Divine Comedy: Paradiso Symbols, Allegory and Motifs
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Written by Timothy Sexton
Virgil in the guide through the Underworld because he is the symbolic connection between religion, empire and poetry. Virgil’s own poetry told the story of the Roman Empire while his symbolism of a child coming into the world to lead it to age of paradise was commonly interpreted during the Middle Ages as a pre-Christian allegory of Christ.
The eagle has been subject to many different symbolic interpretations, but one of the most common is the pervasive appearance of the eagle in relation to empire. Dante viewed the empire as standing alongside the church as the means by which God would work through humans to save all mankind.
Steps to the Gate
The steps to the gate are yet another example of the overall symbolic construction of the Divine Comedy which considers the number 3 to be endowed with special meaning. The gates here meet that specification by representing the three stages of penance: contrition, confession and satisfaction.
The golden ladder obviously is intended as a symbol for the ability given to man for his soul to ascend to the heavenly realms from his place on earth. The symbolism actually goes deeper than the mechanics of ascent, however, because in addition to ability, the ladder also presents opportunity. The opportunity to ascend is dependent upon the contemplation of God’s grace as the actual means by which a soul ascends to heaven.
The pelican commonly appears in medieval literature and art as a symbol for Christ through a misconception that a mother bird would nurse her chicks with her own blood. This mistaken conception of an act of blood sacrifice to give life carries heavy symbolic connotations for Christians.
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