who emerge, and if the emergees do not show proper reverence to God, and that they come here by His will, who knows what may happen?
Along the shore, up the steep slope are shady places where, at dawn, enough dew remains to wash away the stains of Hell from the emergee.
As dawn rises, an angel comes to the shore. It is at first visible as a bright white light moving swiftly over the sea, out of the dawn. As it approaches it can be seen to be standing on a boat, which leaps lightly over the waves, leaving scarcely a ripple behind it, propelled by the angel's outstretched, motionless wings, with no sails or oars. The angel is sufficiently glorious that mortal eyes shrink from it.
The boat which the angel pilots carries a hundred souls to purgatory. They sing 'In exitu Israel de Aegypto' as the boat carries them along. The angel brings its boat to the shore and disembarks the souls there, blessing each one as they step onto the shore.
With all of its souls off-loaded, the angel sails away again in search of more souls to bring here. Similar boatloads of souls arrive on the shores of Purgatory quite regularly.
The newly arrived souls head up Mount Purgatory, guided and hurried along by the likes of Cato, into Ante-Purgatory.
However, also upon the beach are the souls of those who have died in outside the Church. Those who died repentant but un-reconciled with the Church must wait outside of Purgatory proper for thirty times longer than they were outside the Church, though the prayers of those on Earth can reduce this time somewhat.
Those who have come to Purgatory by means other than an angel's boat will have a hard time finding a way further up the mountain from here - its lower slopes seem simply too steep. However, souls here can, with persuasion, reveal the path upwards, a steep and narrow cleft, so small that both shoulders brush its walls as one climbs.
After quite a hard climb, one emerges from the cleft in the rocks onto a terrace, the first level of Ante-Purgatory. From here Mount Purgatory can be seen looming above, and the shore can be seen below.
This ledge holds the negligent, those who postponed their repentance to the last hour, but who did repent before death. There is a band of them waiting on this ledge. The Lethargic must wait, and pray, for a time equivalent to the time they spent drifting through unrepentant days before they can be admitted upwards, into Purgatory proper. Again, the prayers of those on Earth can reduce this time somewhat. All of those here are lethargic in behaviour, as well as in religious observance.
The narrow cleft continues upwards from here to the next ledge.
This ledge holds the spirits of those who had delayed repentance, and met with death by violence, but died repentant, pardoning and pardoned. Nonetheless, they must wait, and pray upon this ledge until they are allowed upwards into Purgatory proper. Mortal visitors will attract large numbers of those here, who wish to be heard, and absolved.
Again, the cleft continues upwards, but this time also leads around Mount Purgatory to the right.
THE NEGLIGENT RULERS
The cleft leads around the mountain to a valley cut into its side with the steep bare height of the mountain above. The path winds down into the valley to the level of its floor; it takes only three steps - far fewer than would seem necessary - to go from the side of the valley to its floor. The valley is very lush. "Gold and fine silver, cochineal and lead, The Indian wood-blue lucid and serene, The fresh-flaked shining of the emerald green, Would fade defeated from too hard compare With the bright flowers and spreading verdure there. Not colour only, but their fragrant scent - Nature to one a thousand odours blent - A large anonymous delight supplied, Sweetness un-singled, unidentified."
In the midst of the valley a group of souls can be seen singing Salve Regina. These are the rulers who were virtuous, but negligent of salvation in life, and who must now wait and pray here until they are admitted to Purgatory proper. These include the Emperor Rudolph, Ottocar (the father of King Wenceslas), Peter the Third of Aragon and Henry III of England.
At dusk, all of those in the valley sing a hymn. Also at dusk, a snake comes to the Valley to tempt those who wait within it, and make them its prey. It always comes from the unguarded end of the valley, glancing backwards at times, licking and sleeking its scales "as though assured and leisured for the overthrow of those it sought".
However, to protect those within from the snake, a pair of Guardian Angels are assigned to the valley, coming "from Mary's heart", and fly downwards through the dusk. "Two angels in a single wonder came, and in their hands two swords of shortened flame, shorn of their points; and their down-planing wings were green, and all their wind-blown raiment, green as leaves new-born, as when on Earth is seen the tender break of her returning springs". One settles close above where the path upwards enters the valley; the other on the opposite side of the valley. No one can bear to see the eyes of the Angels. They swoop down on and drive away the snake before it can bother those in the valley - if they did not, those inside (and elsewhere on the mountain) would be in danger of corruption, and falling, down the mountain.
