Autore: Peter Armour
Tratto da: Dante soundings: eight literary and historical essays
Editore: Irish Academic Press - Rowman and Littlefield, Dublin - Totowa (N.J.)
Some years ago T.G. Bergin adapted the old phrase, quot homines tot sententia, to the field of Dante studies: quot homine tot poemata; and indeed there may sometimes seem to be almost as many interpretations of the Commedia as there are critics interpreting it. This statement both expresses an important truth, that Dante’s subject, range and technique in the poem necessarily and intentionally require that the reader should have considerable liberty in his appreciation and ssimilation of it, and describes a resulting, perhaps rather confusing, state of affairs. The modern reader, especially one who is approaching the poem for the first time, may feel the need for a few signposts to help him find his way through the innumerable and often conflicting analyses of it to its central insipration, its princiapl aims and the basic elements on which its narrative technique, its significance and maybe even its relevance are founded. For such a reader, therefore, it may be useful to consider three ways of interpretine the poem as a whole before proceeding to a study of the first two cantos of the Purgatorio in the light of these approaches. These three ways are not mutuallv exclusive but coexistent and closely connected and, since they are all traceable in Epistola XII (to Cangrande), they all'originate in the fourteenth century, that is, in the world of Dante himself and of his carliest readers. It is to be hoped that these general introductory principles will help to define the Commedia more clearly as a great and important poetic achievement in its creation of a realistic fictional world and in its presentation of an all-containing system of truths and aspirations, whilst at the same time showing the limitations of the tradition which sees the poem as some sort of text for a theological or moral sermon. Moreover, these three basic approaches by no means exclude further elaborations and interpretations, perhaps more suited to modern taste and aesthetic theory, but already present in the rich polysemy and allusiveness of the work itself.
Many of the complications in interpreting the Commedia go back to Dante himself, in his distinction between the “allegory of theologians” and the “allegory of poets” and in his definitions of poetry as “truth hidden beneath a beautiful lie” and as “a fiction fashioned with rhetoric and music”. Epistola XIII, whether it is by Dante, as seems most likely, or by some exceptionally acute commentator, actually says: “It should be known that the sense ofthe work is not simple but indeed can be called polysemous, that is, of many senses". After describing the relationship of the literal to the allegorical senses, Epistola XIII talks of “other” or “alternative” or perhaps even “alternating” senses which flow or revolve around the subject of the poem. So the possibility of co-existing multiple solutions goes back to the very earliest times.
It is in the complex relationship between the literal sense, the narrative of a fictional but realistically described journey, and the “other”, allegorical meanings that the fundamental problem resides, and here it is probably necessary to elucidate for the modern reader the distinction, described in Auerbach's famous article, “Figura”, between the two traditions of allegory in Judeo-Christian, patristic and medieval culture. On the concept of “figural allegory” depends the important modem view of the poem as a work of “figural realism”, a view which provides an essential bridge between the fourteenth-century context ofthe poem and our twentieth-century appreciationofit as a poem. The question has been complicated by the loose use, by some critics, of the key-word “figure”, when they mean “symbol” or “image” or even just ‘’metaphor” or “figure of speech”. When used without qualification the word has in fact a highly technical meaning. It requires that we cast aside our modern view of history as a succession of distinct events which occur either casually or by identifiable but to.a large extent blind political, social, or economic forces. Instead, we must put the imprint of mind upon history, the mind of God in planning the history of the human race and the mind of the theologian in interpreting his plan. History has a “schema” or “typos'’, a scheme or imprint, for which the most common Latin words were figura and typus.
Figural allegory or tvpology is that allegory of the theologians which interprets history as significance, as the plan of the Divine Mind, by explaining the strange, primitive, or even unedifying events of the Old Testament as prefigurations (“figures” or “types”) of New Testament events and doctrines. Similarly, many of the events in Christ's life and aspects of his teaching, including, in a slightly looser but still real sense, his parables, are themselves figures of the establishment of the Kingdom of Heaven, which is the Church on earth first and then, after the Second Coming, the Church of the redeemed in Paradise for all eternity.
The basis of figural allegory is in the relationship of the Old Testament to the New. Examples include Adam as a figure of Christ and Eve as a figure of the Church, born from Christ's side. or Solomon and his temple as figures of Christ and the Church, with the Queen of Sheba as the Gentiles who come to hear Christ"s word. The curious story of Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, is a type or figure of God's plan for the Redemption, and Isaac carrying the sacrificial wood up the mountain for his own immolation prefigured and acquired significance in Christ, the Son, carrying the wood of the cross up Mount Calvary for his own crucifixion. So two real events were related in the divine scheme of history: the Old Testament event prefigured the New Testament event, and the New Testament event fulfilled and explained the Old Testament story.
Some characters and events in the New Testament were also considered as figures of a real event, the establishment of the Church. Lazarus prefigured the Church itself, led out with Christ from the tomb, whilst Martha and Mary, themselves fulfilments of the sisters Leah and Rachel, prefigured respectively the active Church Militant on earth and the contemplative Church Triumphant in the world to come. Christ's miracles, for instance the feeding of the five thousand, prefigured the ministry of the Church and its sacraments, including the Eucharist. His parables, designed to reveal to the apostles truths unknown to the people of the Old Law (Matthew 13:10 ff.) were also interpreted as. prophetic, if metaphorical, types insofar as thev referred to a real event, the establishment of the Kingdom of Heaven, the Church, on earth. Thus, in the parable of the prodigal son, the father welcomes back his errant son, the Gentiles, together with the son who never strayed, the Jews, and a great feast is prepared to celebrate the homecoming of the Gentiles. The parable expresses in vivid human terms a future, indeed imminent, real event, the foundation of the Christian Church, which will fulfil and supersede the law of Moses and the synagogue, and which will include the Gentiles as well as the Jews. Another parable expresses in even closer allegorica] detail the same truth: a king (God) invites to the wedding-feast (the Kingdom of Heaven) some guests, the Jews, who refuse and who maltreat his servants (the prophets); so he invites other guests (the Gentiles). But in this case, the episode of the man who turns up without a wedding-garment and who is cast into the darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth shows that the allegory of the wedding-feast refers notjust to the Church on earth but is to have a further fulfilment in the future, at the Second Coming, when, as inthe parable of the wheat and the tares orthatofthe Church as a net containing good and bad fishes, Christ will receive the saved into the “kingdom prepared for them since the beginning of the world” and cast the wicked into the everlasting fire ‘which was prepared for the devil and his angels”, Moreover, the King's destruction of the recalcitrant guests was seen as foretelling the definitive superseding of the Old Law with the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., an event which, when associated with Christ's other apocalyptic par- ables and eschatologica] pronouncements, itself prefigured the day of the universal judgment.
Thus, there are three aspects of figural allegorical reference: real Old Testament events related to future real events, the life and death of Christ; New Testament events and parables related to the foundation of the Church through and after Christ's death; and the future fulfilment of all this on the Last Day. Moreover, some figures have more than one stage of fulfilment and an example such as that of Leah and Rachel, Martha and Mary, described above, runs through the whole series from the Old Testament to the life of Christto the Church on earth and to Paradise after death. As readers of the Purgatorio will know, Leah and Rachel have also a moral alleporical meaning, as active and contemplative life, which, as will be seen, does not entirely conflict with their strict typological significance.
It is now time to turn to the other main tradition of allegory, moralortropological allegory. Auerbach describes how this coexisted with true figural allegory and how it is in fact more abstract and learned and so less suitable for the early Church's missionary aims in converting pagan tribes. In this allegory, Old Testament events and New Testament events and parables are seen not as references to historical events to be realized and fulfilled in the future but as vivid stories to be used as images, symbols, or a code of rules for the individual Christian’s moral journey through life.
