Joseph: “Well, keep your eyes open. …”
Clarence: “ Where? I…I don’t see a thing.”
Joseph: “Oh, I forgot. You haven’t got your wings yet.
Now look, I’ll help you out.
Begin to see something?”
Clarence: “Why, yes! This is amazing!…”
AS WE LOOK DOWN FROM OUR CELESTIAL CLOUD TO THE SOUTHERN HEMISPHERE, WE SEE A TERRACED MOUNTAIN AT THE VERY ANTIPODE TO MESOPOTAMIA.
He, Virgil and Statius have arrived in “il Giardino dell’Eden,” in “Paradiso Terrestre” (Earthly Paradise). In awe, they enter the garden.
But wait, adjusting our ‘angel sight,’ we see much more.
The poets are at the conjunction of Heaven and Hell. Oh, of course, that is Purgatorio.
But, more particularly, they have arrived at the very intersection, the crossing point between Purgatory, and Heaven itself.
What a contradiction of realities, even of words, is this “Earthly Paradise”
- it is the quintessential oxymoron.
Eden has not existed since the dawn of human trespass; and yet, here it is.
The pilgrims have, in fact, arrived at the very convergence of a multiplicity of spheres; indeed, of many different types of spheres.
What do we see?
Now dependent, as we are here, upon the limited scope of ‘human knowledge,’ we see a number of “intersecting Venn diagrams”: and, mostly of dualities.
We see interactions between human knowledge and Divine Knowledge;
between the corporeal and the spiritual;
between Reason and Faith.
In this garden of an eternal fountain, of two rivers, of beauty almost too painful to view, we find Matilda, the ‘Lady of Innocence,’ our Eve before ‘The Fall.’ She is singing and gathering flowers.
We have reached the point of “Farewell and Hail,”
of forgetting and remembering,
of the “Active” and the “Reflective.”
Joseph directs Clarence’s attention to the unfolding drama.
He points out that in the last canto of this story, Dante had had a dream, a Biblically symbolic dream of Leah and Rachel.
Dante had related that dream as follows:
“… in my dream, I seemed to see a woman
both young and fair; along a plain she gathered
flowers, and even as she sang, she said:
Whoever asks my name, know that I’m Leah,
and I apply my lovely hands to fashion
a garland of the flowers I have gathered.” [Canto XXVII, lines 97–102]
In this dream, the young, beautiful Leah gathered flowers for a garland and observed how her sister Rachel could never stop observing her reflection in a mirror. The observers know from Genesis (29-30; 35) that Leah and Rachel acted out, respectively, examples of the active and contemplative lives.
Here, in earthly paradise, so soon after this dream, Dante beholds Matilda (although she is not named for two more cantos) as the “Lady of Innocence,” as an active presence.
In response to Dante’s questions, Matilda explains the Garden, its creation, its purpose, and it maintenance.
She also explains the two streams that flow through it. The first (where Dante finds her) is the Lethe, which empties the minds of those who drink from it of all cancelled sins.
The second one, the Eunoe, when drunk, enhances recollections of the good that one has accomplished.
Matilda also emphasizes that one must drink of the Lethe before the Eunoe for the spell to work.
Refocusing after some thought, Clarence asks “Why do Statius and Virgil hold back?“
Once again, Joseph points to the multiplicity of intersecting spheres surrounding them.
Virgil can go no further. He has reached the extreme tether of his sphere of existence. Human wisdom can go no further.
Statius simply smiles. It is not for him to intervene here.
“And what of this Matilda? What of the streams?”
“Well, Clarence, remember Leah and Rachel?
“Matilda is Dante’s Leah. She represents the active life: the life of this world in a perfected state. Dante first must understand the human paradise that God made for mortal humanity, before he can begin to grasp the eternal paradise that God made for our spiritual selves.“
“That comes soon.”
“They are essential for humans who would move on, move up, in their quest for the good and for God.
They must purge their sins – forget the bad they have done.
But, they must also remember, cherish, and move forward toward the good.”
“What happens next?”
A bright flash and the arrival of a majestic procession that includes all sorts of symbolic characters startle Dante and his observers.
Voices are singing ‘Hosanna’.
The light comes from seven candles, their pure, steady flames leaving rainbow trails behind them as they lead the entourage.
Using their special sight, Joseph and Clarence view a grand parade including:
- 24 Elders (books of the Old Testament),
- four six-winged angels (the Gospels),
- a two-wheeled chariot (The Church),
- drawn by a griffin (Christ),
- seven dancing nymphs (the virtues),
- then two more elders (Paul and Luke),
- and lesser New Testament writers,
- – and finally
- an old man with undimmed eyes (John /Revelations).
This “Mystic Procession” symbolizes the “Church Triumphant.”
It suddenly stops at a crack of thunder, and there arose the song
“Come, spouse to Lebanon”, “(Benedictus gui Venis”).
BEATRICE HAS ARRIVED!
She is to be Dante’s new guide.
It is at this time Dante first notices that Virgil has disappeared.
Virgil’s work escorting Dante is at last done.
Being unable to go any further towards Heaven, he has departed.
But, asks Clarence, “Who is this Beatrice?”
“She is Dante’s Rachel.”
“Did Dante seek her?”
“Oh, indeed, though not constantly and consistently enough.”
Unexpectedly, the chariotress reproves Dante for his rudeness.
When angels in the procession ask Beatrice why Dante is being chastised, she tells them that he had fallen so far in his life, only his seeing Hell had save him.
Even at this point in his long pilgrimage, Dante himself requires repentance before he can enter Heaven.
Looking closely, we see that the Beatrice who appears to Dante in the Chariot is both the real Beatrice he knew, but also is a representative, of “Divine Philosophy.”
Her very name derives from “full beatitude.”
She is a symbol of spiritual love, the only path to true knowledge and understanding.
“Aha, could she then be…”
“Yes, Clarence, she sits with Rachel in Heaven, as the symbol of ‘the light linking truth to intellect.’
She is …’the source of truth in matters of religion.’ ”
“So Clarence, you see, Dante, and we observers, have reached the structural
‘keystone of the story – the poem,’
This is not just a general convergence of spheres, it is the convergence point in the story’s plot.
This is the “climax” of his Divina Commedia: Dante’s pilgrim has at long last achieved reunion (at least the starting point of it) with Beatrice.
But, there’s still a measure of distance during which Dante (and we) must realize he (and we) are on our own. “
For Dante still has a long road ahead; ‘his internal suffering of shame will not be done yet’ (thanks John).
Although Dante has found Beatrice, and she represents “Divine Love” and “Perfect Peace,” he still has much to learn.
- “As do we all,” says Clarence.
Best Wishes, Dante! Bob S