Tuesday, May 10, 2005

A Transformational Journey Through Dante’s Trees

copyright 2005 Scott Michael Potter

A tree represents far more than its physical embodiment. In Aion: […], C.G. Jung writes: “The tree stands for the development and phases of the transformation process, and its fruits or flowers signify the consummation of the work” (235). Just as the tree stands for transformative elements according to Jung, it is my contention that trees also symbolize the current state of humanity, in moment and in transformation; so that a tree, in its condition as observed and described by Dante in Commedia, serves to illuminate how Dante views the condition and state, not only of himself as pilgrim on a journey, but of himself in a corresponding life moment. (Footnote 1) In The Origins and History of Consciousness, Erich Neumann writes of Adam as the “hero who imparts the new knowledge to mankind” (178). Since Dante imparts a new synthesis of Arabic thought, as well as of Islamic mythology (Joseph Campbell: Creative Mythology 128-144), Greek mythology (especially Apollo and Minerva), alchemical language (Footnote 2) and kabbalistic visions (Footnote 3)—all founded in Judeo-Christian mythology—Dante represents a new sort of Adam. In fact, the Commedia (organized by and through three terza rima poems), is a collection of three such transformative endeavors that serve to remythologize Christianity and combine it alchemically with Greek Mythology—while synthesizing time from its former linear passage to a course that spirals in eerie semblance of the psyche itself, with trees appearing at critical junctures to point out a new way. Dante, as pilgrim, finds journeying through the first two poems most difficult: transformations wrestle with his soul inducing bewilderment, fear, shame, terror, sleep, and passing out (the greatest moment of psychic upheaval). However, the ever-vigilant Virgil and the ever-present Beatrice, for whose love (and love of her) the journey unfolds bless Dante in their accompaniment to the final poem, wherein transformations of a deeper sort occur, such as faith and intelligence of the heart. All three poems require Beatrice’s love, and woven within the text, the Cosmic Tree flourishes as the Tree of Wisdom and The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. This paper begins with the significance of the Cosmic Tree and then explores some of the trees and tree references that occur within each of the poems, in succession. The focus is on transformation throughout, with Love and Poesis in their archetypal fields, the main driving powers of it.

A brief exploration of the Cosmic Tree will demonstrate how it grows within the poem. The designation of a World Axis, World Tree, Cosmic Tree, Axial Tree, navel of the earth, and other terms that represent the center of the earth and a means to reach both above and below are represented by both tree and mountain most commonly. In A History of Religious Ideas: […], Eliade writes: “The Cosmic Tree is held to be at the center of the world, and it unites the three cosmic regions, for it sends its roots down into the underworld, and its top touches the sky” (42). In Images and Symbols […], Eliade states: “The soul of the deceased ascends the pathways up a mountain, or climbs a tree or a creeper, right up into the heavens” (49). That the Cosmic Tree informed Dante’s treatment of trees in Commedia proves self-evident, upon examining his usage of trees as portal-like thresholds to Hades, Purgatory and Paradise.

Footnote 1
If readers inquire as to how they feel while reading Commedia, it may also reflect the trees within. That the rose appears at the end of Paradiso concurs with Jung’s statement. Dante’s journey also resonates profoundly with the journey in which I now find myself, from the moment in the dark wood whilst hiking and filled with an ineffable anxiety the day of my father’s death; to later, upon hearing of my father’s death, experiencing that anxiety quickly transform into the descent into Hell; to continuing to make my way through the various stages of grieving and re-emergence. As this personal descent into Hell at first prevented me from writing and the later journey of it became integral to the writing process, I will share the parallels of Dante's journey with my own in the Appendix.

Footnote 2
Within Inferno, Dante names Simon Magus, the alchemist, along with his disciples, labeling them “Rapacious ones” who transform things of God into gold and silver (19.1-4); and speaks of alchemy counterfeiting “fine metals” (29.137); and relates the “falsifying of the coin” (30.115). The paper cites from Allen Mandelbaum’s translation.

Footnote 3
Possible Adam Kadmon references occur in Purgatorio, in Canto 22 (130-144); Canto 32, specifically: “‘Adam,’ I heard all of them murmuring, / and then they drew around a tree whose every / branch had been stripped of flowers and of leaves” (Purg. 32.37-39); and Canto 33 (64-72).

Moreover, it is not by accident that Dante writes trees and the mountain he climbs out of purgatory into the cantos, as they represent both threshold (Footnote 4) and transformative indicators for his personal changes and growth within Commedia. Dante names the Cosmic Tree that he employs as the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. The Tree makes what may be its first appearance, analogously in Canto 16 of Purgatorio, when Marco, the Lombard, says: “[…] you have received both light / of good and evil, and free will, which though / it struggle in its first wars with the heavens, / then conquers all, if it has been well nurtured” (75-8). Marco refers to a knowing that Dante has already consumed of this Tree, which establishes an earlier influence, and I think means the life lived before this journey alongside the entire journey—in mythic time. (Footnote 5) In Canto 24, Dante states: “[…] and we—immediately—reached that great tree, / which turns aside so many prayers and tears. / ‘Continue on, but don’t draw close to it; / there is a tree above from which Eve ate, / and from that tree above, this plant was raised’” (Purg. 113-18). This is the first direct naming of the Cosmic Tree, whose doppelganger above breathes along with each word sung or uttered.
An exploration of Dante’s treatment of trees in Inferno must begin with its first three oft-quoted lines. Dante writes: “When I had journeyed half of our life’s way, / I found myself within a shadowed forest, / for I had lost the path that does not stray” (Inf. 1.1-3). Dante begins the first terza rima poem by placing special emphasis on the psychic and mythic parallels between the forest, and trees by extension, and a human life, the human condition or state of the soul. (Footnote 6) Journeying starts first within a shadowed forest, the dark wood where animals frighten and threaten (complexes and instincts) him (Inf. 1.1-12). The dark wood in the Middle Ages equated to being lost, black magic, the devil’s minions and fear, among others. (Footnote 7) He meets Virgil, the first guide, receiving some comfort, at the edge of the dark wood (Inf. 1.61-136). A few lines later, Dante says: “Therefore, if I consent to start this journey, / I fear my venture may be wild and empty” (Inf. 2.34-35). His hesitation, as a writer, mirrors the state of human psychological emotions and complexes related to the forest held among many of his contemporaries.

Footnote 4
Helen Luke, in Dark Wood to White Rose: […], writes: “The threshold of the entire journey is the dark wood of the beginning” (3).

Footnote 5
The Appendix has a short look at existence and the terza rima.

Footnote 6
Dante also names an underlying fear in Christianity of the woods, motivated mainly by the superstitions promulgated by the Church of witches and sorcerers that lived therein. Robert Pogue Harrison, in Forests: The Shadow of Civilization, writes: “[…] we may remark that the opening of the Divine Comedy may well be the first occurrence in literature of a motif that will later become archetypal: fear of the forest” (82). Although the fear of the forest may have become archetypal, and the rapid deforestation of much of Europe in the Middle Ages attests to this idea, the archetypal distinction of forest and trees as emblematic of the human condition is the focus of this paper.

Footnote 7
The authors Bechmann, Campbell, Chase, Frazer, Gaster, Gifford, Hageneder, Harrison, Lehner, Luke, Maser, Paterson, Perlman, Porteous, Skinner, and Telesko, among others, make this point.

He continues through an unidentified forest—a wood of limbo of sorts (Inf. 4.64-66), for it is mentioned as a passage to elsewhere and later something to be avoided and represents an extension of the dark woods—that recurs until the icy alpine (Inf. 12.1-2), the wood of the suicides (Inf. 13) and the wood of sorrow (Inf. 14). Dante, thus steps forward, in large part as a result of the comfort Virgil gives, reducing his fear, but needs to step backward again, which action is the giving into fear at the wood of the suicides, a movement that echoes the terza rima scheme. (Footnote 8) He describes his experience in the wood of the suicides, where he is terrified. Dante and Virgil encounter a modified Virgil’s Aeneid (Notes Inferno 574), where Harpies besiege the shades that become knotted, bleeding thornbushes (Inf. 13.1-151 and 14.1-3). Dante continually, from this point forward mentions knots and in so doing, has first Virgil and then other shades and finally Beatrice untying them. The metaphorical nature of knots then is not simply that of the twisted and deformed trees in the wood of the suicides, nor is it related only to the condition of the soul in torment, but, rather it is also related to the soul and trees becoming, metamorphosing, transforming into something more beautiful through the power of love and intelligence. The wood of the suicides rises up in a chorus of wailing, which may be seen as the very complexes or instincts in turmoil in their bleeding, filthy and forlorn misery. (Footnote 9) It is in the wood of the suicides that Dante encounters again the dead in fear of never being able to leave Hell, of waiting for someone, and/or of not ever being remembered as before in Cantos 4.76-78, 5.107, 6.40-42, and 10.60-72.

Footnote 8
As observed and stressed by Dennis Patrick Slattery (Pacifica Fall Lectures 2004).

Footnote 9
The occurrence of green, as a specific color mentioned by Dante numerous times throughout Commedia, gave rise to speculation about what he intended by its application. Marie-Louise von Franz, in On Dreams & Death: […], writes: “In the Middle Ages, green was considered to be the color of the Holy Spirit, of life, procreation and resurrection” (24). Thus, it is significant that the trees in the wood of the suicides had no green and were rather black, and only later, in purgatory and paradise is green mentioned. See Appendix for tree type speculation.

Consistent with Dante’s passion for setting the reader in the emotional quality of a theme, Dante first sets the feeling-tone in the woods, which will appear throughout the cantos, of the dead being in relationship with the living, just as the pilgrim is in relationship to his higher Self. He writes: “Love of our native city overcame me; / I gathered up the scattered boughs and gave / them back to him whose voice was spent already” (Inf. 14.1-3). Dante gathers up the complexes and instincts that induced terror and fear in him to transform into sorrow at such exposures as he has seen. This transformation is evidenced by the next woods encountered: “The wood of sorrow is a garland round it, / just as that wood is ringed by a sad channel” (Inf. 14.10-11). The dead continue to ask for Dante’s prayers even as far as his trek in Purgatory. As such, the feeling-tone of the wood of sorrow naturally shades Infernoand Purgatorio; until the first mentioning of the trees in that second book, for it is there that the next trees after the wood of sorrow finally appear.
The woods, then, become a place in which a transformative journey is enacted, from its less frightening aspects to its more terrifying ones. As Virgil guides Dante from the dark wood through the wood of limbo and the alpine unto the wood of the suicides and the wood of sorrow through the various circles of Hell, Virgil guides Dante through the course of his own psyche. (Footnote 10) The repeated emotions occurring throughout Inferno, reflective of the wood of sorrow, include grief, guilt, sorrow and mourning. Moreover, when Virgil instructs Dante to break a twig off of a thornbush in the wood of the suicides, and Dante instead tears a branch off, grievously harming the tree-shade, Dante faces his own psychic upheaval that begins with the dark wooded path, so that he might better ascend unto unity with Beatrice and eventually God, the Self. Dante writes:
“and from a great thornbush snapped off a branch, / at which its trunk cried out: ‘Why do you tear me?’ / And then, when it had grown more dark with blood, / It asked again: ‘Why do you break me off? / Are you without all sentiment of pity? / We once were men and now are arid stumps: / your hand might well have shown us greater mercy / had we been nothing more than souls of serpents’” (Inf. 13.32-9).

I think the dark aspects of the trees of Infernoreflect the shadow side of the Cosmic Tree and definitely form the basis for an understanding of the evil aspect contained in the Knowledge Tree. (Footnote 11)
The first significant tree appearance in Purgatorio is the downward tapering tree of Cantos 22 (130-144) and 23. Before this, however, Dante foreshadows his perch upon the Tree of Wisdom, when in Canto 7, Sordello says: “How seldom human worth ascends from branch / to branch, and this is willed by Him who grants / that gift, that one may pray to him for it” (Purgatorio 7.21-23). Emblematic of the transitional nature of the second terza rima poem, itself, the tree of Cantos 22 and 23 does not provide true sustenance; rather, it serves to feed the endless need of gluttony. However, it also foreshadows many more trees in Purgatorio to come. (Footnote 12) In Cantos 28-33 of Purgatorio, Dante experiences the following transformations requiring sacrifice: amazement due to lack of comprehension, not seeing deeper meanings, lamentation and anxiety related to sin (Purg. 28.1-142); the question that suggests he see deeper (Purg. 29.61-63); the tears shed for the loss of his guide Virgil (Purg. 30.49-57); his shame and guilt at being led astray by other countenances since Beatrice’s first struck him when nine, which allows him to see deeper (Purg. 30.94-145); unto a temporary loss of sight (Purg. 32.10-12) and return of it (Purg. 32.13-18); sleep (Purg. 32.62-69); then a reunion with Beatrice sitting on the root of Adam Kadmon (Purg. 32.85-108); the symbolic giving up of other women and amazement itself, “into the wood, so that I could not see / either the whore or the amazing beast” (Purg. 32.148-160); the disentanglement from fear and shame urged by Beatrice (Purg. 33.31-32); and, finally, the infusion of noble memories that illuminate his sight at the drinking of Eunoe: “I now returned / to Beatrice; remade, as new trees are / renewed when they bring forth new boughs, I was / pure and prepared to climb unto the stars” (Purg. 33.124-45). In Creative Mythology, Joseph Campbell suggests that Dante viewed Purgatory as “[…] the condition of a soul being purged of its pride and so readied to respond to the radiance of God’s love […]” (664). Yet, I think also, that the way to God’s radiant love is paved by the blissful and illuminating love of Beatrice, Dante’s anima, who is integrally interrelated to Virgil, his animus. One could see Beatrice as the guiding love that allows the lessons Virgil teaches to be grasped and integrated by Dante, in direct preparation for the lessons Beatrice will reveal in order for Dante to be open enough to receive God’s love.

Footnote 10
Virgil says: “[…] ‘The time has come to quit / this wood; see that you follow close behind me’” (Inf. 14.139-40).

Footnote 11
In the paper, “‘Crossing’ the Tree of Life,” I revision the biblical trees; this is The Tree of Knowledge of G. & E.

Footnote 12
Please see Appendix for a list of the main trees in Purgatorio.

