Autore: Johan Chydenius
Tratto da: The typological problem in Dante. A study in the history of medieval ideas
Editore: Helsingfors, Copenhagen
Pagine: 44-50; 86-91; 105-108; 137-148
In the works of Dante Alighieei, the medieval doctrine of the fourfold signification takes an important position. He observes that two of this works, the canzones of the Convivio, and the Divine Comedy, are to be interpreted according to the fourfold method. Both in the prose commentary of the Convivio, and in the letter to Can Grande, which forms a kind of introduction to the Divine Comedy, he gives an elaborate description of the fourfold method of interpretation. In the Convivio, Dante originally defined all the four scriptural senses, and illustrated their use by examples. The definition of the first, the literal sense, has, however, been omitted in the text preserved. In the critical edition, it has been reconstructed as follows:
L'uno si chiama litterale, [e questo e quello che non si stende pii oltre che la lettera de le parole fittizie, si come sono le favole deli poeti.
The second, the allegorical sense, is defined as that which conceals itself beneath the literal sense, being “a truth hidden beneath a beautiful lie”:
L'altro si chiama allegorico,] e questo e quello che si nasconde sotto 'l manta di queste favole, ed e una veritade ascosa sotto bella menzogna
This is exemplified by Ovid's story about Orpheus taming the wild beasts by means of his cittern, and making trees and stones move. According » Dante, this means that the wise man is able to tame and humble wild hearts with his voice, and to move at wil those who lack knowledge and refinement:
si come quando dice Ovidio che Orfeo facea con la cetera mansuete le fiere, e li arbori e le pietre a se muovere; che vuol dire che lo savio uomo con lo strumento de la sua voee fa[r]ia mansuescere e umiliare li crudeli cuori, e fa[r]ia muovere a la sua volontade coloro che non hanno vita di scienza e d'arte
Dante is conscious of the fact that he does not give the same import to the allegorical sense here as do the theologians. Instead of this, he intends to follow the use of the poets:
Veramente li teologi questo senso prendono altrimenti che li poeti; ma però che mia intenzione e qui lo modo de li poeti seguitare, prendo lo senso allegorico secondo che per Ji poeti e usato.
As the example shows, the allegory of the poets is nothing more than the old allegorical interpretation of myths employed by the Stoics. When it is applied to a text, the immediate sense of the text is presumed to be a mere fiction. On the other hand, the allegory of the theologians is the typical interpretation of Scripture, in which the immediate sense is truth in its own right. The distinction which Dante makes between the allegory of the theologians and the allegory of the poets is the same as made by St. Thomas between the fourfold signification of Scripture and the poetical use of fictions to express truth. Nevertheless, according to St. Thomas, the metaphorical sense of poetry belongs to the literal plane. Dante deviates from him in co-ordinating the immediate sense of the allegory of the poets with the literal sense of the allegory of the theologians, and the metaphorical sense of the former with the allegorical sense of the latter.
Following upon this, Dante also defines the two remaining senses of the fourfold pattern. The third, the moral sense, is defined as that which is especially intended for the reader, and is of use to him:
Lo terzo senso si chiama morale, e questo e quello che li lettori deono intentamente andare appostando per le scritture, ad utilitade di loro e di loro discenti
The example is the Gospel narrative of the Transfiguration, at which only three of the twelve apostles were present. The moral sense is that in the most secret matters we should have but few intimates:
si come appostare si puo ne lo Evangelio, quando Cristo salio lo monb per transfigurarsi, che de li dodici Apostoli meno seco Ji tre; in che moralmente si puo intendere che a le secretissime cose noi dovemo avere poca compagnia.
The fourth, the anagogical sense, refers to the things of the world of eternity:
Lo quarto senso si chiama anagogico, cioè sovrasenso; e questo e quando spiritualmente si spone una serittura, la quale ancora [sia vera] eziandio nel senso litterale, per le cose significate significa de le superne case de 'etternal gloria
As an instance, Dante mentions the words of Psalm 113 relating to the exodus of Israel and the liberation of Judaea. The anagogical sense of this refers to the departure of the soul from sin, and to its attainment of sanctity and freedom:
si come vedere si puo in quello canto de! Profeta che dice che, ne l'uscita de! popolo d'Israel d'Egitto, Giudea fatta santa e libera. Che avvegna essere vero secondo la lettera sia manifesto, non meno e vero quello che spiritualmente s'intende, cioè che ne l'uscita de l’anima dal peccato, essa sia fatta santa e libera in sua potestate.
As regards the last two senses, Dante fails to notice that they belong exclusively to the allegory of the theologians. In the allegory of the poets, there are only two senses, the immediate and the metaphorical. As a matter of fact, this may be inferred from the examples, which for the last two senses are taken from Scripture and not from a work of poetry.
When Dante at last proceeds to apply the pattern to the canzones, he intends to include the moral and the anagogical senses:
Io adunque, per queste ragioni, tuttavia sopra ciascuna canzone ragionero prima la litterale sentenza, e appresso di quella ragionerò la sua allegoria, cioe la nascosa veritade; e talvolta de li altri sensi tocchero incidentemente, come a luogo e a tempo si converrà.
Nevertheless it becomes evident that only the literal (that is to say, the immediate) and the allegorical (that is to say, the metaphorical) senses can be considered. Despite his intention to include the moral and the anagogical senses, Dante nowhere in his commentary succeeds in going beyond the first two senses.
In the Convivio, Dante makes an attempt o comtbine a merely allegorical method with the fourfold division, which belongs to the typical method. He has not yet accepted the fundamental distinction drawn by St. Thomas between pure allegory, which belongs to the poetical mode of expression, and the fourfold sense which can be given by Goel to the actualities of history.
Dante's attitude towards the fourfold method of interpretation is especially important in the interpretation of the Divine Comedy. In this respect, the fundamental testimony is the introductory letter which Dante sent to Can Grande della Scala, Prince of Verona, when dedicating to him the third cantica of the Comedy. To a certain extent, this letter forms an introduction to the Comedy as a whole.
