The Purgatorio is a description of Purgatory, a mountain rising in circular ledges, on which are various repentant sinners. At the top of the mountain is the Earthly Paradise, where Dante encounters Beatrice. This is where all great souls who died before the coming of Christ dwell. This is the state where Dante reached that state of purification in which he is free to follow his soul’s prompting, knowing that no source of evil remains within it.
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Dante discussed the setting of Earthly Paradise including the blowing wind, the growth of the plants and the flowing rivers. The blowing wind was explained to have originated from somewhere beyond the earth and that absence of atmospheric changes is a natural occurrence. The huge variety of plants was made possible because of the wind that hits the plants caused seeds to be transported to the other areas. The source of water was not from any runoff but comes from a “pure and changeless fountain
Moving deeper into the Paradise, Dante initially saw seven tall, golden candles that left behind a rainbow track of colors (29.43-54, 73-8). The candles represented the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit and these lead the procession. After the candles were twenty-four men clothed in white (symbolized the writers of the New Testament); four animals with six wings wearing a leafy-green crown (signified the Gospels). The end of the procession was the presence of a two-wheeled chariot bonded to the neck of a Griffin with its wings spread high. The significant feature of the Griffin was its color – combination of white, gold and red. The most prominent symbolism of the Griffin was its Christ-like role. On the right side of the chariot were three ladies dressed in red, white and green. On the other side were four ladies dressed in purple together with an old man.
“These four marked off a space that held
a two-wheeled chariot of triumph,
drawn along behind a griffin's neck.
The griffin lifted both its wings between
the middle band of light and the two sets of three
so that it did not cut through any band,
wings raised so high that they were lost to sight.” (Purgatorio XXIX, 106-114)
Beatrice asked Dante to watch over the chariot. The chariot could be considered as a striking metaphor of Christian history. An eagle, considered as a symbolism for the Roman Empire, swooped down through the tree and hit the chariot. The scene could be compared to the Roman persecution of the early Church. A fox, a symbolism for heretics, jumped into the chariot, prior to being pursued by Beatrice. The colonial eagle, could be viewed as the persecutions of Nero, again assaulted the chariot but for this instance left feathers behind. The feathers could be considered as the worldly contamination of the Church or Donation of Constantine. The bottom part of the chariot was ripped off by a dragon, viewed as a symbolism for Islam or division of the Church into Byzantine and Roman, which even took some parts of it. The remaining parts of the chariot developed into seven monstrous heads-three at the front with oxen horns plus four single-horned creatures at the corners. This symbolized the seven deadly sins.
“Thus transformed, the holy edifice
put forth heads on all its parts,
three on the shaft and one at every corner--
the first three bore horns like oxen, the others
had a single horn upon their foreheads--
such a monster as never seen before”. (Purgatorio XXXII, 142-147
An almost naked prostitute was seated in the chariot while, the corrupt papacy, who maliciously clinched a giant, French monarchy, standing beside her. The giant viciously hit the unjustifiable woman could be compared to Philip the Fair's hostile treatment of Pope Boniface VIII. Lastly, the giant dragged the chariot and woman into the forest. Historically, this was similar to Pope Clement V's removal of the papacy from Rome to Avignon in southern France.
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