William Blake's illustrations for Dante's Divine Comedy: a study of the engravings, pencil sketches and watercolors 9780786494880, 9781476617022, 0786494883

William Blake's series of illustrations for Dante'sDivine Comedywas his last major project and a summation of

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William Blake's illustrations for Dante's Divine Comedy: a study of the engravings, pencil sketches and watercolors
 9780786494880, 9781476617022, 0786494883

Table of contents :
Cover......Page 1
Table of Contents......Page 6
Preface......Page 8
1. Why Did Blake Illustrate The Divine Comedy?......Page 10
2. Views of Blake’s Dante, Past and Present......Page 20
3. The Comedy Reaches England......Page 26
4. The Making of Blake’s Illustrations......Page 32
5. Marginal Note to Boyd......Page 36
6. Remarks on the Illustration to Hell, Canto 4......Page 57
7. “He could never have Builded Dantes Hell”......Page 87
8. States, Not People......Page 95
Part IV: The Illustrations......Page 138
10. Purgatory......Page 233
11. Heaven......Page 261
Conclusion......Page 282
Chapter Notes......Page 284
References......Page 292
Index......Page 296

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William Blake’s Illustrations for Dante’s Divine Comedy

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William Blake’s Illustrations for Dante’s Divine Comedy A Study of the Engravings, Pencil Sketches and Watercolors Eric Pyle

McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers Jefferson, North Carolina




Pyle, Eric, 1959– William Blake’s illustrations for Dante’s Divine Comedy : a study of the engravings, pencil sketches and watercolors / Eric Pyle. p. cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 978-0-7864-9488-0 (softcover : acid free paper) ISBN 978-1-4766-1702-2 (ebook)

1. Dante Alighieri, 1265–1321. Divina commedia—Illustrations. 2. Blake, William, 1757–1827. I. Title. PQ4329.P95 2015 769.92—dc23 2014040019 BRITISH LIBRARY


© 2015 Eric Pyle. All rights reserved No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying or recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. On the cover: William Blake, Capaneus the Blasphemer, pen and ink and watercolor, 1824–27 (National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Felton Bequest, 1920 [997-3]) Printed in the United States of America

McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers Box 611, Jefferson, North Carolina 28640 www.mcfarlandpub.com

Table of Contents Preface


Part I: Blake, His Masters and Rivals 1. Why Did Blake Illustrate The Divine Comedy? 2. Views of Blake’s Dante, Past and Present

3 13

Part II: English Dante 3. The Comedy Reaches England 4. The Making of Blake’s Illustrations

19 25

Part III: Blake’s Criticism of Dante 5. 6. 7. 8.

Marginal Note to Boyd Remarks on the Illustration to Hell, Canto 4 “He could never have Builded Dantes Hell” States, Not People

29 50 80 88

Between pages 122 and 123 are 8 color plates containing 12 photographs

Part IV: The Illustrations 9. Hell 10. Purgatory 11. Heaven

123 218 246

Conclusion Chapter Notes References Index

267 269 277 281


God Appears & God is Light To those poor Souls who dwell in Night But does a Human Form Display To those who Dwell in Realms of day —Auguries of Innocence

Preface Dear Sir I am still far from recoverd & dare not get out in the cold air. Yet I lose nothing by it Dante goes on the better which is all I care about—William Blake1 Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.—Matthew 5:17 No thing can become manifest to itself without opposition—Jacob Boehme 2

Among William Blake’s last works was a series of illustrations to Dante’s Divine Comedy. It was an ambitious project for a man of 67 to begin, and he didn’t live to complete it. Even in its unfinished state, however, the series is a rich and fascinating work of art that can add to our understanding of Blake’s philosophy and artistic goals, and be enjoyed for its strange beauty. The seven engravings from the set approach the same high quality as the more famous prints depicting the Book of Job, which were finished about the time that the Dante series was commissioned. In addition, we have 102 unique pencil sketches and watercolors, in various stages of completion. Some are merely rough outlines, but a few are paintings of such beauty that they rival the best of Blake’s visual work. Many of them are rich in iconographic invention—enough to give us confidence that, true to form, Blake was not passively depicting Dante’s words, but was engaged in intellectual and artistic dialogue with his Italian peer. The only full-length analysis of the Dante series was published in 1953 by Albert S. Roe.3 Since that time, references to Blake’s Dante illustrations in the works of other scholars have tended to rely on Roe’s interpretation and take his conclusions as more or less settled.4 Although Rodney M. Baine and David Fuller published articles in the late 1980s questioning some of Roe’s opinions and calling for new analysis, no thorough reinterpretation has appeared so far.5 It is my hope that the present book will reopen many of the questions about these pictures, point to new methods of interpreting them, and help them to gain a place in lists of William Blake’s greatest accomplishments. My analysis will focus largely on aspects of Blake’s theology that are at odds with Dante’s, and that moved Blake to illustrate the Comedy as a way of correcting or completing its message. We will see that Dante, true to his age, conceives of God as existing in a separate realm, far above our fallen world. Blake does not accept the idea of a God that is apart from mankind. Indeed, for Blake it is the false perception of separateness from God that is at the heart of so many of our woes. 1



This book also discusses Blake’s views on the goals and possibilities of art, an aesthetic theory that derives in large part from his theological principle that God and man are not divided. Whereas Dante accepts the traditional Christian view that limited human reason is inadequate to understand God, and that human language lacks the power to describe Heaven, Blake sees such an admission as an unnecessary falling-short. The true prophet, for Blake, is a poet who makes God manifest, either in words or in pictures. Blake rejects Dante’s repeated claims that human art is inadequate to show God’s full majesty and works to realize in fullness the message that the Italian poet found impossible to convey. Earlier interpretations of Blake’s Dante pictures, following Roe’s analysis, saw the entire series as an attempt to show that the Comedy is false and that Dante’s theology was inherently flawed. My book, on the other hand, will show that there are major points of agreement between the two poets. It is primarily in Dante’s final inability to manifest God that Blake sees a failure. Blake’s illustrations, then, were not made to abolish the Comedy, but to fulfill it. I am of course aided in my task by the 60 years of advancement in the field of Blake studies since Roe’s book appeared. Even a much abbreviated list of those who have published since 1953 would have to include Kathleen Raine, George Mills Harper, and Desiree Hirst, who have revealed to us the esoteric and Neoplatonic background of Blake’s thought. The British antinomian roots of his methods have been unveiled by E.P. Thompson. W.J.T. Mitchell showed us the inseparable nature of Blake’s visual and verbal art, while David Erdman revealed its politics. Kathleen Lundeen brought Blake criticism up to date in regard to the world of semiotics and language theory. A fascinating triad of books has helped me understand the interplay of philosophy and theology that separates Blake’s world from Dante’s: Fischer, Magee, and Punter have, respectively, written books about Blake and Jacob Boehme, Jacob Boehme and Hegel, and Hegel and Blake. Robert Essick, author and editor of many key works of Blake scholarship, read portions of this manuscript and rescued me from several errors. I am grateful for his help. As much as I would like to blame any remaining errors on Satan, I must take personal responsibility for them here. My goal in this book has been to discover the main artistic and theological aspects of Blake’s engagement with Dante. In staying close to that theme, I have chosen not to attempt an exhaustive catalog of every Dante-related work in Blake’s oeuvre. For a complete list of such works the reader is referred to the online Blake Archive, at www.blakearchive.org. This resource provides color reproductions of all the works discussed in the present book, as well as additional information on the provenance and present whereabouts of each. An inexpensive collection of reproductions is available from Dover Publications, titled William Blake’s Divine Comedy Illustrations: 102 Full-Color Plates. I am grateful to Professor Takao Aoki of Hiroshima University for assistance in securing the reproduction permissions necessary to complete this book. Sachiko and Aiko Ohnishi supported me in ways too numerous to name. I would also like to thank a number of pseudonymous friends with whom I conversed on the Internet, who provided me with moral support and valuable feedback during my years of research. And of course this book could not have been written without the patience and enthusiasm—and good questions—of my students. Many thanks to all of you.

Part I: Blake, His Masters and Rivals

1. Why Did Blake Illustrate The Divine Comedy? Disagreements with Dante Every thing in Dantes Comedia shews That for Tyrannical Purposes he has made This World the Foundation of All & the Goddess Nature & not the Holy Ghost [E 689]

In a perfect scholarly world, William Blake’s life would be at least as well documented as that of his contemporary, Samuel Taylor Coleridge. “Kubla Khan” and “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” gained Coleridge early fame and the attention of admirers, with the result that we have at our disposal numerous records of his personal and professional life.1 His literary and political opinions are well-recorded in the speeches he was invited to give and in the table talk that his friends faithfully recorded. In comparison, Blake scholars are left with very little documentary evidence from which to glean the foundations of his thought and the development of his work. Those of us intent on analyzing his Dante illustrations, in particular, have little more than notes scribbled in margins and secondhand diary entries to guide us in our reconstruction of Blake’s opinions about The Divine Comedy and its author. One criticism Blake made of Dante was penciled into a copy of the Inferno that had most likely come to him from his patron, William Hayley. Blake seems to have been an inveterate annotator of other writers’ books, and his notes in the margins of the Inferno express strong opinions in clear language. Most of these broadsides, though, are directed not against Dante but against his translator, Henry Boyd. Boyd’s was one of the first complete translations of the Inferno to be published in English, appearing in print in 1785.2 The first 183 pages of this three-volume edition contain historical notes by Boyd and a life of Dante by Leonardo Bruni, and it is this front matter that Blake annotated, not the poem itself. Boyd takes a moralizing tone in his description of Dante’s political career and literary goals that Blake finds objectionable. In his discussion of the unhappy effects of religion on politics, for example, Boyd opines: “The booted Apostles of Germany, and the Crusards of Florence, carried their zeal to a very guilty degree.” Blake responds in the margin with a laconic: “How very Foolish all this Is” (E 634). At only one point does Blake extend his criticism from the translator to Dante. In an angry note on the subject of translators, he does acknowledge that Dante had rendered too much to Caesar: “It appears to Me that Men are hired to Run down 3


Part I. Blake, His Masters and Rivals

Men of Genius under the Mask of Translators, but Dante gives too much to Caesar he is not a Republican Dante was an Emperors Man Luther also left the Priest & joind the Soldier” (E 634). I will analyze in detail the meaning of calling Dante “an Emperors Man” in Part III of the present book. (The brackets indicate Blake’s changes.) For now, let me note that while Blake had a copy of the Inferno in one hand and a critical pencil in the other, he reserved nearly all of his rage for the translator and not the author of the poem. And the note quoted above does seem to indicate that Blake considered the Italian poet to be among the ranks of the “Men of Genius.” In addition to the marginal note from the Inferno, we have two direct criticisms of Dante penciled onto the preparatory sketches for Blake’s illustrations. Since he began these works with rough pencil lines, gradually bringing them to clarity and obscuring most of the sketched lines when adding color, we may assume that these notes were never intended to be part of the final work. In those watercolors that appear to be finished, no such words remain, nor is there any writing (beyond a single title) in the seven engravings. The penciled criticisms are significant, however. In the first, Blake declares that Dante was inspired by nature, and not by imagination or the Holy Spirit (E 689). The other note opposes the traditional Christian idea that God could condemn anyone to Hell for an eternity (E 690). Blake’s God is a God of forgiveness. For additional statements Blake made on the subject of Dante, we rely on the testimony of Henry Crabb Robinson, a friend of Blake, who recorded some of the artist’s opinions in a diary. These journal entries were made from memory after the fact, not during the conversation,3 though they ring true to what we know of Blake’s manner of thinking. Crabb Robinson himself found Blake’s speech obscure at times. Still, the remarks he recorded in his journal, when considered in the light of other findings, will help us to uncover Blake’s intentions. One of the most revealing diary entries on the subject of Dante records Blake’s opinion that Dante was wrong in occupying his mind about political objects. Yet this did not appear to affect his [Blake’s] estimation of Dante’s genius, or his opinion of the truth of Dante’s visions. Indeed, when he even declared Dante to be an Atheist, it was accompanied by expression of the highest admiration.4

Many pages of The Divine Comedy do contain Dante’s opinions on the politics of the day. Although these sections are perhaps the least interesting to modern readers, they do not overshadow the theological discussions to the point that Dante appears to be an atheist in any conventional sense of the word. Making sense of this unexpected evaluation will require a close investigation of Blake’s beliefs about both art and Hell, and point us to important facts about the illustrations. The comments Blake made, both the penciled memos and the remarks recorded by his friend, will provide some firm handholds for us to enter into the meaning of Blake’s illustrations. The hints his comments provide also allow us to look back to his earlier poetic works, in particular the book-length poem Milton, to see why he disagreed with Dante. Yet I also will show in this book that the critical nature of Blake’s remarks has been overvalued by previous critics, with the result that they have been taken as the final word on an issue that is more complicated than some suppose. Negative comments like those mentioned above

1. Why Did Blake Illustrate The Divine Comedy?


emphasize Blake’s disagreement with the system of the Comedy. This and similar remarks have led scholars to read the entire set of pictures as an attack on Dante’s theology. Roe, for example, sees nearly every illustration in the series as a direct criticism of Dante’s message, so that each picture becomes a point-by-point refutation of the Comedy’s theology. In Roe’s interpretation, Blake’s watercolor showing Beatrice appearing to Dante in the Earthly Paradise becomes an allegory of the soul seduced into love of the material world. Every detail of the painting is called into service to show that Blake’s Beatrice is reversing the direction of Dante’s Beatrice and is pulling us downwards instead of guiding us up.5 This insistence on seeing oppositional symbolism everywhere in the series of pictures has caused Roe to ignore the many points of agreement between the two poets. The dramatic forward and upward movement of the poem, an essential element of the poem’s message, in Roe’s reading stops short due to the fact that each scene becomes a negative critique. Blake seems to have stalled the pilgrim Dante’s progress by making his upward movement into illusion, and his final triumph into failure. One begins to wonder why, if Roe’s interpretation is true, Blake would devote his final years to a poem that he so fundamentally disliked.

Blake Corrects Milton I can draw as well a Bed as Up & perhaps better but I cannot Engrave I am going on with Dante & please myself [E 774].

Morton Paley writes, “Despite Blake’s critical attitude toward Dante, we should not assume that he approached his subject primarily in a spirit of resentment.” From the quantity and quality of the work Blake produced, and from statements he made in his correspondence, it is clear that Blake “approached his subject with zest, taking full advantage of the pictorial opportunities Dante offered.”6 The correspondence Paley mentions was addressed to patron John Linnell, who had commissioned the illustrations. Blake wrote to Linnell while bedridden, a few months before his death, that he did not dare “to count on Futurity,” but was still working, because “I am too much attachd to Dante to think much of any thing else—” (E 784). Why would Blake show so much enthusiasm for illustrations to the work of an “Atheist” and “Caesars Man,” who made his poem for “Tyrannical Purposes”? Harsh words such as these might lead us to believe that Blake considered Dante a kind of spiritual enemy. No less a critic than W.B. Yeats came to this conclusion, writing: “As Blake sat bent over the great drawing-book in which he made his drawings to The Divine Comedy, he was very certain that he and Dante represented spiritual states which face one another in an eternal enmity.”7 Certainly Blake is not shy about naming individuals who, he believes, have helped to bring about the unspiritual condition of the modern world. In particular, Blake makes Francis Bacon, Isaac Newton, and John Locke into a sort of unholy trinity in his writings, blaming them for Enlightenment approaches to knowledge that devalue inspiration.8 Locke’s epistemology is echoed in The Works of Sir Joshua Reynolds, especially in the series of lectures called the Seven Discourses on Art, which Blake condemns in clear and vehement language (E 635–662). We are left in no doubt as to whom Blake considered an intellectual enemy. Yet as frequently as he mentions his opponents’ names, he never devoted a major poem to


Part I. Blake, His Masters and Rivals

any one of them, or illustrated their books. That honor was reserved for a writer of an earlier age with whom he had a more complicated and respectful relationship: John Milton. References to Milton throughout Blake’s written work show that Blake held the earlier poet in the highest esteem. In The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, Blake calls him a “true Poet” (E 35). In one letter, Blake places Milton with Homer and Virgil in a “high rank of art” (E 702), and in another includes Milton in a list of the subjects that form Blake’s “delightful study” (E 714). In a paragraph on the subject of which men he most respects, he writes that he sees “the Divine countenance in such men as Cowper and Milton more distinctly than in any prince or hero” (E 750)—high praise from a man who declares that “there is no other God” than “the greatest men” (E 43). The clearest statement about Milton’s worth comes from Blake’s Descriptive Catalogue, intended as a public announcement of his artistic values: Poetry as it exists now on earth, in the various remains of ancient authors, Music as it exists in old tunes or melodies, Painting and Sculpture as it exists in the remains of Antiquity and in the works of more modern genius, is Inspiration, and cannot be surpassed; it is perfect and eternal. Milton, Shakespeare, Michael Angelo, Rafael, the finest specimens of Ancient Sculpture and Painting, and Architecture, Gothic, Grecian, Hindoo and Egyptian, are the extent of the human mind [E 544].

In addition, thanks to Blake’s frequent visions and conversations with famous men of earlier ages, the admiration between the two men seems to have been mutual. Blake wrote in a letter to his friend John Flaxman: “Milton lovd me in my childhood & shewd me his face” (E 707). Crabb Robinson’s diary indicates that visionary visits from Milton (who died 83 years before Blake was born) continued throughout Blake’s life. These conversations with Milton himself gave Blake the confidence to correct what he perceived as the earlier poet’s errors. In fact, Blake once told Crabb Robinson that Milton had often begged him to confute the mistakes in Paradise Lost.9 Blake undertook the corrections not through peer-reviewed essays in little-read literary reviews but by the more inspired medium of painting. From 1801 to 1824 Blake made sets of illustrations for six of Milton’s poems: “A Mask Presented at Ludlow-Castle,” Paradise Lost, “On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity,” “L’Allegro,” “Il Penseroso,” and Paradise Regained. According to Bette Charlene Werner, these designs go beyond literal rendition of words into pictures. They represent Blake’s rethinking of Milton’s themes, in which the insights that he sees as true are isolated, while the ideas he regards as confinements or distortions are rejected. As illustrator of Milton’s poems, Blake first discloses their errors and then accentuates the areas where he perceives their visionary truth to reside.10

This is the key point for any analysis of illustrations Blake did based on the work of another writer. When he chose the subject of the illustrations himself, or did so with the cooperation of an understanding patron, the finished product was likely to be a careful reworking of the message of the original text. Blake illustrated Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales,11 Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress,12 the Book of Job,13 and several works of Milton, as, in Werner’s phrase, “a rethinking of … themes.” The truths of the written text are identified and emphasized in the pictures, while the errors are corrected. Persuasive scholarship has shown that in each case Blake has undertaken his project with a more ambitious goal than mere criticism. When we view his

1. Why Did Blake Illustrate The Divine Comedy?


visual responses alongside the texts that inspired them, our understanding is raised to a higher plane than experience of one or the other separately would allow. Blake had alluded to such a dialectical approach in his early illuminated manuscript The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. The motto “Opposition is true Friendship” (E 42) includes friendship toward the reader and viewer as well as between Blake and his subject. The aphorism “Without Contraries is no progression” (E 34) shows that illustrations contrary to their subjects aim towards progress, not just negation. As Werner emphasizes, our best understanding of Blake’s project to redeem the work of John Milton is found, naturally enough, in the illuminated poem Milton, which carries the date 1804 on its title page.14 This work is a visionary account of Milton’s return to Earth from Heaven, his visit to Blake, and the corrections Milton wishes to make to the errors he left behind in his poems. Though travel between spiritual worlds is not unusual in Blake’s work, Milton’s return journey is declared to be unique: This mighty one is come from Eden, he is of the Elect. Who died from Earth & he is returnd before the Judgment, This thing Was never known that one of the holy dead should willing return [E 119].

Blake respects the earlier poet so much that, rather than dismiss his errors, he gives him a unique chance to return to our world and correct them. And what were those errors? Essick and Viscomi write: Milton (in the course of Milton) becomes conscious of those portions of himself and his culture that inhibited his being “a true Poet” and struggles to cast them out. In Blake’s view, Milton’s errors infected his life and writings with classical paganism, moral self-righteousness, and rational materialism.15

Because the same three errors—classical, moral, and materialistic—will play key roles in our analysis of the Dante pictures, let us pause here to examine more closely Blake’s accusations against Milton. This will make things clearer when we apply the same standards to the Comedy illustrations.

Classical Paganism The early Age of Reason saw the birth of theories that attempted to unify and explain vast sweeps of human knowledge, but were as yet untroubled by the demands of modern scholarship. The Baron de Montesquieu’s De l’esprit des lois, for example, posited that the success or failure of cultures in the historical record could largely be accounted for by climate. Like many such theories, Montesquieu’s was more than a little chauvinistic, as he concluded triumphantly that the climate of his native France was the ideal.16 Similarly sweeping theories were advanced to account for the variety of cultures in the world, which, it was assumed, must all derive from one of the Old Testament patriarchs. William Stukeley (1687–1765) wrote in Stonehenge, a Temple Restor’d that the dolmens still visible in England were evidence of a patriarchal religion traceable to Abraham, and despite little knowledge of the real religion of the Celts, he concluded that it was “extremely like Christianity.”17 Edward Davies (1756–1831) pushed Britain’s lineage farther back, to a great-


Part I. Blake, His Masters and Rivals

grandson of Noah.18 Others declared the British people to be one of the lost tribes of Israel. Francis Wilford (1761?–1822) developed one of the most ambitious of the “universal histories” while serving with the British military in India. His research in Sanskrit texts allowed him to reconstruct what he described as “the first true representation of Scriptural and Hindoo geography.” He announced with confidence “that the Druids of Britain were Brahmins is beyond the least shadow of doubt.”19 Blake was not alone in his enthusiasm for such unifying theories of history, particularly those that allowed Britain a direct connection to Old Testament authority. The work of Coleridge, Shelley, and Robert Southey all show awareness of Wilford and similar “historians.”20 Blake makes clear his acceptance of such theories in his Descriptive Catalogue of 1809, where he mentions the author of one of the most famous of universal histories: “The antiquities of every Nation Under Heaven, is no less sacred than that of the Jews. They are the same thing as Jacob Bryant, and all antiquaries have proved” (E 543). Bryant (1715–1804) published the widely read New System, or an Analysis, of Antient Mythology in two volumes in 1774. It was reprinted and expanded again and again, reaching six volumes in 1807. Illustrations in the first two editions were created by James Basire, to whom Blake was apprenticed at the time. (A.G.B. Russell has suggested that at least one of the engravings in the book was produced by Blake himself.)21 Through a combination of primitive archeology, biblical history, and creative etymology, Bryant assembled one of the most popular surveys of history in the Britain of Blake’s time. Today such views of history seem amusing—constructed of imagined connections and wishful thinking—but at the time serious people took Bryant seriously. Few in England doubted that civilization had been founded and spread by the patriarchs of the Old Testament and that modern cultures could be traced directly back to biblical sources. Abraham and Job had been of the same race as the Celts, and the druidical monuments still visible in England were relics of their culture. The Hebrew language was God’s language but was corrupt in its modern form; some even posited that English was the closest of all modern tongues to the language that Adam spoke22—an idea that sounds far-fetched to us today but was sufficiently popular for Byron to make fun of it in the first canto of his Don Juan. In contrast to the tendency for Neoclassicists of the eighteenth century to prefer GrecoRoman culture, some Christians employed Old Testament–based history to give precedence to the Hebrews. Blake gave particular importance to the view that Solomon’s temple, as described in the Bible, achieved the peak of artistic accomplishment, and if the Greeks and Romans seemed to have surpassed the Hebrews in sculpture, it is only because they stole the ideas and destroyed the evidence. He goes so far as to deny that the famous Laocoön sculpture, a cast of which he drew at the British Museum, depicts a scene from Virgil. In his 1826– 7 engraving of the work, Blake renames the central figure Yahweh and the flanking sons Adam and Satan—in effect claiming that his own reworking of Christian symbolism had come first, in the time of Solomon, and the Hellenistic sculptors had rudely appropriated the image to their own unrelated myth.23 Damon writes: “Blake’s prime objection to the Greeks was their glorification of war.… Virgil was even worse: he not only glorified war, but empire as well.”24 Blake identifies Greek philosophy as “a remnant of Druidism” (E 200), which had made human sacrifice routine until the day of Abraham’s near-sacrifice of Isaac. The total war and renewed empire in

1. Why Did Blake Illustrate The Divine Comedy?


Europe under Napoleon showed that Enlightenment thought and liberating revolution had not done away with men’s ability to find glory in violence. As the French emperor conquered each new territory in turn, he took many of their greatest artworks back with him to Paris, just as Blake said the Romans had done with the sculptures of Solomon’s temple. The love of violence thus became for Blake inseparable from Greek and Roman thought, and, in his view, when classical models inspired later poets, it only caused harm. The preface to Milton emphasizes this error: Shakspeare & Milton were both curbd by the general malady & infection from the silly Greek & Latin slaves of the Sword [E 95].

Dante, we will discover, suffers from the same illness. Blake’s view of history begins with Adam and Eve, continues through the early biblical patriarchs identified with Druids, and finds a true moral code only with the later prophets and with Christ. The Greeks and Romans, he is sure, are unfortunate offshoots of the early, unenlightened peoples, who could only create through theft from a superior culture. By declaring the Bible “the Great Code of Art” (E 274), superior to Greek epics or philosophy, Blake roots his aesthetics as well as his history in prophecy. His view of history is of a piece with his view of inspiration: the New Testament is true because it is inspired directly by God, while classical literature is, at best, a poor imitation.

Moral Self-Righteousness The Old Testament, from Exodus to the second book of Kings, contains at least as much violence as the Iliad or the Aeneid. Indeed, the body count in scripture is probably higher than in Greek epic. So it may come as some surprise that Blake seems to associate bloodshed exclusively with classical works and not with the Bible. Solving this puzzle will provide us with a clearer view of the reasoning he uses to condemn both Moses’ morality and Milton’s. The following lines from Milton hint at how Old Testament morality and Greek thought are associated in Blake’s mind with Milton’s Puritanism as causes of destruction: Heaven as a Punisher & Hell as One under Punishment: With Laws from Plato & his Greeks to renew the Trojan Gods, In Albion; & to deny the value of the Saviours blood [E 118].

The idea that Heaven could be a punisher, and Hell could be created for eternal punishment, is fundamentally opposed to Blake’s religion. For him, Christ does not punish; laws of condemnation are mistakes, attributable to the pre–Christian systems of the fallen world, including the Druids, the Greeks, and those who follow Mosaic law. Milton, like Moses, has erred by assuming that God would give laws to man and punish transgressors. Exactly how the world fell will become one of the main themes of this book. That the Fall of Man was not, for Blake, a consequence of disobeying God’s commands is something we can establish with confidence from the early illuminated works. In those books, responsibility for the Fall rests not with Adam and Eve, but with Blake’s character Urizen. This


Part I. Blake, His Masters and Rivals

figure is first mentioned by name in the 1793 book Visions of the Daughters of Albion, where he is introduced with the address “Creator of men! mistaken Demon of heaven” (E 48). His name is thought to derive from a pun on “Your Reason,” or perhaps from the Greek οὐριζειν, meaning “to limit”—the root of the English word “horizon.”25 He plays a major role in all of Blake’s prophetic books. Though not mentioned by name, characters with Urizen’s appearance also may be seen in the illustrations for the Book of Job and for The Divine Comedy. As the eponymous Book of Urizen describes, this character is a “dark power” in Eternity, “abstracted / Brooding secret.” Though he strives “in battles dire” and spends his time “Brooding shut in the deep,” even this character is not portrayed as evil or unforgivable. When he does act it is in a desperate bid for stability. He declares, “I have sought for a joy without pain, / For a solid without fluctuation.” To avoid the endless changes and “Mental Fight” of Eternity, he issues Laws of peace, of love, of unity: Of pity, compassion, forgiveness. Let each chuse one habitation: His ancient infinite mansion: One command, one joy, one desire. One curse, one weight, one measure One King, one God, one Law [E 72].

It is this well-meant but mistaken strictness that brings about the fallen world. The Fall is not a literal fall from a high place, as Milton’s Lucifer falls from Heaven, but a closing of possibilities and perceptions in favor of single vision: one law and one king for everyone. Instead of the infinite perceptions of Eternity, the senses close down to our present limited five. Unable to view the eternal changes that frightened Urizen, man is reduced to a poor state in which All the myriads of Eternity: All the wisdom & joy of life: Roll like a sea around him, Except what his little orbs Of sight by degrees unfold [E 77].

Because man’s perception is reduced to what his eyes—his “little orbs”—and the other passive sense-receptors of his body can take in, he is blind to nearly all of the universe. And we see that the closing of the senses is directly followed by the creation of moral law: The Eye of Man a little narrow orb closd up & dark Scarcely beholding the great light conversing with the Void The Ear, a little shell in small volutions shutting out All melodies & comprehending only Discord and Harmony The Tongue a little moisture fills, a little food it cloys A little sound it utters & its cries are faintly heard Then brings forth Moral Virtue the cruel Virgin Babylon [E 99]

It is a key point in all of Blake’s work, and a key disagreement with Milton and with Dante, that the Fall is brought about through perceptual changes, not through the breaking of moral taboos. The moral code that creates the possibility of sin is a result of this perceptual change, not the cause. Our fallen condition is not punishment but error. And even the error did not occur through evil intention.

1. Why Did Blake Illustrate The Divine Comedy?


To emphasize his disagreement with the theology of Paradise Lost, Blake retells his own version of the Fall in the first section of Milton. In this instance, after Urizen has brought about the perceptual narrowing, it is Satan himself who creates the concept of morality: He [Satan] created Seven deadly Sins drawing out his infernal scroll, Of Moral laws and cruel punishments upon the clouds of Jehovah To pervert the Divine voice in its entrance to the earth With thunder of war & trumpets sound, with armies of disease Punishments & deaths musterd & number’d; Saying I am God alone There is no other! [E 103]

The creation of the Seven Deadly Sins, of all moral laws and the punishments for breaking them, comes from Satan and is a perversion of the real divine voice. When Milton’s emanation and female counterpart asks, in Milton, “Is Virtue a Punisher?” (E 116), she knows that both Moses and Milton would answer with a confident “Yes!” This is their error, which Blake has recalled Milton to overcome. Urizen or Satan, in giving moral law to our world, also proclaims himself to be the only God of this world. Blake believes that most Christians and Deists have been taken in by this mistake, and are obeying the demiurge of this fallen world instead of the true God. Such errors are addressed directly in Jerusalem: Every Religion that Preaches Vengeance for Sin is the Religion of the Enemy & Avenger; and not the Forgiver of Sin, and their God is Satan, Named by the Divine Name [E 201].

Rational Materialism Near the end of Milton, the title character declares: I come in Self-annihilation & the grandeur of Inspiration To cast off Rational Demonstration by Faith in the Saviour To cast off the rotten rags of Memory by Inspiration To cast off Bacon. Locke & Newton from Albions covering To take off his filthy garments, & clothe him with Imagination To cast aside from Poetry, all that is not Inspiration [E 142]

The returned, corrected Milton has rejected the kind of reasoned argument that Blake associates with his trio of Enlightenment devils: Bacon, Locke, and Newton. A rational explanation of the ways of God to man, Milton has discovered, is a paradox, since God himself operates through inspiration and not reason, Johannine revelation and not Lockean memory. “Rational Demonstration,” of the type used by scientists and plodding scholars, is here juxtaposed with faith in Christ; memory is contrasted with inspiration. Blake has no patience for those thinkers who rely only on sense-experience for data, and construct reasonable systems from the memories of repeatable events. Such empiricists must abstract generalities from actual cases, and they value the dead theory over the living embodiment. Paradoxically, then, those who base their systems solely on observation of nature are the ones who see the least. Because God is immanent in every speck and particle of the universe, a refusal to see beyond the passively observable qualities of the world is a choice to ignore the higher world. Abstractions such as natural laws, rules of logic, and chains of cause-and-effect


Part I. Blake, His Masters and Rivals

are all derived from such observations. These rules do not bind God, nor must they restrict people who see God in the world. Bacon, Locke, and Newton were careful to confirm in their writings that they were Christians, but Blake sees their Enlightenment methods as leading to the shutting-down of nearly all a person’s potential perception, and with it the chance for salvation. Addressing the Deists in Jerusalem, Blake writes: “the Ancients saw plainly by Revelation to the intire abrogation of Experimental Theory and many believed what they saw, and Prophecied of Jesus” (E 200). Prophecy sees through the natural world to God. Empiricism sees only dead theories. When Blake called Milton “a sort of classical Atheist”26 this is what he was talking about. An “Atheist,” for Blake, is someone guilty of “worshiping the natural world.”27 Such a person may claim also to be a Christian, but Blake will not allow this. Blake declares that the natural world we perceive is only a tiny fraction of the real universe, and the rules of logic and demonstration are mere abstractions derived from it. Therefore any poet hoping to explain God’s ways who employs logical argument rather than direct revelation is using the wrong method. The truth of religion is shown through embodying God—incarnation— and not through reason. To review these important points, then: Blake’s objections to Milton’s earthly works may be summarized as, first, reliance on pre–Christian values derived more from the Greeks than from Christ; second, the idea that God would ever condemn anyone to eternal punishment; and third, over-reliance on reason, with a concomitant undervaluing of inspiration. It is almost exactly the same list of flaws that Blake wished to correct in The Divine Comedy. Blake considers Dante, like Milton, far too significant a poet to dismiss. The greater part of the Comedy, like the greater part of Paradise Lost, is inspired poetry of grandeur, and with Blake’s help the areas in which it falls short may be corrected and fulfilled. How exactly Dante is guilty of these errors will be the subject of Part III in the present book. Having once written a poem, Milton, in which he corrects the work of a great epic poet, Blake does not feel the need to spell out for us the same corrections in the case of Dante. With Milton safely in his collected works, Blake can undertake the task of fulfilling the Comedy through purely visual means—illustrations without text. The pictures he made to accompany Dante’s poem will accomplish the task of undoing the classicism, morality, and rational demonstration.

2. Views of Blake’s Dante, Past and Present Albert S. Roe published Blake’s Illustrations to the Divine Comedy in 1953. The book was based on his Harvard doctoral dissertation. Roe recognized that, like Milton and the illustrations made for Paradise Lost, Blake’s Dante pictures were intended to interpret or correct the Comedy and not merely illustrate it. Although he warned that Blake’s symbols may have multiple meanings,28 he went on to regard Blake’s system in these illustrations as more inflexible than it really is. David Fuller wrote that Roe’s book makes Blake “seem a more formulaic artist, and a more formulaic thinker, than he actually is.”29 One example of a “formulaic” approach is Roe’s insistence that Blake invariably depicted the world in four spiritual levels. In some written works, Blake does divide the world into four levels that one may inhabit, depending on one’s spiritual state. These levels are Eden, Beulah, Generation, and Ulro, with the last of these being the worst, most hellish condition.30 Roe was on the lookout for indications of this strict division when he looked at the Dante pictures, to the point that, when the illustrations fail to make the entire Comedy fit the scheme that Roe believed they are attempting to follow, he saw this as a failure on Blake’s part: “Dante’s progress through Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise does not altogether fit into the Circle of Destiny of Ulro, Generation, Beulah, and Eden, in spite of all that Blake could do to seek for correspondence.”31 A close reading of Blake’s collected poetry, however, shows that he does not insist on strict obedience to this fourfold system. In Milton, for example, there seem to be at least five levels or states of humanity. In addition to Eden, Blake names Beulah, Alla, Al-Ulro, and Or-Ulro (E 134). Nor is Ulro the only name that Blake gives to the underworld. Lower regions of torment are named Udan-Anan (E 115) or Benython (E 127) in Milton, and in the unfinished manuscript for The Four Zoas, the underworld is called Entuthon Benithon (E 330). In later chapters of the present book I will show that movement from an upper world to a lower world is a theme that Blake used throughout his career, but that he never restricted himself to a single version of the levels involved or method of how this fall was achieved. His early Book of Thel, and his series of illustrations for the Book of Job, both address the movement between higher and lower spiritual states, but neither insists on the strict adherence to the fourfold cycle that Roe wished to see in the Dante pictures. One of the key points I wish to make is that Blake’s themes are worked out in living variations; that 13


Part I. Blake, His Masters and Rivals

the events and locations of his vision occur as constellations of concepts and not as formulas that we can use as an invariable roadmap for interpretation. Seeing his system as fixed throughout his work goes against the fluid spirit of his philosophy, in which changes of state are necessary events. Despite his sharp eye for evidence of Blake’s system in the illustrations, Roe did overlook cases in which the artist has introduced meaningful differences from Dante’s text. The watercolor for the first canto of the Inferno, for example, is one in which Blake has changed the setting in such an obvious fashion that we are clearly alerted to changes in the message. Whereas Dante’s description of the opening scene describes a tangled forest in a valley so deep the rising sun can’t penetrate it, Blake has shown a park-like setting opening onto the ocean. Inexplicably, Roe wrote that this complete transformation of the scene “follows very closely the description given in the poem.”32 I differ most from Roe in my view of Blake’s overall goal in making the illustrations. Where Roe saw Blake motivated only by the urge to criticize, I see a partnership, which Blake has kindly offered Dante in order to complete the mission that, in Blake’s view, has not quite been achieved. In Milton, Blake allows the eponymous poet to correct his errors and return to Eden in good stead. With generosity and forgiveness, Blake has fulfilled the promise that (he felt) Milton didn’t live up to in life, and undone the threat that a great work such as Paradise Lost might lead the reader astray. In Roe’s interpretation, Blake does not allow Dante the same victory: The series which begins with man running from the terrors of the Fallen World to find aid in the person of the Divine Humanity, ends with the Female Will enthroned on the vegetated world. The fact that, while Dante concludes on a note of triumph, Blake does not do so, is significant evidence of Blake’s disagreement with Dante’s vision.33

In Roe’s view, the illustrations to the Comedy serve only as negation. Blake leaves Dante, and his readers, in a fallen and unfulfilled condition. The great journey of the poem becomes a series of missteps and aimlessness: In Blake’s opinion, as we may reconstruct it from the designs, Dante set out upon the pathway leading from the Fall, through regeneration, to salvation, but never reached his goal. He wandered around in Ulro and Generation for a considerable time, eventually he obtained a tentative foothold in Beulah and even seemed at times about to achieve the illumination of Eden, only to slip backward.… [F]or a time regeneration seems imminent, but at the critical point error reasserts itself and the circle has to start over again.34

My own analysis of Blake’s work allows us to see that his version of the Comedy does, in fact, end in triumph. We will see that Blake has undertaken this great work precisely for the purpose of giving Dante the salvation he couldn’t quite reach by himself. In the late 1980s two essays appeared calling for a rethinking of Roe’s analysis. David Fuller and Rodney M. Baine felt that Blake’s relation to Dante’s thought was more subtle than the full-scale rejection Roe perceived, and suggested that we take another look. Fuller, in particular, went against the mainstream by writing: “Modern Blake scholarship has taken these illustrations to be more highly and continuously interpretative. They are, in my view, much more literal than the modern reading allows.”35 Roe’s thesis was that the illustrations are almost entirely critical. Fuller offered the antithesis—that they are for the most part literal. I hope that I may reach a synthesis from

2. Views of Blake’s Dante, Past and Present


their views, and posit that the majority of the pictures are both literal and interpretative. Unlike Roe, I do not think that we must rename the characters in the illustrations after the figures in Blake’s earlier work. We may see Beatrice, for example, as Beatrice, and not force her to become Vala in order to read Blake’s meaning. I agree with Fuller that the events and characters remain those of Dante’s narrative. Yet this does not preclude their becoming interpretative as well, visually remade in such a way as to add new and Blakean messages. It is instructive to note that early viewers of Blake’s engravings for the Book of Job saw them as faithful illustrations, with none of Blake’s own philosophy inserted. It took decades for careful observers to note that the artist had indeed remade the story. Without adding or subtracting any significant event, Blake had made the ancient narrative his own. Wicksteed, Damon, Lindberg, and Raine have all made it clear that the Job pictures use the events of the biblical narrative to tell a story that is faithful to Blake’s own views.36 The artist has taken advantage of the fact that his viewers already know the tale to show them the “real” meaning, as only he has seen it. The fact that the character Job is widely known to begin in one condition, to fall, and to gain restoration through direct vision of God, means that the structure of the story needs no revision from Blake. The characters, too, remain themselves—Job is Job, the false friends are false friends. It is the why and the how of the story that Blake amends. It is exactly this approach that we will discover in the Dante pictures as well. In Blake’s version, Job begins his story in a comfortable and (he believes) godly position. The first illustration shows Job and his family seated reverently, praising Jehovah. The viewer of the scene has no way to know that Job’s state here is far from ideal. Like Job himself, we require an education before we can see how Job is in error and what true worship consists of. In The Divine Comedy, Dante’s story begins more abruptly than Job’s, with his complacency behind him and his fall already underway. When the poem opens, the pilgrim Dante has already lost the confidence he had in his earlier state and has woken to the danger of his ways. Like Job, and like the viewer, he requires the direct experience of a fall and the vision of God before he may recover, but when he finally rises again he is in a new state—a true vita nuova. Blake used a number of methods to tell Job’s story in a way that is both faithful to the events of the text and original in its interpretation. Uniquely in his career, he designed elaborate borders surrounding the illustrations, in the manner of medieval books of hours, with symbolic objects and with text. The words he has chosen are all from the Bible, but not all from the Book of Job—the selection of Bible verses shows that we are to see a Christian message in the story. The story has also been reset into a landscape that bears little resemblance to the ancient Near East. The presence of a Gothic cathedral and Stonehenge-like dolmens have provided clues to scholars as to Blake’s purpose in these pictures.37 Equally important perhaps, and so far little noticed by scholars, is an overall graphic composition that gives symbolic meaning to the design of the pictures themselves. More than half of the 21 engravings have a triangular composition that refers to the completeness of the Trinity, a symbol that was common in the work of Neoplatonic or alchemical writers such as Robert Fludd.38 Jacob Boehme and Paracelsus, two of the very few writers whom Blake names as influences, also used triangles as religious signs.39 In the Job prints, the triangular composition appears at the beginning of the series, is seen crumbling away as Job’s life falls apart, and is restored in the final engravings with an important difference: the later triangles in each case


Part I. Blake, His Masters and Rivals

are superimposed with extended arms, like those of Jesus on the cross. These prove that Job’s restored religion is the true one (fig. 1). The Dante illustrations use fewer methods to remake the message of the pictures. Blake employed no border on the engravings. The words that remain on the pencil sketches, as I mentioned, seem destined to disappear—none remain in the engraved illustrations. Nor do I detect any overall compositional schemes, like the triangles in the Job series, at work in the illustrations for the Comedy. It may be that following the completion of the Job pictures and several sets of illustrations to works of Milton, Blake felt confident he could accomplish his reinterpretive goal in a simpler manner. As we will see in the fourth part of the present book, only a few of the pictures include elements that are not mentioned in Dante’s text. These added signs will provide important clues to our reading of Blake’s message, but for the most part Blake makes his points through subtle changes in emphasis or unexpected visual decisions. His depiction of the pilgrim Dante as young and androgynous, for example, completely unlike the traditional appearance of the poet (which Blake knew) makes clear the new role that Blake has imagined for the author. To bring the Comedy into line with his own religious beliefs, then, Blake leaves the events of the story almost entirely the same and employs the same characters. He does not, pace Roe, force the settings or the individuals depicted into strict conformity with his own earlier work. Nonetheless, through purely visual means, he does manage to join in partnership with his Italian peer to give Dante’s great poem a message that was impossible to imagine in the early fourteenth century. To my knowledge, my book is the first to offer an original interpretation of Blake’s intentions in the entire series since Roe published in 1953. My explications of the illustrations will be based for the most part on two related points, one theological and one literary. Blake’s theology explained God’s presence in the universe in a way that Christians of Dante’s time could not have imagined. God, in The Divine Comedy, exists in relation to the world very much like the “One” does for Plotinus. God is the sum of all ideals, and from him emanates first the aetherial space of the stars and planets, and, through them, the material world of the earth. Though the existence of our world is dependent on God, we are, in our imperfection, far from Heaven and God’s ideal. Beginning with Nicholas of Cusa in the fifteenth century, a school of thought grew up that emphasized God’s immanence in the universe far more than would have been acceptable to St. Augustine or Thomas Aquinas. Whereas the earlier theologians had been careful to show God’s transcendence from our world, the new approach claimed that the world of time and space is not a separate realm from God’s presence. God is present in his entirety in every point of space. This way of thinking about immanence continued, sometimes in spite of official condemnation, through the century between Cusanus and Jacob Boehme, who included this concept in his own visionary Christian theology. William Blake, we know, read and admired Boehme. Blake, who famously saw “a World in a Grain of Sand” (E 490), rejected Dante’s detailed theological explanations of the ontological separateness of God and our world. It is a central tenet for Blake that God exists “in the human breast” (E 38) and that our separation from him is due only to the narrowed state of our perceptions. This is the first of the basic errors in the Comedy that he worked to correct in his illustrations. The second error that Blake perceived derives from the first. Dante makes extensive

2. Views of Blake’s Dante, Past and Present


Figure 1. Job’s Sacrifice, from the Illustrations of the Book of Job, 1825; engraving, design: 19.1 × 14.7 cm, leaf size: 42.1 × 32.5 cm (collection of Robert N. Essick; © 2013 William Blake Archive; used by permission).


Part I. Blake, His Masters and Rivals

use of the “inexpressibility topos,” the literary convention of describing something by saying that it is indescribable. Over and over, especially in the Paradiso, Dante can only write of the wonders of Heaven that they cannot be written about, that they are far beyond the powers of humans to understand or even, after his trip through Heaven, to remember properly. The use of this topos was, for Blake, in need of correction, if the Comedy was to become a truly prophetic work. As I will describe in the third part of this book, Blake believed that it is not only possible for us to view God, but that art is precisely for that purpose. A true poet, he writes, is one who makes God manifest for others. Where Dante falls short, through his more traditional view of God as above and beyond human perception, Blake will kindly supply the missing vision, making the Comedy into the living prophecy he knows it should be. Through his collaboration, or dialectic, with Dante, the immanent nature of “God with us” is shown to the viewer, who thereby reenacts the trip of the pilgrim Dante, and achieves the goal that readers have been falling short of since the fourteenth century. As the final work of a dying visionary, one could imagine nothing more triumphant.

Part II: English Dante

3. The Comedy Reaches England German art historian Johann Winckelmann (1717–1768), having read in Montesquieu’s De l’esprit des lois that climate determines culture, claimed that while British weather could produce a Shakespeare, it could never come up with a Michelangelo.1 British art lovers, understandably, were less than eager to embrace this idea. Already from the middle of the seventeenth century, when a relatively peaceful period began in Europe, those Britons who could afford it were beginning to look outward to the continent, and especially to Italy, with the declared goal of raising the artistic culture of the British Isles. The Grand Tour, even when it was enjoyed as an extended vacation before the responsibilities of adulthood began, was conducted with the stated purpose of educating one’s taste and manners. Those who took the tour—nearly always aristocratic, English and male—emphasized the goal of self-improvement. Edward Gibbon, for instance, in his memoirs, wrote, “According to the law of custom, and perhaps of reason, foreign travel completes the education of an English gentleman.”2 That the skeptical Gibbon would tentatively offer “reason” as justification for the tour probably results from the influence of John Locke, whose theories of knowledge had been called into service as a theoretical underpinning for the trip. If, as the philosopher argued, all knowledge is the result of sense experience, then direct experience of the atmospheres and artifacts of the classical and Renaissance eras would have a more beneficial effect than an Oxford or Cambridge education alone. Though it might be impossible to improve England’s grey weather, the young man who spent a year or two in the cultural climate of Rome and Florence could escape Winckelmann’s bleak forecast. The application of Locke’s epistemology to the benefits of travel encouraged the painter Jonathan Richardson (1665–1745) to publish two books that became popular companion volumes for Grand Tourists. Two Discourses (1719) and An Account of Some of the Statues, Bas-Reliefs, Drawings, and Pictures in Italy (1722), weighing down the luggage of many British gentlemen in Italy, influenced the taste and buying patterns of art collectors for years to come.3 The first of these volumes became most educated Britons’ introduction to the work of Dante Alighieri. Two Discourses included selections from the Inferno and compared Dante to the already famous Michelangelo. From the beginning, then, British interest in the Comedy was linked to the visual arts. Richardson also described a sculpture, at that time attributed to Michelangelo, that depicted the story of Ugolino and his sons from canto 33 of the Inferno. The association of Michelangelo with Dante contributed to later interest in the poet by Flaxman, 19


Part II. English Dante

Fuseli, and others. Blake, who considered Michelangelo to be among the finest of all artists,4 may well have felt the same. The idea that Michelangelo had illustrated a manuscript of the Comedy, which had only recently been lost at sea, also prompted artistic imaginations. The episode that Richardson chose to translate is one of the most horrifying in the Comedy. In canto 33, Dante tells the story of an Italian nobleman, Ugolino, who is imprisoned in a tower with his children. Left to die in the sealed tower and overcome by hunger, Ugolino resorts to cannibalism. The horror and pathos of this episode appealed to the type of British taste that later gave rise to the Gothic novel, in which stories of doomed noblemen and Italian castles figure prominently. Richardson’s decision to translate the Ugolino episode, rather than a more cheerful narrative from the Purgatorio, or a theological discourse from the Paradiso, seems to have determined the image that British people had of Dante for years to come. Decades before the full Comedy was translated, British painters were exhibiting paintings of Ugolino and his doomed children to public acclaim. No less a light than Joshua Reynolds, founder of the Royal Academy of Painting, showed his version of the Ugolino scene at the Academy in 1773.5 This work was reproduced in mezzotint and published by ambitious businessman John Boydell, ensuring its popularity throughout England. The only other scene from the Comedy to make an impression on the public at this time was from canto 5 of the Inferno, in which the lovers Paolo and Francesca are shown caught in the whirlwinds that symbolize their overwhelming passion. Blake’s friend Henry Fuseli was making drawings of Dante-related themes as early as the 1770s, including views of the doomed lovers. He exhibited paintings at the Royal Academy based either on canto 5 or canto 33 in three different years, and at least one of these works was made widely known through its engraved version.6 Despite growing interest in selected scenes of the Comedy, translations into English were slow in coming. William Huggins (c. 1696–1761) is said to have completed a full translation of the Comedy in 1760, but only 21 lines of it were published, and the rest was lost. Huggins did succeed in communicating the enthusiasm for Dante to his friend Tobias Smollet, as well as to the artist William Hogarth. At least one critic claims to see the influence of the Inferno in Hogarth’s late work.7 Writer and patron William Hayley (1745–1820) probably learned of Dante through Richardson’s Discourses. He translated the first three cantos of the Inferno in his Essay on Epic Poetry and composed a Dantesque poem called The Triumphs of Temper.8 Hayley encouraged John Flaxman’s enthusiasm for the Comedy and later became a patron of William Blake, with famously mixed results. In 1782 Charles Rogers published the first English translation of the entire Inferno. This version was in blank verse and was dedicated to Sir Edward Walpole, the elder brother of Horace Walpole. Though Rogers wrote that his intention was to translate Dante as faithfully and as exactly as possible, his critics felt that he did not succeed in this goal. Toynbee later judged that the Rogers version “while entirely devoid of any spark of poetry, has not even the merit of being faithful.” It seems not to have found a wide readership.9 Finally in 1802 the Rev. Henry Boyd published the first translation of the complete Comedy, along with historical notes on Dante’s life and times. Boyd’s version was criticized by Toynbee as “a paraphrase, in which it is often difficult to recognise Dante at all,” but it did serve to widen the poet’s popularity in the British world of letters. Blake took it seriously

3. The Comedy Reaches England


enough to annotate William Hayley’s copy with the caustic comments that I referred to above. The Rev. Henry Francis Cary published his translation of the Inferno in two volumes in 1805 and 1806. Though the Monthly Review praised it as the best of the Englished Dantes, it didn’t sell well, so that when Cary was ready to publish the remaining parts of the Comedy, in 1814, he did so at his own expense. For financial reasons he chose to publish the book in three volumes but in tiny print. The text block on each page measures only 75 by 48 millimeters. This caused the Monthly Review to grumble: “Those of our readers who value their eyes more than their purse will scarcely thank Mr. Cary for the microscopical typography with which he has been pleased to afflict them.”10 Again, the book did not sell well, and the translation only gained popularity a few years later due to a chance meeting. In September 1817 Cary was in Littlehampton, on the south coast of England, while Samuel Taylor Coleridge was staying with friends nearby. On one of his long walks along the seaside, Coleridge saw Cary striding toward him on the same path, reciting Homer to his young son. Coleridge, intrigued by this cultured apparition, said, “Sir, yours is a face I should know,” and introduced himself. As Richard Holmes tells the story: “Both father and son were amazed the following morning when Coleridge appeared on the beach, miraculously able to recite long passages from the translation by heart, and what was more, recalling the parallel sections of the Italian original.”11 The meeting became a turning point for the history of Dante in England. Coleridge persuaded publishers Taylor and Hessey to reissue Cary’s translation in a larger, more readable edition, which became the standard British Dante for the next fifty years. The poet also praised Dante and Cary’s translation in his popular lecture series in 1818. Newspaper reviewers picked up the theme, and “henceforth the claims of the translator of Dante to literary distinction were universally admitted.”12 Keats carried the miniature three-volume set with him on his walking tour of Scotland that summer, the only books he made room for in his traveller’s sack.13 He may have chosen them in part for their portability, as he wrote to a friend that “they will go into the aptest corner” of his luggage, but he also apparently read with attention, because the copy he carried, now in the Yale University Library, is full of his notes and underlinings.14 Shelley had Cary’s Inferno as early as 1805, and he had the next two volumes delivered to him in Italy.15 Like Reynolds and Fuseli, William Blake became aware of scenes from the Inferno before the entire work was available in English. His earliest Dante-related work is a design in the top margin of a page in his Marriage of Heaven and Hell, made in 1790. This design is clearly based on the episode of Ugolino, showing the chained nobleman flanked by his children. The text of the Marriage doesn’t mention Ugolino specifically, so it seems likely, as Paley suggests, that Blake has borrowed the motif to reflect the printed line “The Giants who formed this world into its sensual existence and now seem to live in it in chains.…”16 Using the character of Ugolino to represent “The Giants who formed this world” indicates that Blake was not concerned with the episode as Dante relates it, beyond its obvious pathos. In fact all the artists who painted Ugolino around this time in England seem to have portrayed the nobleman solely as a victim, and ignored the ambiguity that is clear in Dante’s telling of the story. Dante does, after all, put Ugolino in Hell for his own sins, not those of his captors.


Part II. English Dante

Paley writes: “At that time, Ugolino was seen as a victim of clerical and political tyranny, Bastilled in the Hunger Tower like more recent victims.” The fact that the nobleman was perhaps not deserving of our sympathy was not pointed out until 1824, by Hazlitt.17 Blake again used Ugolino as a motif portraying undeserved suffering in his collection of emblems, For Children: The Gates of Paradise (1793). Plate 12 of this work shows a grouping of figures almost identical to the decoration in the Marriage of Heaven and Hell, and bears the inscription: “Does thy God O Priest take such vengeance as this?” (fig. 2). It may be that, even before he was well acquainted with the Inferno, Blake was anticipating one of

Figure 2. “Does thy God O Priest take such vengeance as this?” from For Children: The Gates of Paradise, 1793; etching and engraving, leaf size: 12.7 × 10.2 cm (Lessing J. Rosenwald Collection, Library of Congress; © 2013 William Blake Archive; used by permission).

3. The Comedy Reaches England


the main criticisms he would level at Dante in the future: that God in fact does not require vengeance.18 Blake probably became acquainted with the whole Comedy through Boyd’s 1785 translation, several years after it was published. Keynes calculates that Blake read and annotated the book in about 1800.19 Paley surmises that it was Hayley who introduced Blake to the parts of the Comedy that weren’t already well-known—that is, nearly all of it except the Ugolino episode.20 Despite their later falling-out, Hayley in this instance seems to have provided an important inspiration to Blake’s work. Hayley, in addition to providing material support and advice (mostly welcome) to Flaxman, William Cowper, Blake, and other artists and poets, was himself a widely read writer. He had published several essays and epistles before his 1781 Triumphs of Temper made him famous throughout England.21 This book-length poem owed a great deal to the influence of Dante,22 so it comes as no surprise to learn that when he commissioned Blake to paint a series of portraits of famous writers for his study, he included Dante among their number. The portrait of Dante that Blake produced for his patron is based on an engraving of Raphael’s fresco portrait in the Stanza della Segnatura in the Vatican.23 It shows Dante with his familiar laurel crown, Florentine cap, and prominent nose (figs. 3, 4, 5). He also wears a severe expression, suitable to a moralist. Blake added to the right of the Dante portrait, on the same panel, a painting of Ugolino and four children, chained under a heavy stone arch. We can be confident, therefore, that Blake was fully aware of traditional depictions of Dante’s appearance. In Part IV I will address in detail how Blake departed from this traditional view of Dante’s appearance when he undertook his original illustrations. Other than paintings and engravings of Ugolino, did Blake know of other illustrations to the Comedy? It seems that few were available to him. In its obituary of Blake, dated August 18, 1827, the Literary Gazette reports that despite his poverty, Blake owned a copy of The Divine Comedy in Italian, published by Alessandro Vellutello. This publisher issued six edi-

Left: Figure 5. Dante Alighieri, detail, c. 1800–3; pen and ink and tempera on canvas (City of Manchester Art Galleries, Manchester, England). Middle: Figure 3. Raphael, portrait of Dante, detail of The Disputa, fresco, c. 1509–10 (Stanza della Segnatura, Vatican Palace, Scala/Art Resource, New York). Right: Figure 4. Anonymous, Dantes Aligherius, after Raphael, 1600–1699; engraving, 20.6 × 14.3 cm (British Museum, © The Trustees of the British Museum/Art Resource, New York).


Part II. English Dante

tions of the work from 1544 to 1596. Four of these editions are folio-sized, and all include anonymously produced engravings for each canto. It is not known which edition Blake owned, or where that copy is today. Other illustrated sets existed but were unavailable to Blake. Botticelli’s drawings of the story, now divided between Berlin and the Vatican, were in the Duke of Hamilton’s collection until 1819, and it is possible that Fuseli saw them there, but there is no record of Blake’s having such an opportunity. The Botticelli pictures were not reproduced until 1887.24 The only other fully illustrated printed edition, with engravings attributed to Bacco Baldini, dates from 1481 and is a very rare book. A reproduction of one of the Baldini illustrations was printed in William Young Ottley’s Inquiry into the Origin and Early History of Engraving (two vols., London, 1816), but its design bears no resemblance to Blake’s picture of the same scene. Numerous unique hand-illuminated manuscripts of the Comedy also exist, but there is no record of Blake’s having seen any of them. Paley concludes that Blake “no doubt consulted Vellutello from time to time, but his main source must have been the Cary translation.”25 For an artist who placed supreme importance on his own imagination, a lack of visual models was no hindrance. Only one contemporary set of illustrations was available to Blake. One of his closest friends, the sculptor John Flaxman (1755–1826), after working for Josiah Wedgwood as a modeler, set out for Italy in 1787 and began a series of illustrations for works of epic poetry. His neoclassical style was well suited to pictures of the Iliad and the Odyssey, being more than a little reminiscent of ancient Greek ceramics. One wonders what Blake thought of such a classical approach being applied to Dante. If Milton, in Blake’s view, had been wrong to adopt a Greek or Roman style, Flaxman seems equally guilty in forcing the style of Greek red-figure vases onto the medieval poet. It may be that friendship made Blake refrain from expressing such criticism. In his private notebook, unknown to Flaxman, Blake did write that his friend had stolen from him when creating these designs: “how much of his Homer & Dante he will allow to be mine I do not know as he went far enough off to publish them even to Italy. but the Public will know & Posterity will know” (E 572). Flaxman drew his set of over 100 illustrations in Italy, and they were published in 1793, seven years before Blake could have read the complete Comedy. It is therefore difficult to see how Flaxman could have plagiarized from Blake. The details of this issue lie outside the scope of the present study, but the existence of Flaxman’s prints shows that one set of illustrations to the full Comedy was known to Blake when he began his own project. Multiple sources show that Blake used Cary’s translation of the Comedy, and found it superior to all others.26 The Literary Gazette states that Cary’s book was open on Blake’s table at the time of his death. At some point Blake met Cary and may have learned more about Dante in conversation, although no records remain of their talks. It’s clear that the eccentric artist made a positive impression on the translator, however, because Cary later bought a watercolor from Blake’s widow, when she was in financial difficulty.27

4. The Making of Blake’s Illustrations Blake had troubled relationships with his patrons. The clarity of his artistic vision could easily be interpreted as stubbornness, particularly when the man commissioning the work felt that Blake ought to change his manner of working for practical, financial reasons. No such difficulties occurred with John Linnell, who became Blake’s last and best support. Linnell was a young painter, the son of a Bloomsbury picture-dealer and print-seller.28 This background perhaps allowed him to feel sympathy for the creative artist in Blake, while also having a more solid grasp of the means of making money from one’s art. He first encountered Blake in 1818, when Linnell was 35 years old, and soon commissioned the older artist to assist him in preparing an engraving. It is not clear how much of the work Blake did on this print, but Linnell seems to have paid him generously. Soon the two were visiting picture galleries and theaters together. The appearance in Blake’s life of this younger artist must have been invigorating. Blake’s career as an engraver had stagnated, partly as a result of changing fashions in the art that called for new, less linear techniques, of a type Blake disliked. It was thanks to Linnell that he suddenly discovered new buyers for his older work and found himself being introduced to some of the most famous artists of the day, including John Constable and Sir Thomas Lawrence. We can imagine that Blake was less impressed by these luminaries than he was pleased to be the center of attention of a group of young artists, who regarded Blake as a sort of prophet and named themselves “The Antients.” Several of this group went on to become well-known artists, including George Richmond, who was present at Blake’s death. Richmond’s son William Blake Richmond became a successful painter and professor at the Royal Academy. Linnell’s assistance didn’t always lead to untroubled projects. When in 1819 he persuaded Robert John Thorton to commission illustrations for an edition of Virgil’s Eclogues, Thorton was unhappy with Blake’s wood engravings, considering them too rough. In the end he was persuaded to include the prints in his book, but did so with a disclaimer making it clear that he didn’t like them. Fortunately other kind acts had less troubled results, as when Linnell persuaded the Royal Academy to make a payment of 25 pounds to Blake as an act of charity. The commissions that Linnell himself made were tailored to suit the older artist’s eccentricities, and resulted in some of Blake’s finest work. After seeing the watercolor illustrations to the Book of Job that Blake had made for Thomas Butts, Linnell proposed to commission an engraved set of the same designs. The two artists drew up a “Memorandum of Agreement” for the project on March 25, 1823. Blake was left to proceed with the work as he saw fit. 25


Part II. English Dante

In 1824, with the Book of Job illustrations complete, artist and patron considered their next project. Linnell’s biographer wrote that it was the younger man who suggested Dante as the subject: The way it came about was this. Although the “Job” had been paid for, Linnell continued to give him money weekly. Blake said: “I do not know how I shall ever repay you.” Linnell replied: “I do not want you to repay me. I am only too glad to be able to serve you. What I would like, however, if you do anything for me, is that you should make some designs for Dante’s Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso.”29

Although this conversation is given as reported speech, we should note that it was published 68 years after the event, and, as G.E. Bentley notes, “This dialogue sounds invented.” It would be interesting to know how the two men settled on the subject; given Linnell’s closeness to Blake at this time, it seems unlikely that he would suggest a project about which Blake was not enthusiastic. And since the terms of the agreement virtually guarantee that the patron would see no financial return on his investment,30 we can be reasonably certain that the Comedy was not chosen as a subject for commercial reasons. We also know that the two men spent a great deal of time together in the mid–1820s, sometimes discussing art and literature with other members of the Antients until late at night.31 Linnell, therefore, would have had a clear idea of what was on Blake’s mind and what he would be choosing to work on even if he hadn’t been under contract. Even if the idea to illustrate Dante did come from Linnell, then, there is no reason for us to regard the commission as something for which Blake felt less than full enthusiasm. The terms Linnell gave Blake were characteristically generous. He arranged to pay “21. or 31. a week, as he wanted money, Blake doing as little or as much as he liked in return.” Most importantly for the continued good relations of patron and artist, Linnell requested the set of pictures without imposing any iconographic guidelines, so that Blake was free to interpret Dante’s story as he wished. Linnell gave Blake a folio volume of drawing paper and complete freedom.32 Blake seems to have begun the project with enormous ambition. The engravings he completed were more than twice the size of the Job prints and more than four times larger than Flaxman’s Dante pictures. They are also more elaborately cross-hatched than Flaxman’s, with a detail that would have been expensive to engrave and expensive to print.33 Only seven of the engravings were begun, however, and even these were left in an incomplete state. The artist gave far more time and attention to the watercolor illustrations, which were not mentioned in the contract with Linnell. Did Blake intend to translate all of these paintings into prints? It’s not possible to say. Some of the more finished paintings are colored far beyond what would be required for a preparatory sketch or study. In comparison, the watercolor and ink sketches that he had made some years earlier, as preparation to an engraved set of illustrations for Robert Blair’s The Grave, are pale, and would have lost much less by being translated into black and white. The Grave pictures were commissioned by a far more businesslike publisher, however, and it appears that Blake was enjoying the more relaxed relationship he had with Linnell to create unique and beautiful paintings that were not exactly a part of his contractual obligation. Whether he chose to concentrate on watercolors as fully colored studies, or whether he was painting because the carving of copper plates was too strenuous for his weakened

4. The Making of Blake’s Illustrations


physical state, his choice allowed him to produce a few works that are as vibrant as anything he ever painted. Anthony Blunt compares the rare technique of the more finished watercolors, which builds up touches of unmixed color, to Cézanne’s late watercolor paintings.34 Paley notes that even in his final months, Blake was still “extending his extraordinary technical mastery.”35 One member of the Antients, Samuel Palmer, records finding him working in bed, and provides us with a moving portrait of the artist: On Saturday, 9th October 1824, Mr. Linnell called and went with me to Mr. Blake. We found him lame in bed, of a scalded foot (or leg). There, not inactive, though sixty-seven years old, but hard working on a bed covered with books sat he up like one of the Antique patriarchs, or a dying Michael Angelo. Thus and there was he making in the leaves of a great book (folio) the sublimest designs from his (not superior) Dante.36

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Part III: Blake’s Criticism of Dante

5. Marginal Note to Boyd Let us now examine in detail Blake’s critical statements about Dante. It is possible to give too much weight to these comments, especially because we have so few recorded statements from Blake on this subject. Still, I believe that using each of these criticisms as a point from which to explicate the poets’ differences will shine light on the question of why Blake chose to illustrate the Comedy. In the long run, such an analysis will allow us to see their many points of agreement, as well. Of the criticisms known to us that Blake made of Dante, the earliest and perhaps most frequently quoted is this: Dante was a Fool or his Translator was Not That is Dante was Hired or Tr was Not It appears to Me that Men are hired to Run down Men of Genius under the Mask of Translators, but Dante gives too much to Caesar he is not a Republican Dante was an Emperors Man Luther also left the Priest & joind the Soldier [E 634]

We find this note penciled into the margin of volume 1 of Henry Boyd’s translation of The Divine Comedy. The strong language (“Dante was a Fool”) and overall negative tone may lead us to believe that Blake is here mounting an all-out attack on Dante and the Comedy. A careful examination of the context and content of the note, however, will show that the criticism is carefully measured. Most of it is not aimed at Dante but at his translator. In fact, it seems clear that in the battle of “Hired” men versus “Men of Genius,” Blake includes Dante among the geniuses. We must also keep in mind the historical moment at which this comment was made. Blake’s ideas about politics and the possibilities of earthly revolution changed over time, and it may be that in 1825, when he began the series of illustrations to Dante, he would not have written the note in the same terms.