In this mode of allegory, the story of Isaac would be interpreted not just as a prefiguration of a real event, Christ's carrying of his cross, but as a “figure” in a more abstract, nonhistorical sense, as a model for any Christian to make him live Obedient to God as Abraham was, prepared for total self-sacrifice like Isaac, Now in certain cases this moral allegory is also figural in the proper sense of the word. A.C. Charity notes that the figure of Job has both a typological and a dependent moral sense, and the same is true of that of Isaac. The story of Isaac was fulfilled first by Christ and is then fulfilled, through Christ, by any good Christian who takes up his cross and follows Christ (Par XIV.106). Charity sees such a Christian as a “sub-fulfilment" of Christ and makes the reasonable proviso that, strictly speaking, the imitation of Christis typological only when it is in action, that is, realized in history, and not if it remains solely an ethical imperative. So, in a truly historical and theologically real sense, Christ is the figura of the perfect Christian, who is called, especially by dying to sin and rising to life by baptism and in his moral life, to be “another Christ”. So the typology of Christ is fulfilled continuously in history in the Church, both in the conductof individual Christians and insofar as the Church as a whole, the Mystical Body of Christ, reforms itsell and moves towards conformity with the person of its founder. The most important of such Old Testament figures which like Isaac were fulfilled in Christ and so became figures also for the Christian and the whole Church was the story of Moses and the Exodus, to which we shall return. Suffice it to note here that some moral allegory does not conflict with but actually depends upon the figural allegory and fulfils it in its turn. One relevant example, referred to above, affords a sort of intermediate stage between the two sorts of allegory: Martha and Mary, who fulfilthe figures of Leah and Rachel, at the same time adopted modes of behaviour, approved by Christ, which defined the essential elements of the active and the contemplative lives to be imitated by Christians. Clearly, in practical terms, the imitation and fulfilment of Christ's life required some investigation of patterns and of ‘‘ethical imperatives”.
It is in an abstruse and frequently pedantic seeking of patterns that moral allegorization has acquired its largely unfavourable reputation. No doubt, however, it was useful in sermons to reinterpret such figural parables as that of the prodigal son, depriving it of its historical significance and using ita a symbolic story of a sinner who strays from God, but who repents and returns to him and is welcomed by the merciful and forgiving Father. The parable of the wedding-feast, like the other parables with an eschatological conclusion, was much more difficult to allegorize in this way, but in general it could be presented as referring to all the good, who accept God's word, the king's invitation, and live good lives on earth so that at their death they are taken upto the eternal wedding-feast of Heaven. Typological and moral interpretations of the same events and parables co-existed, but apart from all the small but important category mentioned above, they may be regarded as different approaches and different traditions. Nor was this sort of allegory confined to the Bible. The classics too were allegorized inthis way inthe Middle Ages. Even Ovid, by later commentators, was so “moralized”; similarly, vovagers such as Aeneas or Ulysses could be seen as symbols of man sailing through life, with a mission like Aeneas, or beset by many perils like Ulysses, distracted perhaps by the pleasures oflove which must be overcome, as Aeneas was by Dido, or lured by sirens or turned into pigs by lust, as was Ulysses's crew. Man must sail through the perils and temptations of life in order to arrive atthe harbour of Heaven.
Also in this wide category of moral allegory we can include the personification of abstracts, at least when they are used as a series of symbols with connected meanings. Such allegories can be of events (Spring, Time, Death), virtues or vices (Hope, Despair, Justice, Mercy; Peace, War), or ideals (Beauty, the “Patria”, St Francis's Lady Poverty, Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s “Good Government”), Artists, of course, frequently used this visualized portrayal of abstractions. Medieval literature abounds in it, as is shown by C.S. Lewis's analysis of The Allegorv of Love or by Brunetto Latini's description, in the Tesoretto, of the realm of the Empress Virtù with her four daughters, the cardinal virtues. Similar is the use of allegory on the model of Prudentius's Psychomachia to dramatize the struggle of thoughts or emotions within or for possession of a man; for example, of Anger and Mercy within a king's soul as he considers a judgment. In some of the earlier poems ot the Vita nuova, Dante takes over from Cavalcanti the device of the interior drama or struggle in the soul: he personifies Lady Pity and “superbia” and "ira"; for poetic reasons, he describes an accident, Love, as a substance, a separate person, In the Commedia, he has Pier della Vigna personify Envy as a harlot of Emperors' courts (Inf. XII.64-6), and Virgil describes Geryon as the personification of fraud (Inf. Xvii.1-3, 7). He uses dream allegory in the Purgatorio, although it should be noted that none of the three momning dreams is simple moral allegorvy; apart from their importance in the structure of the cantica, each of them explores new possibilities: mystical allusiveness in the dream of the eagle; a psychological and moral struggle interpreted through contrasting feminine characters in the dream of the Siren; and biblical and figural moral allegory in the dream of Leah, who literally prefigures a real, or apparentiy real character, Matelda, In the Purgatorio especially, Dante also uses the moral exemplum; the “whips” and “bridles”, contrasting examples of virtues and vices, provide a constant pattern of moral reference and instruction in their presentation of biblical and classical models of behaviour to be imitated or avoided. Even here, however, not only is there enormous variety, but Dante's references deliberately eschew the purely mechanical in favour of a more ceeneral, sometimes even rather distant, allusiveness.
These instances of moral allegory in the Commedia, however, all pertain to details and not to the basic structure of the poem; the device of the ‘‘whips” and “bridles” as a whole needs tobe seen in a some what different light. The essential difference between the two methods of allegorization is admirably summarized by Auerbach in these terms: “The figural interpretation establishes between two facts or persons a connection by which one of them does not merely signify itself, but it signifies also the other, while the other includes or fulfils the first... Figural propheey includes the interpretation of one earthly process by means of another: the first signifies the second, and the second fulfils the first. Both remain events within history: but in this conception both contain something provisory and incomplete; each refers to the other, and both refer to a future still to come which will be the real, true process, the full, real, definitive event. This is valid not only forthe prefiguration of the Old Testament which announces the Incarnation and the proclamation of the Gospel, but also for these latter, which are in fact not yet the final fulfilment but are in their turn the promise of the end of time and of the true kingdom of God”. The other tradition of purely moralizing allegory stems largely from Philo, who interpreted the various facts of the Scriptures ‘as different phases in the stage of the soul and in its relationship to the intelligible world; in the destiny of Israel, in its totality and in its individual figures, he saw contained allegorically the motions of the guilty soul, which needs salvation, in its fall, in its hope and in its final redemption. As one can see, this is a purely spiritual and extra-historical interpretation”. Real figural allegory must be distinguished not only from moral allegory on the one side but also from primitive myths and symbols on the other: the figure must always be historical, the symbol not; “real prophecy refers to historical interpretation and is in essence the interpretation of a text, while the symbol is the immediate interpretation of life and originally, above all, of nature”.
Having made this essential distinction, we can now turn to the three basic approaches to the Commedia: the tradition which tends to see it as pure moral allegory; the poem as realistic figural allegory with, as I see it, a vital figural-moral component; and the poem as exemplum in a special sense which depends upon its figural realism. We will examine these with particular reference to the Purgatorio.
The treatment of the poem as moral allegory is the oldest method of interpreting the Commedia. It seems to have preoccupied all the early commentators, who wanted, quite rightly, especially in the guilt-ridden aftermath of the Black Death, to trace in Dante's poem the means and methods by which the individual soul might turn from sin to God in this life and so go to Heaven in the next. Dante's journey describes the passage of a representative living man from darkness, despair, ignorance, sin, to light, knowledge, grace, salvation, love of and union with God. In this approach, Dante “personaggio” becomes a forerunner of Bunyan's Christian, who travels through the Slough of Despond, Vanity Fair, Doubting Castle, and so on, meeting on the way such personages as Mr. Worldly Wiseman, Faithful, Hopeful, and the giant Despair, and finally reaches the Celestial City. Now it is clear to any reader of the Commedia that this is just what Dante does not do. The essential innovation of his poetry is to abandon this scheme of personified abstractions of the sort which led Brunetto Latini from his lost way in his dark wood to the realm of the Lady Natura and the kingdom of the Empress Virtù. Nevertheless, from the earliest times, there has been the tradition of interpreting the poem as this sort of allegory. Virgil, who rescues and guides Dante, represents Human Reason, which has been dumb in the sinful Dante for a long time: “per lungo silenzio parea fioco” (Inf. I.63); Beatrice, who supersedes Virgil, is therefore Supernatural Knowledge, Revealed Truth, Grace and soon: “il cui bell'occhio tutto vede” (Inf. X.131). So Dante becomes a preacher and the Commedia a skilful sermon and a text for further sermons, exhortations, and instructions.
