Allegory and Reality in the "Commedia" [Paul Priest]

Dati bibliografici

Autore: Paul Priest

Tratto da: Dante Studies, with the Annual Report of the Dante Society

Numero: 96

Anno: 1978

Pagine: 127-144

In this essay I wish to argue that the Commedia has to be an "allegory of poets," but since the two modes are so closely related, it serves the purposes of the "allegory of theolo- gians" just as well when openly recognized as a poetic fiction; and perhaps even better.
My first point was largely made by David Thompson, who concluded not long ago in these pages that Dante's allegory was indeed "poetic," but that "the pattern of Dante's journey is figural," in that "Dante's individual experience reflects a universal pattern," that of the Exodus. This is to say that figuralism ("allegory of theologians") is a way of interpreting not literature but reality. As we know, figuralism relates events to events. Moreover that relation, strictly speaking, is always prophetic. When Aquinas writes that "res significatae per voces iterum res alias significant," "significant" means prophesy. This is the simplest reason why Dante's poem about the hereafter cannot properly serve as "literal or historical sense" in a fourfold structure: so little can come after it! But to say that Dante's fiction is continually referring to a figurally structured reality keeps intact the original relations of the four senses.
Those who urge the fourfold reading of the poem see this difficulty, of course. Robert Hollander concedes that we must "read backwards" from fulfillment to figure; A. C. Charity writes that "if, as here in the Comedy, the literal sense is eschatological, then any other senses there may be must be (so to speak) 'post-figured', rather than 'pre-figured', but they may still be there." Yet this gives us, not a direct application of fourfold exegesis, but as Hollander says, a "perhaps strained literary adaptation" of it. And the arguments of both Hollander and Charity (who in the end sees only an indirect relation to fourfold reading) seem ultimately to point to Thompson's position. Thus Hollander takes over Charles Singleton's basic twofold definition of Dante's literal and allegorical senses: "his journey there" and "our journey here," and adds two other senses which naturally grow from these, "a moral sense as what we see there tells us what we should do here," and "an anagogical sense as what we see there informs us of God's purpose for the future." But the fact that the allegorical and moral senses both refer to present time makes them seem to coalesce. Charity observes of the poem's reference to the pres- ent, "Whether we call this (which, as we have seen, has to do with the life of those living in the world) the sensus moralis or allegoricus would in strictness depend on whether it was directed as imperative or indicative." This seems to be Hollander's distinction, and for me it is not strong enough to give the sense of a separate allegorical stratum. Apparently it is not for Charity either, since he goes on to recommend that "allegoricus" be reserved for references to Christ. That is, both critics seem to be saying that Dante's journey points to moral truths for this life (which may also involve historical facts concerning our salvation). But that is essentially the relation of a poetic-allegorical fiction to the "truth" it conceals. The sensus moralis of the fourfold system involves the same relation of image to idea as does the allegory of poets.
Indeed this relation may well be what the vexed passage in the Epistle to Cangrande (7-8) is trying to express. I think everyone has found it somewhat puzzling that after expounding the Exodus with four senses, it then interprets the poem with only two, especially as the "allegorical" subject in the "duplex" reading does not clearly correspond to any of the three secon- dary senses previously given, nor to all of them together, "generaliter." Therefore we cannot be certain that the literal sense of the poem is identical with that of Exodus, though that would look like a reasonable assumption; because we seem to have two systems, duplex and quadruplex. But if we take the duplex system as that of the allegory of poets, everything hangs together. "The state of souls after death" and "man insofar as he is subject to justice" seemed to Nardi to be particular and general statements of the same thing, though for Charity they refer respectively to the post-mortal and present worlds; but another difference is that the one as presented by Dante is fictional: the reality is only possibly, and only somewhat, like this. But the picture given of human action, and of God's justice in punishing it, is absolutely true. This Dante would be sure to claim as truth. Yet it is not general moral truth only, but salvation-historical fact: the preparation, enactment, and results of God's redeeming Incarnation. That is where we see God's justice rewarding and punishing. And that, as Singleton may well have implied, is the full sense of "our journey here." At least it perfectly fits his famous and beautiful reading of Purgatorio mi in terms of Exodus, in which he glosses the "literal" sense of Dante's poem with the "literal" sense of the Biblical system - from which all the others flow.