The description of the final actual tree to appear in Purgatorio (as opposed to the reference to tree as metaphor or simile, as in the above-referenced final lines) occurs in Canto 33, where the inverted tree is described as emblematic of God’s justice:
“Your intellect’s asleep if it can’t see / how singular’s the cause that makes that tree / so tall and makes it grow invertedly. / And if, like waters of the Elsa, your / vain thoughts did not encrust your mind; if your delight in them were not like Pyramus / staining the mulberry, you’d recognize / in that tree’s form and height the moral sense / God’s justice had when He forbade trespass.” (Purg. 33.64-72).
Adam Kadmon, the upside down tree in kabbalistic practice, surely informed Dante’s inverted tree in Purgatorio. Kabbalists viewed the Tree in a similar fashion to Alchemists, in that everything that happens in our world affects the Tree, and conversely, everything that happens with the Tree affects our world—in other words: as above so below. This implies, not only an inclination toward equilibrium or balance, (Footnote 13) but also reiterates the archetypal significance of the Tree as indicative of human nature, as well as underscores the transformative influence of the Tree upon humanity. That the influence or significance of trees begins to shift in Purgatorio—such that the second movement ends with trees providing a wholly positive influence (if one is intelligent or awake enough to see), when in the Inferno, the trees of the dark wood, the wood of the suicides, and the wood of sorrow paused the action—parallels the dramatic shift in the attitude of the pilgrim, in the very state of the human condition, from where it starts to where it is capable of ending. From the transformation of the state of the human soul in its suffering and torture in Inferno, through the experiences of sorrow, penitence and eventual rapture in Purgatorio, leading finally, in Paradiso, to awe, as Dante writes: “the Love that moves the sun and other stars” (Paradiso 33.145), the trees reflect humanity’s state as they transform with humanity (as ever present at the transformation).
The abovementioned transformations occur within the Garden of Paradise, first at his entrance to it, then at the edge of it near the banks of the river Lethe, underneath the seven candelabra trees, and then unto Adam Kadmon, or Adam’s tree Footnote 14) as Mandelbaum identifies it, and finally at the river Eunoe, within earthly Paradise, from which underneath the Tree of Life flow four rivers, two of which are identified as Lethe and Eunoe. (Footnote 15) When Dante begins his trek to paradise, he does so in the final stanza of Purgatorio; as quoted above, he is remade and renewed, pure and prepared. Thus, the comparison of himself, and Beatrice by extension, to the rejuvenated tree reflects the notion of wholeness and integration, the kind required to visit heaven. Beatrice and Dante have formed a union, the first coniunctio in alchemical terms, which later will lead to further coniunctios.

Footnote 13
Dante makes the connection between tree and man a rather veiled one, but, his invoking of Adam Kadmon combined with his alchemical sensibilities make for what could be an interesting study on cultural exchange during his time. Please see Appendix for further thoughts on possible kabbalistic connections.

Footnote 14
For a cursory look at the meaning of ‘defrocking the tree’ as intentional deforestation, please see Appendix.

Footnote 15
See the Appendix for translation differences of Mandelbaum’s ‘visitor’ versus Harrison’s ‘forester.’

While it could be said that the most difficult part of the pilgrim’s journey is undertaken in Infernoand Purgatorio, nevertheless, a profound continuance of transformation unfolds in Paradiso, for it is Dante’s creative imagination and intelligence of the heart that continues to undergo transformation with the assistance of Beatrice, as well as the development of his faith.
Dante’s usage of forests and trees to approximate the state of his psyche throughout his journey makes the idyllic paradisal forest an apt allegory for the condition of his soul after the alchemical journey through Inferno and Purgatorio. Jung, in Four Archetypes: […], writes:
The alchemist saw the union of opposites under the symbol of the tree, and it is therefore not surprising that the unconscious of present-day man, who no longer feels at home in his world and can base his existence neither on the past that is no more nor on the future that is yet to be, should hark back to the symbol of the cosmic tree rooted in this world and growing up to heaven—the tree that is also man. In the history of symbols this tree is described as the way of life itself, a growing into that which eternally is and does not change; which springs from the union of opposites and, by its eternal presence, also makes that union possible (43-44).
In Canto 24 of Paradiso, faith as substance and as evidence requires the expression of its truth in order to be proven by its acts unfolding within the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil; and I would say the Tree of Wisdom, or Sophia, is exactly the tree Dante climbs with St. Peter (Par. 24.115-123). The encircling of Dante three times by the “apostolic light” of St. Peter (Par. 24.151-154) again reminds the reader of the importance of more than polar oppositions in tension, and is indicative of attainment of deeper wisdom, along with the acceptance of Dante’s faith (Footnote 16) as worthy of further spheres of heaven. Without climbing the Tree of Wisdom, which is the Cosmic Tree in another form, Dante would not have transformed and the journey would end.
The trees within the Commedia act as threshold and liminality signposts or billboards of what is to come, and in some cases, more aptly than words describe, the situation and quality of Dante’s transformation within his pursuit of Beatrice. (Footnote 17) The trees also represent a threshold of psychic disintegration, integration and reintegration of not only death, but also rebirth and love. Jung, in Jung on Christianity, states: “No tree, it is said, can grow to heaven unless its roots reach down to hell” (82). For Dante, the trees signify an entry into hell and while there, the misery of the fractured psyche; (Footnote 18) and then in purgatory, the continual process of transformation and its associated pains; while in paradise, the forest is emblematic of Eden, representing his achievement of psychic rebirth and renewal. However, it is not simply love or even divine love that moves Dante forward on his trek. It is, rather, an individuated seeing and then a unification of his animus merging with his anima. Even after this unification, Dante does not wholly leave behind the image of the tree. (Footnote 19) The garlands change from those of laurel to various flowers (lilies or roses most often) to angelic lights. Nevertheless, the garlands continually remind this reader of Daphne, the unrequited love of Apollo, whose transformation into a laurel tree denied Apollo the chance at consummation and led to his wearing (and much later conferring of it to victorious poets in Olympic games) of the crown of laurel. Thus, Dante overcomes the same error by transforming at Beatrice’s behest. Like Dante, as I see it, the importance of trees in psychic transformation and renewal has made itself clear as light that blinds and rekindles vision.

Footnote 16
The Appendix contains an exploration of Dante’s faiths.

Footnote 17
Before concluding, I believe that it would be particularly relevant to compare certain of the “same” lines in each of the terza rimas to one another (Cantos 24, lines 115-17); please see Appendix for the breakdown.

Footnote 18
In the Appendix is an exploration of Psyche as Dante and Eros as Beatrice.

Footnote 19
The Appendix also contains a quick look at transformation relating to Dante’s trees.


In the Appendix are footnotes and notes. Footnotes 1, 5, 9, and 12-19 address the following, in succession: personal journey (12-19), existence is a terza rima (19), tree type speculation (19-20), main trees in Purgatorio (20), possible Dantean kabbalistic connections (20-21), defrocking the tree (21), visitor or forester (21), Dante’s faiths (21-22), Christianity in a nutshell (22), Psyche-Dante/Eros-Beatrice (22-25), and Dante’s trees in transformation (25); Notes 1-5 address the following ideas: Life Tree (25-26), stages of alchemical process (26), the seven women in Commedia (26), Dante’s revisioning of deforestation (26-27), and the trees of Commedia (27-41).

Footnote 1: Personal journey [material contained in the body of the paper will be in brackets]

Dante’s journey resonates profoundly with my current journey: from the moment in the dark wood whilst hiking and filled with an ineffable anxiety the day of my father’s death; to later, upon hearing of my father’s death, experiencing that anxiety quickly transform into the descent into Hell; to continuing to make my way through the various stages of grieving and re-emergence. As this personal descent into Hell at first prevented me from writing—the wood of the suicides rose up in a chorus of wailing, as the branch that was my father broke from the living family tree to be rejoined to the dead family tree—and the later journey of it became integral to the writing process, it is a process that is critical to this paper, albeit beyond the scope of the body. It is only through the grace of Lisé’s love, just as in Dante’s case Beatrice’s love motivates him to endure and persevere through imagined horrors, and the energy of poesis, which Dante sees in Virgil’s form while invoking the Muses and Apollo, that I am able to finally complete this paper.

The following is the eulogy written for my father’s funeral:

Who was Jim Potter?

Was he the man of his plethora of stories?
An athlete of considerable prowess…
A hellion in Grandville forced into the Marines…
A fisherman—from whom not many got away…
A hunter at one with the land…

Or was he the man that some others saw?
A strict authoritarian…
A generous and benevolent friend…
A quick temper…
A beekeeper and tree-trimmer…
A fishing-hole zealot…
A gatherer of wildlife out of sanctioned season…

I know he was
A father…
A husband twice over…
A man bent on correcting the wrongs in his life…

In the end, if we face not ourselves and that part of us others know, unknown to us, with equanimity and candor, then we know little more than what we want to say we are…The Jim Potter I knew was headed down a path that wanted to move between the lines, blurring them into obscurity.

Overall, he was a storyteller

In The Hero With a Thousand Faces, Campbell writes: “The man hero […] must ‘descend’ to re-establish connection with the infrahuman” (319). This infrahuman might be a shade in Dante’s Commedia, as in my father’s spirit or soul in the afterworld, or it could also be seen as the psychological characteristics of the psyche in rupture (as during grieving), such as activated complexes and instinctual processes gone dormant or in turmoil. [Thus when Virgil instructs Dante to break a twig off and Dante instead tears a branch off, grievously harming the tree-shade-soul-spirit, Dante is indeed facing his own psychic upheaval that begins with the dark wooded path, so that he might better ascend unto unity with Beatrice and eventually God, the Self.] I see this as relevant in the grieving process already underway, as I am continuously facing activated complexes and bloody stumpy instincts calling for misery and wallowing.

Dante knew the process of grieving, which is exemplified by the following passage from Inferno. He states: “I did not die, and I was not alive; / think for yourself, if you have any wit, / what I became, deprived of life and death” (34.25-27). This idea of a tension of the opposites of life and death, of living and being dead, revolves at the heart of the grieving process for one’s parent, particularly in experiencing the first death of an immediate family member. Whilst grieving, especially in the first week, writing a eulogy, traveling from West to Midwest, placing my hands upon my dead father as I voiced my sadness at his passing and joy for the lessons he imparted, attending the funeral and speaking the eulogy, placing my hands upon the casket in the hearse and saying goodbyes, there were times when I watched the veil between the living and the dead obscure and when I knew not whether I myself were actually in the land of the dead, bleak as it was in my dreams. (The fact that my father was a storyteller is made: thus, he actively mythified, or mythologized, his life.)

This inner guide, the one who illuminates and opens vision and heart to the path out of Hell, must then be one that is rooted firmly within the psyche, an anima and/or animus of known and experienced dimensions. Campbell relates some passages from Dante’s Vita Nuova that speak directly to his encounter with Beatrice when they were but nine. The passion and possession-like quality of Dante’s words speak not only to love, but also to the affect she had on his spirit: a trembling knowledge of his bliss appearing before him (Creative Mythology 68). This trembling of the spirit, upon meeting Lisé and conversing with her, initially, and then, much greater affectation during the private performance of our marriage ceremony, which brings with it knowledge of many past journeys together forms the kernel of an expanding and deepening love beyond Adolescence comprehension, and perhaps only possible in Manhood or later.

That Lisé and I performed our wedding ceremony on Pentecost—the commemoration of the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles on the seventh day after Easter—provides even deeper affiliations with a Dante-esque journey, as it provides the allegorical reference to the calendar and is a religious holiday, not too far removed in a year (ten days separate them) from the Good Friday—the commemoration of Jesus Christ’s death on the cross, the Friday before Easter—on which Dante’s journey begins. Paul Ricoeur, in “Introduction: The Symbolic Function of Myths,” writes of the Christian myth: “Thus the myth has an ontological bearing: it points to the relation […] between the essential being of man and his historical existence” (329). Thus, the parallel between the significance of having lived several lives with another before being with them again in recognition surfaces.

Lisé is Virgil and any other tapped into poesis, but, also, simultaneously the passionate ardor of love that swells within and spreads to all branches of my existence and essential beingness during this unique incarnation. In Lisé, I have found the combination of Virgil and Beatrice (and one could argue Statius as well, since she is a phenomenal editor): the androgynous, yet completely either gender as needed or provided, for she guides me into and through situations formerly only read and imagined with loving kindness and spiritual wisdom, both expanding continuously. J.F. Bierlein, in Living Myths: […], writes: “For us, myths are a way to know where we have been and work through the complex maze of our own existence. And for us, [as for Dante], love guides us through that maze” (136). As the loving Virgil, and then Beatrice guided Dante, Lisé guides me through this particular maze of grieving, a rite of passage, initiation and descent to ascent.

Dante’s usage of four senses: literal, allegorical, moral and anagogical, in constructing and weaving the greatest spiritual Christian and Greek Mythological poem, find some similarities in the journey I now embark upon. The literal aspect is as Campbell, in Creative Mythology, states: “[…] the passage of himself out of the ‘dark wood’ in which he had been lost […]” (540), In Thinking Through Myths: […], Mary Gerhart and Melvin Russell write: “Myth is a narrative that, because it is a narrative, must contain elapsed time (which is the same as scientific time). But a myth is a narrative that takes place not at a particular time in history (historical time) but at any time” (200). Dante’s journey certainly contains both scientific time with its myriad historical references, and mythic time in that it resonates today with not only others, but the journey that I am on. He captures the archetypal journey, and presents it alongside the archetypal fear of the forest, guilt, sorrow and love, and more relevant to this paper than any other—the illumination of conscious transformation through treed poesis. In doing so, Dante provides a metaphorical account of inner workings of some mythologies previously identified. Vincent Hopper, in Medieval Number Symbolism: […], writes: “At night, Dante is in the forest, the ‘state of misery’” (156). That state of misery corresponds to the grief that overwhelms at times, incapacitating me, and that blocked writing in meaningful fashion. The moral aspect is identified by Campbell as being “the turning of the heart from sensual to spiritual concerns” (Creative Mythology 540), and it is within this realm of turning I now find myself thanks to the abiding and guiding love and spirituality of Lisé.