“An Emperors Man” In or about 1800, a quarter-century before he began his final series of illustrations, Blake held in his hands a copy of volume 1 of Henry Boyd’s translation of The Divine Comedy. He crossed out several phrases in the long introductory essay, intending to reverse Boyd’s meaning in those paragraphs. He also wrote several brief but expressive notes in the margins. These few emendations contain points that are useful to our present purpose. They remind us that throughout his early career Blake grappled with issues of patronage and of an artist’s 29


Part III. Blake’s Criticism of Dante

duty to the world of politics. His strong opinions about a true poet’s way of writing and duties to the world were an integral part of his poetic message. We shall see in this chapter that Blake was very aware of Dante’s history with patronage, politics, and the processes of poetry. When we examine Blake’s marginal notes we must be careful to remember their context. However applicable they may be to our wider analysis, each was written as a rejoinder to specific words in a specific text. Blake’s words form an antithesis that occurs in the terms of the thesis it follows. In the case of the memos written in the margins of Boyd’s translation, we should note first that they were not written next to the words of Dante himself, but on the pages of the long introductory essay written by Boyd. If we imagine picking up the volume that Blake annotated, opening the cover and beginning at the beginning, we will see that almost the first thing to confront us is the following dedication: frederick, lord bishop of derry, and earl of bristol. My Lord, your Lordship’s great condescension, in offering your Patronage to the ensuing Work, stamps it with a value, which, otherwise, I am afraid, it would hardly possess. Consonant to your Lordship’s episcopal conduct, it proves your attention even to the humblest claims of industry and application. To enlightened eyes, it even marks the extensive views of the patriot; however minute the present object of your attention may seem to vulgar observation. The minds of the multitude are very inadequate to comprehend the liberality of your Lordship’s motives: they cannot see, what to you is so evident, that public spirit depends upon the enlargement of sentiment, which can neither be acquired, nor preserved, unless by a due attention to the interests of Learning, and particularly to the Belles Lettres. However unworthy of your Lordship’s Patronage the following Work may appear, I hope the instance at least may awaken other competitors, far better entitled to your protection, than your lordship’s Most obedient, And grateful Humble Servant, henry boyd1

The obsequiousness of this opening seems almost designed to raise Blake’s ire. Boyd here implies that the worth of The Divine Comedy (or at least of its translation) depends on the patronage of the aristocrat who paid for it, not the talents of the poet who produced it. At this early stage Blake bites his tongue—or pencil—and makes no marks on the page. By page 35, though, he is crossing out phrases he disagrees with, and on page 37 he begins writing contrary opinions in the margins. On page 118 he opens fire on the translator, in the note I quoted at the beginning of this chapter. I will return to this memo in my discussion of Dante’s political views. For now, I’d like to take note of Blake’s use of the term “Hired,” a word that highlights the problems of patronage—the means by which Dante, Boyd, and Blake were all forced to make their livings. Blake acquired the book in which he wrote this note from William Hayley (1745– 1820), who at that time was Blake’s sole patron. We have met Hayley before, in Part II, in which we saw that he had done his part to popularize Dante’s work in England. He was a successful writer and a patron of the arts,2 and his first public success was a mixture of the two pursuits—he wrote his Epistle on Painting as moral support for the artist George Rom-

5. Marginal Note to Boyd


ney. He gave generous financial assistance and advice—much of it welcome—to Romney, the poet William Cowper, and the sculptor Flaxman, Blake’s friend. When Hayley met Blake, probably through Flaxman, and offered his patronage, it seemed at first to promise a happy arrangement for everyone. Blake was relieved of having to work as a journeyman engraver in London, and he hoped to have the freedom to pursue his vision. He moved to Felpham, a seaside village, to be near his patron. Perhaps it was Hayley’s greater worldly success that made him feel free to dispense well-meant advice to Blake concerning how he could live more comfortably from his art. Blake, never a person to follow another man’s artistic system, quickly felt that he was being pressured to become a less inspired, more conventional painter, and fell into difficulties with the generous Hayley. Blake’s work from this period and shortly after makes clear how much he was troubled by the relationship with his patron. It was probably with Hayley in mind that he penned the aphorism “Corporeal Friends are Spiritual Enemies” (E 98). And at this time he began the epic poem Milton, in which the thinly disguised Hayley causes inspiration to fall into the world of materialism. In Milton and later in Jerusalem, Blake seems to abbreviate Hayley’s name to Hyle, the Greek word for “matter,” to portray him as a materialist in opposition to the higher, inspired realm. So we see that at the moment he wrote the note about who was “Hired,” Dante or the translator, issues of patronage and artistic freedom were much on his mind. The groveling dedication by Boyd to his patron would have made it clear from almost the first page that this translator was on the side of those who do the hiring. Dante also lived by patronage in later life. He includes several lines in the Comedy praising current or potential supporters.3 Although he makes clear his high opinion of Virgil and other great poets, he never challenges the social status quo of his day or the need for artists to be dependent on those who hired them. Leonardo Bruni, in the short biography of Dante included in Boyd’s volume, goes into detail about the poet’s travels around Italy and France in search of patronage, and recounts without embarrassment a story in which Dante is literally given the bones from his host’s table—an anecdote that ends with the poet comparing himself to a dog.4 Admirers of Dante, even those of us who are not dependent on patrons of our own, may find the strict regard for social class in the prefaces to be irritating. We can understand how Blake’s situation in Felpham could prompt an angry note.

“he is not a Republican” Following the dedication to his patron and a list of the subscribers who helped pay for the book, Boyd opens his preface to the Comedy by reproducing a chapter called “A Summary View of the Hell of Dante,” from Thomas Warton’s History of English Poetry (published in three volumes from 1774 to 1781). Warton is apologetic for Dante’s many “extravagancies” and “indelicate” descriptions, forgiving them as examples of an earlier age “before indelicacy became offensive.”5 Despite these reservations, Warton does an admirable job of sketching Dante’s place in literary history, using passages from Hayley’s partial translation of the Inferno to look back to Virgil as antecedent and recognizing the debt that Milton owed to the Comedy. Warton’s comparatively scholarly approach is quickly left behind in the first chapter written by Boyd himself, entitled “A Comparative View of the Inferno, With some other


Part III. Blake’s Criticism of Dante

Poems relative to the Original Principles of Human Nature, on which they are founded, or to which they appeal.” As the title indicates, Boyd shows no doubt that he has a clear understanding of the principles of human nature and has the moral duty of making them clear to his readers. His outlook remains one of a minister, who judges poetry primarily by the moral lessons it teaches. One of Blake’s marginal notes in this section mentions Dante, but the criticism is aimed solely at Boyd, who asserted that our enjoyment of a work of literature is dependent on our ethical approval of the actions of its characters. Boyd writes: “We cannot sympathise with Achilles for the loss of his Mistress, when we feel that he gained her by the massacre of her family.” Blake, whose imaginative involvement with Achilles goes beyond moral judgment, replies: “nobody considers these things when they read Homer or Shakespear or Dante” (E 633). A few pages later, Boyd disapproves of both Achilles and Aeneas, and cites instead the moral behavior of lesser-known characters from Dryden and Racine. In response, Blake comes out in favor of moral imperfection in fictional characters: “Every body naturally hates a perfect character because they are all greater Villains than the imperfect.” A final blast against Boyd’s view of literature as moral sermonizing appears on pages 45 and 46: the grandest Poetry is Immoral the Grandest characters Wicked. Very Satan. Capanius Othello a murderer. Prometheus. Jupiter. Jehovah, Jesus a wine bibber Cunning & Morality are not Poetry but Philosophy the Poet is Independent & Wicked the Philosopher is Dependent and Good Poetry is to excuse Vice & shew its reason & necessary purgation [E 634].

Note the use of the word “Dependent,” another reference to the unfreedom of patronage. We will examine in more detail Blake’s views of morality and condemnation in a later section of the present chapter. For now, I would like to emphasize that it is not necessary to read these marginal notes as damning the Comedy. Though Dante the poet may not qualify as “Wicked,” he has portrayed Dante the character as lost and in need of forgiveness, due to unspecified wickedness. As he appears in the poem, Dante is not a perfect character. Beatrice herself makes this clear shortly after her appearance in the Earthly Paradise. She explains that as long as she was alive, the goodness she represented to Dante inspired his pursuit of moral goals. She says, “These looks sometime upheld him; for I show’d / My youthful eyes, and led him by their light / In upright walking” (Cary, 277).6 As soon as she reached her “second age” and left Florence for Heaven, however, then he left me, And gave himself to others. When from flesh To spirit I had risen, and increase Of beauty and of virtue circled me, I was less dear to him, and valued less. His steps were turn’d into deceitful ways, Following false images of good, that make No promise perfect. ……… Such depth he fell, that all device was short Of his preserving, save that he should view The children of perdition [Paradise, 30; Cary, 277–78].

5. Marginal Note to Boyd


In other words, exactly as Blake prescribed in his note to Boyd, Beatrice has come to “excuse Vice”—or at least to forgive it. Her speech describing Dante’s immorality “shew[s] its reason” by explaining how he came to fall into sin. And her role in the Comedy is to bring about the “necessary purgation” of that sin, with a direct vision of the “children of perdition” in Hell acting as a first step in that purgation. However much the moralists of Blake’s time wished to read Dante as an ally, the pilgrim Dante is among those immoral “Grandest characters” who, according to Blake, make up the “grandest poetry.” In this, Blake’s interpretation is closer to Dante’s theology than Boyd’s is. Whereas Boyd urges obedience to a universal law of morality, Dante sees virtue and sin as matters of loving the best things or the less good. Beatrice explains that Dante left the true path not through a desire for evil but because he pursued “false images of good.” This is exactly the motivation that Blake ascribes to Urizen, who brought about the Fall of Man only through a misguided desire for the good. On a blank page at the end of Boyd’s “Comparative View of the Inferno,” Blake makes it clear that he does not hold Dante responsible for the views of his translator: “Every Sentiment & Opinion as well as Every Principle in Dante is in these Preliminary Essays Controverted & proved Foolish by his Translator If I have any Judgment in Such Things as Sentiments Opinions & Principles” (E 634). If Blake is saying here that the sentiments, opinions, and principles of Boyd’s essay controvert those of Dante, it is the translator and not the poet with whom Blake disagrees. By a sort of transitive property, then, Blake is saying indirectly that he does agree with the sentiments, opinions, and principles of Dante—or at least, he finds them less objectionable than those of Boyd. The only note Blake wrote in Boyd’s book to criticize Dante is in the margin of the next chapter in Boyd’s introduction, the “Historical Essay of the State of Affairs in the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries: With Respect to the History of Florence; with a View of their Influence on the succeeding Ages.” The “Historical Essay” opens with an explanation of the famous feud between the Guelphs and the Ghibellines. This requires a long list of popes and kings and their intricate disagreements. As in the dedication to his patron, Boyd here gave the impression that it is the rich and powerful who matter, and that even the greatest poetic works are only spun off from the actions of the elite. Boyd recounted that Dante, in his role as prior of Florence, had tried to bring peace between the White Guelphs and the Black Guelphs. Rather than blaming the squabbling nobility for the disaster that followed, Boyd seemed to find Dante at fault for attempting to make peace. He wrote: “[I]t was he [Dante] who gave the advice, ruinous to himself, and pernicious to his native country, of calling in the heads of the two factions to Florence.”7 Blaming the peacemaker for the faults of his superiors is too much for Blake to tolerate. This is the point at which he penciled the note I quoted earlier, declaring, “It appears to Me that Men are hired to Run down Men of Genius under the Mask of Translators.” Seen in this context, the following line seems almost grudgingly added, allowing that although Boyd is the real villain here, “Dante gives too much to Caesar he is not a Republican Dante was an Emperors Man[.]” The balance of blame, as it were, sees Boyd as most guilty here, but recognizes that Dante, too, is backward in his political views. It’s hard to imagine an essay that could express more precisely than Boyd’s does the anti-republican, anti-freedom views that Blake considered


Part III. Blake’s Criticism of Dante

his enemies. Boyd was a Tory first and foremost. He was lukewarm about religious freedom and considered intolerance a necessary attitude to preserve public morality. His confident assertion of an unalterable moral law is an excellent example of the sort of unforgiving attitude that Blake had long been parodying in his depictions of the lawgiver Urizen. Indeed, many of the sentences from Boyd’s introduction could be put into the mouth of Urizen himself. For example: “There always was, and always will be, in every good government, an intolerant zeal of virtue against vice, an intolerance which the Christians did not, as some suppose, borrow from the Jews; but both they and the Jews borrowed it from the unalterable Law of Right.”8 He attributed the decline of Athens or Rome to a progressive lack of such moral commandments: “The want of this [moral] pole-star left them adrift in the boundless ocean of conjecture; the disputes of their philosophers were endless, and their opinions of the grounds of morality were as different as their conditions, their tastes, and their pursuits.”9 We will see in a later chapter that for Blake, Heaven consists exactly of these endless disputes: “mental fight.” For him, it is a lack of alternatives in conditions, tastes, and pursuits that makes London hellish. Moreover, Boyd associated the application of the law with a strict monarchical government and seems more willing to endure tyranny than to risk too much freedom: “Even in the contest of freedom, we have often seen, that the prosperity attendant on conquest only tended to sap the virtue of the conquerors; and that a noble resistance to tyranny ended in an inglorious overthrow by vice.”10 To see why these statements would vex Blake so severely, we need to examine in more detail his political views and how they are intrinsically tied to his beliefs about religion and art. Even at the risk of making this chapter into a non–Tory version of Boyd’s “Historical Essay,” I will have to give my own brief sketch of the history of politics and religion.

Politics and Protestantism Forty-one years before Martin Luther posted his theses on Wittenberg Church, the cowherd Hans Böhm announced the imminent arrival of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. The Virgin Mary had revealed to him that there should be no more royalty, popes or feudal lords, that all men were to be brothers and all property held in common. Thousands of peasants came to hear him speak, and he began to gain followers among the clergy as well as the farmers. The bishop of Würzburg smiled tolerantly at the movement until Böhm announced that the redistribution of worldly goods was to be carried out by force. Shortly afterward, the bishop’s soldiers fired their guns into a crowd of Böhm’s followers, and the movement collapsed. Every few years thereafter, Emperor Frederick III saw violent efforts among his poorer subjects as they tried to relieve the harsh conditions of feudalism. These revolts climaxed in the Peasants’ War of 1524–26, which resulted in at least one hundred thirty thousand dead and many thousands homeless. Though Luther was careful to distance himself from the peasants’ violence, in every case the revolts were linked in the mind of the populace with religion. Especially in Protestant countries, and in times of economic hardship, the tendency to link Christ’s words about the brotherhood of man to revolutionary action has been a recur-

5. Marginal Note to Boyd


ring phenomenon. Those who saw rewards and punishments as delayed until after death were sometimes overwhelmed by others who believed that God intended to establish a thousand-year reign on the earth. As H.M. Abrams writes: The explosive element in apocalyptic prophecy was the millennium. The anticipation of a heavenly kingdom, to be achieved only after the end of creation, posed no threat to the established order of the world. But in its millennial (or in the Greek term, chiliastic) component, the Biblical text denounced the present state of the world as unrelievedly evil and promised God’s early intervention to annihilate all existing states and institutions in order to set up His kingdom, not in heaven, but on earth; and this constituted a patent menace to the status quo.11

Oliver Cromwell, whose wars occurred a century after the German uprisings, also believed himself to be doing God’s will in ending unjust government. His armies included Anabaptists and other members of radical sects whose passion for violence was inflamed by eschatological expectations. John Milton, who wrote in defense of revolutionary government, also hoped that the New Model Army’s successes were leading to a chiliastic outcome. Cromwell’s defeat didn’t end the desire, buttressed by religion, to overthrow the social status quo; decades after the end of the English Civil War, publisher Richard Blome wrote of the Anabaptists: “Babylon they would overthrow; and within Babylon, they included all Magistracy and civil Government, and all wealth and greatness; A great quarrel they had with the Babylonian Gold.”12 Another theologian wrote disapprovingly about radicals who held “That Christ would destroy not only unlawful Government, but lawful Government, not only the abuse of it, but the use of it; he was destroying both Monarchy and Aristocracy.”13 As A.L. Morton points out, “We are now very close to Blake’s portrait of Jesus the Revolutionary”14; He mock’d the Sabbath, and he mock’d The Sabbath’s God, and he unlocked The Evil Spirits from their Shrines, And he turn’d Fishermen to Divines … He scorn’d Earth’s Parents, scorned Earth’s God, And mock’d the one and the other’s rod; His Seventy Disciples sent Against Religion and Government: They by the Sword of Justice fell And him their Cruel Murderer tell [E 878].

The American War of Independence gave hope in England that change for the better was possible for the situation at home, as well as in the colonies. Pro-American sentiment was strong in London, especially among tradesmen—the class to which Blake’s father and engraving master both belonged. Those parts of London that had relatively democratic systems of local government, including Westminster and Middlesex, became centers of antiroyal sentiment and, despite fierce opposition from George III, were even more encouraged when France followed America in revolution. In the early years of the French Revolution, many in England thought they were witnessing the change the millennialists had been hoping for. Robert Southey wrote of the time: “Old things seemed passing away, and nothing was dreamed of but the regeneration of the human race.”15 Southey’s generation of Romantic


Part III. Blake’s Criticism of Dante

poets were particularly enthusiastic in their predictions. Wordsworth’s conclusion to his “Descriptive Sketches,” Coleridge’s Destiny of Nations and Religious Musings, and a number of Hölderlin’s early odes all share a similar optimism for a new world.16 Blake’s work from this era also shows that he expected a great deal from political changes. His “Song of Liberty” (1792) at the end of The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, the book-length poem The French Revolution (1791), and his illuminated books America (1793) and Europe (1794) all refer to current events in terms of apocalyptic change. Blake had earlier tried different methods of expressing his views on political matters. In the early 1780s he began plays about King John and King Edward IV of England, both of which seem intended to support the right of revolt against tyranny. These were never finished. A ballad poem, “Gwin, King of Norway,” and an early engraving, his first print to be exhibited at the Royal Academy of Art, both dealt with evil noblemen and the justice that befalls them. He also made a drawing called The Keys of Calais, based on the story of the burghers later shown more famously by Rodin. All of these works attempted to solve the problem of publishing political dissent during a time of strict censorship by projecting the problems that Blake perceived in his own time onto historical scenes, safely too far into the past to be of interest to modern policemen. We can see that from his early twenties, Blake’s art and writing were deeply concerned with political issues, and strongly republican in outlook. The early influences that formed Blake’s views of earthly justice were inherited from the same sort of nonconformist thinkers who fought alongside Cromwell. E.P. Thompson’s research has shown that Blake was raised in the tradition of English antinomianism that had given birth to generations of anti-royal sentiment. The term “antinomian” was apparently coined by Martin Luther,17 from the Greek αντί, “against,” and νομος, “the law”—but νομος refers to law as custom or human tradition, and not to God’s Law. The sort of belief now labeled antinomian goes right back to the New Testament, when the early Christians were working out which of the Old Testament laws were applicable to them. Christ’s message that the law was now written in the hearts of his believers (e.g., “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts” [Hebrews 8:10]) meant that at least some of the laws of Moses were not in force. Christ and Peter both emphasize that dietary laws, in particular, are not meant to bind Christians. In the twelfth century, amid continuing disagreements between secular and religious authority as to who controlled what area of life, and in a time when the Catholic Church tended to be hostile to the peasantry,18 sects that opposed the laws of men, in favor of what they perceived as the laws received directly from Christ, drew many followers. The Bogomils, Cathars, Albigensians, and similar groups differed in the details of their beliefs but shared the core heresy that a believer whose heart had been “perfected” had no more need for earthly law, either secular or from the clergy.19 A visitor to Rome who observed some antinomian Christians wrote, “They go about two by two, barefoot, clad in woolen garments, owning nothing, holding all things in common like the Apostles.”20 Naturally these groups were eliminated by the rich and powerful as much as was possible, but the founding ideals never completely lost their appeal, and attempts to revive the movements broke out again and again. One of the most historically important revivals occurred in Britain in the seventeenth century.

5. Marginal Note to Boyd


British antinomians joined with more moderate Protestants during the English Civil War. When the monarchy was restored, the various minority sects of this intellectual world lacked political power, but they attracted many of the most enthusiastic and original religionists of the day. It would take far too much space here to outline the relationships and doctrinal differences among the Ranters, Diggers, Baptists, Anabaptists, Shakers, and other groups that grew from this tradition. We can safely say, though, that dissent from ancient customs of social class and established power was a core belief of all of them. Sermons and tracts by members of these groups often show extreme opposition not only to the ruling classes but also to all laws not expressly named in the New Testament. The first paragraph from “A Fiery Flying Roll” by Abiezer Coppe (1619–1672) will give a sample of the confidence with which many in this tradition rejected the law: Thus saith the Lord, I inform you, that I overturn, overturn, overturn. And as the Bishops, Charles, and the Lords, have had their turn, overturn, so your turn shall be next (ye surviving dignified or distinguished) who ever you are, that oppose me, the Eternal God, who am UNIVERSAL Love, and whose service is perfect freedome, and pure Libertinisme.21

Coppe’s libertinism did include sexual freedom and a rejection of marriage, but it was not a rejection of duty to the Lord. He emphasized that a leveling of social classes demands that each of us recognizes his responsibility for all his Christian brothers and sisters. Thus saith the Lord: Be wise now therefore, O ye Rulers, &c. Be instructed, &c. Kisse the Sunne, &c. Yea, kisse Beggars, Prisoners, warme them, feed them, cloathe them, money them, relieve them, release them, take them into your houses, don’t serve them as dogs, without doore. &c. Owne them, they are flesh of your fleshe, your owns brethren, your owne Sisters, every whit as good (and if I should stand in competition with you) in some degrees better than your selves.… Repent, repent, repent, Bow down, bow down, bow, or howle, resigne, or be damned; Bow downe, bow downe, you sturdy Oakes, and Cedars, bow downe. Veile too, and kisse the meaner shrubs. Bow, or else (by my self saith the Lord) He breake you in pieces (some of you) others I will teare up by the roots; I will suddenly deale with you all, some in one way; some in another. Wherefore Each Beggar that you meet Fall down before him, kiss him in the street.

Some nonconformist groups, such as the Philadelphians, were intellectually active and conducted research into the work of German mystic Jacob Boehme, the Neoplatonic traditions of Paracelsus, and the Christian version of the Kabbalah—all of which have been named as influences on Blake. Other sects emphasized personal worship by encouraging members to write new hymns and sing God’s praise in their own words. Again, this is a message that was echoed in Blake’s personal theology. Many of the sects were suppressed and others went underground to survive, making modern research on their individual beliefs difficult. Thompson has uncovered the history of one group that was still active in the London of Blake’s time, however. These Muggletonians, as they were called, after their founder Ludowick Muggleton, had been formed as a sect in 1652.22 They were largely made up of former members of the Levellers and Diggers. Their founding was not untroubled, as it required them to declare that at least one self-proclaimed son of God in Britain was the Antichrist, and they quickly quarreled with the newly formed Quakers. Their policy of keeping a low profile by not publicly seeking new members meant that they never grew to be a large group, and Thompson speculates that they maintained a membership of between two and three


Part III. Blake’s Criticism of Dante

hundred in the entire century after their founding. They seem to have enjoyed a resurgence in the mid–1700s, however, increasing their numbers enough to justify the “vigorous” reprinting of their founders’ works. Muggletonian tracts and song collections were sporadically added to and revived by later members, until at least 1823. Records about the Muggletonians, like those of other antinomian sects, are few. This is due to both their desire not to attract the attention of the authorities and their conviction that church hierarchy or official organization would be counter to God’s will. Still, Thompson’s detective work shows that in the London of Blake’s youth this group and other similar believers had an active influence, especially among the lower middle classes. We must not of course imagine that Blake was an “orthodox” member of any particular sect, but the existence of such a persistent minority with political views like his, in close proximity to his friends and family, show that the anti-monarchical roots in his place and time were deep and, from the beginning, a part of religious faith. More public political radicals also made an impression on Blake in his younger days. From the 1770s to the late 1790s he led a socially active life centered in large part on the writers and artists in the circle of publisher Joseph Johnson, a man of left-wing political views. This group included dissenting minister (and discoverer of oxygen) Joseph Priestley, Mary Wollstonecraft, William Godwin, and Thomas Paine, all of whom made friends and enemies for their progressive views on human rights and freedoms.23 Paine is today known as one of America’s Founding Fathers thanks to his 1776 book Common Sense and a series of pamphlets urging independence that were widely read in America. Though their religious beliefs were very different, Blake defended Paine against criticism from a conservative bishop—although, again, this defense was carried out mostly through notes in the margins of a book (E 611). Blake’s early biographers tell us that he saved Paine’s life by advising him to escape to France when the British authorities sought his arrest. More recent scholars think this anecdote may be exaggerated,24 but the threat of imprisonment for one’s political views was real. Most of those arrested for radical speech during the time of the French Revolution were acquitted by sympathetic juries,25 but the Seditious Meetings Act and the Treason Act of 1795 were sufficient to quiet almost all dissent. Joseph Johnson tested the limits of the law in 1799 by publishing an outspoken political pamphlet, and went to prison.26 G.E. Bentley’s thorough biography of Blake points out, “Blake may have been surrounded by political activists and government informers, but his own struggles were all in the mind. He was never a joiner or a builder of street barricades.”27 It would be difficult to think ill of Blake if he chose not to risk arrest. At an impressionable age he had been detained on suspicion of spying; while he was still an art student, in about 1780, he went with two friends to sketch the harbor and was taken into custody by the police. He was held for several hours, until an official from the Royal Academy came to vouch for them.28 Though he was in little danger of imprisonment, this incident did demonstrate how closely innocent artists were being watched. In the following years he knew that he lacked the means to flee to Paris as Paine had done, and a stretch in prison would most likely have ended his always-precarious career as an engraver. (Even Abiezer Coppe had recanted—outwardly—when threatened with hanging.) When Blake left behind the radical circles in London and moved to Felpham, he still had reason to feel in danger. Statements that he allegedly made in anger while ejecting a rowdy soldier from his garden were taken so seriously that he was made to stand trial for

5. Marginal Note to Boyd


sedition in 1804 and could have been hanged if found guilty. A skilled lawyer and Blake’s uncharacteristic silence in court allowed him to be acquitted. It may be, though, that even when many poets and radicals had placed their hopes in earthly revolution, Blake had religious reasons for holding back from direct action. After all, antinomian religion doesn’t seek to replace one form of lawmaking body for another; it seeks a world in which law itself will become unnecessary. Seen in this way, the keen disappointment that so many poets and radicals felt as they watched the French Revolution turn into a reign of terror, and then give way to the rise of Napoleon, was only confirmation that hope for earthly improvement through governmental change was never to be fulfilled. Real change would only come about through spiritual means. After his relocation from London to Felpham, Blake seemed firmer in his conviction that a poet’s job is poetry and not politics. As Erdman writes: “Blake is somewhat sorry to have defended Orc in 1776 and 1793 and in the early version of Milton, and he implies that Milton should never have put aside poetry to write with his left hand in the service of Satan”29 (Orc being the characterization of revolutionary energy in Blake’s work, and Satan, in this case, the political use of force). If Blake had given up on politics while still keeping a hope for transformation, he was not alone. Writing of the Romantic poets and their reaction to the failure of the French Revolution, Abrams points out, “For Wordsworth and his contemporaries … the millennium didn’t come. The millennial pattern of thinking, however, persisted, with this difference: the external means was replaced by an internal means for transforming the world.”30 Here, too, Christianity supplied the precedent. The earliest Christians probably believed that Jesus would return to earth quite soon and bring with him the Kingdom of God. The Gospels seem to say as much, as for example in Matthew 16:28, “Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.” As the years went by and the Second Coming did not occur, biblical exegetes “postponed the literal millennium to an indefinite future and interpreted the prophecies of an earthly kingdom as metaphors for a present and entirely spiritual change in the true believer.”31 Milton had followed a similar course. Disappointed by the outcome of the Puritan Revolution, he had shifted his hopes to “[a] paradise within thee, happier far.”32 Blake had already shown that the real monarch we must overthrow is not flesh and blood, but spiritual. Urizen is not a tyrant who can be removed from office with a guillotine. If, as Abrams and Erdman hold, Blake gave up on worldly revolution in favor of religious apocalypse, it was not a change in his basic beliefs so much as a return to a more basic antinomianism. In the marginal note to Boyd’s essay that scolds Dante for not being a republican, Blake concludes with the phrase “Luther also left the Priest & joind the Soldier[.]” Here the method, rather than the goal, is criticized: worldly action, by violence, is a hopeless choice; only religion holds the key to reform. In the margins of the same book in which he made his defense of Paine, Blake wrote: To defend the Bible in this year 1798 would cost a man his life The Beast & the Whore rule without control.… I have been commanded from Hell not to print this as it is what our Enemies wish [E 611].

The “Enemies” alluded to may only be government agents, but if we recall Blake’s thoughts about law in general we can interpret the comment in a more philosophical sense.


Part III. Blake’s Criticism of Dante

While earthly enemies force our bodies to obey arbitrary laws, Urizenic enemies are those who force our spirits and perceptions into arbitrary positivistic categories, in which we lose the ability even to imagine our freedom. Any act that violently imposes one system of laws over another is still a positivistic statement of truth, and therefore a shutting-off of true freedom. By 1810 Blake seemed to have turned entirely away from political hopes, and stated clearly that there would be no improvement until the Last Judgment. For Blake, though, even this final reckoning is nothing like a weighing of obedience judged by a heavenly monarch. Blake’s vision of the Last Judgment is a clarifying of the perceptions, and not a removal to another realm: “The Last Judgment is an Overwhelming of Bad Art & Science.… Error or Creation will be Burned Up & then & not till then Truth or Eternity will appear[.]” But how does error disappear? Is it through divine fiat? No, “It is burned up the Moment Men cease to behold it” (E 565). The Kingdom of God won’t arrive until the Last Judgment, but the Last Judgment won’t be prompted by laws or morality, political action or violent revolution. It is a perceptual change—the moment when people open their eyes and stop seeing the world falsely. The important thing for our present analysis—to bring us back, finally, to The Divine Comedy— is that Blake’s experiences with politics bring him back, finally, to the pure antinomian view of religion. God is in the hearts of people, and no system of laws or adjustment of governmental systems can make a real difference. On this he disagrees with the Comedy. We must assume that Blake knew very little of Dante other than what he read in Boyd’s introduction and in The Divine Comedy itself. Scholars who have access to Dante’s De Monarchia and other work written in Latin will find that the author’s political views changed over time and deserve a more subtle treatment than I can give them here. The Monarchia, however, was not translated into English until fifty-two years after Blake’s death. He had little Latin or Italian, and the wealth of scholarly work on Dante in English had barely begun to appear, so I will proceed on the assumption that Blake did not know the Monarchia, the various epistles, or the Convivio, which might have given him a more nuanced view of the Italian poet.33

Dante’s Politics Dante discussed the political situation in Italy throughout the Comedy. For the most part, these passages do not inform us of his theoretical views on the roles of church and state but serve only to lament the current condition of his home country. Corruption is rampant; people are too greedy. There is no reason to think that Blake would have objected to such an evaluation. He believed that England, too, was corrupt and greedy. We can identify at least two sections, however, in which Dante represented his opinions on government in more philosophical terms, and in both cases his views are not something with which Blake could agree. The first part of the Comedy we should examine is the deepest level of Hell: the frozen lake of Cocytus in which traitors are trapped sempiternally. In his usual careful manner, Dante broke down this type of sin into subgroups, ranged in order of seriousness. The least bad traitors are those who have turned against their own families, and the worst—in fact, the worst people in all of Hell—are those who have betrayed their lords or benefactors. From

5. Marginal Note to Boyd


what we have seen before of Blake’s antinomian beliefs, it will be clear that to him, we do not have different levels of responsibility to different sorts of people, especially to those who outrank us. Dante, of course, is not asserting that we may never turn against a leader. He shows us enough popes and monarchs in Hell to make it clear that bad elites are not exempt from judgment. The sinners he shows in the lowest level are those who have betrayed good men and bitten the hands that wisely fed them. It follows, then, that the worst traitor is the one who betrayed the best benefactor: Judas. Although Blake’s Christ is not quite the same as the one that Dante imagines, both poets would agree that the murder of Jesus was the worst of sins. The real irritation for Blake, and the reason the issue becomes one of government, arises from the identities of the two sinners who are punished to the left and right of Judas. In Satan’s three mouths, Judas is in the center, and on each side are Brutus and Cassius, who betrayed Julius Caesar. To rate these two as next-worst, almost as bad as Judas, does seem to make Dante into “an Emperors Man.” Why is the assassination of the Roman emperor nearly as bad as the betrayal of Christ? To understand this, we can turn to the second, and clearest, of Dante’s statements on the role of government. On his way up the mountain of Purgatory, the pilgrim Dante has stopped to talk with Marco Lombardo, a fellow Italian.34 Dante has asked him about the influence of the stars on people’s personalities, and whether we are justified in blaming astrological factors for our sins. The answer is that of course we are born with various tendencies due to stellar influences, but that human beings do have freedom of choice in deciding whether they succumb, or not, to inborn traits. However much the stars have shaped our natural desires, our intellects are unaffected and may overrule our urges. At this point, perhaps surprisingly to those who consider Dante a strict moralist, Marco describes an individual’s moral responsibility in a very merciful way. He says that each soul appears in the world innocent and playful: the soul Comes like a babe, that wantons sportively, Weeping and laughing in its wayward moods; [Purgatory, 16; Cary, 215].

Exactly like the innocent souls in Blake’s Songs of Innocence, the newborn soul laughs and weeps but is easily fooled. The soul knows that Heaven is perfect satisfaction, so naturally she turns toward the things that she enjoys: artless, and as ignorant of aught, Save that her Maker being one who dwells With gladness ever, willingly turns To whate’er yields her joy.

The soul is not wrong to turn towards that which makes her happy, but being young and lacking experience, she may opt for easy pleasures over better ones. Of some slight good The flavour soon she tastes; and, snared by that, With fondness she pursues it;

It is natural and good that a child prefers to eat things with agreeable flavors. The trouble is that, left to herself, she may opt for a diet of only ice cream, and neglect to eat the vegetables


Part III. Blake’s Criticism of Dante

that are necessary for a healthier, more satisfying life in the long run. “With fondness she pursues it; if no guide / Recall, no rein direct her wandering course.” Here is where we begin to consider the proper role of the government. The purpose of civil law is to act as a rein on ill-aimed desire, which is natural to simple souls but not in their ultimate best interests.35 Hence it behoved, the law should be a curb; A sovereign hence behoved, whose piercing view Might mark at least the fortress and main tower Of the true city.

The king need not be an ideal man himself (only Christ is ideal) but should at least have enough vision to see from afar the landmarks that guide us toward the City of God. Unfortunately, Marco says, modern leaders—even the popes—have forgotten their roles. Laws indeed there are: But who is he observes them? None; not he, Who goes before, the shepherd of the flock … Therefore the multitude, who see their guide Strike at the very good they covet most, Feed there and look no further.

The simple souls see their spiritual leaders, who lead by example, aiming for worldly goods, and so it is understandable and forgivable that the flock aims no higher than the shepherd. In direct contradiction to Augustine’s teaching on Original Sin,36 Dante says that it is not our natures but our leadership that is corrupt: Thus the cause Is not corrupted nature in yourselves, But ill-conducting, that hath turn’d the world To evil.

And according to Dante, the God-appointed leadership of the world exists in two people, who should both rule from Rome: the emperor and the pope. Rome, that turn’d it unto good, Was wont to boast two suns, whose several beams Cast light on either way, the world’s and God’s. One since hath quench’d the other; and the sword Is grafted on the crook; and, so conjoin’d, Each must perforce decline to worse, unawed By fear of other.

Dante believes that after Christ, the Romans became the new Chosen People. Their empire’s fated mission was to bring law and civilization to the world, uniting in one capital the authorities necessary to guide people through good lives to Heaven, but with a clear separation of church and state: an emperor for worldly affairs and a pope for spiritual. It was a commonplace in debates over which leader should be dominant, emperor or pope, to refer to the more powerful as the sun and the other as the moon, who illuminates only by reflecting the other’s greater glory.37 Dante is perhaps unique in asserting that God wants the world to be guided by two suns, with clearly separated jurisdictions. In his eyes, Europe’s troubles came about in large part because the papacy had become as much a political concern as a

5. Marginal Note to Boyd


spiritual one—with the “sword grafted to the [shepherd’s] crook”—therefore disordering both parts of the system that God had ordained. Earlier in the Purgatory Dante had complained more specifically about the inability of emperors to pilot the ship of state. In canto 6, the mere mention of the city of Mantua causes the narrator to lament the state of Italy and to blame specifically the lack of a strong emperor. What good was it, he asks, if Justinian made the great laws of the empire, if there is no one to enforce them? What boots it, that thy reins Justinian’s hand Refitted, if thy saddle be unprest? Nought doth he now but aggravate thy shame. [Ah, people! thou obedient still shouldst live, And in the saddle let thy Caesar sit, If well thou marked’st that which God commands…]

To make it clear that he is not using “Caesar” as a spiritual metaphor or a symbol of Christ, Dante names the Holy Roman Emperor, Albert of Hapsburg, who was in power at the time the events of the Comedy are described as taking place. O German Albert! who abandon’st her That is grown savage and unmanageable, When thou shouldst clasp her flanks with forked heels. .….….… Come and behold thy Rome, who calls on thee, Desolate widow, day and night with moans, “My Caesar, why dost thou desert by side?” Come, and behold what love among thy people: And if no pity touches thee for us, Come, and blush for thine own report.

Though he devotes fewer lines to the issue than Boyd does in his introduction, Dante regrets that the lack of a powerful leader has led even peasants to get the idea that they can oppose government. So are Italian cities all o’erthrong’d With tyrants, and a great Marcellus made Of every petty factious villager [Purgatory, 6; Cary, 171–73].

The name Marcellus here is usually taken to refer to Marcus Claudius Marcellus, one of the Roman noblemen who opposed Julius Caesar. The fact that in the Italy of Dante’s time even the peasantry could think themselves worthy of opposing their betters is taken as a sign that the world is seriously out of joint. It is, clearly enough, a judgment at odds with Blake’s antinomianism. When Dante comes out so strongly in favor of the separation of church and state, it might at first appear that republicans of Blake’s disposition would agree. Isn’t the merging of royal and spiritual power in England a mistake, in the eyes of the antinomians? Answering this question will show us more clearly why Blake would have had reservations about political reform even before the failure of the French Revolution and will introduce a major theme of this book: the absolute immanence of God in the world.


Part III. Blake’s Criticism of Dante

Dante’s political writings hold out the possibility that reform and improvement can be achieved through worldly action. For him, the path to Heaven is through the behavior that comes from choosing to love the highest, best aims. Government exists to build the guardrails that keep us on the straight and narrow path—a concept of the “Middle Way” he has learned from Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. The Church’s role is different; it is to tend to the otherworldly parts of people, to prepare us for the spiritual jump we make at death into a vastly different world. In this way, the separation of church and state exemplify what I see as the main difference between the two poets’ theologies. For Dante, our earthly world and the higher world are not the same. Good behavior in this world is necessary to get to the next, but there is a fundamental ontological jump between the higher and the lower. God and Heaven are transcendent, over and above us, and cannot even be adequately imagined by us as long as we remain in the material world. Blake’s theology is so radically different from Dante’s view that it required a full set of illustrations for him to set the Comedy straight. Opposed to views of a transcendent God, the theological concept of absolute immanence is fundamental to Blake’s beliefs. In such a view, God and our earthly world are in no way separate; God is present not only here and now, but in every grain of sand and every wild flower, in his entirety. For Blake, this permeating presence of God means that our perceived separation from Him is not to be overcome through even the most well-meaning of government laws or church rituals. Since there is no real separation, but only a perceived one, the answer is to improve perception. And neither church nor state have this goal. As long as we perceive worldly issues and religious issues to be different, and provinces of different institutions, we will never open our eyes enough to see the truth. The authoritative guidelines that Dante wants government to establish in fact allow believers to keep their eyes closed, by urging us to trust in our superiors to keep us on a moral path that leads nowhere. I will devote much of what follows to working out this difference between Dante’s transcendentalism and Blake’s theology of immanence. In my opinion, it lies at the root of each significant difference between the two poets. Their views of nature, of the possibilities of language, and of the role morality plays in our lives, all spring from this basic disagreement. Before I turn to the history of absolute immanence, however, there is one more aspect of Dante’s Caesarism that we must address.

Classicism in Dante The nine Muses of classical poetry are the daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory. Dante, following ancient tradition, asks them for assistance throughout the Comedy. Near the openings of the Hell and the Paradise he calls upon them collectively; in the first canto of the Purgatory he specifically invokes Calliope, the muse of epic poetry. There are at least ten other mentions of Muses in the poem, as well. Blake would not have been the only reader to find it odd that the greatest poet of the Christian Heaven and Hell should ask for help from pagan deities. (In a later section of this book, we will see why the Muses, in particular, are offensive to Blake, as symbols of memory and not inspiration.) Throughout the Comedy, classical sources, examples, and characters

5. Marginal Note to Boyd


are on nearly equal footing with those of the Bible. For example, at each level of Purgatory, Dante cites moral tales to show cases in which people have either succumbed to the sin purged on that level, or risen above it. The cases he chooses are carefully balanced between hagiographic or biblical, and classical examples. At each level, one good example is from the life of the Virgin Mary, at least one is from the classical world of myth or history, and one more is from the Bible. The bad examples are equally balanced. At the level that purges anger, for example, the demonstrations of good behavior, showing forbearance against anger, are Mary at the moment she finds her missing son in the Temple; the tyrant of Athens, Peisistratus, refusing his wife’s request to execute a young man who had offended her; and St. Stephen, who, according to Acts 7:54–59, prayed for the mob that was martyring him. The examples of people whose anger got the better of them are Haman, from the Old Testament book of Esther, and Amata, a minor character from the Aeneid. The willingness of medieval authors to look to both classical and biblical sources is in part a result of the tradition, mentioned above, that Rome had taken on the role of God’s Chosen People and that its culture was intended by God to be the source of peace and law for the secular world. By Dante’s time there was also a long-established conviction that classical literature and art contained veiled hints of Christian revelation. For example Virgil, though not himself a Christian, was said to have obliquely foretold the coming of Jesus in the Aeneid. The tradition was so well established in the Renaissance that Michelangelo paired Old Testament prophets with Roman sibyls on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. We have already seen Blake’s views on the relationship of Greece and Rome to Jerusalem. If, as he believed, classical thought, art, and literature were all stolen from the Hebrews and watered down by distance from its inspired sources, a Christian poet who employs Greek and Roman characters as models is merely imitating the imitators. Blake, in contrast, chose to use in his mature work either biblical characters, reworked to suit his own mythology (he would say, “returned to their visionary origins”), or original characters, such as Urizen and Orc. If the figures from classical literature had merely been trotted out as bad examples, their presence in the Comedy might seem less integrated with the Christian message. Throughout his epic, though, Dante based fundamental elements of his writing on Roman sources, in a way that goes far beyond the borrowing of symbols or anecdotes. The pilgrim Dante, as a character, is content to follow Virgil’s lead through two-thirds of the poem as a humble student. The writer Dante, in addition, engaged in complicated dialogue with his Latin predecessors, building on and controverting their meanings. As Kevin Brownlee writes: Dante-protagonist undergoes (and/or witnesses) a series of key experiences that are visibly modeled on narrative events from the Aeneid, the Thebaid, the Pharsalia, and the Metamorphoses. The most important, frequent, and systematic instances of this process involve two alternatives: either Dante-protagonist functions as a new, Christian Aeneas, modeled on the single protagonist of Virgil’s epic; or he functions as a corrected version of one of the many protagonists of Ovid’s multi-narrative epic.38

The epic journey of the Comedy, beginning in disaster and ending in a new kingdom, is of course not coincidentally similar to Virgil’s story. Dante makes sure that his predecessor’s book will be in the minds of his readers from the outset, naming Virgil in the first canto of the Hell and Aeneas in the second.39 Brownlee calls Dante’s use of the Aeneid a “recuperative


Part III. Blake’s Criticism of Dante

reading,” in which episodes of the Comedy are to be read against parallels in Virgil’s work. The pagan model is therefore an essential element in the metamorphosis of classical sources into an epic that is, from the Christian point of view, more complete. Robert Hollander has written: “It is difficult to conceive of a major literary text that might be as closely involved with an earlier masterpiece as is the Commedia with the Aeneid, with the major exception of the involvement of Virgil’s epic with those of Homer.”40 Exactly how much of Dante’s debt to Virgil Blake could identify is difficult to determine. Dante makes some parallels impossible to miss, as when Cacciaguida’s greeting to his descendent, in Paradise 15, is explicitly compared to that of Anchises’ in Aeneid 6. Other references to Virgil’s work, such as the implicit similarities in the description of Dido’s first glimpse of Aeneas to the moment when the pilgrim Dante is finally reunited with Beatrice, are less obvious and may have escaped Blake’s notice. The works of Statius and of Lucan also appear in more or less clear references within the Comedy, but the Latin work most frequently reflected, after the Aeneid, is Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Dante’s story is both a journey and a transformation, so the use of both books, combined and remade, is a natural choice. With Ovid, too, some borrowings are more obvious than others. We are left in no doubt, though, that Dante has the Latin work in mind, when in Hell 25 the narrator explicitly compares what he has seen to similar events in the work of his predecessor. In the level of Hell where thieves are punished, the pilgrim has witnessed a particularly grotesque and imaginative transformation in which a man and a serpent exchange forms. The narrator boasts: Ovid now be mute.… I envy not; for never face to face Two natures thus transmuted did he sing, Wherein both shapes were ready to assume The other’s substance [Hell, 25; Cary, 107].

We see that Dante is not only using Ovid as a source, but is also openly challenging the earlier master. Many of the moral examples in the Purgatory are drawn from the Metamorphoses, almost all of them negative. More surprising, though, is to find that most of Dante’s references to Ovid’s work appear in the Paradise, where they function as stories to demonstrate the spiritual transformation necessary to enter Heaven. Ovidian characters Daphne, Marsyas, and Glaucus are all mentioned in the first canto, and Jason’s journey in the Argo is referred to in the second. Semele and Phaeton, both of whom were burned up by their encounters with divine power, are invoked near the end of the canticle. In choosing so many characters, examples, and tropes from Greek and Latin literature, Dante has rooted his poem firmly in the classical. He has of course employed them all in the cause of Christianity, but for a Christian of Blake’s radical antinomian type, the poetic metamorphosis will not have felt complete; the classical residue is still too much in evidence. Dante has given “too much to Caesar” not only in the sense of supporting imperial politics, but also in the wider meaning of failing to overcome antique ways of thinking. Political Caesarism is, for Blake, not a separate issue from Latin means of expression, or Greek forms of philosophy, all of which are fundamental to Dante.

5. Marginal Note to Boyd


As mentioned above, the Comedy’s moral system is directly and explicitly derived from Aristotle. Its cosmology, as well, is Greek in origin, owing as it does more to the Timaeus than to the Bible. We will look more closely in later sections at Blake’s opinions of these classical views, and Dante’s use of them. Here, let us examine what Blake would see as the deepest level of the Comedy’s debt to classicism: its use of reason itself. The character of Virgil, who guides the pilgrim Dante through two-thirds of the Comedy, is seen by most commentators of the poem as a symbol of reason.41 Boyd confidently assigns him that role in a footnote to Virgil’s first appearance, in the first canto of the poem.42 Blake’s own symbol of reason, we have seen, is the cause of much trouble in the world. Urizen does not function as a useful guide in any of Blake’s epics, but causes the world to fall out of balance by usurping more than his proper role. If Dante has made the mistake of assuming that reason can guide us nearly all the way to Heaven, to be replaced by faith only in the final moments before the ascent to Paradise, he has come close to repeating Urizen’s mistake. Given the largely negative role that Urizen plays in the illuminated books, it is easy to forget that he is in fact one of the four Zoas, Blake’s symbols of the four faculties or portions of humanity. The fallen condition in which we now find ourselves will not be remedied by banishing Urizen to darkness, like Milton’s Lucifer. The Fall of Man has occurred precisely because Urizen has fallen into darkness. Humanity’s condition will be renewed when all four of the Zoas are restored to their proper balance in unity, so that we may see them as one man, or as all men, simultaneously. The fact that Dante, then, assigns so great a role to Reason/Virgil is not a gross mistake, as if he were taking pure evil as guide. It is again a question of balance—Dante has given “too much to Caesar,” if we take Virgil as a symbol of Caesarist, classical reason, but it was not wrong to include reason in the mix. Blake corrects the balance by remaking Virgil’s role in the illustrations, so that he may still act as psychopomp, but in the capacity of inspiration rather than reason. How the adjustment is carried out will become clear in our analysis of the first of Blake’s watercolors. In addition, one of the very last illustrations, of the Rose of Heaven in the Paradise, depicts the glory of the world that results from having the balance restored. An overemphasis on reason also affects the fundamental structure of the Comedy, a fact we may miss until we compare it to the structure of Blake’s own epics. For many readers, it is Dante’s clear and orderly laying-out of the levels of sin and virtue that gives the poem its moral beauty. Dante has organized the epic as a travelogue, in a linear fashion, interspersing symbolic representations with patient explanation from the guides. A reader who is approaching the Comedy as a guide to self-improvement, or—God forbid—fodder for a scholarly book, might find Virgil’s or Beatrice’s explication to be the most interesting part of the poem, and skip over as ornament the symbolic monsters and ghosts. Such a reader would be sharing the opinion of Warton, who found the Comedy too full of “indelicacies.” The clarity and order of the explication is only a benefit, though, if we think we may understand God’s ways through the use of clarity and order—that is, through reason. Blake does not think we can. Blake’s own epic poems are notoriously nonlinear. Early commentators sometimes found them so lacking in apparent reason that they dismissed them as products of a madman. It took years of patient work to see that the seeming chaos of works such as Jerusalem is an integral part of their message. The fact that the morals of Blake’s books are not abstractable,


Part III. Blake’s Criticism of Dante

not able to be summed up in a single line on the final page, is vital. Northrop Frye writes that from Blake’s perspective, “It would be far better if the morals of Aesop’s Fables, the signposts pointing from art to ethics, were snipped off, because all the morality worth having is already in the story, heightened by the fact that we are not bound down to a single conclusion.”43 Images are better than explanations because “Knowledge is not by deduction, but Immediate by Perception or Sense at once. Christ adresses himself to the Man, not to his Reason” (E 664). Jesus taught through parables and direct action. The Old Testament prophets, with whom Blake claims to have spoken and whom he took as models for his own work, did not reason or compare; they transmitted their visions. The Book of Job seems to demonstrate in part that any explanation or reasoned justification will never be adequate; only direct vision will suffice. And of course the Apocalypse of John communicates exclusively through poetic imagery, much of which Dante reproduces. Blake sees the aim of art as creating clear vision, but we don’t call it “clear” because it can be restated in abstract form—rather because it cannot. Ezekiel’s merkabah or John’s Woman Clothed in the Sun are dramatically rendered, clear images that are to be grasped with vision or the imagination. To reduce such living symbols to single-concept teaching tools would be as evil as reducing any living thing into a means to an end. Despite what modern literalists would have us believe, the Bible teaches us to read the Bible imaginatively. The fact that the Bible is self-contradictory, far-fetched, and impossible to believe in a rational sense helps to show that it is true. Blake contrasts this to genres with more literal messages: Fable or Allegory are a totally distinct & inferior kind of Poetry. Vision or Imagination is a Representation of what Eternally Exists, Really & Unchangeably. Fable or Allegory is Form’d by the daughters of Memory.… The Hebrew Bible & the Gospel of Jesus are not Allegory, but Eternal Vision or Imagination of All that Exists [E 554].

Allegory, in which Character A is directly translatable into Concept B, is counter to Blake’s method. Despite his strong language, however, he recognizes that the best allegorical works may be redeemed: “Note here that Fable or Allegory is seldom without some Vision. Pilgrim’s Progress is full of it, the Greek Poets the same” (E 554). Any book of rules or morals that are to be applied universally, working from the general to the specific case, is abstract and dead. Insofar as The Pilgrim’s Progress or Oedipus Rex use their characters as tools to deliver such laws, they are allegory. To the extent that such works offer living imagery, however, they contain vision. Here again, the model of such a case is to be found in the Bible. Moses delivered 613 universal rules, which antinomian Christians felt were no longer relevant. Blake sees these commandments as the work of a fallen, Urizenic sensibility, which the later prophets of the Old Testament spoke against and which Christ overthrew. Moses gave tyranny, Christ freedom.44 Blake’s own epics require imaginative reading. The helpful bits, the logical explication or hints as to what a character “stands for,” have been excluded as tyrannical impositions on the reader’s freedom. This means that the conditions of our fallen world, including coherent time and space, have been rejected in favor of non-tyrannical, unbound vision.

5. Marginal Note to Boyd


We saw earlier that Blake had corrected Milton’s lapses into fixed morality and logical justification. Frye wrote of Milton: Blake’s poem attempts to recreate the central vision of life, based on the Bible, which made Milton a great Christian poet.… Blake is, therefore, trying to do for Milton what the prophets and Jesus did for Moses: isolate what is poetic and imaginative, and annihilate what is legal and historical.45

It is clear, too, that Blake undertook his work on the Comedy for the same reason.

6. Remarks on the Illustration to Hell, Canto 4 In canto 4 of Hell, the pilgrim Dante visits Limbo. Though the souls in this level are inside the gates of Hell, they suffer less than others in the underworld because they are “blameless” but died without baptism, the “portal to thy faith.” There is no torture beyond an eternal “Desiring, without hope” (Cary, 14). Within Limbo the pilgrim and his guide arrive at a “magnificent castle” surrounded by seven walls and a pleasant stream, and inside they discover a green plain where Dante can stand in a place that is “Open and bright and lofty” and observe many of the greatest philosophers and poets of the pre–Christian age. Blake’s illustration for this scene contains the next criticism of Dante we will examine. The words are written in pencil, in Blake’s “normal” handwriting, not the style of lettering he used in his finished illuminations. Blake’s comments are written among concentric circles in the background of the scene. The sentences are not written clearly and there are a number of emendations and insertions. With the changes indicated in , the first part of the comments read: Every thing in Dantes Comedia shews That for Tyrannical Purposes he has made This World the Foundation of All & the Goddess Nature & not the Holy Ghost as Poor Churchill said Nature thou art my Goddess46

Under these lines, in a separate circle, are the words Swedenborg does the same in saying that in this World is the Ultimate of Heaven This is the most damnable Falshood of Satan & his Antichrist

And to the right, in a different group of lines: Round Purgatory is Paradise & round Paradise is Vacuum or Limbo. so that Homer is the Center of All I mean the Poetry of the Heathen Stolen & Perverted from the Bible not by Chance but by design by the Kings of Persia and their Generals The Greek Heroes & lastly by The Romans [E 689]


6. Remarks on the Illustration to Hell, Canto 4


This group of comments,47 and another comment that Blake wrote on one of the watercolors in the final set of Dante illustrations, will occupy us through the rest of this chapter. Unlike the marginal note in the Boyd translation, we may be sure that the words here are consistent with Blake’s opinions at the time he was making the illustrations. These notes may seem too brief to warrant the attention I give them, but we will see that they contain key words in the artist’s thought—enough to unpack a great deal of the dialectic between him and his Italian predecessor.

“This World the Foundation of All” Blake writes that Dante “has made This World the Foundation of All & the Goddess Nature .” To understand this comment, we will need to examine the special meanings that Blake gives to the terms “This World” and “Nature.” According to Blake, “This World,” where we suffer and write books, is our fallen condition. Such a view is in keeping with basic Christian theology. Where Blake differs from more traditional Christian thought, including Dante’s, is in his insistence that despite appearances, the material world is in no way separate from the spiritual, ideal world. The apparent division of the two realms, which leads us mistakenly to see God and Heaven as existing away in a transcendent realm, comes about through the narrowing of our perceptions, when we lose our ability to see beyond the physical surfaces of things. Matter and spirit are not ontologically distinct despite most people’s inability to perceive more than the physical qualities of objects. In The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, Blake wrote: “Man has no Body distinct from his Soul for that calld Body is a portion of Soul discernd by the five Senses. the chief inlets of Soul in this age” (E 34). This is a clear rejection of dualism. We see that for Blake the body is not a container to hold the soul, as Plato thought it was. The body is the small portion of the soul visible to the body’s own passive senses. In our present, empirical age, very few of us are prophets or visionaries, and so we tend to rely overmuch on the five corporeal senses, with the result that, to our loss, we may think that only elements of the body visible to normal sight are real. Just as a person’s body is only apparently separate from the soul, the world’s body— nature—is not really distinct from the spiritual realm. If we think that mountains and stones are inert, or jump to the conclusion that trees and flowers are merely vegetable, our error is, again, due to narrowness of perception. To understand Blake’s view of nature, therefore, we must first examine his ideas of how we perceive, and why we are so prone to error. The final lines of his 1810 Vision of the Last Judgment address the type of vision that Blake advocates. He is asked: “What it will be Question’d When the Sun rises do you not see a round Disk of fire somewhat like a Guinea[.]” Most of us assume that the sun looks more or less the same to everyone. It appears to be a bright disk, like a large coin. Blake refuses to be satisfied with the physical appearance, and replies to the questioner: “O no no I see an Innumerable company of the Heavenly host crying Holy Holy Holy is the Lord God Almighty[.]” Blake’s view of the sun is more than the sum of the sense-impressions that his eyes receive. The surfaces our eyes can discern are for Blake something to look through, not at: “I question not


Part III. Blake’s Criticism of Dante

my Corporeal or Vegetative Eye any more than I would Question a Window concerning a Sight I look thro it & not with it” (E 565–566). The “Guinea sun” is the sun of Lockean passive perception. To see only the same sun that everyone else can see and fail to see more than the mere light rays that strike one’s cornea, is scarcely to surpass a corpse whose eyelids remain open. Harold Bloom calls such a condition “the universe of death which is the natural experience of most men” (E 894). What makes a poet’s vision alive, even in our current fallen condition, is the active faculty called imagination. For Blake, of course, the term imagination encompasses more than its typical conversational meaning, which might refer to daydreams or the invention of a better mousetrap. Like Kant’s imagination (Einbildungskraft) Blake’s is the faculty of the mind that actively organizes sensory input. (Kant: “[T]he imagination is to bring the manifold of intuition into an image.”)48 With Blake as with the German philosopher, the word “imagination” keeps its root sense of “image-making”—it is responsible for the images that the mind creates from raw sense-data. Blake could not have read Kant. The Critique of Pure Reason appeared in 1821 and Francis Haywood’s English translation, the first, didn’t appear until the year after Blake’s death. The role of the imagination in religion had been a topic in Christian theology for centuries, however, and Blake’s convictions about imagination and perception may be traced to earlier sources. Augustine was the first Latin author to use the term imaginatio in a consistent philosophical manner, warning against the dangers of fantasy. The biblical distrust of images combined with the influences of Augustine’s Neoplatonic forebears caused him to conclude that imagination would only interfere with the pure contemplation (noesis) required to experience the highest levels of the spiritual world.49 Plotinus, Porphyry, and Proclus had all warned against the same. Bonaventure (1221–1274) gave a more important mental role to imagination. Like Kant, he located the imagination halfway between the sensible world and the understanding. He also granted it some role in prophecy. In agreement with Augustine and Aquinas, however, he emphasized that it must be firmly under control of reason in order to avoid dangerous fantasy. He explicitly read the first and second Commandments prohibiting false gods and idols as warnings against “demonic acts” of imagination.50 New views on imaginatio were introduced by a figure to whom we will return several times in the course of this book, Nicholas of Cusa (1401–1464). Working in the tradition of mystics such as Erigena and Eckhart, Cusanus developed a theory of the imagination that diverged from mainstream theology. The fact that God, he wrote, is always beyond man’s sensory or rational capacities requires us to approach Him through “mystical vision” that employs imagination. Moreover, because man is made in God’s image, our own creative acts may be said to participate in a special way in the ongoing process of creation. Thus human powers of imaging and imagining are not separate from God’s power.51 Cusanus specifically links the presence of Christ in us with our ability to create: “Because the Creative Art of Christ may come to ‘dwell’ in man, we may come to realize the highest goal of all our desires and inclinations—‘the knowledge of our creation’ (nostrae creationis scientia).” Though he

6. Remarks on the Illustration to Hell, Canto 4


holds back from saying that we may know God in his entirety, Cusanus does give a far greater role to the imagination than earlier theologians, in a way that Blake echoes. Some seventeenth century philosophers granted an important role to the imagination but were careful to specify that only biblical prophets were granted correct use of it. Cambridge Platonist John Smith wrote that imagination was for most of us “a gross dew on the glass of our understandings,” while making a special case of scripture: “The Prophetical scene or Stage upon which all apparitions were made to the Prophet, was his Imagination.”52 Spinoza split the same hairs. Paley wrote, “[B]y insisting on the imaginative nature of prophecy, such views prepared the way for literary criticism of the Bible as sublime poetry. It then remained for William Blake to argue that all scriptures were sublime poems, including Milton’s and his own.”53 The influence Cusanus had on the Christian mystical tradition may be traced through Paracelsus to Jacob Boehme (1575–1624), both of whom Blake names as sources for his own thought (E 707). Boehme held that desire and imagination were necessary tools to know God.54 He also departed from traditional theology by asserting that God himself felt desire and used imagination. Coleridge, after his studies in Germany, agreed with Cusanus and Boehme that imagination is “the living Power and prime Agent of all human Perception” and “a repetition in the finite mind of the eternal act of creation in the infinite I AM.”55 Because our only perception of the world is a creation of imagination, Blake writes: “The Imagination is not a State: it is the Human Existence itself ” (E 132); without imagination, the world would not exist for us; and without the world, we would not be human. Yet it is the perceptual condition of the seer that determines how and what he sees. “As a man is, so he Sees” (E 702); “the Eye altering alters all” (E 485). To borrow for a moment Kant’s terms, the noumenal world is only accessible to us when it has been made by the mind into phenomena, and it is the structure and character of the mind that determine what form those phenomena will take. But I should also warn that using these terms risks making Blake into more of a dualist than he really is. We should not think of the noumenal world as raw material and phenomena as ontologically separate representations. They are not different; what we see is real. As Kathleen Lundeen writes: “I would argue that Blake is a monist trapped in a language that is predicated on binary thinking. Blake’s claim that ‘Error or Creation … is Burnt up the Moment Men cease to behold it’ [E 565] exposes dualism as a habit of perception, not a structural principle of reality.”56 It is a difficult habit to break. Blake says that imagination may fall from a higher to a lower state, so that what it perceives—what it creates—will create the fallen world. The only way to return to an unfallen world, therefore, is to revive the full imagination. Abrams writes: “to see the world wrongly is to see the wrong world, but to see it aright is to create a new earth and new heaven.”57 This is a point to which we will return. Blake’s character Los represents the imagination in its synthesizing perceptual form. Suitably for the faculty that creates everything we see, Los is depicted as a blacksmith, wielding a hammer, forging the material world. Reversing Augustine’s position, and following in the tradition of Cusanus and Boehme, Blake believes that imagination operates with the assistance of reason, but that when reason establishes itself above imagination the result is disaster. As one of the four Zoas, Los should be in balance with the others, including Urizen. When Urizen/reason rips himself separate from Los/imagination (E 74), both characters/fac-


Part III. Blake’s Criticism of Dante

ulties fall. We begin to see the world through the eyes of reason and not through the creative eyes of imagination. As Boehme taught, reason (Vernunft) takes account of the world by abstracting from it, not by seeing it in a living way.58 Instead of our imagination working on the world through creative processes, reason measures, calculates, and uses the results of these researches to form abstract concepts. No longer working in partnership with the noumena to form the phenomena as we wish, the world begins to appear cold and separate. The infinite possibilities available to free, creative imagination are narrowed to only one, because, as Hegel wrote, finite perception “takes what is present for it to be a universal.”59 That is, reason assumes that its perceptions will be the same as everyone else’s. As Coleridge put it, we are then reduced to a state in which we grasp the world through “mere understanding” and “we think of ourselves as separated beings, and place nature in antithesis to the mind, as object to subject, thing to thought, death to life.”60 Blake’s contemporary and fellow printmaker Francisco Goya made one of his most famous etchings on the theme of reason and its effects. The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters, 1797, shows a man asleep at his desk, with monstrous apparitions flying above him. The normal interpretation of Goya’s title indicates that it is dangerous for reason to go to sleep, because in its absence monsters will overwhelm us. Blake would be comfortable with the title, but would read it in a very different way. For him, it is the sleep caused by reason that produces monsters. As Morris Eaves points out, when we operate by reason, and assume that nature is not dependent on our imaginations, we may be at the mercy of monsters. But when imagination “finally realizes that the external is a metaphor invented by the imagination itself,” the result is “that the tyranny of the external world over the imagination disappears.”61 One result of fallen thinking, in which our perceptions lose their imaginative power, is the reification of social norms. In Blake’s time as in our own, supporters of the status quo gain by assuring us that “that’s just the way things are.” The cool paternal advice that nothing can be done about things, that the laws of nature require society to operate as it does now, is Urizenic thinking at its most political. It is what Marxists since Lukacs have called “second nature”—traditional norms to which we are so deeply habituated that it is nearly impossible to imagine alternatives.62 Blake, then, does not think of nature as consisting only of animal, vegetable, and mineral. Nature includes, for him, reified society as well, including the monarchy and the economic injustices that we assume will always be with us. It is nature in antithesis to mind, the world seen as object divorced from subject, that Blake calls “Nature” or “This World.” When he scolds Dante for making “This World the Foundation of All,” he is looking back on the theology of Augustine and Aquinas, as used by Dante, from the perspective of Cusanus and Boehme, and not liking what he sees. The pilgrim Dante has allowed himself to be led by reason through the larger part of his journey and has accepted the laws of nature and society. The God of the Comedy is a lawgiver, not a free creator in the hearts of individuals. The structure of the Comedy and its reasoning, unlike Blake’s own epics, willingly follow reified abstractions that are only creations of narrowed perceptions, including conventional treatment of time, space, and logical progression. As a fellow poet, Blake will not be fooled into confusing the identity of the pilgrim Dante and the poet Dante. The pilgrim may seem passive and uncreative, but he is after all a creation of the poet. And the poet has filled his book with creation and imagination rivaled

6. Remarks on the Illustration to Hell, Canto 4


by few books in history. If the Comedy were a dull recounting of things seen by the “corporeal perception,” it would not have been worth saving. As it is, Blake may help it out of its abstracted state by converting it to the less logical, more perceptual medium of painting. The above will also serve to explain why, in conversation with Crabb Robinson, Blake insisted that Dante was an “Atheist.” This is what Crabb Robinson remembered to his diary, in December of 1825: Our conversation began about Dante. [Blake said] “He [Dante] was an ‘Atheist,’ a mere politician busied about this world as Milton was, till in his old age he returned back to God whom he had had in his childhood.” I tried to get out from Blake that he meant this charge only in a higher sense, and not using the word Atheism in its popular meaning. But he would not allow this. Though when he in like manner charged Locke with Atheism and I remarked that Locke wrote on the evidences of piety and lived a virtuous life, he had nothing to reply to me nor reiterated the charge of willful deception.63

Reference to Milton and Locke here allow us to understand Blake’s odd use of the word “atheist.” We’ve already seen that Blake objected to Milton’s conception of God as a moralist. The assumption, in Paradise Lost, that God would establish a moral code and eternally punish its transgressors means that Milton has mistaken Urizen or Satan, the real creators of law, for the Christian God. (Milton “was a true Poet and of the Devils party without knowing it” [E 35].) In addition, Milton’s choice to devote his middle years to earthly politics distracted him from what Blake saw (at least by 1825) as the only real means of revolution— spiritual enlightenment through perceptual change. John Locke was an atheist, from Blake’s point of view, because he believed knowledge is gained only from this world, and not through inspiration. Throughout his work Blake uses this philosopher as a personification of fallen, Urizenic perception; it was Locke who outlined the most empirically based epistemology that Western philosophy had yet seen. His Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690) had claimed that all knowledge is gained through the senses, and that the recombination and analysis of remembered sense-impressions was the only way for people to know anything. Though himself a Christian, Locke’s work showed how people could learn and grow in the total absence of divinely given knowledge, or any sort of perception beyond the five senses. Reception of sense-impressions, the Essay states, is passive, and the only creative work that occurs in the mind is the formation of generalized, abstracted concepts out of sense-qualities. We may create the abstract noun “deliciousness,” for example, after noticing the pleasant quality of enough sample flavors. Thus Locke’s epistemology works in exactly the opposite direction to Blake’s, removing data from the world and making knowledge through abstraction, rather than seeing an object’s qualities, and then beyond those qualities to the object’s spiritual essence. Locke thought that categorizing memories of sense-impressions tells us about the “real” world, while Blake rejects such abstractions—there is no deliciousness without a delicious thing. Giving such importance to sense-data, and using it as the base of all one’s knowledge, cuts off our access to the spiritual world, which lies beyond appearances. Crabb Robinson recorded Blake’s definition of “atheism”: “Everything is Atheism which assumes the reality of the natural and unspiritual world.”6 4 And in a letter to Dorothy Wordsworth, postmarked 1826, Crabb Robinson recorded:


Part III. Blake’s Criticism of Dante according to Blake, Atheism consists in worshipping the natural world, which same natural world, properly speaking, is nothing real, but a mere illusion produced by Satan. Milton was for a great part of his life an Atheist, and therefore has fatal errors in his Paradise Lost, which he has often begged Blake to confute. Dante (though now with God) lived and died an Atheist. He was the slave of the world and time.65

Which sounds damning enough, until the letter continues: “But Dante and Wordsworth, in spite of their Atheism, were inspired by the Holy Ghost.” Blake consistently associates inspiration, true poetry, and the Holy Ghost, and contrasts these with memory, classicism, and Lockean epistemology. We can see this in his objections to a painter who, he felt, was not inspired by God, Royal Academy founder Joshua Reynolds. In the Discourses on Painting that Reynolds delivered as speeches between 1769 and 1776, and later published, the method he recommended to young artists was based on Locke’s ideas of education. The philosopher had written that we assemble general ideas from a number of sensed examples, and Reynolds thought a painter’s training should operate in the same way. While a student, an artist should sketch numerous examples of a thing—a tree, or a face—but only to abstract from those samples an ideal image. Just as Zeuxis depicted Helen by painting the best parts of many different models—the shoulder of one, the foot of another—Reynolds says no real life example is near enough to the essential to serve as an artist’s inspiration. A mature painter should work from the general idea he has abstracted and assembled. He wrote: “When the artist has by diligent attention acquired a clear and distinct idea of beauty and symmetry; when he has reduced the variety of nature to the abstract idea; his next task will be to become acquainted with the genuine habits of nature.”66 We see that for Reynolds as for Locke, the laws or “genuine habits” of nature are not to be seen directly, but deduced from memories. Blake, in the margin of his copy of the Discourses, accuses Reynolds and Locke together: Deduct from a rose its redness, from a lilly its whiteness, from a diamond its hardness, from a spunge its softness, from an oak its heighth, from a daisy its lowness, & rectify everything in Nature as the Philosophers do, & then we shall return to Chaos … [E 595] To Generalize is to be an Idiot [E 648]. They mock Inspiration & Vision [E 660]

Inspiration and vision allow us to see beyond the surface of a thing, to its life. Unlike memory, which abstracts qualities and separates dead whiteness from the living lily, the Holy Spirit inspires us to see the thing in its entirety, including its qualities and beyond these to its infinite connectedness in God. The nine Greek Muses, who were literally born of Memory, Blake associates with Reynolds’ deductive methods and with their classical origins. Twice in Milton he contrasts the daughters of memory with the daughters of inspiration, and leaves no doubt about which he prefers (E 95, 108). We already saw that after the French Revolution, poets cited the Bible as the model to follow when they turned from political revolution to spiritual change. Blake is following the same path when he declares it is the Holy Spirit who inspires art. The prophets and the Pentecost are examples of true inspiration, and not the classical poets. Blake made the Bible, in this as in everything, “the Great Code of Art” (E 274). In the Old Testament, Job is not satisfied with deduction or analysis but demands a direct vision of the divine. (In fact, his

6. Remarks on the Illustration to Hell, Canto 4


friends’ analyses all turn out to be wrong.) Ezekiel and Daniel don’t receive abstracted general principles, but monstrous apparitions. Again, we should see the Bible as true vision of the truth because it is less logical and more inspired, because “Christ addresses himself to the Man not to his Reason.… What Jesus came to Remove was the Heathen or Platonic Philosophy which blinds the Eye of Imagination The Real Man” (E 664). The visions of the prophets, the parables of Christ, and the revelations of John are direct imagination, while their exegesis is mere talk. “The Hebrew Bible & the Gospel of Jesus are not Allegory but Eternal Vision or Imagination of All that Exists” (E 544). While the Cambridge Platonists, Spinoza, and others carefully made the final book of the Bible the final acceptable use of prophetic imagination, Blake insists that true poets carry on the tradition. Blake himself had done so, and there was no reason why Dante couldn’t. How far away is Blake’s theory of imagination from Dante’s? Is the Comedy built of memory or of vision? This turns out to be a more difficult question than we might imagine. Pietro Alighieri, the poet’s son and earliest commentator, declared that his father’s Comedy was fiction, and this was enough for most subsequent critics to label the poem as no more than allegory.67 It’s customary to see Dante as a systematizer, using his powerful intellect to assemble the data gleaned from his wide reading into a great logical collage. Yet some recent scholars have suggested that he was more of a visionary than we have been led to believe. In 1941, Italian scholar Bruno Nardi published a paper called “Dante profeta”68 to posit that when Dante declared he’d seen Heaven and Hell, this was not fiction writing. Since Nardi’s article appeared, the truth-claims of the Comedy have been analyzed against the rich and various medieval traditions of visionary writing, from bella menzogna—beautiful lies to teach moral truths—to genuine claims of prophecy of the Johannine type.69 It’s possible that even if Dante did believe he’d visited the realms of the dead, in flesh or in spirit, he would not have said so. Noncanonical claims of prophecy would have caused the Church to suppress Dante’s work and place the Comedy on its list of banned books, as it did his Monarchia, and so for practical reasons he may have used one literary form to mask another, in the interest of reaching the widest possible audience. The debate about Dante’s intentions continues in our own time, and we can look forward to more research into how people of earlier ages defined truth in regard to statements on religion. For our present purpose we will leave these discussions to others and think only about what Blake would have taken from the Comedy itself. A less perspicacious reader than Blake might have believed Boyd’s Tory analysis and seen Dante as an orthodox Anglican monarchist. Multitalented in the arts as Blake was, he had equally great skill as a reader, however, so we can have faith that he could penetrate beyond received opinion to knowledge of the text that is not dependent on any critic’s system. We should look closely at Cary’s translation, to see where it comes closest to Blake’s own theology. Despite earlier interpretations that see Blake in opposition to Dante at every step, there are significant points of agreement, and one of these is the importance of revelation. As the pilgrim and Beatrice rise into the Empyrean in Paradise, canto 28, for example, the poet makes it clear that direct vision is the only method to gain knowledge of the divine. Now that Dante has risen so high, his misunderstandings are blown away like dust from the air.