In the sense that the fourfold method expounds the principal stages of a historical process, all four of its senses are "historical." They survey the Old-Testament preparation, the New Testament realization, the present-day implication, and the final expectation. Surely Auerbach had this in mind when he de- clared that Cato and Virgil were more "real," because more "fulfilled," in Dante's poem than in their historical lives. The Virgil and Cato of history would correspond to the Old Testament stage (as Dante used pagan and Biblical exempla in parallel, and as the Middle Ages sometimes considered classical figures figurae of Christ). But in Dante they appear in something like the final stage (even though Virgil is not saved and Cato looks forward to a further glory). Therefore Auerbach has not made a "reversal of figure and fulfillment," according to T. K. Seung. He has simply forgotten, or omitted to mention, that the "literal sense" of the fourfold method and of the Commedia are different things; that the "fulfillment" in the historical system is the "figure" in the poetic one. This double function of Dante's characters also means that Auerbach has not "exactly turned around the whole figural concept" (Thompson) which safeguarded the historical reality of the Old-Testament figures, stressing instead the reality of what is figured - Cato in glory. Auerbach is reflecting another aspect of the figural concept: its implicit faith that eternity will be even more "real" in experience than history. He appears to find this faith strengthened by his response to Dante's poetry.
Yet perhaps this solution is not entirely satisfactory in the end, for either Auerbach or ourselves. It has been thought (though I nowhere find this clearly in his works) that Auerbach claimed some sort of historical reality for Dante's journey. Singleton makes the claim openly, and Hollander argues eloquently for at least "a convention of literal truth." Although it seems that fourfold allegory can be closely related to the poem without any need for this, nevertheless our experience of reading it may carry a further sense of solidity, of direct participation in reality, than what I so far seem to allow. We may want to feel that the historical system and the poetic system are one system, not two. Therefore I should like now to step back and briefly consider the whole subject of allegory more generally.
Why do people write allegories? Sometimes it is to slip a secret message past an unsuspecting or dull-witted authority (as possibly in Aesop or the Roman de Renart), and many works from Aristophanes' Birds to Orwell's Animal Farm have a like effect, as if inviting us to share a subversive private joke against the establishment. The effect depends on our enjoyment of being in the know, and therefore we must be able to see the secret message right away without being told. Swift spoiled his Tale of a Tub in this respect by adding footnotes to make sure nobody missed anything. Dryden wrote his Absalom and Achitophel for the knowledgeable around King Charles's court; most of us need footnotes for it now, so cannot enjoy it as contemporaries did. Other allegories preserve "instant recognition" by a running translation in the text. A common method is to name the characters directly but their actions metaphorically, as Swift does in The Battle of the Books. Thus we still have something to guess. We are told that the first combat in Psychomachia is between Faith and the Cult of the Old Gods, but not what is "really" signified when Faith squeezes her enemy's eyes out and stamps on them. Bunyan's pilgrim stands clothed in rags, with a book in his hand and a burden on his back. We are pointed to Isaiah, in the margin, for the rags, but we must supply the meaning of the book and the burden. Every allegory leaves us some secret about which to feel clever and in the know, even the most heavily indoctrinating ones which, far as they are in flavor from the subversive political parables, still share some of their appeal, or try to, in this apparent offer of conspiracy. "Allegoria est metaphora continuata," said Quintilian, and it is we, the readers, who do the continuing.
On the other hand, we can feel that allegory partially reveals a secret which is secret from us, a holy mystery that we do not know. "The various analogies that can be drawn between religious, literary, and psychoanalytically observed phenomena all point to the oldest idea about allegory, that it is a human reconstitution of divinely inspired messages, a revealed transcendental language which tries to preserve the remoteness of a properly veiled godhead" (Angus Fletcher). This is surely the other great pleasure of allegory, apparently opposite yet in experience complementary: in letting us in on a secret, it at the same time makes that secret seem more mysterious. It combines the pleasure of recognition with that of awe. Consider how rapidly this double sense is set up in the openings of The Pilgrim's Progress and the Commedia, with their curious and well-known similarity:

As I walked through the wilderness of this world…

Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita…

Each one translates the first important term in the story, leaving us to translate the rest; and immediately the image becomes mysterious because it is significant, the reality because it is hidden.
What if the metaphor were not continued:

Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita
Mi ritrovai in uno stato d'animo peccaminoso
e pericoloso molto…

Or if the second sense were absent?

Nel mezzo del cammin da Fiorenza a Siena
Mi ritrovai per una selva…

This may be elementary, but if we are clear that the pleasure and value of allegory lies neither in the literal nor in the allegorical sense but in the conjunction and relation of the two, we may be willing to say that this relation is more important than whether the elements are fictional or historical, particular or abstract; and if this relation is basically alike in all cases, we may see a basic unity between the allegory of poets and the allegory of theologians.
That is, all allegory seems built on a likeness between particu- lar events: to live is to travel, falling in love is like a dream, Joseph behaves like Christ, the Soviet rulers behave like pigs. A general sense inevitably arises, for by virtue of what quality are the particulars alike? That will show us what other systems Orwell's pigs might also resemble. If Joseph is a figure of Christ through his patience, then on this level of generality (which is the sensus moralis) he "signifies" patience. That is why there is nothing incongruous, no real mixture of modes, about Job fighting alongside Patientia in the Psychomachia or about young men dancing with female personifications (such as Leece, Ded- uiz) in the Roman de la Rose. It is human behavior, after all, that the personifications present, and they function in the literal sense as persons, while in the allegorical sense the "real" persons signify just as the personifications do. I am thinking of allegory as a way of reading, more than as a way of writing. Of course we can impose allegory on a work without the author's intention, which is what the Middle Ages called allegoria illata, especially if we feel we are seeing a true resemblance. We can wonder whether Don Quixote, Prince Myshkin, or Dr. Stockmann in Enemy of the People should be taken as a type of Christ. The allegory of theologians is a specific extension into Scriptural history of an analogical way of looking at the world, embodied in the allegory of poets.
It does seem generally true that the allegorical sense has a higher degree of "reality" than the literal. A fictional story will point to a true one, one about animals to one about people, or (as in the Roman de la Rose) a fantastic dream-story to an equally fictitious (probably) but realistic one. Figural theology relates history controlled by God to that in which he is incarnately present. (Swift and Dryden gain different kinds of comic effect by making the literal level more "real" or more grand: an epic battle for a squabble of scholars, or David for Charles n. No one supposes that Dryden means David as afigura of Charles II) Yet this does not mean that the reader scorns the husk and treasures only the kernel. Pastors and teachers may talk that way to bring home the lesson, but it is not the experience of the reader who enjoys allegory. Even the encounters of the Psychomachia can be vivid and stirring, Iliad-like; they give great concrete reality to the inner struggles they portray. An admiring reader could be moved to take his own inner struggles more seriously - "Is it really like that!" - and even, though probably unadvisedly, to take up into his thought about them the imagery of the poem, as a continuation of the oxymoron, "mental struggle," which, as we have said, seems to be more fascinating than either of its components. (Why did the Fathers, who had the gospel, take so much trouble to find analogies to it in the Old Testament? What did they expect to learn?)
For every metaphor rests on a kind of oxymoron: it is a lie, saying two things are the same when they are merely comparable; and our mind enjoys pretending to believe this untruth. Allegory, being a continued metaphor (and not merely extended similitude), partakes of this pleasing deception. The "mystery" of allegory seems to make this suspension of disbelief stronger or more conscious than in other fiction. We know that the battle of faith against idolatry is not a matter of bashing in heads and trampling on eyeballs, but it is pleasant to think that it is. It is pleasant to be in a dream, and know it is a dream, and yet believe it is true. The divided consciousness is pleasant in itself. Some children's books, which are hardly allegories, exploit this masterfully. Beatrix Potter's animals seem sometimes like people in animal form, and sometimes like true animals who have acquired a few human abilities and habits, and she likes to tip us from one idea into the other. The frog Jeremy Fisher seems like anyone going fishing, until he eats a butterfly sandwich. Then he is swallowed by a trout, who spits him out - because of the taste of his macintosh.