Dante rested in the Valley, and dreamed of an eagle. "Then saw I in the far blue heights of air, with wide-stretched wings, a golden eagle soar: An eagle poised to swoop. And I was where the friends of Ganymede he left behind stood (so it seemed) and upward gazed, when he was raped aloft to Heaven's consistory. 'Perhaps,' I thought, 'it soars by custom here disdaining else to strike an earthly prey.' And, as I thought, it wheeled, and stooped, and came swifter than any bolt, and yet more dread, and bore me upward in its claws. . . The flame Of Heaven was round us now. I felt it sear my shrinking flesh, and in that tortured fear perforce I waked."
A gap in the face of Mount Purgatory leads upwards from the valley.
Going upwards again from the valley, one comes to the gate to Purgatory itself. At first this appears as a simple fissure in the wall of the path, but as one approaches it becomes clear that it is, in fact, a gateway entrance, with three steps before it that shine blindingly in three colours. The first is white marble, polished to a mirror finish. The second is basalt, coloured darker than purple with a rough finish and two cracks along its length and width forming the sign of the Cross. The third, and last, is flaming porphyry, brighter red then arterial blood. The gate itself is of solid banded iron.
In this blinding light sits an angelic gatekeeper, as glorious as the one bringing souls to the shore of Purgatory. He sits on a granite block, its feet on the third step, holding a drawn sword, with light reflecting from it like a bright flame, too near to the light of Heaven for mortal eyes. He wears a dusty-earth coloured robe.
The gatekeeper guards the gate into Purgatory proper well, but will allow those who are sufficiently devout, and who have a valid reason through. Pleading devoutly will help in this. When Dante comes to the gate, the gatekeeper inscribes seven 'P's on his forehead with the point of his sword, one for each mortal sin, and advises Dante that he does not fail to wash them all off as he ascends.
The gatekeeper has two keys in his robe, one of silver and one of gold. These were given to him by St Peter, who advised him to err on the side of generosity when using them. Both are needed to open the gate when used in order, silver then gold. If the keys do not turn in the lock, then the person's entry to Purgatory is denied, at least at present.
If the gate does open, which it does with a shrill shriek of un-oiled hinges, the gatekeeper advises those let in not to look back as they ascend further - those who do are brought back to ante-Purgatory, perhaps because, in looking back, they show that they still have some urge for the sins below.
When passing through the gate, one hears a distant 'Te Deum'. The gate clangs shut behind those who are let in.
Beyond the gate, the way up is narrow and difficult, with the rocks to both sides being very irregular, the rocks receding back and protruding out at random. This makes the upward path slow to traverse...
The first three terraces of purgatory expiate the sins which can be considered to arise from love perverted, that is, sins which arise from the heart of the sinner being set upon something which is wrong in the eyes of god. Those being purged here must have their love set upon the right path.
But eventually one emerges on the first terrace of Purgatory proper. This is a flat are about six metres wide, with sheer rock rising before and falling away behind. The bare, flat rock of the first terrace stretches away to left and right.
The rock face ahead has no visible way up to the next terrace, but is of clear white marble, carved with many wonderful life-like sculptures giving examples of humility - angels, the Ark of the Covenant on a car drawn by oxen with seven choirs the carvings of whom seem almost to sing going before it, and many others. Even the speech of the subjects seems to have been sculpted:
"Upon the fronting rock I gazed. It seemed, our further course to block, it rose uncleft by fissure, gate or stair. But its own marvel filled mine eyes. Its white clear marble was with sculptured wealth so well, so richly furnished, Polycletus' art not only, but the actuality of Nature, might accept the inferior's scorn. I saw an angel who, I might have sworn, spoke Hail! to her to whom he came to tell the gracious verdict that reversed our woe, when the long-wept-for peace, by Heaven's decree, to men was granted; held no more apart by God's refusal of our guilt. For she to whom he bent, who turned the holy key of Love's high gates, this speech imprinted showed: Ecce ancilla Dei! Apt as seal on the soft wax. ... Here the marble live seemed motion, as their car the oxen drew, bearing the sacred ark, which taught the bane of those who more than seemly service do. Before them moved seven choirs. My senses warred: 'They sing.' 'They sing not.' With no more accord sight knew the incense real that scent denied. The humble Psalmist, more and less than king, danced on before, with garments girded high; While Michal, from a palace window nigh, looked sombre scorn upon him. I moved to bring before mine eyes the next bright history that gleamed beyond that leaning queen's contempt. Here rode the prince for whom Saint Gregory by prayer won Heaven: the saint's high victory according to the Emperor's worth. Was he, Trajan, outriding seen. Beneath his rein a woman wept. Around him horsemen rode with stir of trampling hooves beneath. Above, the golden eagles that his standards showed swayed in the wind, so live the scene. It seemed, the woman holding to his bridle said: 'Lord, wilt thou venge me for my dearest dead, My son, for whom I mourn uncomforted?' And he to her: 'My soon return await.' And she, as one by urgent grief possessed: 'But, Lord, if thou return not?' 'Then will he True justice deal who takes my vacant state.' 'But will another's deed be praise for thee, Who hast thyself ignored it?' He thereat: 'Take comfort, for thy prayers prevail. The plea of justice rules, and pity's call must be as potent to delay me.' Visible speech so sculptured we beheld, beyond the reach of earthly art: nor can I clearly tell a thing so different."