The purely moral interpretation does not explain satisfactorily any of the major episodes or characters. Virgil is not “Ratio” in a white robe, carrving a lantern and perhaps a copy of Aristotle under his arm, but he is the shade of a real Roman poet who once lived and his voice is “fioco” because of the 1300 years’ gap between Roman civilization and Dante's own age. Francesca is not “Adulterina”, dressed in gaudy and seductive robes, holding a flaming torch of lust and perhaps a sword, for adultery is an act of injustice and often, as here, leads to violence, but she is a real woman who once lived in a minor Italian court and was killed in adultery. Farinata is not Heresy but a dead Ghibelline leader; Brunetto is not Sodomy but a dead teacher and father-figure. Beatrice's fair eye sees everything, not because she is a symbol of Theology, but because she isa real woman whom Dante loved and loves and who is now in Paradise where she sees everything in the mind of God who is infinite Love.
So, following Auerbach, some critics today put forward a figural view. Firstly, one must establish the literal sense of the poem around which the allegorical “other” meanings flow and this literal sense is, of course, a journey through the afterlife, described as absolutely real, as having really taken place. Virgil, Beatrice, Francesca, Farinata, Cato, Casella, and all the others are real people whose earthly lives, now over, prefigured and determined their eternal destiny and are now being fulfilled in the afterlife: for Virgil in Limbo, for Francesca and Farinata in different parts of Hell, for Cato and Casella on a given date in the year 1300 in Purgatory, for Beatrice in Paradise. Strictly speaking, the use of the word “figural” in this respect is merely modelled on biblical typology and is something of an analogy, for the souls are not distinct people related in history, but each is an individual who has had an existence in history and is now seen in the next phase of existence, which fulfils the first. However, the whole impetus of Christian typology towards the afterlife justifies our use of the term by which earthly life becomes the prefiguration and the afterlife the fulfilment. It is certainly the basis of Dante's realism, for as a result of this the souls have taken with them into the afterlife their earthly lives, their tendencies and preoccupations, their choice at the moment of death, and many of their qualities as individuals in terms both of personal moral responsibility and of the historical, political, or social environment in which they lived their now completed earthly lives, Francesca's views on love and her passionate sin at the moment of death continue on into Hell and do not abandon her; in Hell Farinata keeps his pride and obsession with Florentine party politics, Brunetto his paternal interest in Dante, and so on. The characters in the Commedia are real people, projected by death and by Dante's poetic imagination into the afterlife, where they fulfil their evil deeds in Hell or their choice of good in Heaven for all eternity. Their earthly lives adumbrated their state in the afterlife: the afterlife is the eternal fulfilment of their earthly lives. Dante visits the afterlife at a certain time in history in 1300, and, for accuracy’s sake, one should remember that the world he visits has not yet reached its final, eternal, definitive fulfilment; this will only be attamed at the Second Coming, the Last Day, when the body rises, Then the sufferings of the souls in Hell will be increased, but the bodies of those in Paradise will be glorified and glow brightly like coals in the light of the souls’ spiritual vision, love, and joy (Inf. VI.103-11; Par. XIV.37-66). When Dante meets them, however, the souls have already received their personal Judgment. Some souls are already fixed in Hell or Paradise, as they will be for eternity after the universal judgment: others, however, at this historical moment in earthly time are still travelling from this world to the next through Purgatory. Purgatory alone of the three realms is not eternal, for the ultimate destiny of all the souls whom Dante meets there is to be the eternal bliss of Paradise (Purg. X.109-11).
Nevertheless, the souls in Purgatory must be considered, in the fiction of the poem, to be just as real as those in Hell'or Paradise. Otherwise, this cantica is perilously liable to interpretation as a mere moral allegorv of this life. This not only leaves a central gap in the narrative unity of the whole poem, but it also weakens the special beauty, the dynamics, and the lessons of the Purgatorio, which appears pale and even essentially abstract in comparison with the vivid, flamboyant colours and spectacular dynamics of the other two cantiche. Cato, Casella, Manfred, Belacqua, and so on, are as real as Virgil and Beatrice, as real, though dead, as Dante himself in the poem.
There are two important differences between Purgatory and the other two reaims. In the first piace, the souls whom Dante meets have not yet reached their final place of fulfilment. They have died in a state of grace, and their destiny is assured in Paradise, but Purgatory is the realm of transition and pilgrimage towards this destination, Auerbach, who sees Cato as a figura of Christ, a pagan prefiguration chosen with exceptional imagination or even unorthodoxy by Dante, is right in describing the Cato whom Dante meets as “the figure revealed and fulfilled”, at least in the sense that this is the real Cato met in the afterlife, fulfilling his earthly life in a unique way for a pagan and a suicide, as guardian of the base of the mountain. But Raimondi’s objection is also valid, when he points out that Dante's Cato is not yet the final fulfilment, Like all the souls in Purgatory Cato too is in statu vige, not yet in statu termini. This applies not merely to the case of all the souls in the Commedia as they await the definitive eschatological fulfilmemt upon the resurrection of their bodies, but it also concerns Cato's eventual home in the afterlife, whether he is to return to Limbo or goto Paradise. There are several theories on these points, but it seems to me that Dante answers them all in Purgatorio I. Cato has been taken from Limbo and separated irrevocably from Marcia, his wife; therefore, he is not to return there. In one extraordinary line (Purg. I.75), which solves the problem, Virgil shows his knowledge that Cato, although a pagan like Virgil himself and unlike the suicides of Infermo XIII, will in fact regain the garment of his body at the Last Day and it will be glorified in Paradise for ever. Certainly from Casella, who has only just arrived, to Statius, who has performed all the centuries of purification required of him for his sloth and prodigality, all the souls in Purgatory are at different stages in their journey to Paradise and God. This is why Dante’s Purgatory, especially above the Door (Purg. IX), is not negative but positive, why the souls are content in their torments, which indeed are not torments but a Joy: “io dico pena e dovria dir sollazzo” (Purg. XXIII.72). So the souls in Purgatory are not vet fulfilled but travelling to fulfilment, being fulfilled, and on this crucial concept depends Dante's whole optimistic, dynamic, and forward-looking presentation of Purgatory.
The second main difference between the souls in Purgatory and those in Hell (fixed unchangingly in the evil in which they died) or Paradise (already fulfilled according to their appropriate degree of beatitude), arises from their situation as travellers to Paradise. They have died in a state of grace, some of them only in the nick of time, and they are assured of salvation, but in Purgatory, they can, indeed they must and will, develop. They can look back to their earthly lives and to the moment of their deaths and can see them in a new perspective: Manfred acknowledges the heinousness of his sins and atthe same time is experiencing the results of his excommunication. They can also look forward to the moment, when, like Statius, they will rise to travel to God. Between their deaths in a state of grace and their final release from Purgatory, they too are fulfilline the results of their earthly lives, “reaping the harvest of sin” (Pure. XIV.85), paying off the debt of temporal punishment due to sins committed and being purified from their earthly tendencies to and habits of those sins. In Antepurgatory this is a negative process: unless helped by the pravers of the living, Manfred must ‘’relive’’ his excommunication thirty times over, whilst Belacqua and the others must also “live’’ a whole second lifetime of sloth, failure to repent, and other forms of negligence, before they can even begin the positive process of purification on the cornices. Inside Purgatory the souls are doing penance for their be setting sins of pride, envy, and so on; they are praying or singing: and they study the “whips” and “bridles”. So as they mature “quel sanza ‘l quale a Dio tornar non possi” (Purg. XIX.92), as the seven wounds are healed up, and as they receive moral nourishment from meditating upon examples of virtue and vice (Purg. XXVI.138-9), they are aware of their position as trainees for Paradise. Although, with the exception of Statius, Dante sees them confined to their cornices, they can Judge their past sins, use the present to suffer and learn, and look forward to their inevitable future salvation. Purgatory is a place of development and progress towards freedom of the will, the purification of love, original innocence and God himself, Supreme Good.