But this divided consciousness also implies the unity of what is normally divided, so that we can justify our enjoyment of the metaphor's lie by feeling that it points to an ultimate truth, a "universal analogy" and ultimate oneness of all things. Al- legories tell us of the unity of soul and body, world and spirit, the human and animal realms, fact and imagination. Similarly, typology sees all Old-Testament history, and ultimately all human history, ordered in relation to that of the Son of Man, the universal human being, head of the mystical body of mankind.
Allegory, then, makes the reader feel in on a secret, yet in awe before a mystery; it sets up a duality, yet points to a unity behind it. If these are qualities of both "poetic" and "figural" allegory, but the latter is a way of interpreting not literature but reality, then they would be qualities of the real world as Dante saw it. He would have seen the world as a great allegorical poem. ("For the symbolist" [i.e. figuralist], wrote C. S. Lewis, "it is we who are the allegory.") All nature and history point to the central metaphor of Christ as God. God and man are really one in Christ, but it is the reality of metaphorical consciousness. Therefore a good way of entering the spirit of that poem might be to compose a fictional allegory of one's own that would seem to dissolve the boundaries of ordinary reality and point to, perhaps even produce, that ultimate metaphorical consciousness.
But then what about Dante's famous realism? Is he trying to show that the most intense and complete "reality" (as Auerbach felt) is in the ultimate state? Yet if this was his intention it seems to have backfired, as Auerbach cried out in a famous passage. For him, the people in Dante's other world have so much earthly reality that "figure surpasses fulfillment… The image of man eclipses the image of God. Dante's work made man's Christian-figural being a reality, and destroyed it in the very process of realizing it. The tremendous pattern was broken by the overwhelming power of the images it had to contain." Thompson finds it strange that Auerbach should be so upset by a simple effect of artistic realism, such as Dante might display in writing about people he had met while traveling through Italy. But that, I think, is just Auerbach's point: if the highest realism Dante could achieve in eternity is that of a journey through Italy, then the hope of final fulfillment at the end of the fourfold historical process (conceived by Dante as the resurrection of the flesh, by Auerbach perhaps in Hegelian terms) is vain, or at least unimaginable. The whole reality is here on earth. Auerbach's own insight that the Cato of Purgatorio is more real than the Cato of history also collapses, if all Dante has finally achieved is to glorify man in earthly life, to be in Auerbach's own phrase the "poet of the earthly world." Why be concerned with final glory? Let us concentrate on the present.
Yet the very same tension exists within the fourfold process. What is its highest or most "real" point? Is it the anagogical goal at the end, or is it the incarnation of God as man? The "prefigurations" lead up to Christ, but the "postfigurations" (which are not prophetic and should properly be called imita- tions) seem to lead down, to have a lesser measure of divinity. And will the final fulfillment surpass the glory of the Crucified? In the Bible it seems to dominate even the heavenly scene ("Worthy is the lamb that was slain").
Possibly the only solution to this dilemma lies in the allegorical double-mindedness, which somewhat reflects the situation of Christians. We believe in one way that Christ is with us, and in another way look forward to being with him in heaven. We affirm his presence with us in the Eucharist, "This is my body," and straight afterwards affirm his absence: "Do this in remem- brance of me." We can say with Paul, "I have been crucified with Christ" (Gal. 2:20), as a Jew celebrating Passover, to this day, declares that he has personally been brought out of Egypt. We pray, "Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven," believing that the kingdom both has and has not come, in different senses, and our reason does not always succeed in keeping these senses separate. That is, our belief that God has become man seems to involve us in the belief that our journey to God ("I am the way") is identical with its goal; and yet we take the journey seriously, and want to reach the goal. And not only Christians, but all of us, caught in the series of receding apparent goals - ball, bird, horse, etc. - of Convivio iv, xii, desire a goal which will both satisfy us and leave us unsatisfied: "che, saziando di se, di se asseta" (Purg. XXI, 129); a world in which fullness of being can never exhaust the fullness of becoming:

tal mi sembio l'imago de la 'mprenta
de l'etterno piacere, al cui disio
ciascuna cosa qual ell' e diventa.
(Par. XX, 76-78)

But if the historical process is fundamentally one with the eternal fulfillment, then there is no need to say which is more real; the straight line becomes a circle, with all its parts equal (as happened to the river of light in Par. XXX, 91-105). Followers of Christ imitate him through the indwelling Holy Spirit, thus extending the Incarnation, so that they may be called "sub-fulfillments" (Charity's excellent term, which he generally uses in preference to "postfigurations"). In reading early Christian exegesis one can sometimes have the sense that the "foresha do wings" also carried the divine presence. Paul writes that the Israelites in the wilderness "drank of that spiritual rock that followed them; and the rock was Christ" (I Cor. 10:4). This is highly condensed. Paul seems to say that the rock from which they drank not only prefigured the "living water" that Christ would give, but actually was Christ. But he says "spiritual rock"; does he simply mean the divine presence that followed them in cloud and fire? Yet there was a physical rock, from which they physically drank, though it did not physically follow them, as the presence did. The rock seems assimilated to the presence, by more than metaphor - taken up into Christ; it becomes numinous in a direct and primitive way, in Paul's lucid yet mystical understanding. Or here is Ambrose writing of Joseph, impris- oned in Egypt, serving his fellow prisoners: "Sed quid mirum si visitat Christus in carcere positos, qui se ipsum in suis in carcere inclusum esse memoravit, sicut habes scriptum: 'in carcere eram, et non venistis ad me’" If Christ identifies with prisoners, reasons Ambrose, how much more with those who serve them? Therefore "what wonder if Christ visits prisoners?" He seems to take it as so natural that if Joseph is behaving in a way that allows him to be a figure of Christ, then Christ is acting through him, present on the scene.

Panis angelicus fit panis hominum;
Dat panis coelicus figuris terminum.