We have begun anew the Tibetan Rites, which truly open the heart and mind, and, as they reorient the chakras or energy systems within the body, it allows for a more full experience of any emotions, especially those affiliated with grief and love. Practicing the Tibetan Rites combined with speaking of the psychological ramifications of my father’s death, seeing the alchemical sense of this grieving process and then also expressing it through an embodied dialogue that utilizes and sees the psyche as only whole when unified in gender and with transforming nature, imbues Lisé and I with connectivity beyond our initial coniunctios. I think that eventually, our developing dialogue, opening love and spiritual practices, since they point upward, inward and outward to, as Campbell writes about Dante’s anagogical sense: “mysteries beyond the reach of sight sound, word, or symbol” (Creative Mythology 541), shall lead unto another coniunctio comparative to the third coniunctio as defined by Jeffrey Raff in The Wedding of Sophia: […]. In Myths to Live by, Campbell also speaks of the Dantean voyage being both outward and inward, “to the sources of all great acts, which are not out there, but in here, in us all, where the Muses dwell” (233).

According to Campbell, Dante writes of four stages in a life compared to an arch in the Convito, that of Adolescence, Manhood (twenty-five to forty-five, with temperance, courage, love, courtesy and loyalty as virtues), Age, and Decrepitude (Creative Mythology 633-34). Thus, as I am thirty-nine, I am in Dante’s Manhood stage, and am relying mainly on the virtues of courage, temperance and love to wind my way from the current purgatory, which ascent has been achieved after first climbing out of the initial icy and fiery Hell of great sorrow after hearing of my father’s death. Campbell writes:
The critical period of the transit, then, […] is the period of the mid-span of twenty years of manhood, at the middle of which, at the apogee, the adventure of the dark wood will occur: the crucifixion, death, descent to Hell, and passage through Purgatory to Paradise—and return, then, to the service of the world (Creative Mythology 634).
With only six years of Manhood left, and having already decided to be led, to be open to life and allow whatever unfolds to present itself, to listen consciously to what my inner voices tell me and what they reveal, Pacifica revealed herself inside a trial Parabola, and the service to others could best be exemplified by the editorial duties for between. What rumbles between the words freshly stated, percolates as the creative illness (what I had always been referring to as the point in my life when I just let myself go crazy for a year and a half, living in subsidized housing and only waiting tables within walking distance at a fine dining restaurant in downtown Grand Rapids, quickly became a creative illness after reading Ellenberger) endured a full year before ordering a trial subscription to Parabola. Undergoing that experience opened the floodgates, as did one much shorter experienced five years previous, of emotional, psychological and spiritual growth. Without that experience, this journey underway would not be possible at the depth with which it does fill me.

Additionally, Campbell relates that servant to master, friend to friend, parent for child, spouses for each other, and passionate illicit love, comprise the five categories of love recorded in Hindu scriptures. He sees passionate love and compassionate love forming poles of opposites in tension (Myths to Live by 151-53). Lisé and I experience a little of each of these types of love, and throughout our mythical interaction, we have each fulfilled the opposite roles and poles of love and loving. In Transformation: Emergence of the Self, Murray Stein writes: “The power of Eros to constellate the psyche and to change human lives has been acknowledge from time immemorial” (72). What remains central in our mutual transformation, especially considering my father’s death and her mother’s current heart condition, is abiding and tended love. Such love, when regularly tended, yields a timeless quality to existence. Hubert Benoit, in Zen and the Psychology of Transformation: […], writes that such “suspension of time announces our reintegration with the eternity of the instant” (232). The ‘eternity of the instant’ is central to Dante’s Commedia, even as it blooms within the wrapping, paradoxically, of a calendrical Christian cycle. His encounters and travels defy time and although adhering to the day and night cycles—of movement, reflection and rest to action, reflective of the terza rima structure, psyche and nature in its system of changes—there yet remains that timeless quality best exemplified by love and its transformative power.

The trees of Commedia, in demonstrating the parallels in Dante’s psychic transformation along his journey to Beatrice, speak to his successful integration of both death and love, among other things. Alchemy embraces love and death as integral motivators to transformation, just as psychic transformation finds few motivators more vital than love or death. In Memories, Dreams, Reflections, Jung writes on death: “[…] it is brutal not only as a physical event, but far more so psychically: a human being is torn away from us, and what remains is the icy stillness of death” (314). The manner in which we understand and deal with the death of a loved one, the beloved dead as they lay, and the delayed dying of dearly loved critically ill or incapacitated, owes its foundations to the parental unit and early foundational authorities who imparted their versions of wisdom to comprehension, love to compassion, and understanding to empathy.

Such a methodology of grieving, sadness, joviality and denial, thinking abstractly to logically imaginative to imaginally-creative taps into poesis and aesthesis as two energies of creating and perceiving fill us with insights and whimsies. Campbell writes: “Creativity consists in going out of the way to find the thing that society hasn’t found yet” (The Hero’s Journey 192). Creativity exists inside, and the gift of poesis, of making or creating things, resides within each of us. It is not so much that society has not found creativity, but rather that they forgot they had it. And if we read, alternatively, that Campbell meant to say that the artist engages in creativity by discovering unknowns that society has no knowledge of, then this lumps science in with the arts and goes to prove the point further, that we all retain poesis within—what we need do is find that which we did not know, namely the poesis within and creation opens to us. Frithjof Schuon, in Esoterism as Principle and as Way, writes: “The aesthetic sensation—as we have often remarked—possesses in itself an ascending quality: it provokes in the contemplative soul, directly or indirectly, a recollection of the divine essences” (234). Openness of mind, heart and body is a state that is necessary to reclaim the aesthesis-poesis connection. It is a way to climb the trees to get in touch with the Garden. The crucial manner in which aesthesis and poesis interrelate, in a helixically fractal way, has been covered in greater detail in several other papers. The idea of interrelationship and interconnectedness is an ancient one that enjoys an upsurge of recent scientific endorsement with systems process theory and confluences of fields emblematic in such books as Michael Conforti’s Field, Form, Fate: […], and Paul Laviolette’s Beyond the Big Bang. As I see aesthesis and poesis as archetypal energies, they necessarily exist and exert influences—one example is the creative genius of Dante, another one could be seen as filling the minds of all writers, especially poets, with erospoetic energy—and interrelate, so that when one is present, the other has the potential to arise and take possession of the field at any moment. The bridges between the two fields of energy, as wormholes in space (now since proven to exist at the molecular level in measurements that suggest possibilities on larger scales), provide for either energy, or the possibility of others, if the conduit is availed.

The methodology of grieving, once scrutinized, also transforms into various veins, but, one in particular pulses loudest, that of the journey. A journey, however, understates the gravity of the situation at hand, for, now this journey undergone, paints and jousts a Dantesque meaning and process. Truly, if one actively reads Dante’s masterful Commedia, one cannot help but witness complementarities to synchronistic events unfolding in one’s surround, thus, proving the veracity of Dante’s psychologizing and philosophical intelligence flexing in the act of poesis to the highest degree. Yes, the lives of readers of Dante’s entire treatment of Eros and Psyche—only reversing the gender and with minor variations and adaptations to more closely resemble Christianity—shall see the beginning of the journey to find the coveted prize leads to the deepest descent beyond reckoning in the Arabic icy cellars of the 12th-13th century Hell. It is such an icy chill that fills one’s body upon hearing of the death of their father, a veritable living Hell; the same place as the bottom of the nigredo in alchemical treatments that leads unto the albedo and rubedo and others, depending, which also parallel the trek to Eros/Beatrice that Dante makes.

The three stages in the Lesser Mysteries involve confronting the contents of one’s own unconscious, especially helpful and healing during the grieving process (which could be seen as an illness). Robert Sardello, in the Foreword to Ziegler’s Archetypal Medicine, writes: “If one tries to begin to work with one’s own illnesses in an archetypal way […] it may at first be like entering a dark forest, where shadows constantly pop up as seeming realities” (iii). This dark forest is the Dantesque dark wood that opened before me a month ago. Alchemically, it would be similar to the dissolution phase. According to Dennis William Hauck, in The Emerald Tablet: […], calcination, the first step of alchemy in many systems, represents “a burning off of pretenses and unworkable belief systems that hinder our progress.” Dissolution marks the descent into the deep unconscious “to free us from unexamined compulsive or obsessive behavior,” which the undesirable or inferior aspects of the personality are then “cast out in Separation.” Once these find completion and are brought together in the Conjunction, a “new belief system and union of opposing mental forces” provides harmonic “balancing and compatibility of the elements within” (420). What one then faces in the alchemical process of transformation presents similars in the Buddhist traditions: the sacrificing of the ego in order to realize a connection with the innermost guide and God-image, the Self. Virgil and Beatrice form this image of the Self for Dante, as Lisé fills the role for me.

The following alchemical stages form the Greater Mysteries. The first step of which is characterized by the terms Putrefaction (the Dark Night of the Soul) and Fermentation: “a combination of death and rebirth,” new life infusing the old ego (or self), until the Quintessence—the soul and unborn or transforming Self remains. Fermentation (inspiration and living imagination), Distillation and Coagulation revolve around transforming the Quintessence (Hauck 421). Dante (and I through reading the Commedia and my father’s death and ensuing grieving process) finds the death and rebirth phases in the descent into Hades and the climb upwards in purgatory. Statius appears as a manifestation of this rebirth, a soul awakened and called to Paradise, echoing the movement of Dante’s pilgrim (his psyche) to reunion with Beatrice. Distillation forges a transcendence of archetypal energies and a raising of consciousness in order to do so, unto bonding with the Self. In Coagulation, then, one centers and accepts this transformation (Hauck 423), which could be seen as conforming to Jung’s notion that without reflection there is no real experience. It is not until Dante revisits a number of his ailments, shame and guilt among them, that he is able to form a union with Beatrice such that she guides him into the realms of Paradise.

Dante first must confront memories and the eradication of his attachments to them, as he does when baptized in Lethe (the rebirth symbolized), and then secondly, learn the art of rememory and keener sight, as he does after drinking from Eunoe (symbolizing the transforming self). The seven Arcanum of alchemy as detailed by Hauck’s interpretation of the Egyptian Emerald Tablet include the following: 1) Whatever remains Below becomes its own worst enemy. 2) The way to truth is through Intelligence of the Heart. 3) Every created thing carries the signature of its creator. 4) Continued enlightenment comes from living within the Operation of the Sun. 5) The gateway to the Above is through the True Imagination. 6) Your feelings and thoughts are the feelings and thoughts of the Whole Universe. 7) The Stone is a purified consciousness that remains intact on all levels of reality (424-31). Dante does not remain below, and in fact, those parts of him relating to the various circles of Hell could be said to have been revisited and then exorcized therein, partially, and then more fully as both Virgil and Beatrice point them out during their interactions. Dante’s intelligence of the heart rings throughout the Commedia, in which he sees interconnectedness of all. Dante continually requests aid from Apollo, the sun-god, and in numerous passages describes the brightness of the sun. Only through Dante’s imagination does the journey unfold, and he repeatedly understands that feelings and thoughts are universal. Dante finally demonstrates that he grasps the Stone in his explanation of the “Living Light.” He writes: “for It is always what It was before” (Par. 33.111). Dante expresses his intelligence and erospoetic qualities with the expert syncretizations of Beatrice, Apollo and Virgil. The ability to transform manifests in Statius, as he ascends out of purgatory, but, as I argued in the paper and will again, the trees truly perform this function with greater degrees of obviousness to subtlety and dimensions.

I too have entered the underworld, whose heaving underbelly was unbearable grief, and I too have a love that brings me up from such depths of sorrow as never experienced, and asks of me to climb even higher than the heights of keenest sight. Lisé unconsciously and consciously fills the roles that Beatrice filled for Dante, and it is precisely her love that empowers me to continue to write, to research, and to finish this dissertation. Upon my father’s death, the numbness that filled me overwhelmed. It was that Arabic icy chill of Hades Dante names wherein I anguished. Lisé offered wisdom, compassion, silence when needed, love beyond what naming can accomplish, an attentive ear, and admonishments and encouragement to continue this process. I see an alchemical marriage that we live, without trying to make it so, a marriage of tensions of opposites living harmoniously. I see this as what the divine couples of Apollo-Daphne, Psyche-Eros and Persephone-Hades desired and the latter two did achieve. The latter two succeeded because both pairs eventually forged a unified approach, the former because they did not.

Dante demonstrates a move from the archetypal field of Apollo-Daphne unrequited love unto a more realized love of Psyche-Eros and Persephone-Hades. His love becomes more adult and more aware through transformation, whereas the love of Apollo for Daphne was barred by her transformation, Dante’s transformations (and mine) allow for deeper love with Beatrice (or Lisé). As sad as it may sound, the love I have for Lisé may have contained a bit of the Apollo-Daphne unrequited love remnants while my father yet lived. For, unconsciously, I have realized, that there remained a part of me who knew my father would rescue me (as Daphne was rescued after requesting her beauty be transformed) if I needed such assistance and once he died, that complex surfaced within my mourning. The past five years his rescue function related to finances and to blame for certain wrong actions, but prior to that it included a litany of things. My father no longer lives, physically, and so to rely on him to save me from financial ruin or to blame him for my own actions results in a vicious loop that I cannot afford to travel any longer: an unending circularly gray treadmill in purgatory. Lisé has shown these realizations to me, in her wise admonishments, soothing and calm presence, both in a lunar and solar consciousness, as displayed in Beatrice’s aid to Dante.

In The Hero’s Journey, Campbell refers to the four major functions of myth, the last being “pedagogical, carrying the individual through the stages of his life” (161); this then, is the mythological function that Dante’s masterpiece serves, and is also a parallel guide to Lisé’s function in my life. Further growing the role of Lisé as guide, is the fact that her birth force number, determined by adding up all the numbers of one’s day of birth, numerologically is a 2, and my father died on April 2nd, which is the 92nd day of the year. 9+2=11, and 1+1=2, so that, numerologically, my father died on the same day as the number significance of my guide’s day of birth. Hopper relates that Hugo of St. Victor designated the two as symbolic of the “love of God” (102), and, that the Duad represents evil as well (108). Therefore, the symbolic import of the two could be seen as both the evil that stopped a heart and the love of God that some say my father would meet in heaven, as well as the evil of melancholic sorrow that drew me into hell and the love of God that I am enveloped by in Lisé. The fact that Pope John Paul II died on the same day only lends greater meaning to the numinous currents of the journey underway.