Part III. Blake’s Criticism of Dante As when the north wind blows from his milder cheek A blast, that scours the sky, forthwith our air, Clear’d of the rack that hung on it before, Glitters; and, with his beauties all unveil’d, The firmament looks forth serene, and smiles: Such was my cheer, when Beatrice drove With clear reply the shadows back, and truth Was manifested, as a star in Heaven [Paradise, 28; Cary, 419–420].

The knowledge that brings contentment comes from seeing; love follows on. And all Are blessed, even as their sight descends Deeper into the Truth, wherein rest is For every mind. Thus happiness hath root In seeing, not in loving, which of sight Is aftergrowth.

The degree of each individual’s grace and blessing comes from the degree to which that soul can see. And of the seeing such The meed, as unto each, in due degree, Grace and good-will their measure have assign’d [Paradise, 28; Cary, 420].

And at the end of the canto, for good measure, we are shown a good example and a bad example: one who got his knowledge from direct vision, and was correct, and one who only calculated, and erred. Dante reminds us that both Pseudo-Dionysius the Aeropagite and Gregory the Great had written about the nine levels of angels in Heaven, but their accounts did not agree. Eventually, when Gregory reached Heaven, he saw that he had been mistaken. But soon as in this Heaven his doubting eyes Were open’d, Gregory at his error smiled.

Dante says it’s no surprise that Dionysius should get it right, because instead of relying on calculation, he had eyewitness testimony: the account of the Apostle Paul, who had travelled, Comedy-like, to Heaven to see for himself. Nor marvel, that a denizen of earth Should scan such secret truth; for he had learnt Both this and much beside of these our orbs, From an eye-witness to Heaven’s mysteries [Paradise, 28; Cary, 421].

Like Blake, then, Dante makes it clear that there is no substitute for vision. Even a great man of the church such as Pope Gregory I, a saint, smiles with recognition, knowing that all his reasonable calculation will fall away when he can see for himself. In the next canto, Beatrice explains what vision is like for those lucky beings who have not fallen into the material world. Angels have perfect vision. They are most blessed precisely because they see the most clearly.

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Know thou, that, from the first, these substances, Rejoicing in the countenance of God, Have held unceasingly their view, intent Upon the glorious vision, from the which Nought absent is nor hid: [Paradise, 29; Cary, 424]

And, most significantly when we compare Dante’s view with Blake’s, angels have no memory. They don’t need it, because they see everything directly, all at once. They have not been divided from God, they do not suffer from the illusion that they and the world are separate, and they need not reconstitute wholeness, because they have never lost it. where then no change Of newness, with succession, interrupts, Remembrance, there, needs none to gather up Divided thought and images remote.

There is no variance between the poets here. Blake and Dante agree that closeness to God does not come about through faith in things not seen or through obedience to moral strictures. And they agree that the Bible is the model for all art; that the closer one stays to the Gospels and their message, the closer one will be to the truth. Christ said not to His first conventicle, “Go forth and preach impostures to the world,” But gave them truth to build on; and the sound Was might on their lips: nor needed they, Beside the Gospel, other spear or shield, To aid them in their warfare for the faith [Paradise, 28; Cary, 425].

In the current discussion sparked by Nardi’s work, about whether we should see Dante as prophet or poet, Blake’s position would be clear: insofar as Dante was a poet, he was a prophet. Blake saw himself and all true poets as prophets and saw their working process as the same: clear vision. Where we find Blake at odds with Dante is when prophecy falls short. Canto 30 of the Paradise contains one example: Mine eyes did look On beauty, such, as I believe in sooth, Not merely to exceed our human, but, That save its Maker, none can to the full Enjoy it. At this point o’erpower’d I fail, Unequal to my theme, as never bard … hath fail’d before [Paradise, 30; Cary, 427].

Though Dante has seen the absolute beauty of the Empyrean, he cannot describe it. Here he has slipped from prophecy down into literature, from vision to memory. He has employed two traditions of thought that would be familiar to his readers but that, for Blake, fall short of what real poetry can do. The first of these traditions is the rhetorical device I mentioned earlier, in use since classical times, called the inexpressibility topos, in which the speaker describes something by saying it is indescribable. The second is the metaphor that


Part III. Blake’s Criticism of Dante

describes God’s emanation of the world and of goodness in terms of light, shining from the sun. Such language had been employed since at least Plato’s time as an analogy for the way in which God creates the world. God doesn’t broadcast actual light, as if he were a big light bulb; but it is hard for us to picture him emanating the ground of existence itself, or abstract qualities. Thus it was a commonplace to compare God to the sun, shining into the darkness to create everything that exists. The Comedy consistently employs this metaphor, describing the overwhelming perfection of God’s presence in the vocabulary of light too bright for eyes to endure. The first instance of this trope is in the second canto of the Purgatory, where Dante describes the angel who arrives bearing the souls of the newly dead: As more and more toward us came, more bright Appear’d the bird of God, nor could the eye Endure his splendour near: I mine bent down [Purgatory, 2; Cary, 153].

Long before they have reached Heaven, any sight of someone arriving from that location shines too brightly for Dante’s sight to withstand. As he rises through each level in the Paradise, the light grows brighter and brighter until, at his arrival in the Empyrean, his vision is overwhelmed. As when the lightning, in a sudden spleen Unfolded, dashes from the blinding eyes To visive spirits, dazzled and bedimm’d; So, round about me, fulminating streams Of living radiance play’d, and left me swathed And veil’d in dense impenetrable blaze [Paradise, 30; Cary, 428].

In Dante’s philosophical dialogue, the Convivio, the author explains that there are things we can say little about because of their “transcendency.”70 He continues: Here we must observe that in a certain way these things dazzle our intellect, insofar as certain things are affirmed to exist which our intellect cannot perceive (namely God, eternity, and primal matter), things which most certainly are known to exist and are with full faith believed to exist. But given the nature of their essence we cannot understand them: only by negative reasoning can we approach an understanding of these things, and not otherwise.

For Dante, then, the final layer is not visible to us in this life. He recommends “negative reasoning,” which would have made Blake reach for his angry margin-marking pencil. Even to the souls in Heaven, complete vision is impossible. Each soul receives as much of God’s emanation as it can, but this varies according to the soul’s immortal character; none receives as much as God shines forth. The souls fly near God, “Near as they can, approaching; and they can / The more, the loftier their vision” (Paradise, 28; Cary, 420). Blake probably never read the Convivio, but the limitations that Dante places on vision are clear enough from the Comedy itself. God’s transcendence, his difference from our ontological state, means that he is not visible to human eyes. God appears, but God is light, too bright to be seen directly. (Here I am referring to the epigraph of the present book, taken from Blake’s “Auguries of Innocence”: “God Appears & God is Light / To those poor Souls who dwell in Night / But does a Human Form Display / To those who Dwell in Realms of day” [E 493].) The separation of the world into that which can be seen by people, and that

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which can never be, is not acceptable to Blake. To trace the theological differences between his poetry and Dante’s, we will have to return to the writing of Cusanus and see how ideas largely rooted in that theologian’s work played an important role in Blake’s thought and the Romantic period in general, as well as in the philosophy of Hegel.

Good Infinity and Bad Infinity: Cusanus to Hegel And what is this God? I asked the earth and it answered: “I am not He”; and all things that are in the earth made the same confession. I asked the sea and the deeps and the creeping things, and they answered: “We are not your God; seek higher.” … I asked the heavens, the sun, the moon, the stars, and they answered: “Neither are we God whom you seek.”—Augustine, Confessions, 10.6 71 Whosoever … thinks God is in the heavens above the skyes; and so prayes to that God which he imagines to be there and every where … this man worships … the Devill.— Gerrard Winstanley, The New Law of Righteousness, 1648 72 O thou mortal man Seek not thy heavenly father then beyond the skies [E 114]

Between the time of Dante’s Comedy and the time of Blake’s illustrations, developments in theology occurred that were sufficient to move these two Christian poets far apart on fundamental matters. Some of these developments may be traced back to Nicholas of Cusa and have continued to evolve, not without opposition, to the present day. In this section we will pay special attention to issues of the transcendence or immanence of God, and examine how Dante and Blake differed on these important concepts. Cusanus grew up in what is now southwest Germany, in an area with many adherents to the Devotio Moderna, a movement focused on encouraging devotion among lay people through meditational practices.73 Their methods made use of objects in the sensible world as aids in imagining the transcendent. Leaders in the movement encouraged personal mysticism as a way of bringing an individual closer to God but held back from saying that complete union with God was possible in this life. They avoided earlier controversies on the subject of spiritual union by aiming only at the feeling of such union and recommended contemplative practices to encourage this feeling. Paintings from the same time and place, by Robert Campin or Rogier van der Weyden, reflect these exercises: when they show the Annunciation or other biblical events in anachronistic, contemporary settings, it is an intentional effort to bring modern Christians into closer contemplative contact with the spirit. Mystical experience through visualization was an important part of the Devotio Moderna’s practice.74 Cusanus traveled widely, including a trip to Constantinople only a few years before it fell to the Turks. There he learned about practices in the Eastern church that made use of icons as spiritual tools. More than in Western Europe, the East has a long tradition of encouraging a connection to the intelligible realm through meditation on the sensible. Opinion is divided over how much direct influence this German Renaissance man has had on others. Ernst Cassirer, in his book The Individual and the Cosmos in Renaissance Philosophy, introduced Cusanus as the most important thinker of the Quattrocento and attributed to him enormous influence. More recently, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy


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declared that except for Giordano Bruno, Cusanus’ work made little impact until his rediscovery in the late nineteenth century. Morimichi Watanabe claims that Cusanus’s influence was “rather modest,” but lists, among others, Pico della Mirandola, Johann Kepler, Bruno, Leibniz, Kant, Lessing, and Hegel among those who learned from him—not exactly a list of slackers.75 We can avoid wading into the debates about influences but still gain from a brief examination of Cusanus’ philosophy, because it serves as a starting point from which to see several important theological issues. Among his most significant original ideas was a new theory of the relationship of the spiritual, infinite realm to the material finite. Cusanus’ theories on the immanent nature of the infinite in the finite were a major refinement of the Neoplatonic views that had prevailed in the Church for centuries. Plato’s ontology requires the absolute separation of idea and matter. The intelligible and the sensible, higher and lower, divine and earthly, exist in different realms. Aristotle criticized this view and offered instead his doctrine of hylomorphism, in which both idea and matter are of this world. Plato’s transcendent “idea,” εἶδος, becomes for Aristotle μορφή, form. Form does not exist independently in a transcendent realm, as do Plato’s “ideas”; there is no form without matter, or matter without form. Plato’s world of ideals exists over and above us, and the material things of our world reflect or mime those ideals, without the intermingling of the two realms. Aristotle’s Prime Mover, on the other hand, sends out his force, via the stars and celestial spheres, in a continuous, unbroken line to each part of the universe. His universe is a finite, continuous space, and he has no need for the concept of transcendence. Whereas Plato’s “ideas” are eternal and the things of this world reflect them in better or worse degrees, Aristotle sees continuous development from form to form (for example, youth to old age), with no given state being closer to a higher world than any other. Plotinus and the other Neoplatonic philosophers tried to unite these systems. They retain from Plato, as a fundamental principle, the transcendental: the absolute opposition between the intelligible and the sensible. But they imagine the transcendental world to be operating in the manner described by Aristotle’s concept of development. This combination—development in the material world stimulated by the transcendent—led the Neoplatonists to create the concept of “emanation,” a kind of shining-out of existence. Cassirer writes: The absolute remains as the super-finite, the super-one, and the super-being, pure in itself. Nevertheless, because of the super-abundance in it, the absolute overflows, and from this super-abundance it produces the multiformity of the universe, down to formless matter as the extreme limit of non-being.76

In other words, Plotinus’ One is transcendent, as Plato’s world of ideas is, but it operates largely as Aristotle’s Prime Mover had done, by pouring its influence into the world. Thus Plotinus can agree with Aristotle that in the sensible realm finite forms develop, while asserting that the higher realm, the purely intelligible, is a separate realm of the ideal and the infinite. His view became the standard Christian one throughout the Middle Ages. Thomas Aquinas, though his thought was Aristotelian in so many respects, agreed with Plotinus that there must be a metaphysical infinite, which, of course, Thomas called the Christian God. Cusanus didn’t doubt that God is infinite and ideal, or that our world is fallen. His originality was in his explanation of how these worlds interpenetrate. As a mathematician,

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he knew that we can’t reach infinity by counting up to a very large number and then adding one more. Infinity, by definition, cannot be reached. Cassirer writes: All measurement, comparison, and syllogizing that runs along the thread of empirical existence must also end within that realm. Within the empirical world this movement can go on indefinitely; but this limitless progression going on indefinitely does not embrace the infinite which is in fact the absolute Maximum of determination.77

God remains transcendent, in that he is unreachable, beyond our vision or calculation. As the maximum, the infinite, and the absolute, God encompasses everything. To say he is the alpha and omega, the first and the last, seems reasonable enough. But to say that he is also the biggest and the smallest, or the straightest and the roundest, or the heaviest and the lightest, is harder to imagine. How can God be both straight and round? Yet if God is truly infinite, he must encompass everything. Though later mathematicians would disagree, Cusanus thought that an infinite with something outside it, an infinite that doesn’t include everything is not infinite, by definition. Therefore God is both the straightest and the roundest. In our finite world, in which the principle of contradiction holds sway, such a coincidence is unthinkable. A thing that is straight may not also be round. Yet God, being infinite, excludes nothing. (This is the key point.) We can see that by including everything at once, by causing all contradictory things to coincide in him, God is the One, is the unity of all. And because a truly infinite God must be excluded from nowhere and be present everywhere, God must be immanent in every part of our world, not something distant. The Aristotelian, Ptolemaic cosmos, which Dante believed in, saw our finite world as a sort of bubble within, but separate from, the infinite. The center of the bubble is the center of the earth. From that center to the orbit of the moon, everything is made of various combinations of the four elements: earth, water, air, and fire. From the moon to the stars the spheres are made of the fifth element, aether. This element, being unmixed, does not decay, but it does allow perfect, unchanging movement. Leaving the bubble, above the level of the fixed stars, beyond the spheres visible to astronomers, we encounter a fundamental difference. The space above the fixed stars is not made of any material, because if we rise to that level we have left the material world. In fact, there is no space there, either, or time. The intelligible realm is not a realm of less or more, nearer or farther away, before or after. It is the absolute, God himself. Cusanus rejected this system. In his cosmology as in his theology, Cusanus did not allow a space that is not a part of the infinite. He rejected the ancient idea of pure matter below and pure spirit above. If the finite is included in the infinite, then there must be no boundary between the two—there must be nowhere where the infinite is not. It’s difficult to overstate the revolutionary quality of this idea. Before Copernicus and before Kepler, nearly a century before Galileo’s trial, Cusanus rejected the whole Ptolemaic system and declared that the earth is not the center, that the earth moves, and that in fact there is no center, other than God. He still believed that the sun rotated around the earth, but he conceived of both moving in an infinite void. Because the universe is not a limited bubble within God, the cosmos must be infinite. And because something with no circumference or edges can have no center, it makes no sense to speak of the earth at the center of the universe. And because in a centerless, edgeless space all movement must only occur in relation to other objects, the stillness of the earth


Part III. Blake’s Criticism of Dante

and the motions of the planets occur only relative to our observations. Cusanus even imagined that there were alien observers on other planets, to whom the earth appeared as a star in motion. Indeed, the perspective of the observer became a key point for Cusanus, when he turned his attention to the problem of how the infinite and the finite came to be perceived as different. If the infinite is present at every point of our world, and God is immanent everywhere, why can we not see that? Why is our vision so narrow? Cusanus concluded, and Kant more famously elaborated, that each being sees only as he is able. The phenomena that a subject creates from his perception of the noumena are determined by his abilities to perceive—by the accident of what the physical body can receive and what the mind can comprehend. God, the infinite noumenon, is One. As material beings, though, we only perceive the noumenon by dividing it into comprehensible elements. The Japanese character that shows a blade, cutting up from below, 分, means both “divide” and “understand.” Cusanus would find this appropriate. The infinite noumenon is there, but due to our limitations we may not see it directly. For us to understand it we must see difference, and division; we have to chop it up, and lose the complete vision of its unending interconnectedness. It is our process of understanding, as limited beings, then, that creates the illusion of finiteness. The very process through which we understand is also the process that blocks our access to the infinite. If we could see as God sees, there would be no finiteness. As an example, we can imagine how it is that our minds create the concept of “now” out of the infinity of time. God does not feel individual moments of time as “now” and “then,” because he is capable of seeing every moment in infinity simultaneously. As Cassirer writes, the human mind “is not so much in time, as time is in it.”78 How then may we improve our vision? Here we may see the influence of Devotio Moderna and the Eastern use of icons on Cusanus’ thinking. We do not see more through improving our knowledge, obviously, because knowing is the very process that separates us. Cusanus approaches the problem by introducing his concept of “Learned Ignorance.” The first step in this educated not-knowing is to end our vain habit of attempting to analyze God through concepts. This sounds similar enough to the negative theology of Pseudo-Dionysius, which declares that we may never make any positive statement about what God is, because that would limit our concept of God, and God is limitless. (Pseudo-Dionysius was in fact one of Cusanus’ most significant influences.) What is original is the idea that we can see more of God if we see more of the world. Bellitto explains it this way: Through introspective vision, the mind can see what is invisible to regular sight. The mind does not directly see the infinite potential of God himself, but sees the myriad ways in which it is manifested in the material world—in their particulars, not in concepts. We don’t see the ultimate unity of things that is God, but we do see that unity showing itself in multiplicity.79

The goal is not to form abstract concepts from observation. The best we can do is to see directly and introspectively as many particulars of the material world as we can, from as many different viewpoints as possible. God exists in these particulars, though he exists in more particulars than we can ever possibly observe. If we can imagine something like the totality of all particulars, unfolding in all its richness, we have done the best we can. We must not forget that Cusanus was, naturally, a Christian, and his theology was particularly centered on the role of Christ in the world. All this talk of the infinite in the finite

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takes on a more familiar tone when we think that the best example of the two together is the person of Jesus, who was both God and man. And though under our own power we may not see the infinite directly, Jesus is merciful and came to show the way—so that with him, all vision is possible. As we will see, Blake agreed. How could Cusanus get away with radical notions such as a non-geocentric universe, when Galileo and Giordano Bruno were punished for similar ideas? In part it was due to his good relations with, and practical work for, the Church. In addition to serving as bishop of Brixen he performed so many duties for the Church that Aeneas Sylvius Piccolomini, later Pope Pius II, compared him to Hercules. More importantly, as Cassirer points out, the challenges of the Protestants in the century after Cusanus caused the Vatican to hew to a stricter line on speculative issues in Galileo’s time than in Cusanus’s.80 Indeed, it was the Protestants who took Cusanus’s theories about the immanence of God in our world and developed them into more extreme forms. Just as Locke, who was a Christian, laid the groundwork for an epistemology without God, Cusanus prepared the way for a theology that he would have opposed. Cusanus never doubted the transcendence of God, never heretically claimed that there is no God independent of the material world. Later thinkers, however, used his ideas to build a theology of absolute immanence, in which the world we know and God are identical, or even, as in Blake’s case, to say that God only exists in the hearts of people. Today the Catholic Encyclopedia contains only a terse entry on Cusanus that barely mentions his originality,81 while the entry on immanence chastises at length believers in absolute immanence as heretical liberal Protestants.82 Pope Pius IX, who served as pontiff from 1846 to 1878, found it necessary to issue a special encyclical to denounce the heresies of, among other things, believing that “[t]here is no supreme, all-wise and all-provident Divine Being distinct from the universe; God is one with nature and therefore subject to change; He becomes God in man and the world; all things are God and have His substance; God is identical with the world, spirit with matter[.]”83 One of those liberal Protestants the pope had in mind was Jacob Boehme, who was among William Blake’s most important influences. Boehme was another German of mystical tendencies. Following a visionary experience he began to study the writings of Paracelsus and the German mystical tradition, and he benefited from the revival of esoteric learning that occurred around the court of Rudolph II in Prague. In this way he absorbed ideas from the sources and the descendants of Cusanus, but he developed them in ways that would have shocked the bishop of Brixen.84 Boehme’s thought exemplifies the heresies that Pius IX named. He taught that there is no God distinct from the universe—the universe is the body of God. He believed that God is one with nature and therefore subject to change—in fact, the evolution of God is a fundamental element of Boehme’s theology. And he wrote that God becomes himself in man and the world—God requires the presence of people to realize himself, to become fully God. Not only is God immanent in the world, as Cusanus taught; God is immanent here and exists nowhere else; he exists as an active process within the world, unfolding within history.85 For Boehme, the original, undivided substance of the world is nothing: a special kind of nothing that he called the Ungrund—un-ground, sometimes translated as “the Abyss.” The Ungrund is “called a nothing (though it is God Himself ) because it is inconceivable and inexpressible.”86 It is the infinite, and it is God’s original condition. “When I consider


Part III. Blake’s Criticism of Dante

what God is, then, I say, he is the One; in reference to the Creature as an Eternal Nothing. He has neither Foundation, Beginning, or Abode.… he is in himself only one; he needs neither Space, or Place.… He is neither like or resembles any thing and has no peculiar Place where he dwells.”87 As Fischer explains it, the Ungrund is pure potentiality.88 Boehme’s heresy—or new insight, if you prefer—is to show that this original undivided potentiality is God, but it is God not yet conscious of himself. Like Cusanus or Kant, Boehme believes that for humans to perceive the infinite noumenal preexistence, we must divide it and convert it into phenomena. Unlike his predecessor, Boehme believes that such a procedure is necessary even for God to know himself: [B]efore … this world there was nothing but God from Eternity; and after this world, there will be nothing but God in Eternity; but the cause why we comprehend not this, is because there is no comprehensibility in God. For where is a Comprehensibility … there is beginning and end.89

Before there was a beginning, God comprehended nothing. Comprehension requires comparing, separating, this-different-from-that, 分. The Ungrund lacks difference or division, and so even God, of whom the Ungrund consists, cannot understand it. The series of events that causes God to fall into consciousness, to form the Trinity and achieve his potential, is so elaborate that we cannot describe it here in detail. Boehme says it comes about because of the unity of opposites that exist in God. Cusanus had seen the Coincidentia Oppositorum as unchanging stability, but Boehme credits it with the beginning and development of our world and of God. In Hegel’s Lectures on the History of Philosophy the later philosopher gives Boehme a very prominent place. He writes that Boehme “represents God not as the empty unity, but as this self-separating unity of absolute opposites.” It is the presence of the contraries that causes a split in God, a separation of wrath and love that prompts the infinite unity to begin to become conscious to itself. Hegel writes: God as the simple absolute existence is not God absolutely; in Him nothing can be known. What we know is something different—but this “different” is itself contained in God as the perception and knowledge of God. Hence of the second step Boehme says that a separation must have taken place in this temperament.90

And he goes on to quote Boehme: No thing can become manifest to itself without opposition; for if it has nothing to withstand it, it always goes forward on its own account and does not go back within itself. But if it does not go back into itself as into that from which it originally arose, it knows nothing of its original state.

The Ungrund is infinite, and so when it does come into consciousness of itself it does so everywhere. The creation of the material world is not, as it was for the Neoplatonists, an overflowing of an already ideal and self-subsistent God. For Boehme, the material world is a necessary development in God’s evolution: “The spiritual substance must needs bring itself into a material ground, wherein it may so figure and form itself .”91 Even for God, knowledge is accomplished through seeing, and for this, God, the uncreated, needs to see himself in the created world.

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God “hath manifested himself by the externall World in a similtude, that the spirit might see it selfe in the Being essentially, and not so onely, but that the Creature likewise might contemplate and behold the being of God in the Figure, and know it”92

Most importantly for us, God’s process of self-creation takes place in the human heart as well. Thou canst name no place, either in heaven or in this world, where the divine birth is not. The birth of the divine Trinity likewise takes place in thine own heart; all three persons are generated in thy heart, God the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. In the divine power everywhere we find the fountain spring of the divine birth.93

Hegel remarks on this interiorization of God: [W]hat marks [Boehme] out and makes him noteworthy is the Protestant principle already mentioned of placing the intellectual world within one’s own mind and heart, and of experiencing and knowing and feeling in one’s own self-consciousness all that formerly was conceived as a Beyond.

The New Testament principle, which we remarked on above, of transferring God’s law from stone tablets onto the heart, is here expanded to include God’s struggles as well. As God undergoes the dialectical struggle toward self-realization, people do as well. The quotes from Hegel in the paragraphs above are all from his explication of Boehme’s work, but in his own philosophy there are sentences that could have been written by either man. From Hegel’s Encyclopedia Logic, we can see the similarity of their views on the immanence of God: “We usually suppose that the Absolute must lie far beyond; but it is precisely what is wholly present, what we, as thinkers, always carry with us and employ[.]”94 There are many more concepts that have close parallels in the two men’s work. Boehme’s separation of God into contraries, which battle and create, reminds us of Hegel’s dialectic of history, and God’s realization as it takes place in the minds of people is recalled in the development of Geist. For our purposes, interested as we are in the immanence or transcendence of God, we may make use of Hegel’s notions, also owing much to Boehme and Cusanus, of “good infinity” and “bad infinity.” Hegel’s Schlechte Unendlichkeit was until recently translated as “bad infinity,” though Wayne M. Martin suggests that use of the word “bad” here is misleading. To call this infinity “bad” implies that it is a variety of infinity, an infinity that is bad.95 Martin suggests instead the word “spurious” as a translation of Schlechte, to make clear that Hegel intended Schlechte Unendlichkeit as something that is not actually infinity at all. Punter uses “false” to contrast this notion with “real” infinity: “The false infinite, which is infinity conceived only in the crypto-quantitative terms of the understanding ; and the real infinite, which resides not beyond but within finite objects.”96 Here we see that Hegel has discovered or rediscovered Cusanus’s idea that the infinite cannot be over and above, separate from our world, but must include the finite. Hegel goes beyond Cusanus in his expectation about how people may think of this infinite, however. Whereas Cusanus (as well as St. Augustine and Kant) felt that people could never fully conceive of the infinite, despite its presence in the world, Hegel does not see such a limitation. Hyppolite describes Hegel’s thinking this way: “Finite human thought is not trapped in its own finitude; it surpasses itself and what it reveals or manifests is Being itself.”97 The opti-


Part III. Blake’s Criticism of Dante

mistic idea that people may see Being itself, and are not inevitably separate from the transcendental, is shared by William Blake. This, we will see, is one of the key differences he has with Dante and one of the reasons he kindly undertook the correction and completion of The Divine Comedy.

Blake’s Infinity Versus Dante’s Infinity Jacob Boehme wrote, “When I take up a stone or clod of earth and look upon it, I see that which is above and that which is below, indeed [I see] the whole world therein.”98 Blake wrote of the ability “To see a World in a Grain of Sand / And a Heaven in a Wild Flower / Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand / And Eternity in an hour” (E 490). Boehme said, “[I]f … thy Eyes were opened, then in that very Place where thou standest, sittest or liest, thou shouldst see the glorious Countenance or Face of God, and the whole heavenly Gate.”99 And Blake insisted, “If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would / appear to man as it is: infinite” (E 39). Boehme and Blake have taken Cusanus’s claims about infinity to a logical conclusion. Infinity, as we saw, cannot be separate from our finite world, because an infinity with limits is not really infinite. Likewise, infinity cannot be divided, because you can’t slice infinity down the middle and have half an infinity. If infinity is everywhere, then, and also indivisible, it must be present in its undivided entirety everywhere, in every clod, every grain of sand, every human heart, every particle of the universe. All of Boehme’s works were translated into English and published in England from 1645 to 1662, and various editions, selections, and interpretations continued to appear through the next two centuries.100 The parallels between the German’s writing and John Milton’s have led scholars to conclude that elements of Behmenist thought may be identified in Paradise Lost.101 Interest in Boehme gained encouragement from Jane Lead (1623–1704), a visionary and religious writer, who published numerous books and pamphlets on his work and founded the Philadelphian Society in London in 1697 specifically to study his ideas. She was among a large number of British antinomians and independent religionists who read Boehme, including George Fox, who founded the Quakers.102 There is solid evidence that Blake knew of at least one famous edition of Boehme’s works. We know that he praised the illustrations in William Law’s set of translations, telling Crabb Robinson, “[E]ven Michael Angelo could not have done better.”103 And Blake claimed converse with the long-dead visionary, writing to his friend Flaxman, “Behmen appeard to me” (E 707). It’s easy enough to see how Boehme’s immanentist views would find favor with Blake and other anti-monarchical antinomians. A hierarchical view of theology and cosmology implies top-down rule, and justifies, at least in the minds at the top, the view that the monarchy is the will of God. Blake pointed out early in his career that “the vulgar” had been enslaved by those who caused them to forget that “[a]ll deities reside in the human breast” (E 38). Since Blake’s time, less religious people have also seen transcendental views of God as allied with an oppressive status quo. Ludwig Feuerbach’s 1841 The Essence of Christianity, which made a deep impression on Marx and Engels, describes religion in terms with which

6. Remarks on the Illustration to Hell, Canto 4


Blake would have agreed completely, insofar as it is speaking about the common religion of his day: Religion is the disuniting of man from himself; he sets God before him as the antithesis of himself. God is not what man is—man is not what God is. God is the infinite, man the finite being; God is perfect, man imperfect; God eternal, man temporal; God almighty, man weak; God holy, man sinful. God and man are extremes: God is the absolutely positive, the sum of all realities; man the absolutely negative, comprehending all negations.104

Of course Blake would have said that true religion is none of these things. True religion, as Boehme taught, sets us free from such illusions. Why, according to Blake, have we have allowed the status quo to disunite us from ourselves? Why do we not see the infinite, despite being in the midst of it? To answer these questions, we will examine more closely his understanding of nature and recall what was written above about perception and the imagination. Here we must introduce another of the characters from Blake’s original mythology: Vala. As in the case of Urizen, her name is thought to be a pun with at least two references. S. Foster Damon concludes that her name is derived from “Völuspa,” a Scandinavian guardian spirit of the earth.105 (Wagner, with no input from Blake, used the name Vala as an alternative name for Erda, the earth goddess in Sieg fried.) For Blake, too, she is a kind of earth goddess, but not necessarily a kind one. She is the portion of the undivided One that we can perceive with our corporeal senses and is therefore most commonly known to people in our fallen condition as Nature. The name Vala is also reminiscent of “veil,” because people have fallen into the habit of looking only with the senses—not the imagination—and so Vala becomes a sort of veil, covering the true face of what is. Recall now that Blake’s epistemology is not an account of passive sense-reception. Blake, like Cusanus and Kant, conceives of perception as an active process, involving the imagination, that depends very much on the condition of the perceiver. What we face is not a dead thing that our mind mirrors, but an infinite noumenon from which we create a world. The sort of world we create depends on how we image it. In Jerusalem, Blake wrote, “[I]n your own Bosom you bear your Heaven and Earth & all you behold; tho’ it appears Without, it is Within” (E 225). Nature may appear to be out there, separate from us, but in fact it is something we actively assemble. An “atheist,” for Blake, is someone who has forgotten this fact and thinks that what he sees is independent of himself, dead matter. We can trace the process of the “atheist’s” misunderstanding, its occasion and its correction, in the story of Vala. The character first appears in the long unfinished poem now usually referred to as The Four Zoas, although when Blake began work on the manuscript, in about 1797, it was titled Vala. She appears mostly near the beginning and end of the poem, and though other characters are named more frequently, Vala plays a key role in the story. The work was intended as an epic, telling of “The Universal Man” and His fall into Division & his Resurrection to Unity His fall into the Generation of Decay & Death & his Regeneration by the Resurrection from the dead [E 301]

The Fall creates the veil of nature, the attractive but dangerous perception of a nature separate from ourselves. In this account Urizen begins as one of the Four Zoas, the four fac-


Part III. Blake’s Criticism of Dante

ulties of the Universal Man. Here, though, the Fall isn’t due to his own usurpation of power. Albion, the Universal Man, wearied by passion, calls him and says: Take thou possession! take this Scepter! go forth in my might For I am weary, & must sleep in the dark sleep of Death [E 313]

Urizen first exults, because he has been handed the reins of power, but soon enough he becomes afraid. No more Exulting for he saw Eternal Death beneath Pale he beheld futurity; pale he beheld the Abyss ……………… Mighty was the draught of Voidness to draw Existence in Terrific Urizen strode above, in fear & pale dismay He saw the indefinite space beneath & his soul shrunk with horror His feet upon the verge of Non Existence

The Abyss is the emptiness of nonexistence, which reason rightly fears. But remember that “Abyss” is also the English translation of Boehme’s Ungrund, the original state of God, the noumenon before it is perceived even by God himself. Reason cannot face the One on its own, without imagination. When he tries to, the living interconnectedness of everything goes unseen due to the fact that he must abstract in order to understand. Reason’s ascent to control causes the “Petrifying [of ] all the Human Imagination into rock & sand” (E 314). Urizen’s fear of the Abyss causes him to create a new domain of false safety, called the Mundane Shell. He calls on Luvah and Vala and commands them: Divide ye bands of influence by influence Build we a Bower for heavens darling in the grizly deep Build we the Mundane Shell around the Rock of Albion

The Zoas, man’s various faculties, are no longer working in concert. They divide their tasks according to their separate abilities and build what Urizen believes is a necessary protective container. The result, though, is a separation of part from part. The ability to perceive by imagination is lost, and the illusion of separation begins: Their eyes their ears nostrils & tongues roll outward they behold What is within now seen without they are raw to the hungry wind They become Nations far remote in a little & dark Land [E 314]

Luvah, who represents passion and was one of the four Zoas before the Fall, is dangerous in such a world, because, as we all know, passion may upset the order that reason has built. Therefore Luvah was cast into the Furnaces of affliction & sealed And Vala fed in cruel delight, the furnaces with fire Stern Urizen beheld urg’d by necessity to keep The evil day afar, & if perchance with iron power He might avert his own despair; in woe & fear he saw Vala incircle round the furnaces where Luvah was clos’d In joy she heard his howlings, & forgot he was her Luvah With whom she walkd in bliss, in times of innocence & youth [E 317]

6. Remarks on the Illustration to Hell, Canto 4


Before the Fall, Luvah/passion and Vala/nature lived in bliss together. As long as imagination controls perception, and man is free to form the world as he wishes, human emotions are never out of step with the world of nature around them. Now that they have forgotten their connection, however, nature causes only suffering. Cooperation becomes impossible; nature resists and attacks us. There can be no winner here. Without living connections, nature soon becomes a dead thing, burnt up. And when Luvah age after age was quite melted with woe The fires of Vala faded like a shadow cold & pale An evanescent shadow. last she fell a heap of Ashes Beneath the furnaces a woful heap in living death Then were the furnaces unseald with spades & pickaxes Roaring let out the fluid, the molten metal ran in channels Cut by the plow of ages held in Urizens strong hand In many a valley, for the Bulls of Luvah dragd the Plow [E 318]

In this sad state, we reach a sort of industrial landscape, in which nature is ashes and the passions are yoked to reason’s plow. As more literal-minded socialists were to warn some years later, alienation from one another, which is alienation from nature, and the fear of passions unconstrained by reason, lead to a world more dead than alive. Urizen himself realizes that the immense work that has gone into his ordered society has not brought happiness. He meets Vala in her fallen condition, sees that the two of them are unreconciled, and regrets that labor in his world is unsatisfying. Two wills they had two intellects & not as in times of old This Urizen percievd & silent brooded in darkning Clouds To him his Labour was but Sorrow [E 320]

There is a long wait, though, before Vala regains her original form. The final chapter of the poem describes the Last Judgment and shows how the four Zoas may be reunited in Universal Man. Resurrection, of course, comes only through Christ. Shortly before the resurrection occurs in Vala, Blake writes, “The Lamb of God has rent the Veil of Mystery soon to return” (E 385). Now we see Vala subsumed into traditional biblical symbolism: the veil of the Temple, which separated the worshippers from God in the Old Testament (Exod. 26:33) and which tears at the moment of Christ’s death on the cross (Matt. 27:51), is shown to be the veil of nature, which has been separating us from the infinite One. Then the Universal Man begins the task of gathering the elements of himself that he had thought were separate: Man looks out in tree & herb & fish & bird & beast, collecting up the scatter’d portions of his immortal body into the Elemental forms of every thing that grows [E 385]

Finally the regenerated man can tell Luvah and Vala to resume their former roles: They must renew their brightness & their disorganizd functions Again reorganize till they resume the image of the human Cooperating in the bliss of Man obeying his Will Servants to the infinite & Eternal of the Human form [E 395]


Part III. Blake’s Criticism of Dante

Passion and nature are a portion of man, not separate things that act upon him. Resurrection occurs when the various portions have regained their cooperation within man’s totality. Luvah and Vala go to the garden of Beulah, the level or condition of man’s being where he rests from the effort of Eden’s eternal changes. Vala is restored to her role as a creation and partner of passion, intended to give rest. She sings: My Luvah here hath placd me in a Sweet & pleasant Land And given me fruits & pleasant waters & warm hills & cool valleys Here will I build myself a house & here Ill call on his name Here Ill return when I am weary & take my pleasant rest So spoke the Sinless Soul & laid her head on the downy fleece Of a curld Ram who stretchd himself in sleep beside his mistress And soft sleep fell upon her eyelids in the silent noon of day [E 397]

When reason has returned to its proper function as only one of man’s faculties, in balance with passion and imagination, nature too is restored. Reason sees nature as something to be used and tamed, because he can only see it through abstracted dead concepts. When full vision is restored, and the Universal Man sees the living connection of all things, nature is beautiful again. In theological terms, we are once more in territory that is heretical, or at least heterodox. Dante would not have agreed that nature will be saved. In the early Christian era Origen and St. Gregory of Nyssa taught the doctrine of apokatastasis, restitutio in pristinum statum, which said that not only obedient souls but all parts of creation would be redeemed at the Last Judgment. This was accepted by Erigena and others, but the Church declared it anathema in 543. Milton seems to have considered the idea that his Satan might be redeemed, and a number of the antinomian sects believed it. To sum this all up, then, here is Blake’s definition of nature. Nature is the portion of the Ungrund or noumenon that we can perceive with our regular fallen senses. It is not an illusion, any more than anything else we perceive is an illusion, because everything we perceive is a creation of our minds’ imaginative powers. And everything we perceive is real, while we are perceiving it. But to limit ourselves to nature as commonly perceived is to cut ourselves off from the infinity of which that nature is a portion. Such a limited position Blake calls atheism. When we become atheists, by this definition, nature becomes a realm to which we are not intrinsically connected, and therefore we feel we may employ those disconnected portions as reason sees fit, chopping them up further and molding them to the practical demands of reason. If we reopen our eyes, however, we come to see that (1) what we perceive is interconnected with everything else, that the whole world is contained in every particle of nature, and that (2) since perception is what shapes the noumenon into a world, the world really is different when perceived differently. In our ideal condition, when we spend our days in Eden and create the world freely through imagination, nature serves as a state of rest. Dante’s view of nature, in comparison to Blake’s, is traditional and will be familiar to students of Neoplatonism. Hylomorphism as explained in the Comedy is very much the post–Plotinus, Christian version. The soul is, as Aristotle taught, the form of the body, but according to Dante it can be transported from place to place without a body in tow. In fact, the body begins to form in the womb without a soul present. God doesn’t breathe the soul

6. Remarks on the Illustration to Hell, Canto 4


into the fetus until the brain reaches a stage adequate to receive it. The soul finds itself in the flesh of the embryo, and then puts the flesh to work forming a body. Know, soon as in the embryo, to the brain Articulation is complete, then turns The primal Mover with a smile of joy On such great work of nature; and imbreathes New spirit replete with virtue, that what here Active it finds, to its own substance draws; And forms an individual soul, that lives, And feels, and bends reflective on itself [Purgatory, 25; Cary, 254].

Note the use of the word “nature” in the passage above. (Dante’s Italian says natura.) Nature has made the embryo already, with a brain whose “articulation is complete.” God doesn’t step in until that point, and adds his unique non-natural component. When the physical body dies, the soul leaves it and feels itself more keenly, unencumbered by the heavy flesh. When Lachesis hath spun the thread, the soul Takes with her both the human and the divine, Memory, intelligence, and will, in act Far keener than before; the other powers Inactive all and mute [Purgatory, 25; Cary, 254].

Though Dante says there is “No pause allow’d” between the soul’s leaving its first fleshly body and the creation of its spiritual one, the soul does have time to feel itself freed from the weight of flesh. Dante explains the hylomorphic process in the Purgatory, at the level where gluttony is expunged. The pilgrim wonders at the fact that the shades in this part of Purgatory appear emaciated even though they have no flesh that needs nourishment. Statius, now traveling with the pilgrim and Virgil, explains to him how the soul forms for itself an appropriate body out of whatever materials it finds at hand. In the womb the soul found flesh to work with; in Purgatory it is air alone. Dante compares the air-body to a rainbow: Soon as the place Receives her, round the plastic virtue beams, Distinct as in the living limbs before: And as the air, when saturate with showers, The casual beam refracting, decks itself With many a hue; so here the ambient air Weareth that form, which influence of the soul Imprints on it [Purgatory, 25; Cary, 255]

The soul feels a sort of spiritual emaciation, so the body it forms from air appears to the viewer to be emaciated. This is a sort of hylomorphism, but to preserve the Christian idea that God is transcendent and that the soul comes directly from God, Dante cannot maintain that form, like matter, is entirely a part of the world. There is an ontological difference. Soul belongs to a


Part III. Blake’s Criticism of Dante

transcendent realm, although it gives itself a physical body while it lives among matter. The uneasy relation of the two is compared in the Convivio to a man treading water. There, Dante writes about the human soul which, although it is partly free from matter, is also partly impeded by it, like a man who is entirely in the water except for his head, of whom it cannot be said that he is entirely in the water or entirely out of it.106

The transcendent God and the material earth are not, as in Blake’s system, fully integrated. Dante believes that God places the souls of people directly into the world one by one, but the physical elements receive his influence only indirectly. As I mentioned before, the central sphere of the universe is made of the four elements, and the other spheres, from the moon to the fixed stars, are of aether. God is above all of these. Shortly after lifting off for Heaven, Dante wonders about the composition of the planetary spheres and their difference from the material world below. Beatrice explains: I see, thou sayst, the air, the fire I see, The earth and water, and all things of them Compounded, to corruption turn, and soon Dissolve [Paradise, 7; Cary, 323].

As we know too well, anything made of the four elements will decay and crumble, and material bodies die. Yet, Dante reasons, if all things derive from God, why aren’t the objects of the world eternal? How can God make something that falls apart? His guide tells him that although God made the original four elements, the mixtures of the elements that form objects are not the direct work of God. The material world feels the influence of God mediated by the planetary spheres, the stars. the elements, Which thou hast named, and what of them is made, Are by created virtue inform’d: create, Their substance; and create, the informing virtue In these bright stars, that round them circling move [Paradise, 7; Cary, 323].

The substances of the material world, and the stars that influence the world, were created by God. The objects in our world made of the elements, on the other hand, are contingent. Their makeup depends on God’s influence only as it is distributed and dispersed by the aetherial spheres. Even the soul, placed in the embryo by God, feels the influences of the stars at the moment the baby is born. Thus our personalities are not left in the pure state in which God created them but are swayed by astrological means to have one sort of temper or another. Plants possess only what Thomas Aquinas called “vegetative” souls. Animals have souls that are “vegetative” and “sensitive,” but not “rational.” Rational souls have to come directly from God. Therefore the souls of lower life forms are fully of the material world. Their appetitive and sensing powers seem near to human powers (we have those powers also), but they lack the transcendental element that only humans possess.

6. Remarks on the Illustration to Hell, Canto 4


The soul of every brute and of each plant, The ray and motion of the sacred lights, Draw from complexion with meet power endued [Paradise, 7; Cary, 323].

Cary’s translation is a bit tangled here. Singleton’s is easier to follow, if unpoetic: “The soul of every beast and of the plants is drawn from a potentiate compound by the shining and the motion of the holy lights.”107 Plants and animals draw all of their influence via the stars, and lacking the higher soul, they don’t feel a love of God. Human souls, however, despite the geographical and ontological distance between us and God, still feel a pull toward the highest place, the souls’ point of origin. The influences of the stars cannot erase the desire to rejoin God. But this our life the Eternal Good inspires Immediate, and enamours of itself; So that our wishes rest for ever here [in Heaven] [Paradise 7; Cary, 323].

And in Singleton’s version: “but your life the Supreme Beneficence breathes forth without intermediary, and so enamors it of Itself that it desires It ever after.” A bit higher in the solar system, Charles Martel explains to Dante how the stars’ influence operates on souls in the world and why such contingent effects are good. He says: In her circuitous course, Nature, that is the seal to mortal wax, Doth well her art, but no distinction owns ’Twixt one or other household [Paradise, 8; Cary, 328].

Here, “nature” includes the stars. Astrological effects are like a seal on wax, impressing personality and talents into individuals. But the stars are indifferent; they don’t make choices about where or on whom they will endow their seals. Thus the household of a soldier may give birth to priests, or the child of musicians may become a blacksmith. Two sentences later we read of “Nature, in generation,” which is the sublunar sphere. (Singleton opts for “begotten nature”—the Italian is Natura generata.) Astrological influence is called “Providence celestial”: Were it not That Providence celestial overruled, Nature, in generation, must the path Traced by the generator still pursue Unswervingly [Paradise, 7; Cary, 329].

Dante thought that the father of the child supplied the form and the mother the material, like a seed and a flower pot. Lacking a knowledge of combined parental DNA, Dante thought that without the influence of the stars, each child would be exactly like its father. Inheritance without astrology would be “unswerving,” but the stars “overrule” direct descent and give each child abilities different from the father’s. Though every occurrence in the sublunar world is contingent on the stars, if we trace stellar influence up through the spheres and back to its source, we see that everything orig-


Part III. Blake’s Criticism of Dante

inates with God. When Dante reaches the sphere of the sun, Thomas Aquinas himself explains that both mortal and immortal things emanate from God: That which dies not, And that which can die, are but each the beam Of that idea, which our Sovereign Sire Engendereth loving; for that lively light, Which passeth from His splendour, not disjoin’d From Him, nor from His love triune with them, Doth, through His bounty, congregate itself, Mirror’d, as ’twere, in new existences; Itself unalterable, and ever one [Paradise, 13; Cary, 351].

“New existences” in the sublunar world are reflections “mirror’d” in the elements. The beam of existence that shines out of Heaven travels unbroken, from the highest level to the lowest. Yet that beam must travel through the distorting effects of the spheres of, in order from the top, the fixed stars, Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, the sun, Venus, Mercury, and the moon. By the time it reaches the lowest levels, its influence has weakened. Descending hence unto the lowest powers, Its energy so sinks, at last it makes But brief contingencies; for so I name Things generated, which the heavenly orbs Moving, with seed or without seed, produce [Paradise, 13; Cary, 351].

And the mixtures of the four elements that make up earthly objects may or may not be well adapted to receiving this lessened force. That’s why some examples of a type, for example a fruit tree, may be better than another. If the material were always ideal, and the influence of God unmediated, the results would always be ideal. Their wax, and that which molds it, differ much: And thence with lustre, more or less, it shows The ideal stamp imprest: so that one tree, According to his kind, hath better fruit, And worse: and, at your birth, ye, mortal men, Are in your talents various. Were the wax Molded with exactness, and the Heaven In its disposing influence supreme, The brightness of the seal should be complete: But nature renders it imperfect ever; Resembling thus the artist, in her work, Whose faltering hand is faithless to his skill [Paradise, 13; Cary, 351–52].

Differences between Dante’s view of nature and Blake’s will now be obvious. The Thomist theology of the Comedy and the Protestant antinomian views available to Blake threw the two men’s systems into nearly complete opposition. Dante, writing more than a century before Cusanus, could not have imagined the cosmology of the Copernican system, much less the absolute immanence proposed by heretics such as Boehme. Whereas all of Dante’s nature originates in God, who is distant from man and onto-

6. Remarks on the Illustration to Hell, Canto 4


logically unimaginable, Blake’s is a creation of the human mind. Dante sees the universe in clearly defined elemental or ontological divisions: the world of the elements, the aetherial spheres, and the transcendental above. The transcendental world “leaks” into the levels below only as the overflow of God’s radiance. God himself is ideal, unmoving, and unaffected by what goes on beneath. For Blake, God and the world are the same: whether we see one or the other depends only on how we perceive at a given moment. There is no “outside” the world; there is no above or below, except as these things relate at one moment to a given observer. Perception becomes the topic of discussion in canto 19 of the Paradise. If Blake’s copy of Cary’s translation were available to us, I imagine that this passage would be the one most heavily argued with in the margins, as it seems most clearly to contradict Blake’s system of immanence, perception, and knowledge. In this part of the Paradise a huge group of souls is assembled in the shape of an eagle and is speaking in one voice. They begin by referring to God as “He Who turn’d His compass on the world’s extreme,” an image almost guaranteed to set Blake’s teeth on edge. The compass as a tool of God has its origin in Proverbs 8:27: “When he prepared the heavens, I was there: when he set a compass upon the face of the depth.” Milton had borrowed the same symbol in Paradise Lost: in his hand He took the golden Compasses, prepar’d In Gods Eternal store, to circumscribe This Universe, and all created things.

The idea of God using a tool to separate or draw boundaries on the world is exactly what Blake is against. Blake had shown a compass in an illustration for one of his earliest printed books, the illuminated book There Is No Natural Religion (1788). A drawing of a man using a compass accompanies the lines He who sees the Infinite in all things sees God. He who sees the Ratio only sees himself only [E 3].

“Ratio” is Blake’s word for “a limited system founded on what facts are available, and organized by Reason.”108 In other words, a lack of imagination. Another painting shows one of his spiritual “enemies,” Isaac Newton, in the process of circumscribing human knowledge with compasses. And one of Blake’s most famous images, usually known as The Ancient of Days, shows a bearded, God-like figure reaching down to create the (fallen) world with compass-like rays. An epigram from one of Blake’s notebooks gives God this satirical advice: To God If you have formd a Circle to go into Go into it yourself & see how you would do [E 516]

Such lines sound blasphemous when directed at God, but of course for Blake a God who divides the world into inside and outside is not the true God. The compasses in the Comedy are put to the same use as the ones in Blake’s bad examples. God has divided the universe. He has marked out a circular limit to separate the below from the above. And within the bubble of the material world God’s glory and Logos must remain infinitely beyond human grasp.


Part III. Blake’s Criticism of Dante “He,” it began, “Who turn’d His compass on the world’s extreme, And in that space so variously hath wrought, Both openly and in secret; in such wise Could not, through all the universe, display Impression of His glory, that the Word Of His omniscience should not still remain In infinite excess” [Paradise, 19; Cary, 378].

Our “lesser nature” can never be expansive enough to receive all of God’s goodness. John Ciardi glosses the above: “Great as is God’s creation, the Word (Logos, the creating source) cannot create what it does not Itself infinitely exceed.”109 Whence needs each lesser nature is but scant Receptacle unto that Good, which knows No limit, measured by itself alone [Paradise, 19; Cary, 378].

And here Dante explains our limitations in terms of perception. Our sight, our “ken,” is like a man in a boat trying to see the deepest part of the ocean. Therefore your sight, of the omnipresent Mind A single beam, its origin must own Surpassing far its utmost potency. The ken, your world is gifted with, descends In the everlasting Justice as low down, As eye doth in the sea; which, though it mark The bottom from the shore, in the wide main Discerns it not; and ne’ertheless it is; But hidden through its deepness. Light is none, Save that which cometh from the pure serene Of ne’er disturbed ether: for the rest, ’Tis darkness all; or shadow of the flesh, Or else its poison [Paradise, 19; Cary, 378–79].

The light by which we see originates in God, but we can never see more than a tiny fraction of the world. Vision that originates within ourselves, the lamp of the imagination, is either a “shadow of the flesh,” or, worse, “poison.” This is “bad infinity” at its worst. Still, the fact that God’s emanation may be caught in glimpses is an important part of Dante’s message. Christian Moevs explains that the transcendent realm is presented to us when we see in this world beauty, truth, or goodness—“or, to use Dante’s key term, dolcezza, sweetness.”110 Revelation comes from exposure to examples of these good things, not through ratiocination about them. Our experience of pure dolcezza, as Dante had through seeing Beatrice, allows us a sample of God’s infinity by taking us out of ourselves. Moevs writes: “How is the infinite revealed in the particular? … through forms transparent to the reality that gives them being.”111 The language here is very close to what we have learned to expect from Blake, but there are still substantial differences. The objects of beauty that Dante sees preserve enough of God’s goodness, despite the mediation of the stars, to let us have some idea of the ideal. Their attraction for us is a mirror of the infinite

6. Remarks on the Illustration to Hell, Canto 4


attraction that God has. The beginning of the passage that the eagle speaks, quoted above, explains why even though we may experience a great many good things in this world, complete vision of God is not possible. Even if we saw every good thing in this world, the goodness of God would still exceed that total, “In infinite excess.” Today the Catholic Church holds to a doctrine similar to Dante’s, which it calls “relative immanence.” The Catholic Encyclopedia tells us: “The human soul, then, receives the Divine verities as the disciple receives his master’s teaching; it does not create those verities.” These verities include the moral law, which is graven upon the very foundation of man’s constitution. It lives in the heart of man. This law is immanent to the human person, which consequently enjoys a certain autonomy. No doubt it recognizes its relation to a transcendent legislator, but none the less true is it that no prescription coming from another authority would be accepted by the conscience if it was in opposition to the primordial law, the requirements of which are only extended and clearly defined by positive laws.112 But Blake, as we have seen, thinks that when our eyes are properly open, the human soul creates everything— including moral law. The idea that law comes from above, and is immutable, shows that however much we may glimpse dolcezza in a world where God is relatively immanent, Blake will see this as a falling-short. In a later chapter we will see that Albert S. Roe, in his book on Blake’s Dante pictures, thought that Blake had drawn Beatrice as if she were Vala. In Roe’s interpretation, the illustrations are pure criticism; Blake is merely showing us Dante’s inability to see directly to the infinity of God. If this is the case, the pilgrim Dante, on meeting Beatrice and thinking he is being led to Paradise, has in fact been tricked by nature into worshipping the veil of the physical. In my view, Blake has done more than show Dante’s errors. I don’t think that he shows Beatrice as Vala, because I think that he is giving Dante a push, a helping hand as he gave Milton, and showing that it is possible to open the doors of perception to the full. The manner in which art can open those doors is the subject of the next part of this book.

7. “He could never have Builded Dantes Hell” Among Blake’s sketches for the Comedy is a roughly drawn map of Hell. Penciled in the lower left corner of the sheet are these words: It seems as if Dantes supreme Good was something Superior to the Father or Jesus [as] if he gives his rain to the Evil & the Good & his Sun to the just & the Unjust He could never have Builded Dantes Hell nor the Hell of the Bible neither in the way our Parsons explain it It must have been originally Formed by the Devil Himself & So I understand it to have been Whatever Book is for Vengeance for Sin & whatever Book is Against the Forgiveness of Sins is not of the Father but of Satan the Accuser & Father of Hell [E 690].

Blake is referring of course to the Book of Matthew, 5:43–45. Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.

Like many modern believers, Blake doesn’t think that a just God will send anyone to Hell for eternity. This is his greatest disagreement with Dante’s system of morality. If Jesus says that we must love everyone and that God is impartial in his blessings, it is unimaginable that he would also toss anyone into the inferno. Blake’s solutions to the problem of Hell and forgiveness result in perhaps his most offbeat theology, diverging widely from any mainstream form of Christianity. In what follows I will describe Blake’s convictions about good and evil, forgiveness and punishment. We will see that his moral sense is based firmly on the epistemology we have already explored. His conclusions are not at all random or ad hoc, being grounded in venerable Neoplatonic views and some of the oldest literary traditions in existence.

The Creation of Good and Evil In The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, Blake relates the following tale. It forms a single page, as an isolated anecdote. 80

7. “He could never have Builded Dantes Hell”


The ancient Poets animated all sensible objects with Gods or Geniuses, calling them by the names and adorning them with the properties of woods, rivers, mountains, lakes, cities, nations, and whatever their enlarged & numerous senses could percieve. And particularly they studied the genius of each city & country. placing it under its mental deity. Till a system was formed, which some took advantage of & enslav’d the vulgar by attempting to realize or abstract the mental deities from their objects: thus began Priesthood. Choosing forms of worship from poetic tales. And at length they pronounced that the Gods had orderd such things. Thus men forgot that All deities reside in the human breast [E 38].

This is a parable about two groups of people: the priests and the poets. The poets do what Blake recommended in the story of the Guinea sun, which we’ve mentioned before. When Blake looks at the sun and sees a heavenly host, he is doing what the ancient poets did. They look at the world and they animate it through imagination. Their senses are “enlarged & numerous,” not passive. They perceive mythically, seeing in every place a living deity. As long as the “mental deity” is particular and identical with its object—as Ouranos is with the sky—there is no problem. The trouble is, as usual, the process of abstraction. When the priests see the sun, or the sky, or Blake’s London, they do not see it as a living character. They see dualistically, with a god that is separable from the material world: in a word, transcendent. For them, God has an independent existence and hollers down to us from a separate, nonhuman location. The truth is that humans create God through their imaginations—although in Blake’s perfectly non-dualistic world it would be the same to say that God creates humans through his imagination. When God is seen as separated and is no longer recognized to be identical with human imagination, then the things we say God desires appear to come from outside us. The priests deny that their commandments come from their own hearts, and attribute them to a transcendent source. It will be helpful to summarize Blake’s view of morality by once again looking at his disagreements with John Locke. Both Locke and Blake believed that we create moral laws by accumulating and contemplating individual sense impressions. Locke says this is inevitable; Blake says it’s deadly. If a person could look at an object without any conceptual knowledge, he could put no labels on what he sees. For example, he would be unable to say what color the object is. “Red” is an abstract concept, because in the world there are only red things—this red thing, that red thing. Locke says that after seeing enough red things a baby recognizes the similarity of the color in the individual instances and forms the mental construct “red.” After that, the child can make statements about redness without reference to any particular object. Blake refers to the concepts that we have abstracted from particulars as “Spectres,” because they are no longer individual living things, but reduced things, ghosts of real things. Blake wants us to see each particular thing in the world as itself. When we begin to abstract general concepts from the concrete things of this world, we not only cease to see those things as individuals, we are in danger of making the abstracted concepts more important than the


Part III. Blake’s Criticism of Dante

objects, whether a grain of sand or a human being, that embody them. Actual understanding doesn’t consist of pulling abstractions out of the thing, but of seeing the thing itself. Blake contrasts Locke’s error—favoring deductive reasoning over immediate perception—with Christ’s actions and parables. Jesus of course makes no statements about epistemology. His teaching is either through direct action or through symbols: seeds, fig trees. Those who have ears hear directly. Blake concludes from this that the general systems of moral law, including that of the Old Testament, are Spectres as much as any other abstraction. You accumulate Particulars, & murder by analyzing, that you May take the aggregate; & you call the aggregate Moral Law[E 251]

The moral law is formed in the same way as Locke’s general principles—through accumulating particular examples, and combining them into a dead ghost, held higher than real living things. We perceive things in the world that we prefer or enjoy, and in contemplating the memories of these things create an abstraction called “Good.” In time the pursuit of this “Good” may be so important to us that we are willing to sacrifice living particulars in order to obtain it. The Spectre wins out over life. When the law is more important than real living people, says Blake, we are in trouble. Here is a chart showing the consequences of Lockean knowledge, according to Blake: We perceive particulars in the world. ➡

We abstract qualities from those particulars. ➡

We deduce laws and moralities from those qualities … ➡

but focusing on the “higher” laws makes us unable to see the original particulars.

As Blake puts it in Jerusalem: The Spectre is the Reasoning Power in Man; & when separated from Imagination, and closing itself as in steel, in a Ratio Of the Things of Memory, It then frames Laws & Moralities To destroy Imagination [E 229]

The “Laws & Moralities” he’s writing of include everything the English word “laws” may refer to: the laws of nature, such as gravity; the laws of man, such as government censorship regulations; and the laws of God, such as the 613 mitzvahs of the Old Testament. In a world where imagination was in control and the Spectre was in its place, none of those laws would apply. Or perhaps certain laws would apply in individual cases, but would expand and contract with human perception, as do the laws of space and time in Eternity. What’s certain is that a uniform application of Spectral law is the work of priests and not poets, those who enslave and not those who imagine. Urizen makes this mistake when he decrees: One command, one joy, one desire, One curse, one weight, one measure One King, one God, one Law [E 72].