Around this terrace slowly move those purging their sins here, each weighed down and bent over by a heavy burden, praying as they go, for themselves and those on Earth who are still in danger of Hell.
On the pavement itself, placed where the penitents here cannot help but see them, bent under their loads as they are, are carvings as wondrous as those on the cliff-face, giving examples of the sin of Pride, which is the sin being purged on this terrace.
"There saw I Lucifer as lightning fall, Heaven's noblest cast from Heaven. The further side showed where Briareus, raised by equal pride, smitten by celestial lightning, sprawled supine, by chill death weighted to the earth he spurned. Thymbraeus I saw. Pallas and Mars I saw yet armed around their father, gazing down upon the giant's dismembered limbs. I saw Nimrod beneath his toil bewildered stand, the nations ranged around on either hand who shared his pride in Shinar. Tears were mine thy seven and seven children, Niobe, slain in their youth around thy feet to see. And here was Saul, face-fallen, pierced and dead by his own conquered weapon: rain nor dew Gilboa from that fated moment knew. And foolish here I saw Arachne too, half-spider now, and mournful to survey the tatters of the work her hurt had wrought. And Rehoboam, his high threats forgot, now terrored in his clanging chariot fled the hard pursuit behind him. Forward lay Vision succeeding vision. Alcmaeon within the lucid pavement made appear his mother's bright adorning bought too dear. Further, Sennacherib on the temple stone stretched lifeless, while his murdering sons withdrew. And next Tomyris, who to Cyrus said: 'With blood that was thy thirst I feed thee full.' And all the pitiless ruin she caused was shown. Headless beyond, the bold Assyrian bull. Great Holofernes, sprawled, whom Judith slew, while on its flying rear his army bled. Troy saw I also there, how piteous low! Blackened and hollowed by its eating fire, and all its pride degraded."
Around the curve of the first terrace from when one ascends to it one eventually nears the way up to the second terrace. An angel is stationed there, white-winged and white-robed, with an unthreatening visage, full of light.
For Dante, he beats his wings across Dante's forehead, erasing one of the 'P's the gatekeeper placed there and making the others fainter. Dante quickly discovers that the fewer and fainter the 'P's on his forehead, the easier his ascent.
Upwards, a neatly-cut but steep and narrow stair is carved into the rock, so narrow that ones elbows easily touch both sides at once as one ascends to the second terrace.
This terrace is very similar to that below, but lacks the carvings, being very bare and empty, with no apparent penitent.
However, as one walks along the second terrace, one begins to hear the wings of invisible entities sweeping past, and among other things they call the traveller to join them "in their courtesy to join the Table of Love" as they fly invisibly past.
On this terrace the sin of Envy is purged. The penitents here sit, dressed in hair-cloth, along the inner edge of the terrace, so still and so coloured that they are, at first, very hard to notice. Their eyelids have been sewn closed with threads of iron, and they resemble blind beggars who constantly sigh and pray to the saints to be prayed for. They can and will talk to passing travellers, and warns of the dangers of Envy, though some do not like to relive the memories this stirs...
At this point, Dante is assailed by thunderous flying voices that are a warning to him to stay on the correct path, in the same way as a bit keeps a horse on the correct path. It seems that Dante is, at this point, paying to little attention to Heaven, which he can see above him, and too much to Hell and the Earth below.
As one carries on around the terrace, one comes to face the Sun, which seems very bright, too bright to be shaded even with ones hands, and which seems to advance on one.
In fact, and angel is standing in the sunlight at the foot of the way up to the third terrace. He tells travellers to enter the less steep steps which lead up to the next terrace. He erases a second 'P' from Dante's forehead.
'Beati Misericordes' accompany one up these stairs.