Thus the whole poem, including the Purgatorio, describes a real journey through a real world inhabited by real people. In Dante's presentation of this life in the light of the next, we can see an enormous step forward in the treatment of "character" in western literature, but we should be careful not to attribute this to Dante's conscious intentions without some imporant qualificatons. His characters are not fully-rounded individuals mixed up in the complexities and vicissitudes of this life but the fulfilment, outside history, of their earthly selves and, in particular, of the moral choice in which they died.
In Convivio II.i, Dante distinguishes between the literal sense of a text and three other senses: the allegorical, the moral, and the anagogical. He explains the allegorical with the example of the myth of Orpheus as the allegory of poets and not that of theologians. In analysing his canzoni which look back to the personification techniques of the Vira nuova but forward towards an exposition in terms of philosophical and moral truths, Dante was right to choose the allegory of poets to act as the link. But in Epistola XIII the word “allegoria” is first used in its strict theological, that is figural sense, before the author points out that it is also used with a wider meaning, as referring to all the other senses apart from the literal. The example of the text, In exitu Israel de Aegypto, used also in the Convivio, is here applied to all the senses and illustrates quite clearly this development in Dante's technique, a development which necessitated different methods of expounding the Commedia compared with the poems of the Convivio. In Epistola XIII the literal event described in the text, the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt at the time of Moses, is analysed according to three “other” senses.
The first sense is the allegorical, that is the figural, and we may perhaps clarify this for the modern reader by calling it also “christological”. In this sense the Exodus refers figurally to the Redemption, when Christ led all mankind from the slavery of sin, the Old Law and paganism to the new era of grace and salvation and the freedom of the children of God, Moses in particular, the founder of the Old Law, the leader of the Exodus and feeder of the children of Israel, was the most important figura Christi of all. So the historical event, the Old Testament Exodus, prefigured and was fulfilled first and foremost by the events of the New Testament, the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.
The second sense is the moral or tropological sense. The Exodus refers to the individual Christian soul, who realizes the fruits of the Redemption in his own earthly life, travelling from the grief and misery of sin to a state of grace. In this sense, the strict figural meaning and the moral allegorical system do not conflict, but the latter depends upon the former. Christ, himself the fulfilment of the Old Testament figures, is the essential precondition and model for the moral dying to sin and rising to grace of all those who follow him. Just as the figure of Isaac was fulfilled by Christ and is then fulfilled in the lives of those who shoulder their crosses and follow Christ, so too the Exodus was fulfilled first by the Redemption of all mankind and is again and continuously being fulfilled by each Christian who makes his personal exodus from sin to grace in his earthly life.
The third sense of the Exodus is the anagogical, or we may call it the eschatological in its reference to the “last things", death and judgment, Hell and Heaven. This Exodus is the Journey of the individual Christian after death from the slavery of this corruptible life to the liberty of eternal glory, the Promised Land, the heavenly city of the New Jerusalem. In other words, the saved Christian fulfils the event of the Exodus definitively when, having made his moral exodus in life and died inastate of grace, he travels to Heaven. Purgatory, therefore, is the realm of the anagogical exodus of the saved souls precisely as it is defined in Epistola XIII Moreover, the word “anagogical”, glossed in the Convivio as “sovrasenso” and sometimes defined as “mystical”, does in fact originally mean “leading up”.
The analysis of the story of the Exodus in Episrola XIII is provided for two reasons: firstlv, to indicate, as is stated, how the allegorical “other” meanings and polysemy of the poem can co-exist, not excluding but depending on each other, and be identified using the techniques of theologians in their interpretations of the Old Testament; and secondly, to invite the reader to connect the theme of the Exodus with the Journey poem itself in its progress from damnation to redemption, slavery to freedom, sin to grace, Hell to Heaven.
On the first point two misunderstandings have perhaps confused the issue. Some crities seem to feel that these three are the only possible allegorical or other senses in the Commedia. In fact Dante does not use merely christological, moral and anagogical senses, but also levels of allegory which are not direcily covered by the theologians' figural explanations of the Bible. His literal narrative includes, for instance, philosophical lessons presented as part of a continual process of learning with its dialectic of question and answer; it includes political and ecclesiastical allegory and imagery, as in the Monarchia, where biblical texts are analysed in a way similar to, but not the same as, figural moral allegory; he uses exempla, prophecies, and images which are calls for reform; he uses a wide variety of allusion, biblical, liturgical, literary, and of course, especially in the presentation of Beatrice, personal; as we have seen, he also includes in the Purgatorio the older technique which ultmately he did so much to demolish, the device of the dream-allegory.
The second misunderstanding is that the three allegorical senses are not only basic and exclusive, but are also all present equally in the poem. This is not true. The christological sense is not directly present at all, but it is stated as the precondition of the whole journey in that Dante descends into Hell and rises on the third day during that season of the centenary year which commemorated the death and resurrection of Christ and the exodus of all mankind with him to the era of grace, Christ's journey prefigures that of Dante; Dante's fulfils that of Christ. He is “another Christ”, as ideally all Christans should be.
The moral sense, which in every definition of it applies specifically and exclusively to living men, is present only in the character of Dante himself, the only living man in the poem, as is stressed on innumerable occasions. Dante's journey from the dark wood to Paradise describes, and in the fiction of the poem actually is, his own moral exodus from sin to grace in his own life. This aspect too has its figural consequences, for, with the help of Beatrice and Mary, Dante trusts that this journey will prefigure his own definitive anagogical journey to salvation after his death. Moreover, the moral theme is also universalized in that Dante, following Christ, acts as exemplum to all men to make the same moral journey in their earthly lives and the same anagogical journey after death.
The anagogical sense ofthe Exodus, as illustratedin Epistola XIII, is relevant to the figural realism of the whole poem and directly present in the Purgatorio. Dante is visiting the three worlds where the souls are fulfilling or reaping the results of their carthly lives: some are already suffering eternal punishment in Hell: others are actually in the process of making their anagogical exodus in Purgatory; others have already reached the Promised Land and are citizens ofthe heavenly Jerusalem. As Epistola XIII states: “The subject of the entire work according to the literal sense is the state of the souls after death”. We musi take the word “subject” here in a restricted sense; otherwise the statement is not quite true. The entire literal sense of the poem is not the state of the souls after death but the stoty of Dante's visit to them. In this sense, they are the “subjects”, to put it in simple terms, of his exploration and enquiry.
The extraordinary fact about Epistola XIII, which is often dismissed as spoiling the poem's beauties for the modern reader, is the great subtlety and vet simplified clarity with which it sees how the poem's polysemy can be analysed using scriptural techniques, whilst at the same time providing us with the necessary distinctions and with an open invitation to continue our investigations on similar lines. The author is not saying that this is a biblical work about events to be fulfilled in the future, but that it is a polysemous poem, written after the Redemption and with a literal sense which inextricably involves moral allegory (Dante “personaggio”) and anagogical realities, present now and related to eternity in the future (the three realms).
If we are to appreciate the Commedia on its own terms, therefore, we must first of all be ever conscious of its total narrative realism as a description of the way this life is fulfilled in the next, Dante, following Christ in the timing of his journey (the first allegorical fulfilment of the Exodus), passes as a livine man from sin to grace (and as a living man he is the only moral allegorical character in the poem) by visiting the world which this world prefigures and determines. In a sense this is not realism but super-realism, for not only are the souls real human individuals projected into an eternal setting, but in Dante's terms his world is the ultimate reality. The three realms of the afterlife, consiructed by God's justice, are in fact more real than this life, which is but a brief adumbration, a pilgrimage to death and the life beyond.