Urizen makes his commands because he fears unpredictable changes. He craves a world in which everyone lives in safe obedience to his law, in the way that (Newton tells us) the

7. “He could never have Builded Dantes Hell”


planets do not deviate from natural law. The same is true of Bromion, a character in Visions of the Daughters of Albion, who asks: And is there not one law for both the lion and the ox? ……………… To bind the phantoms of existence from eternal life? [E 48]

Bromion accepts the truth of universals, to bind frightening phantoms. (But Bromion, we should recall, is a slave master and a rapist.) The Marriage of Heaven and Hell states the matter more concisely: One Law for the Lion & Ox is Oppression [E 44].

The lion and the ox have such different personalities, they live with such different desires and needs, that to force them both to obey the same law would be evil. This is why W.J.T. Mitchell concludes that for Blake, “the primal crime is the promulgation of the law, not the violation of it.”113 Punter describes how standards that seem unquestionably good in the abstract fail when they are applied to living things. Universal laws become controls that appear as purely intellectual criteria of judgement (fairness, balance) but which entail an associated apparatus of social repression. As opposed to this, real knowledge concerns itself only with the particular and irreplaceable life of things, all of which are different: “The apple tree never asks the beech how he shall grow, nor the lion. the horse, how he shall take his prey” [E 37].114

One way in which abstraction causes trouble is by oversimplifying what a thing really is. For example, if we look at an object as an example of only one of its qualities, we may condemn it as bad when in fact it is not only bad. As Frye memorably phrases it: “an egg that is bad to eat may be good to throw at someone.”115 The need to see things in terms of categories or concepts rather than looking at the thing itself closes off to us all of the qualities or possibilities that our abstraction has dismissed. The bad thing seems only bad to the fallen eye of narrowed perception, but if we could see more fully there might be innumerable ways the thing is also good. There are two key terms Blake would have us keep in mind as we try to open our eyes to the full potential of a thing or a person: contraries, and states. Both are crucial to an understanding of Blake’s morality and how it differs from Dante’s. I will look at the idea of contraries first and discuss states in a later chapter.

Contraries Cusanus defined the infinite as the place where all opposite qualities coincide. His most effective illustration of this was the thought experiment of the infinite circle and the infinite straight line. We know that by definition, a straight line (not a segment) goes on in infinity in both directions, and never curves back on itself. We might say that its contrary is a circle, which has no straight segments at all. From the human perspective, nothing in the world can be both a straight line and a circle. We do understand, though, that the larger the circle is, the more a segment of it will appear straight to our eyes. We know that the horizon appears straight at eye level, even though the earth is round, because the earth is quite big. If we imagine an even larger circle, say, the circumference of our galaxy, we can see that quite a


Part III. Blake’s Criticism of Dante

large segment of that circle would appear straight from a human perspective although, in fact, it is curved. The larger the circle is, the more its segments approach straightness. What is more difficult to imagine is a circle of infinite size. An infinite circle is not merely bigger than a big circle. Its segments do not merely approach straightness, they are, paradoxically, straight and curved at the same time. You and I cannot perceive such a circle, but God can; God sees infinitely. From God’s perspective, straightness and roundness coincide, and so do all other so-called contraries. From God’s perspective, it is wrong to say that an egg is bad and only bad; it is good and bad, simultaneously, and more besides. Sad to say, we do not have God’s perspective. We tend to see one or the other of an object’s qualities, rate that quality good or bad, and leave it at that. Blake tells us this is a mistake. In Jerusalem, he makes it clear that in using our reasoning power to abstract qualities from particular bodies, we “negate” and “murder” those original bodies. They take the two Contraries which are calld Qualities, with which Every Substance is clothed, they name them Good & Evil From them they make an Abstract, which is a Negation Not only of the Substance from which it is derived, A murderer of its own Body, but also a murderer Of every Divine Member: it is the Reasoning Power An Abstract objecting power, that Negatives every thing This is the Spectre of Man: the Holy Reasoning Power And in its Holiness is closed the Abomination of Desolation [E 153]

Remember now that God is immanent in every point of the universe. To see a point or an object (which is God) as only one of the infinite qualities (of God) is to narrow our perspective down to a deathlike state. And to name one quality as “good” and its contrary but equally present quality as “evil” is an abomination: it is negation. “Negation” is a very bad word for Blake. It is a shutting-down of perception and possibility. It requires a division of quality from quality, and the judgment that one of those qualities must be avoided at all cost. It is the means through which Urizenic law frames its morality: “Thou shalt not.” The promulgation of the law institutes negation; enforcement of the law punishes particularity. Christ’s return will not be brought about by obedience to this law, nor will his presence require our obedience. The Second Coming is the antinomian lifting of the law. In Blake’s poem “The Everlasting Gospel,” Christ undoes the law that Moses had given: Jesus was sitting in Moses Chair They brought the trembling Woman There Moses commands she be stoned to Death What was the sound of Jesus breath He laid his hand on Moses Law The Ancient Heavens in Silent Awe Writ with Curses from Pole to Pole All away began to roll

The earth hears the announcement: Good & Evil are no more Sinais trumpets cease to roar Cease finger of God to Write

7. “He could never have Builded Dantes Hell”


The Heavens are not clean in thy Sight Thou art Good & thou Alone Nor may the sinner cast one stone To be Good only is to be A Devil or else a Pharisee [E 521]

To be good only is to be a devil. Humans, and therefore God, are good and evil but, now that good and evil are rejoined, it doesn’t make sense to speak of them. There is only fullness, not separate qualities. For Blake, the proper reaction to morality is not obedience, but overcoming. Not restraint but fulfillment. “Jesus was all virtue, and acted from impulse: not from rules” (E 43). We think of Dante as a strict moralist, but his views are not as different as we might expect. It is the usual Christian belief, after all, that Christ fulfilled the law, and put it in the hearts of the people. Where Blake and Dante differ is in their view of the contraries, and how they see the contraries is, as always, based in the difference between immanence and transcendence. Blake believes that the contraries are to be united in man through the opening of the senses; Dante thinks such infinite resolutions only happen in God, and that the moral choice is to thread our way carefully between. The Comedy is clear that the path to Heaven isn’t mere obedience to biblically specified laws, but is based on love. Love of God, the source of all goodness, inspires morality. Diverted love, misdirected love, is sin. Though Dante sets the explanation in Christian terms, the system is derived more from Aristotle than from the Bible. It is Virgil the pagan, not Beatrice the Christian, who explains during a pause on the climb up Purgatory: “Creator, nor created being, e’er, My son,” he thus began, “was without love, Or natural, or the free spirit’s growth” [Purgatory, 17, Cary, 220].

Love is never lacking. There is natural love, which is instinctive, and there is another kind, which in Dante’s Italian is “amore … d’animo.” Cary has translated animo as “free spirit” (though the Italian doesn’t specify “free”) most likely to emphasize that the animo has free will, to choose the better or the worse path. In their notes to this verse, Martinez and Durling describe this type of love as “elective love.”116 Virgil continues: The natural still Is without error: but the other swerves, If on ill object bent, or through excess Of vigour, or defect.

Natural love does not err. Aquinas describes it thus: “natural love is always right, as natural love is nothing else but the natural inclination grafted in us by the author of nature.”117 The love that we choose, on the other hand, may be “bent” to an “ill object”—that is, we might, through misunderstanding, choose to love something that is contrary to our own best interests or to God’s will (which are the same). Or we might love the proper thing, but love it too much or too little. While e’er it seeks, The primal blessings, or with measure due


Part III. Blake’s Criticism of Dante The inferior, no delight, that flows from it, Partakes of ill.

Cary’s translation is unnecessarily difficult. Durling’s will make the message clearer: As long as it [love] is directed to the first Good and moderates its love of lesser goods, it cannot be a cause of evil pleasure118

The “first Good” here, which Cary translates as “primal blessings,” is of course the good that flows directly from God. As long as we love God and his goodness, we can’t go wrong. “Lesser goods” are the good things of this world, like food and drink, that are necessary for earthly life but not of the highest degree. As long as we are focused on the highest goal, which is the source of all goodness, and moderate our love of the healthful but lower things of this world, we will be all right. But let it warp to evil, Or with more ardour than behoves, or less, Pursue the good; the thing created then Works ’gainst its Maker.

In Durling: but when it turns aside to evil, or when with more eagerness or less than is right it runs after some good, it employs his creature against the Creator.

When we begin to love something else, not the source of good, then we are in trouble. That is what causes evil. And if we love even good things with too much eagerness or too little, then we begin to work against God. While not exactly contradicting the New Testament, the system Virgil describes here is clearly derived from the Nicomachean Ethics. In that work, Aristotle explains that virtue is a matter of balance. Loving the proper aim, in the proper degree, makes a person virtuous: Now virtue is concerned with feelings and actions, in which excess and deficiency are in error and incur blame, while the intermediate condition is correct and wins praise, which are both proper features of virtue. Virtue, then, is a mean, in so far as it aims at what is intermediate.… It is a mean between two vices, one of excess and one of deficiency.119

Such a definition will seem obvious when addressing, for example, cases of gluttony. Excessive eating is to be avoided, while deficient eating would also be harmful to a person’s health. The best diet is one of moderation. The same is true of how one spends one’s money, as the fourth circle of Dante’s Hell makes clear: both misers and spendthrifts are condemned to the same punishment, although they circle, for eternity, in opposite directions. Aristotle outlines how the same principle of balance applies to every virtue, even when the choice of an “intermediate path” does not seem obvious. In the case of anger, for example, people who suffer from an excess are often easy to identify; they are the ones doing the shouting. An insufficiency of anger might not at first glance appear to be a condition lacking in virtue. Aristotle writes in the Ethics, however, that not becoming angry at “the right things, or in the right way,” makes a person “slavish.”120 Probably there are things that ought to make us

7. “He could never have Builded Dantes Hell”


angry, and to see them without becoming so amounts to a state of unethical indifference. In the Convivio Dante uses the vivid metaphor of two enemies, “one on each flank, vices of too much and too little.”121 Thus Dante’s system of ethics is not one of laws and transgressions, but one that we modern people might call one of psychological health: loving what is best for us. Dante sees God as the ultimate good and the ultimate aim of every pure desire. People who cannot control their natural animal instincts, or who deceive themselves into thinking that a short-term goal is preferable to the goodness of God, sin not through breaking a commandment but through choosing overly easy or mistaken objects of desire. A Christian life for Dante, then, is like the attitude of the rider depicted by Dürer in his engraving Knight, Death, and the Devil. Riding a narrow road, there are dangers and temptations on every side, but the upright knight, protected by the armor of faith, keeps his eyes straight ahead, on the goal: a bright castle on a hill. We can imagine Blake’s reaction to a doctrine of intermediate rationality if we recall some of his proverbs from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell: The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom. Prudence is a rich ugly old maid courted by Incapacity. He who desires but acts not, breeds pestilence [E 35]. Those who restrain desire, do so because theirs is weak enough to be restrained; and the restrainer or reason usurps its place & governs the unwilling [E 34]. The cistern contains: the fountain overflows [E 36]

Whereas Dante wants us to thread a careful path between the extremes, Blake doesn’t fear them. It isn’t the avoidance of contraries that brings us to God, but their total coincidence. The infinite God immanent in each of us contains the extreme of each and every emotion and desire. We know God not by suppressing these infinites but by knowing them both—not through fear but through exuberance, because “Exuberance is beauty” (E 38). Though it may appear that the two poets’ moralities are irreconcilable, we can see that they share important views. Both reject an ethics based on laws. Both take seriously the idea that when we are pure, we do best to follow our desires. Blake told us this when he said, “Jesus was all virtue, and acted from impulse: not from rules” (E 43). Dante shows us the same when, after the pilgrim has been purged of everything that distracts or misdirects his love, Virgil tells him: To distrust thy sense Were henceforth error. I invest thee then With crown and mitre, sovereign o’er thyself [Purgatory, 28; Cary, 264].

Now that his love is properly aimed toward God, Dante is correct to trust himself completely and follow his desire. He no longer needs the direction of legal authority (the crown) or Church (the mitre). His own impulses will be pure. At the peak of Purgatory, everyone becomes an antinomian. The path by which Blake and Dante reach this state is different: Blake operates through Cusanus’s coincidentia oppositorum, and Dante through Aristotle’s Middle Way. But the result is the same: a pure soul needs no laws because his every desire will be that of God himself.

8. States, Not People For Dante, then, sin is either a low goal poorly chosen or a good goal poorly pursued. Love is the only motivation, but the manner or object of love may be bad. If our natural instincts are always good, then, and only the degree or chosen goal of those instincts can be considered error, might not those errors be cured? Might there not be some way to relieve the poor sufferer of his complex? With God all things are possible, but there are still people whom Dante thinks of as hopeless and who deserve the unending torments of Hell as punishment. Dante is of course in the mainstream of Christianity by believing in an eternal Hell, but ideas about the underworld were not uniform in earlier times, and there have been many dissenters along the way. Old Testament Hebrew uses the name Sheol for the location of the afterlife, and it appears to be the destination for all the dead, not only sinners. Not until post-exilic times did Judaism begin to think of a divided Sheol, with special sections for punishment.122 There is no clear description of Sheol in the Old Testament, though, and the various references to it do not give a clear view of its nature. In places there are indications that it need not be an eternal destination: Psalms 16 and 30, for example, assure us that God can rescue a pious soul from Sheol.123 Early Christian opinions on Hell differed. Origen wrote in the third century that temporary punishment would be enough to purge even the worst souls and that in the end all would be restored to God. Augustine disagreed, and fixed the concept for the Catholic Church in the early fifth century, arguing in his Enchidirion and other works that punishment or reward would be unending.124 His argument rests in part on a passage from Matthew 25, which declares that Hell contains “everlasting fire” and “everlasting punishment.” Naturally many Christians over the centuries have disagreed, including Erigena and a number of British Protestants,125 including most of the antinomians. Among gnostic dualists such as the Cathars were those who taught that our world is the most evil and lowest level; that we are already in Hell. William Blake agrees with Matthew that the fire and the punishment last forever, but he doesn’t believe that any individual will stay in that punishing fire eternally. The fire is always there; people pass through. In Jerusalem he writes: As the Pilgrim passes while the Country permanent remains So Men pass on: but States remain permanent for ever [E 229]

And in his Vision of the Last Judgment, he describes the hellish condition of the antediluvian world and declares: 88

8. States, Not People


These States Exist now Man Passes on but States remain for Ever he passes thro them like a traveller who may as well suppose that the places he has passed thro exist no more as a Man may suppose that the States he has passd thro exist no more Every Thing is Eternal [E 556]

As each point contains infinity, each moment contains eternity.

Blake’s States The word “states” had a special meaning for Blake. He uses it frequently in and after the composition of The Four Zoas, though we can see it also plays an important role in his earliest well-known work, Songs of Innocence and Experience, which is subtitled “Shewing the Two Contrary States of the Human Soul” (E 7). In that collection of poems, a person may be in a state of innocence or a state of experience, but he is still the same individual. What changes of course is the way the person perceives. The state of innocence eternally remains, and babies pass into it as they are born. A transition to the state of experience is inevitable and not to be regretted. The state you are in depends on your manner of perception. While in a particular state, a person perceives the world according to that state’s particular narrowness or limitations. We have seen that for Blake, though, perception is an active creation of the world, so a person’s state of perception will, for that individual, determine what his world is. From outside, from the perspective of a person in a different state, another’s state may seem crazy or immoral. But from inside, they seem to be in the only world possible. To philosophy students, the prisoners in Plato’s cave seem like unreal puppets who exist only for discussion purposes. But to someone tied in the cave, his life seems to be the only possibility there is. States are Shadowy to those who dwell not in them, meer possibilities: But to those who enter into them they seem the only substances For every thing exists & not one sigh nor smile nor tear, One hair nor particle of dust, not one can pass away [E 158]

In the Songs, Blake demonstrates this by writing poems in the voices of the innocent in the first half of the book and in the voices of the experienced in the second half, performing for us a dramatization of how the world appears to people in those states. Only one of the poems in that collection includes the voices of both states. “The Clod & the Pebble,” from 1794, begins in the voice of innocence: Love seeketh not Itself to please, Nor for itself hath any care; But for another gives its ease, And builds a Heaven in Hells despair. So sang a little Clod of Clay, Trodden with the cattles feet:

Blake makes it clear that this is not his own opinion by inventing a character and attributing the speech. He then introduces a different character, in a different state, and invites us to compare the two viewpoints.


Part III. Blake’s Criticism of Dante But a Pebble of the brook, Warbled out these metres meet. Love seeketh only Self to please, To bind another to Its delight: Joys in anothers loss of ease, And builds a Hell in Heavens despite [E 19].

The innocent clod of clay is permeable and easily broken by the uncaring forces of life—in this case a passing cow. The pebble of experience, in contrast, is hard and cold and remains unmoved as the waters of life flow past it. We gain a clue to our own state by thinking about which of the speakers’ opinions we most agree with. We see, too, that from the perspective of each speaker, love is, for him, what he says it is. Each character has no choice but to reach the conclusions he does, because of the way in which he perceives the world. This is a fundamental principle for Blake’s moral view. In his later works, Blake names many more states than just innocence and experience. Each of Chaucer’s Canterbury pilgrims, for example, is named as an eternal state through which individuals may pass. In a move that seems to anticipate the theories of Carl Jung, Blake says that the Canterbury characters represent different eternal states, something like Jung’s archetypes: “The Plowman of Chaucer is Hercules in his supreme eternal state, divested of his spectrous shadow; which is the Miller, a terrible fellow, such as exists in all times and places, for the trial of men” (E 537). Blake’s own painting of the Last Judgment contained many characters that he also declared to be representatives of states. In the detailed description he wrote of this work, Blake warns us that the figures of Moses and Abraham are not merely depictions of those historical individuals. He writes: it ought to be understood that the Persons Moses & Abraham are not here meant but the States Signified by those Names the Individuals being representatives or Visions of those States as they were reveald to Mortal Man in the Series of Divine Revelations. as they are written in the Bible these various States I have seen in my Imagination [E 556]

The painting also contains unnamed figures in “attitudes of contention” that Blake tells us represent “States of Misery which alas every one on Earth is liable to enter into” (E 557). Caiaphas and Pilate are used in this way as well (E 558). In Jerusalem, before he transcribes a long list of possible states, Blake reminds us that in his theology the infinite is absolutely immanent in the particular. His point is to show that each of us, each individual, contains in potentia every possible state. If we find ourselves in a particular state at a particular time, it is due only to the fact that we have circumscribed our perceptions and therefore, temporarily at least, our potentials. What is Above is Within, for every-thing in Eternity is translucent: The Circumference is Within: Without, is formed the Selfish Center And the Circumference still expands going forward to Eternity. And the Center has Eternal States! these States we now explore [E 225].

There follows a page and a half of possible states, each described as having various qualities and belonging to different geographical regions. Elsewhere, Blake puns on the word by naming perceptual states that are also geopolitical bodies.

8. States, Not People


There are States in which all Visionary Men are accounted Mad Men such are Greece & Rome Such is Empire [E 274] The Artist having been taken in vision into the ancient republics, monarchies, and patriarchates of Asia, has seen those wonderful originals called in the Sacred Scriptures the Cherubim, which were sculptured and painted on walls of Temples, Towers, Cities, Palaces, and erected in the highly cultivated states of Egypt, Moab, Edom, Aram [E 531]

The states that have attracted the most attention among readers of Blake are the ones he calls Eden, Beulah, Generation, and Ulro. As I mentioned in the introduction to this book, I think we need not restrict ourselves to these four states in our analysis of the Dante illustrations. Their superficial resemblance to Dante’s Heaven, Purgatory, our world, and Hell, respectively, have tempted scholars, including Roe, to look for clear one-to-one correspondences, but I think we can see from a wider look at the types of states Blake mentions that there are far more choices available. The major work Milton doesn’t adhere strictly to the four-level system, introducing Alla, subdividing Ulro and associating it with different parts of the body. And the Four States of Humanity in its Repose, Were shewed them. First of Beulah a most pleasant Sleep On Couches soft, with mild music, tended by Flowers of Beulah Sweet Female forms, winged or floating in the air spontaneous The Second State is Alla & the third State Al-Ulro; But the Fourth State is dreadful; it is named Or-Ulro: The First State is in the Head, the Second is in the Heart: The Third in the Loins & Seminal Vessels & the Fourth In the Stomach & Intestines terrible, deadly, unutterable [E 134]

And within Ulro there are three more states: “Creation; Redemption. & Judgment” (E 179). It seems clear to me, then, that we would be wrong to choose one combination of states and force the Dante pictures to conform to it. Identifying the name of each state that the pilgrim Dante passes through is not as important as recognizing that these states, while eternal, need not trap anyone forever. Even Satan, we learn, is a state. But we learn in the same speech that the state Satan must be distinguished from the individual who is temporarily in that state. The state is unredeemable; the individual may escape. There is a State namd Satan learn distinct to know O Rahab The Difference between States & Individuals of those States The State namd Satan never can be redeemd in all Eternity [E 380]

The above quote is from The Four Zoas, but similar ideas on the difference between identity and state appear throughout Blake’s career. From the marginalia to Reynolds: Identities or Things are Neither Cause nor Effect They are Eternal [E 656]

And in Jerusalem: The Spiritual States of the Soul are all Eternal Distinguish between the Man, & his present State [E 200]


Part III. Blake’s Criticism of Dante

And from Milton: Distinguish therefore States from Individuals in those States. States Change: but Individual Identities never change nor cease; You cannot go to Eternal Death in that which can never Die [E 132].

This last quote clears up what appears to be a paradox in Blake’s writing. He refers to “Eternal Death” more than once, but makes it clear that one can escape this condition. Now we can see that it is the state of death that is everlasting, not an individual’s residency in that state. By this it will be seen that I do not consider either the Just or the Wicked to be in a Supreme State but to be every one of them States of the Sleep which the Soul may fall into in its Deadly Dreams of Good & Evil when it leaves Paradise [with] the Serpent [E 563]

We have seen that anyone who abstracts qualities from an object or a person is negating the rest of that person’s infinite qualities. To say, therefore, that the final resurrection in God will bring us a state of perfect goodness is wrong—a Urizenic error. It is only in our fallen, deadly dreams that we imagine good and evil may exist separately. The perfect state, in which one’s perceptions are entirely open, is the state in which both just and wicked qualities, and all other opposites or contraries, are combined in their infinity, as Cusanus’s circle and straight line were identical in God’s sight. We reach the highest, Edenic state, when we perceive the infinite in each thing, no longer circumscribing our perceptions to the point that we see contraries as opposed. It should be clear now why Blake’s theory of states is the foundation of his morality. Falling into one state or another affects our moral judgment in two crucial ways. First, such a fall narrows our infinite perception, so that we believe good and evil are separate and identifiable, thus falling into the error of thinking that people (rather than states) may be judged. Second, each state circumscribes our thinking, thereby creating an ideology, which twists and narrows our moral judgments. We look at individuals through the eyes of abstract moral principles and forget that in fact each individual is infinite—it is only that individual’s current state, and ours, that makes him appear the way he is. Blake prays that Jesus will come to return our infinite vision, so that we will not accuse others: Descend O Lamb of God & take away the imputation of Sin By the Creation of States & the deliverance of Individuals Evermore Amen [E 170]

But there are always people in lower perceptive states whose narrowness causes them to blame the individual: Thus wept they in Beulah over the Four Regions of Albion But many doubted & despaird & imputed Sin & Righteousness To Individuals & not to States, and these Slept in Ulro [E 171].

Blake demonstrates in Jerusalem that as individuals are eternal and may change from state to state, which for them is the same as a change from world to world, it would not be fair to blame any individual in eternity for what he perceived in only one state. He describes the sons of Albion as they fall, and how they produce moral codes of reward and punishment.

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They are beginning to form Heavens & Hells in immense Circles: the Hells for food to the Heavens: food of torment, Food of despair: they drink the condemnd Soul & rejoice In cruel holiness, in their Heavens of Chastity & Uncircumcision

The fallen moralists, thinking they are enforcing God’s law, form Heaven and Hell, and undertake what they think is holiness, though in fact it is cruelty. Blake particularly felt that enforcement of chastity was a cruel restriction. The speaker of the lines above is Erin, who shares a name with Ireland. In Blake’s mythology, she symbolizes the holiness of the body and its instincts126 and therefore opposes its ritual mutilation (circumcision) and the suppression of its instincts (chastity). She continues by proclaiming that even though the sons of Albion are wrong to build walls of morality, we must not judge them, but forgive. Yet they are blameless & Iniquity must be imputed only To the State they are enterd into that they may be deliverd: Satan is the State of Death, & not a Human existence: .….….….….. Learn therefore O Sisters to distinguish the Eternal Human That walks about among the stones of fire in bliss & woe Alternate! from those States or Worlds in which the Spirit travels: This is the only means to Forgiveness of Enemies [E 199]

It is therefore the fallen sons of Albion who depart from the antinomian fold and imagine the need for morality. They, like Dante, feel that a Heaven and a Hell are required if holiness is to triumph. Yet if we may take Erin at her word, Dante should be forgiven. He is blameless, and iniquity must be imputed to his state, not his person. What is his state? A simple answer would be: someone who had the misfortune to live under the shadow of Augustinian and Thomist theology, too early for Cusanus, Boehme, and Blake to show him the error of his falsely transcendent thoughts. In the epilogue for Blake’s emblem book The Gates of Paradise, there is a poem that, intentionally or not, directly addresses Dante’s condition. It is spoken to Satan, whose name in Hebrew means “the Accuser”: To The Accuser who is The God of This World Truly My Satan thou art a Dunce And dost not know the Garment from the Man Every Harlot was a Virgin once Nor canst thou ever change Kate into Nan Tho thou art Worshipd by the Names Divine Of Jesus & Jehovah: thou art still The Son of Morn in weary Nights decline The lost Travellers Dream under the Hill [E 269]

In Blake’s view, it is Satan who does the accusing, the moralistic finger pointing. Those in Eden don’t judge. The garment is the state, which may be cast off, yet the devil can’t distinguish the garment from the man or woman wearing it. Women in states of harlotry were once in a purer state, yet it is the state that has changed, not the soul of the woman. The state changes, but Kate is still Kate, and Nan is still Nan, no matter what states they find themselves in. Moralistic Christians mistakenly think that Jesus and Jehovah want them to enforce morality, and they pass judgment on Kate or Nan rather than on her current state.


Part III. Blake’s Criticism of Dante

In fact, by accusing others of sin, such Christians unknowingly worship Satan, the Accuser. Blake is reminding Satan here that, although he is worshiped in churches throughout England, he is still only the dream of a weary traveler under a hill. The poetic figure of a weary traveler may seem generic enough, but it also suits perfectly the weary traveler whose work Blake illustrated in the last years of his life. Dante begins the Comedy as just such a traveler, tired and lost, at the foot of a hill. Cary’s translation titled Dante’s poem The Vision, but it might as well have been called The Dream. In canto 1 of the Hell, as the pilgrim Dante looks up from the valley, to the hill lit at the top by God’s truth, he knows that he is too weary to climb. The journey that he begins then is a dream, a poetic dream, an imagination that is true. Yet because in that dream he builds a Hell and a Heaven and worships a God who could damn without forgiveness, he has dreamt, under that hill, of the Accuser who is the God of This World, not the real God whom Blake knows. As we have seen, though, Dante is not unredeemable. He is in a fallen state, but we must not condemn his eternal soul, or his poetic genius, due to the inevitable errors all fallen humans make. In Jerusalem, Blake has indicated that despite Dante’s less-than-Edenic position, the Comedy has contributed to the mercy of this world. In chapter 3 of Jerusalem, several fallen characters, in a frenzy of creation, bring to life the kings and nobles of this world, creating them in the lowest level, Ulro. The Imagination, personified here as Los, is merciful, and rather than allowing the kings to go to eternal death, he creates a sort of safety net, or counterforce, of great men: but around [The kings], to preserve them from Eternal Death Los Creates Adam Noah Abraham Moses Samuel David Ezekiel [Pythagoras Socrates Euripedes Virgil Dante Milton] Dissipating the rocky forms of Death, by his thunderous Hammer As the Pilgrim passes while the Country permanent remains So Men pass on: but States remain permanent for ever [E 229]

The imaginative heroes from the Old Testament, philosophy, and literature are there to keep the powerful men from falling to the lowest level, to provide at least some vision in a fallen world. (Even allegory is seldom without some vision.) At some point Blake scratched out the line that mentions Dante, but we’re not sure why. The line is printed in some copies of Jerusalem and not in others. Whether he had a change of heart about philosophy and poetry, or whether it was merely an emendation for the sake of scansion, we can see that Blake placed Dante in his list of greats, next to Milton, whom we know Blake worked hard to save. Later in this book, as we look in more detail at individual illustrations, it will become clear exactly how Blake converts Dante’s Comedy to his own system. The main change will be based on the topics we have just discussed: eternal states and traveling souls. Dante’s Hell may be everlasting, but the souls the pilgrim meets there won’t stay. And his Paradise may seem eternal, but that doesn’t mean it is made of goodness alone. It is, rather, made of all the contraries at once.

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Our World Is the Lowest World The Fall of Man is a perceptual fall. As our senses narrow and we lose the ability to see as God sees, we fall to a lower plane. The Fall is not a spatial fall, from one geographical or cosmological level to another, but a change in state. As we have seen just now, Blake imagines a large variety of states that a person can be in, each with unique boundaries on its perceptual abilities. Two of the most important states in his system bear names that will be familiar to everyone: Adam and Satan. Both are perceptual conditions, and both exist in every person. In Jerusalem, Blake writes: There is a limit of Opakeness, and a limit of Contraction; In every Individual Man, and the limit of Opakeness, Is named Satan: and the limit of Contraction is named Adam [E 189].

Blake believes that God is absolutely immanent in each person. There is no boundary between human and God. Yet our fallen perceptual condition causes us to lose that knowledge. How far can we fall? How narrowly can our senses close? Only as far as these two limits. Satan is the lower boundary below which no one’s perceptual state may fall. To Satan, the world is literally opaque—his vision stops at the surfaces of things, so that he may not see their infinite connection to God, the universe, and all other things. It’s this extreme lack of vision which makes him satanic. He is not necessarily morally evil (a concept that antinomians don’t recognize) but because without vision of the interconnectedness of all things, he is selfish. In Jerusalem, Blake declares that Satan “is the Great Selfhood” (E 175). He is the state we are in when we think of ourselves as separate, as islands. Though the state of Satan-hood is unredeemable, people who are in it may be resurrected into more perceptive levels. In fact the state of Satan was created for that purpose: it was “The Divine hand [who] found the Two Limits, first of Opacity, then of Contraction” (E 107). Jesus has created this lowest point as a kind of safety net below which we will not fall. Individuals who are in that state, therefore, are not lost forever. The mercy of Christ means that we may be lifted up. Adam, too, is a lower limit. As Satan is the perceptual state that sees only surfaces, Adam is the state that sees most contractedly. The result is similar to Satan’s condition, since both states keep only the minimum of the imagination with which, Blake says, we create our worlds. Adam, though, is more connected to reason, to calculation from the surfaces he sees. He is active and struggling because he is carrying out Lockean calculations based on his sense impressions, but in this state he will never see more than the Guinea sun and its abstracted qualities.127 Almost everyone today lives in the states of Satan and Adam. As long as our only truth is based on empiricism, and our only hope for a livelihood is based on self-interest and conformity of view, it is very difficult to do better. The good news, though, is that this is as low as we can go. Satan and Adam were mercifully created by Christ as the nadir. This means that there is no Hell waiting below, to take us to an even lower point. We’re at the lowest point there is.


Part III. Blake’s Criticism of Dante

The Necessity of the Fall As depressing as it sounds to hear that we are at the lowest possible cosmological and spiritual point, there is nonetheless hope for us. Blake follows in a very old tradition that tells us that although it is painful to fall into division and opacity, it is nonetheless necessary. Moreover, the later Neoplatonists, and the Romantics who read them, declared that when we rise up from our required fall we will be better than when we began. Of God’s unity and our fall into division, Abrams writes that in Christian Neoplatonism the personal God the Father tends to become an impersonal first principle, or absolute, whose perfection is equated with his self-sufficient and undifferentiated unity. Evil, correspondingly, is held to be essentially a separation from unity, or a division, fragmentation, estrangement from the One, which is reflected in a division within the nature of man.… Second, the fall of man is conceived to be primarily a falling-out-of and falling-away-from the One, into a position of remoteness and a condition of alienation from the source. Consonantly, the original human sin is identified as self-centeredness, or selfhood, the attempt of a part to be sufficient unto itself; while the primary consequence of the fall—death—is described as a state of division from the one Being.128

Origen, Augustine, Aquinas, and other theologians incorporated the Neoplatonic view so deeply into Christian theology that it became the metaphysical superstructure of the religion. Erigena, in his De divisione naturae, defined history from creation to the apocalypse in terms of processio, divisio, reditus, and aduntio—“a going forth which is also a division, and a return which is also a reunion.”129 Several tales from the Bible lent themselves to metaphysical interpretation in Neoplatonic terms of division and return, including the Jews’ sojourn in Egypt and the parable of the Prodigal Son. It isn’t surprising, then, to find that the theme is crucial to both Dante and Blake. Contemplation of the fall from and return to God gave rise to the paradoxical concept of the felix culpa, the “happy fault.” St. Ambrose, in the fourth century, declared that Adam’s sin was a happy one because, in the long run, it brought more benefit than harm: “Felix ruina quae reparatur in melius!” Gregory the Great, Calvin, Milton, and Kierkegaard, among many others, agreed with him.130 In Paradise Lost, the Archangel Michael tells Adam that the ultimate paradise will be better than the Eden he started from. [Christ will] reward His faithful, and receive them into bliss, Whether in Heav’n or Earth, for then the Earth Shall all be Paradise, far happier place Than this of Eden, and far happier days [XII. 461–465].

The reunion with God, then, will be more glorious than the state before the Fall. For all those who believed in the felix culpa, the necessary change that the Fall brings about is knowledge. Adam’s Edenic state was naïve; understanding of oneself and one’s creator required more experience than the original state of innocence could give. Love is the motivation to regain unity, but unlike the childish sort, mature love comes from profound knowledge of the loved one. One Renaissance humanist described it thus: “By love, i.e., by our love

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of God, we are to return to our source, which is also our end; for nothing else is able to bind together spiritual things, nothing is able to make one out of many, except love; but knowledge must precede love.”131 Esoteric traditions place great emphasis on the manner in which a person may gain such knowledge and often emphasize that breaking down old habits of thought requires painful initiation. Cults since Roman times had constructed their initiation ceremonies as reenactments of the myths of Persephone or Bacchus, in which the initiate re-experienced the mythic figure’s descent into the underworld and transfigurational return. Christians who were aware of the Hermetic or alchemical traditions, such as Cornelius Agrippa and Paracelsus, also structured the course of learning as a fall and return. For them, the initiate falls away from childish innocence to pursue truth in two steps: knowledge of the self, and knowledge of God.132 Jacob Boehme also saw the Fall of Man as a felix culpa. He agrees that man’s original state, at one with God in paradise, is an unthinking, unreflective unity.133 He believes that in order to gain self-knowledge, we require resistance, because a womb-like existence would never require thought, speech, or knowledge. (In this, he anticipated Fichte, Hegel, and Freud.) In the untroubled, unchanging life of Eden we have no dialectical opposition with which to define ourselves. Stoudt writes of Boehme’s theology: “Without dialectic no thing can become manifest to itself. If nothing resists it, then it continually proceeds from itself; it does not return to itself again.… If the natural life had no dialectic … then it would never ask for the ground from which it came.”134 And of course “the ground from which it came” is God. The dialectic of states, of experience opposed to innocence, is necessary if we are even to ask the right questions. We see that for Boehme, then, the course of the Fall and the eventual reunion with God is not a one-time journey of mankind, beginning once with Adam and ending once at the Last Judgment. For Boehme, each of us must follow the path individually. As with the Roman cult ceremonies, each individual recreates in his own life what has occurred before in mythical time. The natural world is a necessary stage on our path to full awareness. Boehme writes: “The Divine Ens which is spiritual, cannot be manifested but through the Strife of Nature.”135 Remember that for Boehme, the unperceived noumenal world that exists in the beginning, the Ungrund, is chaos. For any order or object to exist requires conditioning by a perceiver—the creation of phenomena. This is how spirit—Geist—takes on conditioned form. Perception creates form out of the mass of chaos, giving body to spirit. This is the Fall. It is for Boehme, as for Blake, a perceptual fall, and it is a necessary change if we are to have knowledge of anything. It is a change from unconscious unity to conscious division. Out of the original chaos comes the division of conditioned existence as perception creates individual perceivable bodies. If the noumenal world is unknowable and phenomena are all that we know, the fall into the phenomenal world is essential for any knowledge to be had. Traditional Neoplatonic philosophy had imagined spirit dividing from the One and descending to enter a body. It is a spatial fall as well as a change in state, from high to low. Boehme sees both spirit and body as a portion of the Ungrund: body is merely the division that perception forms in order to perceive. Thus for him the Fall is not a literal descent from a high place. It is a change in perception of the Ungrund only. But for Boehme as for Plotinus, it is the identification of spirit with body that brings strife into the world. Now that portions


Part III. Blake’s Criticism of Dante

of the Ungrund have been embodied, and knowledge made possible, tension and dialectic are also possible. The spirit perceives itself as suffering, and learns to yearn for a third state: a state of consciousness without the pain that physical limitation brings. Plotinus had taught that the soul, after falling into division, desires reunion with the One. The early Neoplatonic reunion, though, is also the end of the individual soul. In this version the soul will be fully reabsorbed into the One, losing all individuality, as with Buddhism’s Nirvana. Boehme rejects this annihilating view as fully as Dante did. For Boehme, the resurrection out of the physical body into the third phase of existence is not dissolution but liberation. The self-awareness discovered through the fall into division is retained, but the painful limitations of life in the material world are cast aside.136 With Boehme’s reading, the apparently simple fable of Adam and Eve and the Tree of Knowledge has been transformed into something very close to Kantian epistemology. The pre–Fall state is not merely a pleasant garden but a noumenal chaos in which there is neither pleasantness nor unpleasantness, because there is not yet the capacity to know. Understanding, as Cusanus had taught us, requires division (分). The return to unity retains understanding because it does not eliminate the individuality of souls. But the final state of the spirit’s dialectic is not a physical state; the temporary inhabiting of bodies in the natural world gives us individuality/knowledge that we didn’t have in the noumenon and allows us to return to the non-physical world with our knowledge intact. Embodiment is like graduate school: a horrifying state that no one would willingly remain in for long but that is necessary for higher understanding. Blake wrote in a marginal note to Swedenborg: “Understanding or Thought is not natural to Man it is acquired by means of Suffering & Distress i.e., Experience. Will, Desire, Love, Rage, Envy, & all other affections are Natural. but Understanding is Acquired” (E 602). Many of the German Romantics read Boehme. We can see elements of his philosophy in their work and in that of their compatriot Hegel. Schiller, for example, said that we may not go “back to Arcadia” but must press “onward to Elysium.”137 Schiller’s version of the fortunate fall is stated in terms of morality rather than perception, but the result is the same: “This fall [Abfall ] of man from instinct—which to be sure brought moral evil into the creation, but only in order to make moral good therein possible—is, without any contradiction, the most fortunate and greatest event in the history of mankind.”138 The German word Bildungsgeschichte translates rather anticlimactically into English as “education history,” but as used by the Romantics as one of their characteristic literary genres, it became a record of “the painful process of Christian conversion and redemption into a painful process of self-formation, crisis, and self-recognition, which culminates in a stage of self-coherence, self-awareness, and assured power that is its own reward.”139 Such stories could proceed without supernatural elements in obvious view, as sturm und drang within the mind of one individual. Not surprisingly, it was Nietzsche who pronounced that the interiorization of the process could be completed and the same dramatic arc could be traversed with no God at all: “Just take one step farther; love yourself through Grace; then you are no longer in need of your God, and the whole drama of fall and redemption is acted out in yourself.”140 William Blake was writing about the necessity of the fall from innocence early in his career. His third hand-printed book, The Book of Thel, is about the possibility of such a fall,

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and we will examine this more fully later. His fourth book, described briefly above, contrasts the states of innocence and experience. In comparing these states a less subtle writer might have implied that innocence was the better of the two, and that it is unfortunate to leave such a condition. Blake does not pine for innocent days, recognizing that like all things in life they have their allotted term. The Songs of Innocence and Experience do not tell us that it is possible or even desirable to remain innocent forever. We briefly examined above, in our discussion of Blake’s view of nature, how his Four Zoas dramatizes the fall and eventual resurrection of Albion, the Universal Man. In my opinion, though, his clearest presentation of a fall that results in an improved return to God is in his series of illustrations to the Book of Job, the set of engravings he finished just prior to beginning the Dante illustrations. The Job series has been analyzed in detail by Lindberg, Raine, and Damon,141 and I will not diverge from their interpretations here. A brief look will be enough to see that this narrative follows, more clearly than do his poetic epics, the arc we have been discussing: a beginning state of naïveté, a fall into division and terror, and a return that is in fact an improvement. Readers familiar with the Book of Job but not with Blake’s elaborate and personal symbolism will have no trouble following the story told in his twenty-two engravings. A first look at the Job pictures might in fact give the impression that Blake has restrained the urge to defy traditional interpretations and has made straightforward, impersonal illustrations. Some early critics thought this to be the case.142 Further investigation, of course, reveals that there is more of Blake in the pictures than was originally thought. Through a variety of narrative techniques, Blake has given the story a clearer and more personal message than that contained in the biblical text. After a title page the set of engravings opens with a scene of Job and his family at prayer (fig. 6). Job and his wife are seated, prayer books on their knees, in front of a massive tree from which musical instruments are suspended. Their sons and daughters kneel around them, and in the background we can see a flock of sheep and a Gothic cathedral. This peaceful scene appears to be a kind of ideal, and indeed Job at this point believes that he has achieved an ideal position. The biblical text opens: “There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil” ( Job 1:1). It’s not until after we have looked carefully at the entire set of engravings that we can understand Job’s real condition at the opening. He is in a state of innocence, which cannot last. Like the childish chimney sweeper in the Songs of Innocence, Job believes that he is living a righteous life by following God’s commandments, and that “if all do their duty, they need not fear harm” (E 10). Those of us with more experience know that just because a person plays by the rules doesn’t mean he can avoid catastrophe. And so already in the second illustration the catastrophe begins. God and Satan conspire to bring disaster to Job’s home and family. By the third engraving the home has collapsed and the children are dying. When the lone survivor escapes to tell Job what has happened, Job is plunged against his will into the state of experience. Bad things can happen to good people. The middle third of the original biblical text consists mostly of Job’s lament and his dialogues with well-meaning friends who wish to tell him that the disasters are his own fault. Blake follows the pattern of the text and shows Job in the fallen world: getting ill, getting

Figure 6. Job and His Family, from Illustrations of the Book of Job, 1825; engraving, design: 18.1 × 15.0 cm, leaf size: 42.1 × 32.5 cm (collection of Robert N. Essick; © 2013 William Blake Archive; used by permission).

lectured by people who know nothing, being misunderstood, and at the low point, facing an evil God who has the facial features of Job himself. This is the world of experience, the fallen world in which Satan and Adam are the limits. Job is no longer in the protected world of naïveté, in which he can herd his sheep and imagine all is well. He is in the world where imagination is reduced to almost nothing, where the infinite connections of man to man

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are forgotten and where even looking at God, one sees only one’s own face reflected back from opaque surfaces. At the very lowest point in Job’s sojourn through the world of experience, though, Blake reminds us that all is not lost (fig. 7). In the frame below the scene of Job hovering prostrate above the flames of the pit, Blake has engraved the words: For I know that my Redeemer liveth & that he shall stand in the latter days upon the Earth & after my skin destroy thou This body yet in my flesh shall I see God whom I shall see for Myself and mine eyes shall behold & not Another tho consumed be my wrought image [ Job 19:22–27].

Job himself cannot see beyond the limitations of his state, but Blake is reminding us, the viewers, that Christ does not allow a soul to fall to complete death. Even at the lowest point, the redeemer is there. In the Book of Job, the title character is not satisfied with explanations from others about why he has fallen into his sad state. Moral or theoretical explanations will not do; he demands vision. And he gets it. The Lord appears to him out of the whirlwind. Modern readers may still find this unsatisfactory, since when Jehovah appears he explains nothing of why Job had to fall. God says only that God’s ways are too much for Job to understand, that Job isn’t as strong or as powerful as God, and that, therefore, Job won’t get a full answer. If we are waiting for a reasonable, logical explanation, we don’t get it. What we get is vision, and that is what we need. Logical discursive argument is nothing compared to the ability to see the infinity that is God. Job gains vision, and is redeemed. The last plate in the series shows Job and his restored family, in the same location as in the first plate, but engaged in a new kind of worship (fig. 8). The musical instruments are no longer hanging unused in the tree. The worshippers are no longer seated and obediently praying from their books. They are standing full height, worshipping through their music. This, and the previous plate in which Job shows his paintings of his visions to his daughters, show us that Job has taken on the artistic imaginative relation to the world which, for Blake, is the only true Christianity. The Songs of Innocence and Experience had shown us only the pre–Fall state and the condition of fallen man. Blake’s Book of Job ends, however, with a third condition, which Paley calls “higher innocence.”143 It is the synthesis at the end of the innocence-experience dialectic. It is the fuller understanding that we must leave our innocent state to reach, though the path there is tortuous. We will see that Blake’s version of the Comedy follows the same path, though of course there are many differences in the story. The illustrations begin, as the Comedy does, with the state of innocence already lost and the fall underway. And just as Dante explains in detail the conditions and horrors of the underworld, Blake also lingers in the lower realm. The difference is, of course, that for Blake the lower realm is our current realm. When comparing Blake’s theology of fall and redemption to Dante’s, there is another significant difference that we must keep in mind. I find no statement in Dante in favor of the felix culpa. For him, the Fall is only to be regretted. Though the pilgrim Dante must go down before he can go up, this is required by his own fault in losing the right path. At no point does the pilgrim announce that he is glad to have lost the path, and glad to have been required to make the journey. At various points in the Comedy, he announces that it would have been better if he had had the opportunity to remain in an unfallen state. Nor does he


Part III. Blake’s Criticism of Dante

Figure 7. Job’s Evil Dreams, from the Illustrations of the Book of Job, 1825; engraving, design: 19.2 × 14.6 cm, leaf size: 42.1 × 32.5 cm (collection of Robert N. Essick; © 2013 William Blake Archive; used by permission).

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Figure 8. Job and His Family Restored to Prosperity, from Illustrations of the Book of Job, 1825; engraving, design: 19.5 × 14.5 cm, leaf size: 42.1 × 32.5 cm (collection of Robert N. Essick; © 2013 William Blake Archive; used by permission).


Part III. Blake’s Criticism of Dante

see Adam and Eve’s Fall as the fault that allowed the greater reward. Both his own and mankind’s fall from grace are only everywhere denounced. We see an example in Purgatory 29, as the pilgrim is walking through the woods of the Earthly Paradise, which is the original home of Adam and Eve. The great beauty of Eden makes him think only of what humankind has missed by not being allowed to stay. Then did I chide, With warrantable zeal, the hardihood Of our first parent; for that there, where earth Stood in obedience to the Heavens, she only, Woman, the creature of an hour, endured not Restraint of any veil, which had she borne Devoutly, joys, ineffable as these, Had from the first, and long time since, been mine [Purgatory, 29; Cary, 269–70].

The pilgrim regrets that Eve did not stand “in obedience to the Heavens,” and “endured not Restraint,” because if she had, ineffable joys “Had from the first … been mine.” Later, in the sphere of Mercury, Beatrice explains the Fall with no hint of felicity at all. That man, who was unborn [Adam], condemn’d himself; And, in himself, all, who since him have lived, His offspring: whence, below, the human kind Lay sick in grievous error many an age; [Paradise, 7; Cary, 320]

She explains that mankind lived in this grievous error for a long time, until it pleased Christ to save them “By the mere act of His eternal love.” Her explanation of the need for the crucifixion, a masterpiece of theological argument, gives no indication that the Fall had been a necessary means to a good result, but only a great error that required unprecedented redemption. It was possible to be a Catholic in Dante’s time and not believe in the felix culpa. It was not possible to be a follower of Boehme or a Romantic poet and reject it.

Neoplatonic Stories of Katabasis In the Christian era, several Greek myths were employed as parables of the soul’s descent into the material world and return to God. For example, Fulgentius in the fifth century set a long-lasting pattern by reading the story of Cupid and Psyche as a Christian allegory.144 More esoteric philosophers such as Athanasius Kircher and Pico della Mirandola espoused the prisca theologia, which held that the myths and religions of all countries had sprung from a common true source. Such men found it obvious that the many tales of descent and return told a basic truth about the human condition. Such tales, in fact, form one of the most ancient of literary forms, called “katabasis” (κατάβασις = descent) in Greek. Early katabatic myths include The Epic of Gilgamesh and the stories of the Sumerian goddess Inanna and the Akkadian goddess Ishtar, all current in the second millennium bc.145

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This type of story was sufficiently widespread that the pattern would have been familiar to auditors of Homer’s account of Odysseus’s katabasis, and ancient history to those who read Virgil’s account of Aeneas’s. Lucian and Aristophanes both found the genre familiar enough to write parodies in which it is assumed the audience will recognize the shape of such infernal trips.146 There are common elements that were established early in the tradition and tend to appear in most versions, including a ferryman to cross the river boundary into the underworld and the necessity of traveling with a knowing guide. In these stories a descent to the underworld is never attempted lightly. In some, the hero is kidnapped or tricked into descent, as when Persephone is abducted by Hades. In others, the journey is made to rescue a soul from the land of death, as in the story of Orpheus or of Herakle’s rescue of Theseus and Alcestis. This type is echoed in the Harrowing of Hell: the extra-canonical story, accepted by Dante, of Christ descending to Limbo to rescue the worthy souls who died prior to the crucifixion. The type of katabasis that most strongly influenced Western traditions, however, is the quest for life-changing information that can only be gained by a perilous descent. Odysseus and Aeneas both make their journey for this reason, and of course Dante’s trip to Hell is conducted in that tradition.147 In every case, the goal is a type of rebirth. The story of Persephone and the earlier Akkadian myths are fertility myths, related to the seasonal rebirth of life in the spring. Herakles literally gives a soul rebirth from the dead, and Homer, Virgil, and Dante each explain that descent is necessary for his hero to begin a new life in the world. Literature of the Christian Middle Ages returns again and again to the katabatic theme. Augustine makes metaphorical use of it in his Confessions, when he describes his life as being on the road to Hell before his conversion to Christianity.148 Many apocryphal books that were popular in medieval times included tours of Hell. Among these were the Apocalypse of Peter, the Acts of Thomas, the Apocalypse of Paul, the Greek Apocalypse of Ezra, the Greek Apocalypse of the Virgin, and Hebrew texts describing trips by Isaiah and Rabbi Joshua ben Levi.149 Neoplatonic readings of katabatic myths tended to reinterpret the beginning and ending points of the journey. For Plotinus and others, Persephone’s abduction from our world into Hades was a symbolic story of the soul’s descent from God into the material world.150 Persephone begins in a state of innocence, gathering flowers on a riverbank; she is soiled with experience in the world below, but returns wiser, at least temporarily, to her starting point. Interpretations that make the lower world into our own world may be traced back at least as far as Plato’s Myth of Er, the fable that concludes his Republic. These readings formed the theory behind the Roman mystery cults, mentioned above, which were designed to reenact the myths in order to guarantee a better afterlife.151 They were also helpful for those such as Boehme, Blake, and the German Romantics who believed that the soul undergoes a necessary fall from and return to God. We can see, then, that the idea of rebirth attained through descent and return is an ancient element in myth and religion. The myth keeps its emotional force from Gilgamesh to Virgil, and formed the basis for popular and long-lasting rituals. Blake’s view of salvation follows the pattern as well. In the following sections, I will examine two works by Blake that use this theme, so that we may get a better idea of how he interpreted Dante’s own katabatic journey.


Part III. Blake’s Criticism of Dante

The Book of Thel as Katabasis The Book of Thel is among Blake’s strangest and most moving works (fig. 9). It resists the urge to abstraction—no indisputable moral message can be obtained from it, despite the efforts of scholars over many years—yet in its ambiguity it keeps a living appeal. Created around the end of the 1780s, it is one of Blake’s earliest illuminated books. It opens with the motto: Does the Eagle know what is in the pit? Or wilt thou go ask the Mole: Can Wisdom be put in a silver rod? Or Love in a golden bowl? [E 3]

These lines, like everything else in the poem, have been interpreted in a variety of ways, with the rod and bowl standing for everything from the Anglican church to male and female genitalia. I have no ambition here to offer a definitive analysis of the poem, but a close reading can help us explicate how Blake treated themes of travel between the higher and lower worlds. As I see it, one way to see The Book of Thel is as a kind of failed katabasis. The poem opens in the Vales of Har, a pastoral place where “The daughters of Mne Seraphim led round their sunny flocks.” Only Thel, the youngest of the daughters, seems inclined to disturb the peace by asking difficult questions. She is troubled by the transience of life and the inevitability of death. O life of this our spring! why fades the lotus of the water? Why fade these children of the spring? born but to smile & fall. Ah! Thel is like a watry bow. and like a parting cloud. Like a reflection in a glass. like shadows in the water. Like dreams of infants. like a smile upon an infants face, Like the doves voice, like transient day, like music in the air; Ah! gentle may I lay me down, and gentle rest my head. And gentle sleep the sleep of death. and gentle hear the voice Of him that walketh in the garden in the evening time [E 3].

The mention of “him that walketh in the garden in the evening time” is of course a reference to Genesis 2:8, where Jehovah walks in Eden in the cool of the evening just as he is about to discover that Adam and Eve have sinned. From the beginning, then, we are reminded of themes of falling, death, and sin. Thel would prefer to stay in this innocent, pre–Fall condition, but her curiosity leads her to ask several other inhabitants of Har about the meaning of death. She questions “The Lilly of the valley breathing in the humble grass,” the cloud, the worm, and the clod of clay. Each humbly reassures her by saying that everything is all right, that God is watching over us, and that death is nothing to fear. (Only the worm makes no answer, because he is too tiny.) (Fig. 10.) These natural objects speak in the voices of innocence, like the naïvely reassuring words in the Songs of Innocence, which tell us that God will never allow harm to come to us. Critics are divided on whether we should believe these comforting words. Essick, for one, thinks Opposite: Figure 9. Title page, The Book of Thel, relief etching with hand coloring, 1789; object size: approx. 15.0 × 11.0 cm, leaf size: 37.1 × 26.9 cm (Lessing J. Rosenwald Collection, Library of Congress; © 2013 William Blake Archive; used by permission).

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Figure 10. The Worm upon its dewy bed, from The Book of Thel, 1789; relief etching with hand coloring, object size: approx. 15.0 × 11.0 cm, leaf size: 37.1 × 26.9 cm (Lessing J. Rosenwald Collection, Library of Congress; © 2013 William Blake Archive; used by permission).

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we should not. He reminds us that in the margins of Boyd’s translation of Dante, Blake had remarked, “Nature Teaches nothing of Spiritual Life but only of Natural Life”152 (E 634). If the same sentiment is at work here, the natural objects are unable to see beyond nature, which, as we have seen, is a veil over the spiritual. Thel’s advisors believe only what their state allows them to believe, like all the rest of us. Whether or not their advice is correct, however, Thel is not satisfied with their answers. She decides to go to the world of death and see for herself, and the poem makes an abrupt shift in tone. The “terrific porter” lifts the bar on the “eternal gates,” “Thel enter’d in & saw the secrets of the land unknown.” She has descended to the world of the dead, “A land of sorrows & of tears where never smile was seen.” She wanders in this underworld, listening to the horrible lamentations, until she finds her own grave, where she hears a voice: Why cannot the Ear be closed to its own destruction? Or the glistning Eye to the poison of a smile! Why are Eyelids stord with arrows ready drawn, Where a thousand fighting men in ambush lie? Or an Eye of gifts & graces, show’ring fruits & coined gold! Why a Tongue impress’d with honey from every wind? Why an Ear, a whirlpool fierce to draw creations in? Why a Nostril wide inhaling terror trembling & affright. Why a tender curb upon the youthful burning boy! Why a little curtain of flesh on the bed of our desire? [E 6]

This is the voice of Thel herself, if she were dead in that grave. The voice is lamenting the loss of innocence, regretting that we must have knowledge of evil and of loss. Characteristically, Blake has framed the questions in terms of the senses. If Thel had remained in innocence, ignorant of death, her state would be one in which the ear and eye and nostril are closed to their own destruction. We see that in innocence the senses are unaware of suffering, and in experience they lament. The lower world is too dark, and the questions too horrifying, and Thel flees shrieking back to Vales of Har. She wanted to see for herself, had a brief vision of the world below, was terrified by what she saw and rejected it. This is why I think we can refer to Thel’s story as a failed katabasis. Unlike the epic versions of descent stories, in which Odysseus or Aeneas learn what is required for rebirth in an advanced state, Thel rejects the knowledge she could have found there and returns to her previous condition. No doubt it is unnecessary for me to remind anyone that Thel is a fictional character and a poetical construct. In the work of an author like Blake, in particular, such characters are capable of being in a number of states all at the same time, as multivalent symbols and personalities. Given this freedom, I will borrow portions of Kathleen Raine’s reading of The Book of Thel, without necessarily following all of her conclusions. Raine has read Thel’s story as an allegory of the soul in the terms of Neoplatonic tradition. Plotinus and Porphyry had held that the human soul begins as a portion of the One in the intelligible world, and may fall into the sensible. For them, “matter is evil and the soul’s descent into body a death from eternity incurred by sin or by folly.”153 As described above, the Neoplatonists saw the unity of the One as goodness, and division from that unity as the source of evil. Unity in the ideal world above is good; the fragmentation of the One’s


Part III. Blake’s Criticism of Dante

emanation into the material world is evil. Raine calls Thel a nymph from Porphyry’s myth, who is tempted to divide herself from the ideal world and fall to the generated world below.154 If that is the case, Thel is wise to return as quickly as possible to the Vales of Har; choosing to be embodied in the world below would require a far more arduous journey before she could rejoin her original source. Another commentator concludes, “The earlier sections of the poem can in turn be interpreted as the soul’s search for reasons to accept embodiment; finding none, she flees back to her eternal vales.”155 Raine’s Neoplatonic view does not see descent as a necessary step toward an ultimately higher rise. It’s possible that Raine is correct, and in this early work Blake hadn’t yet concluded, as he did in his later work, that the goal is a higher innocence, through and beyond innocence and experience. Songs of Innocence and Experience, composed about the same time, also lacks any description of a third, more advanced condition for the soul to rise to. Even if Blake had not yet imagined a stage beyond experience, however, Thel’s refusal to enter the second stage of the dialectic seems to some scholars to be a failure on her part. Northrop Frye reached this conclusion, writing, The irony suggested by the contrast of the two states of innocence and experience is deepened by the tragedy of Thel, the failure to overcome that contrast which is symbolized by all unborn forces of life, all sterile seeds, all the virginity that results from fear. The Book of Thel thus represents the failure to take the state of innocence into the state of experience, a failure which establishes one of the poles of the fallen world.156

Since Blake’s goal is always the coincidence and transcendence of contraries, the choice to remain in only one state for all of one’s life can only be a failure. Whatever we conclude about the wisdom of Thel’s choice, we can agree with Raine that much of Blake’s imagery in the poem derives from Neoplatonic sources. Moreover, by comparing Thel with those sources, we can be quite sure that Blake was aware of the traditional idea that human souls begin their lives in a higher plane and descend to our present world. Death from that world is birth into ours, and vice versa. We have already mentioned two of the primary sources for the idea of souls in another realm lining up to be reborn into our world: Plato’s Myth of Er and the scene in the Elysian Fields in Virgil’s Aeneid. Raine shows persuasively that there was another source closer to Blake’s time and in his own language: book 3, canto 6 of Spenser’s Faerie Queene, published between 1590 and 1596. Spenser describes in detail the garden that Venus has created for assignations with her lover Adonis. It is not only a perfect lovers’ bower but also serves as the home for all the souls waiting to pass into generation. There are two gates, operated by a genius: one to let the souls descend into material bodies and one to receive them on their return. I will examine Spenser’s description of the Garden of Adonis in more detail than Raine does, because we will see that much of its imagery is relevant to a later work of Blake’s, the Arlington Court painting, and to the first watercolor in his series of Dante illustrations. Spenser tells us that in the garden “all the goodly flowres” of nature are present. Then he tells us that it is the first seminarie Of all things, that are borne to liue and die, According to their kindes.157

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Here of course a “seminarie” isn’t a theological school but a place of seeds; a bed for the seminal forms of all things that will live and die. As in the Neoplatonic myths, souls originate in this ideal location but fall into generation one by one. The garden is protected by a wall that has two gates: And girt in with two walles on either side; The one of yron, the other of bright gold, That none might thorough breake, nor ouer-stride: And double gates it had, which opened wide, By which both in and out men moten pas; Th’ one faire and fresh, the other old and dride: Old Genius the porter of them was, Old Genius, the which a double nature has.158

For Neoplatonists, iron symbolized the lowest level of the world, the world of Plato’s cave. This makes the gate in the iron wall the gate into the material world, our world, which the souls pass through on their way to be born into materiality. Gold stands for eternity, and so the gate in the golden wall is the gate through which the souls return after death in our world. Raine shows that Blake had used precisely the same image in the dedication to his illustrations to Blair’s Grave (1808): The Door of Death is made of Gold, That Mortal Eyes cannot behold; But, when the Mortal Eyes are clos’d, And cold and pale the Limbs repos’d, The Soul awakes; and, wond’ring, sees In her mild Hand the golden Keys: The Grave is Heaven’s golden Gate [E 480]

The genius gatekeeper in Spenser’s garden allows passage but also clothes the descending souls in material bodies: He letteth in, he letteth out to wend, All that to come into the world desire; A thousand thousand naked babes attend About him day and night, which doe require, That he with fleshly weedes would them attire: Such as him list, such as eternall fate Ordained hath, he clothes with sinfull mire, And sendeth forth to liue in mortall state, Till they againe returne backe by the hinder gate.159

“Weedes” in the above passage refers to a type of garment—it being a common trope to refer to the fleshly body as clothing for the soul. (We have seen that Blake used the same metaphor to refer to the difference between a soul and its current state, and later we will see that he uses metaphors of weaving to show physical embodiment.) Because the ideal world of the garden is considered pure while the physical world is filth, the descending souls are said to be clothed in “sinfull mire” until they can come back through the golden gate. When they return, the souls may stay “Some thousand yeares” before they begin the cycle again. An obvious question to ask at this point is: if the descent into generation is so dirty


Part III. Blake’s Criticism of Dante

and unpleasant, why do souls ever choose to go? Spenser gives a Christianized version of the Platonic answer: of their owne accord All things, as they created were, doe grow, And yet remember well the mightie word, Which first was spoken by th’Almightie lord, That bad them to increase and multiply: Ne doe they need with water of the ford, Or of the clouds to moysten their roots dry; For in themselues eternall moisture they imply.160

God’s command from Genesis 1:28, “Be fruitful, and multiply,” is here associated with the Neoplatonic idea that it is sensuous pleasure, particularly sexual sensation, that tempts souls to enter generation. Spenser also reminds us that entry into the material world is generally associated with water: sometimes the ocean becomes a symbol of roiling materiality, and other times souls are said to be attracted to moisture. Heraclitus had believed that the soul is a mixture of fire and water, and he associated water with ignoble qualities. He wrote, “The dry soul is wisest and best,” “It is pleasure to souls to become moist,” and “It is death to souls to become water.”161 Though Heraclitus didn’t explain generation as a fall, his ideas were adopted into the general Neoplatonic worldview. Spenser’s description follows in the Platonic mold as he describes how souls fall from the ideal world into matter, which without the soul is a kind of chaos. He says that in the “wide wombe of the world,” there lyes, In hatefull darkenesse and in deepe horrore, An huge eternall Chaos, which supplyes The substances of natures fruitfull progenyes. All things from thence doe their first being fetch, And borrow matter, whereof they are made, Which when as forme and feature it does ketch, Becomes a bodie, and doth then inuade The state of life, out of the griesly shade. That substance is eterne, and bideth so, Ne when the life decayes, and forme does fade, Doth it consume, and into nothing go, But chaunged is, and often altred to and fro.162

Both matter and soul are eternal. When a soul gives “forme and feature” to a portion of matter, it “Becomes a bodie,” and enters “The state of life.” But when the soul leaves that matter, the matter “decayes,” and the “forme does fade,” so that the matter loses consistency and may be “often altred to and fro.” Spenser, like any good poet, regrets the fact that beautiful forms may fade. The example he gives as a regrettable loss will remind us of Blake’s Thel: For formes are variable and decay, By course of kind, and by occasion; And that faire flowre of beautie fades away, As doth the lilly fresh before the sunny ray.

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Thel also was saddened that the lily would fade. She was pierced with pity, as we see that Venus also is in Spenser’s poem: Her hart was pierst with pittie at the sight, When walking through the Gardin, them she spyde, Yet no’te she find redresse for such despight. For all that liues, is subiect to that law: All things decay in time, and to their end do draw. But were it not, that Time their troubler is, All that in this delightfull Gardin growes, Should happie be, and haue immortall blis163:

My point here is not to insist that Blake is an orthodox Neoplatonist or that he has adopted a worldview from Plotinus or Spenser. Rather, I want to show that there is a constellation of symbols that grew up from very early philosophy and was available to Blake. Poets as far apart as Virgil and Spenser made use of these images, and if Blake does also we may be confident that he was aware of the tradition, however much he fit the images into an original theology. Reading The Book of Thel with this knowledge in hand, we can be sure that the overall symbolic system of descent and return, of innocence above and materiality below, and of birth and death as a reincarnational change of level, were parts of his poetic world from the beginning of his career. His own belief in the absolute immanence of infinity and God in the particulars of the finite world means that he does not adhere perfectly to the Neoplatonic view. What Plotinus considers a spatial as well as an ontological fall, Blake sees as primarily perceptual. And the fact that the reincarnational cycle occurs between only two poles in the earlier examples means that Blake’s mature system, in which the dialectic of innocence and experience results in the higher innocence of Eden, diverges in important ways from Neoplatonism. Greek myths such as the story of Persephone’s abduction could be read in more than one way. At the simplest level, as stories of love and power, the myths and their characters were familiar to all readers from long before Blake’s time. As allegories of Neoplatonic thought, however, the stories had always been esoteric. A certain amount of intentional obscurity was built into the myths when they were used this way, either by hermeticists, alchemists, or poets. It’s not surprising, then, that Blake would adopt and adapt the symbols from the ancient and more difficult tradition as he went about constructing his own imaginative world. The symbolic vocabulary he took on was neither too reified by time to put to his own uses, nor too obscure to be entirely inaccessible. He could use the building blocks bequeathed to him by Plotinus and Boehme to construct his own answers to the big questions about the soul, the Fall, and the goal.

