Dante the Pilgrim seems to pick up where he left off in Canto XXVIII; being enamored by this lovely lady and presuming that she too, is enticing him with looks of love and songs to match. Well, yes, and no. She indeed is described in the first two lines of Canto XXIX as though she were a shepherdess excited to see a young man out here in the woods. The Italian word for being filled with love [inamorata] is even used to seem to support that assumption.
1 After she had finished speaking
Cantando come donna innamorata,
2 like a lady touched by love she sang:
continüò col fin di sue parole:
However this is not the type of ‘Love Train’ of the lustful poets like Petrarch or Cavalcanti or the youthful Dante Aligheri eagerly described in earlier times. Her ‘love song’ is right out of the Psalter, used by St. Paul in Romans 4:3-8 to describe repentance and moral responsibility. “Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.” Yes, indeed she loves Dante the Pilgrim. Yes, indeed the Italian word for being filled with love is appropriate here. In fact, ‘inamorata’ will be used time and again in the Paradiso to describe love: Love that is straight from the heart of divine Love seen in the sacrificial Love of Jesus Christ. From this point forward, this type of Love will now be mentioned more than ever before in The Commedia. When next Matelda speaks with Dante the Pilgrim, she will address him in that vein, as a brother in Christ [Frate mio].
13 And we had not gone far in that direction
Né ancor fu così nostra via molta,
14 when the lady turned and faced me,
quando la donna tutta a me si torse,
15 saying: 'My brother, look and listen.'
dicendo: "Frate mio, guarda e ascolta."
Dante the Pilgrim seems to get the general idea. He is no longer in a hurry, unlike the loping stride as he sought to keep up with Virgil and Statius as they dashed up the slope in Canto XXV: 1-7. He moderates his pace to match hers, even to the point of taking small, mincing steps just like Matelda as she strolls along on the other side of the river.
Like Genesis 1:3, light starts the whole shebang:
16 Suddenly a shining brightness
Ed ecco un lustro sùbito trascorse
17 flared through all the forest
da tutte parti per la gran foresta,
And it continues to grow until the very air itself is luminous, and Dante the Pilgrim asks himself “Now what is this?” Good question. The air is filled now not only with light, but melody so sweet it breaks his heart. In verses 23-33 he thinks that if Eve had not sinned at first, then he could have experienced this light and melody his entire life. There is no sense of “felix culpa,” the ‘Blessed Fall’ which brought us into Redemption and Salvation. Dante the Pilgrim reacts as if humankind would never have known evil without Eve’s mistake. But of course, that would have negated any need for the Commedia at all: No Inferno, No Purgatorio, only Paradiso. Dorothy Sayers in her commentary responds to this reaction by Dante the Pilgrim with the observation that humanity would have come to know of evil the same way God does; by understanding and not participation. However, this all is swept aside as the true reason for the light and music becomes apparent. The reaction of blame becomes a moot-point. I find Dante the Poet’s inclusion of this rather petty reaction of Dante the Pilgrim toward Eve to be, well, a recognition that we all are still very human, petty and even spiteful regardless of our apparent spiritual growth. Hence the need for new mentors, guides, repentance and revelation. We should never stop learning, growing, discovering Grace and God in this brief time we’ve been given.
Dante the Poet tries to prepare the reader for a revelation unlike any other so far. I am reminded of the Medieval Mystery Plays whose actors travelled the countryside putting on allegories of Biblical truths, events and doctrines. They also included humorous skits and historical tales in their tableaus. We have here an allegory; a parade or pageant where figures represent truths and traditions of sacred history, of the Christian Church in its fullness. There will be a kind of genealogy on parade, starting with the Holy Spirit as guide and all of historical revelation unfurling behind with stages of revealed history marching into view. I will briefly outline the parade, but your version and commentary can do far more than me simply repeating who shows up. I am a bit like Dante and Virgil, who are both stunned and amazed by this pageant.
55 Full of wonder, I turned to my good Virgil
Io mi rivolsi d'ammirazion pieno
56 and he answered with a look
al buon Virgilio, ed esso mi rispuose
57 no less charged with amazement.
con vista carca di stupor non meno.
When trying to embrace all of this at once, one’s ‘amazement’ truly is aptly described in the Italian of v. 57 as ‘stupor.’ We must not forget, however, that this is pure allegory. The figure and creatures represent ideals, truths and doctrines.
37-63 Seven Candelabra: Leading the parade are the seven candles which represent the seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit and the seven churches of Revelation. Their seven different colors stream across the sky and show that the Holy Church always is under the guidance of the Holy Spirit throughout history.
64-92 Twenty-four Elders: Each of these robed elders represent a book of the Old Testament as described by Jerome. This is suggestive that Jesus Christ is prophesied by the Hebrew Scriptures and also under the guidance of the Holy Spirit light and guidance.
93-105 Four Beasts: These represent the four Gospels and the description is a conflation of the two apocalyptic visions of Ezekiel in the Old Testament and the Revelation of John in the New Testament. Yet again, please remember all is allegory, hence the eyes represent omniscience, the wreaths represent Hope, etc.
106-120 Chariot and Griffin: The Chariot is the Church and is pulled by a Griffin which represents Christ since the Griffin is half lion and half eagle. This, of course, is an allegory of the divinity and humanity of Christ.
121-129 Three Ladies: This is an allegory of the three Theological Virtues [Faith, Hope and Love] placed at the right wheel of the chariot.
130-133 Four Nymphs: Here we have the four Cardinal or Natural Virtues [Prudence, Justice, Fortitude and Temperance] placed at the left wheel of the chariot.
134ff. Seven Elders: The rest of the New Testament follow up at the end. We have two which represent the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles of the Apostle Paul. Then come four each of whom represent one of the Catholic Epistles [Peter, James, John and Jude]. Finally we have John the Evangelist who wrote Book of Revelation who “walked as though he slept” yet was still keen in insight.
A thunderclap booms forth and the Chariot of the Church stops right in front of Dante the Pilgrim. Waiting; for what? For Dante to catch his breath and try to embrace the tableau in front of him? Is something else supposed to happen? The Canto ends in mid-breath, and ours is stopped as well. What is to come?
151 And when the chariot stood across the stream from me
E quando il carro a me fu a rimpetto,
152 a thunder-clap was heard and all that worthy throng,
un tuon s'udì, e quelle genti degne
153 as though forbidden to go farther, stopped
parvero aver l'andar più interdetto,
154 behind the banners that had come before them.
fermandosi ivi con le prime insegne.