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Purgatorio

Purgatorio

by Dante Alighieri

Beatrice

Character Analysis

Beatrice as Divine Knowledge

During her relatively short appearance in the narrative (only four cantos), Beatrice receives numerous references relating her to Divine Knowledge. Let’s go through a few of them. First, her dress: “[…] above / a white veil, she was crowned with olive boughs; / her cape was green; her dress beneath, flame-red.” These colors are liturgical: the white stands for faith, green for hope, and red for charity. But it’s the crown of olive leaves that gets us. This is the traditional crown of Minerva, goddess of wisdom. Hmm, wisdom = Divine Knowledge? Doesn’t seem like too big of a leap.

Now, remember when Beatrice gives Dante a sound tongue-lashing? How he describes her words when she stops talking sidelong to him through the handmaidens and finally addresses him directly? When Dante has quailed under the accusations she makes to the handmaidens about him, which he calls “the edge [of her speech which] had seemed too sharp,” he positively cowers under her direct address. He refers to this as her “turning her speech’s point against me.” She’s certainly judging Dante here. It follows that only a soul blessed with Divine Knowledge could judge a soul so accurately, and with such authority that her very voice is a blade of justice.

Finally, she charges Dante with a poetic mission: “to profit the world which / lives badly, watch…and, when you’ve returned beyond, transcribe / what you’ve seen.” In essence, she commands Dante to tell the truth with his poetry, to use the “good of his intellect” for the good of the “world which [now] lives badly.” Such devotion to truth points again to Beatrice’s embodiment of Divine Knowledge; she disseminates truth as a judge to mortals.

Beatrice as Salvation

Beatrice is a bit of a Christ figure. Here’s why. Consider Beatrice’s death: while it’s not exactly a sacrifice to save all of mankind, it does turn out to function as a test of Dante’s faith – which he promptly fails. Indeed, her rhetoric surrounding her life – that “my countenance sustained him for a while” – sounds much like the concept of Christ’s body as the wafer at Communion, sustaining the morality of those who consume it.

We can find another parallel between Beatrice and Jesus when she’s sitting on the root of the Tree of Knowledge, reciting Christ’s words herself. They translate from the Latin as “A little while, and ye shall not see me: and again, a little while, and ye shall see me.” Jesus originally spoke in this way regarding his death and resurrection, but Beatrice seems to be speaking in terms of the Church, which the chariot represents, and referring to the belief that a hero (the Five Hundred and Ten and Five) will eventually come to save it. She makes it sound as if she will play an instrumental role in this salvation. Convinced yet? Well, you’re on your own to decide whether or not you think Beatrice represents Divine Knowledge or a Christ figure. Maybe both? Perhaps neither?

Beatrice Timeline
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