The Arlington Court Picture In 1949 one of the stately homes of England became the property of the state. Arlington Court, a neoclassical mansion on thousands of acres of grounds, was being tidied up by its new owners when they discovered a watercolor by William Blake on top of one of the kitchen cabinets. This work had previously been unknown to scholars, and no one is quite sure how


Part III. Blake’s Criticism of Dante

the Arlington family, who were avid collectors, came to own it. The picture is signed and dated 1821, making this a mature work from just a few years before Blake began the Dante series. Having had only fifty years to debate the picture, scholars are still not in agreement on the meaning of the work. The central figure, for example, a man wearing a sort of red tunic, has been identified as Odysseus by Raine and as Isaiah by Christopher Heppner.164 Disagreements arise in part due to Raine’s attempt to force the work too closely into the role of literal illustration. She believes that Blake has combined elements of two related literary works: a scene from book 5 of the Odyssey, and Porphyry’s “Cave of the Nymphs,” a Neoplatonic interpretation of a location mentioned in book 13 of the Odyssey. Because this combination is not entirely persuasive, and because Blake’s landscape scene doesn’t conform precisely to Homer’s description of the cave, Heppner and others dismiss much of Raine’s interpretation. My own reading of the Arlington Court picture might be called a simplified version of Raine’s. If we keep in mind that Blake never felt the need to illustrate written texts slavishly but did feel free to employ Neoplatonic imagery in his own way (as we have seen in our interpretation of The Book of Thel ), the picture’s connection to Porphyry’s work seems beyond doubt. Allowing a few differences from Raine in how we see the characters’ actions in the painting also means we need not look to book 5 of the Odyssey at all, therefore simplifying the source material. One of Heppner’s main objections to Raine’s interpretation is that “she insists, against all evidence, that Blake was a Platonist.”165 This view, I believe, requires more nuance. It would be wrong to call Blake a Platonist, but it would be equally wrong to say that he rejected the tradition that grew out of that philosopher’s writings. It is entirely possible to reject Plato’s banishment of the poets, say, or his dualistic view of the soul, while still using Neoplatonic sources. As I described in an earlier chapter, Blake thought that the wisdom of the Hebrews had been stolen by the Greeks and Romans, who degraded and spoiled it by making it subordinate to reason. The sweep of intellectual history, for him, is clear: God revealed truth to the prophets, and the Greeks misused it, but there has been a steady return to true knowledge, in certain minority traditions, after that low point. From our modern viewpoint, Plotinus and Porphyry may have been changing Plato’s views by adding more mysticism, but to Blake, they were undoing the damage. Plotinus, after all, had numerous mystical experiences of union with the One.166 As time went on, thinkers in the Neoplatonic tradition became more and more mystical, until Jacob Boehme, steeped in its ideas, turned into a full-fledged Christian mystic.167 Thus from our point of view Blake is Neoplatonic, but from his own point of view he is an anti–Platonic recoverer of true wisdom. It is no contradiction for him to berate Plato while illustrating Porphyry. Discussion of Plato and Neoplatonism leads us to one of the most interesting figures in Blake’s literary circle: translator and philosopher Thomas Taylor (1758−1835). Taylor was self-taught, an eccentric and an enthusiast, who wished to revive Greek religion. He was also an astonishingly prolific translator. He published the first complete set of Plato’s dialogues in English, as well as translations and commentaries of works by Aristotle, Porphyry, Plotinus, and other important interpreters of the Platonic tradition. When Blake was born,

8. States, Not People


in 1757, only one collection of Plato’s dialogues was available in English translation,168 and of the ten dialogues between its covers, six have since been declared by scholars to be later works, not by Plato himself. Taylor remedied this situation. We know that Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Shelley owned and valued his works, as did, in America, Emerson and Emily Dickinson.169 Though he is largely forgotten today, he had a profound affect on the Englishspeaking intellectual world of his time. One of Taylor’s translations is the key text in understanding the Arlington Court picture, a work I mentioned earlier, Porphyry’s “Cave of the Nymphs.” Taylor first published this in a collection he issued in 1788, so there was ample time for Blake to have found it before making the 1821 painting. Neoplatonist philosophers read ancient Greek works as allegory. They believed that Homer and Plato had possessed wisdom that was too important to be left in the open for anyone to find, so they looked for deeper significance in nearly every line of the Greeks’ writings. Proclus’s commentary on the Timaeus, for example, goes to almost comical lengths to see significance in every sentence of the dialogue. This includes the apparently innocuous opening line, where Plato begins by counting the members of the group: “[I see] One, two, three, but where, friend Timaeus, is the fourth…?”170 Proclus follows this with eight pages of commentary on number theory and cosmology, all of which he thinks is alluded to in Plato’s count of one, two, three. After reading volumes of such esoteric searches for depth, it seems almost too obvious to recall that for earlier Neoplatonic philosophers, Odysseus’s voyage home is an allegory of the soul’s voyage in the material world. Porphyry (234–c. 305 ad) cites Numenius (second century ad) as his authority that Homer intended the allegorical meaning: the obstacles of the sea are the troubles of the embodied world, and the undying desire to reach Ithaca is the soul’s longing to rejoin the One. Indeed, as it appears to me, it was not without reason that Numenius and his followers thought the person of Ulysses in the Odyssey represented to us a man, who passes in a regular manner over the dark and stormy sea of generation, and thus at length arrives at that region where tempests and seas are unknown.171

And if we are tempted to think that these men are reaching a bit too much with their interpretations, like a modern scholar desperately stacking up pages to prove an untenable thesis, Porphyry warns us, in Taylor’s translation, that It must not, however, be thought that interpretations of this kind are forced, and nothing more than the conjectures of ingenious men; but when we consider the great wisdom of antiquity and how much Homer excelled in intellectual prudence, and in an accurate knowledge of every virtue, it must not be denied that he has obscurely indicated the images of things of a more divine nature in the fiction of a fable.

In the thirteenth book of the Odyssey, when Odysseus finally reaches Ithaca, he lands in a harbor overlooked by a rocky headland with a cave, crowned by an olive tree. He hides his possessions there and disguises himself as a beggar, on the advice of Athena. Homer describes the location in twelve lines: High at the head a branching olive grows And crowns the pointed cliffs with shady boughs. A cavern pleasant, though involved in night, Beneath it lies, the Naiades’ delight:


Part III. Blake’s Criticism of Dante Where bowls and urns of workmanship divine And massy beams in native marble shine; On which the Nymphs amazing webs display, Of purple hue and exquisite array. The busy bees within the urns secure Honey delicious, and like nectar pure. Perpetual waters through the grotto glide, A lofty gate unfolds on either side; That to the north is pervious to mankind: The sacred south t’immortals is consign’d.

Whether Homer meant this description as allegory or not, it is too much for Porphyry to resist, and he assures us that the cave is meant to “obscurely signify.” He writes: [I]t is evident, not only to the wise but also to the vulgar, that the poet, under the veil of allegory, conceals some mysterious signification; thus compelling others to explore what the gate of men is, and also what is the gate of Gods: what he means by asserting that this cave of the Nymphs has two gates; and why it is both pleasant and obscure, since darkness is by no means delightful, but is rather productive of aversion and horror.

Porphyry begins his analysis by reminding us that caves have played important roles in religion as symbols of the sensible world, concluding with the most famous of cave allegories, Plato’s. “And by Plato, in the seventh book of his Republic, it is said, ‘Behold men as if dwelling in a subterraneous cavern, and in a den-like habitation, whose entrance is widely expanded to the admission of the light through the whole cave.’” Some of the symbols are more obvious than others (fig. 11). The olive tree at the crown, for example, is easily taken to represent wisdom, since we know the olive is the sacred tree of Minerva/Athena, and it is she who has guided Odysseus on this last leg of his trip home. The cave is pleasant to Naiades, Porphyry tells us, because they are water nymphs, not wood nymphs, and thus prefer humid caves. Attracted to humidity, then, the Naiades are symbols of souls descending to generation, because, as we have seen, philosophers since Heraclitus have said that descending souls move toward water. The bowls and urns are also associated with liquid, both the water that attracts souls and the wine that stands for pleasure. Homer tells us that the nymphs are weaving “amazing webs,” not on wooden looms but on shining “native marble.” Porphyry explains: “And to souls that descend into generation and are occupied in corporeal energies, what symbol can be more appropriate than those instruments pertaining to weaving? … For the formation of the flesh is on and about the bones, which in the bodies of animals resemble stones.” The bees that fill the urns, Porphyry cites various authorities to show, are symbols of noble souls, buzzing busily in anticipation of return to the world. Honey is another sign of sensual pleasure, which had been known to serve as bait for the gods. By now we recognize the symbols of northern and southern gates. Homer says the north is for mankind and the south for immortals, but Porphyry assures us that “immortal” here refers to the immortal souls of people, ascending to the ideal world, while the south is for souls descending to generation. Blake’s painting is not identical to this description. There are many trees at the top, for example, not a lone olive. The bees have been replaced with winged women carrying the urns on their heads, but when we recall his painting of the ghost of a flea, showing the insect

8. States, Not People


Figure 11. The Arlington Court picture, 1821; pen and ink, watercolor, gouache and gesso on paper, 40.0 × 49.5 cm (The Chichester Collection [The National Trust]; Arlington Court, Devonshire, Great Britain, National Trust Photograph Library/Art Resource, New York).

with a muscular human body, this seems not unusual. More importantly, the details Blake adds to the painting that are not mentioned in Homer all relate strongly to the theme that Porphyry describes. As is his custom, Blake has not illustrated but interpreted. In this case, his interpretation does not correct the philosophical work Taylor translated but reinforces it. Blake has added a classical temple at the base of the cliff, a building not mentioned in Homer. But Porphyry describes at length that the caves of the ancients were considered holy places for ceremony, so such a temple is not out of place, and it serves as well to set the scene in the Greek world. On the stairs between the cave and the sea Blake has placed seven female figures with spindles and other tools for weaving. These are to illustrate Porphyry’s rhetorical question: “And to souls that descend into generation and are occupied in corporeal energies, what symbols can be more appropriate than those instruments pertaining to weaving?” Blake employed the same symbol of weaving bodies for those who descend in The Four Zoas (E 372), Milton (E 111), and Jerusalem (E 206). We will see that he uses it again in the Dante illustrations.


Part III. Blake’s Criticism of Dante

At the foot of the steps leading to the cave Blake has invented two female characters, one with her back to us, carrying a pail as she ascends the stairs, and the other half submerged into the sea, her bucket sideways beneath her. In this description Homer mentions bowls and urns, not pails or tubs, but Porphyry reminds us of lines from the Iliad, 14, v. 528: “From which the lot of every one he fills, / Blessings to these, to those distributes ills.” And Raine is surely correct to see Blake’s figures as illustrating this reference. Porphyry writes: But Plato in the Gorgias by tubs intends to signify souls, some of which are malefic, but others beneficent; and some which are rational, but others irrational.… In Hesiod, too, we find one tub closed, but the other opened by Pleasure, who scatters its contents everywhere, Hope alone remaining behind.

So the woman with her back to us, climbing the stairs and gesturing to the sky, is carrying her beneficent self upwards, while the other woman, half-submerged in the ocean of the material world, has succumbed to this world and has scattered the contents of her tub. Mostly submerged in the sea, to the left of the foot of the stairs, Blake has added the three Fates, not mentioned here by either Homer or Porphyry but completely in keeping with the themes of life, death, and weaving. The three Fates, you will recall, are Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos. The first sister spins the thread of life, the second measures its length for each person, and the third cuts the thread at the moment of death. They are depicted as a group, stretched horizontally across the bottom of the page like an architectural frieze, with the wound thread of life on the right and the shears at the opposite extreme. Above the Fates, dominating the left half of the painting, are the two main figures, the bearded man in red and the goddess-like figure gesturing upwards. As I mentioned, Heppner identifies this man as Isaiah, based on the figure’s resemblance to another work, an unfinished woodblock of the prophet that Blake began in about the same year. Though lacking color, Isaiah’s appearance on that block is identical to the figure in the Arlington Court picture. Heppner justifies the presence of an Old Testament prophet in a classical setting by making Isaiah here a representative of imaginative, non-classical vision, a role he certainly could fulfill in other settings. The female goddess behind him Heppner identifies as Nature personified, a contrast, then, of veiled, rational vision versus the prophetic.172 Given Blake’s contrast of vision and reason in other works, we might almost agree with Heppner in his identifications if it weren’t for the two figures’ gestures. The man in red is holding out his hands to the left, toward the ocean, in a gesture that reads as desire. Heppner interprets this gesture according to the catalog of the French painter Le Brun, who wished to standardize bodily movements in painting to predetermined meanings, the way French classical drama had done.173 Le Brun defines such a gesture as desire for the object toward which the arms point. This would mean that, paradoxically, Isaiah is telling us he desires the roiling sea of the material world instead of Heaven, while Nature, behind him, is gesturing upwards to the spiritual realm. I find this a bit too paradoxical. Raine interprets the man’s gesture by saying that he has just thrown an object into the sea, and tells us that the object was a girdle given to Odysseus by the sea-nymph Leucothea as a protective talisman in book 5 of the Odyssey. This reading seems implausible to me because Blake has shown no object being thrown, and because the gesture can be read equally well without introducing elements from widely separated parts of the Odyssey, which Porphyry doesn’t mention.

8. States, Not People


It makes sense to me to accept Heppner’s interpretation of the gesture as being a sign of desire, while agreeing with Raine that the figure doing the gesturing is Odysseus. Here, then, is my own reading of the two main figures in the picture. The man in red is Odysseus. This is in keeping with the connection to the cave in Homer and with the other Greek elements in the painting. As we recall, though, Blake had said in his description of his Last Judgment painting that the figures there of Moses, et al., are not to be read as historical personages but as states. This means that Odysseus here is a state of the human soul: an Odysseus-state, in keeping with the readings of Numenius and Porphyry, who see him as a symbol of the travails of the soul in the embodied world. He gestures to the sea because he is tempted to stay in the sensually pleasant world of generation. He holds his hands out to the ocean and looks us in the eye as if to say: “Look! At the sensible world as it is!” Porphyry quoted Heraclitus as saying that souls are drawn to water, so it is fitting that the soul in the Odysseus-state is desirous of the ocean. The woman behind him, then, is Athena/Minerva. This, too, stays within the bounds of the Homeric story, in which Odysseus is guided in his homecoming by the goddess. As the personification of wisdom, she is gesturing upwards, away from the sea towards Heaven, which is where, according to Plato, Numenius, Porphyry, and Blake (and Homer too, if he is really sending coded messages), the soul ought to be directed. Finally, we can turn our attention to two groups of figures in the upper left quadrant of the painting. Above Odysseus we can see a large, nude woman following four horses. No vehicle is visible, but the pose indicates she is reclining in a sort of chariot pulled by the horses through the waves. A twisting cloud that leads from the sky indicates she has just descended from above, into the sea. At the top of the painting is another figure in a chariot behind another four horses. These horses are attended by a group of female figures in joyful poses, and the whole group is engulfed in flames. They stand atop a line of cloud such as Blake had used in his Job pictures to indicate the boundary between the lower world and the upper. Though Raine sees the upper group of horses as “eager for their journey,” the behavior of the attendant figures here indicates to me that the horses, their chariot and rider, have just arrived in this upper world. One figure is rushing in from the right with a towel or perhaps a ribbon as a reward. The other attendants are brushing the horses as one does after they have finished their race. The facts that the entire group is in flames, and the rider is encircled as with a large halo, means that she is at the level of the sun. Here we remember what Porphyry had written: “And according to theologists, the Sun and Moon are the gates of souls, which ascend through the Sun, and descend through the Moon.”174 We can see, then, that the soul in the upper chariot has just completed its ascent to the upper world. It is tired from the great ascent, but is greeted by joyous inhabitants of Heaven. We can see that at the right of this group, leading down to the cave, is the top of the staircase that descends to the humid souls in the ocean, making the painting into a complete circle and emphasizing the round of birth and death, ascent and descent, that is the story of this painting. The other group of horses, then, entering the water from above (fig. 12), have entered through the gate of the moon, into the sea of time and space. The circling cloud above her, which Raine implausibly calls Leucothea’s veil, is then a kind of vapor trail, the moist cloud that condenses to take on the shape of the physical body.


Part III. Blake’s Criticism of Dante

Figure 12. Descending soul, detail of figure 11.

From all we’ve seen we can be confident of the affinities between Taylor’s translation of Porphyry’s text, the Arlington Court picture, and this passage from Blake’s Milton, completed perhaps ten years before the painting: the Sea of Time & Space thunderd aloud Against the rock, which was inwrapped with the weeds of death Hovering over the cold bosom, in its vortex Milton bent down To the bosom of death, what was underneath soon seemd above. A cloudy heaven mingled with stormy seas in loudest ruin; But as a wintry globe descends precipitant thro’ Beulah bursting, With thunders loud and terrible: so Miltons shadow fell, Precipitant loud thundring into the Sea of Time & Space [E 110].

Many commentators have titled the Arlington Court picture after this passage, calling it appropriately The Sea of Time and Space. As Taylor had translated from another antique text: “[I]s not the ocean a proper emblem of an earthly nature, whirling and stormy, and perpetually rolling without admitting any periods of repose?”175 There are a number of points in the Arlington Court picture that, if my interpretation is correct, will help us in our understanding of the Dante illustrations. The first is the figure of the ascended soul, in the chariot at the top of the picture. All of the other figures in the painting are clearly either male or female: Odysseus has a beard, and the nymphs and Fates have breasts. Only this ascended figure is androgynous. It has long hair and a beardless indeterminate face, but the body is stocky enough to be a man and there are no breasts. As I will argue in my analysis of the Dante pictures, I believe that this is the type of figure Blake used to show a soul in the pre–Fall condition; gender appears with the Fall. Because this soul has re-entered the upper world, it has left behind the division into male or female.

8. States, Not People


The second point to notice is the importance of Athena or wisdom to the message of the painting. It is often assumed that women in Blake’s work are traps or veils. This is why Heppner sees the female figure in the Arlington Court painting as Nature, and why Albert S. Roe thinks Blake has transformed Beatrice the spirit-guide into Vala the deceiver. But if Athena here is both female and someone capable of pointing to the correct path, it supports my argument that in the Dante illustrations Blake has not changed Beatrice into a trap but has left her in her original role as guide and symbol of goodness. Finally, if it’s true that Blake has left intact here (mostly) Porphyry’s interpretation of the ascent and descent of souls, of the sea as the material world, of caves and woods as transitional points between the realms, it means that a few years after the Arlington Court picture was completed Blake may well have used the same symbols in his Dante illustrations. This is what I believe, and this is what I intend to demonstrate in the next portion of this book.

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Top: Figure 13. Dante Running from the Three Beasts, 1824–27, pen and ink and watercolor over pencil (National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Felton Bequest, 1920 [988–3]). Bottom: Figure 44. Capaneus the Blasphemer, pen and ink and watercolor (National Gallery of Victoria, C1 Melbourne, Felton Bequest, 1920 [997–3]).


Figure 49. The Simoniac Pope, ink and watercolor (Tate, London/Art Resource, New York).

Figure 66. Antaeus Setting Down Dante and Virgil in the Last Circle of Hell, pen and ink and watercolor (National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Felton Bequest, 1920 [1012–3]). C3


Opposite top: Figure 69. Ugolino and His Sons in Prison, tempera on panel, 33.0 × 44.0 cm (© Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge/Art Resource, New York). Opposite bottom: Figure 75. The Souls of Those Who Only Repented at the Point of Death, pen and ink and watercolor over pencil and black chalk (National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Felton Bequest, 1920 [1015–3]).

Right: Figure 78. Dante and Virgil Approaching the Angel Who Guards the Entrance of Purgatory, graphite, ink and watercolor (Tate, London/ Art Resource, New York). Below: Figure 77. Lucia Carrying Dante in His Sleep, watercolor, black ink, graphite, and black chalk (Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum; Bequest of Grenville L. Winthrop, 1943.438; © President and Fellows of Harvard College).


Figure 82. Dante at the Moment of Entering the Fire, pen and ink and watercolor over black chalk and

C6 pencil (National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Felton Bequest, 1920 [1018–3]).

Top: Figure 85. Beatrice Addressing Dante from the Car, ink and watercolor (Tate, London/Art Resource, New York). Bottom: Figure 92. Saint Peter and Saint James with Dante and Beatrice and with Saint John Also, C7 graphite, pen and ink, and watercolor (© The Trustees of the British Museum/Art Resource, New York).

Figure 94. Dante in the Empyrean Drinking at the River of Light, graphite and watercolor (Tate, Lon-

C8 don/Art Resource, New York).

Part IV: The Illustrations

9. Hell A brief summary of what we have discussed so far will clarify William Blake’s beliefs about Hell. His view is, of course, very different from Dante’s. 1. Imagination/perception creates the world we are in, which means that if we fall into Hell … 2. … the Fall is perceptual—a closing of the senses. It is not punishment. Hell is a state and not a place. 3. The infinity and immanence of God means that we are never really separated from him; we only think so because our senses are closed. 4. The Fall cannot go lower than our present condition. 5. The Fall into Hell is necessary to rise to a higher state. 6. Hell is permanent, but souls don’t stay there permanently. 7. We rise out of Hell through improved perception. As I have shown, Blake imagines a large number of states that people may find themselves in. He names Satan and Adam as states, as well as each character in The Canterbury Tales and in his Last Judgment painting. Ulro is said to be the lowest state, but it has subdivisions. The material world is something our imaginations create when we are in such a fallen condition that we see only the surfaces of things and not their infinite interconnectedness. From all this we can conclude that for Blake, Hell is composed of all the various states individuals can experience while they are fallen to a level of near-total sense-closure. The different levels of Dante’s Hell become, then, different ways of being in a sensuously closed state. What all the Hellish conditions have in common is their self-centeredness. The people in all the states of Hell have lost their ability to see the infinity of which they are a part, and they believe that the boundary of themselves stops at what they call the body. This condition is what Blake calls the Selfhood. The Selfhood is warlike (E 108), deadly (E 137), hypocritical (E 151), accursed (E 190), blasphemous (E 250), and cruel (E 255). While we are in the state of Selfhood we are in pride (E 185); we are nothing (E 187); we are reasoning and doubting (E 563). The Selfhood must be given up (E 110), put off and annihilated (E 142), and broken asunder (E 250). Of course it is not unusual for Christians to see Hell as a separation from God, or to see selfishness as a reason for deserving to go there. What separates Blake from mainstream 123


Part IV. The Illustrations

Christianity on this matter is the same one we have seen many times already: Selfhood is not, for Blake, a question of morality, it is a question of perception. In fact for Blake the imposition of morality is a prime factor in the creation of Selfhood. As we saw before, general rules for behavior serve only to tyrannize and to drive people apart by encouraging judgment without pity. Though well-intentioned, those who institute earthly law are Striving to Create a Heaven in which all shall be pure & holy In their Own Selfhoods, in Natural Selfish Chastity to banish Pity And dear Mutual Forgiveness; & to become One Great Satan Inslavd to the most powerful Selfhood: to murder the Divine Humanity [E 198]

The law and its enforcement allow us to feel moral about abandoning our pity. Morality allows us to remain in isolated Selfhood, because we can obey rules and feel holy without perceiving our basic connection to other people through and in God. Blake’s view of Selfhood has its origins in the same sources as so much else in his theology: Jacob Boehme and the British antinomian tradition. Abrams points out that Gerrard Winstanley (1609–1676), a Christian communist, as well as German Idealist philosophers learned from Boehme and employed the concept of Selfhood in similar ways: This radical cause of separation, hence of evil, Boehme called Selbheit [Selfhood], Winstanley the “selfish” aspect of fallen and fragmented man, and Schelling the finite Ichheit which is “the point of the extremest alienation from God.” “Evil generally,” Hegel said, when it is expressed as concept rather than in the image-thinking of religion, is “the self-centered beingfor-itself [das insichseiende Fürsichsein] and good is selfless simplicity [das selbstlose Einfache].”1

Selfhood is the lowest state we may fall to because it is the most alienated from God, the world, and other people. Most of us are currently in that state; we do not see as Blake or the prophets saw. We do not see much beyond surfaces; we rely on generalities and abstraction; our imaginations seldom see anything other than the Guinea sun, the lowest Lockean common denominator that everyone else sees, too. We are, Blake tells us, in Hell, and the pictures he drew of Dante’s Hell are about us. The good news, of course, is that it need not be permanent, and Blake will show us the way up. Near the beginning of Jerusalem, Blake prays to the human imagination to free him from Selfhood: To open the Eternal Worlds, to open the immortal Eyes Of Man inwards into the Worlds of Thought: into Eternity Ever expanding in the Bosom of God. the Human Imagination O Saviour pour upon me thy Spirit of meekness & love: Annihilate the Selfhood in me, be thou all my life! [E 147]

If all of life is imagination, then we are no longer limited to the vision of surfaces; our perception is not merely visual but imaginative, and we see everything in its infinite connectedness. Selfhood becomes impossible. As we examine Blake’s illustrations to Dante’s Hell, we will see that he could retain the characters and events of the Comedy yet portray them with the changes necessary to adapt them to his own views. He will correct the Comedy by removing its Urizenic attachment to morality and bringing it fully into the realm of vision—where it almost all was before.

9. Hell


The Dark Forest There are thirty-three cantos each in Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise. The first canticle, Hell, contains an additional introductory canto, bringing the total in the Comedy to an even hundred. For both Dante and Blake this opening serves as a prelude to the story, describing the pilgrim’s condition as he begins his journey, and hinting at the reasons he must make the trip. To see the differences in the two men’s thinking, therefore, the illustration for this canto is particularly important. We will see that the changes Blake has made to Dante’s descriptions in the canto have changed the meaning of the story much more than is obvious at first glance. The opening lines, of course, are well-known: In the midway of this our mortal life, I found me in a gloomy wood, astray Gone from the path direct: and e’en to tell It were no easy task, how savage wild That forest, how robust and rough its growth, Which to remember only, my dismay Renews, in bitterness not far from death [Hell, 2; Cary, 1].

The pilgrim finds himself in a wood that is gloomy, savage, robust, and rough. There is no straight path from that point, and even to remember the place is to bring back a bitterness “not far from death.” A few lines later, Dante turns back to look at where he has been, and sees that he has walked along “straits, / That none hath pass’d and liv’d.” The narrator resolves to tell of his experiences because, safely home from the epic journey, he knows what good came from it. As the Comedy begins, though, the pilgrim is in a state of “sleepy dullness,” which “weigh’d / My senses down.” Being lost has pierced his heart with dread. The valley ends at the foot of a mountain: I look’d aloft, and saw his shoulders broad Already vested with that planet’s beam, Who leads all wanderers safe through every way.

Though the valley is dark, the top of the mountain is illuminated by the rays of the rising sun. (Dante calls the sun a planet because of his Ptolemaic view of the solar system.) The scene is clearly set, then; there is no doubt that this is a dark and dangerous forest, in a valley too deep for the sun to penetrate. The only light is far above, at the top of a mountain, which the pilgrim resolves to climb. He is quickly blocked. Scarce the ascent Began, when, lo! a panther, nimble, light, And cover’d with a speckled skin, appear’d, Nor, when it saw me, vanish’d, rather strove To check my onward going; that ofttimes With purpose to retrace my steps I turn’d. .….….…… … in view A lion came, ’gainst me, as it appear’d, With his head held aloft and hunger-mad, That e’en the air was fear-struck. A she-wolf


Part IV. The Illustrations Was at his heels, who in her leanness seem’d Full of all wants, and many a land hath made Disconsolate ere now. She with such fear O’erwhelmed me, at the sight of her appall’d, That of the height all hope I lost.

The pilgrim’s attempted ascent to the light is halted by three beasts: a panther, a lion, and a she-wolf. He despairs, but as he returns to the depths he discerns the shade of a man. “Have mercy on me!” cried I out aloud, “Spirit! or living man! what e’er thou be!” He answer’d: “Now not man, man once I was[.”]

This of course is Virgil, who introduces himself by naming his birthplace, the age in which he lived, and the subject of his great work. Dante recognizes him at once, and begs for help. Virgil tells him that an ascent of the mountain is out of the question; they must advance in a less direct manner, going down before they can go up by another path. He promises to show Dante the world below and the path toward Heaven, and to give the pilgrim over into the hands of another who will take him to the highest point. I thy guide Will lead thee hence through an eternal space, Where thou shalt hear despairing shrieks, and see Spirits of old tormented, who invoke A second death; and those next view, who dwell Content in fire, for that they hope to come, Whene’er the time may be, among the blest, Into whose regions if thou then desire T’ ascend, a spirit worthier then I Must lead thee, in whose charge, when I depart, Thou shalt be left

Blake’s watercolor for this canto is among the most finished in the series. He has condensed the events of the story into one scene, and the main elements are immediately visible: Dante, forest, beasts, and guide. A glance at the picture shows that the required figures are present, and their actions are in accord with the text. Beyond the presence of these basic elements, however, the illustration hardly resembles Dante’s text at all (see fig. 13 in color insert). The difference in mood between Cary’s gloomy text and Blake’s colorful watercolor is immediately apparent. Though there are large thorns on the ground, the forest does not appear particularly dark or frightening. Indeed, the setting more closely resembles England’s “green and pleasant land” than it does a life-threatening “savage wild.” The pilgrim and the animals are in a glade that opens directly onto an ocean view, from which the rising sun ascends. Unlike the scene in Dante’s clear verbal description, the sun shines directly into the woods. The setting is more suitable for a picnic than a near-fatal fall. The three beasts are portrayed one above the other, in the sequence Dante describes. Nearest to the pilgrim, and lowest in the picture plane, is the animal that most translators call a leopard. Cary uses the word “panther,” though he does describe the animal as having “speckled skin.” Blake hints at the speckles with light dabs of paint, but does not take advantage of the chance to show a leopard’s spotted coat. Above this animal is a lion, and above

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that is a she-wolf. If the landscape setting seems more park-like than dangerous, these animals, too, are hardly frightening at all. They are, in fact, rather cute, like children’s toys. The most obvious change Blake has made is to the appearance of the two human characters. Thirty-five-year-old Dante, traditionally shown in a Florentine cap and somber attire, here looks like a young woman in a red nightgown, with attractive blond locks. Virgil, too, is androgynous and sweet-looking. Though Virgil has just ascended from Limbo, Blake shows him hovering above the grass, more like Christ in a painting of the Transfiguration than a classical poet. The appearance of the two main characters is significant enough that I will devote a later section of this chapter to their looks alone. To make sense of the way they are shown, however, we first need to see how Blake has re-imagined the opening of the Comedy.

Neoplatonist Mysteries and Katabasis The choices Blake made in his illustration to Hell, canto 1, will make more sense if we leave the text of the Comedy momentarily and examine a different book: The Eleusinian and Bacchic Mysteries: A Dissertation, published by Neoplatonist Thomas Taylor in London in about 1790. The Mysteries of Eleusis and of Bacchus were secret ceremonies of the Greek and Roman age. As Taylor describes them in his book, both were based on myths of death and renewal. The Eleusinian rites were based on the abduction of innocent young Proserpine by Hades, her entrapment in the underworld, and her eventual rediscovery at Eleusis by her mother, Ceres. Her mother was so overjoyed to find Proserpine again that she gave the world grain to farm and to eat. The myth had long been associated with the seasons and the fertility of spring, but the initiates of the Mysteries attributed to it a more metaphysical meaning, as well. For them, Proserpine’s descent into the world below was a symbol of the soul’s fall from the ideal realm into the material world. The ceremonies attached to the Mysteries thus were intended to mimic Proserpine’s fall and re-ascent in order to prepare the soul for re-ascent to its own proper, higher place. In legend Bacchus, too, had been killed and resurrected. The Titans tore him apart bodily, then boiled and scattered his remains. Jupiter and Apollo gathered the parts, however, and buried them in such a way that Bacchus could reassemble and revive. This myth, also, was interpreted as a symbol pertaining to the soul: as we have seen, the unity the soul has in the ideal world is divided and scattered as it falls into the material. A rebirth to the ideal requires that the division be undone and the soul made one again. Though Blake made no direct references to either of these myths, the stories in outline have broad similarities to his own legend of the Fall. In Proserpine’s myth, the soul in a state of innocence is tempted or tricked to descend, and her ascent is seen as a reunion with (a) god. Blake also thinks that the unity of the soul is lost as it falls. As he explains it, instead of the full imaginative perception we are supposed to have, in our fall we become limited to perceive the world as separate, torn-apart pieces. The way back up is through reunited perception. Taylor says that the spiritual interpretation of myths and the ceremonies required to reenact them come from Orpheus himself, a figure whom most today consider to be mythical


Part IV. The Illustrations

but who was in ancient times regarded as a historical personage. Perhaps divine or perhaps mortal, he was thought to have predated Plato by centuries. Like Blake, Taylor considers the oldest wisdom to be visionary and artistic, in this case Orphic, and sees Plato as passing along only simplified versions of the great truths. Since Blake believed that all religions are, at root, one, and believed that the interpretations we label Neoplatonic originated in pre– Platonic vision, there is no reason to think that he would reject the elements in the myths that he found useful. He could avail himself freely of images that he adapted to use in his own carefully made mythology. The symbolism that I believe he is consciously employing in the first illustration to the Comedy is chosen from Taylor’s book or other sources to show that the pilgrim Dante begins as an unfallen soul in a pastoral and innocent land. Blake does not show the dark forest that poet Dante describes. He shows us something like the Vales of Har, where Thel’s sisters herd sheep; or the Garden of Adonis, where Spenser shows innocent souls lining up to be reborn into generation; or the Elysian Fields, where Virgil shows the same. Likewise, in myth, Proserpine makes her departure from an idyllic glade. Taylor quotes Minutius Felix, who wrote in the first or second century ad: Proserpina the daughter of Ceres by Jupiter, as she was gathering tender flowers, in the new spring, was ravished from her delightful abodes by Pluto; and being carried from thence through thick woods, and over a length of sea, was brought by Pluto to a cavern, the residence of departed spirits, over whom she afterward ruled with absolute sway.2

So I am confident that Blake changed the mood of the Comedy’s opening scene for a good reason. The Dante we see in the painting is not a thirty-five-year-old Italian gentleman who has begun to live badly. He is a soul in the state of innocence, who is about to enter materiality. The path he must take is described in the excerpt from Minutius above: through thick woods, over sea, and into a cave. The trees in the first illustration are not gloomy enough to do any more than hint at the thick woods Dante must cross. One of the next watercolors in the series, labeled by Blake “HELL, Canto 2,” exists solely to show such a setting. It shows Dante and Virgil with their backs to us, massive trees on all sides, about to step down into a lower and darker part of the woods. It is still quite sketchy, with many looping pencil lines that would no longer be visible if Blake had completed the picture. Its blue and grey washes, however, make the mood suitably somber (fig. 14). The Latin silva can mean either “woods” or “material used for making things.” Silva is used to translate the Greek word hyle, which has the same double meaning, and is preserved in Aristotle’s theory of hylomorphism—where objects are said to need both material (hyle) and shape (morphe). Taylor and other Neoplatonist writers believe that when the narrators of myths describe the path to the lower world as running through woods, they are giving such woods a symbolic meaning. They say that the souls who pass through those woods (silva) must assume a material (silva) body on the way to our world. Landino’s fifteenth century commentary on the Comedy sees the dark forest—selva oscura in Italian—as having a similar meaning, though it’s difficult to know if Dante himself intended this.3 Depicting an ocean to cross was important enough that Blake has included it in the first painting, contradicting Dante’s description. This is the water that Heraclitus says tempts

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Figure 14. Dante and Virgil Penetrating the Forest, 1824–27; pencil, pen and watercolor on paper (Tate Gallery, London/Art Resource, New York).

the soul to generation. It is the sea across which Hades carries Proserpine or Jupiter carries Europa. In the Neoplatonic view, it is the material world itself, which Blake calls the “Sea of Time & Space.” In the Aeneid, Virgil describes the regions Aeneas must cross in his own descent to the underworld. Taylor is convinced of their symbolism, although the ocean here is represented by Cocytus, which is usually a river or swamp: Proserpina was carried by Pluto through thick woods, and over a length of sea, and brought into a cavern, the residence of the dead: where by woods a material nature is plainly implied, as we have already observed in the first part of this discourse; and where the reader may likewise observe the agreement of the description in this particular with that of Virgil in the descent of his hero: Tenent media omnia silvae Cocytusque sinuque labens, circumvenit atro. [Woods cover all the middle space and Cocytus gliding on, surrounds it with his dusky bosom.] In these words the woods are expressly mentioned; and the ocean has an evident agreement with Cocytus, signifying the outflowing condition of a material nature, and the sorrows and sufferings attending its connection with the soul.4

All of these myths, in their Neoplatonic versions, show a person forced to travel through woods, over sea, and into a cave, as a symbol of the soul’s descent into the material world—


Part IV. The Illustrations

our world. Blake’s departures from Dante’s description, in this first painting, serve in every way to push his story closer to those myths than to the Comedy. Naturally, I am not saying that at this late date in his life Blake gave up his own system to become an orthodox Neoplatonic philosopher in the Thomas Taylor mode. As he had done throughout his career, he stole the images he wanted in order to tell the myth he created. The differences from Plotinus are as important as the similarities and will be familiar by now. Blake’s Fall is not an actual spatial dislocation into ontologically different existence. Blake’s Fall is perceptual, from naïve innocence to experience, which entails, at least in this case, the narrowed perception that tricks us into the thinking that the material world and its divisions are unavoidable. Blake has expressed his myth through the images of Neoplatonism, just as the Neoplatonists had earlier expressed their metaphysics in the symbols of Greek adventure stories.

The Three Beasts The lion, panther, and she-wolf are described in a footnote by Cary as, respectively, “pride or ambition,” “pleasure in luxury,” and “avarice.”5 Traditionally, they have been seen as the sins that prevent the pilgrim from climbing toward God. Blake’s beasts operate differently as symbols, reminding us of both Neoplatonic stories of descent and of the wellknown “tygers” that appear elsewhere in his work. Virgil wrote that before Aeneas could descend to the underworld, he had to spend a night making sacrifices to the gods in the forest. Dawn comes dramatically: “So, now, at the first beams and rising of the sun, the earth under the feet begins to rumble, the wooded hills to quake, and dogs were seen howling through the shade …” Taylor glosses this: And the howling dogs are symbols of material demons, who are thus denominated by the Magian Oracles of Zoroaster, on account of their ferocious and malevolent dispositions, ever baneful to the felicity of the human soul. And hence Matter herself is represented by Synesius in his first Hymn, with great propriety and beauty, as barking at the soul with devouring rage: for thus he sings, addressing himself to the Deity: Blessed thrice blessed! who, with winged speed, From Hyle’s dread voracious barking flies, And, leaving Earth’s obscurity behind, By a light leap, directs his steps to thee.

Taylor continues by quoting a description of secret rites by Neoplatonic philosopher Proclus: “In the most interior sanctities of the Mysteries, before the presence of the god, the rushing forms of earthly demons appear, and call the attention from the immaculate good to matter.” And Pletho (on the Oracles), expressly asserts, that these spectres appeared in the shape of dogs.6

These canine specters, then, which are also demons, are traditionally held to be matter itself, barking to distract souls toward the world of generation. Blake of course shows one canine shape, the hungry she-wolf described by Dante, and makes the remaining two material demons into a lion and a panther. The three beasts are no longer symbols of sin, as they are in Dante’s text. Blake does not believe that sin will condemn anyone to eternal punishment in a world lower than our

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own. Instead, the beasts are distracting, material demons, forcing flustered souls to forget the ideal world and run for the material. But if the innocent soul starts out in an idyllic and innocent glade, where do such frightening beasts come from? The answer, as always, is “from the soul’s perception.” In The Four Zoas, after Urizen has enclosed the world into its narrow, fallen, Lockean perceptive state, he also sees such beasts: Then he beheld forms of tygers & of Lions dishumanizd men Many in serpents & in worms stretchd out enormous length [E 347].

These beasts are men, but “dishumanized,” by which Blake means that Urizen perceives them as so disconnected from himself that he doesn’t recognize their humanity. His senses divide the world into unconnected elements of Selfhood. In the Comedy illustration, too, these beasts are creations of the pilgrim Dante’s dividing personality. They are both the first result and the cause of the division that will cause him to fall. They are his own feelings, which he is too frightened to remain undivided from. According to Paley, Blake’s early influence Swedenborg had seen animals as representations of “divers lusts and vices.” Unlike Swedenborg, Blake isn’t worried about such desires: “Blake, of course, invests these images of correspondence with his own meaning—to him Swedenborg’s “lusts and vices” are potentially the joys and graces of eternity, and Orc’s animal forms are symbols of liberated desire.”7 Passions are presented as beasts elsewhere in Blake’s work. In “The Mental Traveller,” he writes of “Labyrinths of wayward Love / Where roams the Lion Wolf & Boar” (E 485) (and we should recall that for Dante, “wayward love” equals sin). In “The Proverbs of Hell,” lions and tygers are wrath (E 36 and 37). And the poem “The Tyger” is of course about power incomprehensible to its speaker (E 24). Blake is entirely in favor of passions. Still, we know that they may cause us to lose control, and this is frightening. The passions upset our peaceful innocence, and cause us to seek answers outside our first state, as Thel’s fear of death did. In fact, the passions may be more than we can handle: “The roaring of lions, the howling of wolves, the raging of the stormy sea, and the destructive sword. are portions of eternity too great for the eye of man” (E 36). If the beasts are passions, then the passions are too great for our eyes. This is a paradox, because in man’s Edenic state, no portions of eternity are too great for man to see; this is a cornerstone of Blake’s theology. In non–Edenic, less fully-perceptive states, though, passion may be too much for us to live with comfortably. Passions are scary. That is why we project them outward, and give ourselves the illusion that our passions are not a part of ourselves, but are dangerous beasts we must flee from. In the first watercolor, the unfallen, innocent Dante has created the three beasts, by perceiving three passions but not wishing to recognize them as a portion of himself. He beholds “What is within now seen without” (E 314). It may seem like a bit of silly projection to those of us in more experienced states, but remember that What seems to Be: Is: To those to whom It seems to Be, & is productive of the most dreadful Consequences to those to whom it seems to Be [E 179]

The dreadful consequence awaiting Dante, of course, is the fall into embodiment, the incarnation in the material world. It is the unwillingness to claim as one’s own an emotion not


Part IV. The Illustrations

suited to the peaceful, unfallen world that brings about the split into subject and object. Once the split has occurred, the dominoes tumble, and the world changes. We have seen similar falls again and again in Blake’s work. Urizen’s fear of disorienting passion causes him to create a moral order that becomes tyranny. In The Four Zoas, especially, the projection of interior existence onto exteriority causes imbalance and horror.8 The illustrations for Dante, though, are unique in one way: they do not require the pilgrim to undergo the Fall. They save him from suffering by showing him, and of course showing us as well, the consequences of such a fall. In more traditional interpretations of the Comedy the pilgrim is in danger of falling to damnation but is saved through Beatrice’s kind intercession. Before he makes the fatal fall, mercy allows him to take a guided tour of what awaits in the afterlife. The same is true in Blake’s version. Just as the pilgrim is fleeing his exteriorized passions, heading toward the sea of time and space that constitutes the world below, he is caught by a kind spirit, who saves him.

Virgil as Poetic Genius According to Thomas Taylor, Virgil was expert in acting as a psychopomp. The symbolic descent of Aeneas into Hades, which we have seen is representative of the soul’s fall into materiality, requires a skilled guide. It is easy to go down; hard to reascend. The trip enters a corporeal or external nature, the descent into which is, indeed, at all times obvious and easy, but to recall our steps, and ascend into the upper regions, or, in other words, to separate the soul from the body by the purifying discipline, is indeed a mighty work and a laborious task[.] For a few only, the favorites of heaven, that is, born with the true philosophic genius, … have been enabled to accomplish the arduous design.9

Blake might have preferred the term “Poetic Genius,” which he had often invoked, but “philosophic genius” is pretty close. In the fourth edition of Taylor’s Mysteries, editor Alexander Wilder has added a footnote to the word “genius”: “I.e., a disposition to investigate for the purpose of eliciting truth, and reducing it to practice.”10 I suspect that neither Taylor nor Blake would have been pleased by this amplification. They would have known that the modern sense of the word “genius” refers to a talent or disposition, but this was preceded by a more literal sort of meaning. “Genius” was the Latin word used to translate the Greek “dæmon,” a real spirit that travels between the upper world and ours, and may act as a guide or adviser. Most famously, Socrates held that his dæmon spoke to him regularly. So we may take “born with the true philosophic genius” in a more literal sense, and say that only those souls who have philosophically inclined guides or dæmons can negotiate the difficult return to the upper world from the lower. A glance at Blake’s illustration of Dante lost in the wood makes it clear who his genius will be. Blake makes no attempt to show the figure of Virgil in the guise of a first century BC classical author. The sexless spirit hovering in the air seems to have descended lightly from above, not ascended on orders from below. All Religions Are One, Blake’s first illuminated book, describes the poetic genius. It is another name for what we have been calling imagination. It is the faculty of the soul that creates the world out of the noumenon. Just as “The Imagination is not a State: it is the Human Existence itself ” (E 132), so “the Poetic Genius is the true Man” (E 1). Our own poetic ability to make the world is what constitutes

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our eternal self, unrelated to the state we happen to be in. Now that Blake’s Dante has exteriorized his passions and fallen from a pure integrated state, this integral part of himself also appears as separate. Moments before, “me” and “my imagination” were fully together in innocence; now, division has created three beasts that terrify us, but also, mercifully, a genius to guide us. Boehme taught that dialectic is required to make anything manifest to itself. Now that the split has occurred, there are elements we think are opposed to us, and the dialectic may begin. As we have seen, the Fall is necessary to reach a higher state of innocence, beyond experience. The trip will be full of horrors, but the genius will stay with us as guide. Blake foresaw this thirty-seven years before he began the Dante illustrations, when he wrote: “As none by traveling over known lands can find out the unknown. So from already acquired knowledge Man could not acquire more. therefore an universal Poetic Genius exists” (E 1).

Dante’s Appearance The fact that Blake has transformed Dante into an unfallen soul explains why he didn’t draw Dante as the poet traditionally appears in art. Botticelli painted a portrait of Dante in about 1495. The severe expression, the aquiline nose, the red cap and the laurels were from this time, if not before, the traditional image of Dante’s appearance. Raphael repeated this view about fifteen years later in the two fresco portraits of the poet he painted in the Vatican’s Stanza della Segnatura. Blake knew the traditional image of Dante, probably from an engraving by Paolo Fidanza,11 and used it himself when asked to make a set of portraits for the library of his patron William Haley in about 1800.12 Yet when he began to create the illustrations of the Comedy, Blake chose not to use the traditional appearance of the poet, and instead decided to depict him as an androgynous youth (figs. 15, 16, 17). Roe and Baine believe Blake chose such a sweet appearance to show that Dante is here an “everyman,” or, in Blake’s system, Albion.13 Elsewhere, though, Blake has depicted Albion as unquestionably male.14 The youthful androgyny of the figure is better explained if we see Blake’s Dante as an unfallen soul in a Neoplatonic universe, not yet descended into the material world of generation. Plato, and the Neoplatonists after him, describe the unfallen human soul as neither male nor female. Hermeticists and alchemists such as Giordano Bruno and Paracelsus described the non-physical body as androgyne, as did Kabbalists and Boehme.15 Gender is one of the qualities that souls take on after they have adopted material bodies and entered our world.16 Proclus and other philosophers refer to immaterial souls with the feminine pronoun “she,” perhaps because in Greek the word psyche, ψυχή, is feminine. Shakespeare also has Hamlet refer to his soul as female: “my dear soul was mistress of her choice.” In Blake’s cosmology, he is clear that the division of the sexes occurs when the soul descends out of its original state.17 Thus Dante’s physical appearance is further proof that Blake has remade the setting of the story: it begins not in a forest in Italy but in a higher realm where unfallen souls live. If we look through Blake’s earlier work for figures similar to his depiction of Dante, the greatest resemblance belongs not to Albion but to Thel, the character who, we saw earlier,


Part IV. The Illustrations

Left: Figure 15. Dante’s appearance (detail of figure 56). Center: Figure 16. Dante’s appearance (detail of figure 43). Right: Figure 17. Dante’s appearance (detail of figure 61).

also represented a soul in danger of descending into generation. Though Blake’s depiction of Dante has a more severe expression and a more muscular body than Thel, his hairstyle, profile, and the style and color of dress are the same (figs. 18, 19). In the Arlington Court painting, the figure in the upper left corner, a soul recently arrived in the upper world, has the same androgynous appearance and is wearing a robe of the same style (fig. 20). Other souls, on Left: Figure 18. Thel (detail of figure 9). Right: Figure 19. Dante (detail of figure 37).

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Figure 20. Recently ascended soul (detail of figure 11).

falling into the material world, become male or female, and so we will see them in the illustrations of Hell. The pilgrim of Blake’s illustrations, though, has been spared from the Fall by the kindness of his guide, and so takes his tour while maintaining his unfallen androgynous state. The changes Blake made to the setting of this first scene in the Comedy, therefore, are among the most important clues we have to reading the rest of the series. It is in this single painting that we learn how he has corrected Dante’s poem, changing it from a drama of neardamnation in Italy to a presentation of the difficult but necessary fall that we all undergo, and the rise that we all hope for.

The Mission of Virgil Of the 102 sketches and watercolors that Blake made in his series of Comedy illustrations, this one for canto 2 diverges the most from Dante’s written text. The artist has introduced more of his own symbolism into this picture than into any other painting in the set. And to make our task of interpretation more difficult, the painting is far from finished: the lower half seems near completion, but in the upper section many details are only sketched in pencil and are hard to read (fig. 21). At the bottom of the sheet we can read the words “HELL Canto. 2,” which at least allows us to connect some of the smaller elements in the picture with Dante’s narration. In this canto, the pilgrim has begun his trip toward the underworld but humbly questions his worthiness. In epic katabasis, after all, only gods and heroes make the journey.


Part IV. The Illustrations

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But I, why should I there presume? or who Permits it? not Aeneas I, nor Paul. Myself I deem not worthy, and none else Will deem me [Hell, 2, Cary, 6].

Virgil assures the pilgrim that his trip has been ordained on high. The Virgin Mary has witnessed his distress and told St. Lucia “Now doth thy faithful servant need thy aid, / And I commend him to thee.” Lucia tells Beatrice, who is seated in Heaven with the Old Testament Rachel. Beatrice speeds to Virgil in Limbo and inspires in him the zeal to help. Blake shows the four women of this narration in a narrow twist of cloud across the center of the painting. The cloud serves to separate the women from the other characters, and, as we have seen, this is Blake’s customary method of separating the halves of the picture plane into an upper world and a lower. Even these four figures, though, serve a double purpose, and help to incorporate Blake’s own imagery into Dante’s story. The uppermost of the women, seated in a kind of bower at the left edge of the page, may be assumed to be Mary, if we read the descent of the women from left to right. Blake shows her seated at a loom, however, a detail that Dante doesn’t mention; nor would he, since souls in Heaven toil not, and neither do they spin. Roe says that the four figures were “suggested” by the ladies mentioned by Dante but that Blake has converted them into the Daughters of Beulah, characters from his private symbolism.18 I feel it would be Urizenic of us to insist that the ladies are either one or the other. This is an instance—not the last we shall meet—in which Blake has combined or conflated symbols freely, and used them not as one-to-one signifiers but as suggestive and multiple. The viewer’s job is to see the signs not with the corporeal eye but with imagination, keeping in mind the knowledge that everything is immanent in everything else. Such a viewpoint would allow the women here to be at the same time those whom Dante names, as well as the Daughters of Beulah and several others that Blake has mentioned in his earlier work. The fact that Mary is sitting at a loom reminds us that weaving is a symbolic act that occurs with frequency in Blake’s work. Variants of the word “weave” occur twenty-nine times in The Four Zoas, twenty-five times in Milton, and fifty-eight times in Jerusalem. Whereas Los is shown doing the sweaty work of hammering out perceptions from the noumena of the world, weaving is more often encountered in feminine or pastoral contexts. In The Four Zoas, for example, Luvah describes an interlude with Vala: I hid her in soft gardens & in secret bowers of Summer Weaving mazes of delight along the sunny Paradise Inextricable labyrinths, She bore me sons & daughters [E 317]

But the products of the weaving may be a mixed blessing. When souls fall, the contracted world they create with their narrowed senses is also said to be created through weaving, as in the following passage from Jerusalem. In the “Mundane Shell,” the Daughters of Albion Weave the Web Of Ages & Generations, folding & unfolding it, like a Veil of Cherubim Opposite: Figure 21. The Mission of Virgil, watercolor over pencil, pen and ink and scratching out (Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery, ©Birmingham Museums Trust).


Part IV. The Illustrations And sometimes it touches the Earths summits, & sometimes spreads Abroad into the Indefinite Spectre, who is the Rational Power [E 215].

The mundane shell is the enclosed carapace of the world. It is the sky as perceived by man in his fallen condition: a welkin of enclosure. Albion, you will recall, is the universal man, who, when fallen from unity, divides into a variety of emanations, including the ones Blake calls Albion’s daughters. Within the bubble of space the mundane shell has enclosed, these daughters do their female duty of weaving by creating ages and generations; in other words, they create the time portion of the “Sea of Time & Space.” Time is an illusionary portion of the Fall, but creating it is also an act of mercy. Without the net the daughters weave, we would fall even farther, into nonexistence. It is a sort of kindness when the daughters of Los and of Beulah weave material bodies for souls who drop out of the level of Beulah, a place of rest, into generation, the material world. Images of weaving weave together some of Blake’s most complex and confusing ideas. The Fall is considered unfortunate and an occasion for weeping, although it will lead in the long run to Eden. The bodies that are woven for us at the time of the Fall are also creations of our limited senses, because, as we have seen, the body is only a portion of the soul visible to unimaginative people. Yet having received a woven body is a good thing, because it prevents an absolute fall into nothingness, and begins the dialectic of the contraries that will allow us greater understanding. So images of weaving in Blake’s poetry may be bloody and horrible, as when “streams of gore” pour out of looms in Jerusalem (E 230), or pure delight, as when every generated body in its inward form, Is a garden of delight & a building of magnificence, .….….….….….….. Continually woven in the Looms of Enitharmons Daughters In bright Cathedrons golden Dome with care & love & tears [E 124]

Looms weave the “Body of Death” (E 107), which sounds horrible enough, until we remember that the death described here is a dying from out of the higher world into our material world, which, from our perspective, is birth. The mere presence of a tiny loom at the side of this illustration, then, tells us a great deal. First, it is further proof that the pilgrim in Blake’s version of the Comedy is an unfallen soul, because there are daughters at the ready to weave the material bodies required for entry into the lower, material world. Second, we are reminded of the mixed blessing of the Fall. Souls who fall out of their original innocent state must make this terrifying trip through the material world, which Blake will depict with the same horrors and pains that Dante used to describe a Hell of eternal punishment.

The God of This World Above the dividing line of cloud at the center of the picture are two figures unlike anything Dante mentions in canto 2. The largest is a white-bearded man with arms outstretched, seated on a plinth, with his upper body pushed uncomfortably forward. His overall appearance is similar to that of the elders or prophets who appear throughout Blake’s work. In the watercolors for the final part of the Comedy, for example, we see that Saint Peter and Saint

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James are shown with the same wide faces, white hair, and muscle-revealing robes. Despite the traditional view of God or Moses as patriarchal figures of this type, most famously on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, we would be wrong to assume that any personage in Blake’s work with such an appearance is a model of biblical goodness. His 1795 hand-colored print of a scene from Genesis, for example, shows Old Testament figure Lamech as of the same type, but in that print he serves as an example of how pride may lead to violence.19 The first appearance of this figural type in Blake’s work is in the Songs of Experience, at the bottom of the page containing the poem “The Human Abstract.” Even at this early point, the bearded patriarch is associated with fallen religion—the views of the cynics. The poem begins, Pity would be no more, If we did not make somebody Poor: And Mercy no more could be, If all were as happy as we; [E 27].

This is as shocking a sentiment to us today as it must have been to the (from his perspective) self-satisfied churchgoers of Blake’s time. Pity and mercy, two cornerstones of Christ’s message, are here said to require that we actively make pitiable the objects of our mercy and pity. That is, our “good sentiments” only come about because we have made the world unjust. “The Human Abstract” continues: And mutual fear brings peace; Till the selfish loves increase. Then Cruelty knits a snare, And spreads his baits with care [E 27].

These are the sentences in the Songs of Experience illustrated by the white-bearded figure. He has a severe expression and forward-leaning torso, awkwardly entwined in ropes. Whether he is knitting the snare or is trapped in it isn’t clear, but we see that the world he is a part of is more cynical and less glorious than Michelangelo’s frescoed patriarch. Closer parallels to the bearded figure in the Dante illustration, both in appearance and in the date of production, appear in Blake’s engravings to the Book of Job. The title character of that series is shown with the same facial type and clothing and, more importantly, Jehovah is shown with an identical appearance. Jehovah is seen in the second illustration of the Job series, giving Satan permission to attack Job’s family. In the fifth engraving he is seated on a plinth identical to the one in the Comedy illustrations, but is slumping from his chair and the halo behind him seems to be flickering out. In engraving 14 of the Job series, God’s pose is identical to the one in the illustration to canto 2 of the Comedy. No plinth is visible here, but the pose of the man is the same: his right leg is bent so that the knee points upwards, and his arms are outstretched. Only the facial expression differs; in the engraving, the face is noble and untroubled. This is because the illustration comes late in the series, and shows Job after his trials have ended. This God is not the troubled one Job had imagined earlier, but the one he can see now that his eyes have opened to true vision. The slouching God of the fifth picture and the noble one of the fourteenth demonstrate once again that the divine realm appears to us as we are able to see it. God himself changes from a distant


Part IV. The Illustrations

weak figure in our fallen condition to a powerful vision when we have improved our perception. We can be sure that the God-like figure in the canto 2 picture is not to be trusted when we notice his left foot. Clearly visible on our right, it is the cloven foot of an ox or, as in the tradition of Christian painting, of the devil. This sign, too, appears in the Job illustrations. We can see the false God’s ox-foot in the eleventh engraving, as Job reaches the absolute nadir of his fall. Job is stretched horizontal on a bier or sepulcher, as scaly devils reach up from the flames below (fig. 7). Stretched over Job is his false image of God, with his hair flaring out, entwined in a giant serpent. Now his left foot is fully visible, and he is revealed to be an evil, false God. Damon writes of the Job engraving: Job sees for the first time the cloven hoof of this God’s left foot; for the God of Justice is only Satan, masquerading as an angel of light. He is the Accuser, who knows that no man is so pure as to be perfect. Every man judged by this God—the God of this world only—is condemned. And this God is entwined with the serpent of Materialism.20

To leave us in no doubt about the identical figure in the Comedy illustration, Blake has penciled the words “The Angry God of This World” at his head (E 688). We’ve met “The God of This World” before. In Blake’s emblem book The Gates of Paradise, this God is called “The Accuser,” and addressed as Satan. He is the one who is a dunce and cannot distinguish between the garment (the present state a person is in) and the man (the eternal soul). This we will see is the case in Blake’s version of Dante’s Hell. Each individual is mistakenly perceived to be identical with only one state or set of characteristics and assigned to a level in hellish society based on that constricted view. We can see that for Blake this is the opposite of true Christianity when we locate the source for this God’s title, in 2 Corinthians 4:3–4: “But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.” When the light of Christ improves our perception and unblinds us, we leave the state of Hell behind. Though Blake had long held the idea that the rank and file Christians of his time worshipped a reduced and worldly God, his drawing of the corrupt deity may have been prompted in part by a book he had recently read and annotated. In 1827, the last year of Blake’s life, Robert John Thornton published an extensive explication of the Lord’s Prayer, and Blake wrote comments in the margins that are aggressive even by his usual standards. He called the book “Dr. Thornton’s Tory Translation” and wrote a parody that began with the words “Our Father Augustus Caesar who art in these thy Substantial Astronomical Telescopic Heavens”21 (E 669). Blake wrote in the margin of one page: “God is an Allegory of Kings & nothing Else” (E 669), which of course isn’t true of the real God, but is true, Blake thinks, of the one Thornton worships. The God we imagine while in a narrowed, material state is at best a paternal lawgiver and at worst a tyrant. In the section of Jerusalem addressed specifically “To the Deists,” Blake makes it clear that the God of this world is the one who would like to take vengeance on people by putting them into Hell: “Listen! Every Religion that Preaches Vengeance for Sins is the Religion of the Enemy & Avenger; and not the Forgiver of Sin, and their God is Satan, Named by the Divine Name Your Religion O Deists: Deism, is the Worship of the God of this World” (E 201). And in Milton Blake spells out another of the reasons why the Gods of this earth are

9. Hell


evil. It’s true that in Eden souls do not cease from mental strife, but in the material world kings cause physical violence and cruelty: “These are the Gods of the Kingdoms of the Earth: in contrarious / And cruel opposition: Element against Element, opposed in War / Not Mental, as the Wars of Eternity, but a Corporeal Strife” (E 130). We have seen that without contraries there is no progression, but in such unspiritual corporeal war it is possible also to have contraries without progression, as in the endless conflict between the violent souls in Hell. The angry God of this World, pictured here just as Dante is about to begin his descent, is further evidence that the world to which he descends is not the traditional Christian Hell but our own material world, where moral judgment is installed through fear and a desire for vengeance. The God in this picture is the one worshipped in churches, Blake insists, but is not the true God. There are other elements with and behind this figure that might have emphasized his meaning if Blake had had time to finish them. The outstretched hands are each holding something that is too loosely drawn to be made out, though Paley suggests they are “serpentine thunderbolts.” The figure is seated in front of a half-circle where washes of red and yellow paint indicate a rainbow. The fact that Revelation 4:3 describes Christ’s return on such a rainbow throne gives credence to Paley’s suggestion that the multiple parallel lines sketchily emanating from the rainbow were intended to become the thrones of the twentyfour elders who appear with Christ in Revelation 4:4.22 Thus the upper half of the painting was probably intended in part as a parody of John’s apocalyptic vision, with the God of the fallen world appearing in the sky on a rainbow throne. But instead of the true revelation of the world’s fulfillment, we have its contrary, the narrowed vision of the world’s fall. As in Neoplatonic fable, this is a death that becomes a birth into the material world. The angry God here appears more senile than dangerous, with his confused look and uncomfortable posture, but kneeling before him is another figure who seems more genuinely frightening. His profile is severe and untrustworthy. His back is to us as he pays homage to the God of this world, and his left hand points downward, across the division of cloud into the lower half of the picture. From his other hand swings a censer—perhaps a sign of formal but insincere worship, of the type that Job conducted before his vision. This man wears a spiked crown, and his transparent robe is decorated with all sorts of signs and symbols, none of which I can make out with confidence. Blake has labeled this figure “Caesar.” Paley is surely correct to point out that the angry God and the figure of Caesar are here symbols of church and state, which, Blake was sure, had both left the path of true wisdom in his own time.23 Dante would of course agree that both pope and emperor had failed in their ordained mission, but he doesn’t mention them in this canto and doesn’t see them as ruling over the underworld. Incidentally, to the modern eye, the vague symbols on the gown of the Caesar figure appear much like the logos of corporate sponsors, a situation that Blake didn’t anticipate but that is entirely suitable to his views. We have discussed the weaving of bodies as garments; Blake had also described in Milton how the woes and troubles of a people might be inscribed on such clothing. My Garments shall be woven of sighs & heart broken lamentations The misery of unhappy Families shall be drawn out into its border


Part IV. The Illustrations Wrought with the needle with dire sufferings poverty pain & woe .….….….….…. I will have Writings written all over it in Human Words That every Infant that is born upon the Earth shall read And get by rote as a hard task of a life of sixty years I will have Kings inwoven upon it. & Councellors & Mighty Men The Famine shall clasp it together with buckles & Clasps And the Pestilence shall be its fringe & the War its girdle [E 111]

Contrary Giants In the center of the lower third of this painting we can see Dante and Virgil passing beneath the arch of smoke. Virgil has already gone through and has turned back to face Dante with an encouraging gesture. Dante has his back to us, but by his agitated pose we can see he is hesitant about walking deeper into the painting. His feet are on a line parallel to the picture plane, showing that at the moment he is not moving forward. The pilgrim’s hesitancy in the painting is consistent with the poet’s description. Dante says that he had doubted his worthiness to continue at this point and needed to hear from Virgil that his trip had been approved by the ladies above. Blake has retained the possibility of this literal sense, while adding his own reason why the pilgrim might be wary of progressing. Not only have the three beasts reappeared here, contrary to the Comedy’s narration, but Blake has added two giants, one on each side of the path the pilgrim must take. Again, these figures are not mentioned in Dante’s book, so we must assume that Blake has included them for reasons of his own. Roe describes these giants as symbols of “enslaved mankind” and calls them “souls in Ulro,” the lowest level in Blake’s four-tier cosmology.24 I find this interpretation unconvincing for two reasons. First, it is clear that Dante hasn’t yet entered the underworld—he is still on the path in that direction, but before he sees actual suffering souls he must pass through the famous Gate of Hell and arrive at the River Acheron. More importantly, the two giants are depicted with very specific and Blakean attributes that indicate he had a more precise meaning in mind for them. Blake names a pair of gatekeeper giants in both Milton and Jerusalem and connects them with the perceptual narrowing that defines the fall from Heaven. In another reminder that God is immanent and not far away, Milton is told as he falls: O thou mortal man Seek not thy heavenly father then beyond the skies: There Chaos dwells & ancient Night & Og & Anak old: For every human heart has gates of brass & bars of adamant, Which few dare unbar because dread Og & Anak guard the gates Terrific! and each mortal brain is walld and moated round Within: and Og & Anak watch here; here is the Seat Of Satan in its Webs; [E 114]

In our fallen state the skull forms a wall and a moat around the mind, holding us back from perceiving eternity. Og and Anak are the guards at the gates of this wall, keeping the mind in the lowest possible state, which is Satan.

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Blake has taken the names of these giants from the Old Testament, the book of Numbers 13:33 and 21:33, where Og and Anak are called enemies of the Israelites. In the following lines from Milton we can see that Blake has employed them in the role of enemies to man, who oppose opening the doors of perception. Their job is to prevent us from seeing a world in a grain of sand, or to perceive that the sweet smell of a flower emanates from eternity. Thou percievest the Flowers put forth their precious Odours! And none can tell how from so small a center comes such sweets Forgetting that within that Center Eternity expands Its ever during doors, that Og & Anak fiercely guard [E 131].

