Study Guide

Purgatorio Purgatory Canto XXXII (the Earthly Paradise)

By Dante Alighieri

Purgatory Canto XXXII (the Earthly Paradise)

  • When Beatrice unveils herself, Dante is utterly hypnotized, quenching their “ten-year thirst” so fully that he doesn’t notice anything else.
  • Finally, the handmaidens tell Dante to turn away, saying, “You stare too fixedly.”
  • He obeys, but is so dazzled by Beatrice’s beauty that he remains blind for a little while.
  • When he regains his sight, he realizes that the entire procession has turned so as to be facing east, just like a squadron will wheel around to save itself in battle. The griffin is so noble, though, that his movements don’t even ruffle his feathers.
  • Dante, led by the lovely lady and Statius, falls in behind the chariot, on its right-hand side.
  • They march for the length of three flights of arrows (don’t ask us to measure that) before Beatrice dismounts from the chariot at the foot of a huge tree. The tree, though, is completely barren, stripped of all leaves or flowers.
  • All those around Dante murmurs “Adam” as they approach the tree, identifying it as the Tree of Knowledge from which Eve stole the forbidden fruit.
  • In unison, the whole company blesses the griffin for refraining from tasting the fruit that brought about the fall of mankind.
  • The griffin, speaking for the first time, replies, “Thus is the seed of every righteous man preserved.”
  • With that, he pulls the chariot closer, reaches up and grabs a branch, and ties the chariot and the tree together.
  • When the two are linked, the enormous tree miraculously bursts into bloom, its color somewhere between red and violet.
  • While Dante watches this miraculous sight, the others begin chanting a hymn that Dante cannot understand. Instead, he feels himself getting sleepy. After describing how he wishes he had the talent to paint just how he will fall asleep, he does just that: he falls dead asleep.
  • When Dante awakes, he finds the nameless lady standing over him.
  • Groggy, he voices his first waking thought: “Where’s Beatrice?”
  • The lady answers: she’s sitting alone on the root of the tree. All the others have ascended, following the griffin into Heaven.
  • Dante stops listening when she reveals Beatrice’s location.
  • He finds Beatrice sitting beneath the tree, guarding the chariot, and surrounded by her seven handmaidens.
  • As Dante approaches, she announces that he will stay with her now for a little while (though, after he dies, he’ll be able to spend eternity with her), and his task for now will be to observe and write down what he sees, with the greatest possible adherence to the truth, so that his work can “profit that world which lives badly.” What? Put his poetry to use? You know Dante is completely psyched to be able to serve his Beatrice with his talent.
  • Having grabbed Dante’s attention now, Beatrice proceeds to show him what she wants him to write about.
  • Like a lightning bolt from above, an eagle plummets from the sky, tears through the branches of the tree, and attacks the chariot with all its might, leaving the poor vehicle twisted like a storm-battered ship.
  • After that, a ravenous fox leaps deviously into the seat of the chariot, looking like pure mischief. Beatrice herself “rail[s] against its squalid sins” and drives it out of the chariot.
  • Suddenly, the eagle plummets again, this time leaving its feathers scattered all over the chariot. A disembodied voice from Heaven cries out, charging the chariot with carrying “freight” of “wickedness.”
  • As if this isn’t strange enough, the ground beneath the chariot suddenly splits open and a massive dragon surfaces, only to drive its venomous tail through the poor chariot. When it withdraws its tail, it takes part of the chariot with it back into the earth.
  • Eagle feathers, which Dante thinks look like they’ve been offered with kindness, cover what is left of the chariot.
  • Out of nowhere, the chariot suddenly begins sprouting heads. Eek! Three of them, to be exact, all of them horned and monstrous.
  • Then, just as suddenly, the chariot turns into a naked whore, who is guarded by a jealous giant.
  • Over and over they "embrace" each other.
  • But when the whore turns her seductive glance on Dante, the giant flies into a rage and proceeds to beat her thoroughly.
  • Finally, he unties the “chariot-made-monster” from the tree, drags it and the whore away into the forest, and disappears. Weird.