The strongest power in Dante’s Commedia that resonates with me is love. J. F. Bierlein, in Living Myths: […], writes: “It is in romantic love that we see the enormous transforming power of love at work in the process of becoming” (40). Bierlein continues: “Our process of becoming is always in, with, and through others” (40). Dante’s pilgrim, Dante, Virgil, Statius, Beatrice and the reader, all transform through the power of love, even if the reader only reads of love and knows it not, transformation yet occurs. Frithjof Schuon, in Roots of the Human Condition, writes: “‘All my thoughts speak of love,’ said Dante in a sense at once terrestrial and celestial” (119). Love serves to transform him as he seeks to discover the mysteries of the afterlife. Schuon continues: “In loving woman, man tends unconsciously towards the Infinite, and for that very reason he has to learn to do so consciously, by interiorizing and sublimizing the immediate object of his love; just as woman, in loving man, tends in reality towards the Absolute, with the same transpersonal virtualities” (43). The complete transformation of Dante, through his love of Beatrice, parallels the transformation of myself through the love of Lisé. But, it is more than my love of Lisé, or Dante’s love of Beatrice that makes such monumental transformation possible, it is additionally the love of Lisé for me and Beatrice for Dante, as well as the energy that is created by these loves—the Third—that moves one through difficult transitions. The love Lisé and I share grows within the aegis of the old-growth Coastal Redwoods of northern California, twelve of which grow on our property, accompanied by the recently planted four maples, fourteen birches, crab apple, and flowering Anjou. [Like Dante, as I see it, the importance of trees in psychic transformation and renewal has made itself clear as light that blinds and rekindles vision.] Within this section, I have discussed numerous topics, all relating in one way or another to my own journey that began the moment my father’s ‘shade’ followed me in the woods the day he died. Dante knew grieving and alchemy, even though he mentions it with disdain in most cases, the continual usage of symbolism and the colors of alchemical language force the question as to whether or not he himself was an alchemist. The journey for me opens a path filled with mythic and scientific time in cahoots that wends its way in literal, moral, anagogical, allegorical and metaphorical manner with expert guidance by Lisé. It is her love that keeps me moving through the most difficult of times, as Beatrice aided Dante.

Footnote 5: Existence is a terza rima

David Loye, in An Arrow Through Chaos: […], succinctly sums up David Bohm’s notion of existence as being the following: David Bohm saw the implicate order consisting of an unseen reality of nonmanifested hologrammic potential being unfolded in manifest form in the explicate order of seen reality, which then enfolded back into the nonmanifested unseen reality (154). As Bohm sees manifest and nonmanifest realities or orders, correspondingly, Jung saw the unconscious archetypes, drives and instincts informing consciousness, which then in turn informed the unconscious in similar terms, and so too, Dante’s terza rima invention moves the psyche to and fro and back and forth in time between nonmanifested unseen reality or the unconscious—imaginary creations of Hell, Purgatory and Heaven based partially on read material and partially on dreams and engaged and active poesis—and manifested seen reality or consciousness: historical characters, places, referents, etc.

Footnote 9: Unconscious and conscious potentials for wood of suicides trees and cosmic tree

What type of trees might Dante have been unconsciously reminded of when contemplating the wood of the suicides? Quite possibly, the stunted and twisted elder, for, according to Jane Gifford in The Wisdom of Trees, it was long associated with the underworld, witches, death and related inner mysteries, and was said to contain the power of a goddess to heal, while also asking of people to accept the inevitability of death and how one might be remembered after death (134). Certainly, with the naming of thorns and briers, consciously, Dante imagined a connection to a thorny tree, such as the blackthorn, a knobby and twisted shape, which sports vicious thorns and which also has connections to the underworld and Hecate. In Tree Wisdom […], Jacqueline Memory Paterson writes: “Blackthorn was condemned as a ‘witch’s tool’ and was purposefully used as a wood of the pyres to burn countless innocent people to death” (87-88). Paterson continues: “An added incentive to the witch-hunt was that if when you broke the branch it turned red and ‘bled’, you would be granted an extra boon” [my italics] (280). With such superstitious knowledge of the blackthorn in common parlance by the seventh century in European literature, Dante surely would have heard of this in his varied learning, and thus, it seems hardly a stretch to connect the elder and blackthorn to Dante. That both the blackthorn and elder have healing properties as well only serves to remind of the alchemical process and movement of the terza rima, for it requires the descent to ascend, the death for rebirth, and so on. However, when watching a movie recently, “The Princess Bride,” the coppiced trees of the English countryside made many appearances in the background. Willows and oaks that have been coppiced for thousands of years contain so many faces and body parts in their knobby and twisted trunks, that I cannot help but think that Dante, having seen such trees in smaller form most likely (probably only five- to eight-hundred years at his time) would have been captivated by the anthropomorphic pulsing of the bark.

In Patterns in Comparative Religion, Mircea Eliade mentions a number of potential influences on Dante’s thought concerning the inverted tree of Purgatorio. The inverted tree occurs in cultures sure to have exerted some ‘mythological background programs (in a Millerian sense)’ to that of Christianity. Eliade lists inverted trees from the Babylonian tradition, the black Kiskanu (which inversion is inferred, the rest definitely); Indian tradition, the Asvattha; the Sabean-Platonic tradition whereby Plato compares man to an inverted tree; the Zohar (ascribed to 2nd century, but most likely translated or written by Moses de Leon who died in 1305, while Dante wrote Commedia after he was banished in 1302, there is no doubt that the Kabbalah had already spread from Spain by then)—with Adam Kadmon; and, the Islamic tradition with the “Tree of Happiness” (271-75). The notion of the cosmic tree was surely firmly rooted in Dante’s unconscious: with Yggdrasil to the north/northeast, and the Trees of Life and Knowledge of Good and Evil from his revered Christianity within, Kiskanu to the southeast/east, Asvattha to the southeast, Plato to the East, Osiris to the south/southeast, Adam Kadmon to the west, Asherah and Astarte (who also occur in biblical scripture) in Mesopotamian cultures to the east/southeast, among others.

Footnote 12: The main trees in Purgatorio

The Eve-eaten-tree offspring in Heaven in Canto 24; the divine forest of Canto 28; the seven golden trees in Canto 29; the empty tall woods and the reflowering tree named Adam of Canto 32; and Adam the inverted tree of Canto 33. All of these trees serve to drive the Jewish, Christian and Pagan mythological views of the tree in a serious thrust to warrant Dante’s push onward into Paradiso.

Footnote 13: Possible kabbalistic connections to Dante

Robert Valens Rugl, in The Glory of the World (part 3), writes: “Hence man may be compared to an inverted tree: for he has his roots, or his hair, in the air, while other trees have their hairs, or their roots, in the earth” (Sacred Texts). What proves significant about Rugl’s comparison, is that he makes it in the case of Alchemy, not Kabbalah, where the Tree is seen as inverted. He goes on to say, “And of our Stone, too, the Sages have justly said that it has its head in the earth, and its root in the air” (Sacred texts). Rugl, hereby demonstrates a stunning analogy between the Arbor philosophica, which is the Philosopher’s Stone, and the inverted Kabbalah Tree. That Dante knew of both Alchemy and the Kabbalah hardly seems questionable today. In The Heritage of Trees: […], Fred Hageneder relates the spread of kabbalism in Europe during the twelfth century. He writes: “In the twelfth century, the ancient lore of Judaism, the Kabbala, started to spread, and blossomed through the Middle Ages, especially in Spain, France and in Germany south of the river Rhine” (162). Certainly, if the Kabbalah spread to Spain, then it reached Italy by Dante’s time and must have formed one of the areas of study for the intellects. The manner in which some of these texts depicted trees shows striking similarities with Dante’s trees, which might be coincidental, but hardly seems so.

Footnote 14: ‘Defrocking the tree’

Luke writes: “They come to a huge barren tree in the midst of the green wood, the Tree of Knowledge; and here Beatrice descends from the car and the Gryphon binds the pole of the chariot, which is the image of the Cross, to its trunk” (112). Scholars seem wont to focus on the allegory of the Church and papal splitting in this passage, yet in this imagery, of the Church ‘defrocking’ the tree (which is arguably Adam, Beatrice and Adam Kadmon at the same time), is a reality of the Church irresponsibly chopping down all trees determined to be focal points of Pagan worship. Why is this obvious reference not made and so oft overlooked by scholars? I think it is a conditioned response; one borne of the unconscious state of awareness of separation from Nature, a shadow of this condition. We must ask ourselves in a work so densely packed as Dante’s, why would Beatrice and the others be seated on the root of the tree when Dante comes to and sees them? The position of being in or on a tree or parts of it is akin to that of the seeker and attainer of enlightenment, one reflective of not only Buddha and Odin, but also Christ.

Footnote 15: Translating ‘visitor’ or ‘forester’

It is significant that in discussing the import of the paradisal forest of Purgatorio, Harrison uses a translation that speaks to Dante being a ‘forester’ (Forests: […] 85), versus the Mandelbaum translation of ‘visitor’ in canto 32, line 100, because this puts the emphasis more squarely on the mythical nature of forests as integral and vital places of renewal and reinvigoration. Instead of stressing the fact that one visits them, as in one only sees and possibly treks throughout them, one communes with them, as only a forester can and does in the process of maintaining the forest. The maintenance of his newly forged psyche after probing the perils of Hell proves paramount to Dante in order for him to fully engage the potentialities of Heaven and his ‘reunion’ with Beatrice. In this sense, Dante has newly emerged from his brush with death, the dead and condemned, those in penitence and bewildered to hopeful to freshly promoted—as in Statius, who then demonstrates to Dante, as well as foreshadowing, his capacity for complete renewal despite his ‘sins’ during his previous life stage—to find himself in the forest of earthly delights, in paradise.

Dante contrasts the two working polarities of forests common in his time and unto ours, that of the forest as a place to be feared and indicative of being lost and that of the forest as a place to be revered and that provides salve for the soul. The oracular nature of oaks and laurel were well-known to Dante, if only through literature, but most likely also through remnants of tree worship that continued despite the Church’s attempts to eradicate it. Harrison later suggests that the paradisal forest is redemptive to Dante because it has been denatured, as in the wild animals no longer threaten, and thus has become a Christianized “municipal park” (85). However this may be true literally, and points toward the desire to subjugate the wild and pagan worship of trees that was attitudinally commonplace in Dante’s time, the striking similarity in Dante’s usage of forests and trees to the state of his psyche throughout his journey makes the idyllic paradisal forest an apt allegory for the condition of his soul after the alchemical journey through Inferno and Purgatorio.

Footnote 16: Dante’s faiths

After having first lost faith in himself (in Inferno and Purgatorio), Dante continues on his journey in Paradiso filled with three main faiths: faith in Virgil, Beatrice and God. Each of these symbolic figures embodies many characteristics. Virgil represents creative imagination, intelligence and logos, poetic genius, a Father figure, animus, and part of the self more closely related to the mind and spirit. Beatrice fulfills the roles of love, concrete thinking, spiritual enlightenment, a Mother and Lover figure, anima, and that aspect of the self more affiliated with the heart and soul. (While one may take issue at, and while I myself can see paradoxes and contradictions within my symbolic descriptions of these two figures, especially insofar as the parsing out of the divisions of the heart and mind are concerned (e.g., the identification of the heart (Beatrice) and not the mind (Virgil) as most often associated with imagination), nevertheless, I believe that, Dante clearly holds Virgil up as serving the imaginative function.) Dante’s faith in the Christian God constructs the basic architecture of each of the realms, relying on his imagination and thought to develop Hell, Purgatory and Paradise, while synthesizing Greek mythology, Arabic thought, and alchemical and kabbalistic notions to revision that Christian faith in an orientation of love as salvation. {Virgil says that lack of faith kept him from Heaven (Purgatorio 7.7-8).} Luke writes: “Faith is the quality which gives birth to the creative imagination […]” (175). Although this may be true for Dante and those who display the faith of Christians or other religions, it is precisely Dante’s faith in the three metaphorical figures abovementioned that flowers his creative imagination: from the dark wood to the woods of the suicides and sorrow, and from the kabbalistic Adam Kadmon to the edenic woods, and ultimately unto the rose of heaven. (Please see Note 4 for the notion of Dante revisioning deforestation while in its European heyday.)

Footnote 17: Dante’s genius

In Cantos 24, lines 115-17, Dante threads together an intentional or accidental overview of Christianity. The following seeks to briefly explore these passages in order to glimpse just one of the ways in which Dante was an absolute genius in his writing style. It is significant that Dante relates the following about two trees, one in Purgatorio, and the other in Paradiso, the first a physical manifestation complete with hidden voice, the second a metaphorical referent to Wisdom, while setting up in Inferno the action to occur in the later poems. In the Inferno, Dante writes: “who, when he rises, stares about him, all / bewildered by the heavy anguish he / has suffered, sighing as he looks around” (Inf. 24.115-17). In Purgatorio, he writes: “‘Continue on, but don’t draw close to it; / there is a tree above from which Eve ate, / and from that tree above, this plant was raised’” (Purg. 24.115-17). Finally, in Paradiso, he writes: “Then he who had examined me, that baron / who led me on from branch to branch so that / we now were drawing close to the last leaves” (Par. 24.115-17). The action and that implied through the three cantos and lines addressed is as follows: a man rising, staring, bewildered, suffering, sighing, and looking around (Inferno); moving forward, drawing back, Eve eating from a tree above, the tree above parented the tree below (Purgatorio); and, an examination, a guided climbing of a tree, nearing the top of that tree (Paradiso). What has been related, in the same numbered Cantos and lines, is the story of Christianity, in a nutshell, through the vehicle of a pilgrim climbing a tree. The journey also indicates an understanding of an alchemical transformation, which requires first the descent, then the search, movement, symbolical representation of the process in imagery (the forest and tree in Dante’s case as presented), and reflection and self-examination in order to transform while the image changes.

Footnote 18: Dante and Psyche compared and contrasted

What are the major components of Psyche and Eros, of Dante and Beatrice, when considering the descents and ascents to and from the underworld? A journey that involves the following comes to mind immediately: Beauty and Love, transformation and individuation, psychic renewal, death and rebirth, and of course, guides of some sort to facilitate a ‘successful’ journey.