In Jerusalem, Og and Anak operate “Looms & Mills & Prisons & Work-houses” (E 157), and when Los creates the material world within the mind of man, we read that “the starry characters of Og & Anak” are “Perusing Albions Tomb” “To Create the lion & wolf the bear: the tyger & … scaly serpent.” They are present when summer and winter are divided, and all the things of “Vegetative Nature” are created by “hard restricting condensations” (E 228). Damon writes that the giants in Milton and Jerusalem function “to oppose Man’s progress towards Eternity” and that “Og and Sihon [another giant] together constitute the Mundane Shell,” all of which I believe applies to the Comedy watercolor as well.25 The giants’ presence in different scenes of the Fall, their association with frightening beasts, and their position at a gate make the connection clear. Here they are guarding the entrance to Hell, rather than the exit toward Eternity, but we have to remember that Eden can be reached only by passing through the lowest world. In this case the giants serve to frighten Dante, who hesitates to pass between them. Without his poetic genius beckoning him onward, he would return in fear to the world of innocence, just as Thel did. As always, we must not expect Blake’s symbols to reappear each time in exactly the same way. It is enough to note that in two of his major works he repeatedly uses giants in conjunction with the tomblike restriction of narrowed senses. The giants are not a matched set. The one on our left is emaciated and hunched together in the midst of blue flamelike shapes. The giant on the right has a body of more healthy proportions, but he seems to be covered with a mottled skin disease. This giant is chained at the wrists directly to the ground, and he looks up despairingly from within red flames. Whenever such a pair appears prominently in Blake’s work, it is not farfetched to be reminded of a key concept that we have touched on before: the opposition of contraries. Dante’s morality is about avoiding contrary extremes of behavior. It is based on balance and a life on the golden mean. Following Aristotle, he defines sin as a misdirection away from the straight path that threads between extremes and leads toward God. The pilgrim Dante learns on his journey through Hell exactly what divergence from the best path leads to: extremes of too much or too little, overspending or tightfistedness, extremes of hedonism or of sullenness. Blake, on the other hand, had learned from Boehme about the necessity of the extremes, and how Cusanus taught that Heaven is not the absence of extremes but their complete coincidence. In God, the straightest and the roundest are the same. God’s infinite viewpoint, which Blake aspires to, sees how the best and the worst are united; it is only our fallen viewpoint that separates them, and our fear of extremes that makes us believe they exist outside of ourselves. Blake has shown the three beasts of canto 1 here in the illustration to canto 2 as a


Part IV. The Illustrations

reminder of this. These externalized extremes peek out from behind the giant on our left, once again frightening the pilgrim. The two giants symbolize the contraries. The one on the left is stiff, unable to move for lack of desire or from an excess of self-control. What look like blue flames surrounding him may in fact be stalagmites of ice, entrapping him, or may refer to “cold fire,” an alchemical term Boehme used to symbolize “the will of God to remain unmanifest, unrevealed.”26 Blake often used images of cold to represent abstract reason.27 Opposite the cold giant is one full of energy and the desire to move, but this figure is frustrated by the shackles holding him to the ground. He is engulfed in the red flames of excess passion. Boehme used “hot fire” as a symbol of “externalization seeking fulfillment—it is an individuation through self-manifestation.”28 In an 1808 watercolor for Paradise Lost, Blake had shown one of the rebel angels as a figure almost identical to the hot giant, also in the extreme lower right corner of the page.29 These figures at once demonstrate the type of fallen morality that the pilgrim will find in the world below, governed by the Urizenic God of this world, as well as the division of the contraries that occurs when we fall into that world. In contrast to Blake’s illustrations of Heaven, which emphasize the merging of friends, these giants are forced to remain apart. The pilgrim must pass through this divided condition in order to return to a realm where the split may be healed. S. Foster Damon, in his Blake Dictionary, names justice and mercy as an example of contraries: “Cruelty is the Negation of Mercy, but Mercy and Justice are Contraries, which ultimately are synthesized, for each is essential to the other.”30 Damon is of course correct to say that these two things often appear contrary in the world we know. Mercy’s desire to forgive, and justice’s need to punish, seem incompatible. We should be aware, though, that there is a danger in discussing these concepts as abstractions, or as real things that we hope somehow to approach. Abstractions are illusions. If we talk about a final synthesis of justice and mercy, it would be a mistake to imagine that we hope to achieve a third abstract thing—some quality of justice/mercy, which we can hold up as an ideal course of action. In fact, any discussion of any abstract concept, including justice or mercy, is for Blake an error. What a final synthesis would look like is a particular action, or thought, that perfectly embodied, or incarnated, both of these things that look like abstracts to fallen minds. The rejoining of the two is not in a third abstraction, but in particulars. It is frightening to think that we might have to give up our abstractions. We are more comfortable believing that such things as justice and mercy exist, if not here then in some world toward which we are moving. Dante believed that when justice and mercy were rejoined at their source, that source would be God, and God would be unchanging and ideal. Blake felt that an unchanging state would be hellish, and, as we have seen, his myth of the Fall revolves around Urizen’s misguided endeavors to create such a world of safety. Urizen wishes to find a stable condition in which the contraries don’t trouble us. Blake would have us avoid Urizen’s error, and resist the desire, born of fear, to settle on one unchanging truth. Yet if we cannot expect to reach an unchanging truth through reason, what hope is there of progress or improvement? Are we doomed to chaos? It turns out that Blake was not alone in his era as he worked to establish a dynamic ontology based on the primacy of activity and energy. Punter writes:

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[I]t is during the years when Blake is writing his major Prophetic Books that dialectic is being given its classic modern formulation in the philosophy of Hegel.… [Dialectic] is a way of transcending reliance on logical and scientific formalism—typified, for Hegel, by Kantian philosophy, and for Blake by the systems of Newton, Bacon and Locke.31

The key point of dialectic is change. And in case anyone is tempted to conclude that dialectic settles into a Golden Mean or an Aristotelian middle way, Karl Marx is here to tell us otherwise. For him, the bourgeoisie is the group that desires Urizenic stability, and dialectic is the means to break the chains. Dialectic is a scandal and an abomination to bourgeoisdom … because it includes in its comprehension and affirmative recognition of the existing state of things, at the same time also, the recognition of the negation of that state, of its inevitable breaking up; because it regards every historically developed social form as in fluid movement, and therefore takes into account its transient nature not less than its momentary existence; because it lets nothing impose upon it, and is in its essence critical and revolutionary.32

Adorno puts the matter more calmly, calling dialectic “the serene demonstration of the fact that there are two sides to everything”33 but also hinting at the possibility of non-serene changes, by writing that “dialectic advances by way of extremes.”34 For these Hegelians as for Blake, a middle way in which the extremes are frozen or chained would be a recipe for disaster. We do not progress by carefully threading between, but by engaging and opposing the contraries. In this illustration, Blake has embodied those contraries as giants, and shown that the pilgrim, wisely, hesitates to travel to the place where they must be subdued. Yet the land he must enter is under the rule of the God of this world, the God of judgment and the supporter of worldly power, and his poetic guide is waiting to show him what lies beyond this threshold.

The Gate of Hell The next illustration shows Virgil, still urging the pilgrim onward, at the moment when he steps through the gate of Hell. The famous inscription on the gate is legibly penciled at the top in both Italian and in an English translation that is different from either Cary’s or Boyd’s. Cary renders the line faithfully to the Italian: “All hope abandon, ye who enter here” (Hell, 3; Cary, 10). Boyd’s version is a good example of the poetic license he took with the original. “Ye heirs of Hell, / Here bid at once your lingr’ring hope farewell, / And mourn the moment of repentance past!”35 Blake’s wording is a bit disordered. He has written the line: “Leave every Hope you who in Enter” (fig. 22). The gate is about twice the height of the figures and is wide enough for four to pass through abreast. It is roughly cut from the stone at the top, but the bottom has been squared. Trees or heavy vines stand on either side, emphasizing again the connection between wood and the material world. Beyond the gate we see a series of hills eerily lit by tall blue and red flames. At a distance, on the crests of two of the hills, are tiny figures, some with their arms raised expressively. We also see a small portion of the river that makes up the main subject of the next watercolor. Roe refers to the four hills beyond the river and the smaller one just inside the gate as “the four continents” plus Atlantis, a reading I find overly imaginative.36

Figure 22. The Inscription Over the Gate, chalk, pencil, pen and watercolor (Tate, London/Art Resource, New York).

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The picture of the gate resembles a motif Blake used throughout his career, from at least the time of his 1793 set of engravings called For Children: The Gates of Paradise and later reworked under the title For the Sexes: The Gates of Paradise.37 This recurring image shows a door parallel to the picture plane, through which a male figure is about to pass. In the earliest version, the figure is elderly and stooped, and the engraving is labeled “Death’s Door.” The motif appears twice in Blake’s illustrations for Robert Blair’s book The Grave. In plate 9 of this work, a figure robed like Virgil and Dante in the Comedy illustrations passes through the portal of a cave (fig. 23). In this case, her hair style indicates she is female, but other than that she is very like the androgynous characters of the Comedy pictures. She carries a candle, and beyond her, inside the cave, we can see a corpse and flames. A troubled-looking young man stands on the top of the cave entrance. The plate is captioned “The Soul Exploring the recesses of the Grave.” Plate 11 is more similar to the one in The Gates of Paradise, except in this case a naked youth, who may be the resurrected man, sits on top of the portal.38 23. Design by William Blake, engraved by Luigi SchiThe last version of this motif Figure avonetti, The Soul Exploring the Recesses of the Grave, from occurs as the frontispiece to Jeru- The Grave, 1808; etching and engraving, leaf size: 35.7 × 28.8 salem. Now the door has become a cm (collection of Robert N. Essick; © 2013 William Blake Gothic arch, and the person enter- Archive; used by permission). ing is Los, wearing a wide-brimmed hat and carrying a lighted globe. Plate 31 of Jerusalem describes how Albion, the universal man, has fallen into the material world, called here “Generation.”


Part IV. The Illustrations Albion hath enterd the Loins the place of the Last Judgment: And Luvah hath drawn the Curtains around Albion in Vala’s bosom The Dead awake to Generation! Arise O Lord, & rend the Veil! So Los in lamentations followd Albion, Albion coverd, His western heaven with rocky clouds of death & despair. Fearing that Albion should turn his back against the Divine Vision Los took his globe of fire to search the interiors of Albions Bosom, in all the terrors of friendship, entering the caves Of despair & death, to search the tempters out, walking among Albions rocks & precipices! caves of solitude & dark despair, And saw every Minute Particular of Albion degraded & murderd [E 194]

So Albion has entered Vala’s bosom, which is the world of nature. Los, the imagination, fears that this fall might be so great that resurrection will be impossible, so he enters into Albion’s bosom, which now contains caves of despair and death, rocks and precipices. The line “The Dead awake to Generation!” is completely Neoplatonic; this soul has died to the higher world by being born into ours. So the picture of Los entering death’s door shows him passing through the door into humankind’s bosom, to descend into the world that you and I call the world of the living. Here Los’s pose is similar to that of Virgil in the illustration of the gate of Hell. His back is to the viewer but he is active, and his right foot is on the threshold. For reasons described earlier, Virgil’s appearance is very different from that of Los, but the situation of the door parallel to the picture plane, and the conviction that this entry to death will not be final, makes the themes of the pictures very similar.

The Acheron and Charon Classical tradition said that there were five rivers in the underworld: the Acheron, Styx, Phlegethon, Cocytus, and Lethe.39 These rivers’ exact locations and relations were not clear, and different writers described them differently. One river might become a lake or a swamp, as required for narrative purposes. Typically, Dante followed tradition in using the same names for his rivers, but he clarified their places and functions. He relocated the Lethe to the Earthly Paradise, as we shall see, due to its amnesiac properties. It is a part of nearly any katabatic story that the underworld can only be reached by crossing a body of water, usually a river, and, in Greek literature, always one of those mentioned above. The Styx was most often seen as the boundary, but Virgil had made the Acheron and the Styx confluent, and Dante follows him by requiring his pilgrim to cross the Acheron on his downward journey. Blake also employs rivers throughout his work to do their traditional duty as boundaries, symbols of flowing time, and places of purification. As we would expect, he is freer in his use of which river may serve which function, as he uses the names of biblical, classical, or local British rivers for his symbols. In Milton, when the title character has begun his return to the material world, he meets Urizen at the banks of the Arnon River. Essick and Viscomi explain that the Arnon is “a river in Jordan, the border of Moab in Numbers 21:13–14 and

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the limit of the realm of Molech in Paradise Lost 1.399. Because it flows into the Dead Sea, the Arnon is associated with the ‘Eternal Death’ (12:14) of biological existence.”40 Thus Milton’s fall into the material world is associated by Blake with a river that divides the Israelites from two of their enemies and flows into death. At the shore of this river the character Milton uses clay and water to give Urizen a human shape—yet another indication that the death this river leads to is embodiment in our physical world.41 A little later in the same book, we see the familiar symbol of weaving women, spinning fibers to make material bodies and singing songs of amorous delight And melting cadences that lure the Sleepers of Beulah down The River Storge (which is Arnon) into the Dead Sea: Around this Polypus Los continual builds the Mundane Shell [E 134]

So for Blake to employ a river in the illustration for canto 3 of the Comedy requires no departure from his own mythology, even though he is not exactly in accord with Dante’s. The River Acheron here takes up the lower half of the painting, and its source, the Sea of Time and Space, spreads to the horizon above. This is not a pleasant river. Blake has shown it as mostly gray, with tinges of brown and yellow, appropriate for its Hellish role (fig. 24). Virgil and Dante are standing on a rise in the narrow bank at the foreground of the painting, in the lower right corner. They are still on the near side of the river, which means that they are not yet in Hell proper. This is the vestibule of Hell, allocated to those people in life who were so lukewarm that they did nothing either to deserve merit or punishment. The pilgrim has his back to the scene but is looking over his shoulder at the souls who, as the Comedy describes, are being led by devils carrying flags and are tormented by wasps in the air and worms on the ground. At least two of these souls are crowned. As Roe points out, Dante’s glance at the souls and Virgil’s indifference in this watercolor are a visual equivalent to Virgil’s telling the pilgrim to guarda e passa—“look, and pass them by” (Hell, 3; Cary, 11). Dante’s Italian for the living things at their feet is “vermi,” which may be rendered into English either as “worms” or as “maggots.” Blake has shown them as earthworms from a healthy British garden, but the size of small snakes, and disgusting enough. Higher in the picture plane, on the right, are the weeping souls who are waiting to be transported across the Acheron into Hell. Charon is on his way to fetch them in his barque, having just now delivered a group to the other side. The only element of this picture that isn’t a clear reference to something in the Comedy is the line of souls standing on a line of cloud at the top of the painting. Roe plausibly suggests that these are the angels who chose not to take sides when Lucifer led his rebellion in Heaven. Dante mentions them, saying that the people here are Without praise or blame, with that ill band Of angels mix’d, who nor rebellious proved, Nor yet were true to God, but for themselves Were only [Hell, 3; Cary, 10].

These figures are not quite “mix’d” into the group of human souls, but I can’t think of any other reason for them to be there. Charon is more clearly visible in the next watercolor (fig. 25). He has arrived at the


Part IV. The Illustrations

9. Hell


Figure 25. Charon and the Condemned Souls, watercolor, black ink, graphite, and black chalk (Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Bequest of Grenville L. Winthrop, 1943.445, © President and Fellows of Harvard College).

outer bank of the Acheron and is exhorting those on shore to get into his barque, which is already half full of despairing souls. Dante and Virgil are on a bluff overlooking the scene. As is often the case with Blake’s monstrous characters, Charon looks rather comical here. The Comedy says that around Charon’s “eyes glared wheeling flames” (Hell, 3; Cary, 12), a detail Michelangelo used to frightening effect in the Last Judgment painting in the Sistine Chapel, but which Blake renders as something like rubber goggles.

Limbo Charon refuses to take Dante across the Acheron in his barque, because the pilgrim is neither dead nor damned. At the end of canto 3 the pilgrim faints, and he wakes at the beginning of canto 4 to find himself transported in some unexplained way to the other side of the river. Blake’s illustration for this canto is far from finished, but we can make out the sleeping Dante, with Virgil bending over him, in the top left corner, on a rocky crag overlooking Limbo. Opposite: Figure 24. The Vestibule of Hell and the Souls Mustering to Cross the Acheron, pen and ink and watercolor over pencil (National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Felton Bequest, 1920 [989–3]).


Part IV. The Illustrations

This is the least bad circle of Hell. Most of the region is a shadowy realm with no punishment beyond the sadness of eternal dissatisfaction. There are no screams here, only sighs. Here, as mine ear could note, no plaint was heard Except of sighs, that made the eternal air Tremble, not caused by tortures, but from grief Felt by those multitudes, many and vast, Of men, women, and infants [Hell, 4; Cary, 13–14].

Virgil explains that these are guiltless souls whose only lack was that they were not Christian. these of sin were blameless; and if aught they merited, It profits not, since baptism was not theirs, The portal to thy faith.… … for no other evil, we are lost; Only so far afflicted, that we live Desiring, without hope [Cary, 14].

The narrator of the Comedy devotes very little time to the majority of the inhabitants of Limbo. Like Aeneas in Hades, he moves quickly to the area where the best souls live, which in the Aeneid is called the Elysian Fields and in the Comedy is a garden-like space enclosed within castle walls. There are seven concentric walls with seven gates. Here the pilgrim sees the greatest pagans of the pre–Christian ages, including the epic poets and philosophers. This is where Virgil spends eternity (fig. 26). The unfinished nature of Blake’s illustration means that we can conclude very little about it. The dominant figure in the illustration is Homer, whose appearance is of Blake’s standard patriarchal type, with a white beard and broad-set eyes. He carries a sword, as the narrator describes, and wears the bays. He is not depicted as blind, as tradition would have it. Blake has labeled him “Homer,” which is not really very helpful for us, since he is the only figure we can identify here even without a label. On either side of Homer are three other figures who are not clearly drawn enough to identify; the narrator says that Homer is accompanied by Horace, Ovid, and Lucan, so that even if Blake has added Dante and Virgil to their number, it is still not clear why there are a total of seven figures here instead of six. Behind these figures are seven roughly drawn concentric circles. Some of the spaces between the circles are numbered: the area between the second and third circle is labeled “3,” and the next-to-innermost labeled “7.” At first glance these circles might be thought to represent the walls of the castle in Limbo, and this would follow in the tradition of other artists’ illustrations for this scene.42 If that were so, it would indicate that the very loosely drawn group of figures just below and to the right of Dante and Virgil, inside the outermost circle, might depict some of the less famous inhabitants of Limbo; there appear to be some child-sized members of this group. At the top of the circles Blake has penciled “Limbo of Weak Shadows,” which looks like a label for the design below. On closer examination, though, it appears that Blake intended to make these concentric circles a map of Hell, in which case the figures in the small group just mentioned are inhabitants of the circle just beyond that of Limbo, where we will meet Paolo and Francesca. The

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Figure 26. The Shades of Homer and Other Poets of Antiquity, watercolor, black ink, graphite, and black chalk (Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Bequest of Grenville L. Winthrop, 1943. 442, © President and Fellows of Harvard College).

fact that two of the tiny sketched people are in flying poses might confirm this. The strongest clue that the circles indicate the circles of Hell, though, is the fact that at their center, between Homer’s right shoulder and his sword, is a tiny bust that Blake has labeled “Satan.” Since Satan is located at the deepest point of Dante’s Hell, the center as seen from above, it seems to confirm that this was the intended meaning of the sketched circles. Within the outermost of these circles Blake has written the words of criticism we have quoted before: Every thing in Dantes Comedia shews That for Tyrannical Purposes he has made This World the Foundation of All & the Goddess Nature & not the Holy Ghost .….….….….… … & the Goddess Nature & not the Holy Ghost.… Round Purgatory is Paradise & round Paradise is Vacuum or Limbo. so that Homer is the Center of All I mean the Poetry of the Heathen Stolen & Perverted from the Bible [E 689]

Blake’s opinion of Homer and the other classical greats is not entirely consistent. As I have detailed in Part III of this book, he did declare the Greek and Roman thinkers to be overly dependent on reason, and he associated the classical age with the veil of nature. But


Part IV. The Illustrations

he also allows that their works contain allusions to deeper visionary truths, as we saw in his illustration to Porphyry’s explication of a scene from the Odyssey. The inscription on this Comedy illustration, though, shows Blake in his most anti-classical mood, blaming the epic poet for the theft and perversion of biblical ideas. He puts Homer at the center of the crime, writing, “Homer is the Center of All,” and making the central location literal in the watercolor. Because the figure of Homer is the most nearly finished element in the illustration, Blake gives him more prominence than Dante does in the Comedy. Dante does state that Homer is “of all bards supreme” (Cary, 15) but does not indicate that he is geographically or hierarchically at the center of Limbo, which contains all manner of philosophers and heroes as well. In my opinion, Blake has structured this watercolor to associate Homer, a low point of visionary literature, with Satan, “the limit of Opakeness” (E 189). The Comedy puts Homer in a respected but marginal position in Limbo, and locates Satan at the center of everything. Blake conflates these by putting Homer in the center of the page and then drawing behind him a map of Hell, with Satan just over Homer’s shoulder. In this way he can make his illustrations follow Dante’s narrative order while showing that Homer and Satan are nearly equally guilty in their shutting-down of vision. Once more we see that in a non–Ptolemaic universe that has no permanent center, but a center that is everywhere, as Cusanus described it, the association of spatial points depends on perspective. Blake is telling us that from his point of view, Satan is the low point, but so is Homer, though they are in different places. Above the map of Hell, with Satan/Homer at its center, Blake has drawn a rough map of the solar system in the leftover space at the top and right of the page. The planetary spheres are clearly labeled, but, oddly, the center sphere, which ought to be the Earth, is labeled “Purgatory,” and the outermost, which should be Heaven, is called “Vacuum.” Over the circle called here “Purgatory” are the words “Terrestrial Paradise” and beneath it “It is an Island in Limbo.” This reordering of Dante’s system is hard to warrant. In the Comedy, the Terrestrial Paradise is at the top of the mountain of Purgatory, and both are far removed from Limbo. Blake surely knew Dante’s views well enough by this time not to mislabel the locations out of simple error. In this map, too, he has intentionally restructured things so that it fits neither Dante’s view nor Blake’s own, but a false universe as perceived by those who put Homer at their center. The Terrestrial Paradise has been relocated to the low point because it is a terrestrial, not celestial, realm—Vala, not vision. Heaven has been reduced to vacuum because those who make “This World the Foundation of All” perceive nothingness where Heaven should be. The next illustration is also a depiction of Limbo, and though this one is less diagrammatic, it is hardly more true to Dante’s description (fig. 27). The pilgrim and Virgil are on a cliff, looking down into the forest of Limbo. Again, no castle walls are visible here, unless the rectangular object at the extreme left, projecting slightly above the trees, is the top of one wall. Standing on this object is a figure sketched in profile, in front of a massive flame. This figure corresponds to nothing in the Comedy, and I am at a loss to explain why Blake included it here. Most of Limbo is shown as forest, reminding us again that we are in the material world. Five figures are visible in the lower left corner; four of these wear laurel crowns and one carries a sword, indicating that we are again seeing Homer and his companion poets, though Blake has drawn one more than the four whom Dante describes here. (Roe’s

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Figure 27. Homer and the Ancient Poets, pencil, pen and watercolor (Tate, London/Art Resource, New York).

description of these as personifications of the five senses seems arbitrary to me.)43 At right there is a man blowing a pipe, leaning with his female companion against a tree. The pastoral effect of this pair makes it easy to imagine they are virtuous pagans, sighing in the region outside the walls of Limbo’s castle. The souls flying in pairs through the air in the left center of the picture are a glimpse of the next level of Hell, where the lustful are caught in the storms of passion.

Minos After crossing the Acheron, souls destined for eternal punishment descend to the second circle of Hell. There Minos stands, Grinning with ghastly feature: he, of all Who enter, strict examining the crimes, Gives sentence, and dismisses them beneath, According as he foldeth him around: For when before him comes the ill-fated soul, It all confesses; and that judge severe Of sins, considering what place in Hell


Part IV. The Illustrations

Figure 28. Minos, pen and ink and watercolor over pencil and black chalk (National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Felton Bequest, 1920 [990–3]).

Suits the transgression, with his tail so oft Himself encircles, as degrees beneath He dooms it to descend [Hell, 5; Cary, 18–19].

In other words, Minos is the one who determines where in Hell each soul will spend eternity. After hearing a sinner’s confession, Minos encircles the unfortunate soul with his tail, and the number of times the tail is wrapped around is the level of Hell to which the soul must then descend (fig. 28). Blake’s depiction of Minos is another of his muscular patriarchal types, though this time the bearded figure is shown nude. He is also crowned, and while only the tip of his tail is visible, Blake has shown his wavy white hair entirely covering his throne and falling even below his feet on the platform where he sits. He is surrounded by suffering souls, most of whom are in pairs, indicating that they belong to the portion of the second circle of Hell that punishes the lustful. Beyond them we see some souls who are submerged up to their necks in blood, perhaps to give us a glimpse of the Styx in a later circle of Hell. In the distance, beyond the red river, is a wall that may be the wall of the City of Dis—although if Blake is showing us here the wrathful souls in the Styx and the walls of the city beyond, he has omitted both the gluttonous and the greedy, who live between Minos and the Styx. The illustration shows the moment when Minos warns the pilgrim that he should not

9. Hell


proceed, and Virgil tells Minos, “Hinder not his way / By destiny appointed” (Hell, 5; Cary, 19). Minos’s role in the Comedy is brief, but his duties here are of a type that Blake would find particularly objectionable. A judge who measures and assigns eternal blame embodies two concepts that Blake thinks are errors of the fallen world. First, we should recall Blake’s conviction that while a person’s state may be evil, the eternal soul of the person is not to be blamed. Second, we have seen that he associates measuring and division with the narrowed state of the senses in which we can no longer perceive the infinite in everything. In The Four Zoas, when Urizen puts people into the bondage of the material world, the compasses of measurement play an evil role: For measurd out in orderd spaces the Sons of Urizen With compasses divide the deep; they the strong scales erect … And weigh the massy Cubes, then fix them in their awful stations .….….….…. The enormous warp & woof rage direful in the affrighted deep [E 318–19]

We have seen that in an unfallen condition, the imagination creates what it perceives and is unfettered by divisions of time and space. Because each thing is in infinity, and infinity excludes nothing, it is an error to ascribe a limited set of attributes permanently to anything or anyone. Part of the narrowing of perception that occurs when we fall is the onset of the illusion that things or people have fixed attributes. As Stempel puts it: “The fall of man is the division of the subject among its attributes and the usurpation of being by those attributes.”44 When a person falls, in other words, he becomes merely his attributes. He is no longer an infinite eternal soul, but a soul who is good or bad or greedy or generous. This is the role that Minos plays in Blake’s re-imagining of the Comedy: he is the one who names the dominant and determining attribute of each soul. Dante says that Minos discerns the soul’s condition and assigns it an appropriate location based on its personality; Blake sees such an assignation as the truly evil act. Minos acts precisely as the sons of Urizen did in the lines from The Four Zoas quoted above, measuring out the souls, dividing them from infinity, and fixing them “in their awful stations.” Punter writes, “The nature of man is to have no fixed, limited nature: or rather, to reside constantly in the activity of self-transcendence.”45 Minos, then, is the force that divides the falling souls into fixedness, into (apparently) permanent identification with only one of their sins, in a way that ties them down and seems to prevent “the activity of selftranscendence.” The fact that the souls nearest Minos are male/female pairs also reminds us that it is here where the ungendered inhabitants of the upper world must split into men and women. Since Blake is reminding us that the Fall is division, we should recall that the unfallen condition is unity—in particular, the unity of the four Zoas, the four elements of the universal man that form Blake’s basic symbol of balanced personhood. In their eponymous poem, it is the split within the person of Albion that constitutes the Fall. Blake has not neglected to remind us of their importance in this picture of Minos, as well. Behind Minos’s throne is a wall of blue flame, and behind the flame rises billowing black smoke. Peeking out from


Part IV. The Illustrations

between the flame and the smoke are four faces, each encircled with a halo. Each is slightly different: clockwise from top right, one face is unmoved or even slightly amused, one is severe, one is concerned, and the last shows surprise. These are the four Zoas, putting in a last unified appearance as Minos prevents the falling souls from perceiving any more their balance. We should recall that because the Fall is perceptual, the split of the Zoas and the identification of each soul with only one of its attributes is in fact an illusion: the Zoas are eternally present and ready to be reintegrated whenever the soul becomes able to perceive them once again. But Minos has hidden this fact—the Zoas are occluded by his flame. We will not see them again until, at the top of Purgatory, they appear in glory in the car pulled by Christ.

Paolo and Francesca Leaving Minos behind, the remainder of the second circle of Hell is assigned to the punishment of lustful souls. The pilgrim hears them before he can see them in the darkness. Now am I come where many a plaining voice Smites on mine ear. Into a place I came Where light was silent all. Bellowing there groan’d A noise, as of a sea in tempest torn By warring winds. The stormy blast of Hell With restless fury drives the spirits on, Whirl’d round and dash’d amain with sore annoy. .….….….….. I understood, that to this torment sad The carnal sinners are condemn’d, in whom Reason by lust is sway’d. As in large troops And multitudinous, when winter reigns, The starlings on their wings are borne abroad; So bears the tyrannous gust those evil souls [Hell, 5; Cary, 19].

The strong winds of this level propel the sinners through the air just as their passions drove them in life. They appear to the pilgrim like flocks of birds flying together, except that these souls cannot control their flight—they are at the mercy of the storms (fig. 29). Here the pilgrim has the first of many conversations with the souls he meets in the afterlife, hearing from Francesca da Rimini about the circumstances of her sin. At the end of the canto, overcome by the emotion of her tale, the pilgrim faints. Blake shows the pilgrim prostrate on the ground, with Virgil looking down at him. Paolo and Francesca are in a sort of cloud or air stream, flying away from him. The other souls in the storm are enclosed in another stream of wind, beginning at the bottom right hand corner of the page and swirling through a full circle before passing beyond the top left corner of the picture. Famously, Blake never objected to the pleasures of the flesh, nor was he concerned that in his age “Reason by lust is sway’d.” In fact in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, he declares that the Fall will be undone through pleasure, and the world will once again “appear infinite.

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Figure 29. The Circle of the Lustful: Francesca Da Rimini, engraving, leaf size: 39.0 × 54.2 cm (collection of Robert N. Essick; © 2013 William Blake Archive; used by permission).

and holy whereas / it now appears finite & corrupt. / This will come to pass by an improvement of sensual enjoyment” (E 39). So we may have confidence that the souls in this illustration are not in the same condition as Dante would have us believe. We saw in the picture of Minos that when this character narrows each soul to some small collection of attributes, each individual becomes male or female as well. Blake was clear that in the four-tier cosmology he imagined, souls in Eden are also genderless and only divide into male and female emanations as they descend to lower points. The level below Eden, where the emanation occurs, is called Beulah, from a biblical word for “marriage.” Souls exhausted from the mental fight of Eden descend temporarily to Beulah, and by emanating a partner there gain the possibility of sexual pleasure as restorative comfort. As long as the imaginations of the souls in Beulah are undimmed, they may rise up again at any time and rejoin the active life of Eden. It is only when they are tempted to remain constantly within the comfort of Beulah, or are attracted to lower levels, that the imagination loses its power and the souls acquire the illusion that their emanations are truly separate. The souls in the illustration to canto 5 of the Hell have not come from Beulah; as we have seen, they have arrived via the original state of innocence. Yet they are in the same predicament as those souls who fall out of Beulah into Generation or Ulro. Now that they have split into male and female, they believe that gender is a permanent division. As when Minos indicates one of our attributes and uses this as our permanent identification, gender


Part IV. The Illustrations

here becomes an unchanging attribute rather than an emanation which may be rejoined at will. The couples propelled through the air by the storms find that they are at the mercy of external powers, no longer understanding that their imaginations create the world around them. Blake has provided them, though, with reminder of their ideal joined condition: a kind of white sun directly above the figure of Virgil shows a couple tightly embracing—or perhaps in a single body, as Aristophanes describes in his speech in Plato’s Symposium. Read in this way, we may interpret the figures of Paolo and Francesca in a manner similar to my view of the three beasts in the dark forest at the beginning of the Hell. The wind that engulfs them seems to generate from the body of the pilgrim himself, and the lovers seem to fly outwards from him. This indicates that these two are also creations of the pilgrim—the passion that he may not keep joined now that he is in the lower world. This illustration forms the basis of one of only seven engravings that Blake began for the Comedy pictures. It would be tempting to conclude from this fact that he found the scene particularly important in his interpretation of Dante, but we must also remember that the story of Paolo and Francesca, along with that of Ugolino, was by far the most famous scene from the Comedy among British art lovers at this time. It’s possible that he wanted the well-known scene to be among the first finished.

Cerberus Blake’s illustration for the third circle of Hell, where the gluttons are punished, is only roughly sketched, but wide blue and grey washes give it an appropriately gloomy feel. The pool in the foreground has penciled indications of the souls submerged there, and a few other figures are sketched here and there, but the work is not finished enough to discern where Blake intended to show Dante and Virgil. The only clear figure finished enough to be sure of is the three-headed dog Cerberus, shown in a cave at left. There is a puzzling group of upside-down figures at top right, apparently falling or swirling in the sky. The placement seems inappropriate for storm-tossed figures from the previous circle, and they do not seem to be in pairs. Beyond them, however, visible in a gap between the mountains, we can see a flat plain or river and castle walls, which provide a glimpse of the next circle: the River Styx and the walls of Dis. Cerberus, cruel monster, fierce and strange, Through his wide threefold throat, barks as a dog Over the multitude immersed beneath. His eyes glare crimson, black his unctuous beard, His belly large, and claw’d the hands, with which He tears the spirits, flays them, and their limbs Piecemeal disparts [Hell, 6; Cary, 23]. Then my guide, his palms Expanded on the ground, thence fill’d with earth Raised them, and cast it in his ravenous maw. E’en as a dog, that yelling bays for food

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His keeper, when the morsel comes, lets fall His fury, bent alone with eager haste To swallow it; so dropp’d the loathsome cheeks Of demon Cerberus [Hell, 6; Cary, 24].

Cerberus is a consistent character in katabatic literature. He is described in Hesiod’s Theogony as “the brazen-voiced hound of Hades” with fifty heads.46 In the Iliad and the Aeneid he is down to only three heads, but has gained a clearer role as watchdog at the entrance of the underworld. Taylor’s book on the Eleusinian and Bacchic Mysteries has no trouble fitting him into the Neoplatonic symbolism of descent stories: “By Cerberus we must understand the discriminative part of the soul, of which a dog, on account of its sagacity, is an emblem; and the three heads signify the triple distinction of this part, into the intellective [or intuitional], cogitative [or rational], and opinionative powers.”47 Blake might have named the divisions differently, but he would be happy to assimilate the use of the three-headed dog as a symbol for the (apparent) division of the soul as it falls into the material world. We have already seen that Aeneas hears the barking of dogs as he enters Hades, and that Taylor interprets this as “Matter herself.” Blake made two similar watercolors depicting the scene in which Virgil silences Cerberus. They differ mostly in the color scheme and in the prominence of the human figures. One picture shows Cerberus against a background of red flames, with Dante and Virgil tiny in comparison to the dog and nearly off the page in the upper right. The other has the dog in front of blue flames and the human figures shown much larger (fig. 30). This picture also shows a bit of deep space to the right of the pilgrim, revealing the crenellated wall of the City of Dis in the distance.

Plutus and Fortune There is some disagreement about the order of the three illustrations following the pictures of Cerberus. Roe, Butlin, and Erdman show the painting of Plutus next, followed by that of the souls in the Stygian Lake and then the painting of Fortune.48 Klonsky and Bindman see the order as Plutus, Fortune, and the Styx.49 I see no justification for placing the picture of the souls in the Styx before that of Fortune; I can only imagine this was an error on Roe’s part that was taken up by the others on his authority. All three subjects are named in canto 7, but the Comedy makes the order clear: Plutus appears in the fourth circle of Hell, and Virgil explains the motions of Fortune while the pilgrim is in that circle. The River Styx isn’t seen until Dante and Virgil have descended to the fifth circle near the end of the canto. Plutus was “the personification of riches in classical mythology” (Cary, footnote, 27). The resemblance of his name to Pluto, god of the underworld, is probably only coincidence, though Cicero and Isidore of Seville worked out a connection between them “based on gold and silver coming from underground and on the importance of greed as a source for ills.”50 Canto 7 of the Hell begins with Plutus’s shout of “Pape Satàn, pape Satàn aleppe!” Modern translators agree that these are nonsense words, but Cary has bravely interpreted them to mean “Ah me! O Satan! Satan!” (Yet Cary’s version is surely a safer bet than Boyd’s: “Prince


Part IV. The Illustrations

Figure 30. Cerberus, pen and ink and watercolor over pencil and black chalk (National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Felton Bequest, 1920 [991–3]).

of the Fiends, arise; Behold thy realms expos’d to mortal eyes!”)51 Blake has depicted Plutus in the act of shouting these words, one hand in the air and the other on a bag of coins. He is shown as one of Blake’s patriarchal types, this time nude and with a pointed white beard and hair that goes up into two points like flame. He is seated at the bottom of the picture while Dante and Virgil walk down a slope toward him (fig. 31). The next illustration in the series (by my reckoning) shows the souls punished in the circle over which Plutus presides. The avaricious and the prodigal are both guilty of greed, either by hoarding their money or by spending it foolishly. Their punishment is identical: they must push huge stones forever in a circle around the circumference of Hell, the avaricious going in one direction and the prodigal in the other. When they collide, they shout at each other and reverse direction. Blake’s illustration is very sketchy, but we can make out two sinners, bent low to push the heavy weight, at the moment of collision. Various loops to the sides indicate that Blake planned to show many such souls in the background. Beneath this scene, in the lower half of the page, is a painting of the goddess Fortune. Virgil explains the role of Fortune in distributing the riches of the world. Because from God’s perspective the amount of one’s wealth is unrelated to merit, who is rich and who is poor is decided solely by this pagan goddess, who makes sure to keep her wheel turning, so that one person may be on the rise while another loses everything. Fortune’s role is explained in this canto, but she is not described as being present in this circle of Hell. Still, Blake has drawn her here adjacent to the greedy souls.

Figure 31. Plutus, pencil, pen and watercolor (Tate, London/Art Resource, New York).


Part IV. The Illustrations

Virgil’s explanation doesn’t say that Fortune is at all troubled by her function. Blake, though, has shown her chest deep in a kind of pit, clutching at her hair, clearly pained by her duties. Submerged with her are circles of various sizes, probably intended to represent bags of money and coins. The contents of the pit are colored yellow, which alludes to the color of gold, but nevertheless succeeds in making Fortune appear to be chest-high in excrement. Penciled above her, on the side of pit, we can see Blake’s opinion of this goddess, who, it must be admitted, had failed to help his finances: The hole of a Shit house The Goddess Fortune is the devils servant ready to Kiss any ones Arse [E 689]

Whereas Dante, in this canto, is careful to be indifferent to the distribution of wealth in the world, finding it cause for neither praise nor blame, Blake understandably indulges in a rare moment of revenge on the goddess who had done nothing for him. The words are washed over with a thin layer of color, and probably would not have remained visible if the picture had been finished.

The Styx In the fourth circle of Hell the pilgrim sees a well (or spring, depending on the translation) from which flows murky waters. The “dismal stream” flows into a lake called the Styx. From the shore, the pilgrim sees the wrathful souls. Intent I stood To gaze, and in the marish sunk descried A miry tribe, all naked, and with looks Betokening rage. They with their hands alone Struck not, but with the head, the breast, the feet, Cutting each other piecemeal with their fangs.

Virgil explains that the angry souls visible at the surface are not alone in this swamp. underneath The water dwells a multitude, whose sighs Into these bubbles make the surface heave, As thine eye tells thee wheresoe’er it turn.

The submerged souls are the sullen. If those on the surface are out of control from anger, those on the lake bed are those who turned their anger inward and lie paralyzed from sadness. Fix’d in the slime, they say: “Sad once were we, “In the sweet air made gladsome by the sun, “Carrying a foul and lazy mist within: “Now in these murky settlings are we sad.” Such dolorous strain they gurgle in their throats, But word distinct can utter none [Hell, 6; Cary, 30].

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Blake’s watercolor shows the lake in cross-section, not according to the view the pilgrim has. The outwardly angry are at the top, though still slightly submerged, and the sullen are beneath them, lying on their backs on the lake bed. The water has been colored indigo, perhaps in direct response to Cary’s adjective “inky.” There are six outwardly angry souls, divided in two groups of three and facing each other with clenched fists (fig. 32). Three of these are of Blake’s patriarchal figure type, while one of them seems younger and appears to be wearing laurels. The pair who are nose to nose, farthest from the picture plane, are of types unusual for Blake to draw. One has mutton-chop sideburns and the other has projecting lips; both seem like faces one would see in a Gillray cartoon rather than in Blake’s work. There are three souls on the lake bed. They are clothed, and two of them are of the patriarchal type. The figure on the left has his eyes open, staring into space, while the eyes of the one on the right are closed, with an expression of chronic sadness. The figure in the center is also unusual in Blake’s work. Perhaps this is a woman, because her headdress is something like a nun’s. After Dante and Virgil view the wrathful souls, they arrive at the foot of a tower, and the beginning of the next canto explains that this is a signal turret, communicating by beacon lights with another distant tower. To cross the Styx, they must ride in a ferry piloted by Phlegyas, who soon arrives, mistaking the pilgrim for a condemned soul. In the illustration Phlegyas is shown riding at the stern of his boat, which incongruously looks like a pleasure boat with a sail, but the figure is too small and sketchily drawn to determine his appearance (fig. 33). The whole painting is mostly blocked out in large shapes of gray paint with few details. The signal tower is a tall mass in the foreground, and the rough shapes of Dante and Virgil stand near it on the shore, waiting for the ferry to arrive. Across the wide river are mountains under low clouds and another tower just visible at left. The only remarkable feature of the picture is that the lights in the tower seem to be two crescent moons, not quite attached to the tower itself. This turns out to be a result of Cary’s idiosyncratic translation: he says that when the pilgrim and Virgil look up to the top of the tower, “we mark’d uphung / Two cressets,” which I believe has caused some confusion. Dante’s word to name the signal lights is not in modern Italian dictionaries. “Fiammette” appears to be an invented word from fiamma—flame. At least one translation renders this “flamelets,”52 Durling opts for “two small flames.”53 Cary has used the rare English word “cressets,” which Merriam-Webster defines as “an iron vessel or basket used for holding an illuminant (as oil) and mounted as a torch or suspended as a lantern.” This is a logical choice in the context, although it adds information absent from the text, since the poet has not specified how the signal lights are generated. Blake has apparently mistaken the seldom-seen word “cressets” for “crescents” and draws them accordingly. As the boat carrying Dante, Virgil, and Phlegyas crosses the Styx, one of the souls who is punished in the water accosts the pilgrim (fig. 34). Dante asks, “Who art thou?” and the shade replies: “One, as thou seest, who mourns.” The pilgrim recognizes him as Filippo Argenti, who, according to a footnote in Cary’s edition, was “a Florentine noble, notorious for his furious temper and overbearing conduct” (Cary, 32). Then stretch’d he forth Hands to the bark; whereof my teacher sage Aware, thrusting him back: “Away! down there To the other dogs!”

Figure 32. The Stygian Lake, with the Ireful Sinners Fighting, pen and ink and watercolor over pencil (National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Felton Bequest, 1920 [992–3]).

Top: Figure 33. Dante and Virgil on the Edge of the Stygian Pool, gray wash, graphite, black ink, black chalk, and watercolor (Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum; Bequest of Grenville L. Winthrop, 1943.658; © President and Fellows of Harvard College). Bottom: Figure 34. Dante and Virgil in the Skiff of Phlegyas Are Hailed by Filippo Argenti, watercolor, black ink, graphite, and black chalk (Harvard Art Museums/ Fogg Museum; Bequest of Grenville L. Winthrop, 1943.439; © President and Fellows of Harvard College).


Part IV. The Illustrations

This is the moment shown in Blake’s illustration. Dante, standing up in the boat at the far left of the picture, has his back to us, while Virgil energetically puts his hand on Filippo Argenti’s head to push him back down into the water. Filippo has both hands in the air and a suitably fanatical expression on his face. Only Phlegyas seems indifferent to the exchange: he sits with his hand on the tiller of the boat and glances at Filippo unmoved. In the distance, across the expanse of the Styx, we see mountains and the signaling tower. Roe reads this design as signifying a wise repulsion of materiality. For him, each of the four figures in the picture represents one of the four Zoas. Filippo represents the Zoa called Tharmas, “the purely material aspect of man,” and Virgil has here become a symbol of Los. Roe writes, “Mortal man should direct his life under the guidance of reason in such a way that … error (materialism and selfishness—attributes which breed anger instead of love) is cast out.”54 Here I think Roe is making a fundamental and Urizenic error. Tharmas is the Zoa representing the senses, and therefore is closely associated with the body, but this doesn’t mean that he is something to be repressed—and certainly not put “under the guidance of reason.” This desire to favor one attribute over another, and to deny the necessity of each of the Zoas, is precisely the error that occurs when we fall into the material world of Urizenic morality. As Damon points out, it is at the moment when reason (in the person of Urizen) gives up attempts to dominance that the Fall is corrected.55 In The Four Zoas, the Last Judgment occurs when Urizen learns to regret his attempts to control the other Zoas. He realizes that the Eternal “is always present to the wise” (E 390) and announces, I cast futurity away & turn my back upon that void Which I have made for lo futurity is in this moment .….….….…. Rage Tharmas[,] Urizen no longer curbs your rage [E 390]

This act sets Urizen free, and he rises again. Then glorious bright Exulting in his joy He sounding rose into the heavens in naked majesty In radiant Youth [E 391].

I cannot agree with Roe, then, that Filippo is to be identified with Tharmas and that casting him out is the road to redemption. Instead, I think we are free to see Filippo as symbolic in the way Dante used him: as wrath, and not force him into the role of one of the Zoas. The act of pushing him away is therefore an error caused by the fact that the episode occurs in the material world. As we saw with the three beasts, in this world we separate our passions from ourselves due to their frightening power. Eventually the pilgrim will rise by reintegrating his emotions, including wrath, but that moment is not yet; he is still in the lower world and has not acquired the experience necessary to achieve reintegration.

The Gate of Dis The fifth and sixth circles of Hell are separated by a wall of the type that formerly surrounded Italian towns. Virgil and the pilgrim, having crossed the Styx, approach the gate of this wall to enter the City of Dis and proceed deeper into the underworld. They are opposed

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by the guardians of the gate, including the Furies of Greek myth and Medusa. Unable to advance, Virgil momentarily loses confidence, and the pilgrim fears that his journey will end here in defeat. Their doubts, however, are quickly overcome. Dante’s trip has been ordained by God, and when Virgil proves unable to proceed, assistance from on high is quickly sent. Before the pilgrim can see the angel coming to assist them, he can hear the sound of its approach. And now there came o’er the perturbed waves Loud-crashing, terrible, a sound that made Either shore tremble, as if of a wind Impetuous, from conflicting vapours sprung, That, ’gainst some forest driving all his might, Plucks off the branches, beats them down, and hurls Afar; then, onward passing, proudly sweeps His whirlwind rage, while beasts and shepherds fly [Hell, 9; Cary, 36].

When the angel comes into sight, we can see that he is running over the surface of the Styx, sending the angry souls jumping. As frogs, Before their foe the serpent, through the wave Ply swiftly all, till at the ground each one Lies on a heap; more than a thousand spirits Destroy’d, so saw I fleeing before one Who pass’d with unwet feet the Stygian sound. He, from his face removing the gross air, Oft his left hand forth stretch’d, and seem’d alone By that annoyance wearied [Hell, 9; Cary, 37].

The illustration for this scene, in its unfinished state, is done primarily in washes and tenuously brushed lines of grey watercolor (fig. 35). At the left, light red washes indicate flames. The wall and its gate appear at lower right, the two human characters indicated with only the briefest of lines. A white space above the wall and a few pencil marks indicate where the Furies would have appeared. The angel, nude, is entering from the left, crouched like a runner in a sprint and with wings spread wide. The dominant element in the painting are the huge black swirls at the center, ensuing from the angel and curling up over the wall. Here Blake has indulged his tendency to illustrate elements in the author’s description that are not meant as literally present, but as verbal descriptions of the scene. Dante writes that the sound the angel makes at his arrival is “as if … a wind / Impetuous … proudly sweeps / His whirlwind rage.” The poet indicates that the sound of the angel is like a whirlwind, and the illustrator has echoed the metaphor by including a visible whirlwind in the painting. The metaphorical storm makes “beasts and shepherds fly,” and though there are no shepherds here in Hell, Blake has shown the whirlwind lifting souls out of the waters of the Styx and dumping them, like some mythical rain of frogs, onto the shore in front of the city wall. In this case, I see no reason to conclude that Blake is at odds with the text he is illustrating. Here he is employing images from the poetry of the Comedy to convey more powerfully the feeling that the poet intended. Blake’s willingness to translate verbal metaphor into visual symbols, we will see, accounts for several more difficult images later on.


Part IV. The Illustrations

Figure 35. The Angel Crossing the Styx, pen and ink and watercolor over pencil (National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Felton Bequest, 1920 [994–3]).

The large whirlwind swirls of this illustration, in addition to showing forcefully the power of the angel, repeat visual motifs of the earlier illustration of Paolo and Francesca. Though the picture is rough and lacking detail, it has a bold impact that makes it among the most successful in the series. Viewers of our own time are no doubt better able to appreciate its severe beauty than at any time previous. The next illustration, showing the angel standing before the gate, is very different in feeling from the previous picture (fig. 36). It is lightly tinted and nearly symmetrical, with the angel standing in the center, his back to us, and the wall of the city parallel to the picture plane. Medusa leans her head over the wall in the exact center of the top edge. Virgil is covering the pilgrim’s eyes to protect him from Medusa and bustling him out of the lower left corner. The ink lines and pale colors used here make this painting of a powerful angel, appropriately, similar to Blake’s earlier watercolor series illustrating Paradise Lost. The text describes the moment of the angel’s arrival this way: Ah me! how full Of noble anger seem’d he. To the gate He came, and with his wand touch’d it, whereat Open without impediment it flew [Hell, 9; Cary 37].

After opening the gate, the angel pauses to address the demons above it:

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Figure 36. The Angel at the Gate of Dis, pen and ink and watercolor over pencil and black chalk (National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Felton Bequest, 1920 [995–3]).

“Outcasts of heaven! O abject race, and scorn’d!” .….….….….. “Whence doth this wild excess of insolence Lodge in you? wherefore kick you ’gainst that will Ne’er frustrate of its end, and which so oft Hath laid on you enforcement of your pangs?” [Hell, 9; Cary 37].

The moment shown in the painting is out of sequence from the events as described in the poem. In the picture, the angel has his left hand raised, as if he is addressing Medusa and the other creatures at the top of the wall, but the gate is not yet opened. The action and the speech seem to have been reversed. In his right hand the angel holds a long stick, taller than he is—not how we would normally imagine a “wand.” Inside the city wall the pilgrim sees the open tombs of the heretics. Except for Dante’s physical appearance, which I have described above, the illustration for this scene seems entirely in keeping with the poet’s description (fig. 37). In particular the figures of Farinata degli Uberti and Cavalcante Cavalcanti, who both appear in the same tomb, are accurately portrayed in their relation to the pilgrim. I will only note here what Roe has correctly described in his book: the classical mausoleum in the background reminds us that Blake associated this kind of antique architecture with the material world and with the domination of reason in our fallen state.56


Part IV. The Illustrations

Figure 37. Dante Conversing with Farinata degli Uberti, graphite and watercolor (© The Trustees of the British Museum/Art Resource, New York).

The Map of Hell Dante’s Hell is so clearly imagined that one may easily draw it in a simple map. Nearly every edition of the poem includes a diagram, more or less detailed, to help the reader visualize the pilgrim’s progress from Italy to the deepest part of the underworld. Indeed, we are so accustomed to the familiar funnel-shaped diagram that Blake’s map, sketchy as it is, strikes us immediately as one of the most thoroughly re-imagined pictures in the series. Blake has not written a canto number on this page, so it isn’t certain where in the series he intended to place it, or if, as in many editions, the map was supposed to go in an explanatory preface. I place the picture at this point in the series because in canto 11, after visiting the heretics, Virgil explains to the pilgrim the structure of the underworld. Despite this picture’s diagrammatic character, it still tells us important things about Blake’s view of the Comedy (fig. 38).We have already addressed, in Part III of this book, the inscriptions penciled in the lower corners of the page. This is where we find the words It seems as if Dantes supreme Good was something Superior to the Father or Jesus [as] if he gives his rain to the Evil & the Good & his Sun to the just & the Unjust He could Opposite: Figure 38. The Nine Circles of Hell, pencil and traces of watercolor (© The Trustees of the British Museum/Art Resource, New York).

9. Hell



Part IV. The Illustrations never have Builded Dantes Hell nor the Hell of the Bible neither in the way our Parsons explain it It must have been originally Formed by the Devil Himself & So I understand it to have been Whatever Book is for Vengeance for Sin & whatever Book is Against the Forgiveness of Sins is not of the Father but of Satan the Accuser & Father of Hell [E 690]

Why Blake chose to write these words here and not, for instance, on the portrait of Satan, becomes clear when we examine the idiosyncratic way he has drawn the map. There are two obvious differences in Blake’s map from every other: first, it is upsidedown, and second, the circles of Hell aren’t level. We will find that there are good reasons for both of these unique choices. First, why did Blake draw Hell upside down? He has written the obvious answer on the extreme right edge of the sheet. This line reads sideways along the edge, from top to bottom: This is Upside Down When viewd from Hells Gate

The next lines reverse direction, and continue from bottom to top: But right When Viewd from Purgatory after they have passed the Center In Equivocal Worlds Up & Down are Equivocal

This is true of course; when the pilgrim is at the gate of Hell, he is in the northern hemisphere, Hell is below him, and Satan would be head-up if he were visible. Purgatory is in the southern hemisphere, though, and the pilgrim has passed through the center of the earth, so if he looked down from this position Hell would be upside-down, with Satan feetup at the top. All readers of the Comedy know this, but Blake is the first to take advantage of the equivocal viewpoint to draw Hell from this angle. It sometimes surprises students who assume that everyone in the Middle Ages thought the world was flat to discover that Dante not only knew the earth to be a sphere but knew that gravity would reverse direction if one travelled through the midpoint of the planet. When the pilgrim descends to the very bottom of Hell, and crawls through a passage past the exact center of the earth, he has to turn himself over and begin climbing up. The pilgrim is confused, but of course the poet knows that he has traveled beyond the midpoint and is now headed up again, toward the surface and the mountain of Purgatory. The structure of Hell isn’t visible from any point in Purgatory (half the earth blocks his view), so Blake’s words “When Viewd from Purgatory” apply to God’s vision. So the first reason Blake had for drawing the map upside down is to remind us that the perspective of the perceiver is always crucial, and that a view that seems upside down to a soul in Hell (or in Italy) is correct when seen from a higher place. In addition, the map in this form shows the pilgrim’s starting point at the bottom of the page, and instead of moving downwards and changing at the midpoint, we can see him as consistently going up. This, too, is true from the higher perspective: if Italy is at the bottom of the world, the pilgrim’s progress through the circles of Hell and around the levels of Purgatory is always in the right direction—up. The journey through Hell is then not a descent at all—the pilgrim was already at the lowest point when the story began, as the pil-

9. Hell


grim passed through the dark wood of materiality into the world below. Showing the map of Hell upside down emphasizes that after he has mounted to its “top”—normally its bottom—he continues in the same direction in order to reach the top of Purgatory and then rise toward Heaven. Figure 39 shows a map of Hell within the earth as seen in typical diagrams of Dante’s Inferno. Figure 40 is the overall view, showing Hell in its “proper” upsidedown position. The general direction of the pilgrim’s movement throughout the Comedy (simplified of the spiraling motion of his course through Hell and Purgatory) is indicated by the dotted line. Placing Satan at the top of Hell also reminds us that he is the one who created the sins of Hell in the first place. Though he is, in one sense, the low point, the limit of contraction, he is also the lord of Hell because he is the one who organized its system. In Milton, we read: He [Satan] created Seven deadly Sins drawing out his infernal scroll, Of Moral laws and cruel punishments upon the clouds of Jehovah To pervert the Divine voice in its entrance to the earth With thunder of war & trumpets sound, with armies of disease Punishments & deaths musterd & number’d; Saying I am God alone There is no other! let all obey my principles of moral individuality I have brought them from the uppermost innermost recesses Of my Eternal Mind, transgressors I will rend off for ever, As now I rend this accursed Family from my covering [E 103].

Left: Figure 39. Map of Dante’s world, with Jerusalem at the top. Right: Figure 40. Map with Purgatory at the top, showing the general direction of the pilgrim’s journey.


Part IV. The Illustrations

Though hanging head-down, then, Satan belongs at the top of Hell, looking over the realm of suffering he created when he perverted God’s voice and invented morality. The pilgrim, in Blake’s version, needs to rise out of this sad state, passing above the moral arbiter of the lower world, in order to advance. A Hell that wasn’t upside down, in which the bottom is a dead end and there was no possibility of rising out of it, would indeed be a Hell that Blake’s God “could never have Builded.” Blake has corrected this error merely by turning the map over. The idea that Hell is a place of progress, through which we pass in order to reach the higher levels, also explains why the circles in Blake’s diagram are oddly tilted. This Hell is not divided into discrete levels, but is organized like a spiral—or to use a word that was important to Blake’s system: a vortex. In another context, Abrams describes the trajectory of the vortex as a combination of circular return with hope for progress. The self-moving circle, in other words, rotates along a third, vertical dimension, to close where it had begun, but on a higher plane of value. It thus fuses the idea of the circular return with the idea of linear progress, to describe a distinctive figure of Romantic thought and imagination—the ascending circle, or spiral. Hugo von Hoffmannsthal’s later description of this design is terse and complete: “Every development moves in a spiral line, leaves nothing behind, reverts to the same point on a higher meaning.” … Goethe’s description of what he calls “spiral” development uses the alchemical term Steigerung (enhancement) for this result: “The two great drive-wheels of all nature” are “the concept of polarity and of enhancement.” Every phenomenon must separate itself in order to manifest itself as a phenomenon, but “the separate seeks itself again and again” and if “the separate first enhances itself it brings forth through the union of the enhanced parts a third, new, higher, totally unexpected thing.”57

We see that the vortex is a visualization of a form of dialectic: the advance and the return, but the return that arrives at a better, higher level than the starting point. Or as Punter puts it: In speaking of a spiral form, we return again to the question of cyclicism and progress, which is near the heart of The Marriage of Heaven and Hell: “Without Contraries is no progression. Attraction and Repulsion, Reason and Energy, Love and Hate, are necessary to Human existence” (E 34).58

Essick and Viscomi point out another quality of vortices: when seen head-on, they look like globes.59 Seen from a narrowed, material perspective the globes of the cosmos (stars, moons, sun) appear to be spherical and unchanging. To the open-eyed perceiver, however, nothing is unchanging: the Newtonian universe of spheres becomes an ever-evolving interaction of vortices. “By passing through the vortex of globular reality (such as ‘the earth’), humans can achieve a state of consciousness (‘heaven’) free of Newtonian limits.”60 This is precisely what the pilgrim is doing: passing through the earth, which is a globe to Dante but a vortex in Blake’s map, to free himself of Newtonian limits.

The Violent The circle of Hell inhabited by the souls of the violent is divided into three sections. The first holds those who were violent against other people, the second is for those who did

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violence to themselves, and the third is for the souls who were violent towards God or his will. Blake’s illustrations for the first two sections are in keeping with our analysis so far and require no further comment. The Minotaur and the centaurs who guard the first circle can be seen as emblems of people’s violent passions, externalized as were the three beasts in the opening canto of Hell (fig. 41). The same is true of the harpies in the forest of the suicides (fig. 42). Moreover, the fact that the suicidal souls are changed into trees is another instance of the association of materiality with wood. The third portion of this circle is more complex, because Blake’s idea of what constitutes God’s will is so different from Dante’s. Blake devoted five illustrations to this subcircle, more than he did to any area except those of the thieves and the corrupt politicians. Our understanding will benefit from a closer examination of the punishments and symbols here. Those who were violent against God are punished in a desert circle, where there is only hot sand and a never-ending rain of fire. The combination of sinners here strikes the modern student as, at first, incongruous: there are blasphemers, sodomites, and bankers. Of course bankers deserve to go to Hell, but why are they grouped with sinners who, relatively speaking, did so much less damage? Guy P. Raffa explains that we are to see these three categories as representing direct violence against God (blasphemy), violence against nature, which is God’s

Figure 41. The Minotaur, watercolor, black ink, graphite, and black chalk (Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum; Bequest of Grenville L. Winthrop, 1943.437; © President and Fellows of Harvard College).


Part IV. The Illustrations

Figure 42. The Wood of the Self-Murderers: The Harpies and the Suicides, graphite, ink and watercolor (Tate, London/Art Resource, New York).

creation (sodomy), and violence against art or human industry (usury).61 As we might expect, Blake takes a different view of these things than Dante does. The first illustration for this part of Hell serves as a kind of orientation. We are not shown a particular moment in the narrative, but a general view of the circle, showing all three types of sinners in the postures that Dante has assigned them (fig. 43). In the distance are the usurers, seated on the ground, hands raised against the falling flames. The blasphemers are in the lower left, laid out full-length on the sand. Blake has emphasized the sodomites most: their figures are shown much larger at the center of the picture, running from left to right. The pilgrim stands at right, with Virgil behind him, looking from his safe pathway into the rain of fire. The fact that Blake has shown a woman as one of the runners is perhaps an indication that he is not interpreting this group in the traditional way. Of course women may participate in sodomy, but sodomites are traditionally described as homosexual men, and all of the figures the poet mentions in this circle are male. The Bible never condemns female homosexuality per se. I will return to this subject in my discussion of the fourth picture made for this circle. Canto 14 names as an example of blasphemy a character from the Roman poet Statius’s epic work the Thebaid. This is Capaneus, a proud warrior, who refuses to pray to any of the gods of the Roman pantheon. Durling and Martinez tell us that in the tenth book of the Thebaid, he is “the first to surmount the walls of Thebes, he disdains its earthly littleness,

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Figure 43. Dante and Virgil Among the Blasphemers, watercolor, black ink, graphite, and black chalk (Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum; Bequest of Grenville L. Winthrop, 1943.433; © President and Fellows of Harvard College).

challenges Bacchus and Hercules (its patrons) to defend it, and then, disdaining lesser gods, challenges Jupiter himself; Jupiter strikes him with a thunderbolt—another instance of fire from Heaven.” No doubt Blake noted that when the poet Dante wished to single out a famous blasphemer, he chose one who had challenged not the Christian God, but Jupiter. For Blake, this would be no sin. Certainly the painting of Capaneus hardly makes him look worthy of condemnation (see fig. 44 in the color insert). He is a massive, muscular figure whose expression makes him seem not defiant but long-suffering. He is not of the patriarchal bearded type that Blake uses to show either good saints or false gods, as with the God of This World in the third illustration to Hell. He seems entirely noble and bravely enduring his punishment. The pilgrim and Virgil are pushed to the extreme left of the painting; the rest is devoted entirely to Capaneus. This painting appears to be complete. It is one of the most beautifully painted pictures in the Comedy series, and ranks among the most skillful watercolors that Blake ever produced. It shows a dark place lit entirely by burning sands and the flames emanating from Capaneus himself. Dante doesn’t write that the lightning Jupiter threw continues to strike Capaneus in the underworld, but Blake has shown it here in four zigzag streaks. Few paintings in watercolor have ever achieved the dramatic and otherworldly light that flashes through this work. The drama in this work reminds us of a late engraving, from the set of illustrations to


Part IV. The Illustrations

the Book of Job. The eleventh print in that series (fig. 7) shows Job at his low point, threatened by lightning and the false God stretched over him, lit from below by the fires of Hell and grasped at by demons. It is Job’s turning point. The motto below the picture says, “With Dreams upon my bed thou searest me & affrightest me with Visions.” But the inscription at the top is more reassuring: “The triumphing of the wicked is short, the joy of the hypocrite is but for a moment[.]” We see that Job’s trials will be, after all, short-lived. The painting of Capaneus is, similarly, a turning point. This is the first of the figures in Blake’s underworld who retains his revolutionary fire, who has not locked himself into a body of dead wood but keeps his eyes upward toward resurrection. The God who has put him here, after all, is not, for Blake, the true God, but is the God of materiality and morality. It is a God who should be blasphemed against. The figure from Blake’s personal mythology who comes to mind here is Orc, the spirit of revolution. Orc is the enemy—the contrary—of Urizen, who, in The Four Zoas, descends to the cave where Orc is entrapped. There, Urizen finds “burning pastures / Round howling Orc whose awful limbs cast forth red smoke & fire” (E 353). Blake knew from contemporary events that revolution all too easily turns to blood and its own tyranny. Still, Orc is a necessary component in freeing man from his fetters.62 In the Book of Urizen, shortly after Orc is born, he begins to fulfill his role: The dead heard the voice of the child And began to awake from sleep All things. heard the voice of the child And began to awake to life [E 80].

In Blake’s mythology, only Jesus brings redemption, but Orc provides the fire that opens the eyes of the sleepers. I will reiterate here that it would be excessively strict to pronounce that one character in the Comedy illustrations may be given a one-to-one correspondence with any of the characters in Blake’s own system. It would be too simple to say, here, “Capaneus is Orc.” Even in The Four Zoas, Orc changes his state and becomes Satan; these characters are always fluid. The character provides us with a constellation of forces and tendencies, a state that anyone might pass through and that reoccurs in history and literature. Capaneus plays the role that Orc plays, or serves to introduce the Orc-function into the Comedy. Thanks to his flames, the revolution may begin. Damon writes, “Revolution, which clears away ancient errors, is a conflagration, whether the flames of Orc or the Tyger burning in the forests of the night.”63 The Marriage of Heaven and Hell teaches us, The ancient tradition that the world will be consumed in fire at the end of six thousand years is true. as I have heard from Hell. .….….…… … the whole creation will be consumed, and appear infinite. and holy whereas it now appears finite & corrupt [E 39].

And the Vision of the Last Judgment assures us, “Error or Creation will be Burned Up & / then & not till then Truth or Eternity will appear” (E 565). It is necessary to be violent, in mental fight, against the false God of Hell. The fires in

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Figure 45. The Punishment of Rusticucci and His Companions, watercolor, black ink, graphite, and black chalk (Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum; Bequest of Grenville L. Winthrop, 1943.447; © President and Fellows of Harvard College).

the level of Hell where we first meet the Orcan revolutionaries are therefore not punishments; they are the passion required to begin one’s ascent. We can be sure, then, that when Blake shows the three running souls who greet the pilgrim in this level, we are not to condemn them as sodomites (fig. 45). In Dante’s text, the pilgrim is standing on a rocky ledge next to a river of blood, but Blake has shown a bluegreen, lawn-like mound. Dante describes the three souls who run in a circle as Florentine noblemen who turn like naked wrestlers, but Blake has drawn men with such passion of movement that their feet nowhere touch the ground. Moreover, they are not engulfed in punishing flames but in a kind of whirlpool of light, mostly colored red but with blue and yellow touches as well. The pilgrim has a startled look on his face, as if he is shocked by their energy. The contrast with the forest of the suicides could not be greater. Those souls were locked into wood, rooted forever in materiality. In the revolutionary fire of this circle, however, motion has been restored. As of yet it is not progressing, moving in unending circles, but this condition will change soon. Blake’s vision of the land of Beulah, where souls may rest from the activity of Eden, included the pleasures of sexuality. Descent to that world meant temporary division into male and female, so it seems that he shared the opinion of his time that heterosexuality was the norm. Yet nowhere did he condemn homosexuality or homosexuals, or pronounce that this was a state that is worse than others. I think that the three figures circling in this illus-


Part IV. The Illustrations

tration, then, are not meant to be condemned for their sodomy, if indeed that act is at all relevant to Blake’s message here. What the fire has freed in them is the capacity for pleasure. This becomes clear if we look more closely at lines I have mentioned before: The ancient tradition that the world will be consumed in fire at the end of six thousand years is true. as I have heard from Hell. .….….….….. … the whole creation will be consumed, and appear infinite. and holy whereas it now appears finite & corrupt. This will come to pass by an improvement of sensual enjoyment [E 39].

What these men enjoy is less important than that they can enjoy. The world (of materiality) is being consumed in fire, and the three running men are experiencing an improvement of enjoyment. Compared to the paintings of Capaneus and the Florentine noblemen, it seems that Blake had little interest in the usurers. The illustration devoted to them shows them seated on the sands with money bags around their necks, as Dante describes them, but the design for this picture is unremarkable and it is only lightly sketched. After the exhilaration of the previous two pictures, a return to these souls is an anticlimax—they are rooted to the ground, still in love with the material world, and far from finding the sensual enjoyment necessary to progress. Earlier in the circle of the violent, the pilgrim asks about the origin of the rivers in Hell. This requires a digression about a statue that Virgil says is located in Crete, but which Dante has drawn from the Book of Daniel in the Old Testament. Of finest gold His head is shaped, pure silver are the breast And arms, thence to the middle is of brass, And downward all beneath well-tempered steel, Save the right foot of potter’s clay, on which Than on the other more erect he stands [Hell, 14; Cary, 61].

The prophet Daniel interprets the figure from Nebuchadnezzar’s dream as symbolizing five successive kingdoms, each weaker than the one before (Daniel 2:36–45). Dante has blended the biblical story with Ovid’s allegory of the four ages of history from his Metamorphoses. The earliest age, symbolized by gold, was the best, and conditions have worsened now to the point where our own time has at least one foot of clay. Dante has added a feature that is present in neither of his sources: a crack that runs from one foot up through the whole figure, except for the golden head. From this crack flow tears that run together to form the four rivers of Hell. The details of Dante’s symbol have been variously interpreted, but in general it is believed to represent moral decline through the ages, with the stronger leg symbolizing the empire and the weaker the Church. We have seen that Blake holds the prophets of the Old Testament to be the models of all art, so we have no reason to think he would reject Daniel’s image or feel the need for major reinterpretation. Given the multiple layers that Blake’s symbols may carry, though, we can suggest that this one also refers to his own system of four levels or states.