In the letter, Dante declares that his poem has a polysemous or manifold signification:
Ad evidentiam itaque dicendorum sciendum est quod istius operis non est simplex sensus, ymo dici potest polisemos, hoc est plurium sensuum
Like Cassian and St. Thomas, Dante starts from two fundamental senses:
nam primus sensus est qui habetur per litteram, alius est qui habetur per significata per litteram.
The first sense is called the literal; the second sense can be divided into three: the allegorical, the moral, and the anagogical:
Et primus dicitur litteralis, secundus vero allegoricus sive moralis sive anagogicus.
Thus the traditional fourfold division follows.
As an illustration of the fourfold interpretation, Dante quotes the same text by which he had, in the Convivio, previously exemplified the anagogical sense, viz. he firtst two verses of Psalm 113:
Qui modus tractandi, ut melius pateat, potest considerari in hiis versibus: 'In exitu Israel de Egipto, domus Iacob de populo barbaro, facta est Iudca sanctificatio eius, Israel potestas eius'.
According to Dante, the literal sense of this is the departure of the children of Israel from Egypt in the time of Moses:
Nam si ad litteram solam inspiciamus, significatur nobis exitus filiorum Israel de Egipto, tempore Moysis
The allegorical sense is our redemption through Christ:
si ad allegoriam, nobis significatur nostra redemptio facta per Christum
The moral sense is the conversion of the soul from the state of sin to that of grace:
si ad moralem sensum, significatur nobis conversio anime de luctu et miseria peccati ad statum gratie
In conclusion, the anagogical sense is the departure of the blessed soul from the bondage of this life to the freedom of eternal existence:
si ad anagogicum, significatur exitus anime sancte ab huius corruptionis servitute ad eterne glorie libertatem.
For the three non-literal senses, Dante employs the common name of mystical or allegorical senses:
Et quanquam isti sensus mistici variis appellentur nominibus, generaliter omnes dici possunt allegorici, cum sint a litterali sive historiali diversi.
Thus in Dante the term “allegorical” has both a special meaning, which is the one founded on tradition, and a more general one, which is peculipar to him. St. Thomas also uses a common name relative to the three non-literal senses, calling them the spiritual sense. Dante's use in this sense of the term “allegorical” is probably a reminiscence of the confusion which prevails in the Convivio between allegory and typology.
In his exposition of the manifold signification of the Divine Comedy, Dante talks of the fourfold method which was used in the interpretation of Holy Scripture. Furthermore, the example that shows how the method is to be applicu is taken from Scripture. This signifies that, in the interpretation of the Divine Comedy, the same method is to be used as that which is used in the interpretation of Holy Scripture. This method is typical, not allegorical.
In the interpretation of the canzones of the Convivio, Dante used what he referred to as the allegory of the poets. In the Divine Comedy, he passed over to the allegory of the theologians, that is to say, typical interpretation. In this, Dante decisively diverges from the prevalent opin on that Scripture alone could contain typical signification. According to him, it could also be found in a profane work, even a work of poetry such as his own Comedy.
When the typical method is applied to a text, it implies that there is in the text a fundamental sense which is acknowledged to be literal truth. In the Middle Ages, literal truth was first and foremost found in the Sacred Scriptures, but it is also contained in all relations of historical events. As a principle, there is nothing to prevent a work of poetry from being subjected to a typical interpretation, provided that it depicts historically true events. But if the poem is a work of fiction, it can, according to the medieval outlook, be subjected to a merely allegorical interpretation only.
By the terms of the letter to Can Grande, the Divine Comedy is to be interpreted typically. This can be done only to the extent that the poem contains literal truth upon which the typical interpretation may be founded. In order to solve the problem of the typical signification of the Divine Comedy, it is thus necessary to be aware of the extent to which the poem may be considered as containing historical truth.
The Divine Comedy as a whole, is a description of the three realms of the world beyond: Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise. The existence of these three states after death is an absolute truth according to the Catholic faith. This is also the literal truth which is by Dante himself assigned as the basis for a typical interpretation of his poem:
Est ergo subiectum totius operis, litteraliter tantum accepti, status animarum post mortem simpliciter sumptus; nam de illo et circa ilium totius operis versatur processus.
But a complete fourfold interpretation cannot be built on a fact which pertains to the world beyond. The allegorical sense is excluded, because it requires that both type and antitype are here in this world. That the poem as a whole should have an anagogical sense is also excluded, because this means that the antitype is in heaven, and, as the third cantica of the poem is enacted in heaven, it cannot have any further reference to heavenly things. There remains the moral sense, which refers to the life of man here in this life. This is also the only non-literal sense (according to his own terminology, allegorical) that Dante himself assigns to his poem. Taken as a whole, the Divine Comedy shows how man becomes liable to reward or punishment, a liability he assumes by what he does here in this life:
Si vero accipiatur opus allegorice, subiectum est homo prout merendo et demerendo per arbitrii libertatem iustitie premiandi et puniendi obnoxius est.
But the Divine Comedy is not only a description of the three states of the life to come. It is also the relation of a journey through them made by Dante while he was still living. Taken as a whole, this journey is a literary fiction, which cannot as such have any typical signification.
If, on the other hand, the description of the world beyond and the relation of Dante's journey through it are considered in their details, they may be supposed to contain elements of literal trth on which a typical interpretation can be constructed. To find such passages it is first necessary to investigate some of the most important types in medieval tradition. Then the enquiry can be made whether they are also to be found in Dante.
When the last possession of the Christians in the Holy Land was lost, Dante was twenty-six years of age. He belonged to the age of the Crusades, even though it was to the very last phase. Even if the ideology which gave rise to the First Crusade had long since declined, the poraries of Dante, through the works of the Crusade chroniclers, have been well versed in it. Dante's attitude to the history of his imes is expressed in the Divine Comedy especially. There are thus found there the proofs of the influence exerted on him. by the ding ideology.