That is, the bread of the altar is not only the last figura, but somehow the goal of them all, saying what they were all trying to say: Christ with us in the ordinary things of our lives. This awareness "terminates" the figures, not in making them redundant, but in completing them, casting back over them a light of meaning which makes them part of God's present self-disclosure. (Likewise Dante's Cato does not "outshine" the Cato of history, but improves our understanding of him.)
If this is the spirit of Dante's allegory, we should expect that the "ultimate reality" he is allowed to see at the end of his journey has been shadowily present all through it. This reality is what all his readers would immediately "recognize" as the chief object of their faith, while remaining mystified as by its greatest "secret": the Trinity and Incarnation. A few years ago I came upon, blundered upon really, a pattern whereby every canto of the Commedia seemed under the dominance of one of the Persons of the Trinity, the cantos falling further into similarly dominated groups within other groups until one reached the three cantiche, respectively for the Father, Son, and Spirit. This "discovery" was terribly exciting to me, and I tried to present it in this journal. Since then I learned that T. K. Swing (Seung) had anticipated me in this idea (not the pattern of cantos), attractively declaring that the Trinity is the "epic hero" of the poem and His actions are its true subject. Seung differs from me in many details, though by no means all. I don't know whether to find this disturbing or encouraging: Dante could have been so steeped in a Trinity-based culture (developed at length by Seung in his Cultural Thematics ) that he threw out multiple or half-conscious suggestions. We were both fascinated by the Trinity at first, and paid less attention to the Incarnation; but now that latter mystery seems to me even more significant for the poem, as a cosmic historical process for which the Trinity serves as a frame, or set of reference points.
The four senses of the fourfold method, considered as historical stages, seem to reflect "dispensations" in God's relation to men. The Old-Testament stage is prophetic and preparatory. Here God is transcendent, "wholly other," and stern, as God of judgment and vengeance, though also a loving Father. The chief event is the Exodus, in which God's people are separated from the world around them. This stage would correspond in the Trinity to the Father and in the Commedia to the Inferno. The Gospels show God as man among men; the emphasis is on human relationships - the "kingdom" is both religious and social. This corresponds to the Son and to the Purgatorio. After Pentecost (spiritually the present day, setting of the "moral" sense) the indwelling Spirit is enlightening our minds and enlarging our affections, as Beatrice does in the Earthly Paradise and the Paradiso. The fourth stage, beyond time, brings the resurrection of the flesh and reaffirms the divine unity, in which man is now included. Thus the sequence Father- Son-Spirit, like the fourfold method, can be seen as a framework of Incarnation, which the Commedia broadly follows, more or less.
We can see the same development in the poem's imagery; I should like to trace it briefly for one central image, that of the Cross. Inferno, which stresses God's awesome power and judgment, has many mysterious hints of the Crucifixion, such as the broken-open main gate, and the well known ruinae (V, 34, XII, 4-10, XXIII, 137, XXIV, 24), of which we only gradually learn, first from Virgil (IV, 52-63, XII, 31-45) and then from a devil (XXI, 112-114), that they were made when a Mighty One came down, crowned with segno di vittoria (IV, 54) - no doubt contrasting with the insegna of III, 52, and echoed at the bottom of Hell in "Vexilla regis prodeunt…" ("Fulget crucis mysterium" having been, of course, Fortunatus' second line). Then we come with a shock upon Caiaphas "crocifisso in terra" (XXIII, 111). As the image emerges, a number of the punishments can look like travesties of the Cross - the suicides dzscarnated and inlignated in trees from which they will hang, the tyrants in boiling blood, Bertrand with his "due in uno" (XXVIII, 125), Maestro Adamo discarnating (XXX, 69), with his "behold and see" (60), Ugolino's sons with their croce (XXXIII, 87). Perhaps they all are. At least they are the vendetta to which God's vendetta on the Cross has provided a totally covering alternative (Par. VI, 93 and VII, 19f.).
