Commentary on the Images in
penance of the Lustful: the fire. By contrast with the common run
of eschatological writers, Dante is strangely economical in his use of fire.
Even in Hell, the naked flame makes only four appearances (in the Sixth
Circle, Ring ii of the seventh, and Bowges iii and viii of the Eighth), and
is never unaccompanied by some touch of greatness amid the squalor: Farinata,
Capaneus and the Three Noble Florentines, Ulysses, the outraged majesty of
the Most High Keys. On the Blissful Mountain, the traditional
"Purgatory Fire" is conspicuous by its absence: only on its last and highest
and most triumphant Cornice does this great Scriptural image blaze out with
a sudden splendid lucidity.
"For He is like a
refiner's fire"; "the fining-pot is for silver and the furnace for gold";
"the words of the Lord are pure words, even as the silver, which from the
earth is tried, and purified seven times in the fire." Fire, which is
an image of Lust, is also an image of Purity. The burning of the sin,
and the burning charity which is its opposing virtue, here coalesce into a
single image and a single experience; here, where the souls of great poets
go singing and weeping through the flame, the noblest of earthly lovers is
purged and set in order.