|Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Bequest of Grenville L. Winthrop|
Illustrations to The Divine Comedy
Lucia Carrying Dante in His Sleep
Among the latter passages is one in Canto IX in which Lucia assists Dante in achieving the transition from the Inferno to Purgatory. Dante had introduced Lucia in Canto II as a pivotal figure in Dante gaining the courage to make his initial move of entering the Inferno. Later Lucia was called upon to assist him in the final ascent from the Inferno to Purgatory.
The Divine Comedy, Inferno
Book 1, Canto II
by Dante Aligheri
Translated by Charles Eliot Norton
'Since thou wishest
to know so inwardly, I will tell thee briefly,' she replied to
me, 'wherefore I fear not to come here within. One ought to fear those things only that have power of doing harm, the others not, for they are not dreadful. I am made by God, thanks be to Him, such that your misery toucheth me not, nor doth the flame of this burning assail me. A gentle Lady is in heaven who hath pity for this hindrance whereto I send thee, so that stern judgment there above she breaketh. She summoned Lucia in her request, and said, "Thy faithful one now hath need of thee, and unto thee I commend him." Lucia, the foe of every cruel one, rose and came to the place where I was, seated with the ancient Rachel. She said, "Beatrice, true praise of God, why dost thou not succor him who so loved thee that for thee he came forth from the vulgar throng? Dost thou not hear the pity of his plaint? Dost thou not see the death that combats him beside the stream whereof the sea hath no vaunt?" In the world never were persons swift to seek their good, and to fly their harm, as I, after these words were uttered, came here below, from my blessed seat, putting my trust in thy upright speech, which honors thee and them who have heard it.' After she had said this to me, weeping she turned her lucent eyes, whereby she made me more speedy in coming. And I came to thee as she willed. Thee have I delivered from that wild beast that took from thee the short ascent of the beautiful mountain. What is it then? Why, why dost thou hold back? why dost thou harbor such cowardice in thy heart? why hast thou not daring and boldness, since three blessed Ladies care for thee in the court of Heaven, and my speech pledges thee such good?" ... As flowerets, bent and closed by the chill of night, after the sun shines on them straighten themselves all open on their stem, so I became with my weak virtue, and such good daring hastened to my heart that I began like one enfranchised: "Oh compassionate she who succored me! and thou courteous who didst speedily obey the true words that she addressed to thee! Thou by thy words hast so disposed my heart with desire of going, that I have returned unto my first intent. Go on now, for one sole will is in us both: Thou Leader, thou Lord, and thou Master." Thus I said to him; and when he had moved on, I entered along the deep and savage road. The Divine Comedy, Purgatory Book 2, Canto IX by Dante Aligheri Translated by Charles Eliot Norton
At the hour near the morning when the little swallow begins her sad lays, perchance in memory of her former woes, and when our mind, more a wanderer from the flesh and less captive to the thought, is in its visions almost divine, in dream it seemed to me that I saw poised in the sky an eagle with feathers of gold, with wings widespread, and intent to stoop. And it seemed to me that I was there where his own people were abandoned by Ganymede, when he was rapt to the supreme consistory. In myself I thought, "Perhaps this bird strikes only here through wont, and perhaps from other place disdains to carry anyone upward in his feet." Then it seemed to me that, having wheeled a little, it descended terrible as a thunderbolt, and snatched me upwards far as the fire. There it seemed that it and I burned, and the imagined fire so scorched that of necessity the sleep was broken. ... At my side was my Comforter only, and the sun was now more than two hours high, and my face was turned toward the sea. "Have no fear," said my Lord; "be reassured, for we are at a good point; restrain not, but increase all thy force. Thou art now arrived at Purgatory; see there the cliff that closes it around; see the entrance, there where it appears divided. A while ago in the dawn that precedes the day, when thy soul was sleeping within thee, upon the flowers wherewith the place down yonder is adorned, came a lady, and said, "I am Lucia; let me take this one who is sleeping; thus will I assist him along his way.' Sordello remained, and the other gentle forms: she took thee, and when the day was bright, she came upward, and I along her footprints. Here she laid thee down: and first her beautiful eyes showed me that open entrance; then she and slumber went away together." Like a man that in perplexity is reassured, and that alters his fear to confidence after the truth is disclosed to him, did I change; and when my Leader saw me without solicitude, up along the cliff he moved on, and I behind, toward the height.
Blake would have been pleased that it was mercy, not justice, that allowed the fictional Dante to escape the punishments of hell. Dante introduced a dream sequence, featuring an eagle, to portray the inhibiting fear which retards the progress of spiritual development. In contrast mercy, in the shape of Lucia, transported Dante in his sleep to the Gate of Purgatory without any effort on his part. Scholars tell us that Dante used the eagle as a symbol of Rome's military power, in contrast to Lucia as a symbol of the Church's spiritual power.
Whatever Dante may have implied by his words, Blake used his picture to show Dante effortlessly being carried by loving female arms to what we might call a higher level of consciousness: one in which forgiveness begins to wipe away fear of eternal punishment.
Blake attitude to the response which should be made to the sinner was diametrically opposed to that of Dante. Blake found moral judgement to be the villain which turned man away from perceiving the Divine within himself and his brother.
Jerusalem, PLATE 45 , (E 194) "Fearing that Albion should turn his back against the Divine Vision Los took his globe of fire to search the interiors of Albions Bosom, in all the terrors of friendship, entering the caves Of despair & death, to search the tempters out, walking among Albions rocks & precipices! caves of solitude & dark despair, And saw every Minute Particular of Albion degraded & murderd But saw not by whom; they were hidden within in the minute particulars ... Every Universal Form, was become barren mountains of Moral Virtue: and every Minute Particular hardend into grains of sand: And all the tendernesses of the soul cast forth as filth & mire, ... What shall I do! what could I do, if I could find these Criminals I could not dare to take vengeance; for all things are so constructed And builded by the Divine hand, that the sinner shall always escape, And he who takes vengeance alone is the criminal of Providence; If I should dare to lay my finger on a grain of sand In way of vengeance; I punish the already punishd: O whom Should I pity if I pity not the sinner who is gone astray! O Albion, if thou takest vengeance; if thou revengest thy wrongs Thou art for ever lost! What can I do to hinder the Sons Of Albion from taking vengeance? or how shall I them perswade. So spoke Los, travelling thro darkness & horrid solitude:" Lucia in song.