On the way up, Dante is lectured by Virgil regarding the way in which, the more people who are accepted into Heaven, the more God likes it, as the larger the numbers there, the more they reinforce one another's praise and worship, to the greater glory of God. "The Eternal Good Is both ineffable and infinite. The more there are who in its rays unite, The more its conflagration heats. The more Of folk in Heaven whose souls have understood Each other, in the light of Love Divine, The more of love doth midst and round them shine, As mirrors, each to each, reflected light Cast to their own advantage."
For half a league or so, Dante has ecstatic visions of forebearance on the stair. "Here a temple showed, with moving groups about its doors, and one who with a mother's gesture called: 'My son, why hast thou disregarded? While that we have sought thee grieving?' ... Then a crowd I saw fired with fierce hate, and voices shouted: 'Slay!' And in their midst a youth was bound, and they hurled stones on him from every side, that he sank deathward, but his eyes were gates of prayer raised to an opening heaven, and from his lips, un-stilled by scourging pains or life's eclipse, petitions for their pardon came, that so stirred pity to see it."
These are sent to him to aid him by opening his heart to the peace of God.
Higher up the stair, smoke begins to drift across the sun, darkening it more and more until sight is completely lost and there is no clear air. One stumbles on blindly.
Through the smoke, one begins to hear the 'Agnus Dei', "Oh, lamb of God, who takes all sins away" coming from all sides. These are the voices of the penitent who are being purged of their Wrath on the third terrace and who are hidden in the smoke. They ask travellers to be mentioned in the prayers of those who pass.
The way up out of the third terrace lies opposite that up onto the third terrace.
Going onward through the smoke the sun eventually becomes visible again.
Dante sees visions of examples of anger in the clearing smoke. "Born of Light, by Heavenly Will, Its power descends upon us. She who sings, Impious, in likeness of the bird which most For sorrow in its song finds ecstasy, First my imagination held: so still My mind was mirrored on itself that naught Intruded inward to divert its thought. Next after Philomela came a sight Of one who hung in torment crucified, Yet haughty and dispiteous while he died, While round him grouped Ahasuerus stood, Esther, and Mordicai called the Good, Who was of speech unbending. As will burst A bubble, failing of its watery frame, So passed this vision. In its place there came A maiden, weeping anguished tears, who said: 'O Queen, why hast thou made this choice accurst, Wrath-blinded? Not to lose Lavinia, Thy own life hast thou lost; so losing me. Mine is the grief, the bitter grief for thee. Oh, Mother, for thy ruin must I weep Much more than for another's.'"
Some of the light which seems to come from the sun in fact comes from an angel, who guards the stair upward, and who will point it out to travellers. His glory makes it impossible for mortals to look at him. The angel removed a third 'P' from Dante's forehead, sweeping his wings over Dante's face to do so, saying "Beati Pacifici who from evil wrath are free."
The stair upwards from the third terrace is wide enough for two to walk abreast.
The fourth terrace of purgatory expiates the sins which can be considered to arise from love defective, that is, love which, although directed towards the correct subjects is too weak to drive the sinner to act as they should. Those being purged here must have their love strengthened so as to drive them correctly.
On this terrace, those who were slothful in life, who loved the Good but who did not act to promote it as well as they might have expiate their sins. Their love is strengthened on this terrace - "the loitering oar resumes its regular stroke."
This terrace is of plain undecorated flinty rock. As one goes along it in search of the way up to the fifth terrace, a clamourous outcry arises from in the distance. This comes from a crowd of people running at speed along the terrace, weeping and crying aloud as they go. "Swiftly they came, and voices cried aloud amid their weeping. Two in front proclaimed: 'How quickly Mary to the mountain ran!' and: 'Caesar once, Ilerda to subdue, struck at Marseilles, and ere his foemen knew had entered Spain.' And other of the crowd, jostling behind, cried: 'Hasten! Hasten all! From insufficient love let love's pursuit not slacken, and the power of grace recruit from strain to reach it.' ... In the rear they ran, and shouted: 'Those who saw the seas divide to give them passage, in their sloth they died before the chosen heirs to Canaan came.' And: 'They who would not, with Anchises' son, toil to the end, they bought a life of shame with that reluctance.'"
The members of the crowd are quite spread out, but still move quite fast, as a mass, passing anyone who is merely walking and racing off into the distance. There are many such crowds, each one racing around the terrace. They are not allowed to pause in their running through night and day.