But being a tree, the Cross is also associated with living trees or plants; and being wood, with ships: lignum or legno means all three. These associations are allowed to emerge, and the Cross thus to "come alive," when we reach Purgatory. "Piu lieve legno convien che ti porti," says Charon in Inferno III,93, and we see the light boat in Purgatorio n, but should we not also have thought of lignum crucis? When Dante goes down the slope to prepare for the way of the Cross, he girds himself with an "umile pianta" which is immediately resurrected. In Purgatory the Cross means mercy rather than judgment: the surprising mercy obtained by Buonconte, who made "of himself" a cross on his chest (v, 126), or by Manfred, who had a wound there (III,111). As tree or ship, the Cross also develops a social dimension. The ship, with the cooperative activity (or sometimes passivity) it requires, is a well-known image of human society. The devils who tell Dante of Christ's descent, and who supervise a sin of bad citizenship, are compared to workers in a busy shipyard (Inf. XXI, 7-15), while the passengers in the angel's boat sit still. Dante's voyaging mind is a ship (Purg. I, 2, Par. II, 1f.), part of the collective ship or navy of Christendom under Admiral Beatrice (as Hollander points out in his "catalogue of ships"). (Purg. XXX, 58, "in poppa ed in prora," echoes Inf. XXI, 13, "chi ribatte da prora e chi da poppa.") For the tree, we see it in full growth on the ledge of the gluttons (the Cross is associated with food, largely through its reenactment in the Eucharist, and so produces a chain of food images we cannot trace here), giving Forese Donati the same painful delight that Christ had on the Cross (Purg. XXIII, 72-75); and its parent tree in the Earthly Paradise moves allegorically, as the action being represented demands, from Adam's tree of temptation (anti-Cross or perhaps proto-Cross) to God's justice in Adam's punishment, to God's justice in ruling the Empire, to the full organic ramification, many from one, of Imperially organized humanity.
In the Paradiso those only can follow Dante's boat who feed on the bread of angels (II, 11) - the Eucharistic presence or spiritualized Cross. The Cross is discussed first allusively, in terms of inner life: the "sacrifice" (V, 44) of the vow, which makes one a "victim" (V, 29) and for which in principle there is no substitute, then in terms of God's judgment via the Empire (VI) and at last directly (VII). In the Sun we hear of "crucified" spirits, Francis, who married the allegorical bride that Christ left on the Cross (XI, 72), and Dominic, who gave new motion to the insegna (XII, 38): and finally we see the Cross in stellar glory in Canto xiv. (The first fourteen cantos of the Paradiso I consider its "Father" section, corresponding to Inferno on this new and spiritual level. One sees how the Cross has been brought out into the open as well as glorified.) Under it stands the crusader Cacciaguida, radice (XV, 89) of the "good plant," Dante, whom he addresses in Christ-allusive words ("O fronde mia in che io compiacemmi"). Hugh Capet, expiating political avarice, called himself "radice della mala pianta" of France (Purg. XX, 43). He tells Dante of his exile, his personal cross, to come. The theme expands to citizenship and kingship; finally the ships will run straight, the tree will bear fruit (Par. XXVII, 146-147); and the final vision of redeemed society is in the perfected plant, the enormous Rose.
Certainly one can see such chains of imagery without accept- ing my, or Seung's, theory of the Trinity; but it helps to suggest and organize them, in a way that is, I think, both poetically satisfying and theologically significant; and they in turn suggest that some such governing idea is inevitable. They also happen to fit fairly well the pattern of cantos outlined in my earlier article - for example, Caiaphas crucified comes right at the end of the long central "Son" section of Inferno, and the numerically and structurally corresponding canto of the Paradiso presents Christ glorified - but it is not my purpose here to talk about that. Rather I would propose that this internal "figuralism" or "figural density," as Hollander called this internal correspondence of image, word, and theme whereby one seems to "prefigure" or, as the case may be, "fulfill" another, may be that in the Commedia which has most power to persuade us of the poem's "reality" or "truth," in emphasizing its existence in itself: not as an account of events, but as a world in itself. Thus, the beginning of the Purgatorio echoes that of the Inferno, as Singleton showed so well, as if it were a New Testament echoing an Old, not in an imitation Bible but a correspondingly au- thoritative document (including no doubt a Joachim-like third part) for the fictional world it creates, which is the allegory of the real world, which is the allegory of God, triune and incarnate. Let us return once more to the fertile pages of Erich Auerbach. He laments not that man, but the image of man has eclipsed the image of God. That would be the poetic image, a creation of poetry. If Dante's Cato is more real than Cato himself, it must be because poetry is more real than history - is in fact the "fulfillment" of history. Here is a yet bolder claim for Dante, than to have really made the voyage: it is by poetry to transport us directly into the anagogic state, the consciousness of union. "Anagogical" simply means "upward-leading." The letter to Cangrande claims to lead men to felicity, not just show them the way. "Allegoria," wrote Gregory, "est quaedam machina per quam anima elevatur ad Deum." If all allegory is one, poetic allegory can do what God's allegory does; and Dante Alighieri, this angry, disappointed man, can both incarnate God and spiritualize the world in a poem where the eternal comes down to earth, and the most earthly things, including his own pride and frustration ("Se mai continga che 'l poema sacro…"), seem recreated in eternal glory.

Date: 2021-12-22