Study Guide

Purgatorio Purgatory Canto XXXIII (the Earthly Paradise)

By Dante Alighieri

Purgatory Canto XXXIII (the Earthly Paradise)

  • Utterly horrified, Beatrice’s handmaidens cry and begin to sing a Psalm. Beatrice, too, seems as sad as Mary underneath the cross.
  • After they complete their Psalm, Beatrice speaks some phrases in Latin which translate to “A little while and ye shall not see me: and again, a little while, and ye shall see me…”
  • Beatrice then orders all her handmaidens, the lovely, nameless lady, and Statius to fall in behind her while she approaches Dante. She looks into his eyes, and—calling him “brother”—tells him to ask any questions he might have.
  • Again, Dante is tongue-tied. After several stuttering attempts, he gives up and simply tells Beatrice she knows best what he needs to know and to please teach him.
  • She orders him, “Disentangle yourself… from fear and shame, that you no longer speak like one who dreams.”
  • She then turns her attention to the happenings with the chariot. She tells him not to fear for the chariot which the serpent broke because God will punish him soundly.
  • She goes on: the eagle which left its feathers in the chariot will not be forever without an heir, for she can foresee in the constellations a figure called only the “Five Hundred and Ten and Five” who will come to slay both the whore and the her giant companion.
  • She tells Dante that she knows her words are mysterious and hard to decipher at this point, but that time will clarify them.
  • Now, she tells him to pay attention to her words so that he can “transmit them in [his] turn to those who live the life that is a race to death.” Hmm, sounds important.
  • Whoever, she says, robs the tree of its fruit offends God, who created the tree for His sole use.
  • She tells him that his mind is asleep if he can’t see why the tree is built so strangely, made so tall and its branches inverted to make it hard to climb. Dante’s arrogance and vain thoughts are keeping him from seeing this simple truth: God made the tree this way to make it difficult for anyone to trespass against His decrees.
  • Seeing that his intellect is blind to this, she urges him to copy her words down, so he doesn’t forget them—even if it means bearing back to earth a pilgrim’s staff as a reminder.
  • He answers that there’s no need; her words are already emblazoned on his mind.
  • But, Dante finally asks, why her words escape his grasp, no matter how hard he tries to understand them?
  • She answers that the difficulty of her words is proof of just how much distance there is between man’s reasoning and God’s. Man cannot hope to understand God.
  • Dante finally works up the courage to say he doesn’t remember her being so cold to him before.
  • She says that he doesn’t remember because his mind has just been washed by the Lethe.
  • To soften her presentation a little, though, she promises that her words from now on will be “naked,” so that Dante with his “still-crude” sight can understand them.
  • At this point, Dante notices from the position of the sun that it’s noon.
  • The seven handmaidens suddenly stop walking before the banks of a river.
  • To Dante, the twin streams seem like the Euphrates and Tigris, two familiar rivers that bring him comfort.
  • He asks her what rivers these are, that come from a single source.
  • She tells Dante to ask Matilda—the lovely lady—who is now finally named.
  • Matilda explains that he’s already heard of these two rivers. Even the Lethe can’t have wiped that memory from him. They’re the Lethe and Eunoe.
  • Beatrice replies that perhaps some other concern has made Dante forget this important fact.
  • So she orders Matilda to lead Dante into the Eunoe to restore his memory of good deeds.
  • Just like a noble soul who doesn’t try to make any excuses, Matilda leads him forward and asks Statius to come forth as well.
  • At this point, Dante addresses his readers directly, telling us that all the pages allotted for Purgatorio have run out and that now it’s time to stop.
  • However, we get a final glimpse of him, after he’s bathed in the Eunoe and has returned “remade” to Beatrice. Now, we learn, he’s ready to climb up into the stars of the Heaven.