The chief difference between this interpretation of the poem and thatof others, who also use the concept of figuralism, is that the limitation of the moral allegory to the story of the living Dante has allowed the moral allegory to be reintegrated into the figural scheme, both christological and anagogical, and indeed to depend upon it. But it is also obvious that the poem does have moral reference to this life and it can be shown that this too depends first and foremost on the figural realism of the narrative. It involves regarding the poem as an exemplum in a wide but precise sense. Obviously, the Commedia contains exempla; the “whips” and “bridles” are details which certainly come into this category; the souls frequently have an exemplary function, as do some of the lessons and analogies, the prophecies and passages dealing with key concepts such as love and knowledge: Dante as a representative living man is an exemplum of the Christian's moral exodus. But the poem as a totality can also be considered as an exemplum and specifically as an exemplum of God's justice. Epistola XIII, after defining the subject of the literal sense as “the state of the souls alter death”, actually goes on to say: “If, however, the work is taken allegorically, its subject is man inasmuch as, by his merits or demerits according to his use of his free will, he is subject to the justice which gives rewards and punishments”. In other words, Dante's visit to the anagogical world is a visit to a world where God's justice already operates finally and infallibly. The word “allegorical” may have its wide sense here, but the context makes the meaning quite clear: the poem describes how God's justice punishes sin and rewards good after death, and thus it shows how man is subject to a punishing or rewarding justice according to whether he uses his free will for good or evil in this life in relation to his eternal destiny in the next. Dante, the only living man in the poem, is to return from the eternal world in which he has seen the state ofthe souls after death and how their earthly lives-are being fulfilled according to the infallible justice of God. His journey is not just his own moral journey, it isa journey of discovery too: the souls he meets in the afterlife show the eternal requirements and decrees of absolute Justice. The poem which he writes after his return from this journey is designed to teach men who are still living their earthly lives the horrifying personal and social results of evil, the path of purification by which souls travel to God, and the eternal rewards of good. As Epistola XIII says later on, putting things briefly and simply: “The purpose of the whole and of the part is to remove men living in this life from a state of misery and lead them to a state of happiness"; the poem has an ethical and practical aspect. It is intended to bear fruit for the reader to pick. "Se Dio ti lasci, lettor, prender frutto / di tua lezione” (Inf. XX.19-20). The Inferno is of course, a horrible warning: in the Purgatorio Dante constantly stresses the theme of turning away from the earth and aspiring towards Heaven: the Paradiso promises those who follow the poem's message experience of the inexpressible rewards of good. By describing this journey to the next life, Dante wants to persuade living men to turn from evil to good in this life, to reform themselves and all human society through the general affirmation of the will towards good, through the cultivation of true morali values and of private and, more especially, public standards of conduct in commercial and civil life, through the re-establishment of a just empire co-existing with a reformed Church and papacy, a Church and papacy shorn of temporal ambitions, a purely spiritual institution which has returned to the principles of its founder. In the year 1300 and as he wrote the poem in later years, Dante looked to and yearned for the imminent advent of God's punishment and reform of the world, to the dawning of a new age in a new century. The poem both expresses and embodies this vision and desire. As Cacciaguida tells Dante; it will disturb the conscience of the guilty; it will be a bitter but nourishing food for man; and it is addressed above all to the leaders of society (Par. XVII.124-42). So the poem, in its parts and in its entirety, is an exemplum and call for personal and universal reform, expressed in terms of the journey of a representative living man from sin to grace, from the terrible city of Dis through the “true city” of Purgatory to the heavenly Jerusalem which is also that Rome where Christisthe Roman" (Purg. XIII.94-5; XXXII.100-2).
So Epistola XIII, especially the analysis of the Exodus, helps us to define the poem quite clearly in its Christian basis, in its moral allegorical function, in its figural realism concerning the afterlife, and in its purpose as an exemplum and call for reform. All these aspects apply in a unique way to the Purgatorio, indeed in a way which it is impossible to trace directly and without adaptation inthe other two cantiche. After all, the Inferno and the Paradiso do not actually refer to the Exodus, for the souls there are not going anywhere. They may be seen as representing the two terms, slavery and freedom, but not the actual journey or exodus between them. In the Purgatorio, however, the three allegorical senses of the Exodus are all present in the ways in which we have defined them.
The christological sense is present in that the Redemption is the precondition for access to Purgatory by Dante and by the souls. The rhyme-words at the end of Purgatorio I, in referring back to Inferno XXVI, show that Ulysses as a pagan could not visit it and return, though Dante as a Christian can; Virgil too was buried before Purgatory was made available to mankind (Purg. VII.4-6). But Christ's death and resurrection, which led mankind from slavery to freedom in the first fulfilment of the Exodus, opened up the era of baptism (itself a descent into waters and an exodus from original sin) and of Christian faith denied to Virgil. Through the priceless merits of Christ's infinite act of expiation, his followers in the new dispensation were given the possibility of paying their debts to God and expiating their personal sins first in life in the Church Militant, and then after death in Purgatory. For the payment of the debt which sull remains after death, Purgatory was opened to mankind; the souls of the redeemed and saved arrive under the sign of the Redemption, the cross, and then ascend through Purgatory to the garden of original innocence, the Earthly Paradise, and then to the heavenly Paradise. To emphasize this parallelism between the redemption of all men and Purgatory as the realm where the individual finally redeems his soul by paying off his debt to God, Dante reminds us that Purgatory is diametrically opposite Jerusalem (Purg. II.1-3): as the antipodean Mount Sion, itis the way to the true heavenly Jerusalem, and the tree of the Fall in the Earthly Paradise is opposite the site of the tree of Calvary, the cross, which it prefigured and made necessary and which the cross then fulfilled and made fruitful again, a process which Dante, in his journey back from the world redeemed bv the cross, to the garden lost by the tree, will see represented in the Earthly Paradise (Purg. XXXII.37-60). So the first allegorical, the figural, sense ofthe Exodus is presupposed and underliesthe whole cantica in its universal application. It also underlies the figural moral function of Dante himself in the poem, for he descends into Hell during Passiontide and then, like Christ at the resurrection, emerges on the third day.
Dante the living man visits Purgatory in order to find out how the Christian, following Christ, can make his exodus from sin to grace anagogically after death and, therefore, morally in this life. In describing it he instructs his reader also inthis path. The horrors of Hell have persuaded him to turn away from sin: Antepurgatory demonstrates the necessity of dying contrite and warns against the dangers of excommunication, negligence, relying on last-minute repentance, not living a life of penance here and now; then the seven cornices show him the positive process of expiation, which consists in doing penance, accepting suffering contentedly, praying, meditating upon examples of how sin is punished and virtue rewarded. This is the process which Dante explores and the lesson which he learns, for his own and his reader's moral purification, and it is a process which, if started in this life, will be completed and fulfilled in the next on the final journey to God.
All these aspects depend upon the essential fact about Purgatory, that it is first and foremost the realm of the anagogical sense of the Exodus. The literal sense of the cantica is the visit of a living man, making his moral exodus, tothe world where souls make their anagogical exodus after death; from slavery in the Egypt of this corrupt world to the liberty of eternal glory in the heavenly Jerusalem. There has long been a tendency to see in the penances and the ritual and liturgical elements in the Purgatorio a purely moral allegory, a representation of this life within a poetic fiction concerning the next. Epistola XIII proves that Purgatory is just as much part of the anagogical world ofthe afterlife as the other two realms. The souls Dante meets, the landscapes and settings, the penances and rituals are all part of the afterlife, the fulfilment of this life in the next, although in the case of Purgatory this fulfilment is not yet definitive and eternal but a way of being fulfilled by purification and preparation for ascenttothe stars. Dante visits this world and makes his journey through it as a living man to prefigure his own exodus after death and as an exemplum to his readers to make their moral exodus now and their own anagogical exodus too here after. The process of purification belongs to the afterlife, the world where good and evil are subject to divine justice, but its messages are to be read back to men still living their earthly lives. Moreover, the examples and messages of the Purgarorio are related back to this life in a way which is excluded in the other two cantiche. This is because the path of purification is a single, continuous road to be started in this life and completed in the next. Purgatory, in showing how what was left at death to be achieved is in fact achieved after death, is the real continuation of the process in the afterlife and the model for its commencement in this. Purgatory completes the process of remission after death: penances performed in this life will reduce the debt to be paid in the next (Purg. XI.72). So the typological concepts of prefiguration and fulfilment, the figural realism of the poem, which I am more and more tempted to call “fulfilled realism”, and the resultant pattern of the exemplum are not only present in the Purgatorio but fundamental to it.