9. Hell


The highest of Blake’s levels, Eden, is represented by the sun, the planet that is traditionally associated with gold. It is also the location of “mental fight,” where the imagination holds sway in its purest form, and may therefore be assigned to the head. The next level, Beulah, is associated with the moon, whose metal is silver. Lesser metals and clay would be appropriate for the lower two levels of the system (fig. 46). In both The Four Zoas and Jerusalem Blake mentions the four rivers of Eden, which he

Figure 46. The Symbolic Figure of the Course of Human History Described by Virgil, pen and ink and watercolor over pencil (National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Felton Bequest, 1920 [998–3]).


Part IV. The Illustrations

connected with the Four Zoas themselves.64 If he sees the golden head as a symbol of Eden, and the four rivers originating there, not in Hell, it may explain why Blake has chosen not to show the statue as cracked in this picture but to have the tears emanate, more logically, from the eyes. If this is so, and the tears flow down from Eden to pass through the four levels and pool at the feet of the statue, we may see the rivers of Hell as fallen versions of the rivers of Eden. They, too, have descended to a lower state, to form the bloody swamps of the underworld.

Geryon The drop between the circle of the violent and the next level of Hell is too steep and high for the pilgrim to travel on his own. To make this descent, he must ride on the fantastic creature Geryon, a sort of chimera assembled from a man’s face, animal claws, the body of a serpent, and the sting of a scorpion. His sympathetic facial expression is belied by the monstrous rear parts, a combination that shows him to be representative of fraud or malice, the sins that are punished in the lower part of Hell. Whereas the sinners in the upper half were damned for their inability to control basic desires, those below consciously used their reason to deceive or seduce. Blake’s Geryon is depicted in a way that accurately follows the poet’s description (fig. 47). His face is exaggeratedly sincere-looking, his body properly convoluted, and the sting in the tail appropriately dangerous. The pilgrim is seated on his shoulders with Virgil behind, just as the narrative describes. Though he is shown as he descends through the air, there is no sense of motion in the picture. The sky is blue, but flames rise from below. Is this chimera a partial reintegration? Have the beasts of passion, separated from the observer because of their frightening nature, begun the process of rejoining with the body? If so, it is too soon in the Comedy for the process to be completed. The levels of Malebolge and Cocytus below contain more monsters and more suffering.

Seducers and Flatterers The eighth circle of Hell is divided into ten concentric valleys or ditches. Each of these is devoted to a particular kind of sin, though all fall under the heading of “simple fraud”: the intentional use of untruth for one’s own gain. Dante has coined the name “Malebolge” for this circle, apparently from the Italian for “evil pouches.”65 With one exception, the ditches are crossed by bridges, so that the pilgrim and his guide can observe the sinners from above. Geryon deposits them at the outer edge of the circle, and they slowly make their way across the bridges inward. Dante describes the first ditch clearly. It contains the souls who deceived through pandering or through seduction, and these move along in opposite directions at the bottom of the ditch, like cars on a divided highway. Horned demons are stationed along the rocky boundary of the ditch and lash the souls to make them walk faster. Blake has labeled the illustration for this scene “HELL Canto 18,” but he has introduced so many extra-textual elements into the picture that without the inscription we would not be sure where in the eighth circle the scene is supposed to take place (fig. 48). The ditch seems to be full of red

Top: Figure 47. Geryon Conveying Dante and Virgil down Towards Malebolge, pen and ink and watercolor over pencil and black chalk (National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Felton Bequest, 1920 [999–3]). Bottom: Figure 48. Demons Tormenting the Seducers of Malebolge, watercolor, black ink, graphite, and black chalk (Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum; Bequest of Grenville L. Winthrop, 1943.436; © President and Fellows of Harvard College).


Part IV. The Illustrations

water, a feature of other parts of Hell but one that is not mentioned in the description of the first part of Malebolge. The souls are not walking at the bottom of the ditch but along its edges, and some seem to be escaping, climbing up the ridge and away. They move only right to left, not in two directions as the text states. And despite the fact that both of the souls named by Dante are male, most if not all of the figures in the illustration seem to be female, which of course is not the way we normally imagine a group of pimps. There are two bridges over the water. The demons punishing the souls are shown flying, which is not indicated in the text. Blake has also introduced two large and puzzling figures in the bottom left corner of the picture. These are outlined in ink and tinted with gray wash, but they are still too roughly drawn to be clear in structure, much less in symbolic meaning. The nearer one seems to be human. Roe reads him as a man wearing armor and holding a sword, though this is not certain. The farther one, or perhaps more than one, is a Bosch-like monster of uncertain composition. It seems to have grasshopper-like legs, bat wings, and a head that is not human. Roe sees its face as pointed to the human figure’s neck like a vampire, but since we can’t determine how the beast is constructed, this too is unclear—elements may be eyes or ears or neither. Something scaly, which may be the beast’s tail or a third creature, lies at left, just in front of the pilgrim and Virgil. Beyond we can see chains and gears or other machine parts. We have seen often enough that Blake could follow the written description of scenes when he wanted to, so I think we are forced to conclude that he had his own reasons for introducing so many changes into this illustration. The painting of this first level of Malebolge may be divided diagonally, into a Hellish, gray section at the left and a lighter-toned, less gloomy right side. The gray side, where the pilgrim and Virgil stand, includes the moribund and monstrous figures. The presence of these, and of the cogs and chains that Blake habitually uses to indicate the mechanical, Newtonian universe, shows us that this part of the eighth circle is still bound to materiality, in a fallen state. The larger, lighter section, shows a different condition. The water with which Blake has filled the ditch reminds us of the Sea of Time and Space—that oceanic material world. The fact that the souls on this side are not in the bottom of the ditch, but are escaping to the upper left, means that some people here have managed to free themselves from the Sea. We have seen that unfallen souls are traditionally described as female or as androgynous, so their appearance here, which is incompatible with Dante’s text, reinforces this view. Yet these souls are not rising in majesty; they are fleeing the demons, who raise their sticks to strike. From this I think we must conclude that the escaping souls are like Thel; they are escaping materiality not through transcending it but by fleeing back to an earlier, innocent condition. Because most of the illustrations show the pilgrim’s progress as moving from left to right, the souls’ movement to the left here indicates a backwards motion. Paradoxically, then, these are souls who will not get to Eden in this journey, while the recumbent figure on the lower left may still awake to rise in the proper direction, with the help of Christ. The message seems to be that even souls who have made it this far towards redemption are not guaranteed to finish their journey in the right direction. If there is any connection at all to Dante’s categorization of souls, it is that the fleeing people are here seduced into an easier path, rather than the harder one that must be endured by those who continue. The next

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illustration shows one of these fleeing souls, chased by a wingless demon with a whip, in the upper left. The pilgrim and Virgil are crouching over the ditch and holding their noses because the souls punished below are submerged in excrement. The female figure at right is probably the only individual here mentioned by name, the Roman prostitute Thaïs. Shit was another symbol of materiality. Showing souls submerged in it, as in the Sea of Time and Space, indicates that the soul is still in our lower world.

Simonists and Necromancers Though Dante and Blake differed in many aspects of their religion, both felt that the church of their own day had strayed so far from Christ’s true message that its teachings could be described as upside down. In the third bolgia, Dante goes so far as to show Pope Nicholas III (1277–1280) feet-up in the ditch of the simonists and makes it clear that another, Boniface VIII, will soon join him. Blake, as an antinomian Protestant, had even less use for popes, and was not shy about criticizing the established British church, either. We can see his views of the official church in his parody of the Lord’s Prayer, written in the margins of a translation of the Greek original by Robert Thornton, a Cambridge physician. (Blake’s text was not written for publication; it contains numerous changes and additions.) Our Father Augustus Caesar who art in these thy Heavens Holiness to thy Name Thy Kingship come upon Earth first & thence in Heaven Give us day by day our Real Taxed Bread [& take] [debt that was owing to him] lead us not to read the Bible & deliver us from Poverty in Jesus For thine is the Kingship & the Power or War & the Glory or Law Ages after Ages in thy Descendents Amen [E 669]

This parody does not specifically accuse the church of simony, which involves the purchase of church offices, but does flip head-to-toe everything Blake believed about true religion. The watercolor of the simonist pope shows, at top, Virgil carrying the pilgrim (see fig. 49 in the color insert). This is because the pair have left the ridge overlooking the ditch and descended to its lowest point in order to observe the souls in it more closely. Virgil offers to carry the pilgrim on the more dangerous path. The damned soul is shown here, as in Dante’s text, with his feet protruding from a fiery well, a sort of Hellish baptismal font. Blake has made this well partially transparent, so that we can see the full figure of the pope inside it, although the painting doesn’t show the numerous other souls who Dante says are crushed underneath the topmost figure. A similar reversal is shown in the next watercolor, which shows the souls who practiced divination or necromancy and are punished in the fourth bolgia (fig. 50). Because these souls attempted to see ahead, into the future, in an illegitimate way, their punishment is to have their heads turned backwards. As they walk forward, they face only where they have come from. As with the simonists, Blake never singles out such diviners for blame in his work. Still, he is as incensed as Dante by those who, he feels, have reversed God’s order.


Part IV. The Illustrations

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Dante names six diviners here, four from the world of classical myth and two from his own age. It is significant that Blake portrays only the four from the ancient world: he has chosen not to follow Dante in condemning the more recent seers because they were Christian visionaries, not entirely different from Boehme or Blake himself. The only figure in the illustration we can identify with certainty is Manto, the daughter of Tiresias, because Blake shows her as clearly female with an upswept classical hairstyle. Dante names only one woman diviner in the canto. The other three figures are shown with long beards, as the patriarchal type of character whom Blake so often used to indicate false belief. We have seen repeatedly that Blake believed God’s truth was delivered to the Hebrew prophets but was then stolen and distorted by the Greeks and Romans. He has used this watercolor to reiterate that position; in this picture the damned souls are not necessarily condemned for being seers but for putting topsy-turvy God’s true order. In this as in the picture of the upside-down pope, Blake agrees with Dante on the theme, and is happy to borrow the symbolism, though the strict definition of the sin punished—simony or divination—is less important to Blake than the more general corruption of true religion.

Corrupt Public Officials Blake made eight paintings of the next part of Malebolge, the ditch containing the corrupt public officials. The large number of illustrations devoted to only two cantos may reflect the artist’s frustration with the powerful people in his world, but it is likely due as well to the colorful events and characters Dante includes in this episode. The devils who punish the souls here are portrayed in more detail than elsewhere in the Comedy, and their antics provide the poem with its only humor. The modern sense of the word “comedy” is applicable only to this section. If we recall the sly humor of The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, where the devils’ arguments persuade the angels to burst into flame, we can see why Blake would be attracted to the lively demons here. For the most part, the illustrations follow the events of the poem. The pilgrim and Virgil see a newly arrived soul carried on the back of a devil and thrown into the boiling pitch that fills the bolgia. The devils do their best to torment the souls submerged in the pitch, but they fight among themselves, and two of their number end up in the hot tar cooked like tempura. The chief devil assigns a cohort of his lieutenants to accompany the pilgrim on his way, but in the end Dante and Virgil hurry away while the devils are distracted. Blake’s pictures for these scenes may be interpreted along the lines we have developed already in this book: being submerged in another unpleasant substance stands for our incorporation into the material world, and the torments inflicted by the devils represent the troubles we face in this life. The devils themselves are our passions and desires, all the things that we have projected into the world from within ourselves and lost the ability to control, because we no longer recognize them as our own. Nothing in the illustrations here specifically ties the punishments or the punished to men in public life; no individual is recognizable as a Opposite: Figure 50. The Necromancers and Augurs, pen and ink and watercolor over pencil and black chalk (National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Felton Bequest, 1920 [1001–3]).


Part IV. The Illustrations

Figure 51. The Devils Under the Bridge, pen and ink and watercolor over black chalk and pencil (National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Felton Bequest, 1920 [1000–3]).

bureaucrat or politician. In Blake’s version of the Comedy as in Dante’s, this episode is largely the opportunity for a recapitulation of themes and some comic relief. Only one illustration from among these eight includes an element that we would not expect to find in any other artist’s depiction of these scenes (fig. 51). Confusingly, Blake has labeled this picture “HELL Canto 18,” though it clearly belongs to the area described in cantos 21 and 22. In the foreground are four devils, one of whom is attempting to hook a soul whose head and shoulders are above the level of the pitch. Other figures can be seen on the opposite shore and on an arching bridge in the distance. The painting also includes a rocky arch that begins as a column-like structure in the lower left foreground of the picture and curves along the top edge to the right. What makes the stone remarkable is that Blake has shown it as composed of human parts, oversized and ordered randomly. There is a foot at the base of the column, but directly above that is a face, above that an abdomen, an ear, and another foot. Perched above the ear is another figure lightly sketched who is the same size as the soul in the pitch. This rocky composite of body parts corresponds to nothing in the text, though a similar rocky column appears in one of the later illustrations. Blake began his pictures with very rough pencil lines, loosely sketched. One wonders if in this stone column he is opportunistically emphasizing accidents of drawing, finding pictures of body parts in his almost-random first draft as one sees shapes in clouds, or as Leonardo recommended artists throw a paint-soaked rag at a wall to imagine landscapes. The presence of body parts can also be accounted for, as Roe does, by recalling that The Four

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Zoas speaks of “the scatterd portions” of fallen Albion’s immortal body (E 385), or how the Book of Los describes The Immortal stood frozen amidst The vast rock of eternity; times And times; a night of vast durance: Impatient, stifled, stiffend, hardned [E 92].

Blake chose to engrave two of the watercolor designs for this bolgia. One shows the soul Ciampolo, who has been lifted out of the tar (fig. 52). In a particularly painful-looking scene, we see the devil Libicocco hook Ciampolo: darting forth a prong, [Libicocco] seized on his arm, And mangled bore away the sinewy part [Hell, 22; Cary, 94].

Cary leaves the devils’ names untranslated, perhaps out of tact; Libicocco’s name means “Love Notch.” In Blake’s picture, Libicocco’s chin has a notch-like cleft, indicating that the artist didn’t depend entirely on Cary’s translation for understanding. The devil at the back shows the characteristics of Ciriatto (“Big Pig”), “from whose mouth a tusk / Issued on either side, as from a boar.” The one in front is identifiable as Barbariccia (“Curly Beard”). The fourth devil in the scene is mostly obscured by the others’ wings, but his eager, upturned expression means he is probably Rubicant (“Ruby Face”). The detail Blake has given to this engraving, and the apparent pleasure he had in making it, makes us regret that he didn’t have time to create more of the prints for the series. Although some of the more colorful watercolors would not have benefited from being translated into the black and white medium, a comparison of the sketch of the four devils with its engraving shows how much of Blake’s drawing would have been more fully worked out in a completed print (figs. 52, 53). The background has more depth, the ground has more detail, and the Michelangelesque bodies are more solidly drawn. The ink lines with red tinting in the sketch give us the main idea of the devils’ placement, but in the engraving their personalities and expressions are masterfully shown. We see that these are not conventional scary devils but smug, duplicitous types. They are enjoying their jobs and take a warm pleasure in pulling peoples’ biceps out. Their attitudes remind us once again that, as the Songs of Experience showed, the evil we do is as often as not based on the feeling that we are doing what God wishes. If the devils are indeed meant to be externalized portions from our own souls, these unbearable portions may include smugness and self-righteousness. The second engraving from this episode shows the two devils fighting each other— both Alichino (“Harlequin”) and Calcabrina (“Trample Frost”) are about to fall into the pitch. This engraving is less finished than the previous one. The devils’ upraised arms and the figures in the upper left quarter are all left as rough outlines (fig. 54). We catch a final glimpse of the comedic devils at the top of the next illustration, as the pilgrim eludes them and they fly back to their own bolgia. Now Dante has reached the circle of the hypocrites, who walk under the weight of gilded lead robes. Each time they complete the circumference of the bolgia, they trample the soul of Caiaphas, who is crucified flat on the ground. Caiaphas, the Jewish leader who (Dante thought) had hypocritically voted to condemn Christ in order to silence criticism of his own misdeeds, is a figure of Blake’s patri-


Part IV. The Illustrations

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Figure 54. The Baffled Devils Fighting, engraving (collection of Robert N. Essick; © 2013 William Blake Archive; used by permission).

archal type. Here again, this type is used to portray an example of the worldly, false representatives of God, whose outward appearance may fool the unwary.

Thieves and Snakes The level below the hypocrites is one of the most important in Blake’s reworking of Dante’s Hell. This is due not so much to the sin punished here—thievery—but to the type of punishment involved. Sinners here are repeatedly metamorphosed from human form into snakes, and back again. The association of snakes with stealing is of course an obvious one: the very first sin was the theft of a piece of fruit at the instigation of a serpent. Exactly why the thieves transform into snakes, rather than being just bitten by them or otherwise tormented, has inspired several explanations by scholars. One suggests that because a person’s property may be conOpposite, top: Figure 52. The Demons Tormenting Ciampolo the Barrator, watercolor, black ink, graphite, and black chalk (Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum; Bequest of Grenville L. Winthrop, 1943.446; © President and Fellows of Harvard College). Opposite, bottom: Figure 53. Ciampolo the Barrator Tormented by the Devils, engraving (collection of Robert N. Essick; © 2013 William Blake Archive; used by permission).


Part IV. The Illustrations

sidered an extension of his body, theft of that property deserves the loss of one’s own body as reciprocal punishment.66 Similarly, Nicole Pinsky sees the merging or interchange of snake body with human body as a symbol that “these thieves who ignored the boundary of thine and mine in life now merge as shades, their shells of personal identity made horribly permeable.”67 Dante has also included this grotesque bodily change as a direct challenge to his literary forebears. Much of the Comedy can be seen as a reply to earlier epics or as a poet’s attempt to live up to or outdo his peers, and canto 25 makes this a direct challenge. The narrator invokes both Lucan and Ovid, and announces that neither of them had sung of such a strange metamorphosis as Dante will now describe. Both of these poets had written of snakes and people transformed: Lucan, in the Pharsalia, told of Cato’s soldiers attacked by serpents in the Libyan desert, and Ovid described the transformation of Cadmus into a giant snake. Dante aims to outdo them: Lucan in mute attention now may hear, Nor thy disastrous fate, Sabellus, tell, Nor thine, Nasidius. Ovid now be mute. What if in warbling fiction he record Cadmus and Arethusa, to a snake Him changed, and her into a fountain clear, I envy not; for never face to face Two natures thus transmuted did he sing, Wherein both shapes were ready to assume The other’s substance [Hell, 25; Cary, 107].

I have never heard it suggested that Dante here names his sources in order to avoid charges of literary theft, but he does seem to be enjoying the challenge of his models and may have chosen the snake imagery partly for that reason. Dante has at least these three sources in mind, then, when he describes snakes and thievery. Others may have been available to him, though he doesn’t refer to them directly. For example, he knew the Timaeus of Plato only in an incomplete Latin translation or through other author’s paraphrases,68 so it isn’t clear whether he knew of Plato’s assertion that animals are reincarnations of unintellectual people and that those animals who lack feet contain the souls of the most foolish. The race of wild pedestrian animals, again, came from those who had no philosophy in any of their thoughts, and never considered at all about the nature of the heavens, because they had ceased to use the courses of the head, but followed the guidance of those parts of the soul which are in the breast.… And the most foolish of them, who trail their bodies entirely upon the ground and have no longer any need of feet, he made without feet to crawl upon the earth.69

Later Neoplatonists, writing after Dante’s time, found it easy enough to blend this theory of Plato with the verses in Genesis showing that the serpent had legs until it was cursed by God: “upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life” (Genesis 3:14). By the time Blake was working, several writers had demonstrated that the dust to which the snakes had been cursed was the hyle of the material world. Thomas Vaughan, an alchemist

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and philosopher in the Neoplatonic tradition, describes matter as a serpent in his 1651 book Lumen de Lumine, or “New Magical Light.” He illustrates this definition with a mythical animal that is part rooster, part snake. And a source even closer to Blake, Jacob Bryant’s New System: Or, an Analysis of Antient Mythology, records that “in the ritual of Zoroaster, the great expanse of the heavens, and even nature itself, was described under the symbol of a serpent.”70 So the association of snakes with evil, and of evil with the material world, was established in numerous sources Blake knew. Blake’s own work makes frequent use of serpents, in a way which we can apply directly to his Comedy illustrations. In his “Everlasting Gospel,” he alludes to Genesis when he writes: Dust & Clay is the Serpents meat Which never was made for Man to Eat [E 523]

And in the same poem he gives the snake a Neoplatonic meaning by referring to “The Serpent Bulk of Natures dross” (E 524). In Milton, the serpent or reptile appears as a symbol of the soul’s narrowing down to the limited perceptions that follow the Fall. Ah shut in narrow doleful form Creeping in reptile flesh upon the bosom of the ground The Eye of Man a little narrow orb closd up & dark [E 99]

In Jerusalem, when inspiration becomes impossible due to the Fall, and reason takes over man’s thoughts, the reasoning is serpent-like. For Bacon & Newton sheathd in dismal steel, their terrors hang Like iron scourges over Albion, Reasonings like vast Serpents Infold around my limbs, bruising my minute articulations [E 159]

Nature can be depicted as a serpent: Luvah & Vala Went down the Human Heart where Paradise & its joys abounded In jealous fears in fury & rage, & like flames roll’d round their fervid feet And the vast form of Nature like a Serpent play’d before them [E 328]

as can the Selfhood, as when Albion beholds the Visions of my deadly Sleep of Six Thousand Years Dazling around thy skirts like a Serpent of precious stones & gold I know it is my Self [E 255].

Jerusalem expands on the three lines from Milton quoted above, tying together laws of morality, the Selfhood, Satan, and the narrowed world of reptile perception: O Spectre over Europe and Asia Withering the Human Form by Laws of Sacrifice for Sin By Laws of Chastity & Abhorrence I am witherd up. Striving to Create a Heaven in which all shall be pure & holy In their Own Selfhoods, in Natural Selfish Chastity to banish Pity And dear Mutual Forgiveness; & to become One Great Satan Inslavd to the most powerful Selfhood: to murder the Divine Humanity In whose sight all are as the dust & who chargeth his Angels with folly! Ah! Weak & wide astray! Ah shut in narrow doleful form!


Part IV. The Illustrations Creeping in reptile flesh upon the bosom of the ground! The Eye of Man, a little narrow orb, closd up & dark, Scarcely beholding the Great Light; conversing with the [Void] [E 198]

Of course we should remember that narrowed perception, the Selfhood, and the laws of nature and of morality, are not separate issues for Blake. The former is what gives us the illusion that the latter two exist. So the appearance of the serpent in Blake’s work refers to all of these things: the state of being that is as close to the ground, the lowest point, as we can possibly be. The curse God places on the snake is not only to eat dust, but to be joined to dust, and to perceive virtually no more than dust. Orc, the spirit of revolution, is also transformed into serpent form in The Four Zoas, but in his case the symbolism may be different. When he is overcome by Urizen and changes from a force of liberation to one of enslavement (as many revolutions do) he becomes a snake (E 356), loses all semblance to humanity, and encircles Man with the twenty-seven folds of the false heavens or churches.71 Yet, as so often with Blake’s symbols, there is some ambiguity here. Paley points out, Orc’s complexity is increased by the fact that his serpent form is not a mere evil aspect but is itself ambiguous, suggesting renewal as well as finitude. Erasmus Darwin observed that the serpent was an ancient symbol for renovated youth and that “a serpent was wrapped round the large hieroglyphic egg in the temple of Dioscuri, as an emblem of the renewal of life from a state of death.”72

Serpents who shed their skins are symbols of rebirth, and of course the Ouroboros, the snake biting its own tail, is the symbol of eternal return.73 So we see that the snake is one of the most deeply rooted as well as one of the most multivalent symbols available to Blake. The appearance of the snakes in cantos 24 and 25, nearing the end of the pilgrim’s trip through Hell, gives Blake the opportunity to put them to good use, symbolically and pictorially. There are eleven illustrations for the level of the thieves, more than for any other part of Hell. Two of these are very roughly sketched views of the pilgrim and Virgil approaching or leaving this ditch in Malebolge. These pictures correspond to the first part of canto 24, before the snakes appear, in which Virgil urges the pilgrim not to tire on his difficult journey. Two more watercolors labeled “HELL Canto 24” follow Dante’s descriptions closely. When the pilgrim can first look down into the bolgia where the thieves are, he sees that Amid this dread exuberance of woe Ran naked spirits wing’d with horrid fear, .….….….….. With serpents were their hands behind them bound, Which through their reins infix’d the tail and head, Twisted in folds before [Hell, 24; Cary, 102].

Four of the five people in the foreground of Blake’s watercolor are tied up in this way, though only one is running. And if we compare the illustration to the text, we see that one part of Dante’s description hasn’t been shown, probably due to Cary’s rather vague wording. The hands of the souls are described as being tied behind their backs, but the snakes’

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heads and tails are then twisted between the person’s legs to make a knot in front. The Italian reads: con serpi le man dietro avean legate; quelle ficcavan per le ren la coda e’l capo, ed eran dinanzi aggroppate [94–96].

Robert Pinsky translates this as: Their hands were tied Behind their backs—with snakes, that thrust between Where the legs meet, entwining tail and head Into a knot at front.74

Even if Blake had completed the outlines of the snakes that tie the souls, he has not left room in the drawing to show them passing through the legs as Dante describes (fig. 55). Flaxman, in his illustrations for the Comedy, also omits this detail.75 Blake has shown, in addition to the bound figures Dante describes, a female figure on the ground at left with a snake wrapped around her waist. Behind her is a kind of composite character, with a snake’s tail and head but with wings and a woman’s torso. Another winged snake shoots straight into the air above her. At right, in the distant background, we see a devil tossing a soul off of a cliff, into the ditch, a detail unmentioned in the text. Another element Blake adds throughout his pictures of this bolgia are flames—Dante doesn’t mention

Figure 55. The Thieves and Serpents, pen and ink and watercolor over pencil and black chalk (National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Felton Bequest, 1920 [1004–3]).


Part IV. The Illustrations

that the souls here are tormented by fire as well as snakes. The figures of Virgil and the pilgrim don’t appear in this first watercolor of snakes and souls, nor in the next, the painting of a man being bitten in the neck. And lo! On one Near to our side, darted an adder up, And, where the neck is on the shoulders tied, Transpierced him [Hell, 24; Cary, 103].

Immediately following the bite, the soul burns to a pile of ashes, but just as quickly reassembles himself, leaving him dazed. Blake has not shown the moment of burning or of reassembling, though between the soul’s feet is a line of flames, perhaps rising to consume him. The pilgrim recognizes this soul as Vanni Fucci, a thief from Pistoia who had been hung for stealing from a church in 1293. After a short conversation between the two Italians, Vanni Fucci curses God and makes an obscene gesture toward Heaven, which Blake has rendered accurately in the next watercolor (fig. 56). This picture does show the pilgrim and Virgil at right, looking suitably discomfited by Vanni Fucci’s blasphemy. Blake has also added a blue bolt of lightning at left and six tongues of flame aimed down toward the sinner from the sky, details not in the text but appropriate responses to Vanni Fucci’s action. Exactly as Dante describes, two snakes have reacted to the thief ’s gesture by wrapping themselves around his neck and arms. Others are approaching. Dante compares Vanni Fucci’s blasphemy to Capaneus, the warrior against Thebes, whom we saw in the circle of those who were violent to God. I did not mark, Through all the gloomy circles of the abyss, Spirit, that swell’d so proudly ’gainst his God; Not him, who headlong fell from Thebes [Hell, 25; Cary, 105].

And as in the case of Capaneus, we may wonder if Blake’s attitude to Vanni Fucci is the same as Dante’s. Again, the God to whom the thief is gesturing is not the true God, but the God of This World, who enabled theft by dividing up property in the first place. Fucci’s heroic appearance and the zigzag blue flame, a feature of the Capaneus illustration as well, allow us to see the two figures in similar terms, as Orc-like heroes who have nearly enough energy to escape their punishment. Appearing later in the canticle, the thief is standing and gesturing with more vehemence than Capaneus, who was unable to rise from the burning sand. The snakes still prevent Fucci’s rise, but the pilgrim is nearing the deepest portion of Hell (or highest portion, according to Blake’s map) and will soon find the means of egress. At this moment the travelers are approached by Cacus, a centaur whose mane consists of snakes and on whose shoulders a winged dragon rides. The other centaurs of myth were employed above, in the circle of upper Hell reserved for the violent, but Cacus is placed here because he is famous for having stolen cattle from Hercules’s herd. Blake’s picture of him is like a majestic equestrian monument; the centaur kicks his forelegs in the air, with his arms Opposite: Figure 56. Vanni Fucci “Making Figs” Against God, pen and ink and watercolor (National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Felton Bequest, 1920 [1005–3]).

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Part IV. The Illustrations

and the wings of his dragon outspread. His face is bearded and patriarchal, but his expression is not evil or frightening. He is carrying a sort of staff with a round head, not mentioned by the narrator. The picture is only done in pencil, with a bit of ink on the outlines and gray wash. A few souls or snakes are faintly visible under Cacus’s feet. Now three souls draw near to the pilgrim, who overhears their Italian, and pauses to watch them undergo two of the most remarkable transformations in the Comedy. A sixlegged snake throws itself at one of the three souls, named Agnello Brunelleschi. The snake grips his arms, waist, and legs in its claws, wraps its tail through his legs, and bites his face. The two beings then melt together, the line between them blurring, and become a kind of horrible human/snake composite. Then another of the souls, Buoso de’ Donati, is bitten by a small snake, and with smoke issuing from both the serpent’s mouth and the man’s wound, the two change their states—the snake turns into a human, Guercio de’ Cavalcanti, and Buoso becomes a snake. Dante describes in detail the physical changes involved in this metamorphosis. The serpent split his train Divided to a fork, and the pierced spirit Drew close his steps together, legs and thighs Compacted, that no sign of juncture soon Was visible: the tail, disparted, took The figure which the spirit lost; its skin Softening, his indurated to a rind. The shoulders next I mark’d, that entering join’d The monster’s arm-pits, whose two shorter feet So lengthen’d, as the others dwindling shrunk. The feet behind then twisting up became That part that man conceals, which in the wretch Was cleft in twain [Hell, 25; Cary, 107].

Flaxman did not illustrate this scene, but Blake has not missed the chance to show such strange transformations (fig. 57). He depicts the six-legged serpent gripping Agnello Brunelleschi from behind, head curled over his shoulder to bite him in the face. Flames shoot up in the background, echoing the form of the snake’s upward-pointing wings. The horror of the image is tempered somewhat by the several cartoonish snakes on the ground. The pilgrim and Virgil stand at the left, slightly above ground level, and are balanced at right by the other two souls, who watch the transformation with terrified expressions. In the next painting, which does not include the human onlookers, we see Agnello in his post-transformation condition (fig. 58). He still has the muscular, Michelangelesque body of most of Blake’s nudes, but it is bloated into a grotesque exaggeration, scales on his skin, claws on his toes, and spiky wings on his shoulders. A green tail issues from his upper back. His head is thrown back in a horrifying expression of mindless shock. The change of Buoso de’ Donati and Guercio de’ Cavalcanti is shown in before-andafter paintings. The pilgrim, Virgil, and one inhabitant of this level look on in the moment after Guercio has bitten Buoso. There is an arc of smoke connecting the serpent’s mouth and the wound in Buoso’s abdomen. Buoso is looking at the snake with anger and has thrown his hands in the air, perhaps knowing what horrible thing will happen next (fig. 59).

Top: Figure 57. The Six-Footed Serpent Attacking Agnello Brunelleschi, engraving (collection of Robert N. Essick; © 2013 William Blake Archive; used by permission). Bottom: Figure 58. Agnello de Brunelleschi of Florence Being Transformed into a Serpent, watercolor, black ink, graphite, and black chalk (Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum; Bequest of Grenville L. Winthrop, 1943.432; © President and Fellows of Harvard College).


Part IV. The Illustrations

Figure 59. The Serpent Attacking Buoso Donati, engraving (collection of Robert N. Essick; © 2013 William Blake Archive; used by permission).

The completed transformation is shown, again, without onlookers in the following watercolor; Guercio is standing at left in human form, while Buoso is lightly sketched as a snake on the ground. The background shows only hills and flames. One more illustration shows the thieves and the snakes, though it seems not to depict any particular moment in the narration. This is a monumental watercolor of seven souls sunk to the ground, with snakes crawling on or near them (fig. 60). In mood, it is unlike the rest of the entire series of Comedy illustrations—the massive bodies resemble Picasso’s neoclassical nudes more than they do the other figures in Blake’s work, and the blue-grey tones, with only touches of orange on the snakes, are unlike the multicolored paintings of the other scenes from this bolgia. Our interpretation of the pictures of this bolgia fits with the analysis we have offered so far. The association of snakes with dust and materiality was, it’s safe to say, more important to Blake then their connection to thievery, so we see again that the scenes from this bolgia are intended as a part of the dusty material world. The threat offered to the human souls by frightening animals, as we’ve seen before, is a separation of interior passions from the human psyche, an agon that forces the original division of subject and object in the universe. Previous glimpses of beasts, however, have not shown either the moments of separation from the observing souls or the moments in which reintegration occurs. The souls in this bolgia and their snakes introduce this theme.

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Figure 60. The Punishment of the Thieves, chalk, ink and watercolor on paper (Tate, London/Art Resource, New York).

Eventually, if a soul is to leave this lowest condition, of materiality and separation, a reunification of all its parts will be essential. The exuberances and “guilty” pleasures we feel must no longer be feared so much that we project them away from us, onto the world. Serpents, if we perceive them, will no longer be terrifying, because it will be clear that they are the products of our own imaginations—as is, in fact, everything. The souls in this bolgia are undergoing, at an accelerated pace, the division and reintegration that constitutes the cycle of death into the world and rebirth into Eden. Unfortunately, their methods and understanding are premature. The attempted reintegrations take place wholly within the lower world, and entirely in a material way. This is the reintegration that a person who has not adequately shed the Selfhood might attempt. The result, instead of true freedom from the world of dross, results in a grotesque, like Agnello Brunelleschi, neither wholly man nor wholly beast. For Blake, as a Christian, the real resurrection from the world of death-in-life is only through Christ. That salvation will come only after the pilgrim has reached the end of his journey, gathered the four Zoas into one unified body, and risen to Eternity. The futile attempts Blake shows in Hell, therefore, we can consider non–Christian attempts at salvation; material, scientific attempts, still under the sign of reason. What, specifically, might we name as doomed real-life attempts, from this point of view? One component of fallen society that Blake thinks little of is formal education. It is a system in which the student who is an Ox


Part IV. The Illustrations

and the student who is a Lion are constrained under one rule to produce the results that their law-giving instructor has predetermined. In the Songs of Innocence and Experience, Blake had remembered the plight of the schoolboy: I love to rise in a summer morn, When the birds sing on every tree; The distant huntsman winds his horn, And the sky-lark sings with me. O! what sweet company. But to go to school in a summer morn, O! it drives all joy away; Under a cruel eye outworn, The little ones spend the day, In sighing and dismay. Ah! Then at times I drooping sit, And spend many an anxious hour. Nor in my book can I take delight, Nor sit in learnings bower, Worn thro’ with the dreary shower. How can the bird that is born for joy, Sit in a cage and sing. How can a child when fears annoy, But droop his tender wing, And forget his youthful spring. O! father & mother, if buds are nip’d, And blossoms blown away, And if the tender plants are strip’d Of their joy in the springing day, By sorrow and cares dismay, How shall the summer arise in joy. Or the summer fruits appear, Or how shall we gather what griefs destroy Or bless the mellowing year, When the blasts of winter appear [E 31].

Decades later, when his imagery had grown bolder, we can imagine Blake depicting such a suppression of exuberant souls not as birds in cages but in the more original and striking image of hands bound with serpents. A later notebook puts the idea concisely. To condemn the fools who took the advice of a schoolmaster such as Joshua Reynolds, Blake wrote: You say their Pictures well Painted be And yet they are Blockheads you all agree Thank God I never was sent to school To be Flogd into following the Style of a Fool [E 510]

And of course the famous “Proverb from Hell” informs us: The tygers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction [E 37].

Our attempts to put ourselves back together through reasonable means, through education or science, through the advice of clergymen or the discipline of an earthly master, are like binding serpents of the material world. They do not, in the end, transcend the problem,

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and through these efforts we are doomed to burn again to ash or distort ourselves into grotesques. Here Orc’s role, in his serpent form, is clear. The spirit of revolution may end in freedom or it may not, but it is always, in the beginning, the attempt to slip tyranny’s bonds. The snakes and souls in this bolgia of Hell are aggressively attempting to rebel against their trapped condition; they attack one another in a vain effort to free themselves, by turning the other person into a serpent so that they may return to human form. Or they attempt to reintegrate themselves with a soul, as the six-legged snake does with Agnello Brunelleschi, only to find that the rejoining is a failure—a horror-movie chimera rather than freedom. Yet they are making the attempt, boldly and repeatedly. It is no accident then that Blake emphasizes Vanni Fucci’s blasphemy. Fucci’s desperation to be free of that god’s power is justified— though his methods are futile. Even Cacus, the centaur with a mane of snakes and a dragon rider, has a noble mien in Blake’s picture. His attempt at the reintegration of his soul has resulted in a monstrous and frightening form, but it is an attempt nevertheless. In the next bolgia, the flames of exuberance burn even brighter.

Ulysses, Schismatics, Falsifiers Looking into the depth of the eighth bolgia, the pilgrim likens what he sees to a valley full of fireflies. From the top of the bridge, he can see that each of the lights is a tongue of flame, and Virgil tells him that each of these contains a soul. The pilgrim notes a flame with two points, asks who it contains, and hears that Ulysses and Diomedes are punished in one flame for having planned together various deceptions—this is the bolgia in which those who counsel falsehoods are punished. Though Ulysses’s most famous deceitful plan was the Trojan horse, when Virgil greets him they don’t speak of any event that is already recorded in the epics of the Trojan War. Instead, Ulysses gives an account of his last voyage, a story that is original to the Comedy. In Dante’s addition to Ulysses’s myth, the man of twists and turns is unable to live a settled life with Penelope in Ithaca and soon begins a voyage he hopes will surpass that of his epic homecoming. He sets out westward, through the Pillars of Hercules, into the unknown. After several months at sea, Ulysses and his sailors see an amazing sight, but meet a tragic end. “… from afar Appear’d a mountain dim, loftiest methought Of all I e’er beheld. Joy seized us straight; But soon to mourning changed. From the new land A whirlwind sprung, and at her foremost side Did strike the vessel. Thrice it whirl’d her round With all the waves; the fourth time lifted up The poop, and sank the prow: so fate decreed: And over us the booming billow closed” [Hell, 26; Cary, 112].


Part IV. The Illustrations

The mountain Ulysses has seen is Purgatory, though he doesn’t understand this even now, in Hell. Purgatory is, according to Dante, the only path by which a normal soul can reach Heaven, and it is not an island one can sail to under one’s own power. Though condemned to Malebolge for his counsel of trickery, Ulysses died because he was attempting to accomplish by human, earthly methods what only the redemption of Christ allows. Here Dante’s message coincides almost entirely with the course of Blake’s reinterpretation. In the previous bolgia, we saw that Blake was less interested in the serpents’ meaning of thievery than in their misguided attempts to reunite the divided human soul. Likewise, Ulysses has attempted the necessary course to reach the world above but has gone about it in a way that cannot succeed. Using one’s own clever strategy to sail over the Sea of Time and Space and mount under one’s own power to Heaven is just not possible in Christian theology—even theology as personal as Blake’s. In his illustrations, then, Blake shows several examples of Orc’s flames of rebellion, attempting to release the souls from materiality in ways that are passionately felt but doomed to fail. Capaneus, the souls on the burning sands who run in circles, the serpents, and the various flames in the bolgia with Ulysses all desire in the heat of their passions to rise again to wholeness. Blake’s watercolor of Ulysses telling his story to the pilgrim is one of the simplest and least successful of the series. The composition and details of the painting are simple: flames look like teardrops, and the space and light are not interesting. The figures of Ulysses and Diomedes are visible within the flame but are too roughly sketched to show more than the outline, as are the pilgrim and Virgil at the top of the bridge. The only visual point we might note here is that the flame containing the two souls seems to give off no light—perhaps an intentional clue that their method of escaping from their captivity was an unenlightened one. The double-tongued flame is shown darker than the stone behind it, and the left edge of the fire is shaded almost black. Blake has devoted more attention to the two illustrations for canto 28, in which we meet the souls of the schismatics. This is one of Dante’s most direct examples of contrapasso—matching the punishment to the sin. Sinners who caused division in the world, between members of the same political party, family, or religion, are here cut by a devil with a sword. As they walk the circumference of the bolgia their wounds heal, only to be reopened when they pass again before the devil. Blake doesn’t miss the opportunity to show us the grotesque sights of this bolgia; each of the sinners mentioned in the narrative is shown clearly in the two watercolors. It should be obvious by this time that while Blake would have been less interested in the political or sectarian acts that Dante wishes to punish here, the imagery is still entirely suitable to Blake’s own message. Blake’s Comedy is about the perceptual Fall and the resulting division it brings about in the soul. The divisions in this case are not among worldly groups, but between the soul and God, a division which is, for Blake, the same as a division between the parts of the individual soul. In Blake’s mythology, the fall of the Universal Man is the division within his soul of the four Zoas into what we then perceive as separate entities, and their subsequent divisions into their different emanations. The two illustrations of the ninth bolgia show such divisions in brutal bloody form—a form that is easier for those of us in the fallen world to perceive. The watercolor of Bertrand de Born holding his head like a lantern and speaking to the pilgrim could serve as a universal symbol of any man who has valued his reason over the passions of the body and the feelings of the heart (fig. 61).

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Figure 61. The Schismatics and Sowers of Discord: Mosca de’Lamberti and Bertrand de Born, pen and ink and watercolor over pencil (National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Felton Bequest, 1920 [1009–3]).

The last ditch in Malebolge is the circle of the falsifiers, a category that includes a variety of sinners. Canto 29 describes those who practiced illicit alchemy, a practice recognized in Dante’s time as trickery. The next canto introduces those who sinned through impersonating others, falsifying coins, or falsifying words. Each of these types is punished by being inflicted with a different disease. Blake’s watercolor for canto 29 shows three differently diseased groups (fig. 62). Three people at the left are stretched out full-length on the ground, with one man’s chin resting on another’s hip. At right are two men who scratch endlessly at their red skin. Though Blake has made them appear suitably uncomfortable, he has chosen not to show the unpleasant detail of the scabs and sores that Dante describes in his text. These two are seated on top of another group of people, who are compressed into an unmoving lump of flesh. Only one face from this group is clearly shown: a simply drawn but accurate face of an ill person lacking hope and the strength to move. The pilgrim and Virgil observe the condemned souls from a step on a stone arch, holding their noses against the smell. The second watercolor for this bolgia, illustrating canto 30, shows at top two souls with rabies, who pursue and bite a third sinner (fig. 63). Dante describes these two, in Cary’s translation, as running “like the swine / Excluded from his stye” (Hell, 30; Cary, 127). Blake has made the simile more literal, giving the two running figures the snouts of pigs. Blake has divided the top and bottom of the illustration by a sort of stone wall or arch, which isn’t


Part IV. The Illustrations

Figure 62. The Pit of Disease: The Falsifiers, engraving (collection of Robert N. Essick; © 2013 William Blake Archive; used by permission).

described in Dante’s text. The soul who has been attacked by the rabid pig is about to fall off this wall into the pit below, as another soul, at left, is doing already. The wall crowds the souls beneath it into a mass that is barely visible beyond the figures of the pilgrim and Virgil. The character with whom the pilgrim converses longest in this canto, Maestro Adamo of Brescia, is not identifiable here—the narrator makes it clear that Adamo’s body looks like a lute, with a swollen belly, but no one in the picture matches that description. Botterill suggests that the sinners in this bolgia are punished with disease because they introduced falseness into the “body politic” of society,76 an explanation that, if true, makes the contrapasso of these cantos less obvious than that of the schismatics. In this case, the woes Dante has assigned to these sinners may fit more comfortably with Blake’s version of the Comedy than with the original. Those who are pressed to the ground, too ill to move, are tied to the material world and unable to rise above it. The pig-snouted rabid souls are again untethered passions. Blake has perhaps rendered these two as guardians of this level rather than normal inhabitants, because they seem to be pursuing more human-like souls and throwing them into the pit below, as the centaurs chased the violent sinners, or the devils chased the politicians. Such a role would be consistent with their status as passions projected out of the mind and perceived as frightening beasts. Opposite: Figure 63. The Pit of Disease: Gianni Schicchi and Myrrha, pen and ink and watercolor over pencil (National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Felton Bequest, 1920 [1010–3]).

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Part IV. The Illustrations

Giants Four illustrations depict the events of canto 31, in which the pilgrim sees a ring of giants on the inward edge of Malebolge. Viewed in order, these pictures follow closely the narrative of the Comedy. The pilgrim first sees the giants in the distance and mistakes them for the towers of a city. Virgil corrects the misunderstanding: “Yet know,” said he, “ere farther we advance, That it less strange may seem, these are not towers, But giants. In the pit they stand immersed, Each from his navel downward, round the back” [Hell, 31; Cary, 131].

Drawing nearer, the travelers can see that the giants are “Uprearing, horrible, whom Jove from Heaven / Yet threatens, when his muttering thunder rolls.” The watercolor for this scene shows the pilgrim and Virgil in the foreground, tiny in comparison with the landscape and still-distant giants (fig. 64). Dante’s mistaking the giants for towers is made understandable here, since the giants are drawn from the back, their human features as yet hardly discernible. Blake has not failed to note that the giants are still threatened by Jupiter: jagged lightning shoots down from the clouds above them. The whole scene is lashed by rain blown almost horizontal in a strong wind—an anticipation of the wind and cold of the level below.

Figure 64. The Primaeval Giants Sunk in the Soil, graphite, chalk, ink and watercolor (Tate, London/Art Resource, New York).

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The first giant the travelers approach shouts at them in an unintelligible language, which is a clue to his identity. Virgil explains: “He doth accuse himself. Nimrod is this, Through whose ill counsel in the world no more One tongue prevails. But pass we on, nor waste Our words; for so each language is to him, As his to others, understood by none” [Hell, 31; Cary, 132].

Traditionally, the Old Testament figure of Nimrod is both a mighty hunter and the king responsible for the Tower of Babel. Blake has allowed him to retain his crown and his hunter’s horn even in this deep part of Hell. Realizing that communication with Nimrod is impossible, the pilgrim moves toward another giant, who is chained with one hand behind his back. Virgil explains that this is Ephialtes, one of the characters of Greek myth who challenged the Olympian gods. Blake shows him with a pained expression, larger than the giants on either side of him (fig. 65). As in the illustration of the simonist pope, we are given a kind of x-ray view in this picture: we can see Ephialtes’s forward hand through the stone, chained in front of his body. Virgil hurries the pilgrim on toward Antaeus, “who both speaks / And is unfetter’d,” and can help the travelers descend to the deepest level of Hell.

Figure 65. Ephialtes and Two Other Titans, pen and ink and watercolor over black chalk and pencil (National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Felton Bequest, 1920 [1011–3]).


Part IV. The Illustrations

According to myth, Antaeus didn’t participate with his fellow giants in the revolt against the Greek gods, so it may be for this reason that he is unbound. Virgil knows that the travelers need Antaeus’s assistance to descend and also knows what kind of flattery is necessary to recruit his help. Pointing out that the pilgrim is still alive and will return to the world to write about what he has seen, Virgil promises that Antaeus’s fame will be renewed in the world above. The poet’s persuasion is effective, and the giant picks up the pilgrim and Virgil and, leaning down, places them on the ice of Cocytus (see fig. 66 in the color insert). The giants here, frozen or bound in chains, remind us of the two earlier giants Blake added to the narrative at the beginning of the pilgrim’s journey. In the illustration to the second canto of Hell, we saw two such giants, one on either side of the path the pilgrim had to travel. One was bound in ice or cold fire, the other shackled inside red flames. Those giants, we determined, served as guards to frighten the pilgrim away from the journey he was about to begin, and were symbols of bound energy. Their contrast of cold and heat signified the contraries that Blake always sees as necessary to progression. In their bound condition, the interplay of the contraries was forbidden, thus making true progression impossible. There is more variety among the giants here in the deeper part of Hell. Nimrod wears a crown like that of the figure worshipping the God of This World in the earlier picture in which the pair of giants appeared. He has a wild, insane look on his face, and hair and a beard in tight curls, like a figure in an Assyrian relief. Ephialtes is a younger man, much like the bound giant at right in the earlier illustration. On either side of him we can see another giant, one bearded in Blake’s patriarchal style, and another younger figure whose face is mostly obscured. In the next painting, Antaeus is a monumental figure with none of the features Blake normally gives to dangerous characters such as Urizen or other false gods. He is not only unchained, as the text specifies, he is also a sort of ideal male type—muscular, handsome, and helpful to the pilgrim. The attention that Blake gave to the illustration is also an indication that this giant can be seen as an important figure. The blue behind the figure is of a purity and depth seldom seen in the watercolor medium. The tones in Antaeus’s body are also subtle and painterly, showing a variety of color as well as the solid form of the giant’s figure. It is one of Blake’s most beautiful watercolors and makes us regret all the more that the late figure studies he created in a medium he called “fresco,” which was really a kind of distemper, have so badly lost their original color. The “fresco” painting of the Ghost of a Flea, for example, has darkened almost to invisibility. Where the earlier giants, in the illustration to canto 2, were completely bound and incapable of interaction, the giants here are different. These are giants who may kick back against their oppressed condition. The first picture in which they appear, where we see them from a distance, shows that the God of Hell, the bad God, is sending his lightning to oppress them, as he did against Capaneus and Vanni Fucci. Nimrod is not immobilized by ice or chains—he is screaming, though his lack of comprehensible language prevents him from escaping. Ephialtes appears sympathetic despite his heavy chains. And Antaeus, as I have said, appears in every way a good figure. We can see that now, as we draw near the end of the path through Hell, the pilgrim’s situation has changed. The externalized creatures that the pilgrim sees, the passions and contraries that Urizenic reason would keep bound in the material world, have loosened into variety, if not into freedom. The giants, which appear identical when viewed from a distance, on closer inspection prove to be not only individuals,

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but, at least in one case, helpful—a necessary hand to the pilgrim in his progress. Whereas Dante’s Hell is a dead end and the motion that occurs there is an eternal back-and-forth with no hope for progression, Blake’s shows characters that are not entirely evil, not doomed to this place forever. Blake’s Hell is like our world—in fact, it is our world—in that some inhabitants are in better states than others, and some will give up and flee in fear to a childish world of innocence. Others will burn with a desire for uplift, only to fail and fall back. Others, while currently blind, will rise again.

Cocytus and Satan The final six illustrations of Hell depict the sights of Cocytus, or, in one case, the story told by an inhabitant of this circle. Cocytus is the traditional name of one of the four rivers of the underworld. Dante is unique in imagining it not as a flowing river but as a frozen lake, circular at the very bottom of Hell, with Satan himself frozen into its center. While Malebolge, above, held the perpetrators of simple fraud, this is the circle for those who committed treachery—planned trickery against someone to whom they owed a special duty. The guilty souls are frozen into the ice for eternity, the least bad sinners partially free, but the worst beneath the surface, visible and conscious but unable to move. The first souls with whom the pilgrim converses here are brothers, frozen together in eternity because they betrayed each other. Blake has shown this pair as protruding farther above the ice than those souls around them, but their heads are thrown back and their hair, apparently, is frozen together. The other souls shown here are all facing us, sunk to the chest in the ice. There are a variety of faces here, one wearing armor, one a crown. One is crying, with the tears frozen on his (or her) face, while two souls behind seem shocked or scornful. In this picture Virgil has a particularly noble profile. The surroundings are arctic and grey, with ice hills in the distance. As the travelers proceed over the ice, the pilgrim kicks one soul in the head, though he can’t say whether this was his will, destiny, or chance. The first illustration of this scene shows the pilgrim looking sorry, raising a hand in apology, as the frozen soul protests. “Wherefore dost bruise me?” (fig. 67). When asked his name, this man refuses to say who he is, claiming that, unlike the residents of the higher levels of Hell, to spread knowledge of his fate in the world above is the last thing that he wants. The second illustration of this scene shows the pilgrim’s reaction to this reticence: he has grasped the soul by the hair and is threatening to pull it all out if he isn’t told what he wants to hear. In the watercolor, Dante has extended his right leg and bent away from the soul so as to get a forceful purchase on his hair. The soul screams in pain but refuses to give up the information, until a nearby sinner, shown by Blake directly in front of the reticent soul, says Bocca’s name and gives away the secret. This is Bocca degli Abbati, a Florentine traitor. At the left of the page, partially obscured by Virgil, who is looking on, are two larger, bearded souls; the one behind is biting the neck of the other, and red blood is dripping out. In the next picture the pilgrim and Virgil are in the same location but have turned to face this pair (fig. 68). From canto 33 we learn that the soul behind, doing the biting, is Count Ugolino, and


Part IV. The Illustrations

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his victim is an archbishop. The archbishop’s robe and discarded hat are now visible, and his crozier is lain horizontally along the bottom of the page. Ugolino has left off biting the archbishop’s neck long enough to tell his story and has extended his hands in a selfexculpatory gesture. This picture from the next to the last canto of Hell brings Blake’s relation to Dante’s work full circle, in a way. It was the story that Ugolino tells here that first caught the attention of the British reading public and appeared in works by Fuseli, Reynolds, and Blake himself, even before the Comedy as a whole was being read (see Part I). The familiarity of Ugolino’s story may explain why Blake’s illustration for it is sketched only in pencil, as if from memory in a single sitting. The composition is symmetrical and virtually identical to a tempera painting now in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. Because the pencil sketch is very light, and the Fitzwilliam painting is finished, I have chosen to reproduce the latter here (see fig. 69 in the color insert). If the Sea of Time and Space is a metaphor for our world, the material world of roiling change, Blake’s Cocytus is that sea in its worst possible condition. The constant change of an unfrozen ocean at least allows for chaotic motion, which may give hope for progression. But in contrast to the giants in the previous cantos, who were powerful forces, the souls frozen in Cocytus are as far from movement as they can be. The final scene in Blake’s Hell is a full-length portrait of Satan (fig. 70). As Dante describes, he is frozen to the waist in ice. He has huge bat-wings and three faces. He is enormous in scale, as we can see from the tiny figures of the pilgrim and Virgil, to the left of his thigh. Blake has finished only the center face to the point where we can determine its expression—this is a figure of the patriarchal type, but from the look on his face we can see that this is not a figure to emulate. Even with the legs of Judas dangling from his mouth, this Satan looks merely stupid. He is not an active evil or a sympathetic character as in Paradise Lost. He is, as we have seen, merely the “limit of opacity” (E 338). He looks worried, confused, and weak. Though Dante doesn’t describe him as crowned, Blake shows all three of his heads topped by the thin-spiked crown we have seen before in this series. We are reminded that he is the king of Hell, although far from ruling powerfully over the abyss, he is dangling, ridiculously, head-down, when seen from the perspective of Eden. More interesting than Satan here are the four other figures at his feet, frozen horizontally and half hidden in the ice. At least two of these are crowned, as well, and they are clearly not of the same type as the other souls frozen in Cocytus, as they are far too large and peaceful-looking. The fact that there are four of these figures persuades Roe that they are the four Zoas, trapped here at the limit of opacity.77 The absence of any other depiction of the Zoas as crowned, however, makes it difficult for me to agree. Crowns, as we have seen, are Blake’s symbols of the temporal powers of the earth, or of fallen characters. Personified Death, in an illustration for Paradise Lost, is shown crowned, but Los never is.78 I will thus resist identifying these figures as specific characters from Blake’s own mythology or from Opposite, top: Figure 67. Dante Striking Against Bocca degli Abati, engraving (collection of Robert N. Essick; © 2013 William Blake Archive; used by permission). Opposite, bottom: Figure 68. Ugolino’s Narrative, watercolor, black ink, graphite, and black chalk (Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum; Bequest of Grenville L. Winthrop, 1943.441; © President and Fellows of Harvard College).

Figure 70. Lucifer, pen and ink and watercolor over pencil and black chalk (National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Felton Bequest, 1920 [1013–3]).

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history, and leave them instead to remind us of the great powers of man that currently lie frozen in potential, awaiting the day when, Blake says, the dead will rise at the Last Judgment.

Hell: Conclusion No one gets out of Dante’s Hell. It is sempiternal punishment, and any motion that goes on there occurs without the hope of progression. The type of sinner varies from place to place, circle to circle, but in the end their fate is the same: more of what they have now, forever. When William Blake, on the other hand, writes of “eternal death,” he means that the state of death may last forever but the person who is there will eventually move on. When he shows us Hell, the people we see there are not only suffering in different ways but have different strategies, different points of view, and different prospects for getting out. The frightened souls in the first of the eight bolgia are running up the wall, heading back to their pre–Fall state, avoiding pain but giving up on progression to a higher condition. Ulysses and the snake people have devised plans of escape but, being stuck in a state of Urizenic reason, don’t see why they are doomed to fail. The spirit of revolution lives on here. It may burn in a futile way, as with Capaneus, seeing no way out, or it may make futile gestures, like Vanni Fucci, but it still burns. The giants that we see near the end of Hell are in a better condition than the ones at the entrance. The demands they make may sound like nonsense, or their chains may take another millennium to break, but they have made enough progress to rouse the God of Hell to anger. His angry lightning strikes at them, which is a good sign. Dante’s Hell is Blake’s London, or anywhere else in this material world that we happen to be. The bad news, from Blake, is that we are in a fallen condition, our imaginations are near dead, and suffering is everywhere. The good news is that Orc is still alive, that although most of our efforts are futile, the potential for redemption is never gone entirely. In the next canticle, Purgatory, Dante shows us the means by which imperfect souls are made pure and ready to enter Heaven. Blake’s concern is not with purity but with perception. Still, his Purgatory serves a similar purpose: it is the real means by which souls may remake themselves and rise.

10. Purgatory William James defines “conversion” thus: “the process, gradual or sudden, by which a self hitherto divided, and consciously wrong inferior and unhappy, becomes unified and consciously right superior and happy, in consequence of its firmer hold upon religious realities.”79 James describes such personal changes as shifts in a person’s attention or aims. As a minor example, he imagines a president of the United States who replaces one group of aims for another when he goes out for a day of fishing. Our ordinary alterations of character, as we pass from one of our aims to another, are not commonly called transformations, because each of them is so rapidly succeeded by another in the reverse direction; but whenever one aim grows so stable as to expel definitively its previous rivals from the individual’s life, we tend to speak of the phenomenon, and perhaps to wonder at it, as a “transformation.”80

Thus, transformations come about through an inner shift of focus. Life-changing conversions occur when aspects of life that formerly held little or no interest take on new importance to such a degree that we feel “born again.” What brings such changes about is the way in which emotional excitement alters. Things hot and vital to us to-day are cold to-morrow. It is as if seen from the hot parts of the field that the other parts appear to us, and from these hot parts personal desire and volition make their sallies. They are in short the centres of our dynamic energy, whereas the cold parts leave us indifferent and passive in proportion to their coldness.81

Blake, as we have seen, insists that a change in spiritual state does not require spatial removal. For him, with God immanent throughout space, an “ascent” to bliss is a reformation of one’s vision and does not require physical relocation. Similarly, James points out that the vocabulary of “here” and “there” is metaphorical. In speaking of the aim of our consciousness, he says, we involuntarily apply words of perspective to distinguish it from the rest, words like “here,” “this,” “now,” “mine,” or “me”; and we ascribe to the other parts the positions “there,” “then,” “that,” “his” or “thine,” “it,” “not me.” But a “here” can change to a “there,” and a “there” become a “here,” and what was “mine” and what was “not mine” change their places.82

Blake’s philosophical idealism, as we have seen, makes all this quite literal. It is our perception, which is dependent on our attention, that creates “here” and “now,” as separate from “there” and “then.” The process of conversion is a process of changing one’s perceptions. 218

10. Purgatory


James agrees with Blake that the larger, spiritual world has existed for us in potentia all along. He uses a metaphor from psychology to describe the state of the spiritual world as present even when we are not aware of it: I attach a mystical or religious consciousness to the possession of an extended subliminal self with a thin partition through which messages make irruption. We are thus made convincingly aware of the presence of a sphere of life larger and more powerful than our usual consciousness, with which the latter is nevertheless continuous.83

The implication that the more complete self is “subliminal”—below a threshold—might not meet with Blake’s approval, since he usually considers our fallen state to be that which is below, and the awakened condition above. Still, since above and below depend merely on the point from which one views them, James’s description is useful to us. The mystical state— indeed, God himself—is not separate but continuous with our current nature, and access involves an opening of perception. The question before us now is how we may achieve this perceptual shift. What action or personal realization opens our doors of perception to the point that we are no longer in a self-forged Hell? James has described, in psychological terms, what the change consists of, but he confesses that his field is unequipped to show the deep causes of conversion. Now if you ask of psychology just how the excitement shifts in a man’s mental system, and why aims that were peripheral become at a certain moment central, psychology has to reply that although she can give a general description of what happens, she is unable in a given case to account accurately for all the single forces at work.84

For detailed information on how personal revelation and ascension occurs, we turn back to William Blake’s visionary illustrations. Dante’s Purgatory, as the name suggests, is about purgation. Although everyone in Purgatory will eventually reach Heaven, very few people—perhaps only Christ and his mother— were pure enough at death to go to Heaven directly. The purpose of the slow ascent of the mountain of Purgatory is to remove the inevitable vestiges of sin. (Beatrice seems to have accomplished her ascension of the mountain in under ten years. She died in 1290 and guides Dante through Heaven in the spring of 1300. Other, more sinful people may spend centuries on the mountain before they are ready to ascend to Paradise.) Cleansing of the soul is accomplished through education, not punishment, although each sin is purged through a particularly harsh sort of training. Purgatory is a mountain in the southern hemisphere, at a point on the globe directly opposite Jerusalem. The lowest part of the mountain is a kind of waiting room, where people who were excommunicated or who delayed living morally on earth until late in life are made to wait before beginning the process of purification. After passing through a narrow gate guarded by an angel, souls travel up the mountain, purging sins one by one. There are seven terraces on the mountain, one for each of the Seven Deadly Sins (fig. 71). On the flat top of the mountain is the Earthly Paradise, the original Garden of Eden. Souls who reach this point have been purified of all sin, and are nearly ready for the ascent to Heaven. William Blake, as we have seen, has an entirely different view of the process necessary to rise to Heaven. For him, the Fall had nothing to do with sin; sin is a mistaken concept


Part IV. The Illustrations

we believe in while we are fallen, and souls who have left the underworld (our world) have no need of that concept. The fall into the lower world occurred through a division of ourselves, which divided us from God and caused a narrowing of perception. The ascent from this lowered condition, therefore, is accomplished through renewed perception and reintegration. No strict training imposed by God is necessary for renewal, only imagination. Paley, describing The Four Zoas and Milton, writes: In both epics the agent of regeneration is the Imagination, identified with Los, whose function is now to restore Fallen Man to his original unity. This view of the Imagination is part of and inseparable from the theme of regeneration in Blake’s later works.85

Among the later works Paley mentions, we should include the illustrations for the Comedy. Blake’s version of the Purgatory is not a hard training course but a joyful restoration of the senses and the unity of the soul. The great difference from Dante in the method described in this ascent means that Blake has had no need for most of this canticle. There are only twenty illustrations for the Purgatory. Figure 71. Purgatory. Three of these show events at the base of the mountain, three show the level of the proud, and three show the Earthly Paradise, leaving only eleven for the majority of the mountain. None of these was engraved.

Cato and the Arrival of Souls to Purgatory The pilgrim and Virgil have passed through a tunnel that leads from the center of the earth through half the globe and opens on the beach at the foot of Purgatory. They arrive at dawn, while the sky is the color of sapphire but the stars are still clearly visible. The pilgrim notices a constellation of four stars that is never visible from the northern hemisphere. He is quickly accosted by the soul of Cato of Utica who, though he was not a Christian, serves as the guardian at the base of the mountain. Cato has never seen souls arrive through the path from Hell. Virgil must explain to him, as he had explained to Charon at the Acheron, that the pilgrim’s trip has been sanc-

10. Purgatory


tioned from on high. Cato relents but tells Virgil to purify the pilgrim before beginning the ascent. The illustration for this scene never progressed beyond penciled outlines. The three characters are standing side by side, at an equal distance from the picture plane. The pilgrim, in the center, holds up both hands in a gesture of apology. Virgil is at left, gesturing upwards, to indicate the direction they wish to go. Cato is of Blake’s familiar patriarchal type, which he uses to show both the great and the false-great, but Cato’s expression is finished enough in this drawing for us to be confident that he is of the better type. He is surrounded by a mandorla-like cloud and points downward to indicate that the travelers must begin their upward climb from the very bottom of the mountain, where the shore meets the ocean. The next illustration shows the travelers kneeling by the water and a line of reeds (fig. 72). The pilgrim is on all fours as Virgil ties a reed around his forehead. The almost-vertical slope of the mountain is at left. The only color Blake has added to this picture is in the sky: beautiful washes of blue show the dawn. The arc of the sun has just appeared over the horizon. Canto 2 of the Purgatory begins with the travelers ready to begin their ascent. Before they start to climb, however, the pilgrim sees on the horizon A light, so swiftly coming through the sea, No winged course might equal its career. From which when for a space I had withdrawn Mine eyes, to make inquiry of my guide, Again I look’d, and saw it grown in size And brightness: then on either side appear’d Something, but what I knew not, of bright hue [Purgatory, 2; Cary, 153].

When the speeding light draws nearer, it becomes discernible as a boat, piloted by an angel; the projections from each side are the angel’s wings. This apparition has brought a new group of souls, recently died from the world, who are ready to begin their long process of purgation. Blake has shown the moment when the boat, emptied of its cargo, speeds away (fig. 73). The pilgrim has recognized one among the group and is embracing him. Virgil stands at left, arms crossed in an impatient gesture. In this illustration, too, there is minimal color. The ground is washed broadly with green and the sky with blue and purple. The boat has touches of yellow. There is no illustration for canto 3, in which the pilgrim passes through the level of those who were excommunicated and pauses to speak with Manfred, the son of Emperor Frederick II. Blake had no interest in decrees from the official church, and thus would not have cared about the process of overcoming excommunication that is explained here.

The Ascent to the Gate The two illustrations for canto 4 emphasize the height of the mountain and the difficulty of the climb. According to Dante, as the pilgrim reaches the upper levels of Purgatory

Figure 72. Virgil Girding Dante’s Brow with a Rush, graphite and watercolor (Tate, London/Art Resource, New York).

Figure 73. The Angel in the Boat Departing After Wafting over the Souls for Purgation, graphite, pen and ink, with watercolor (© The Trustees of the British Museum/Art Resource, New York).