Canto 27 of the Inferno, Dante, through Guido of Montefeltro, is one of his attacks on his arch-enemy, Pope Boniface VIII:
Lo principe de nuovi Farisei,
avendo guerra presso a Laterano,
e non con Saracin nè con Giudei,
che ciascun suo nimico era Cristiano,
e nessun era stato a vincer Acri
ne mercatante in terra di Soldano
e import is that the Pope, instead of making war upon his personal enemies, should fight against the Saracens who had taken Acre, and se Christians who were trading with them in defiance of the prohibition the Church. A call to a new crusade for the recapture of Acre, Jerusalem, and the whole of Palestine is implicit in the passage.
In Canto 15 of the Paradiso, Cacciaguida, the ancestor of Dante, MANCA of his taking part in the crusade launched against the Saracens by he Emperor Conrad:
Dietro li andai incontro a la nequizia
di quella legge il cui popolo usurpa,
per colpa de' pastor, vostra giustizia.
Here Dante repeats that it is through the negligence of the popes that the Holy Land has been lost to the enemies of the faith.
In Canto 9 of the Paradiso, Full of Marseilles explains the presence in Paradise of Rahab the harlot:
Ben si convenne lei lasciar per palma
in alcun cielo de l' alta vittoria
che s' acquisto con l' una e l altra palma,
perch' ella favorò la prima gloria
di Iosuè in su la Terra Santa,
che poco tocca al papa la memoria.
She has been given this place because she assisted Joshua's conquest of the Holy Land by hiding his spies in Jericho. It is the selfsame Holy Land that the Pope has now forsaken.
According to the letter to Can Grande, the Divine Comedy has a fourfold signification which is similar to that of Psalm 113. The literal sense of this psalm is the departure, in the time of Moses, of the children of Israel from Egypt. Its anagogical sense is the departure of the blessed soul from this life to eternal glory. The story of Rahab belongs to the same historical connection as does the Exodus, which, as is known, resulted in the conquest of Palestine. As the literal sense is thus the same as that in the psalm, the consequence of a typical interpretation of the Rahab passage in Dante is that the non-literal senses are also identical. So the Pope has forgotten not only the Holy Land which is Palestine, but also the Holy Land of heaven, of which the former is a type.
That this passage in the Paradiso is to be interpreted typically is confirmed by the lines:
de I' alta vittoria
che s' acquisto con I' una e I' altra palma
The passage is deliberately worded so that it may apply to both the type, the victory won by Joshua with his hand outstretched, and to the antitype, the victory won by Christ with his hands outstretched on the cross. Joshua was one of the earliest types of Christ, as a result of both his historical function and of the identity of the names of Joshua and Jesus.
All this explains why the Joss of the Holy Land was so deeply felt by Dante. To him, as to the Crusade chroniclers, it had its value not only by the force of its historical significance, but also as a type of eternal bliss. The earthly Jerusalem should be pursued and possessed because this served to prefigure the aspiration to, and the possession of, the heavenly Jerusalem.
In 1311, when the Emperor Henry VII marched over the Alps in order to seize his Italian kingdom, he was greeted by the exiled Dante with a letter, in which the poet expresses his joy at the restoration of imperial power. He hopes that it will lead to the suppression of the government of Florence, and to the return of the exiles. He compares their present condition to that of the Jews in the Babylonian captivity:
Hinc diu super flumina confusionis deflevimus
The Emperor, on the other hand, is bailed as a David redivivus, who is to restore to Israel its heritage. Then the people may return from Babylon to the sacred city of Jerusalem:
Tunc hereditas nostra, quam sine intermissione deflemus ablatam, nobis erit in integrum restituta; ac quemadmodum, sacrosancte Jerusalem memores, exules in Babilone gemiscimus, ita tunc cives et respirantes in pace, confusionis miserias in gaudio recolemus.
The opposition between the peace of Jerusalem and the confusion of Babylon is the leading feature of Dante's letter to the Emperor. This opposition was already pointed out by St. Augustine. But the peace of Jerusalem is not to Dante, as it was to Augustine, the peace of heaven. It is a state of peace here on earth which will allow the exiles to return. The proper use of it will then make man worthy of the peace of heaven:
Inmensa Dei dilectione testante, relicta nobis est pacis hereditas, ut in sua mira dulcedine militie nostre dura mitescerent, et in usu cius patrie triumphantis gaudia mereremur.
Similarly, the Messiah who is expected to bring that peace on earth is not the Son of Goel but an earthly ruler. Like the Crusaders, Dante adopts anew the Old Testament expectations as to the restoration of the earthly Jerusalem.
However, the Jerusalem that Dante has in view is not the city taken in its usual literal sense. He does not exhort the Emperor Henry to launch a crusade to deliver Jerusalem in Judaea. Nor is Jerusalem simply another name for Florence, because there is no city that can possibly be meant by Babylon. Here, as in Psalm 127, Jerusalem is a symbol of earthly happiness. As is shown by the ritual of Confirmation, this signification was well-known to the Middle Ages. According to the medieval view, the interpretation of Jerusalem as the bliss of this life remains on the literal plane, because a typical interpretation always implies a reference to the redemption through Christ, which is not to be found here. Both the abstract conce:et of earthly bliss and its concrete symbol, Jerusalem, belong to the literal sense.
The return to the literal sense which was effected by Dante, just as little as that the of Crusaders, did not mean a relapse into Judaism. When hailing Henry VII as a new David, Dante did not intend to substitute him for Christ, but to proclaim him as a type of Christ, who might remind men of the Saviour, and lead them to him. In a similar way, the state of earthly bliss which was symbolized by Jerusalem was but a shadow of heavenly bliss.
Although the literal sense of the word Jerusalem achieved greater prominence with the Crusades, its use in the anagogical sense maintained its interest right through the Middle Ages. This has already been shown by the frequent use in the hymnal lyrics of the idea of the heavenly Jerusalem. In Dante, the anagogical use of the concept of Jerusalem is also found.