Dante was assailed by a dream of a Siren on this terrace, from which he was only rescued by the intervention of Virgil. "A woman crooked in deformity, squint-eyed, and stammering in her speech, with hands Ill-shaped to make caresses, and her hair it seemed disease had whitened. Such to see was little bliss, but as the light expands with morn, and the chilled limbs their strength renew which night hath stiffened, so my gaze on her had power for her transforming. Straight and tall she rose, and soft swift speech, and eyes of love, she gave, and in her face the warm blood beat, even as desire would have it. I could not stir mine eyes from that regard. Her speech was sweet as song, and song became. 'I am,' she sang, 'I am that siren who the seaman charms in distant ocean. Not to heed would wrong the fountains of delight. To find my arms I turned Ulysses once. Who once belong to what I gave them will but seldom go. Such peace I give.' She had not ceased her song when came another of a different hue, alert to foil her, holy and austere, 'Virgil,' who cried, 'behold, what meet we here?' And he came forward in my dream, as though he saw this last one only, on the first, rude hands who laid, and tore her garments through, Opening her before, and showed her belly bare. Whereat there issued from that womb accursed such stench as waked me."
Progressing further around the terrace, one arrives at the way upwards, at which is stationed an angel, who invites travellers to 'Come hither' with a voice far beyond those of mortals in its sweetness and benignity. He has white, swan-like wings, with which he fans those who ascend the stairway past him. For Dante, he removed one of the 'P's which had been inscribed on his forehead.
The fifth, sixth and seventh terraces of purgatory expiate the sins which can be considered to arise from love excessive, that is, love which although directed towards ends which god considers good is directed towards them too much for the sinner to gain bliss from them, and also so that the sinner is distracted from the love of other things of which god approves. Their love must be cooled to a more sensible level.
The way up to the fifth terrace brings one out onto a place not unlike the other terraces. This terrace differs from the others in that the ground here is covered with people lying face-down, sobbing tears and lamentations. In between their tears they sigh, and speak words such as 'Adhaesit pavimento' and 'Anima mea.'
Those expiating their sins here are both those who were too avaricious in life, and those who were not avaricious enough. They are those who turned their eyes to Earth and its goods, separating themselves from God by their own will, by either desire for earthly things, or too great a rejection of them. Now where, in life, they did not lift their eyes to Heaven, their avarice holding them from high pursuits, now they must lie with faces and bodies presses to the Earth until their sin is cleansed. Those doing so claim that there is no worse punishment in all of Purgatory.
There are so many people lying on the ground here that one must pick one's way carefully to avoid treading on them; the easiest way is along the very edge of the terrace.
When Dante was here, he felt Mount Purgatory shake as if in a mighty earthquake. When this happened, a cry of 'To God be Glory in Excelsis' rose up from all those in Purgatory. The mountain quakes in this way when someone at last ends the expiation of their sins and is freed to ascend, and all of those in Purgatory hail their release. Dante and Virgil learned this from Statius, the former sinner whose release caused the shaking of the mountain in the first place.
The way up from the fifth terrace lies to the right of the place where one climbs up onto the terrace. Another angel stands watch at the entrance of the way up, and when Dante passed erased another of the 'P's from his forehead. The way up to the sixth terrace is a steep one.
In the same way as below, the steps leading up from the sixth terrace lie to the right of those which lead up to it.
As one goes around the sixth terrace, in the middle of it an apple tree becomes visible. It branches hold ripe, sweet-smelling applies. In shape it brings to mind an inverted fir tree, growing broader the higher one goes, making it impossible to climb. A stream falls from the mountain above onto the tree, drenching all of its leaves.
Approaching the tree, a voice from out of the branches warns one not to eat of the fruit of the tree, as if one does, ones food will lack as if it were no food at all. There is no sign of the source of the voice. The voice will then continue on, giving examples of the virtue of Temperance. "More did it in her thoughts to Mary seem that all the wedding should be fitly set and furnished forth than that rich wines should wet the lips which answer now for you. And they, the Roman matrons of old time, would stay their thirst with water. Daniel counted naught the price of food, if wisdom might be bought with the same coin. The earliest age of men had golden beauty of simplicity: acorns were sweet, and brooks were nectar then. And so John Baptist in the wilderness ate honey and locusts only - wherefore he, the greatness of abstention to express, is glorious in the gospel's imagery."
Those on this terrace are expiating the sin of gluttony. As such, they are starved skeletons, with chalk-white cavernous faces, hollow eyes, skin tight to their bones and all the other signs of prolonged hunger. To those on this terrace, and indeed most likely to anyone who is at all hungry, the scent of the apples and the water falling on the tree is irresistible, and they cannot help but eat and drink of them. Unfortunately, that is part of their punishment, as in doing so they are left hungrier and thirstier than before.
