By B. John Zavrel
'THE FALLEN ANGEL', woodcut # 35 by Salvador Dalí. With the depiction of the fallen angel the painter departs from the text of the poet. Dalí shows the angel with his typical drawers. They are the symbol of remembering, secrets, the guarding of the past and the forgotten.
(1) The Poets emerge from Hell just before dawn on Easter Sunday (April 10, 1300), and Dante revels in the sight of heavens. As he looks eagerly about the stars, he sees nearby an old man of impressive bearing: Cato of Utica. Cato orders Virgil to lead Dante to the shore, to wet his hands in the dew of the new morning, and to wash the stains of Hell from Dante's face and the film of Hells' vapors from Dante's eyes. Virgil is then told to bind around Dante's waist one of the pliant reeds (symbolizing Humility) that grow in the soft mud of the shore.
(2) It is dawn. Dante has washed, and girded by the reed, is standing by the shore. He sees a light approaching at enormous speed across the sea. It is the Angel Boatman, who ferries the souls from their gathering place at the mouth of the Tiber to the shore of Purgatory. The newly arrived souls debark, and ask the Poets for directions. One of them is Casella, a musician who had been a dear friend of Dante. At Dante's request, he strikes up a song. Instantly, Cato descends upon the groupand berates them. They scatter like startled pigeons up the slope, toward the mountain.
'THE BOAT WITH THE ANGEL', woodcut # 36 by Salvador Dalí. The passangers look out full of expectations for the right way. Dalí shows this by the movement of the figures as well as their raised up arms. The boat glides along the lightly stirred-up sea at the time of the early dawn. The angel's size and gentleness separates it from the world of men.
(3) Dante and Virgil also race ahead. The newly risen sun is at Dante's back. He runs, with his shadow stretched long and directly before him. The Poets reach the base of the cliff, and are dismayed to find that it rises straight up, with no way to climb. While Virgil is pondering this problem, Dante looks around and sees a band of souls approaching them very slowly. These are the late repentant souls: in life they put off the desire for grace. Now, they must wait before they may begin their purification.
(4) Now, at midmorning, the Poets reach the opening in the cliff-face and begin the difficult climb. Dante soon tires and cries that he can go no farther, and Virgil urges him to pull himself a little higher. Seated on the ledge, Virgil explains the nature of the mountain: the beginning of the ascent (the first turning from sin to true repentance) is always the hardest. The higher one climbs from sin to repentance, the easier it becomes to climb still higher. But to reach the ultimate height--human reason cannot reach. It is Beatrice (Divine Love) who must guide Dante there.
(5) The Poets continue up the mountain, and Dante's shadow once more creates excitement among the waiting souls. These are the souls of those who died by violence withoug last rites. These souls crowd around Dante, asking him to take news about them back to the world and ask their relatives to pray for them, so that their delay may be shortened. Virgil instructs Dante to listen to them, but warns him not to interrupt his own climb to Grace.
'VIRGIL REPROACHES DANTE'S SLACKNESS', woodcut # 39 by Salvador Dalí. Dante recognizes a friend from his youth and embraces him. His friend was well-known builder of misical instruments, but was notorious for his laziness and worked only when he needed money. The gray shape of Virgil in the background urges Dante to hurry in his climb to Grace.
(6) The Poets move along with the souls still crowding around them. Dante promises them that he will bear word of them back to the world, but never pauses in his climb. Finally free of the crowd, Dante asks Virgil how it is that prayer may sway God's will. Virgil explains in part, but says that the whole truth is beyond him, and that Dante must ask the question of Beatrice when he meets her. The sun passes behind the mountain as they climb up. It is mid-afternoon of Easter Sunday.
Dante Climbs from Sin to Repentance, by B. John Zavrel (Part 1 of 6)
Dante's passage through the Needle's Eye, by B. John Zavrel (Part 2 of 6)
Dante and the Whip of Wrath, by B. John Zavrel (Part 3 of 6)
Dante and the Rein of Avarice, by B. John Zavrel (Part 4 of 6)
Dante and the Lustful (Part 5 of 6)
Dante and Beatrice in the Earthly Paradise (Part 6 of 6)
© PROMETHEUS 109/2006
PROMETHEUS, Internet Bulletin for Art, News, Politics and Science. Nr. 109, JULY 2006