In Canto 25 of the Paradiso, Beatrice tells St. James that Dante has come from Egypt to see Jerusalem, meaning this world and the kingdom of heaven respectively:
però li è conceduto che d' Egitto
vegna in Ierusalemme per vedere
The traditional name of the earthly city opposed to Jerusalem was Babylon. It was introduced by St. Augustine and was used by Dante, in a somewhat divergent way, in the letter to the Emperor. Yet another opposition was to be found in Psalm 113, in which Egypt was by tradition interpreted anagogically as the misery of this life. In the story of the Exodus, however, the opposite of Egypt is not Jerusalem, but the Land of Promise as a whole. Dante mentions this opposition in both the Convivio and the letter to Can Grande. Now, in the Paradiso, he combines Egypt and Jerusalem, which strictly speaking belong to different contexts. This was made possible by the fact that Jerusalem and the Land of Promise were conceived as synonyms.
Dante also uses Jerusalem as a name for eternal life in heaven in a letter of condolence addressed to Counts Oberto and Guido of Romena, on the occasion of the death of their uncle:
et qui Romane aule palatinus erat in Tuscia, nunc regie sempiterne aulicus preelectus in superna Ierusalem cum beatorum principibus gloriatur.
In several passages of the Comedy, Dante uses the word città to designate the kingdom of heaven. On his first appearance, Virgil calls heaven “the city of the Emperor who reigns aloft”. In Canto 16 of the Purgatorio, Marco Lombardo uses the expression la vera città about heaven. When showing Dante the heavenly host, Beatrice calls the abode of the blessed nostra città. To a superficial observer, this would appear to be a simple metaphor that the poet has found suitable for his purpose. As a matter of fact, it rests upon the traditional interpretation of the word civitas as meaning heaven, already to be found in Pseudo-Hrabanus Maurus. Dante's use of the concept of Jerusalem in its anagogical sense contributes to the confirmation of the key-position held by the Jerusalem type in the typology of the Divine Comedy.
To every reader of the Divine Comedy, the central position of the earthly Paradise in the poem is obvious. It is the destination of the journey of Dante and Virgil through the realms of Hell and Purgatory. From the standpoint of this journey, the first two cantiche of the poem form a single entity. At the same time, the earthly Paradise is the startingpoint for Dante's ascension to Paradise in the company of Beatrice, which takes up the whole of the third cantica. In the earthly Paradise, I most of the threads which form the complicated structure of the poem converge. One may expect it to be the point where the typological problem in the Divine Comedy is to be attacked.
The “divine forest”, which Dante enters after having climbed Mount Purgatory, is explained by its lady guardian to be the place from whence man was driven out for the sake of his sin:
Lo sommo ben, che solo esso a se piace,
fece l’uom buono e a bene, e questo loco
diede per arra a lui d' etterna pace.
Per sua difalta qui dimoro poco;
per sua difalta in pianto ed in affanno
cambiò onesto riso e dolce gioco.
Beatrice characterizes it as the place appointed for the felicity of man:
non sapei tu che qui el' uom felice?
Adam, its first inhabitant, who is now in heaven, calls it l'eccelso giardino, “the exalted garde”. By Christian tradition it was called the earthly Paradise.
The concept of Paradise is defined more closely by Dante in a passage of De monarchia, in which he explains the double end of man:
Duos igitur fines Providentia ilia inenarrabilis homini proposuit intendendos: beatitudinem scilicet huius vite, que in operatione proprie virtutis consistit et per terrestrem paradisum figuratur; et beatitudinem vite eterne, que consistit in fruitione divini aspectus ad quam propria virtus ascendere non potest, nisi lumine divino adiuta, que per paradisum celestem intelligi datur.
The first end, the bliss of this life, is “figured” by the earthly Paradise. The last end, the bliss of eternal life, is to be understood by the heavenly Paradise. The heavenly Paradise cannot possibly be designated as a type of heavenly bliss, because it is already on the spiritual plane. By analogy, the earthly Paradise cannot be a type of earthly bliss, because both belong to the literal plane. So the word figuratur does not here indicate the function by which a type prefigures something higher. It implies a relation between two things on the same plane.
The relation of the earthly Paradise to the bliss of this life is that of a concrete symbol to the abstract idea which is symbolized by it. Examples of this could be found by Dante in the Old Testament, and in the Allegoriae of Pseudo-Hrabanus Maurus.
In laying down the two ends of man, Dante follows the doctrine of St. Thomas Aquinas. The ultimate end of man is supreme happiness, which can only be found in the vision of God in his essence:
Dicendum quod ultima et perfecta beatitudo non potest esse nisi in visione divinae essentiae.
But the aspiration of man need not always be for the ultimate end only. He may be intent upon another end, which then becomes the startingpoint for a new aspiration:
In motu autem potest accipi terminus dupliciter: uno modo, ipse terminus ultimus, in quo quiescitur, qui est terminus totius motus; alio modo, aliquod medium, quod est principium unius partis motus, et finis vel terminus alterius.
As a matter of fact, he may be intent upon two ends at the same time, one being an intermediate end directed towards the other, ultimate, end:
Est enim intentio non solum finis ultimi, ut dictum est, sed etiam finis medii. Simul autem intendit aliquis et finom proximum, et ultimum
According to Dante, the happiness of this life is such an intermediate encl, ordinated to the ultimate end, the happiness of eternal life:
cum mortalis ista felicitas quodam modo ad inmortalem felicitatem ordinetur.
In the universe of the Divine Comedy, the earthly Paradise on the top of Mount Purgatory is the intermediate end of Dante's journey through Hell and Purgatory. In the abstract, this means the pursuit of the happiness of this life.