A number of those on this ledge are former highly-placed members of the Church, now paying the price for their indulgences in life. At first reluctant to speak, as soon as one talks to a traveller, many those here will flock around visitors to speak to them, and tell their tale.
Continuing on around the terrace, one comes upon a second apple tree, with broad-spread fruit-laden branches bending low. This tree is concealed by the curve of the mountain so that one is close to it when it is first seen. Its fruit, although appearing to hang low, are in fact held up just too high to reach. There is a crowd of sinners around the tree, raising appealing hands towards its fruit, until they become disillusioned and depart.
A voice from the branches of this tree warns passers-by not to come too close, as the tree is one grown from a seed of the apple tree from which Eve plucked that fateful apple. "Pass warily, nor come too nigh; a tree there is beyond from which Eve plucked the knowledge of sad years, and this one from that fatal seed is bred." Having spoken its warning, the voice from the tree will continue on, speaking of the dangers of gluttony and the punishments awaiting those who succumb to it.
A thousand paces or so beyond this second tree a voice hails travellers. It comes from an angel, glowing with a fierce, bright clear red light. He points out the way up to next terrace.
When Dante passed, a wind smelling of sweet graces and a million flowers brushed his forehead, as the angel's wings, shedding an ambrosial fragrance, erased the penultimate 'P' from his forehead.
The staircase up to the seventh terrace is narrow, so that travellers must go in single file. As Dante ascended he was lectured by Statius on generation, the infusion of the Soul into the body, and the corporeal semblance of Souls after death.
One emerges onto the seventh terrace to face a field of tall, clear, flames, held back from a narrow path along the edge of the terrace by a strong wind rising from below.
There is a sound of voices from out of the fire, singing hymns, 'Summae' and 'Deus Clementiae', and those expiating their sins here can be seen moving in the fire, burning as they chant. They also cry of the virtues of husbands and wives, the obligations of marriage, and repeat their hymns again. Those on this terrace are expiating the sin of lust, having their excessive passion burned away in fire.
There are, in fact, two groups of sinners in the fire, one stationary, one moving around the terrace. When the two groups meet, their members kiss shortly and move on without pausing, as they turn away crying "Sodom and Gomorrah!" and "Pasiphae in a cow incarnate lay that she might draw the bull her lust to sate!" The moving group are those who committed unnatural acts of lust (those who cry 'Sodom and Gomorrah!') while the stationary are those who sinned no less, but by simply lusting too much, rather than wrongly.
Around the terrace, one comes upon the angel who guards the way up to the Earthly Paradise, as glorious as all the others. He sings "Beati mundi corde" in a voice with such an intensity of life that no human voice can compete with it. The angel tells travellers that they may not ascend unless they submit themselves to the fire - the way up lies on the inner edge of the terrace, through the flames, towards the chanting which comes from the other side. "O ye spirits purified, you may not enter by this stair except the fire hath licked you. Through its flames ascend, heeding the chant beyond." This angel removed the last 'P' from Dante's forehead.
Dante was very dubious about this, but was assured by Virgil that the fire was of a spiritual nature, and would not harm him physically. And indeed, this is the case. The fire does not burn the body, but it is nonetheless very painful. "After them I went, but when I felt that cleansing heat's intensity, I would have flung myself in boiling glass to quench the burning."
A chant is heard from the other side as one makes one's way through the flames. "Venite, benedicti Patris," it says. It from a blinding white glow which is present at the bottom of the steep ascent to the Earthly Paradise, where one emerges from the flames. It encourages those who emerge to carry on upwards while there is light to do so.
The ascent, though steep, runs straight between the rock faces to either side, and lies so that the light of the setting sun illuminates it along its whole length until the sun is entirely set.
Dante, Virgil and Statius slept on the stairs rather than ascend all the way to the Earthly Paradise after emerging from the flames. While he slept, Dante dreamed. "I dreamed a dame I saw youthful and fair. Amid a field of flowers she pluckt, and wandered singing. This she sang: 'Tell him who asks my name that Leah am I. With my fair hands a garland wreath I weave, my mirror and myself to satisfy. But Rachel at her glass from morn to eve sits ever. Fain her own sweet eyes is she to worship: better with my hands to me it seems to twist my crown; for diversely my pleasure is to do, and hers to see.'"
And carrying on up the stairs, one emerges in the Earthly Paradise...
The very top of Mount Purgatory is a flat, circular land. This land is the Garden of Eden, from which Adam and Eve were exiled so long ago.