The Purgatorio describes the only way to God through a life of penance with hope, the study of virtue and avoiding of vice, prayerand adherence to a truly spiritual community; in this way alone is human love purified and redirected and man reacquires full freedom of the will which is the automatic choice of God, Supreme Good, This is the only path to God in life and therefore after death, or better, vice versa, for the divine process decreed for the souls after death is the true reality, of which this life is but a brief prelude and preparation. The frequent references to Dante's breathing, his shadow and the weight of his body emphasize not only the uniqueness of his divinely-willed journey but also the fundamental distinction and connections, in the literal sense of the cantica, between the moral exodus of the living man and the anagogical exodus of the saved souls. The innumerable requests from the souls for prayers by the living, by relatives or by Dante himself, underline the same truth: that Dante is to return as a messenger to this life, with particular as well as his more general messages. There is an element of the exemplum here too, in the imposition of a general duty to pray for the dead (II Maccabees 12:46; Purg. XI.31-6; Par. XV.91-6). The constant use ofthe device ofthe appeal for prayers would be totally illogical if the Purgatorio were merely a moral allegory, for they can only ever apply to the dead. It therefore confirms our explanation of the true relationship between the moral, anagogical and exemplary aspects of the Purgatorio. Moreover, since the suffragia mortuorum were considered to be the chief link between the Church Militant and the Church Suffering, they are not only more useful ina real sense than the promises of fame made to the souls in Hell, but they also reveal the important redemptive link and, ideally, community of interests between the pilgrim Church on earth and the pilgrim Church of Purgatory. All these elements in Purgatory are combined with the certain hope of eternal reward. Thus it is that Dante's Purgatory, though the passages which contrast it with this life are gloomy, is a world permeated with optimism, for the souls making their exodus there represent saved humanity travelling, despite all their failings, on the sure path of God.
All these levels of allegory and multiple meaning are present at the very beginning of the cantica and the theme of the Exodus in particular, as we have interpreted it, is the canvas on which Dante has woven the rich and varied tapestry of Purgatorio I and II. Let us examine their five chief elements: the time of day together with the day itself: the figure of Cato; the ritual of cleansing and the reed; the arrival of the boat: and the episode of Casella.
The Purgatorio opens with an exordium in which Dante raises the sails of the boat of his mind to embark on his vovage across the calmer waters of a new stage in his journey-poem. The cruel sea of Hell is behind him and his dead poetry must also rise again with the help of Muses so that he may sing of this new realm of renewal and ascent. The sky, the colour of an eastern sapphire, and the pure atmosphere bring joy back to his eves after the terrible sights of Hell. In the constellation Pisces, the morning-star, Venus, which strengthens the power of love in man, makes the whole east smile. Turning to the south Dante sees the four stars from the sight of which fallen and degenerate man has been banished. It is just before dawn. As Cato speaks, the sun, which they must follow, begins to rise and Dante sees “il tremolar de la marina”. By the beginning of Purgatorio II the sun had reached the horizon of this place, which stands at the antipodes of Jerusalem, when Dante sees another light which swiftly approaches, the shining angel who brings to the shores of Purgatory a boat with more than a hundred souls travelling to salvation.
In Inferno I, in the early morning and at the season when God created the sun and the other stars, Dante had tried to climb a sunlit hill but had been impeded by the three beasts. On the 1266th anniversary of Christ's crucifixion he too had had to descend into Hell. Now like Christ he and his poetry rise again from a cruel sea. He starts this new stage of his journey at dawn onthe day of the Passover and the resurrection. Of all the nights in the year, this night has the fullest figural and moral importance for mankind, as is shown by the Exsultet, the hymn sung at the blessing of the paschal candle during the Easter vigil:
This is the night on which first you led our fathers the children of Israel out of Egypt and made them cross the Red Sea dryshod. This, therefore, is the night which purged the darkness of sins with the light of the column (of fire). This is the night which today throughout the whole world serves those who believe in Christ from the vices of the world and the darkness of sin, returns them to grace and makes them participants in sanctity. This is the night in which, having destroved the chains of death, Christ ascended victorious from hell... O truly blessed night, which alone was worthy to see the time and the hour when Christ rose from the depths! This is the night of which it was written: And the night shall be illuminated as the day; and the night is my illumination in my delights. Therefore, the holiness of this night puts evil acts to flight, washes away guilt, and restores imnocence to the fallen and joy to the sad... O truly blessed night, which despoiled the Egyptians and enriched the Hebrews! The night in which heavenly things are Joined to earthly and divine things to human. We pray to you, therefore, Lord, that this candle, consecrated to the honour of your name, may continue unfailingly to destroy the darkness of this night. May it be accepted with sweet fragrance, and may it mix with the heavenly lights on high. May the morning-star behold its flames — that morning-star, I mean, which knows no setting: he who, retuming from the depths, cast his serene light upon the human race.
The Israelites held their paschal sacrifice and then were led by Moses through the Red Sea to freedom. For Christians Christ is both the paschal lamb, sacrificed for the whole human race, and the fulfilment of the figure of Moses, leading the human race from slavery to freedom through his resurrection. Christians too must first descend into the baptismal waters and rise again to grace; thereafter, they must follow Christ through the desert of this life to the Promised Land and so tothe eternal fulfilment of the Redemption of the Last Day. The anniversary of the Jewish Exodus and of Christ's resurrection in the year of the new century isthe day when Dante too, andideally the whole of mankind, rises from the depths of sin to begin the exodus towards grace and the light of eternal glory.
These various levels of figural reference, desceribing daybreak on a day which will in fact close with the souls singing hymns from compline, may also be illustrated by an interesting passage from Honorius of Autun, on the special meaning of morning and of the morning lauds sung to God, “for the word matutina comes from mames, as praise given to God forlight”. According to Honorius, there are four reasons fot singing these morning praises:
1. We sing this hour because we believe the world was created at this hour; at this hour the morning stars shone with their beauty and with sweet harmony praised God who made them, that is, the angels were created atthis hour, the angelswho are also called sons of God and who with great voice and in sweet unison at once sang to the creator a song of exultation for the creation ofthe world. By singing at this hour, we imitate them, we who are called evening stars, in that if with our praises we follow Christ as the sun who sets for us, we may at the rising of the sun, that is, at the resurrection, be led through him to the morning stars.
2. In this hour God led his people through the Red Sea and drowned their enemies, as itis written: ‘it happened that in the morning vigil God looked from the cloud and killed the Egyptians” (Exodus 14). This is the hour in which the former were baptized in the sea and the cloud, and the latter were hurled into the waves.
3. In this hour Christ rose victorious from death, brought day back to us from the underworld, led the people he had redeemed with his blood out of the kingdom of the tyrant and submerged their enemies in the abyss.
4. In this hour at the end of the world the just will wake up from the sleep of death, when they will travel from the night of this world to the light of eternal brightness. Thus, the time of the night which precedes the nocturn stands for the time of death which preceded the law. The nocturn itself expresses the time when the people worshipped God according to the law. But the morning hour, when the light approaches, symbolizes the time from the resurrection of Christ to the end of the world, when the Church sings her hymn to her beloved. For the psalms which are sung here intend to express both the time of the law, which was a shade and prefiguration, and the time of grace, which like light then came to the world and shone.
At the hour and on the day when the figures of the Exodus and the law of Moses were fulfilled and superseded by the resurrection of Christ, with the promise of the final fulfilment of the whole divine plan at the end of time, Dante rises from the pit, the kingdom of the tyrant Satan, to visit the world of the anagogical exodus and to begin his own moral journey to acquire that freedom won for mankind by Christ. In the poem which describes that journey, his dead poetry must also rise again as Dante the character and Dante the poet rejoice in the pure sky, the sight of the planet of love and in the four stars of the virtues.
But in Purgatorio I the sun has not yet risen. It is in the mysterious and tenuous pre-dawn light and in an atmosphere of expectation of the rising of the sun that Dante sees the venerable bearded man whose face is illuminated by the four stars. This is, astonishingly, the soul of Cato, a pagan, who lived in the light of classical civilization, illuminated by the four cardinal virtues alone, like sunlight but destined to give way to the full daylight of Christ and the shining of three new stars, the theological virtues, in the firmament at night (Purg. VIII.88-93). There is no need to repeat here all the theories concerning the problem of Cato’s salvation or his function as a symbol of God, a figure of Christ's self-sacrifice for all mankind and a prefiguration of Christian liberty. Suffice it to note that his duty is to guard Purgatory which is now being invaded from Hell, either by souls with special guidance or, contrary to all the laws of Hell, by escapees from Satan's eternal prison; he then instruets Virgil and Dante on the first rituals of purification and tells them to follow the guidance of the rising sun; at the end of Purgatorio II he reappears to rebuke the souls who, enraptured by Casella’s song, are neglecting to continue their journey up the mountain.