Dante Psyche
Dark wood—nature threatens* Tasks assigned—nature assists
Underworld trip with guide Virgil Underworld trip with helpful suggestions
Descent and ascent to Heaven Descent and ascent back to earth
Terrified in descent and joyous in ascent Terrified in initial descent only to succeed
Symbolic death Joyous at reunion with Eros in ascent after
first literally dying to love

*nature threatening in Dante’s time is indicative of the archetypal field of separation from nature that was influenced mainly by the instituting of citystates and ensuing physical act of deforestation…

Dante Psyche
Individuates through influence of love—Beatrice Performs tasks out of love for Eros, which upon closer inspection resembles an individuation less defined than Dante’s, which is informed by Kabbalah-Alchemy, etc.
Ascent to paradise is indicative of Christian Ascent to earth, which is still viewed as a
Message that God is ‘up there’ away from visitation place of the Gods, if not home for
Earth… them…

Encounters beasts, shades, angels, deities Encounters beasts, shades, deities

The Guide for Dante and Psyche
Beatrice/Virgil Eros/Aphrodite
Beatrice plays the role of Eros—love is the Eros is the initial cause of Psyche’s
Initial cause of Dante’s fractured soul, nekyia, ordeal—his love is what pulls her through
descent and nigredo, but it is her love that it and then rescues and revives her…
sustains, nourishes and comforts Dante so Venus sets boundaries and rules in a coarse
that he can continue…Beatrice is also as and demeaning way—as competitor and
beautiful as Psyche, Aphrodite & Eros… with the desire to see her demise or death,
Virgil is the psychopomp and sets boundaries not the role of a traditional psychopomp
and rules in a loving parental way—as mentor Ants, a reed, an eagle (Zeus), and a tower
unto friend, father to son help her to accomplish the labors

Although Dante has reversed the roles of Psyche and Eros, taking on the role of Psyche and attributing the role of Eros to Beatrice, the transforming affects seen in the Greek myth hold. Erich Neumann, in Amor and Psyche: […], writes: “Through Eros, through her love of him, Psyche develops not only toward him, but toward herself” (110). Dante develops toward Beatrice and her love, while at the same time individuating, growing toward and within himself. Dante utilizes Virgil as his guide into this descent and eventual ascent; I know Lisé, my love of life and mate for many, as the like guide, which accords more closely with Eros on many levels than that of poetic genius preceding, for it is erospoetic genius, the most potent form, archetypally, of love or creativity that exists. One could argue that Dante also utilizes erospoetic genius in the Commedia, if one combines the two guides of Virgil and Beatrice into one figure. However, the fact that they remain separated and one guides in the lower two realms and the other on the higher plane does not truly allow for a full integration of them, whereas for me, Lisé is both simultaneously. I love poets, many existent, yet, not any of these do I love more than Lisé. I love creating paintings, sculptures, gardens, bouquets, photoscapes, drawings, poetry, scholarship, and more, but, none of these do I love more than Lisé. Even family has not known this love given freely of me, as surely I know not their similar loves.
The shedding of tears at Virgil’s departure gives further indication that Dante has not fully assimilated Virgil as guide in an alchemical sense. Thus, Dante has more to learn, as Beatrice quickly shows him.

The manner in which he transforms also ‘corrects’ the unrequited love of Apollo for Daphne, since Beatrice willingly guides him to Paradise. Dante also accomplishes a rare synthesization of the Apollo-Daphne myth with that of the Eros-Psyche myth, and one could also argue that the Hades-Persephone myth echoes in part of that mix. Dante is Apollo, Psyche and Persephone; Beatrice is Daphne, Eros, Hades. Dante dons the laurel crown of Apollo and succeeds in writing a re-visioning of the Christian myth infused with Alchemy, Kabbalah and Greek myth; he journeys into the underworld and purgatory to accomplish tasks as Psyche enters Hades to accomplish hers; and he spends part of his time on earth and part of it in otherworldly places, as Persephone does. Beatrice, on the other hand, is the object of Dante’s youthful love, as Daphne is to Apollo, and the transformation of both young women unto death or a tree, disallows that love’s realization; she acts as Eros in guiding Dante out of Hades, by the love she represents is he strengthened, and revivifies him in order to fully see his way to paradise; and she is the love that abducts him from earth to undergo the journey initially, as well as that which will encourage his return to death.

As the structure of the innovative terza rima suggests, the reader follows Dante’s movements as both poet and pilgrim (soul), in a watery fashion of ebbing and flowing that only later resembles the unfolding of a helix. One must reflect upon the journey undergone in order to see its structure, the hidden substructures that operate as the interlinking bridges in DNA. In Commedia, one could take the structure of the helix and apply a great many dualities or oppositional pairs to that model. It is my suggestion that none of these oppositions work in concert doubly or singly alone, but, rather require at minimum three different interrelated aspects to effectively thread their way throughout the entire poem. That the poem follows a loose interpretation of Psyche and Eros seems rather elementary and being as obvious as it is, predicts deeper significance or else Dante would not have resorted to its loose model. One can say that love and poesis (creative genius infused with passion in this application) work together to move pilgrim, poet and reader through the poem, but, the lacking thread is soul transformation, for without transforming, Dante would never have left the dark wood or Hades for that matter. Larry Allums provides comfort in Dante’s Transformation of Epic, when he writes: “All of heaven bends weeping yet hopeful toward every pilgrim lost in a dark wood” (162). As Beatrice summons Virgil to be Dante’s initial guide, her appearance demonstrates the power of Allums’s recognition of Dante’s words.

Dante found a father figure necessary—in the tradition of alchemy, mythology, psychology and religion that continues today to obscure and defeminize the world (although numerous exceptions exist, they are uncommon considering the sum, such as the arbor philosophica, Asherah, Kabbalah, Isis, Osiris, Great White Pine, Odin, Yggdrasil, Zeus, Hera, Atys, Adonis, Pitys, Daphne—if read corresponding to an alchemical interpretation—etc., and in this case I give preference to tree-related mythical entities and systems)—to be his guide, his psychopomp. However, whomsoever could invalidate his choice of Virgil in his time would find few substitutes as readily capable to guide than one who had actually already seen the stories, lived, spoke, thought and wrote them. Dante writes: “my more than father […]” (Purg. 23.4).

In Forests: The Shadow of Civilization, Robert Pogue Harrison writes: “Dante’s pilgrim depended on divine assistance to get out of the forest. It came to him in the figure of Virgil” (111). Virgil, the psychopomp father figure, guided Dante out of the forest, the wood of the suicides and through purgatory. Campbell writes of another guide:
Whereas in Wolfram the guide is within—for each unique; and I see in this the first completely intentional statement of the fundamental mythology of modern Western [humanity], the first sheerly individualistic mythology in the history of the human race: a mythology of quest inwardly motivated—directed from within—where there is no authorized way or guru to be followed or obeyed, but where, for each, all ways already found, known and proven, are wrong ways, since they are not his [or her] own (Creative Mythology 553).

Footnote 19: Did Dante understand trees?

The series of transformations Dante undergoes prepare him for the ascent into Paradise. Some of them have been revisited numerous times, which indicates the natural alchemical progression of the psyche evidenced by the terza rima structure itself, of continual progression and regression to progress forward. The fact that a great many of his personal transformations occur within the aegis of forests, trees, woods, or before, at or after their thresholds, demonstrates that Dante knew the symbolic nature of trees in deep metaphorical ways uncommon in his days.

Note 1: On tree of life or Life Tree as I have renamed it

“‘Hope deferred makes the heart sick,
but a desire fulfilled is the tree of life’ (Pr 13:12).

This is a psychological observation. It does not attempt to teach a lesson or make a judgment about life-style. It informs the reader about reality” (Murphy 8). Yes, it does inform the reader about reality, but, it also informs the reader about things lurking behind the reality of the writer and their epochal milieu as well. The tradition of a tree of life as an axial or cosmic tree has been, by the time of this writing, long buried in the Middle Eastern and Mediterranean culture, which makes its resurfacing in Biblical Wisdom literature all the more telling, psychologically. What humanity suppresses or sublimates, relegating rites, ceremonies, religions, ideas, concepts, thoughts, and ways of being into the unconscious, is King Solomon’s unclaimable treasure, as a whole. However, aspects of this treasure trove certainly resurface, and especially strong and poignant connections tend to reappear with some regularity.

The cosmic, universal, axial or world tree, the Torah tree of life and knowledge combined (synonymous with the Biblical Christian cross according to some), represents a very strong archetypal image of the most persistent and pervasive fabric. Why trees form some of the most important structures in our lives as humans has not been examined nearly sufficiently enough! Structures, here, is used both literally and metaphorically, so that breath of life to shelter to communication are invoked. How long has humanity known that oxygen is manufactured mainly by trees, and how often have they neglected that knowledge? If knowledge as wisdom in a treasure trove follows a nontemporal nonlinear route, similar to Remote Viewers who can be sitting in a Carpinteria, California classroom while roaming on safari in Kenya and reporting accurately what is going on there, which I accept (especially since the U.S. military used such gifted people in the past few wars), then who is to say the knowledge gained by scientists about trees’ ability to manufacture oxygen, to conduct electricity from the atmosphere through their roots, and to grow according to planetary influences, did not avail itself to those shamanic or mystical figures who tapped into that Jungian ‘collective unconscious’ or collective conscious?

If one fulfills a desire, then happiness follows as a normative effect, and for happiness to occur, the brain sends electrical signals to the receptors that are responsible for releasing serotonin. Regular serotonin releases in the brain balance the body’s chemistry and lead to a happier and healthier, as well as, I think, a longer life. The Torahaic tree of life concerns immortality, longevity, and as such, any activity that serves to prolong one’s life, is an act that partakes of the wisdom of the tree of life. Therefore, this is a psychological and mythological observation of the highest order that speaks to the resurfacing of ancient mytho-theological understandings of the construction of life and the essence of being itself reinterpreted throughout human existence since humans first began thinking and reasoning about such meanings.

Note 2: On some differing views of the stages of alchemical process

In The Secrets Of Alchemy, Michael Maier lists ten steps of Alchemy: Calcination (mortification), Dissolution, Separation, Conjunction (Recombined & Impregnated), Putrefaction, Distillation, Coagulation (perfection or maturing), Sublimation, Fixation and Exaltation; while, in his Key to Alchemy, Samuel Norton lists fourteen steps: Solution, Filtration, Evaporation, Distillation, Separation, Rectification, Calcination, Commixtion, Purification, Inhibition, Fermentation, Fixation, Multiplication and Projection; and, Sir George Ripley lists twelve: Calcination, Solution (purification), Separation, Conjunction, Putrefaction, Congelation, Cibation, Sublimation, Fermentation, Exaltation, Multiplication and Projection (Sacred Texts).

Note 3: On the seven women in Commedia

Isaiah, in The New Oxford Annotated Bible: […], writes: “Seven women shall take hold of one / man in that day, saying, / ‘We will eat our own bread and wear / our own clothes; / just let us be called by your name; / take away our disgrace’” (Isa 4.1). Could these be the seven women in Dante’s Divine Comedy, not the seven virtues as suggested by others? These women in the Biblical prophecy approach the same man due to the attrition of men from battle, in order to save face. This would greatly change the feeling-tone of Dante’s passage, and perhaps represents their purgatory or perhaps their salvation proffered by Dante.

Note 4: Dante’s revisioning of deforestation

Harrison writes: “The ‘dark forest,’ then, is not a refuge from the law’s injustice but an allegory for Christian guilt in general” (81). Certainly, Dante’s use of the dark forest as an opening allegorical and metaphorical image of being lost speaks to Christian guilt, especially that of literal deforestation of Europe which was well underway during Dante’s time (and could also be thinly veiled symbolism of atrocities committed against non-Christians), the psychological emphasis remains that of the crisis of the soul seeking integration. I think that the soul achieves integration, or Jungian individuation, through the archetypal energy of poesis, which has predated Christianity and all religions and mythologies. Poesis allowed the first tools to be created, the first hunting and agricultural advancements, the artistic creations on caves and rocks to modern bus-stops, websites, and wall murals, the building of musical instruments (such as monkey thigh bone whistles), and the development of language.

It is a pure acceptance of all aspects of poesis that gives deeper insights of and connectedness to poesis that opens up an individual’s ability to think imaginatively, creatively, to create, and to through this see the interconnectedness of all life—thereby, regaining the awareness of the separation from Nature relies on the reattunement with poesis, which then provides keys to moving into the state of conscious living interconnectedly. Harrison writes: “[…] deforestation in the broad allegorical sense would seem to be the essence of the purgatorial process that leads Dante up the mountain of Purgatory. But this is a strange kind of deforestation indeed, for at the top of the mountain Dante in effect finds himself once again in a forest” (84). During Dante’s epoch the separation from nature, especially in Europe, resulted in massive deforestation, and is partly a background contributor to his work.

I see this background manifesting in his tribute to Greek mythology and Virgil—arguably when the separation had gained momentum—and in the depiction of the trees in a largely unfavorable fashion: dark woods, wood of suicides, tree of Tantalus, and deflowered and upside down tree. However, in order for a culture to shift from a state of ignorance of their separation from Nature to that of awareness of the separation from Nature, and then into a reconnection with Nature does not equate with a simplistic move of remembering the past ways of being. When the prior state has long been forgotten and neglected so that a new state arises, then the prior state is forever lost to that culture as a possible option—for the culture as a whole (certainly individuals can return to Nature in a non-technological influenced way) cannot possibly shake off all the fetters of their advancement along the way.

Therefore, a new paradigm needs developing, one that seeks a merging of old wisdom with new wisdom and accounts for the technological and scientific evolution of the culture in question (and as this is cyclical, I mean the latest new paradigm). This type of culture building requires a historical accounting, and an accurate one, to see the shadows of the mythological, religious, scientific and psychological underpinnings of its currents and eddies, its memories stored in its places. Dante began such a revisioning of culture and of the individuation process in Commedia: it is the task for those who accept it in whatever age since to launch daringly beyond what he and others since have provided as templates to revision and redefine succeeding cultures.