In the cosmos of the Divine Comedy, the city of Jerusalem and the earthly Paradise have a quite special relation to each other. According to the geographical outlook of the Middle Ages, Jerusalem is in the centre of the land hemisphere of the earth. With a location peculiar to Dante, Mount Purgatory is situated in the centre of its water hemisphere. Thus Jerusalem and Mount Purgatory, on the top of which is the earthly Paradise, hold antipodal positions to each other:
Come ciò sia, se 'l vuoi poter pensare,
dentro raccolto, imagina Sion
con questo monte in su la terra stare
si ch' amendue hanno un solo orizzon
e diversi emisperi
To the imagination of the Middle Ages, the distance between Jerusalem and Paradise was even shorter than that. We have seen that a close affinity existed between them, so that the idea of one was associated in the mind with that of the other. Primarily, this was due to the fact that on the literal plane both were symbols of the same thing, earthly bliss. Moreover, and actually as a consequence of the first, both were types of the same antitype, heaven. Consequently, the two concepts may be regarded as interchangeable. As a symbol of earthly bliss, and as a type of heaven alike, Jerusalem could be substituted for Paradise, and vice versa.
In the universe of the Divine Comedy, Jerusalem in Judaea could be substituted for the earthly Paradise on the top of Mount Purgatory without destruction of the essential idea of the poem. Dante the wayfarer would then be a pilgrim to the Holy Land, and the destination of bis journey would be the earthly Jerusalem.
As a matter of fact, Dante was an adherent of the Jerusalem ideology. Assuredly he wished to come to the Holy Land. But in the circumstances, his wish could not be properly fulfilled by a mere pilgrimage to Jerusalem in Judaea. Such a journey would be void of earthly meaning so long as Jerusalem was in the bands of the enemies of Christ. The way to Jerusalem in Judaea was barred as a result of the greed of the Christian leaders who had relinquished the Holy Land. For a time, Dante thought that he would reach the earthly bliss of which Jerusalem was a symbol by taking possession of the “heritage of peace” which the Emperor would grant to him and to his companions in exile. But in this hope he was also frustrated. At last Dante the wayfarer reached the happiness of this life in the earthly Paradise on the other side of the earth. To Dante the poet, the fiction of this journey was his pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
In spite of the central position held by the earthly Paradise in Dante's great poem, Paradise properly so called is heaven. Il Paradiso is the name of the third cantica, which treats of the realm of the blessed. In the text of the Comedy, the word paradiso is used exclusively in the sense of the heavenly Paradise.
By medieval tradition, the heavenly Paradise was identified with the highest of heavens, the Empyrean, as is shown by Peter Comest or in his Historia scholastica:
Est etiam paradisus coelum empyreum, et dicitur spiritualis, quia regio est spirituum.
In Dante, also, Paradise most properly so called is the highest heaven. Certainly, it is a characteristic of Dante's Paradiso that the souls of the blessed appear to him in the different celestial spheres which he successively describes in the third cantica. Thus the concept of Paradise covers all the ten heavens. But actually all of the blessed are in the highest heaven, the Empyrean. They only appear in the different spheres in order to show the degree of their blessedness:
Qui si mostraro, non perche sortita
sia questa spera lor, ma per far segno
de la celestial c' ha men salita.
In Canto 23 of the Paradiso, Dante sees for the first time, as a reflection in Beatrice's eyes, a likeness of the host of the blessed which gathers around Christ. About this, the heavenly Paradise properly so called, Beatrice uses the word giardino. In Canto 31, St. Bernard exhorts Dante to contemplate the Rose of the Blessed in the heaven of heavens, calling it a garden. In the following canto, he uses the same word when explaining to Dante the composition of the sacred host from equal numbers of souls from the Old and the New Covenants.
When the heavenly Paradise is called a garden, it is no metaphor Dante adopts incidentally. It is a consequence of the doctrine according to which the garden of Eden was a type of the abode of the blessed. The fact that Dante calls both the earthly and the heavenly Paradise by the name of garden evidences his adherence to the traditional Paradise typology.
From Dante's adherence to the Paradise typology, it follows that the earthly Paradise in the Divine Comedy is a type of the heavenly Paradise. When Dante makes his journey through Hell and Purgatory, he does not seek to attain the earthly Paradise only, which is a symbol of the bliss of this life, but at the same time the heavenly Paradise also, where the bliss of eternal life is enjoyed. From the typical relationship between the two concepts, it follows that having the earthly place as an aim expresses the aspiration to the heavenly.
By means of his journey to the earthly Jerusalem, the pilgrim expressed his longing for the heavenly Jerusalem, which was his real destination. When the earthly city had once been attained, the pilgrim would, through God's mercy, be admitted to the heavenly city. In the same way, Dante's journey to the earthly Paradise is a prefiguration of the subsequent journey to the heavenly Paradise. When Dante, by his own efforts, has accomplished the earthly journey, as a consequence, without effort of his own, the ascension through the heavens follows. Only because he had first found his way to the earthly Paradise, could he then, by God's mercy, rise to the heavenly Paradise.
Dante's description of the earthly Paradise culminates in the appearance of Beatrice. The mystical procession stands still, straight in front of Dante, and that part of the procession which has marched ahead of the chariot turns towards it. One of the twenty-four elders shouts three times:
Veni, sponsa, de Libano
Following this, hundreds of angels appear above the chariot, scattering flowers around it. Behind a cloud of flowers a woman is seen, clothed in a white veil beneath an olive-wreath, a green mantle, and a red gown:
sovra candido vel cinta d' uliva
donna m' apparve, sotto verde manto
vestita di color di fiamma viva.
This is, as we then learn, Beatrice.
The words Veni, sponsa, de Libano are quoted from the fourth chapter of the Canticles, where the exhortation is similarly repeated three times:
Veni de Libano, sponsa mea,
veni de Libano, veni, coronaberis.
Since the twenty-four elders represent the books of the Old Testament, the one who shouts must be the representative of the Song of Songs. The context makes clear that the exhortation is addressed to Beatrice, who appears shortly afterwards. So it is Beatrice who is hailed as sponsa.
The wreath, and the veil which covers the face of Beatrice, are part of the traditional attire of a bride. The Bride of the Canticles is dressed in a veil, through which her eyes and cheeks shine to the Bridegroom:
Oculi tui columbarum, absque eo quod intrinsecus latet.