As has often been noted, Cato is described in the Aeneid asa lawgiver in the underworld, whilst Dante's presentation of Cato also reminds one of medieval representations of a biblical patriarch. Indeed Dante's Cato was delivered from Limbo with Moses and the other patriarchs and his duties here are to preventinvasion and to act as the first guide and spur to Dante's moral exodus and the souls’ anagogical exodus. As the lawgiver of this exodus, he is the pagan counterpart to Moses and his face shines like the face of Moses when he received the law on the mountain; or like the face of Christ when he was transfigured between Moses and Elijah on the mountain “and his face shone like the sun”. Moses, who led the Exodus and stopped the Egyptians following, who founded the Old Law and puided the ungrateful, fickle and backsliding Jewish people through the desert (Par. XXXII.131-2), was the principal figure of Christ to come; he is of course already in Paradise, seated next to Adam in the half of the Rose occupied by the Jews who believed in Christ to come. Here in Purgatory by a master-stroke Dante presents us with another lawgiver and guide to an exodus and his choice is taken from that other great tradition which preceded and helped to prepare for the coming of Christianity, the civilization of ancient Rome.
The startling choice of Cato is of course connected with fundamental themes and allusions in the Commedia, with Dante’s whole approach to the ethical system and other achievements of pre-Christian antiquity, with his presentation of Virgil, with the episode of Limbo and the general problem of all those who lived according to the four virtues but did not know the three, with his conception of the foundation of the Roman Empire, and so on. The fact that Cato opposed Caesar and the Empire, two traitors to which Dante has just seen in Hell, reflects Dante's source, Lucan, who contrasts the rather unpleasant Caesar and the wholly noble Cato; Caesar is still in Limbo from where Cato has been delivered: so for Dante, Cato stood for higher ideals even than the Empire, ideals which anticipated and remained valid even after the advent of Christianity. So in looking for a counterpart to Moses Dante turned to the noble Roman patriot who also led his men through the desert (Inf. XIV.13-15); andinasenseone could argue that he chose Cato not in spite of the fact that he was a suicide but precisely because he was a suicide who for high ideals of pure patriotism and his own political and moral integrity made the supreme sacrifice on behalf of freedom. For the theme of freedom is the essential aspect of Dante's Cato. Dante is seeking a freedom, political as well as moral and spiritual, prefigured in the actions of Moses and Cato. So important is this freedom that even its pagan prefiguration, Cato's suicide, has earned for the noble Roman, exceptionally, eternal salvation and the reacquisition of his body. It was Christ, prefigured by Moses and Cato, who made available that supreme freedom which Dante now seeks, the restoration of the freedom of the will which, as we shall learn, is the essence of the process of purification. The reappearance of Cato at the end of Purgatorio II not only recalls Moses’s many rebukes to the backsliding Hebrews but also stresses the great urgency with which Dante morally, and the souls anagogically, should abandon earthly pleasures and travel upwards to God.
The three specific instructions which Cato gives are that Virgil should cleanse Dante's face and gird him with a reed and that they should then follow the guidance of the sun. Here Dante is using a more allusive symbolism than strict allegory; heenriches the figural polysemy of the poem with details which begin the definition of the journey and the freedom which is its soal, as well as establishing that pattern of objective symbols and rituals which is so important a feature of his description of the realm of Purgatory. Here they apply to the person of Dante alone, in his moral exodus, but they have wider implications in the definition of the journey and its function as exemplum. The cleansing of Dante's face may be seen to referto baptism, itself a descent and an exodus, but this would be necessarily very indirect. Dante does not need baptizing; nor can any unbaptized soul enter Purgatory except for Cato and here, exceptionally and temporarily, Virgil: nor is baptism a washing of the face. The ritual here is intimately connected with the narrative of the journey: it isa washing away of the colour of Hell, its darkness and the tears of grief which Dante has shed; it is also a ritual which clears his sight and makes him worthy to go before the angel (Purg. I.97-9); the dew which cleanses and refreshes may well be associated with hope. Purgatory is thus going to be a Journey away from Hell and its effects, a journey of cleansing of being made worthy of hope. It anticipates the final cleansing of Dante in the Earthly Paradise. Similarly the reed, usually interpreted as a symbol of humility or sincerity, is described as the only plant on the shore which can bear leaves and survive because it is pliant. Purgatory isto be a place of moulding ofthe will; and the girding of Dante is a replacing of the girdle he left behind in Hell, The reed when plucked renews itself and so the whole ritual involves also the theme of renewal in Purgatory and looks forward to the moment when Dante will return from other waters “renewed like new plants with new leaves, pure and prepared to ascend to the stars” (Purg. XXXIII.142-5). As for the guidance of the rising sun, the meaning of this is clear, both in relation to Inferno i and as regards the theme of resurrection, light and grace in the rest of the cantica and beyond. In fact Dante and the souls will linger over Casella’s music and Dante and Virgil will also need help fromthe souls in their ascent up the mountain. Clearly, these elements can be considered as associated with moral allegory, but once the fundamentally realistic principles of Dante's poem are grasped, as has been our task so far, then only do we see in the range and the accumulation of such elements the true originality of Dante's technique, which is never dry, pedantic allegory but always rich, subtle and surprising.
The dramatic description of the arrival of the angel’s boat adds further dimensions to the themes of redemption and salvation and introduces the first of those beings from Paradise who are to form a vital element in the process of purification and the ascent to the heavenly light which shines in their faces. The souls arrive singing In exitu Israel de Aegypto (Psalms 113) in its entirety: that is, with its themes of liberation, praise of God, the emptiness of earthly idols, and hope, up to its concluding verses: “The dead, O Lord, will not praise vou, nor will all those who descend into hell. But we who live bless the Lord, from henceforward and for ever.” The dead in Hell are truly dead; these souls, now freed from the slavery of earthly life, are in fact travelling to a new and more real life. It will be clear from all that has been said that the primary reference here is not to the moral exodus of Dante, nor to some sort of moralizing allegorv of this life, but to the real anagogical exodus of the saved souls tolibertv after death. All that follows describes this path and the lessons to be learnt from it by men still living their earthly lives on this side of the globe, where darkness is at this very moment spreading (Purg. II.4-6).
We soon learn that the souls of the saved gather at the mouth of the Tiber; and this adds to the theme of exodus the theme of Rome to which we shall return. For the time being, it should be noted that the message is that salvation is through the earthly Church, however imperfect it is and however corrupt its leaders. This small community of more than a hundred psalmsinging souls travelling from Rome to Purgatory is an example of the link between the earthly Church, the gateway to salvation, the Church Suffering, which is the path of salvation and the model for the reform of the Church on earth, and the final fulfilment of the Redemption in the Church Triumphant in Paradise.
Our use of the psalm, In exvitu, as a basic model for interpreting the whole scheme of the Purgatorio is confirmed by another, less direct and less frequently noticed reference to the same psalm much later on in the cantica. While Dante is on the cornice of the avaricious, there is a tremendous earthquake and the mountain shakes (Purg. XX.124-32). The souls sing Gloria in excelsis Deo and Dante and Virgil are as astonished as the shepherds who first heard those words on the night Christ was born. Then, just as after his resurrection Christ appeared unrecognized to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, a soul comes up aloneside them. He explains to them that when a soul’s penance is complete, his will to reach God is infused with the power to carry on with the journey; when the soul senses this freedom, he is released from that cornice to move up the mountain: the mountain shakes and the other souls sing the Gloria. This soul is Statius, rising from among the avaricious and prodigals and in fact not destined to spend any length of time on the last two cornices. He is about to complete definitively his anagogical exodus: ‘When Israel went out of Egypt ...the mountains skipped like rams and the hills like the lambs of the flock" (Psalms 113:1,4). Moreover the Gloria, first sung at Christ's birth, recalls the first stage in the history of the Redemption, whilst the elevated and rather daring simile comparing Statius to the risen Christ refers to the final stage in Christ's own exodus, rising from the grave and leading all mankind to freedom. The expiatory penances of Purgatory were made available to man and are modelled on Christ's infinite act of expiation and satisfaction: his death on the cross (Purg. XXIII,73-5). To rise from those penances is to fulfil his resurrection, So Statius, risen and released, is not a figure of Christ but is fulfilling in himself the final stage of Christ's exodus, which is hisown anasogical exodus, the resurrection to eternal freedom and glory with Christ in Heaven.
