Purgatorio
Purgatorio
by Dante Alighieri
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The Griffin and Chariot

Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory

In the procession Dante witnesses in the Earthly Paradise, the griffin and chariot, which are positioned centrally, represent Christ and the Church.

It makes sense that Christ draws the chariot of the Church forward since he is the founder of the religion. But why a griffin? Well, the dual nature of the mythical beast parallels both the divine and human nature of Christ. A mythological beast, the griffin is half eagle and half lion. The golden eagle head symbolizes Christ's divinity. You know because eagles can fly and divinities are always located in the sky. Plus, gold is a special color in general.

The bottom half of the griffin – the lion’s body – is “white mixed with bloodred.” Lions are a symbol of nobility. Christ – as the son of God – is pretty much as royal as you can get. Now we’re pretty sure you’ve never seen a “white mixed with bloodred” lion (but then again, we’re pretty sure you’ve never seen a griffin.). However, the colors have symbolic value. White is the color almost universally used to symbolize purity. “Bloodred” is a harder one since it’s not even a real word. But it could easily represent Christ’s passion for his faith or the blood he spilled at his crucifixion – the blood he sacrificed to save the rest of the world.

Let's move on to the chariot, the symbol of the Church. The chariot is described as so beautiful that “even the Sun’s own can’t match it.” We know from Inferno that the sun is often a symbol of God, so the message here is that the Church is pretty beautiful, which also means it’s nearly divine. So why a chariot? Why not – say – a church? Well, we’re supposed to think of the Holy Roman Church as a vehicle for conveying men to God. It’s a vehicle that follows Christ. It’s pulled by Christ…which means that the Church is dependent on Christ and his teachings. Sounds right.

Next Page: The Eagle and the Fox
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