Sicut fragmen mali punici, ita genae tuae,
absque eo quod intrinsecus latet.
Sicut cortex mali punici, sic genae tuae, absque occultis.
Dante first sees Beatrice's eyes th.rough her veil, which at the request of her maids she then discards:
Per grazia fa noi grazia che disvele
a lui la bocca tua, si che discerna
la seconda bellezza che tu cele.
In the Canticles, the Bridegroom says to the Bride that she has .ravished his heart with one of her eyes:
Vulnerasti cor meum, soror mea sponsa;
vulnerasti cor meum in uno oculorum tuorum
Dante says that he was smitten through the eyesight by the power of Beatrice:
Tosto che ne la vista mi percosse
alta virtù che già m' avea trafitto
prima ch' io fuor di puerizia fosse
Love is celebrated in the Canticles as an unquenchable flame:
quia fortis est ut mors dilectio,
dura sicut infernus aemulatio,
lampacles eius lampades ignis atque flammarum.
Aquae multae non potuerunt exstinguere caritatem,
nec flumina obruent illam.
Dante, too, speaks of the power of his ancient love:
d' antico amor senti la gran potenza.
and calls it a flame of fire:
conosco i segni dell'antica fiamma.
Together with the direct quotation Veni, sponsa, de Libano, these allusions show that the appearance of Beatrice in the earthly Paradise indicates a revival of the pattern of the Song of Songs.
Beatrice's character as a bride is given additional confirmation in Canto 25 of the Paradiso. St. John, the Apostle of Love, is there compared to a virgin who at a wedding enters on the dance to do honour to the bride, while Beatrice is looking on “just like a bride”:
pur come sposa tacita ed immota.
The arguments overwhelmingly support the assumption that the Divine Comedy was written in honour of a real Beatrice who was the beloved of Dante. When the words Veni, sponsa are applied to her, it implies that Dante adopts a view accorcling to which the Song of Songs was originally a love-poem. For only if the Bride of the Canticles be taken as a real woman, may the words Veni, sponsa, de Libano be applied without profanation to another living woman by her lover. Together with the poet of the Invitatio amicae and Honorius Augustodunensis, Dante was one of the re-discoverers of the immediate sense of the Canticles.
In the beginning of his Vita Nuova, Dante gives an account of his first encounter with Beatrice. At the sight of the young girl of eight, his animal soul turns to the senses, saying: Apparuit iam beatitdo vestra. After that, Dante uses the word beatitudine in rapport with Beatrice no less than eleven times. When she greets him, he sees the whole extent of blessedness. In her greeting is hls blessedness. The sight of her is an unbearable blessedness. Later, when her greeting is denied him, all his blessedness consists in celebrating her in his songs. Yet all this is but a consequence of the fact that she is his blessedness, la mia beatitudine.
Beatrice is, in short, the sum of all imaginable happiness to Dante. When he sees her again, in Canto 30 of the Purgatorio, she appears in the shape of a bride. This means a return to the signification the Bride had for the Old Testament authors, and especially for the author of the Canticles. To Dante, as to them, the Bride is a symbol of supreme happiness.
By virtue of the definition given in the De monarchia, the earthly Paradise of the Comedy was found to be a concrete symbol of the abstract notion of the bliss of this life. The function of Beatrice in the poem is similar; so Beatrice and the earthly Paradise agree in both being symbols of the bliss of this life. In the structure of the Divine Comedy, this is made clear by the fact that Beatrice appears to Dante in the earthly Paradise. Both having the same function, Beatrice may, as a symbol of earthly bliss, be exchanged for the earthly Paradise, and vice versa.
To the Crusaders, the earthly Jerusalem was the foremost symbol of thly bliss. ear In his letter to the Emperor, Dante, in a way, adopted this view. But in the Comedy, the earthly Jerusalem was, in this respect, replaced by the earthly Paradise, so that the latter could now be called the Jerusalem of Dante. Since Beatrice and the earthly Paradise are interchangeable, one might as well call her his Jerusalem.
In the Old Testament, the three concepts of Jerusalem, Paradise, and the Bride had been used as symbols of earthly bliss. As a result of this fact, each of them had become the foundation of a typical superstructure. In medieval tradition, the literal sense had been, to begin with, more or less overshadowed by the spiritual sense. After the year 1000, the literal sense had gradually been restored. This was effected chiefly by the Crusaders as concerns the concept of Jerusalem. The concept of the Bride had its literal sense fully restored by Dante, who also adopted the concept of Paradise, which had never lost its immediate signification. Yet the return to the literal sense did not hinder him from taking full advantage of the spiritual signification of the three concepts in the composition of his great poem.
In the fourfold scheme, the Church is the second, allegorical, sense of the Bride. The word sponsa (sposa) is used by Dante in this sense in several passages, both in the minor works and in the Divine Comedy itself.
At times, this takes the form of direct quotations from the Canticles, the Bride being accepted in the allegorical sense of the fourfold scheme. The verse
Quae est ista, quae ascendit de deserto
deliciis adfluens, innixa super dilectum suum?
is quoted in the Convivio, the Church being referred to as the Bride of Christ:
la sua sposa e secretaria Santa Ecclesia - de la quale dice Salomone: “Chi e questa che scende del diserto, piena di quelle cose che dilettano, appoggiata sopra l'amico suo?”
In the Monarchia, the same verse is applied to the relationship of Christ and the Church:
Modo dico quad, sicut Ecclesie fundamento suo contrariari non licet, sed debet semper inniti super illud iuxta illud Canticorum “que est ista, que ascendit de deserto, delitiis affluens, innixa super clilectum suum?”
In this same treatise, words of the Canticles are quoted as being addressed by the Church to her Bridegroom, Christ:
hoc enim est quod elicit Ecclesia loquens ad sponsum: “Trahe me post te”.