The Earthly Paradise is like a beautiful lush garden, the place where human life began, before the Fall. The sun shines, the sky is blue, grass and shrubs grow, flowers bloom. None of them show any signs of disease or death, as if carefully tended. The trees are beautiful. Everything smells fresh, fragrant and lovely. The breeze sings gently through the trees, accompanied by a great deal of birdsong, strong enough to be pleasant, but not so strong as to be annoying. It is very easy to walk through the place, though there are no obvious paths. In some places there are meadows, the lush grass dotted with many beautiful flowers. It seems a place of eternal peace. All of the living things there are eternal, made so by God, and inclement conditions never trouble the place.
Dante encountered a beautiful damsel, Matilda, picking flowers in one such meadow, singing as she went. She explained to Dante about the Garden, its creation and maintenance, and the two clear, beautiful streams which flow through it. The first (the one by which Dante finds her) is the Lethe, which empties the minds of those who drink of it of all cancelled sins. The second one, the Eunoe, when drunk enhances ones recollection of the good which one has accomplished. The Lethe must be drunk of before the Eunoe, though. The water in the two streams flows eternally.
THE MYSTIC PROCESSION
As Dante walked with Matilda, on the other side of the Lethe to where he was (the same side as Matilda), a bright white light burst through the woods all around them, as fierce and sudden as lightning, but constant. A sweet melody came through the light, at which point Dante felt reproach at Eve for causing all of this glory to be lost to mankind. The melody became an articulate chanting - voices singing 'Hosanna'.
The light proved to come from seven candles, their flames so pure and steady that they could be confused with golden masts, leaving long rainbow trails through the air behind them. They moved of themselves, unsupported.
Behind them came twenty-four Elders, prophets and evangelists, robed in a white which shines beyond the whites seen on Earth come, going two-by-two, garlanded with lilies. In unison they sing "Of Adam's daughters blest be thou, and ever blest thy beauties".
Following the Elders came four six-winged angels, moving in a square formation, their wings crowded with eyes, each one crowned with a garland of green leaves, like the angels seen by Ezekiel and John. In the square delineated by the angels moves a two-wheeled chariot, drawn by a griffin whose high-raised wings (raised up too high for Dante to see their tips) pass through the rainbow trails left by the candles, but do not break them. The bird-like forelimbs of the griffin are golden; the rest of it is white and vermilion red. The chariot it drew is beautiful, but simple in construction. To the right of the chariot three damsels (actually nymphs) danced a whirling dance, the first glowing as red as the heart of fire, the second glowing an emerald green, the third a white as pure as the new-drifted snow. On the left of the chariot another four nymphs dance, all draped in purple. The leader of the purple-dressed nymphs has three eyes.
After the chariot and its attendants came two more elders, wearing different clothing to those who went before, sober and grave of mien. One held a caduceus, the other a bright and naked blade, seeming to be so keen that even though he is out of its reach it inspires fear in Dante. One is a healer; the other is not.
Next came four more Elders in humbler clothes, and behind them an old man with undimmed eyes, but who is blinded by an inward dream.
Lastly come seven garbed in the same style as those following the candles but rather than being garlanded in lilies, these are garlanded in fire-red roses and other scarlet flowers so that they seem crowned in fire.
This Mystic Procession symbolises the Triumph of the Church.
When the chariot was level with Dante, the entire procession halted at the sound of a crack of thunder, and all of those in it gathered around the chariot and sang, crying "Come, spouse to Lebanon", "Benedictus gui Venis" and "Menibus o date lilla plenis", scattering flowers over the chariot as they did so, so that it en-globed in a cloud of petals.
A woman appeared out of the cloud of flowers, crowned with olive branches, from which a white veil hung, wearing a green mantle over a flame-red gown. This is Beatrice, Dante's new guide.
It was at this point that Dante noticed that although Statius was present, Virgil had disappeared, his work in escorting Dante here completed. Virgil being unable to go any further towards Heaven, or see any further ahead, he had departed. It is not entirely clear what becomes of Virgil after this; presumably he returns to Limbo, in Hell...
Dante recognises Beatrice from when she was alive on Earth, and cannot help but stare. She reproves him for this rudeness. Those in the procession sing "In te Domine speravi", and Dante weeps in anguish at the shame of this. Members of the procession ask Beatrice why Dante is being chastised, and she tells them that it is because he spurned her in life, and fell so far that only his seeing Hell could save him, and that Dante himself requires repentance before he can enter Heaven. Hearing this, Dante eventually admits his sin, and his error, confessing all.