Note 5: The trees of Commedia and related quotes and notes

A number of the key transformative moments in Commedia foreshadow their appearance through Dante’s employment of forests or trees. In a close reading of Commedia, I searched for tree references and have found a rather large number of them outside the obvious occurrences of the dark wood, wood of the suicides, wood of sorrow, Adam Kadmon, the clone of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, the seven golden candelabra trees, and the earthly paradisal woods. Dante invokes the powers of the Nine Muses and Apollo, and in doing so, repeatedly places garlands on others’ heads. In The Tree of Life: […], Roland Murphy quotes Burton Mack from Logos und Sophia, part of that quote follows: “She is the tree of life, the water of life, the garment and crown of victory. She offers to human beings life, rest, knowledge and salvation” (149). It is the tree of life aspect that pertains most to the exploration in this paper; however, it is interesting to note how many instances of garlanded heads occur within Dante’s poems. If one considers the persistent references to laurel and Apollo throughout the poems, then such a line of inquiry as to the connection between laurel garlands and other garlands that Mandelbaum sometimes calls angels, and the tree of life as Sophia, seem to be somewhat conflated with Daphne, and I think there lies a deeper substrata to the mythology and theology of Dante. That substrata may represent a different revisioning of the Christian mysteries than what other scholars have demonstrated or considered: specifically that Dante regarded Beatrice as a Daphne/Sophia persona, and as such, had identified and described his animus as succinctly as any author since or previously.

Inferno Tree and related quotes and notes

Canto 1

“When I had journeyed half of our life’s way, / I found myself within a shadowed forest, / for I had lost the path that does not stray” (Inferno 1.1-3).
“2 a shadowed forest a realistic image of the darkness and tangle of the world in which Dante has lost the path to truth and goodness” (Notes Inferno 543).

Canto 3

“As, in the autumn, leaves detach themselves, / first one and then the other, till the bough / sees all its fallen garments on the ground” (Inferno 3.112-14).

Canto 4

“we still continued onward through the wood— / the wood, I say, where many spirits thronged” (Inferno 4.65-6).

Canto 6

“[…] the party of the woods / will chase the other out with much offense” (Inferno 6.65-6).

“65 […] the party of the woods the White Guelphs, led by Vieri de’ Cerchi, whose family originated in the countryside. 66 the other the Black Guelphs, whose leaders were sent into exile by the White government which Dante served in 1300-1301” (Notes Inferno 559).

Canto 9

“a reboantic fracas—horrid sound. / […] / a sound not other than a wind’s when, wild / because it must contend with warmer currents, / it strikes against the forest without let, / shattering, beating down, bearing off branches,” (Inferno 9.65 and 67-70).

Often, when Dante refers to branches, he means parts of families, especially as he refers to himself and the meeting with his great-great-grandfather in Paradiso. Since Dante does use branches in this way, what the horrid sound may represent is war itself. For war in Dante’s time consumed whole forests for ship-building, lances, siege machines, supply carts, fuel for fires and so on, as has been written about by Middle Ages’ scholars. Psychologically, it may also represent the tempest that is the descent into the nigredo.

Canto 13

“Nessus had not yet reached the other bank / when we began to make our way across / a wood on which no path had left its mark. / No green leaves in that forest, only black; / No branches straight and smooth, but knotted, gnarled; / No fruits were there, but briers bearing poison” (Inferno 13.1-6).

“This is the nesting place of the foul Harpies, / […] / they utter their laments on the strange trees” (Inferno 13.10-15).

“and from a great thornbush snapped off a branch, / at which its trunk cried out: ‘Why do you tear me?’ / And then, when it had grown more dark with blood, / It asked again: ‘Why do you break me off? / Are you without all sentiment of pity? / We once were men and now are arid stumps: / your hand might well have shown us greater mercy / had we been nothing more than souls of serpents’” (Inferno 13.32-9).

“48 within my poetry in Virgil’s own Aeneid where Aeneas plucks saplings growing on a mound; they ooze blood, and the voice of the murdered Trojan prince, Polydorus, speaks from his grave beneath: ‘Why do you tear me, Aeneas, wretch that I am? Spare me now in my grave’ [Virgil]. In Dante’s adaptation of this episode, the soul is literally enclosed within its tree-body. Having deliberately deprived themselves of their bodies, the suicides may never re-inhabit them, even after the resurrection; instead, in Hell, they sprout the ‘bodies’ of plants, the lowest form of living things (lines 93-108)” (Notes Inferno 574).

“so from that broken stump issued together / both words and blood; at which I let the branch / fall, and I stood like one who is afraid” (Inferno 13.43-5).

“Then he began again: ‘Imprisoned spirit, / so may this man do freely what you ask, / may it please you to tell us something more / of how the soul is bound into these knots; / and tell us, if you can, if any one / can ever find his freedom from these limbs.’ / At this the trunk breathed violently, then / that wind became this voice, ‘You shall be answered / promptly. When the savage spirit quits / the body from which it has torn itself, / then Minos sends it to the seventh maw. / It falls into the wood, and there’s no place / to which it is allotted, but wherever / fortune has flung that soul, that is the space / where, even as a grain of spelt, it sprouts. / It rises as a sapling, a wild plant; / and then the harpies, feeding on its leaves, / cause pain and for that pain provide a vent” (Inferno 13.85-102).

Dante continually, from this point forward mentions knots and in so doing, has first Virgil and then other shades and finally Beatrice untying them. The metaphorical nature of knots then is not simply that of the twisted and deformed trees in the wood of the suicides, nor is it related only to the condition of the soul in torment, but, rather it is also related to the soul and trees becoming, metamorphosing, transforming into something more beautiful through the power of love.

“88 knots of the twisted trees (line 5)” (Notes Inferno 575).

“‘[…] We’ll drag / our bodies here; they’ll hang in this sad wood, / each on the stump of its vindictive shade’” (Inferno 13.106-8).

“[..] fled so violently that / they tore away each forest bough they passed” (Inferno 13.116-7).

The two are hunted by hounds, which seems like Artemis’ hand somehow.

Canto 14

“Love of our native city overcame me; / I gathered up the scattered boughs and gave / them back to him whose voice was spent already” (14.1-3).

Dante gathers up the complexes and instincts that induced terror and fear in him to transform into sorrow at such exposures as he has seen. This transformation is evidenced by the next woods encountered.

“The wood of sorrow is a garland round it, / just as that wood is ringed by a sad channel” (14.10-11).

Virgil warns Dante to keep his feet close to the forest.

“In silence we had reached a place where flowed / a slender watercourse out of the woods” (Inferno 14.76-7).

“[…] ‘The time has come to quit / this wood; see that you follow close behind me’” (Inferno 14.139-40).

Canto 15

“By now we were so distant from the wood / that I should not have made out where it was— / not even if I’d turned around to look—” (Inferno 15.13-5).

Canto 20

“‘Last night the moon was at its full; you should / be well aware of this, for there were times / when it did you no harm in the deep wood’” (Inferno 20.127-9).

The moon at its full is a thinly veiled reference to both Artemis and Daphne as moon goddesses, in addition to that of the Christian fear of witches and the unconscious.

Canto 25

Dante describes a serpent strangling a shade with tree terms.

“No ivy ever gripped a tree so fast” (Inferno 25.58).

Purgatorio Tree and Related Quotes

Canto 1

“bears rushes upon its soft and muddy ground. / There is no other plant that lives below: / no plant with leaves or plant that, as it grows, / hardens—and breaks beneath the waves’ harsh blows” (Purgatorio 1.102-5).

“102 rushes simple and pliant plants (lines 103-5). Dante’s girding with one of them (line 133) symbolizes the humility and pliability of the will which are needed in those who embark on the process of purification from sins” (Notes Purgatorio 629).

“[..] Where he plucked the humble plant, / that he had chosen, there that plant sprang up / again, identical, immediately” (Purgatorio 1.134-6). Unlike the broken branch that engenders suffering and misery for trees of the Woods of the Suicides.

“134 humble plant the reed. Like the golden bough which the Sibyl plucked at the start of Aeneas’ visit to the underworld [Virgil], it miraculously grows again. Purgatory will be a realm of supernatural renewal” (Notes Purgatorio 629).

Canto 3

“Despite the Church’s curse, there is no one / so lost that the eternal love cannot / return—as long as hope shows something green” (Purgatorio 3.133-5).

What is the meaning of green here? See Luke’s green words: “The angels are green—the color of hope and of the natural growing things of the earth, which emerge in their own time” (Luke 68). and von Franz’s: “In the Middle Ages, green was considered to be the color of the Holy Spirit, of life, procreation and resurrection” (von Franz 24). … also note 26, Canto 8, deals with green angels….

“Their garments, just as green as newborn leaves, / were agitated, fanned by their green wings, / and trailed behind them; and one angel came / and stood somewhat above us, while the other / descended on the opposite embankment, / flanking that company of souls between them” (Purgatorio 8.28-33).

“26 two angels sent from Heaven, where Mary is queen (line 37). Their colour, green, represents hope; their blunted swords evoke God’s justice tempered by mercy” (Notes Purgatorio 646).

Jung writes about the significance of the swords in an Eranos Conference essay in reference to the Mass. But, within his ideas on the sword, the notion that it represents the cutting edge of transformation in the process of individuation stands out most.

Canto 7

Sordello says:

“How seldom human worth ascends from branch / to branch, and this is willed by Him who grants / that gift, that one may pray to him for it” (Purgatorio 7.21-23)!

Canto 11

Oderisi says:

“‘How briefly green endures upon the peak— / unless an age of dullness follows it’” (Purgatorio 11.92-3).

“92 green an image of fame which passes away like a leaf on a tree, lasting a little longer only if the next age produces no famous people” (Notes Purgatorio 654).

Oderisi again:

“‘Your glory wears the colors of the grass / that comes and goes; the sun that makes it wither / first drew it from the ground, still green and tender’” (Purgatorio 11.115-7).

“115 grass an image of fame, which is born and dies under the same force, the sun (time)” (Notes Purgatorio 655).

Canto 14

“‘Bloody, he comes out from the wood he’s plundered, / leaving it such that in a thousand years / it will not be the forest that it was’” (Purgatorio 14.64-6).

This is the grandson, as identified by the shade Rinieri, or humanity in many generations to come in a metaphorical sense, but specifically his kin and all those

“[…] between the Po / and mountains, and the Reno and the coast, / who’ve lost the truth’s grave good and lost the good / of gentle living, too; those lands are full / of poisoned stumps […]”(Purgatorio 14.91-5).

Canto 16

Marco, the Lombard, says:

“[..] you have received both light / of good and evil, and free will, which though / it struggle in its first wars with the heavens, / then conquers all, if it has been well nurtured” (Purgatorio 16.75-8).

Marco refers to the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil here.

Marco continues:

“for every plant is known by what it seeds” (Purgatorio 16.114).

Human nature mirroring Nature.

Canto 18

“[..] it’s nature / that joins the soul in you, anew, through beauty” (Purgatorio 18.26-7).

The importance of beauty in transformation…the beauty that is represented by Beatrice, and is beauty of the kind that Schuon and Hillman write.

“every substantial form, at once distinct / from matter and cojoined to it, ingathers / the force that is distinctly its own, / a force unknown to us until it acts— / it’s never shown except in its effects, / just as green boughs display the life in plants” (Purgatorio 18.49-54).

A mighty throng says:

“‘where urge for good is keen, grace finds new green’” (Purgatorio 18.105).

Canto 20

Hugh Capet says:

“I was the root of the obnoxious plant / that overshadows all the Christian lands, / so that fine fruit can rarely rise from them” (Purgatorio 20.43-5).

Canto 22

“And know that when a sin is countered by / another fault—directly opposite / to it—then, here, both sins see their green wither” (Purgatorio 22.49-51).

“51 their green like dying plants, both sins gradually wither away in Purgatory” (Notes Purgatorio 679).

Yet earlier green has been identified by Mandelbaum as signifying hope and fame, so in this instance would it not be safe to say that both sins see their hope and fame wither?

“as many other Greeks who once wore laurel / upon their brow […]” (Purgatorio 22.108-9).

“108 laurel the crowns of laurel leaves awarded to great poets” (Notes Purgatorio 681).

Surely, this line requires more unpacking, as the laurel leaves are only procured by Apollo, the God of Consciousness or solar consciousness, through his inability to conquer Daphne’s affections, the Goddess of Unconsciousness or of lunar consciousness, so that she was transformed into a laurel tree. This infers an entire reference to the forlorn and unrequited love of Greeks in general, for it was also awarded to athletes, not just bards.

“But their delightful conversation soon / was interrupted by a tree that blocked / our path; its fruits were fine, their scent was sweet, / and even as a fir-tree tapers upward / from branch to branch, that tree there tapered downward, / so as—I think—to ward off any climber. / Upon our left, where wall enclosed our path, / bright running water fell from the high rock / and spread itself upon the leaves above. / When the two poets had approached the tree, / a voice emerging from within the leaves / cried out: ‘This food shall be denied to you.’ / Then it cried: ‘Mary’s care was for the marriage- / feast’s being seemly and complete, not for / her mouth (which now would intercede for you)” (Purgatorio 22.130-144).

What climbs trees? Vines, mosses, lichens, epiphytes, other trees (strangler figs), insects, slugs, snails, frogs, snakes, other animals and people climb trees mostly. Of these, what would concern Dante most would be snakes, and shades as people climbing trees. This implies some sort of strategy for the tree to ward off climbers. But, then, is the strategy the trees or God’s, or both or neither? Could it be that Dante here names Adam Kadmon, the downward growing tree of Jewish Mythology? With the mentioning of the denial of food and as the notes suggest this food may signify the forbidden fruit of Eden, then the refusal of the tree to allow climbers may also be seen as more applicable to the serpent. This would then imply that temptation has been removed from this tree.

“The first age was as fair as gold: when hungry, / men found the taste of acorns good; when thirsty, / they found that every little stream was nectar” (Purgatorio 22.148-150).

“148 first age the primeval Golden Age of human innocence and the simple life, when people lived on acorns and water (Purg. 28, 139-44)” (Notes Purgatorio 682).