More frequently, Dante employs the mere words sponsa or sposa to signify the Church. In his letter to the Italian Cardinals, he calls the visible institutions of the Church, which are neglected by them, “the chariot of the Bride”:
Vos equidem, Eeclesie militantis veluti primi prepositi pili, per manifestam orbitam Crucifixi currum Sponse regere negligentes
Further on in the letter, he designates the Church as the Bride of Christ, and Rome as her seat:
si unanimes omnes qui huiusmodi exorbitationis fuistis auctores, pro Sponsa Christi, pro secle Sponse que Roma est, pro Ytalia nostra, et ut plenius dicam, pro tota civitate peregrinante in terris, viriliter propugnetis
In the Divine Comedy, the word sposa is used five times in its allegorical sense, all of them being in the Paradiso. In Canto 10, the Church is called the Bride of God, who sings a morning hymn to her Bridegroom:
la sposa di Dio surge
a mattinar lo sposo perchè l'ami
In the following canto, Thomas Aquinas describes the betrothal of the Church to Christ, which was effected through his suffering on the cross:
pero ch' andasse ver lo suo diletto
la sposa di colui ch' ad alte grida
disposò lei col sangue benedetto
The word diletto is directly derived from the Canticles, wherein dilectus is the name that is usually given by the Bride to her Bridegroom.
In Canto 12, Bonaventure speaks of the Church as the Bride of “the Emperor who ever reigns”, that is to say, of God. In Canto 27, St. Peter calls the Church on earth “the Bride of Christ». In Canto 32, finally, the Church, with reference to the instruments of the Passion, is called “the fair Bride who was won with the lance and with the nails”.
When Dante uses the word sposa to designate the Church, he is adhering to the fourfold scheme, in which any bride in her allegorical sense signifies the Church. When Beatrice appears in the shape of a bride, the scheme may consequently be applied to her also. The allegoricaI sense of Beatrice is thus the Church.
In addition to the allegorical sense, according to which the Bride implies the Church peregrinating here on earth, there is also the anagogical sense, according to which she means the Church Triumphant in heaven. Several instances of this anagogical sense are to be found in the Divine Comedy.
The main passage is in Canto 31 of the Paradiso, where the Rose of the Blessed is described as the Bride of Christ:
In forma dunque di candida rosa
mi si mostrava la milizia santa
che nel suo sangue Cristo fece sposa
In Canto 32 of the Purgatorio, Christ is said to celebrate a perpetual marriage feast in heaven:
e perpetue nozze fa nel cielo
In Canto 24 of the Paradiso, the union of the blessed with Christ is simply termed a supper:
“O sodalizio eletto a la gran cena
del benedetto agnello
But this is said with reference to the marriage supper in the Apocalypse:
Beati qui ad cenam nuptiarum Agni vocati sunt.
Agin, in Canto 30, Beatrice explicitly speaks of a marriage supper, holding out to Dante the prospect of participating therein:
prima che tu a queste nozze ceni
To speak of a heavenly marriage feast celebrated by Christ is, of course, equivalent to saying that the Church Triumphant is the Bride of Christ.
When Dante uses the word sposa to designate the Church Triumphant, he is adopting the anagogical sense of the Bride in the fourfold scheme. Since Beatrice is a bride, her anagogical sense is comequently the Church Triumphant.
As Dante otherwise adopts the fourfold interpretation of the Bride, there is also the possibility of a tropological interpretation. He does not, however, actualize it anywhere in his works. The reference of Beatrice to the soul is a fact; yet it is of no primary importance in the interpretation of the Divine Comedy.
In his works, Dante does not use the word sponsa (sposa) about Mary, nor in any way does he give a mariological interpretation to the concept of the Bride. There is, however, another fact which indicates that Beatrice is a type of Mary. In the mystical procession in the earthly Paradise, the twenty-four elders are singing a hymn:
Tutti cantavan: “Benedicta tue
ne le figlie d'Adamo, e benedette
sieno in etterno le bellezze tue!”
The words are a paraphrase of Elizabeth's salutation to Mary, as related by St. Luke:
Benedicta tu inter mulieres, et benedictus fructus ventris tui.
As the words are used in the most common of prayers to Mary, they are even more closely associated with her. Yet Dante's paraphrase of them is found in a context that naturally makes them addressed to Beatrice. In the paraphrase, moreover, the reference to the Incarnation has been replaced by one to excellence of beauty, which is the most significant characteristic of Beatrice. So the hymn must be sung in the mystical procession in honour· of Beatrice. Yet the reference to ary is actually present, if it is assumed that Beatrice is a type or prefiguration of the Queen of Heaven, who does not appear in person until Dante reaches the heavenly Paradise.
The central fact of the Divine Comedy is Dante's meeting with Beatrice following her death. At the end of the Vita Nuova, Dante tells us that he had a vision of Beatrice after her death:
Appresso questo sonetto apparve a me una mirabile visione, ne la quale io vidi cose che mi fecero proporre di non dire pii di questa benedetta infino a tanto che io potesse più degnamente trattare di lei.
It is almost certain that this vision is the basis of the vision described in Canto 30 of the Puwrgatorio. In that case, the latter is founded upon a historical fact. According to the principles of typology, accepted by Dante in the letter to Can Grande, it may thus be made the basis of a typical interpretation.
The end of Dante's journey through Hell and up Mount Purgatory is, generally speaking, the earthly Paradise, but in particular it is the meeting with Beatrice which is to take place there. The more arduous obstacles Dante faces during his ascent of the mountain, the more clearly Virgil holds out to him, in order to spur his will, the prospect of seeing Beatrice. In Canto 6 of the Purgatorio, he tells Dante that he is to see lier on the top of the mountain:
tu la vedrai di sopra, in su la vetta
di questo monte, ridere e felice.
In Canto 15, he repeats his promise that Dante shall see the woman he has set his heart on:
E se la mia ragion non ti disfama,
vedrai Beatrice, ed ella pienamente
ti torrà questa e ciascun' altra brama.