By now the procession has ceased strewing flowers over Beatrice, and Dante is almost hypnotised by her, suddenly finding himself immersed in the stream (the Lethe) up to his neck. Beatrice baptises him in the stream, and he drinks of it before emerging on the far side (where the procession is) and being embraced by the purple-clad nymphs (who are Beatrice's handmaids), one after another, before they lead him to Beatrice who is now standing by the griffin, un-veiled. He sees the griffin reflected in her eyes as the other three nymphs dance around him to an angelic choir.
Statius has accompanied Dante across the stream and to the chariot.
Then the procession turned, wheeling rightwards to face the sun, and moving off, with Dante and Statius in tow, everyone moving in time to the angelic choir.
Three bow-shots later, the procession halts at the base of a huge tree, bare of fruit, flower or foliage, which looms huge overhead. This is the apple tree from which Eve plucked the fatal fruit, so long ago. Dante is told that anyone who strips the Tree of its leaves or fruit is committing blasphemy against God by doing so.
Upon arrival, everyone in the procession cries out to the griffin. "Blessed art thou, O Grifon, that thy beak rends not the rind of this accursed tree. For sweet although the tasted wood may be, bitter its tortures in the belly's bound", and the griffin draws the pole of the chariot to the tree, and binds it there, saying "So is preserved all seed of righteousness". When it does this, the tree bursts into life again, leaves and flowers appearing all over it, accompanied by a heavenly tune which entranced Dante into sleep.
Dante woke to find Matilda bending over him. Of the procession, only Beatrice, the chariot and the seven nymphs remain, the other having risen up into heaven while Dante slept. Beatrice tells him to write of what has been revealed to him on his journeys when he returns to Earth.
At this point an eagle stooped from the skies down at the tree, tearing its bark with its claws and shredding swathes of foliage, its wings smiting the holy chariot before it returned to the sky.
Then a starved vixen crawled out the undergrowth and towards the chariot, but was driven off by the scourging words of Beatrice, and fled back into the undergrowth.
With the vixen fled, the eagle struck again, at the chariot this time, leaving feathers scattered over its floor, and a voice from Heaven came, saying "O ship of mine! What evil cargo weights thy hold!". Dante saw a scorpion rise from between the two wheels of the chariot, boring through its floor with its sting, then wrenching out a part of the floor and wandering about with it, as if with a trophy.
The chariot, however, immediately regenerated itself by sprouting a covering of feathers, like those which the eagle shed onto it, before growing seven heads, three along the chariot pole, and one at each corner of the chariot body. The lead head on the pole was horned like a bull, while the four at the corners of the body each have a single horn.
In the car then appeared a harlot, then a fierce giant, rising up as if to keep her for himself, and they embraced for a while, though the eyes of the harlot roved onto Dante they did so. When the giant noticed this, he whipped the harlot from head top toe and freed the monster which was the chariot from the tree and raced off through the woods with it, and out of sight.
With the chariot gone, the seven nymphs sing around Beatrice, sighing and pitiful, and, with the nymphs before her, and Dante, Statius and Matilda behind she leads them off through the woods, saying "Modicum et vos videbitis me", inviting Dante closer so that he may better hear what she has to say and then, before long, chiding him for asking no questions of her, telling him to reject his shame and fear and to speak as one fully awake, rather that somewhat enmeshed in dreams. And so Dante is told about the chariot (God's vessel, though it endures no more), the creatures and what it all means. Beatrice also speaks a prophesy concerning one who shall restore the Roman Empire. "Thou knowest the chariot which the scorpion tore was once God's vessel, but endures no more; but let him well believe whose guilt is this: God's vengeance will not spare that deed amiss for eaten sops above the victim's grave. The eagle who with plumage strewed the car, making it monstrous first, and then to prey, will not be heirless always. This I say, who see its certain coming. Stars too high for human hindrance or assault decree That very near from now the time shall see five hundred, ten, and five, God's ministry, the two who sinned, both giant and harlot, slay."
After a time Dante is led to a place where two streams emerge from a single spring - the source of the Eunoe.
And with Dante and Statius both having drunk from the Eunoe, partaking of its indescribable, almost addictive sweetness, they are purified and ready to ascend to Heaven...
Perhaps the Eunoe is the last test before entering Heaven, and those who are not worthy do become addicted to its waters, and cannot leave its banks until they are worthy...
Go Back to the Top, or go to Dante's Hell or Dante's Heaven.
More on Purgatory or go to Gustav Doré's Illustrations of the Divine Comedy.
Go to the 'Now These Her Princes Are Come Home Again' Page.
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Copyright © Tony Jones, 2005.
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