Canto 23

“While I was peering so intently through / the green boughs, like a hunter who, so used, / would waste his life chasing after birds, / my more than father said to me: ‘Now come, / son, for the time our journey can permit / is to be used more fruitfully than this’” (Purgatorio 23.1-6).

“Who—if he knew not how—would have believed / that longing born from odor of a tree, / odor of water, could reduce souls so” (Purgatorio 23.34-6).

“‘But tell me, for God’s sake, what has unleaved / you so; don’t make me speak while I’m amazed— / he who’s distracted answers clumsily.’ / And he to me: ‘From the eternal counsel, / the water and the tree you left behind / receive the power that makes me waste away. / All of these souls who, grieving, sing because / their appetite was gluttonous, in thirst / and hunger here resanctify themselves. / The fragrance of the fruit and of the water / that’s sprayed through that green tree kindles in us / craving for food and drink; and not once only, / as we go round this space, our pain’s renewed— / I speak of pain but I should speak of solace, / for we are guided to those trees by that / same longing that had guided Christ when He / had come to free us through the blood He shed / and, in his joyousness, called out: ‘Elì’” (Purgatorio 23.58-75).

“58 unleaved stripped of flesh, through starvation” (Notes Purgatorio 682).

“Dante stares into the Tree of Grace […]” (Mandelbaum 324b).

Canto 24

“[…] the branches of another tree, heavy / with fruit, alive with green, appeared to me / nearby, just past a curve where I had turned. / Beneath the tree I saw shades lifting hands, / crying I know not what up toward the branches, / like little eager, empty-headed children, / who beg—but he of whom they beg does not / reply, but to provoke their longing, he / holds high, and does not hide, the thing they want. / Then they departed as if disabused […]”(Purgatorio 24.103-12).

“[…] and we—immediately—reached that great tree, / which turns aside so many prayers and tears. / ‘Continue on, but don’t draw close to it; / there is a tree above from which Eve ate, / and from that tree above, this plant was raised.’ / Among the boughs, a voice—I know not whose— / spoke so; thus, drawing closer, Virgil, Statius, / and I edged on, along the side that rises. / It said: ‘Remember those with double chests, / the miserable ones, born of the clouds, / whom Theseus battled when they’d gorged themselves; / and those whom Gideon refused as comrades— / those Hebrews who had drunk too avidly— / when he came down the hills to Midian’” (Purgatorio 24.113-26).

“116 a tree above the forbidden tree in the Garden of Eden, on the summit of Mount Purgatory” (Notes Purgatorio 685-86).

Canto 25

“Having become a soul (much like a plant, / though with this difference—a plant’s complete, / whereas a fetus still is journeying), / the active virtue labors, so the fetus / may move and feel, like a sea-sponge; and then / it starts to organize the powers it’s seeded” (Purgatorio 25.52-7).

“54 journeying on the way to becoming a higher form of life” (Notes Purgatorio 687).

“[…] ‘Diana / kept to the woods and banished Helice / after she’d felt the force of Venus’ poison’” (Purgatorio 25.130-3).

“130 Diana the chaste goddess who lived in the forests with her company of nymphs, one of whom, Callisto (Helice), was driven away after she was seduced by Jupiter [Ovid]” (Notes Purgatorio 688).

Artemis makes a direct appearance here, thereby, she appears elsewhere by virtue of the Terza Rima and Dante’s application of stepping forward to move backward to move forward. More importantly, though, as Artemis and Daphne—in their ancient namesakes: Daphnaia or Daphnia for the former and Daphoene for the latter are obviously related in that the laurel tree forms the etymological root of their names and both are moon-goddesses—move back and forth and back again in the light of Apollo and shine the reflected light of the moon. What better anima representation than that of a moon goddess, when the animus is depicted by Apollo the sun-god, could there be? The light becomes ever brighter as Dante moves closer to the end of his trek, but, never does he lose completely the elements of the darkness.

“132 Venus’ poison illicit love” (Notes Purgatorio 688).

Canto 26

“[…] ‘O souls who can be sure of gaining / the state of peace, whenever that may be, / my limbs—mature or green—have not been left / within the world beyond; they’re here with me, / together with their blood and with their bones. / That I be blind no longer, through this place / I pass; above, a lady has gained grace / for me […]” (Purgatorio 26.53-60).

Canto 27

“As, at the name of Thisbe, Pyramus, / about to die, opened his eyes, and saw her / (when then the mulberry became bloodred) […]” (Purgatorio 27.37-9).

This mythic message from Ovid describes true love thwarted by misperception, which led to double suicide and their blood staining the mulberry tree. It is an invitation to recall pain and sorrow, mourning and great loss, alongside the paradoxical dying glimpse of love thought dead. It is a complex and paradoxical recall of the eternal hope of love, glimpsed even by the dying as a sort of salvific remedy or nurturing salve to death.

“[…] in my dream, I seemed to see a woman / both young and fair; along a plain she gathered / flowers, and even as she sang, she said: / ‘Whoever asks my name, know that I’m Leah, / and I apply my lovely hands to fashion / a garland of the flowers I have gathered. / To find delight within this mirror I / adorn myself; whereas my sister Rachel / never deserts her mirror [...]” (Purgatorio 27.97-105).

“100 Leah Jacob’s first wife, the sister of his second wife, Rachel [Genesis]. She symbolizes the Active Life on earth, in which the soul must work to adorn itself with virtues and honour; Rachel represents the Contemplative Life, the study of heavenly truths which leads to the eternal vision of God’s beauty, as in a mirror, in Paradise (lines 103-8)” (Notes Purgatorio 691).

What reference to Psyche, Persephone and Narcissus have we lost here? Surely, Dante intended us to combine the Biblical and Greek ideas… Additionally, there is something to the reference to Averroes sticking in my mind here… Didn’t he purport the Aristotelian notions of Active and Passive Intellect? In which case, Leah would be the Active Intellect and Rachel the Passive. If we combine these ideas with Narcissus for Passive Intellect and Persephone for Active Intellect, and Psyche wandering between them, then perhaps there is some alchemical magic Dante has cooked in these very lines…

“‘Today your hungerings will find their peace / through that sweet fruit the care of mortals seeks / among so many branches’” (Purgatorio 27.115-17).

“Look at the sun that shines upon your brow; / look at the grasses, flowers, and the shrubs / born here, spontaneously, of the earth” (Purgatorio 27.133-35).
The chase for Beatrice—for love—forms and informs Dante’s will!

Canto 28

“Now keen to search within, to search around / that forest—dense, alive with green, divine— / which tempered the new day before my eyes […]” (Purgatorio 28.1-3).

“2 forest the paradise or garden of pleasure, planted by God in the beginning, and containing all kinds of beautiful trees and fruit. God placed Adam and Eve in the garden to tend it, forbidding them, on pain of death, to eat the fruit off the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. When they disobeyed Him, they were cast out and, with their descendents, the whole human race, were condemned to labour and toil for a living and to die [Genesis]. In contrast to the terrifying dark forest of Inferno 1, Dante’s Garden of Eden is a primeval living forest of perpetual spring and perfect natural beauty, situated on the summit of Purgatory. The paradise lost by sin is the goal of the journey by which the soul, purified of the effects of sin, is restored to humanity’s original condition of innocence and earthly happiness before ascending to eternal happiness in the Heavenly Paradise” (Notes Purgatorio 692).

“[…] a wind that made the trembling boughs—they all / bent eagerly—incline in the direction / of morning shadows from the holy mountain; / but they were not deflected with such force / as to disturb the little birds upon / the branches in the practice of their arts; / for to the leaves, with song, birds welcomed those / first hours of the morning joyously, / and leaves supplied the burden to their rhymes— / just like the wind that sounds from branch to branch / along the shore of Classe, through the pines / when Aeolus has set Sirocco loose. / Now, though my steps were slow, I’d gone so far / into the ancient forest that I could / no longer see where I had made my entry; / and there I came upon a stream that blocked / the path of my advance; its little waves / bent to the left the grass along its banks” (Purgatorio 28.10-27).

“18 burden their rustling, which provides a musical accompaniment to the birdsong” (Notes Purgatorio 692).

“20 Classe a region with pine-trees, once the site of a Roman port, on the Adriatic coast near Ravenna” (Notes Purgatorio 692).

“21 Aeolus the god who controls the winds, imprisoning and releasing them” (Notes Purgatorio 692).

“I halted, and I set my eyes upon / the farther bank, to look at the abundant / variety of newly-flowered boughs […]” (Purgatorio 28.34-6).

“I said: ‘The water and the murmuring forest / contend, in me, against the recent credence / I gave to words denying their existence” (Purgatorio 28.85-7).

“[…] and since these woods are dense, they echo it. / And when a plant is struck, its power is such / that it impregnates air with seeding force; / the air, revolving, casts this seed abroad; / the other hemisphere, depending on / the nature of its land and sky, conceives / and bears, from diverse powers, diverse trees. / If what I’ve said were known, you would not need / to be amazed on earth when growing things / take root but have no seed that can be seen” (Purgatorio 28.108-17).

“‘Here, mankind’s root was innocent; and here / were every fruit and never-ending spring; / these streams—the nectar of which poet’s sing’” (Purgatorio 28.142-4).

Canto 29

“[…] and I saw / a sudden radiance that swept across / the mighty forest on all sides […]” (Purgatorio 29.15-7).

“While I moved on, completely rapt, among / so many first fruits of eternal pleasure, / and longing for still greater joys, the air / before us altered underneath the green / branches, becoming like an ardent fire, / and now the sweet sound was distinctly song” (Purgatorio 29.31-6).

“Not far beyond, we made out seven trees / of gold, though the long stretch of air between / those trees and us had falsified their semblance […]” (Purgatorio 29.43-5).

“[…] the power that offers reason matter judged / those trees to be—what they were—candelabra, / and what those voices sang to be ‘Hosana’” (Purgatorio 29.49-51).

“Seven candlesticks the size of trees stand before twenty-four elders, symbolizing the twenty-four books of the Old Testament” (Mandelbaum 352a).

“[…]—four animals came on; / and each of them had green leaves as his crown” (Purgatorio 29.88-93).

“[…] except that these had no / garlands of lilies round their brow; instead, / roses and other red flowers wreathed their heads” (Purgatorio 29.146-8). Dante foreshadows the appearance of the rose of heaven, which he will explain later in Paradiso.

Canto 30

“[…] so, / within a cloud of flowers that were cast / by the angelic hands and then rose up / and then fell back, outside and in the chariot, / a woman showed herself to me; above / a white veil, she was crowned with olive boughs; / her cape was green; her dress beneath, flame-red” (Purgatorio 30.27-33).

“[…] her garland of olive leaves represents peace and heavenly wisdom” (Notes Purgatorio 698).

But it also represents the qualities of the Greek Goddess, Athena (Minerva), who planted the olive tree to win the namesake of the city.

“Although the veil she wore—down from her head, / which was encircled by Minerva’s leaves— / did not allow her to be seen distinctly” (Purgatorio 30.67-9).

“68 Minerva the goddess of wisdom, to whom the olive-tree was sacred” (Notes Purgatorio 698).

“Even as snow among the sap-filled trees / along the spine of Italy will freeze / when gripped by gusts of the Slavonian winds, / then, as it melts, will trickle through itself” (Purgatorio 30.85-8).

“Not only through the work of the great spheres— / which guide each seed to a determined end, / depending on what stars are its companion” (Purgatorio 30.109-11).

The now-‘proven’ (scientifically) astrological impact on plants—an ancient wisdom that Dante invokes!

Canto 31

“No green young girl or other novelty— / such brief delight—should have weighed down your wings, / awaiting further shafts […]”(Purgatorio 31.58-60).
Here, green is youthful and attractive, fresh and virginal…not indicative of the green of the Holy Spirit as suggested by von Franz.

“There’s less resistance in the sturdy oak / to its uprooting by a wind from lands / of ours or lands of Iarbas than I showed / in lifting up my chin at her command” (Purgatorio 31.70-3).

Canto 32

“The lovely lady who’d helped me ford Lethe, / and I and Statius […] / were slowly passing through the tall woods—empty / because of one who had believed the serpent” (Purgatorio 32.28-32).

“32 one Eve, tempted by the Devil in the form of a serpent” (Notes Purgatorio 701).

“‘Adam,’ I heard all of them murmuring, / and then they drew around a tree whose every / branch had been stripped of flowers and of leaves. / As it grows higher, so its branches spread / wider; it reached a height that even in / their forests would amaze the Indians” (Purgatorio 32.37-42).

“38 a tree the tree whose fruit Adam and Eve ate. Its bareness signifies the effect of the first sin” (Notes Purgatorio 701).

“42 Indians who, it was believed, lived where there were immensely tall trees” (Notes Purgatorio 701).

“So, round the robust tree, the others shouted; / and the two-natured animal: ‘Thus is / the seed of every righteous man preserved.’ / And turning to the pole-shaft he had pulled, / he drew it to the foot of the stripped tree / and, with a branch of that tree, tied the two. / Just like our plants that / […] swell / with buds […] / […] so the tree, / whose boughs—before—had been so solitary, / was now renewed, showing a tint that was / less than the rose, more than the violet” (Purgatorio 32.46-60).

“52 when in spring, when the sun is in Aries (the constellation which follows Pisces) and before it passes into the next sign (Taurus) (lines 56-7). According to theologians, the tree of the Fall prefigured the tree of the cross, and Dante’s scene, in which the griffin (the justice of Rome) joins the chariot (human society) to the bare tree, renewing it with leaves and flowers colour of venous blood (lines 59-60), is a symbolic dramatization off the crucifixion when Christ, the new Adam, shed His blood to redeem the whole human race from Adam’s sin [Monarchia] (Par. 6, 82-90). It is also a millenarian vision of a future time when God’s Justice would again be renewed in the world (Purg. 33, 70-2)” (Notes Purgatorio 701).

“Even as Peter, John and James, when brought / to see the blossoms of the apple tree— / whose fruit abets the angels’ hungering, / providing endless wedding-feasts in Heaven— / were overwhelmed by what they saw, but then, / hearing the word that shattered deeper sleeps, / arose and saw their fellowship was smaller” (Purgatorio 32.73-79).

“bewildered, I asked: ‘Where is Beatrice?’ / And she: ‘Beneath the boughs that were renewed, / she’s seated on the root of that tree; see” (Purgatorio 32.85-7).

