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Purgatorio

Purgatorio

by Dante Alighieri

The Whore and the Giant

Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory

During the procession Dante witnesses in the Earthly Paradise, an eagle sheds its feathers all over the chariot. Then the chariot transforms into a monster, then a whore. And there’s a giant in there somewhere. Hmm, are you following the imagery? Even though a chariot is inanimate, at least it doesn’t sleep around. So the transformation of the chariot into the whore can safely be called a degeneration.

So who’s this giant that sleeps with her? Many scholars interpret it as the French monarchy, especially the Capetian line, who did all sorts of bribing of clerics, treading on the Church’s toes, and installing of false popes. The Church’s reaction? It pretty much rolled over and opened its coffers to please the French kings. Hence, we have the metaphor of the whore and the giant. So things at this point are looking pretty bleak. The kings don’t really care about the common people; they’re off screwing the Church, and the Church is being screwed while trying to retain some sense of dignity and legitimacy through its popes.

This is where the “Five Hundred and Ten and Five” comes in. While scholarship is still divided over whom this number refers to, a general consensus holds that it should be interpreted based on its Roman numerals: 500 = D, 10 = X, 5 = V. Turn this into a nifty anagram and you get DVX which can be glossed as DUX (because capital Latin V’s looked just like our U’s). So, how does this help us? Dux is the Latin word for “leader,” usually in a military capacity. So this mysterious dux swoops in and slays both the whore and the abusive giant. We’re not quite sure how to interpret this. Does this mean that this Latin superhero actually rids the world of the Church AND the French? Or does it mean it purges the Church and the French monarchy of corruption? And who could actually do that, short of Superman? Scholars have debated the identity of the dux and have come up with everybody from Henry VIII to Charlemagne to some random Italian named Cangrande della Scala to Jesus himself. We’re not about to resolve some 600+ years’ worth of scholarly debate, but at least you can look to this dux guy as some sort of savior. It’s up to you to debate whether or not that’s savior with a capital “s.”

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