Purgatorio Purgatory Canto XXIX (The Earthly Paradise) Summary
Thankfully, the lady is done speaking, but she immediately starts singing “like an enamored woman.”
Of, course her song is in Latin: “Beati quorum tecta sunt peccata!” Which translates as “Blessed are those whose transgressions are forgiven.”
She turns and begins coyly walking along the riverbank, against the current, like a woodland nymph. Dante follows, shortening his footsteps to match hers.
Before they’ve gone more than a hundred paces, the bank curves so that they’re facing east. At this point, she gets Dante’s attention by calling him “brother” and telling him to keep his eyes and ears peeled.
Right on cue, a brilliant light illuminates the forest. Dante thinks lightning has struck, but quickly realizes it can’t be lightning because it lasts far too long to be just a flash.
Just as his brain is working at its most frantic pace, a lovely melody wafts through the air. It’s so ravishingly beautiful that Dante feels a stab of hate for Eve’s arrogance. He rebukes her for being so disobedient at the dawn of time, forcefully taking all these pleasures away from mankind. Had she just listened to God, Dante himself would’ve been able to live here forever.
As the song grows stronger, Dante invokes the Muses to help him accurately record the miraculous things to come.
The first thing he sees approaching looks like seven golden trees. As they come nearer, however, Dante realizes that the distance made them appear to be something they were not. Now that they are easier to discern, Dante realizes that they form a single candelabra with seven separate candles. These candles flame more brightly than a full moon at midnight on a cloudless night.
Astonished, Dante turns to Virgil with a question on his lips, but for the first time, Virgil is as awestruck as Dante.
Dante turns back to see a long line of people approaching at a snail’s pace; he elegantly describes their pace as that of a bride coming down the aisle at her wedding.
The nameless lady takes this moment to scold Dante for looking only at the “living lights” and for ignoring the people dressed in white behind them.
Only at this point does Dante even realize that the people are there. They are dressed in white so brilliant that it is reflected in the stream, like a mirror.
Dante moves to the very edge of the stream so he can see them more clearly.
Still focused on the candles, Dante realizes that as they move forward, each one leaves a banner of light behind it, and that each is a different color. So, as they pass, a beautiful streamer of rainbows drifts along behind, as if a painter has just painted the sky. How pretty.
Ten paces behind the candelabra come twenty-four elders, all dressed in white and wearing wreaths of lilies on their heads. They sing as they proceed.
After the twenty-four elders come four animals, each of them bearing green leaves as a crown on his head and each having six wings full of eyes, like the monster Argus. Dante cannot “squander more rhymes” describing the animals, but directs us to read the Biblical book of Ezekiel, for we’ll find more about them there.
After the animals comes a triumphal two-wheeled chariot drawn by a griffin. The wings of the griffin are lifted high, but they are positioned so that they don’t break the seven bands of colored light, instead rising between the pennants. The griffin’s wings are gold, as are the rest of his eagle parts, while the lion half of him is “white mixed with bloodred.”
The chariot is so grand that not even the famed sun chariot of Phaethon can rival it, nor those of such eminent generals as Africanus or Augustus.
Then three women dance by, each dressed in a different color – the first in fiery red, the second in emerald green, and the third in snow white. They change places and paces as they dance, one sometimes leading and soon conceding the lead to another.
On the left side, four more women dance by, all dressed in red, following the rhythm set by the first three.
Behind them, a group of seven elders follows, divided up into groups of two, then four, then one.
Dante identifies the first one as Luke, a follower of the “great Hippocrates,” and the other one carries a naked sword.
The next four pass by, followed by a “lone old man, his features keen…as if in sleep.”
These seven are dressed in white, just like first twenty-four, except they wear no lilies on their heads, but instead red roses.
As the procession passes by Dante, a peal of sudden thunder rends the sky, seeming to block their path, and they stop; the chariot is right in front in Dante.