In Canto 23, Dante himself is seen aiming at this:
io sarò là dove fia Beatrice
In Canto 27, when Dante hesitates for a moment before the wall of fire, Virgil reminds him of the person who is beyond the wall:
“Or vedi, figlio:
tra Beatrice e te e questo muro”.
At the prospect of seeing Beatrice, Dante hesitates no more, but steps into the fire.
The end is at last attained when, in Canto 31, the maids of Beatrice invite their lady to show her face to Dante, who has been striving so hard for this:
“Volgi, Beatrice, volgi li occhi santi”
era la sua canzone “al tuo fedele
che, per vederti, ha mossi passi tanti!
Beatrice lets her veil fall, and Dante sees the beauty of her face uncovered. Now he has reached the bliss that he has desired, and he exclaims in his poem:
O isplendor di viva luce etterna,
chi palido si fece sotto l’ombra
sì di Parnaso, o bevve in sua cisterna,
che non paresse aver la mente ingombra,
tentando a render te qual tu paresti
là dove armonizzando il ciel t' adombra,
quando ne l'aere aperto ti solvesti?
Through the vision of Beatrice, Dante has attained the bliss of this life. But Beatrice is, in her anagogical sense, a type of the Church Triumphant. The vision of Beatrice, which is described at the end of the Purgatorio, is consequently a type of the vision of the Church Triumphant, which takes place at the end of the Paradiso.
If the event is considered from the viewpoint of Paradise typology, the result is the same. The things that happen in the earthly Paradise are types of those that happen in the heavenly Paradise. Consequently, the vision of Beatrice in the earthly Paradise is a type of the vision of the Rose of the Blessed in the heavenly Paradise.
In the structure of the poem, there is an obvious parallel between the last cantos of the Purgatorio, in which the earthly Paradise is described, and the last cantos of the Paradiso, in which the heavenly Paradise properly so called, or he En;ipyrean, is described. In Canto 30 of the Purgatorio, Beatrice appears. In Canto 30 of the Paradiso, she disappears when the vision of the Empyrean begins, as the promise yields to the fulfilment. To the invocation which Dante utters at the memory of the unveiled Beatrice, corresponds that which he utters at the description of the heavenly Paradise:
O isplendor di Dio, per cu' io vidi
l'alto triunfo del regno verace,
dammi virti a dir com' io il vidi!
As Dante, through the vision of Beatrice, attained the bliss of this life, so through the vision of the Church Triumphant he attains the bliss of eternal life. Certainly, according to the doctrine of St. Thomas, heavenly bliss consists in the vision of God in his essence, which is called the beatific vision. But in the typological pattern of the Divine Comedy, heavenly bliss is taken more extensively as the vision of the entire heavenly Paradise. This is also seen from the relevant passage in the Monarchia, where the bliss of eternal life is said to be represented by the heavenly Paradise. In the end, Dante's vision of the Empyrean also terminates in the beatific vision of the Triune Godhead.
The vision of Beatrice is, then, the intermediate end of Dante's aspiration; the beatific vision is the ultimate end. Just as the intermediate end is a real end, so is it a pre-requisite for the attainment of the ultimate end. When Dante, by doing his very utmost, has reached the intermediate end, he is carried through the heavens without his own efforts and the ultimate end is granted to him only by the mercy of God.
The earthly Paradise, which is in itself a symbol of earthly bliss, would seem to be a sufficiently desirable intermediate end. Yet why should Dante take any interest in the earthly Paradise in itself? Without Beatrice, it would be a mere means of attaining the heavenly Paradise. It is Beatrice who makes the earthly Paradise a desirable end in itself, thus giving a value of their own to the events that take place there.
The difference is the same as that between the pilgrimages to Jerusalem, which were primarily means to an end, and the Crusades, to the participants in which the possession of Jerusalem was an intermediate end. Dante is not only a pilgrim, to whom the journey is a means to attain the end, which is heavenly bliss. He is a Crusader, to whom the possession of Jerusalem is an end which he strives to attain with all his energies. It is only that his Jerusalem is a lady called Beatrice.
The problem of the typical interpretation of the Divine Comedy has now reached its solution. The clue to it is given by the events in the earthly Paradise. The vision of Beatrice is the central fact of the poem, a fact which is to be taken as literally true. It may then be made the basis of a typical interpretation, in which the vision of Beatrice typifies the vision of the heavenly Paradise.
The vision of God and the Rose of the Blessed, which takes up the last four cantos of the Paradiso, is a realization of the anagogical sense of the vision of Beatrice, a fulfilment of that which the type promised. This part of the poem does not have any further signification, as it is wholly on the spiritual plane.
The journey of Dante through Hell and Purgatory is, of course, a fiction. Its aim is to represent Dante's striving towards the intermediate end which is a pre-requisite for the attainment of the ultimate end. As such, it has the character of an allegory, but as its encl is something which is literally true, it becomes incorporated in the central pattern of the Comedy, which is typology, and not allegory.
The ascension through the heavens, which takes up the major part of the Paradiso, is likewise a fiction. Its aim is to show how Dante's aspiration is rewarded by God, whose power works without Dante's own actions. In itself, this is an allegory, but as the ascension makes possibile the vision of the heaveajy Paradise, which is a truth on the spiritual plane, the ascension through the heavens also belongs to the typological pattern of the Divine Comedy.
The existence of an intermediate end, the vision of Beatrice in the earthly Paradise, is the fundamental fact of the Divine Comedy. If there had been no such vision, Dante would have had only the ultimate end, the heavenly Paradise, to which to aspire. In that case, the poem would have received an entirely different character, wholly detached from earthly things. As it now stands, Dante's love for Beatrice and their meeting once more in the earthly Paradise is essentially an earthly matter. By making the love of Beatrice the foundation of the spiritual structure of the Divine Comedy, Dante stands out as the great proclaimer of the medieval idea that the earthly reality has a worth of its own, but is also a type which leads us towards the higher reality of the spiritual world.