The episode of Casella introduces additional themes of friendship, music, Dante's earlier love of Lady Philosophy and the way in which the path to God through Purgatory requires that all these things be superseded. But it also brings in another theme which underlies the general structure of Purgatory as Dante's moral exodus and the souls’ anagogical exodus to salvation. The poem is set not only in the season of the year when Christ redeemed man, but inthe yearofthe great Pardon or, as it came to be called, the Jubilee. The Jubilee, a spontaneous popular movement which arose in Rome on New Year's Day in 1300 because of the belief that special indulgences were available in the centenary were to those who visited the basilicas of the Apostles, was sanctioned by the Pope's proclamation of it on 22 February. This decree granted a plenary indulsence to all those who made a pilerimage to Rome and the Apostles’ shrines in that year, and it back-dates the opening of the year of Pardon to Christmas Day 1299, An indulgence was the commutation by pravyers, almsgiving, pilgrimages, and so on, of temporal punishment due to sin after it had been forgiven. Purgatory is the realm where the temporal punishment not paid off in life must be finally remitted after death. In other words, it is the piace where, by a sevenfold process,the soul completes the earthly process of remission and finally receives full pardon or plenary indulgence after death.
The term “Jubilee”, which soon came to be used for the special centenary pardon of 1300, refers to the Jewish Jubilee year, every fiftieth year, when debts were remitted, slaves freed and men were returned to their possessions and their true homes. In these respects the journey through Purgatory is also a Jubilee pilgrimage, for through it the debt of temporal punishment is remitted, liberty is acquired and men return to their lost possessions and their true home, Paradise. Moreover, while later Jubilees were decreed at fifty-year and then twenty-five- year intervals, the first was specifically a centenary occasion when men such as Dante must have been filled with millenarian hopes for reform and the coming of a new age in the new century. So the Purgatorio, as an exemplum of the centenary Jubilee, offers not only the model for the reform of the individual but also for the reform of human society as a whole, culminating in Beatrice's prophecy ofthe coming of a deliverer, the DXV, who will punish the harlot and the giant, the corrupt leadership of the Church in its adulterous exile in Avignon. Dante's poem, from the dark wood and the sunlit hill of Inferno I, is permeated with such hopes for universal reform, and Purgatory, the mountain which he begins to climb at daybreak on the day of the resurrection in the centenary vear, is the description of the way to achieve this ideal of universal pardon and full liberty in a true Church and true city being purified in love.
Casella alludes to this theme when he tells Dante that the special indulgence of 1300 has helped souls to speedier access to Purgatory for the last three months. This is not only an of Boniface VIII’s retroactive decree, making it valid from the previous Christmas, but also, more importantiy, a direct association of the doctrine of remission in Purgatory and the ideal of universal pardon. The exodus of Dante and the souls through Purgatory, setinthe context of the year 1300, is thus a journey, both personal and universal, for plenary indulgence (the Pardon), forthe remissionofdebts (the Jubilee) and for moral reform as a pattern for the regeneration of man and of society (the Centenary). So the theme of exodus and the theme of a Jubilee pilgrimage for plenary indulgence come together. Dante's exodus as a living man and the souls’ anagogical exodus mean that thev are all pilgrims through Purgatory (Purg. II.63) and references to this pilgrimage will occur at two important points later on in the journey: on the evening of the first day and at daybreak on the last (Purg. VIII.1- 6; XXVII. 109-11), Paradoxically in this second case, the pilgrim who is nearing the goal of his journey is returning home, for he is about to enter the Earthly Paradise, man's original home on earth, from which he will ascend to his final goal, the heavenly Paradise.
In order to escape from the dark wood, Dante has had to make the journey by another way, through the pit of Hell; when he rises up to the shore of Purgatory, he has found the right path again (Purg. I.119) and is on his way to the goal of his pilgrimage. Purgatory, which leads inevitably to Paradise, is a true, supranational city, which pilgrim Italy, on the other side of the world, has not yet reached (Purg. XIII.94-6). But what is the name of this city? The fundamental theme of the Exodus indicates that Dante is travelling to the heavenly Jerusalem, that he is a palmer through the afterlife. Indeed Beatrice will later describe his journey as an exodus of a living man from Egypt to Jerusalem and its purpose is for him to see (Par. XXV.55-7), Dante's retum journey from this pilgrimage is his coming back to earth to tell us all about it in his reforming poem. He too, like medieval pilgrims to the Holy Land, will return bearing proof of his visit, a palm-branch circling his staff, and thus proof will be the knowledge he has acquired in the afterlife and particularly the foreknowledge of God's vengeance and reform of the world (Purg. XXXIII.73-8). What he has seen and leamt he must write down “in pro del mondo che mal vive”, as an exemplum, warning and call for reform “a' vivi/del viver ch'è un correr a la morte” (Purg. XXXII.103; XXXIII.53-4). Mortal life, which is but a race towards death and the afterlife, must be reformed; the readers of the poem must be led from the corruption of this Egypt to a new Jerusalem on earth, which is a figure of the heavenly Jerusalem. The message is urgent, and even eschatological; for the palm Dante acquires on his pilgrimage is in fact the promise of God's imminent victory over the corruption of this life.
There is, however, another strand woven in with the theme of exodus and pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Casella, in the Jubilee year, has travelled first to Rome and then to Purgatory, and all the souls who congregate at the mouth of the Tiber are travellers from the corrupt Church in the earthly Rome to its authentic fulfilment in the afterlife, in the Church Suffering and then the Church Triumphant. In the Middle Ages, a pilgrimage to Rome, which contained many of the most important relics from the Holy Land, could be seen as similar to a pilgrimage to Jerusalem; indeed in 1300, due to Boniface's neglect (Inf. XXVII.85-7; Par. IX.124 ff; XV. 143-4), Rome would probably have had to replace Jerusalem as the goal of pilgrims, as it did anyway because of the Jubilee.
Dante’s journey up the sevenfold mountain of full pardon, a true city and a true penitential and spiritual Church, is thus also acentenary Jubilee pilgrimage tothe heaveniy Rome, perhaps a replacement for a pilgrimage he really made to corrupt carthly Rome. In the Earthly Paradise Beatrice tells Dante that he is soon to ascend to that true Rome “where Christ is the Roman” (Purg. XXXII.102) and when Dante reaches this goal, the Rose of the blessed in Paradise, he describes it in terms of a pilgrimage from the human to the divine, from time to eternity, from Florence to a true nation restored to justice and free from all contamination: like a pilgrim coming from afar to Rome, he is struck with wonder and drinks in the sight of the goal of his pilgrimage, for he already looks forward to telling others about it on his retum (Par. XXXI. 31-48; 103-8).
Paradise contains both Jews and Christians; it is the final eschatological fulfilment of both Jerusalem and Rome. Purgatory is the pilgrim's road to this eternal city and the Dante who travels it is both a palmer and a romer. When, in a poem which presents a fiction as an absolutely true experience, he and his poetry rise from death and darkness on Resurrection Day, when he encounters Cato and is washed and girded with a reed, when he meets Casella and the other souls who arrive from Rome singing In exitu Israel de Aegypto, it is the start of an exodus to liberty and a pilgrimage for full pardon, cleansing, and renewal, for Dante morally, for the souls definitively, and, he hopes, also forthe attentive reader who sees how to apply the lessons of the afterlife to the reform and renewal of this life, which prefigures, determines, and is eventually fulfilled in the realities of Dante's world.