“The tree (right) is the focus of an allegory representing the Vicissitudes of the Church. At its root sits Beatrice as Sapientia, surrounded by the Seven Virtues, instructing Dante in the allegory” (Mandelbaum 368b).

“[…] the bird of Jove that I saw swoop / down through the tree, tearing the bark as well / as the new leaves and the new flowering” (Purgatorio 32.112-14).

“Then I could see the eagle plunge—again / down through the tree—into the chariot / and leave it feathered with its plumage […]”(Purgatorio 32.124-26).

“[…] then, swollen with / suspicion, fierce with anger, he untied / the chariot-made-monster, dragging it / into the wood, so that I could not see / either the whore or the amazing beast” (Purgatorio 32.156-60).

Canto 33

“And when you write them, keep in mind that you / must not conceal what you’ve seen of the tree / that now has been despoiled twice over here. / Whoever robs or rends that tree offends, / with his blaspheming action, God; for He / created it for His sole use—holy. / For tasting of that tree, the first soul waited / five thousand years and more in grief and longing / for Him who on Himself avenged that taste. / Your intellect’s asleep if it can’t see / How singular’s the cause that makes that tree / So tall and makes it grow invertedly” (Purgatorio 33.55-6).

Dante writes:

if “vain thoughts did not encrust your mind; if your / delight in them were not like Pyramus / staining the mulberry, you’d recognize / in that tree’s form and height the moral sense / God’s justice had when He forbade trespass” (Purgatorio 33.68-72).

“71 moral sense as a moral example, the tree symbolizes divine Justice, first expressed in the ban placed on it by God, and thus as a lesson to humans not to violate God’s Law (lines 58-60)” (Notes Purgatorio 705).

“the seven ladies halted at the edge / of a dense shadow such as mountains cast, / beneath green leaves and black boughs, on cold banks” (Purgatorio 33.109-11).

“From that most holy wave I now returned / to Beatrice; remade, as new trees are / renewed when they bring forth new boughs, I was / pure and prepared to climb unto the stars” (Purgatorio 33.142-5).

Paradiso Tree and Related Quotes

In Canto 1, Dante implores: “O good Apollo, for this final task / make me the vessel of your excellence, / what you, to merit your loved laurel, ask” (Paradiso 1.13-5); and writes: “then you would see me underneath the tree / you love; there I shall take as crown the leaves / of which my theme and you shall make me worthy. / So seldom, father, are those garlands gathered / For triumph of a ruler or a poet—[…] / that when Peneian branches can incite / someone to long and thirst for them, delight / must fill the happy Delphic deity” (Paradiso 1.25-33). In the notes, Mandelbaum suggests that Dante invokes Apollo instead of the nine Muses as previously because the “greatest test of his ability” requires the “help of the divinity himself” (Notes Paradiso 707).

Could it also be that because Dante is trying to reveal the mysteries, “above all, of light” that are the realm of Apollo whom he invokes instead of the nine Muses whom Apollo controls, he needs to invoke the god himself instead of his minions of creativity? Who better to inspire a poet writing about light than the god of poetry and the god of the sun in the Greek pantheon? Dante writes: “our intellect sinks into an abyss / so deep that memory fails to follow it” (Paradiso 1.8-9). This seems to be a direct inference of the need for the god of consciousness to assist where Mnemosyne cannot, and directs the reader to reconsider the former journey. Mandelbaum also writes: “25 the tree the laurel. Apollo loved the nymph Daphne, but she escaped from him by being changed into a laurel-tree [Ovid]. The myth symbolizes a poet’s pursuit of fame, the laurel-leaves with which, in ancient Greece and Rome, great poets were crowned and which Dante too desires to win (lines 15, 26-7; Par. 25, 9)” (Notes Paradiso 708). The myth itself symbolizes anything but the crowning of great poets! The crowning of poets with laurel leaves happened well after the myth was penned, and the myth might be said to represent the tragedy of unrequited love, an alchemical journey as I explored in a previous paper, or, it might be said to represent the pursuit of a coniunctio of solar and lunar consciousness, but, certainly not the pursuit of fame! Also, in lines 26-7, Dante is not desirous of fame—a sin he has overcome previously in order to reach Paradiso to begin with—rather, he seeks to be worthy of such honor as being crowned by the symbolic representation of Apollo’s love, Daphne’s boughs! How many people would want to see their dead or divorced love’s hair on someone else’s head? How many would willingly place that hair on the head of another?

This is an intimate moment, completely downplayed by Mandelbaum in his blindness not only to Dante’s transformation, a prerequisite to entering paradise, but also to the true honor it would be to have Apollo consent to a poet placing the laurel leaves on his own head, or, at the very least declaring them as being rightfully his. It is also a mark of another transformation in Dante, one of moving beyond the desire of fame and into the recognition of his own achievement, talents and consummate skill. As a poet, one recognizes this immediately, however, if one has not written poetry, then perhaps it will be misperceived as more sinful fame-chasing. Additionally, Dante invites Apollo to “Enter into my breast; within me breathe / The very power you made manifest / When you drew Marsyas out from his limbs’ sheath” (Paradiso 1.19-21). Such an invitation is not one made lightly, especially by Dante, a poet of incredible talent. Dante is asking Apollo to bestow the power that either Apollo had in creativity when he outplayed Marsyas during the music challenge, or, the power Apollo used to remove Marsyas from his skin after Apollo won the contest. Dante also requests Apollo help him show the shadow of heaven; the shadow could be said to represent Daphne’s lunar consciousness (or the unconscious), and since as a reward for helping Dante, Dante informs Apollo that he will see Dante underneath Daphne wearing a crown of her laurel. This, then, is a fitting tribute to Apollo and Daphne and Apollo’s love for her.

What I would suggest is that to truly find poesis at its highest levels, passion (eros) or love is necessary, and that this is what Dante signifies throughout this passage by invoking Apollo and mentioning Daphne, garland, branches, laurel or leaves five times. Immediately following this passage, it is of no coincidence that Beatrice stares intently into the rising sun, which action fires Dante’s imagination. It is Apollo who fills Dante’s mind by breathing in his chest as Beatrice fills his heart; Dante has been renewed with inspired poesis via his passion and love for Beatrice, a kindred passion that Apollo surely recalls for Daphne. This is how the memory of a place recalls itself, through the passionately inspired poesis revealed by divine love that opens imagination and brightens consciousness.

Mandelbaum seems to agree with the idea of divine poesis. He writes in the notes: “21 Marsyas a satyr who challenged Apollo to a musical contest, lost, and was punished by being skinned alive, during which he asked the god, ‘Why are you drawing me out of myself? [Ovid]. Recalling Apollo’s victory, Dante wants to be emptied of himself so that he may be filled with divine, poetic power (lines 14, 19)” (Notes Paradiso 708). Mandelbaum continues in the notes: “31 Peneian of the laurel (Daphne, daughter of Peneus)” (Notes Paradiso 708). Peneus is the god of tributaries or at least a river. Dante continues later on in numerous Cantos with the symbolism of trees, garlands, and fountains, springs, or rivers. Another aspect of the laurel that is not mentioned in the notes is that the priestesses of Apollo chewed the leaves of the laurel for divination or oracular purposes. Mandelbaum writes: “Leaving the Sacred Wood, Dante begins the ascent to Paradise with Beatrice. He sees the planets and hears their music” (380b). The sacred wood is the transformed dark wood, and offers itself as the threshold for Dante to move into Paradise.

In Canto 4, Dante writes of the “fountain from which springs / all truth” (Paradiso 4.116-17); and says: “Therefore, our doubting blossoms like a shoot / out from the root of truth […]” (Paradiso 4.130-31). He continues with the analogy of truth as a tree to spur humanity onward “from height to height” (Paradiso 4.132). The reference is to that of the biblical Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden, from which four rivers were said to flow, combined with the notion of Wisdom (Sophia) as the Tree of Life.

In Canto 7, Beatrice explains the nature of the sacrifice Christ made on the Cross (Paradiso 7.25-92), and names love as the reason and resulting gift of it.

In Canto 9, Cunizza da Romano associates herself with another as being from the same root (Paradiso 9.31); and Folco of Marseille speaks of Christ’s death on the cross (Paradiso 9.123).

In Canto 10, Dante mentions the fixed poles again (Paradiso 10.78); and one of the heavenly lights names the garland again (10.91). This time, the garland is named in direct correlation with love and Beatrice as the “fair / lady who strengthens” his “ascent to heaven” (Paradiso 10.92-93).

In Canto 11, St. Thomas mentions Mary suffering with Christ as he suffered on the cross (Paradiso 11.70). I see this as a conscious or unconscious understanding of the sacrifice that both Beatrice and Dante made, transforming from death to rebirth and Hell through Purgatory unto Heaven, which journey Beatrice makes with Dante (at least in spirit for the beginning of it).

In Canto 12, Dante writes: “[…] And from him / there sprang the streams with which the catholic /garden has found abundant watering, / so that its saplings have more life, more green” (Paradiso 12.102-5).

In Canto 13, St. Thomas says: “Thus it can be that, in the selfsame species, / some trees bear better fruit and some bear worse, / and men are born with different temperaments” (Paradiso 13.70-2).

In Canto 15, Dante’s great-great grandfather says: “‘O you, my branch in whom I took delight / even awaiting you, I am your root’” (Paradiso 15.88-9). Mandelbaum interprets the root as follows: “89 root the founder of Dante’s family” (Notes Paradiso 748). The family tree, in this way symbolic of the tree of life, cements Dante’s self- and human-affiliation with the tree. In

In Canto 17, Cacciaguida explains to Dante the reason for famous shades providing conversation because if those less famous provided them then those reading might not believe “examples with their roots unknown and hidden, / Or arguments too dim, too unapparent’” (Paradiso 17.138-42).

In Canto 18, Cacciaguida continues: ‘In this fifth resting place, upon the tree / that grows down from its crown and endlessly / bears fruit and never loses any leaves, / are blessed souls that, down below, before / they came to heaven, were so notable / that any poem would be enriched by them. / Therefore look at the cross, along its horns: / Those whom I name will race as swiftly as, / Within a cloud, its rapid lightnings flash’ (Paradiso 18.28-36).
Several spirits flash across the cross as Dante watches. Here, Mandelbaum interprets the tree as emblematic of Paradise: “28 […] tree Paradise” (Notes Paradiso 757). I agree with Mandelbaum in his interpretation of the tree as Paradise, and, as it is tapered downward, then it appears as a mirror reflection of the Kabbalah or Adam Kadmon tree in Purgatorio. This move obviously lends superiority to the Christian message over the Jewish one. Dante mentions the sparks of burning logs being read as auguries by fools (Paradiso 18.101-02), a definite strike against superstition.

In Canto 20, Dante shows the shadow side of good intentions bearing “evil fruit” (Paradiso 20.55-56), which refers directly to the fruit of the Tree of Good and Evil.

In Canto 21, Dante introduces the golden ladder that leads up into the final sphere (Paradiso 21.28-42 and 137).

In Canto 22, Dante continues with the imagery of the ladder to ascend unto the final sphere (Paradiso 22.67-105). The ladder, as related by Eliade, also is indicative of the axial pole.

In Canto 23, Dante likens Beatrice to a mother bird alighting on the branches of a tree (Paradiso 23.1-9); and depicts Beatrice as wearing a “revolving garland” (Paradiso 23.96) made of a living star, which imagery intends to remind the reader of Daphne, especially as “everlasting nymphs” are previously mentioned in line 26.

In Canto 24, Dante explains how Beatrice and “these delighted souls / formed companies of spheres around fixed poles” (Paradiso 24.10-11); and compares his examination to that of a guided voyage through a tree: “from branch to branch so that / we now were drawing close to the last leaves” (Paradiso 24.116-17). The fixed pole is a thinly veiled reference to the axial pole, and the tree through which Dante’s examination takes place appears to be the Wisdom tree, or Sophia.

In Canto 25, Dante declares that he “shall return as poet and put on, / at my baptismal font, the laurel crown; […]” (Paradiso 25.8-9). This is a direct reference, again, to himself as a victorious poet of Apollo’s tutelage, and in this instance also could be seen as referring to Beatrice as Daphne, even though he states that Peter placed the latest garland upon his brow. The reason for the crowning of his head by the garland owes to his faith as outlined in Canto 24.

In Canto 26, Dante states: “The leaves enleaving all the garden of / the Everlasting Gardener, I love [….]” (Paradiso 26.64-65); and writes: “As does a tree that bends its crown because / of winds that gust, and then springs up, raised by / its own sustaining power, so did I […]” (Paradiso 26.85-87); Adam speaks of the trespass of tasting of the tree and relates: “‘the ways that mortals take are as the leaves / upon a branch […]’” (Paradiso 26.137-38).

In Canto 27, Beatrice explains that “‘The nature of the universe, which holds / the center still and moves all else around it, / begins here as if from its turning post’” (Paradiso 27.106-08); compares time to a tree: “‘time has roots within this vessel and, / within the other vessels, has its leaves’” (27.119-20); and describes how Providence will make everything right, ending with, “‘and then fine fruit shall follow on the flower’” (Paradiso 27.148).

In Canto 31, Dante writes: “‘O lady, you in whom my hope gains strength, / you who, for my salvation, have allowed / your footsteps to be left in Hell, in all / the things that I have seen, I recognize / the grace and benefit that I, depending / upon your power and goodness, have received’” (Paradiso 31.79-84). It is with similar raptness, humility and gratitude that I daily express to Lisé the love and thankfulness for her presence in my life. Beatrice empowered Dante to struggle through his arduous journey, and as she did so for him, Lisé does the same for me.

In Canto 33, as St. Bernard prays to the Virgin Mary, he refers to Dante as “This man—who from the deepest hollow in / the universe, up to this height […]” (Paradiso 33.22-23), which evokes the image of the cosmic or axial tree. The choice by Dante to use a rose instead of a tree for the central axis in heaven owes its roots to numerous influences, nonetheless, it is a symbol that equates to that of the cosmic tree or tree of life. Even naming Beatrice or speaking of her and his love for her induces another vision of the tree that is the two entwined: as a strangler fig wraps around its host tree, yet without the actual literal strangling or death of that host tree, instead as a symbiotic merging of the two.


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