Part IV. The Illustrations

and is cleansed of sin, the ascent will become easier, but at this point the path is narrow and steep. The first watercolor shows Virgil leading the way up a difficult trail (fig. 74). He has turned back for a moment to encourage the pilgrim, several steps lower, who must climb the path using both hands to pull himself upwards. The right third of the page shows the ocean stretching to the horizon, and over that the sun, partly obscured by an ominous black cloud. The sun plays an important role in the Comedy, both narrative and symbolic, and much of canto 4 is devoted to discussing it, because the pilgrim has noted that as he faces east toward the dawn, the sun is on his left. Virgil explains patiently about the equator and the difference in the apparent position of the sun now that they are in the southern hemisphere. Here the explanation is astronomical, but elsewhere—including later in this canto—the appearance of the sun and its light represent more theological matters. Dante frequently refers to the sun periphrastically, using such terms as “the great minister of nature” (Paradise, 10; Cary, 335) or “the parent of all mortal life” (Paradise, 22; Cary, 394). He is also aware of the homiletic and liturgical traditions calling Christ the sun of righteousness (sol justiciae) and identifying the rising sun with the Resurrection.86 In canto 7 of the Purgatory sunlight is used as a symbol of God’s grace, and throughout the Comedy the emanation of God’s qualities is compared to light from the sun. The symbolism of dark and light is used through so much of the Comedy that when, near the end of canto 4, the pilgrim meets his friend Belaqua sitting in the shade of a rock, the meaning of the shadow is clear. Belaqua was idle in life and delayed his Christian duty, so now he sits out of God’s light, waiting perhaps for decades before he may advance up the mountain and into Purgatory proper. Blake used the sun as a symbol in two ways that don’t occur explicitly in Dante’s work. First, as we saw in our discussion of the Arlington Court painting in Part III of this book, the sun is the gate through which souls return to the ideal world from the material. This use derives from Porphyry and other Neoplatonists after him. Second, as Paley reminds us, Blake followed in the tradition of Paracelsus and Agrippa by identifying the sun with the human imagination.87 The name of Blake’s character Los, the personification of imagination, may well be “Sol” in reverse.88 Both of these meanings present themselves as likely readings of the prominent presence of the sun in the illustrations to the Purgatory. Having left the lower, material world, the souls who climb the mountain are aiming to pass through the gate of the sun back into the ideal. The sun’s rise in cantos 1 and 9, and its appearances through the rest of the canticle in various degrees of occlusion, are therefore signs that the goal is in sight. Perhaps more importantly, and certainly more uniquely Blakean, is the use of the sun in the Purgatory to refer to human imagination. As we have seen, imagination for Blake is the fundamental human faculty through which we relate to the world. In our fallen condition it loses its power, and we forget that we create everything we see through this faculty. In Eden, however, the power of the imagination is restored, and once again imagining is identical to creation, and the world contracts or expands just as we wish to see it. The horrors of Hell exist only because the souls there (i.e., here) have lost the ability to perceive the world freely; this means that the light of the imagination has gone dark, and, symbolically, the sun (Los/Sol) has gone out. Little by little as souls climb the mountain of Purgatory, the sun rises and peeks from behind the clouds. When the pilgrim reaches Paradise, which Blake has remade into his own vision of Eternity, everything is drenched in light and the imagi-

Figure 74. The Ascent of the Mountain of Purgatory, graphite, ink and watercolor (Tate, London/Art Resource, New York).


Part IV. The Illustrations

nation is back in its full power. The sun itself appears on Christ’s left hand when he appears to the pilgrim in Heaven. The second illustration to canto 4 is less finished than the first, but here, too, direct sunlight is blocked by cloud—in this case a series of pink clouds that reach from the sky to the terrace of Purgatory where the travelers are resting. This picture, too, serves mainly to emphasize the height of the mountain: the pilgrim and Virgil appear as tiny figures between enormous cliffs. They are seated next to a grey wash of shadow, but the figure of Belaqua is not indicated. Another swirl of pink cloud figures prominently in the illustration for canto 5, where the pilgrim meets the souls who died violently but repented at the last moment. In another reference to the light of the sun, these souls notice that the pilgrim casts a shadow. (The others don’t, because they don’t have material bodies.) Two of the souls approach the pilgrim, then return to tell the others that they may approach. The group rushes to meet Dante: Ne’er saw I fiery vapours with such speed Cut through the serene air at fall of night, Nor August’s clouds athwart the setting sun, That upward these did not in shorter space Return; and, there arriving, with the rest Wheel back upon us, as with loose rein a troop [Purgatory, 5; Cary, 165].

Blake’s watercolor for this scene is another example of the artist’s tendency to literalize in his drawing what was metaphor in the text (see fig. 75 in the color insert). Dante compares the speed of the souls to air-born vapors, but doesn’t say that the souls themselves fly. Blake has shown the entire group of souls wheeling through the air, leaving a sort of pink vapor trail, as they rush to greet the pilgrim. Only one of the several souls mentioned in the canto is a woman, but the figures in the illustration are nearly all female. Virgil greets them with an open-armed gesture, and the pilgrim has raised both arms in apparent joy. While it’s possible that Blake misread the simile and thought that the souls were in fact flying, it is more likely that he has changed this detail intentionally, remaking the meaning of the canto. Again, he has no interest in the theological points Dante discusses here or the historical figures whom the pilgrim meets. He has remade this scene to show the joy of the souls freed from the material world, so the freedom to fly through the air, unfettered by Newton’s gravity, is an important sign of their new condition. The pilgrim and Virgil stand on a ledge, with the green-tinted slope of the mountain to their right, but the flying souls are jetting freely against the background of sky and sea. There are no hints here of death by violence or of a lateness to repent—only of the pleasure these reborn souls feel. In contrast, the souls in the next illustration are seated quietly in a green bower. Blake has carefully reproduced Dante’s description of the geography in this scene: the pilgrim and Virgil, with their guide on this terrace, are on a slight ridge, looking into a hollow or depression that is full of colorful grass and flowers. This is the terrace for rulers whose duties in life prevented them from paying attention to the conditions of their own salvation. They must wait here for some time before they begin the process of purgation, though the place where they wait is pleasant enough. Blake has drawn the monarchs carefully and, for once, respectfully; these are not the evil kings of this world but rulers who look as if they deserve

10. Purgatory


Figure 76. The Lawn with the Kings and Angels, pen and ink and watercolor over pencil (National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Felton Bequest, 1920 [1016–3]).

to go to Heaven (fig. 76). The watercolor shows the moment in canto 8 when, just as the sun is about to set, the souls of this level are momentarily threatened by a snake. The serpent is quickly turned back by two angels, clad in green and carrying swords, who have arrived moments before. All of these details are accurately shown in the illustration, which is almost completely outlined in ink and lightly tinted with color. Roe identifies the grove of trees here as a symbol of error, which continues to envelope the souls on this terrace.89 Against this view, I don’t believe that we have to see every shrub and flower as evil. In Part III of this book we examined Blake’s idea of nature and saw that while the soul is in a divided condition, Vala, the personification of nature in The Four Zoas and Jerusalem, is perceived as a dead and dangerous state. Yet after the Universal Man has been reunited, she is pure relaxation and safety. Of Luvah, the passions, Vala sings: My Luvah here hath placd me in a Sweet & pleasant Land And given me fruits & pleasant waters & warm hills & cool valleys Here will I build myself a house & here Ill call on his name Here Ill return when I am weary & take my pleasant rest So spoke the Sinless Soul & laid her head on the downy fleece Of a curld Ram who stretchd himself in sleep beside his mistress And soft sleep fell upon her eyelids in the silent noon of day [E 397]

The green bower in Purgatory, then, is the nature that is available to us after we have been released from the material world. Unlike the frightening and monster-filled nature of


Part IV. The Illustrations

the lower world, this glade is only beautiful colors and sweet smells, and angels who guard us in the night. Blake has had no need to change the imagery in this scene, because in this case Dante’s symbolism and his own are in perfect accord. Souls on their way up the mountain, when weary and in need of rest, can stretch out here in comfort. A day and a night have now passed in the journey up the mountain. The pilgrim awakes in a new place, disoriented, because he has no memory of leaving the bower of the previous night. Virgil explains that while the pilgrim slept, St. Lucia came and carried him up the difficult slope, to a point just in front of the narrow gate to Purgatory proper. This is the second time Lucia has assisted the pilgrim; it was she who, responding to Mary’s request, had called on Beatrice to help Dante while he was in danger in the dark wood. Blake has shown her here as she cradles the pilgrim against herself and dashes effortlessly up the slope of the mountain. A large, bright halo surrounds her head (see fig. 77 in the color insert). Virgil follows a step behind, with a particularly contented expression on his face. The slope, like the grove in the previous scene, is covered with pleasant vegetation, and the lightening sky is full of stars. The rays of the rising sun shine up from below. Except for Lucia’s face, this watercolor is nearly complete, one of only three for the Purgatory that have been this attentively worked. In this picture, too, the visual imagery from Dante’s poem is entirely suited to Blake’s theological view, even if the reasoning is somewhat different. We need not identify the main figure here strictly as Lucia; it is enough to see her as a sign of mercy, as in the poem “Morning”: To find the western path Right thro the gates of Wrath I urge my way Sweet Mercy leads me on With soft repentant moan I see the break of day The war of swords & spears Melted by dewy tears Exhales on high The Sun is freed from fears And with soft grateful tears Ascends the sky [E 478]

Without his will or even his awareness, the pilgrim has received this mercy here. Now the pilgrim can see the narrow gate that leads to the terraces where the sins are purged, and the angel who watches over that gate. Dante writes: I could descry A portal, and three steps beneath, that led For inlet there, of different colour each; And one who watch’d, but spake not a word. .….….….…. I mark’d him seated on the highest step, In visage such, as past my power to bear. Grasp’d in his hand, a naked sword glanced back The rays [Purgatory, 9; Cary, 185]

10. Purgatory


Blake shows the three steps colored as Dante describes, and very large in relation to the figures of the travelers (see fig. 78 in the color insert). The angel sits above the steps, his wings folded behind him. The gate is a Gothic pointed arch. The most dramatic feature of this painting is not mentioned in the text: Blake has shown, at the top left of the picture in the distance beyond the mountain, huge red clouds obscuring the bright sun. These are angry clouds, full of energy, not the white or pink ones we have seen so far in this canticle. They remind us of the very first time that Orc appears in Blake’s work, in the early book America: Red rose the clouds from the Atlantic in vast wheels of blood And in the red clouds rose a Wonder o’er the Atlantic sea; Intense! Naked! A Human fire fierce glowing, as the wedge Of iron heated in the furnace; his terrible limbs were fire [E 53].

Though Orc’s human form doesn’t appear in this illustration to the Purgatory, the terrible red clouds are there, over the Atlantic. This is the beginning of the restoration of the intense energy necessary for souls to ascend. In contrast to the rather tired-looking angel, the fiery red clouds with the light of the sun behind them indicate that beyond the gate the ascending soul finds the energy that was lost in the fall into division. The pilgrim humbly asks the angel for admittance. I cast me, praying him for pity’s sake That he would open to me; but first fell Thrice on my bosom prostrate. Seven times The letter, that denotes the inward stain, He, on my forehead, with the blunted point Of his drawn sword, inscribed. And “Look,” he cried, “When enter’d, that thou wash these scars away” [Purgatory, 9; Cary, 187].

The illustration of these lines is filled from top to bottom by the Gothic gate and its steps, although the left third of the picture is still open to sky and sea. The clouds here are less angry-looking, being tinted yellow, but they still hide the sun entirely. Blake has emphasized the rays of light coming from behind the cloud by outlining them with ink. The angel is writing something on the pilgrim’s forehead, though only one of the marks reads clearly as a “P”—for “Peccatum”: sin. Each P stands for one of the seven sins and is erased as the purgation of that sin is completed. Dante uses this device as a clear method of counting down the levels that the pilgrim has completed; he emphasizes the erasure of each P by the wing of an angel as the traveler ascends to a new terrace. Blake, being uninterested in sin and believing that ascension takes place through other means, doesn’t show us these erasures. Nor are the P’s visible on the pilgrim’s forehead in any later illustration. The idea of being branded with the mark of sin, and undergoing training that amounts to torture in order to be free, is so inimicable to Blake’s thought that we might wonder why he illustrated this scene at all. It may be that here as elsewhere he has used the imagery of the Comedy to convey a completely different symbolic meaning. For example, in his most famous lyric, Blake had mentioned a number of weapons that may be employed for spiritual ends, including the sword.


Part IV. The Illustrations Bring me my Bow of burning gold: Bring me my Arrows of desire: Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold! Bring me my Chariot of fire! I will not cease from Mental Fight, Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand: Till we have built Jerusalem, In Englands green & pleasant Land [E 96].

The fact that the sword in Purgatory is used to write, rather than for violence, and that it is applied to the forehead, indicate that it is a part of the unending and creative mental fight that occurs in Eden. We will see in a later canto that the pilgrim’s absorption into the arts is necessary for his advance; this first writing from the point of the angel’s sword may also refer to Blake’s conviction that the arts are the means we use to free the imagination.

The Terraces of Purgatory Now the pilgrim has passed through the gate and entered the portion of Purgatory in which sins are cleaned away. On each terrace of the mountain the souls being purified are presented with examples of the sin in question and of its opposite—on the first level, where the sin of pride is purged, there are bad examples of pride and good examples of humility. Each level communicates these examples in a different way, either through voice, or dreamlike vision, or other means. The terrace for pride is the only one employing the visual arts: here are relief sculptures, created in white marble by God himself, to show us pride and its opposite. The good examples are vertical, on the walls of the terrace, and the bad ones are carved into the floor. In Blake’s drawing of the good example, the pilgrim and Virgil stand at a respectful distance from the reliefs, like well-behaved tourists in an art museum (fig. 79). They raise their hands in appreciation of the beauty of the works. Of the three examples mentioned by Dante, Blake shows us two: David’s entry into Jerusalem with the Ark of the Covenant, and the Annunciation to Mary. Both of these stories fit Blake’s remaking of the theme of the Purgatory, when read with visionary eyes. David, a favorite of God and a musician and poet, in this scene is dancing naked, joyful that the Ark has finally arrived in his city. His wife looks disapprovingly down from a window. Blake, another poet favored by God, must have felt similar societal disapproval for his religious ecstasies, yet there is no doubt that he considered them to be examples of true religion. The Annunciation to Mary, while less energetic, is also a story of receiving important information directly from a supernatural being, something Blake experienced almost daily. The third relief described by Dante as a good example, a story of the Emperor Trajan, doesn’t appear in Blake’s picture, and it’s easy enough to imagine why he would omit it. As we have seen, he considers the Bible—the source of the two reliefs that he pictures—to be the true moral guide, while classical emperors do not, for him, provide real guidance. The souls on this terrace are purged of their pride by carrying huge stones on their backs, an act that bends down their stiff necks and lowers their high noses. Blake has drawn

The Rock Sculptured with the Recovery of the Ark and the Annunciation, graphite, ink and watercolor (Tate, London/Art Resource, New York).


Part IV. The Illustrations

their positions accurately but has added two elements to the picture that are contrary to the narrative and serve to change the meaning (fig. 80). First, we can see that as the souls bearing their stones progress, they are climbing a staircase, something not described in the text. It goes against the structure of Purgatory to think that these souls could ascend while still burdened. According to Dante, they must circle the level terrace for many years before making the slightest upward movement. Second, in the sky we can see the crescent moon. This is impossible according to Dante’s text: the pilgrim woke at dawn in front of the gate, so this scene takes place in midmorning at latest. The next time the sun sets the pilgrim has travelled through all the levels of Purgatory and spends the night on the steps just beneath the summit of the mountain. I cannot explain why Blake has added the moon here. The addition of the steps, however, is in keeping with the artist’s transformation of the levels of Hell from concentric circles into a vortex, as we saw in his upside-down map of the Inferno. Motion in Purgatory, too, is not a punctuated rising from level to level, but a spiraling upwards. The bad examples of pride, carved in relief into the floor of this terrace, include Lucifer, Nimrod, and several others from the Bible and from the classical world. Blake has shown this terrace from a high viewpoint, making the horizontal marble surface seem almost parallel to the picture plane (fig. 81). He has not drawn the scenes and characters in the reliefs as framed separate pictures, as the good examples were, but jumbled one on the other, to make a single wild combination. The pilgrim and Virgil stand at the bottom of the page, so that we see their bodies against the background of the relief images. Indeed, except for the touches of color on their clothes, their figures nearly merge with the images of the prideful. This, I think, is intentional and important. Again and again we have seen that the Fall means the division of the soul, and ascent requires reunification. In this illustration, the merging of the travelers with the artistic relief and its characters indicates that reintegration is under way. The biblical and mythical characters are not put discretely into separate frames, and the observers of these figures are held at no distance whatsoever. They have all become one. If we ask why the bad examples, the devils and monsters, are shown merging with the pilgrim while the good examples weren’t, we can see that it was these “immoral” cases that caused the division to occur in the first place. It was our fear of the three beasts in the dark forest that forced us into the illusion that they exist outside of us. Likewise, it isn’t the pleasant scene of the Annunciation that requires reintegration—it is the giants and devils that we have externalized. To pull these back inside us, to eliminate the perceptual barrier that made them appear separate, is a necessary step in the ascent to Heaven. It’s entirely appropriate within the world of Blake’s thought that such a reintegration occurs through a work of relief sculpture. For Blake, it is the arts that embody the imagination and allow reintegration. Morris Eaves writes: “For Blake art promises to restore a potential integrity of imagination (and personality) that society and nature disrupt.”90 Art is the expression of mental integrity. It allows “the entirely free emanation of all the feelings in imaginative form”: “Art, the product of imagination, is the natural embodiment of the synthesis of sensation, emotion, and thought.”91 The function of the relief sculpture in Blake’s pictures is therefore entirely different from their use in Dante’s narrative. Insofar as humility, pride’s opposite, requires us to knuckle under to the authority of the day and obey the kings and gods of this world, Blake is against

Figure 80. The Proud Under Their Enormous Loads, watercolor with pen and ink over pencil (Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery, © Birmingham Museums Trust).


Part IV. The Illustrations

10. Purgatory


humility. On the other hand, pride may also cause division. This may occur because we have mistakenly started to believe that we can survive entirely through our own efforts, without the help of others, or it may come about through the false idea that the absolutely immanent God is somehow more present in our own hearts than in someone else’s. In such cases, it is necessary to relieve that pride through reintegration. Now that the pilgrim has accomplished this difficult restoration, he is visited by an angel who is much more lively than the one at the gate below. This angel comes dashing around the curve of the mountain at a sprint, wings held wide. He is emanating otherworldly light and enters the scene directly in front of the sun, showing that his light and the symbolic sun’s are the same. He is glancing down at the pilgrim with a pleased smile. Dante describes the angel’s arrival in canto 12: The goodly shape approach’d us, snowy white In vesture, and with visage casting streams Of tremulous lustre like the matin star. His arms he open’d, then his wings; and spake: “Onward! The steps, behold, are near; and now The ascent is without difficulty gain’d” [Purgatory, 12; Cary, 197].

Dante makes the angel say that now the climb up the mountain will be easy because, in his system, pride is the worst sin—the one that enables all the others—and now that it is purged the others will be more easily erased. For Blake, the message is the same but for different reasons. The elements of the pilgrim’s personality that he feared and externalized have been recalled. Now there only remains a final kindling of the full imagination to achieve the reintegration of the four Zoas themselves. So much has been accomplished on the terrace of pride that Blake has made only one illustration for the next twelve cantos, and that one illustration is just a sketch without detail or color. It is a picture of the second terrace on the mountain, directly above that of pride, where souls are purged of envy. The souls there are educated in a particularly horrible way: by having their eyes wired shut. This torture is so unsuited to Blake’s reinterpretation that he has refused to show it—for him, the ascent of the mountain is intended to reopen the narrowed senses; restricting anyone’s vision is exactly wrong. It is possible that the drawing he made for this terrace began as an attempt to reinterpret the meaning of the canto. Although some souls are turned blindly away from us with their faces toward the mountain, at least one seems to have sprung free from this condition, and, contrary to the description in the text, many more seem to be climbing the steep path away from the terrace. Whatever Blake intended the message of the drawing to become, it is not finished enough to interpret it with any confidence. We now skip over a third of the canticle. Blake has taken no interest in the purging of wrath, sloth, greed, or gluttony. It’s only when we approach the terrace of the lustful that he picks up the story again, and, we will see, he has used Dante’s symbolism for his own purpose. Though it might surprise modern American Christians, Dante believed that lust is the Opposite: igure 81. The Angel Descending at the Close of the Circle of the Proud, pen and grey ink with watercolor over graphite (© The Trustees of the British Museum/Art Resource, New York).


Part IV. The Illustrations

least bad sin. Lust earned the least harsh punishment in Hell, and it is the last to require purging in Purgatory. As we have seen, sin for Dante is not a breaking of rules but a misdirection of love. Carnal desire only becomes evil when by its excess it drives us from the middle path that aims to the source of all good, which is of course God, and sets another goal higher than Heaven. Inordinate desire for fame or gold is bad in the same way, but since these desires are less intrinsic to human nature Dante considers them worse. People are made in God’s image, so love of them is less of a diversion than love of precious metals. Perhaps Dante knew that suppressing sexual desire is not an effective way to overcome it. Long before Freud, experience must have warned of the dangers of the return of the repressed. The Comedy’s means of purging lust therefore is not a cold shower but a consumption in fire. The physical desire that burns and distracts us is burned away forever in the highest terrace of Purgatory, so that the soul may continue its ascent to Heaven with only spiritual love intact. Blake is also concerned with the things that distract us from seeing God, but his solution is more extreme. He doesn’t plan to burn up our lust, but the whole world: The ancient tradition that the world will be consumed in fire at the end of six thousand years is true. As I have heard from Hell. For the cherub with his flaming sword is hereby commanded to leave his guard at the tree of life, and when he does, the whole creation will be consumed, and appear infinite. And holy whereas it now appears finite & corrupt. This will come to pass by a improvement of sensual enjoyment [E 39].

In this case, of course, “the world” means the Guinea sun world, the distracting illusion we have of the material world that is not God, not imagination. That world was created by Urizen when he sought to harden the eternal changes of Eternity into the stability of moral law. The petrification he caused required the birth of Orc, the spirit who rebels against tyranny, but when the law is removed, Orc, too, is consumed. And now fierce Orc had quite consumd himself in Mental flames Expending all his energy against the fuel of fire [E 395]

The release from tyranny, and its concomitant end of the need for rebellion, allows the divided soul to reassemble. The passions (Luvah) and nature (Vala) then become companions of reason, not enemies. The Regenerate Man stoopd his head over the Universe & in His holy hands recievd the flaming Demon & Demoness of Smoke And gave them to Urizens hands the Immortal frownd Saying Luvah & Vala henceforth you are Servants obey & live You shall forget your former state return O Love in peace [E 395]

What burns up is the illusion of division and the struggles it causes. When it’s gone, reason is in balance with the other four Zoas, and man is regenerated. Blake has made two watercolors of the flames. The first shows the pilgrim, Virgil, and their traveling companion Statius on the steps approaching the terrace where the fire is. The pilgrim’s pose is drawn as Dante describes it: “My hands together clasp’d, / And upward

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stretching, on the fire I looked” (Purgatory, 27; Cary, 261). The sun, however, is not shown according to the text. Dante makes it clear that these events occur at sunset and that the sun is behind the travelers as they gaze on the flames. A voice from within the fire urges the pilgrim on by reminding him that there is little time left in the day and that he can’t advance after sunset. Blake has not found this situation appropriate for the restoration of full perception that the flames will grant, and has made the picture differently. Over half the page shows the sun at the horizon, but it seems to be rising, not setting; it is tinting the sky pink and its position on the right makes it appear to be in the east. The sun is not behind the travelers, as they mount the stairs, but facing them directly. Clearly, Blake has chosen to ignore the hour of the day that the narrative specifies in favor of the one that suits his interpretation of events: the light of God will soon illuminate the perceptions. In the next illustration, too, the pilgrim’s arms are stretched over his head (see fig. 82 in the color insert). Virgil has already entered the flames and is facing back to the pilgrim, urging him on. Above Virgil is the angel whose voice encourages the pilgrim. The flames are tinted with various colors, pink and blue and yellow, and appear far less frightening than the fires we saw in Hell or in the eleventh illustration for the Book of Job. Moreover, the four souls engulfed in the flames don’t appear to find the fire painful at all. Though Dante describes the burning as hotter than molten glass, these souls—all of them female—seem to be leaping with pleasure. This is not the purifying “furnace of affliction” from Isaiah 48:10 but something altogether more joyful. If we disregard the gender of these four souls, we may detect here a biblical allusion from a different prophet. In the Book of Daniel, King Nebuchadnezzar orders three worthy men to be executed in a fiery furnace, but when he looks into the flames he sees four people there. Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astonished, and rose up in haste, and spake, and said unto his counsellors, Did not we cast three men bound into the midst of the fire? They answered and said unto the king, True, O king. He answered and said, Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God [Daniel 3:24–25].

The intended execution, far from harming the three, results in the conversion of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of this world, to belief in the true God. The four souls in the fires of Purgatory, clearly unharmed, have the same effect on the pilgrim.

Beulah and Eden After passing through the flames on the last terrace, the travelers spend the night on the stairs just beneath the top of the mountain. Blake’s illustration returns us to the time of day as described in the text: the stars are out, and a huge moon shines in the sky (fig. 83). The travelers have each stretched out on a step. The pilgrim and Statius are asleep, while Virgil looks into the sky, relaxed and content. On both sides of the staircase there are abundant small laurel trees. The restfulness of the scene, the presence of the moon, and the location of the steps, above the errors of the material world but below Eden, all tell us that Blake has set this illus-

Figure 83. Dante and Statius Sleeping, Virgil Watching, watercolor with some pen and black ink over indications in graphite (Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford).

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tration in the land that he calls Beulah. It is a brief but important stop. In The Four Zoas, Blake describes Beulah this way: There is from Great Eternity a mild & pleasant rest Namd Beulah a Soft Moony Universe feminine lovely Pure mild & Gentle given in Mercy to those who sleep Eternally [E 303].

The paucity of Blake’s punctuation means that the last lines above, “given in Mercy to those who sleep / Eternally,” may be rephrased to mean either that Beulah is “given forever to those who sleep,” or is “given to those who sleep forever.” Either way, since we have seen that for Blake it is the states rather than our residence in them that last forever—death is eternal but we may rise out of it—we need not see the sleep of Beulah as unending. Beulah exists between the material world, below, and Eternity, above. Because souls in Eternity engage in endless mental fight, a space of rest is essential, and souls may descend to sleep in Beulah at will. Blake depicts souls in Eternity as male, but on descent to Beulah they divide into male and female, because of the sensual enjoyment and comfort that this brings. This is not a division like that which occurs to the soul when it enters the material world, however. Souls may reascend from Beulah to Eternity at any time, and in so doing recombine their emanations. The divisions of Beulah—the word comes from a word in Isaiah meaning “married”—are not so great that conflict occurs; Beulah is a land “Where no dispute can come” (E 197). We can see, then, that the illustration to canto 27 is both a fine depiction of Beulah and true to Dante’s description of the rest on the night before the pilgrim climbs to Eden. The “couches” that hold the sleepers in Beulah (E 126, 395) are also steps in the staircase. Virgil here looks particularly feminine, with a sweet expression, flowing locks, and a pose like an odalisque. The moon is so bright that there is no darkness to fear. In canto 27, Dante describes a dream the pilgrim has while asleep on the stairs. In it, Leah and Rachel, Jacob’s two wives in the Book of Genesis, represent the active and the contemplative lives: Leah weaving a garland and Rachel gazing into a mirror. Blake has cleverly depicted the content of the dream on the surface of the moon, penciled lightly but visibly. Rachel is at right, seated beneath leaves, and Leah is at the left. Blake shows Leah seated at a full upright loom, another clear indication that this scene represents the land of Beulah. Her weaving appears as both a depiction of her activity in the dream and a symbol of the main activity of the Daughters of Beulah, who show mercy on those who fall into the material world by weaving bodies for them. We have seen them before, just before the pilgrim passed between the giants to enter the lower world. Though a step lower than the highest world, Beulah is open to Eternity. After a night’s rest from the exertions of the climb, the pilgrim is ready to enter the Garden of Eden at the top of the mountain. Dante’s Eden, of course, is the Earthly Paradise, the garden where Adam and Eve began life. Because no one with sin may live there, it is now accessible only to people who have completed the purification process on the mountain. From there, the souls launch themselves upward to Heaven. Blake’s cosmology also includes Eden, although, as we might expect, it is not quite the same as Dante’s—in fact, it is among the most variable and multivalent of his symbols. The changing uses that Eden serves in Blake’s work mean that, like everything in his world, we are to think of it as a construction of the imagination,


Part IV. The Illustrations

which may expand or contract as necessary. If, therefore, Eden as he draws it in the Comedy illustrations is not quite the same as the Edens that exist elsewhere in his work, this is not something to give pause. Damon writes that Eden “partakes of Eternity, but differs from it in that it also partakes of this world.”92 This definition will serve for the garden that we see at the top of the mountain in the Purgatory—partaking of Eternity in that it is above the material world and above Beulah, but also partaking of this world, because it is still below Eternity, which Blake illustrates in his pictures for Dante’s Paradise. The first watercolor of Eden is a wide-angle view of the garden, combining several events from the final cantos of the Purgatory (fig. 84). Virgil and Statius stand at the lower right, behind the pilgrim, who has advanced to the edge of the River Lethe. He is greeted from the other side of the stream by Matilda, shown in white. Behind her, under arches of leaves, we can see the great procession of symbolic beings who parade through Eden for the pilgrim’s benefit, providing an allegorical embodiment of the Bible. Beatrice is visible between the upraised wings of the carriage that is central to the pageant. Blake has made this watercolor an accurate illustration of the text. He finds no need to correct any of the paintings of Dante’s Eden because it is here that the two poets’ methods are in closest accord, representing the truth of the Bible through living characters and not reasoned discourse. Whereas Virgil has done a lot of explaining throughout the Comedy so far, and the souls the pilgrim encounters in Heaven will do more, the events and characters

Figure 84. Beatrice on the Car with Matilda and Dante, watercolor over graphite (© The Trustees of the British Museum/Art Resource, New York).

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in Eden operate in a manner much like Blake’s own. As in The Four Zoas or Jerusalem, the six cantos of the Comedy set in Eden introduce a large number of living characters without explanation. Like Blake’s characters, they invite us to read them as allegory for a theological view, but some are more easily read than others, and the wide variety of interpretations since the fourteenth century demonstrates that their symbolism is not obvious. Dante has drawn largely here from the Apocalypse of John but also introduces non-biblical characters as well, in Blake-like abundance. There are giant candlesticks, groups of slowly advancing elders, dancing nymphs, and strange beasts. Our heavily footnoted translations assure us of the intended meanings, but Dante does not, and none of his characters pauses to explain things, as happens in other parts of the Comedy. Ciardi, in his notes to this section, writes: “Dante has not presented any allegory of such formality up to this point, and some readers have thought the allegory of the Pageant stiff and lifeless. One should bear in mind, however, that Dante is beginning to deal, now, not with reason but with revelation.”93 We can be confident that Blake noted this point. The majority of commentators take the pageant to represent the history of the world, from Genesis to Apocalypse. The twenty-four white-clad elders who precede Beatrice’s car are said to stand for the twenty-four books of the Old Testament. The gryphon who pulls the car indicates Christ, and the seven elders who walk after it are the writers of the New Testament. As Ciardi notes, these elders are not the “real” writers of the scriptures—St. John, for example, appears twice in this pageant and again, in a different guise, in Heaven. The people in the parade are embodiments not limited to one historical form or individual. In this, they operate in the same way as Blake’s characters. Durling and Martinez point out that the gathering of the elders into one place also serves to collapse time.94 Genesis and Apocalypse are no longer so far apart that an individual may not see both, but standing within the pilgrim’s view in the garden. They are people, and moments in history, and books, and stand before us now. This, too, is parallel to Blake’s method in his epics, in which cause and effect, past and future, may appear in visionary order, unrelated to historical time. The time and space that we perceive in the fallen world have regathered to a single point. The numerological, astrological, and theological references in Dante’s pageant, intended by the author or only perceived by ambitious scholars, have inspired nearly as much interpreting as Blake’s books have. The next-to-last illustration of the Purgatory is the most finished in the series and among the most beautiful works that Blake ever created (see fig. 85 in the color insert). It forms the climax of Blake’s Comedy, and we might almost see it as the climax of his career as well. Its amazing colors, unaffected by time, its visionary intensity, and its merging of biblical prophecy with his personal symbolism make this one of his finest works. It is also, we should note, a collaborative effort that spans millennia, combining as it does the visions of Ezekiel, John, Dante, and Blake. This painting alone is sufficient to explain Blake’s interest in the Comedy, his attraction to Dante’s symbolism, and his choice of this project as his final work. This painting shows the merkabah as it appears in the Purgatory. The merkabah is the wheeled car surrounded by the four living creatures, which first appears in the first chapter of Ezekiel.


Part IV. The Illustrations 4 And I looked, and, behold, a whirlwind came out of the north, a great cloud, and a fire infolding itself, and a brightness was about it, and out of the midst thereof as the colour of amber, out of the midst of the fire. 5 Also out of the midst thereof came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance; they had the likeness of a man. 6 And every one had four faces, and every one had four wings. .….….….…. 10 As for the likeness of their faces, they four had the face of a man, and the face of a lion, on the right side: and they four had the face of an ox on the left side; they four also had the face of an eagle. 11 Thus were their faces: and their wings were stretched upward; two wings of every one were joined one to another, and two covered their bodies. .….….….…. 13 As for the likeness of the living creatures, their appearance was like burning coals of fire, and like the appearance of lamps: it went up and down among the living creatures; and the fire was bright, and out of the fire went forth lightning. 14 And the living creatures ran and returned as the appearance of a flash of lightning. .….….….…. 18 As for their rings, they were so high that they were dreadful; and their rings were full of eyes round about them four. .….….….…. 28 As the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud in the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness round about. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. And when I saw it, I fell upon my face, and I heard a voice of one that spake [Ezekiel 1].

John repeats much of this in his Apocalypse, although, as Dante points out, John’s tetramorphic creatures have six wings, not four as in Ezekiel. John describes the merkabah appearing with the twenty-four elders and the seven lights, as we see also in Dante. Both Ezekiel and John see the tetramorphs surrounding the throne of God itself. Following St. Jerome’s interpretation from the early fifth century, it is traditional to see the tetramorphs as the four evangelists, but of course Ezekiel was writing six centuries before Christ, and John never makes this connection explicit. It’s impossible to exaggerate the importance of the merkabah for Blake. Harold Bloom writes: The central image of Blake, from whenever he first formulated his mythology, is Ezekiel’s, the Merkabah, Divine Chariot or form of God in motion. The Living Creatures or Four Zoas are Ezekiel’s and not initially Blake’s, a priority of invention that Blake’s critics, in their search for more esoteric sources, sometimes evade. Ezekiel, in regard to Blake’s Jerusalem, is like Homer in regard to the Aeneid: the inventor, the precursor, the shaper of the later work’s continuities. From Ezekiel in particular Blake learned the true meaning of prophet, visionary orator, honest man who speaks into the heart of a situation to warn: if you go on so, the result is so; or as Blake said, a seer and not an arbitrary dictator.95

Someone who tells you what truth is, as the Virgil of the Comedy sometimes does, is in danger of becoming that arbitrary dictator. To say “this is true” is to exclude “it is also false,” though we have seen, thanks to Cusanus, Boehme, and Blake, that in God all contraries are true. Critics of the Enlightenment have dealt with this danger of intellectual fascism in different ways. Adorno, for example, sought to avoid dogma through negative dialectics. Blake felt that the way to speak with sincerity but without Urizenic authority was to emulate Ezekiel: as prophet and visionary who uses images to elicit the participation of the reader,

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who encourages the viewer to reenact the revelation. In the early Marriage of Heaven and Hell he recounts his visionary meetings with Ezekiel as the model of prophecy. And his four Zoas, the central imagery of his late work, are derived from these four fourfold creatures. He included a picture of the merkabah in his painting of the Last Judgment, and in the description of that work he tells us: the Four Living Creatures mentiond in Revelations as Surrounding the Throne these I suppose to have the chief agency in removing the [former] old heavens & the old Earth to make way for the New Heaven & the New Earth to descend from the throne of God & of the Lamb [E 561].

This is the function they have in his Comedy illustrations, as well. The appearance of the merkabah in Eden signals the climactic event of the story, as the pilgrim moves beyond the educational experiences of his trip and arrives at the point where a vision like this is possible. He is now in the company of those like Ezekiel and John, who may see these things directly. Christopher Rowland writes: “Here in the apocalyptic climax is what John of the Apocalypse says, we shall see his face, as indeed Ezekiel does. For Blake that divine vision is the fullness of humanity revealed and enjoyed.”96 The car is where the four Zoas, who were divided at the Fall, are reunited. Their unification is the climax of the journey; it is the Resurrection. The illustration of the vision shows Blake’s loyalty to his predecessors as well as his creativity. Only the heads of the tetramorphs are visible. Like many other artists (e.g., Raphael, in the painting in the Palazzo Pitti), he has shown each of the four heads with only one face, instead of each with four as Ezekiel describes. Their wings point upwards like blue flames and are covered in eyes, a detail many painters neglect to show. The problematic “wheels within wheels,” the complicated circles on which the car moves, Blake has shown as a whirl of color, also covered with eyes and incorporating human faces within. As Dante, but not his predecessors, indicates, the car is drawn by a gryphon, half eagle and half lion. Dante describes the front, eagle parts as gold and the rear, lion half as a mixture of white and red. Most commentators take this to refer to Christ’s double nature: the part who lives above is indicated by gold and the earthly incarnation is shown with the colors of flesh and blood. Blake has ignored the colors specified and painted the whole animal with touches of primary colors, reminding us again that for him the duality of body and soul, above and below, is illusion that will not survive the reappearance of this creature. The personifications of the Three Christian Virtues appear with the car, painted as Dante and tradition require, in green for Hope, red for Caritas, and white for Faith. Caritas, the greatest virtue, is shown burning with yellow flames, and also, oddly, surrounded by red babies. Faith walks forward to gesture to the gryphon, her other hand pointing to a book. Where Dante differs from his predecessors, in an almost heretical way, is his placement of Beatrice at the center of the car, where the Bible specifies the throne of God. Her presence here has been explained symbolically in many different ways by commentators. She has been called, among other things, a personification of theology, a symbol of new life, and divine wisdom, who is described as a woman in the Old Testament named Sophia or Sapientia.97 Blake has shown Beatrice crowned, with long wavy golden hair. In this illustration she is not dressed as Dante describes her, in the colors of the Three Virtues, but in robes that are multicolored like the gryphon. The text describes her as looking toward the gryphon as


Part IV. The Illustrations

often as toward the pilgrim, perhaps indicating that this symbol of Christ is more deserving of her attention. Blake has drawn the pilgrim directly in front of the gryphon, so it’s impossible to tell which of the two she is looking at. My view of this watercolor is so opposed to Roe’s that our interpretations may coincide only in the mind of God. Roe identifies all of Purgatory with Beulah, not in the sense of the place of rest, but in its more dangerous aspect, as the level from which the soul may fall into materialism. He is sure that Blake could not see the female Beatrice as a positive symbol of salvation and so concludes that she is the delusion of Vala, and that, in a reading exactly the opposite of mine, this watercolor shows the moment of the Fall. He counts it a mark of Blake’s genius that he could leave the imagery of this scene intact while completely reversing the direction of its movement.98 To his credit, the lines from Jerusalem that he quotes do parallel the imagery of this picture. I see a Feminine Form arise from the Four terrible Zoas Beautiful but terrible struggling to take a form of beauty [E 230]

Feminine forms are associated with the Fall, but they may also appear in moments of redemption. From The Four Zoas: Thus shall the male & female live the life of Eternity Because the Lamb of God Creates himself a bride & wife That we his Children evermore may live in Jerusalem Which now descendeth out of heaven a City yet a Woman Mother of myriads redeemd & born in her spiritual palaces By a New Spiritual birth Regenerated from Death [E 391]

Boehme had seen wisdom as female, and declared that she was Christ’s wife.99 Jerusalem appears as a city and a woman, descending from Heaven for a new spiritual rebirth. In addition, if we follow Roe in seeing the watercolor of the merkabah as the moment of the Fall, we are left with the problem of the final canticle following on from this point. If the Fall is just beginning, why do we now proceed to Heaven? Roe’s interpretation of the Heaven illustrations are a mixture of positive and negative—some of the souls in the upper world demonstrate Blake’s Eternity, and some show the fallen world. The painting of the pilgrim with St. John, for example, shows “the final stage in the gradually expanding degrees of perception,”100 but the final drawing, of the Rose of Heaven, depicts only the “evil dominion of the Female Will.”101 Despite the unusual presence of Beatrice as a representative of salvation, I think we may see Blake as following in the direction Dante meant to take us. From the Garden of Eden, the pilgrim launches to Heaven, which Blake calls Eternity. Here is a passage from Jerusalem that parallels this movement: The Four Living Creatures Chariots of Humanity Divine Incomprehensible In beautiful Paradises expand These are the Four Rivers of Paradise And the Four Faces of Humanity fronting the Four Cardinal Points Of Heaven going forward forward irresistible from Eternity to Eternity [E 258]

The four living creatures, who are Blake’s four Zoas (“Zoa” comes from the Greek for “animals”) bring divine humanity on their chariot, to beautiful Paradise where the four rivers flow, the four faces of humanity may be seen, and the four directions face Eternity, to which

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igure 86. The Harlot and the Giant, pen and ink and watercolor over pencil and black chalk (National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Felton Bequest, 1920 [1019–3]).

they go forward irresistibly. There follows in Jerusalem a description of activity in Eternity, which we will see Blake has faithfully followed in his illustrations to the Paradise. And they conversed together in Visionary forms dramatic which bright Redounded from their Tongues in thunderous majesty, in Visions In new Expanses, creating exemplars of Memory and of Intellect Creating Space, Creating Time according to the wonders Divine Of Human Imagination [E 257–8].

Before we launch for Heaven, we take one backward glance at the corruption of the world (fig. 86). Now that we are capable of direct vision, we may see that the world and the church are not what we thought they were. Blake’s last watercolor for the Purgatory, following Dante’s description, shows us what the fallen institutions look like to those in a purer condition. These figures, too, derive from John’s Revelation: they are the Whore of Babylon, the Great Beast of Revelation, and a giant. For Dante, they probably described the corruption of the Church in collaboration with worldly power, a misfortune that Blake thought continued in his own time. In Frye’s words, the fallen, traditional Church, “visualizes itself as the Bride of Christ and man as a creature of God.” Yet this view holds only until “the upper limit of Beulah.” Now that we have progressed above Beulah to Eden, our divided souls have been united and our perception restored, we can see that Church and Fallen Man are like the corrupt creatures of the Revelation: beastly and whorish. Guarda e passa!

11. Heaven In Eden we left behind proof through argument and acquired the ability to receive revelation. Northrop Frye tells us that this is how the Bible is to be read: Job is a dramatic poem, the Song of Songs a love-poem, the Apocalypse an allegory, the teachings of Jesus mainly parables, and all the prophecy and doctrine is continuously visualized and illustrated. Only the poetic imagination can comprehend the Bible, and the Bible introduces that imagination to a mental world of inspired wisdom, culture and beauty in which all religions are one.… The place of honor in art goes to the artist who has passed through religion and come out on the other side. Such an artist, in Blake’s symbolism, has gone with the church to the upper limit of Beulah, where it visualizes itself as the Bride of Christ and man as a creature of God, and has then burst through the ring of fire into the Eden where man is no longer a creature but a creator and is one with God. There he is a citizen of the free city which all human life strives to realize in this world, and which is the Word of God or body of Jesus; and whenever he speaks to other men in the language of the creating mind he recreates that Word in time.102

We have seen that the pilgrim left Beulah and broke through that ring of fire into Eden. In the Paradise, we see him in that free city where the citizens speak in the language of creation. The first of Blake’s illustrations for Heaven is the lightest of pencil sketches. It shows a stairway not mentioned in Dante’s text but clearly intended for ascension into the upper world, much like the painting of Jacob’s Ladder that Blake had completed some years earlier. In that painting the scale of the staircase is smaller than in the illustration for Dante, but the ascending figures, the stars, and the upward spiral are similar. The drawing for the heavenly stairs is a sort of companion to Blake’s map of Hell. As you recall, he turned that diagram top-to-bottom, so that Hell narrowed as it reached the top, just as this staircase does. He also changed Hell’s horizontal rings into a spiral, emphasizing upward movement. That drawing converted Dante’s vision of a Hell with no escape into a difficult but inevitable ascent; the spiral shape made the pilgrim’s path through Hell into what Blake calls a vortex, a circular movement that, because it also involves a progression in a third dimension, makes each complete revolution bring us to a point higher than where it began. According to Dante’s description, the ascent of Purgatory is roughly spiral, combining a level circular motion with vertical ascents from level to level. The downward trip through Hell proceeds similarly. Between the Earthly Paradise and the Empyrean, the rise to Heaven occurs in a straight line. Blake, however, has transformed the movement through 246

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each canticle into an identical shape—a smooth spiral vortex. This is a spatial representation of the progression through contraries that he held to be so important. Including the drawing of the staircase, there are only eight pictures for the Paradise, as opposed to seventy-two for Hell and twenty for Purgatory. This is because, as his other epic poems show, Blake’s main theme as an artist is the Fall and redemption of mankind, not what mankind does after it is redeemed. Once the horrors of division have been shown in Hell and the reuniting of the four Zoas occurs at the top of Purgatory, the drama is complete. Only a few pictures are necessary to describe the world we are aiming for. Nor is Blake interested in the discussions of physics and theology that occur in the early part of the canticle; he skips the first thirteen cantos and takes us to what is, in a sense, the main message of the Comedy: the vision of Christ. Blake makes no allusions to the events of the text in canto 14, where Christ appears; he shows only the pilgrim, kneeling and with his arms upraised, adoring Jesus. The cross is not visible, though Christ’s arms are outstretched (fig. 87). In an original addition to the scene, Blake has place three glowing circles or globes at the extremities of Christ’s body: one behind each hand, and one beneath his feet. Each of these is painted in a primary color. From the upper globes to the lower one there are wavy lines of fire which, with the horizontal line of Christ’s arms, form an inverted triangle. This is the same diagrammatic form that Blake used in the Job illustrations to show true religion. In that series, a triangle superimposed with crucifix-like arms occurs in four of the engravings following Job’s restoration and elevation to true visionary faith. The consolidation of the primary colors, the completion of the full triangle, and the direct vision of Christ all show us that the pilgrim has achieved the rise to Eternity. The composition of this painting, with the pilgrim at the bottom in a pose of adoration and Christ, much larger, above, will remind us of the painting near the beginning of the series, in which a crowned figure was shown worshipping the Angry God of this World. Here, near the end of the series, that image is corrected, and the true God, who is Christ, is revealed. Blake believed that Christ is the Universal Man, who is all men united. Writing of the four Zoas, he declared: Four Mighty Ones are in every Man; a Perfect Unity Cannot Exist [except] from the Universal Brotherhood of Eden The Universal Man. To Whom be Glory Evermore Amen [E 300–301]

Blake’s own notes to these lines refer us to passages from the Gospel of John, which emphasize unity. That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me [ John 17:21–23].

The existence of the many in the One is a key characteristic of Blake’s Eternity, a point he repeated in various works. A late poem in the notebook reads:

Figure 87. Dante Adoring Christ, pen and ink and watercolor over pencil and black chalk (National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Felton Bequest, 1920 [1020–3]).

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My Eyes more & more Like a Sea without shore Continue Expanding The Heavens commanding Till the Jewels of Light Heavenly Men beaming bright Appeard as One Man [E 683–684]

The Heaven of this poem, like Dante’s, is beaming with light. Men who live in Heaven appear as one. This does not mean that, as in Buddhist ideas of Nirvana, the individual personality ceases to exist. Perfect perceptual freedom, the ability to shape existence through free use of the imagination, means that we perceive ourselves as both one and many: We live as One Man; for contracting our infinite senses We behold multitude; or expanding: we behold as one, As One Man all the Universal Family; and that One Man We call Jesus the Christ [E 180].

And as the imagination is the man, and all men are in Christ, Christ himself is imagination: “All things are comprehended in their Eternal Forms in the Divine body of the Saviour the True Vine of Eternity The Human Imagination” (E 545). The imagination, as we saw in Part III, is the faculty of mind that makes a world from the noumena, and thus, it is the creator of the human world. The imagination, then, is the creator of all, who is God, who is Christ. Worship of Christ is not like the monarchs of the earth worshipping the Angry God of this World, because we know that imagination exists only in people, and therefore worshipping Christ is worshipping the creative source in ourselves and everyone else. God is not distant but immanent in all of us, and the creative principle, or Logos, is us: “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth” ( John 1:14). In canto 19, the pilgrim has ascended to the sphere of Jupiter, the sphere of the just and temperate rulers. At this level he sees the souls of several great kings, including David, Trajan, and Constantine, and he sees a vision of a great eagle. Blake shows none of this. Instead, he has invented a sort of recording angel of a type that appears nowhere in the Comedy. The watercolor is labeled “PAR. Canto 19,” but without that hint we would be hard pressed to know where to place it. This angel is similar to the one at the gate of Purgatory: a seated patriarchal type with long, up-pointed wings (fig. 88). He is also similar in appearance to God as Blake shows him in the Job series. Perhaps most importantly, he is much like the evil God of this World that we met as the pilgrim descended into Hell at the beginning of the series. We knew that was a false God largely because his left foot was an ox’s hoof, but Blake has been careful to expose the left foot of the angel in Paradise and reassure us that it is a human foot. Contrary to other interpretations, then, I will conclude that this figure is not intended to be the stern God of the Old Testament. But nor is he intended to be the true God, either. We saw the true God, for Blake the only God, in the previous illustration. This angel was drawn in response to the pilgrim’s discussion with the visionary eagle about the nature of divine justice. Because the rulers he meets in this sphere were just ones,

Figure 88. The Recording Angel, watercolor with pen and ink over pencil (Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery, © Birmingham Museums Trust).

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the pilgrim takes the opportunity to ask them about God’s justice, a subject that remains inscrutable to those of us on earth. The eagle’s answer, though beautiful, is not one that will satisfy Blake. The eagle tells us that God’s wisdom so much surpasses people’s ability to understand that we may not fathom the operation of his justice. The eagle poses a question similar to the ones God asked Job: What then, And who art thou, that on the stool wouldst sit To judge at distance of a thousand miles With the short-sighted vision of a span? [Paradise, 19; Cary, 379]

We are told to have faith and not try to understand. There would assuredly be room for doubt Even to wonder, did not the safe word Of Scripture hold supreme authority.

As we’ve seen, none of this is acceptable in Blake’s theology. When he is in Eternity, man, who is God, will have nothing hidden from him and will not have to rely on the authority of a book. This is why Blake has responded to the eagle’s words with the drawing of this particular angel. Though he has wings, this angel is very much earth-bound—the only character in the Heaven illustrations who is not flying free. He is seated on what appears to be a tree trunk, indicating rootedness to the earth. Though he is not an evil angel, he is also not a very wise one: he looks up toward Heaven with a sort of confused expression, waiting for inspiration on what to write in his scroll of justice. Unlike the God of this World whom we saw at the beginning of the series, no one is bowing down to him; he’s alone in a light but monotonous space. The only indication that this angel, too, may mean well is the triangle in which he sits. The overall symmetrical composition of the picture forms a triangle that is emphasized by three stars, two at the angel’s feet and one just above his head. These are not as illuminating as the globes of light with Christ, but they are also not a sign of evil. The contrast between this rather weak-looking being and the illuminating Christ of the previous illustration shows us what Blake thought of the idea of divine justice—it becomes dim and slightly laughable when compared to the direct vision of God. The illustrations now skip over the sphere of Saturn and most of the events in the sphere of the fixed stars. The watercolor labeled “Paradise Canto 24” is based on the opening lines of that canto, but Blake has used it, as so many of the others, for his own purposes. This and the next three pictures should be read as a series; they form a sort of independent work within the set of Dante illustrations, explicating the theme of unity in multiplicity and of the blissful debate among spirits in Eternity (fig. 89). In the sphere of the fixed stars the pilgrim sees myriad souls, who appear as flying lights. They combine to form larger shapes. Beatrice spake; And the rejoicing spirits, like to spheres On firm-set poles revolving, trail’d a blaze Of comet splendour: and as wheels, that wind Their circles in the horologe so work The stated rounds, that to the observant eye


Part IV. The Illustrations

Figure 89. Dante and Beatrice in the Constellation of Gemini and the Sphere of Flame, watercolor and some pen and black ink over graphite and black chalk (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford University).

The first seems still, and as it flew, the last; E’en thus their carols weaving variously, They, by the measure paced, or swift, or slow, Made me to rate the riches of their joy [Paradise, 24; Cary, 399–400].

A horologe is a clock, and clockwork is often, in Blake’s writing, a symbol of the Newtonian universe, but better wheels also exist above. In Jerusalem, Blake mentions those of Eden: which Wheel within Wheel in freedom revolve in harmony & peace [E 157].

Here he shows the flying souls making giant wheels of light, pure and unmechanical. The watercolor is unfinished, but we can see two large circles merging, like a Venn diagram, behind the pilgrim and Beatrice, and around the circles are the shapes of people, perhaps with wings. The pilgrim has his back to us, but we see his profile, unusually masculine in this picture, facing Beatrice, whose pose is the same though in mirror-image, facing us. They seem to gaze lovingly into each other’s eyes. The heart of each figure is at the midpoint of the circles behind them, making it seem that these groups of flying souls are emanations or halos from the two. The diagrammatic meaning could hardly be clearer: this is the merging of the pilgrim and his female counterpart, who is Wisdom, or his emanation, or the female part of himself who was divided at the time of the Fall. The Christ we saw a moment ago

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appeared male, but, as Abrams reminds us, “Redemption is made possible by Christ, who in His risen form, like man before the fall, ‘united the masculine and feminine in his single person’ (Erigena II. x.). As evil is the principle of division, so redemption is the principle of reintegration.”103 The second in this series of four shows the pilgrim and Beatrice, penciled lightly at the bottom of the page, rising to meet St. Peter, who is flying to meet them (fig. 90). The saint is surrounded by a halo of red light, which shines among the white light of the background. He is shown much larger than the other two figures, and has an appearance typical of Blake’s patriarchal type. Nothing here reflects the dialogue that occurs among the three characters in Dante’s text. There, in canto 24, St. Peter quizzes the pilgrim on the meaning of faith, and the pilgrim answers modestly but correctly. In the watercolor, Beatrice gestures upwards toward the saint, the pilgrim holds up both hands in amazed greeting, and St. Peter holds a key in one hand and shows the other, palm-outward. Rather than appearing to be a question and answer session, the composition of the picture shows the three rushing towards each other from different points, intent on unity, a theme that is continued in the next painting. Now the pilgrim and Beatrice are shown overlapping, like a single two-headed figure (fig. 91). Above them St. Peter and St. James rush towards each other, their halos already merging. They are identical in appearance, except that Peter holds his key, and the two

Figure 90. St. Peter Appears to Beatrice and Dante, pen and ink and watercolor over black chalk and pencil (National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Felton Bequest, 1920 [1021–3]).


Part IV. The Illustrations

Figure 91. St. Peter and St. James with Dante and Beatrice, pen and ink and watercolor over pencil (National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Felton Bequest, 1920 [1022–3]).

figures’ colors are reversed: Peter has a blue robe and red halo, while James has a blue halo and red robe. Again, Blake shows no interest in the content of the dialogue between the saint and the pilgrim. The theme here is the great conversation in Eternity, not the pilgrim’s understanding of theology. In the next painting five figures are merged in heavenly discourse (see fig. 92 in the color insert). The pilgrim and Beatrice appear to have combined almost completely; in this group, she is hidden behind him, with only her head visible above his shoulder, a combination that brings the two figures together into the minimum of space.104 Three saints are now floating around them: Peter at left, James at right, and St. John the Evangelist above. Their circular halos all overlap at a point behind Beatrice’s head. Of all Blake’s visual work, these pictures seen in sequence depict most clearly the view of Eternity that he describes in Jerusalem: When in Eternity Man converses with Man they enter Into each others Bosom (which are Universes of delight) In mutual interchange.… [E 244] And they conversed together in Visionary forms dramatic which bright Redounded from their Tongues in thunderous majesty, in Visions In new Expanses, creating exemplars of Memory and of Intellect Creating Space, Creating Time according to the wonders Divine Of Human Imagination [E 257–8].

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Blake has not only managed to find in Dante the image of his own written descriptions of Eternity, he has also solved several visual problems that defeated other illustrators. As Dante describes it, Paradise is a realm of light, and as the pilgrim rises he is nearly overcome by its brilliance. It is too bright for mortals to see. The difficulty of depicting such light in a traditional medium is clear when we see, for example, Gustave Doré’s illustrations for the same scenes. Doré’s depictions of Hell have been popular since he created them in the mid– 1800s. The drama of their dark engraving suits the popular idea of the Inferno’s mood, and he was bold in his depiction of the grotesque aspects of Hell. His engravings of Heaven, on the other hand, do not succeed.105 The bright light necessary for accurate illustrations proves impossible in the black and white medium and makes the entire canticle fade into a pale grey. Perhaps the best approach prior to Blake’s was that of Giovanni di Paolo, a Sienese artist of the fifteenth century.106 Giovanni solved the problem by finding a sort of simulacrum: he depicts the glories of Heaven with plentiful and expensive ultramarine and gold leaf, assuming that the dazzle of riches will provide an impression similar to overwhelming light. Another difficulty for illustrators is that the souls who greet the pilgrim in the solar system do not appear in human form. Until the Last Judgment, when they will receive a spirit-body, they live as disembodied lights, unrecognizable by the pilgrim. Most illustrators ignore this detail, choosing the easier option of drawing the souls as people. Only Botticelli remained faithful enough to the text to show the souls without bodies, but in that age before laser light shows he could not imagine light without a source, so he made the souls tiny flames. This results in all the illustrations for the last canticle looking nearly the same: the pilgrim and Beatrice floating in air, with what look like flaring matches all around them. Blake also goes against the text in giving the inhabitants of Heaven bodies, but he solves the problem of showing the brilliance of light through a masterful use of watercolor. Through the thin washes of color the white of the paper shines through and reads as light. When the color is so thin as to be almost not there, the impression is of light that overwhelms the eye. (The effect is particularly beautiful and accurate in a medium that Blake could not have imagined; when viewed on a computer screen, the glow of the backlighting is well suited to the brightness of the images.) This makes his pictures of Heaven, different as they may be from Dante’s message, among the most successful ever in depicting the feel of the canticle. In canto 28 the pilgrim has reached the Ninth Heaven, also known as the Primum Mobile, the sphere above the fixed stars. From here he glimpses the nine orders of angels, surrounding a single point, with the highest level of angel nearest to the center. Beatrice explains why the hierarchy is the opposite of the planetary spheres, where the highest is the outermost, and the lowest, the earth, is in the center. In her explanation, she mentions briefly and rather obscurely that each order of the angelic hierarchy corresponds to one of the planetary spheres. Cary, in a footnote, makes the correspondence clearer: [T]he first circle, that of the Seraphim, corresponds to the ninth sphere, or primum mobile; the second, that of the Cherubim, to the eighth sphere, or heaven of fixed stars; the third, or circle of Thrones, to the seventh sphere, or planet of Saturn; and in like manner throughout the two other trines of circles and spheres [Cary, 419].

This footnote is probably sufficient to explain the position in the series of a drawing that Blake left unlabeled (fig. 93). It shows the hierarchy of the planets’ orbits in the con-

Figure 93. The Vision of the Deity from Whom Proceed the Nine Spheres, watercolor and some pen and black ink over indications in graphite (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford University).

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ventional order, with the green earth at the center. On either side of the planets are depictions of the angels corresponding to that sphere. The lower spheres’ angels look the same, with sweet, androgynous faces. At the level of Mars the figures are appropriately martial-looking. At Jupiter, where the pilgrim met the just rulers, we see two bearded patriarchal types, and at Saturn, associated with religious contemplatives, figures who look fittingly thoughtful. Above, in the Primum Mobile, are six angels who look like those in the lower ranks. At top, in Heaven itself, there is a sketch of a bearded patriarchal type, with one hand on the top of the sphere and the other waving in greeting. The effect of this figure is, frankly, a little goofy. In fact the whole orderly drawing seems out of place in the pilgrim’s ecstatic rise to Eternity. There is clearly a problem for Blake in putting a patriarchal God at the pinnacle of the spheres. Nor would replacing the top figure with Christ be a solution, since Jesus is the unity of all things, not the top of a hierarchy. Like the watercolor of the recording angel we saw earlier, this picture may serve as a sort of counter-example or even as a warning. Northrop Frye reminds us that in one version of his myth, Blake sees Orc, the spirit of rebellion, cyclically transforming himself into his opposite, Urizen.107 As developments in France showed too clearly, revolutionaries may in their turn impose tyrannical law. We must take care that our rise to freedom does not end in the very conditions that chained us in the first place. Much earlier we saw the blasphemer Capaneus lying on the floor of Hell, cursing the God of this world and plotting his escape (see fig. 44 in the color insert). His role there was to show us Orc and the fire of rebellion that we need for our rise to unity. Since then we have advanced nearly to the opposite pole of the universe. The final two illustrations of the series, still ahead of us, show that in this case our destination is not tyranny or an eternal return of the Orc/Urizen cycle. Still, Blake has seen fit to include this hierarchical drawing as a record of how such journeys may fail: a rise that merely returns us to Urizen, or to the God of this World, is not a success. Throughout Dante’s Paradise, as the pilgrim rises higher through the spheres, the light grows more and more intense. This is a metaphor, arising from the tradition of comparing God’s emanation of existence to the sun’s shining out of light. It also reinforces the transcendental idea that, just as the sun is too bright to look at directly, God is too much for us to see. The closer one gets to the ideal, the pure source of all, the less one’s corporeal senses are able to meet the challenge of perception. Dante makes it clear that, since he is not ready to rise to Heaven permanently, he is enabled to see the higher levels only through special grace, which grants him temporary powers. The final eye-opening occurs in the Empyrean, the highest realm of all, and the home of all the souls of Heaven. Dante has devised a strange and compelling metaphor to explain the miracle of perception in this level, where God’s light shines most strongly of all. There is a river of light, and the pilgrim must drink from it. I look’d; And, in the likeness of a river, saw Light flowing, from whose amber-seeming waves Flash’d up effulgence, as they glided on ’Twixt banks, on either side, painted with spring, Incredible how fair: and, from the tide, There ever and anon, outstarting, flew


Part IV. The Illustrations Sparkles instinct with life; and in the flowers Did set them, like to rubies chased in gold: Then, as if drunk with odours, plunged again Into the wondrous flood; from which, as one Re-enter’d, still another rose [Paradise, 30; Cary, 428].

The effect of the drink is to render Heaven visible. Dante compares the change to a group of carnival revelers taking off their masks and revealing their true faces. What had a moment ago looked like sparks and jewels by the river are now seen to be the angels and souls of Heaven—now, for the first time, visible to the pilgrim in human form. bending me, To make the better mirrors of mine eyes In the refining wave: and as the eaves Of mine eye-lids did drink of it, forthwith Seem’d it unto me turn’d from length to round. Then as a troop of maskers, when they put Their vizors off, look other than before; The counterfeited semblance thrown aside: So into greater jubilee were changed Those flowers and sparkles; and distinct I saw, Before me, either court of Heaven display’d [Paradise, 30; Cary, 429].

This is the moment of change in the Comedy that is most suited to Blake’s theology. The revelation here is not a physical rise from level to level but a transformation of perception. The doors are opened, and everything appears as it really is, infinite. The change doesn’t come about through training or through logical explanation but through symbolic means, a drink of light in a garden of sensual enjoyment. The top third of Blake’s illustration shows the source of the river, a blazing circle too bright for us to see, and shown to be so by the thinnest application of red, yellow, and blue watercolor, leaving the white of the paper to imitate effectively the light itself (see fig. 94 in the color insert). The river flows vertically straight down the middle of the page. In the lower part of the picture we see the foliage on the banks of the river, the pilgrim bending to drink on the left side, and Beatrice urging him on at the right. Above Beatrice is another, hooded figure, too sketchy to be identified, and at left, above the pilgrim, is a man with a scroll, perhaps Blake’s inspirational Bard. The illustration may be intended to show the instant of change, because we see among the foliage, in the flowing river, and all around, tiny figures. If these are the souls of Heaven, they are visible to the pilgrim only after he drinks, and their emergence from the background demonstrates the transformation of vision. Or it may be that Blake, more visionary than the pilgrim, is able to show us the souls already, knowing them to be living among the world that most of us see as dead and divided. One of the sources of Blake’s reputation for eccentricity was his claim that every rock and flower possessed a human soul. In a poem to a patron, for example, he wrote that what appears to others to be a thistle he knows to be a man:

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With my inward Eye ’tis an old Man grey With my outward a Thistle across my way [E 721]

Such people are seen with the inward Eye, the eye of the visionary, and so the drink from the river of light enables the pilgrim to see them, all around him, for the first time. As soon as the pilgrim drinks of the light, his eyes are opened and he sees the highest Heaven in its true form. He remarks that it is a special, heavenly light that makes this visible. Dante writes: There is in Heaven a light, whose goodly shine Makes the Creator visible to all Created, that in seeing Him alone Have peace

God is above, as a source of light. This light reflects from the top of the highest sphere, the Primum Mobile, to form a shape that resembles a white rose. The souls within the rose are in perfect peace, because they gaze eternally on God. The pilgrim sees more than a million souls there: all those who have been to the material world and returned. round about, Eying the light, on more than million thrones, Stood, eminent, whatever from our earth Has to the skies return’d. How wide the leaves, [429] Extended to their utmost, of this rose, Whose lowest step embosoms such a space Of ample radiance!

Though this vision covers a huge space—larger than the diameter of the sun—it is all perfectly visible. Dante emphasizes that such clear sight is only possible in the upper, spiritual world. Yet, nor amplitude Nor height impeded, but my view with ease Took in the full dimensions of that joy. Near or remote, what there avails, where God Immediate rules, and Nature, awed, suspends Her sway? [Paradise, 30; Cary, 430]

Between the rose and God a host of angels flies back and forth, delivering “peace and ardour” from God to the souls in the rose. There is no obstruction between the light and the souls—no more interference by the aetherial spheres or the four elements. Already, we can see that there are elements in Dante’s Heaven with which Blake could not agree. The foremost is the separation that still exists between the souls and God. Though his light shines directly on them, the souls are still below God, and still require the intervention of angels to receive their peace and ardour. Moreover, God is still frustratingly abstract: an unspecified source of light, nothing like a person. Dante describes him here as not only pure light, but as eternally inscrutable to people: O eternal Light! Sole in Thyself that dwell’st; and of Thyself


Part IV. The Illustrations Sole understood, past, present, or to come [Paradise, 30; Cary, 442].

For Dante, who believed in the transcendence of God, the separation of God and man is unavoidable. However much God’s emanation forms the ground of existence in all levels of the universe, God is always greater than that which he creates. Blake, as we have seen, held that God was absolutely immanent. When perfect perception has been achieved, there will be no more separation between man and God. As Blake wrote in his “Auguries of Innocence”: God Appears & God is Light To those poor Souls who dwell in Night But does a Human Form Display To those who Dwell in Realms of day [E 493]

As long as people see God as light, a nonhuman force, they dwell in night. That is how Dante describes him. People with true sight, who live in realms of day, see God as human. Blake’s earlier illustrations of the pilgrim’s ascent demonstrated this: the vision of Christ as man, and the flying souls who merged and debated, were correct; they lived in realms of day. The souls in canto 30, who live just slightly beneath God, gazing up at him, seem not to have achieved this. There are still elements of Dante’s description in these final cantos that would have appealed to Blake. We have seen that drinking the light as a means of perceptual change is suited to his theology, which requires only perceptual changes to fall or rise. Likewise the image of the rose, which may appear as a single form or as a multitude of souls, is also acceptable, following as it does Blake’s vision of the changing of the scope of the senses, as in The Four Zoas: for contracting their Exalted Senses They behold Multitude or Expanding they behold as one As One Man all the Universal family [E 311]

It would also please Blake to see that in Dante’s Heaven, earthly rules no longer apply: where God Immediate rules, and Nature, awed, suspends Her sway [Paradise, 30; Cary, 430].

The direct relevance of this statement to Blake’s thought is even clearer in other translations. The Italian sounds more Urizenic than Cary’s choice of the word “sway.” ché dove Dio sanza mezzo governa, la legge natural nulla rileva [Paradiso, Canto 30, 122–123].

Legge means “law.” In Singleton’s direct translation: where God governs without intermediary, the law of nature in no way prevails.108

The idea of God “governing,” as if he were an earthly king, is unacceptable as long as God is transcendent, over and above, but if we could finally realize that God is Man, the message

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would accord with what Blake tells us. Laws of nature, of the type that Newton and Bacon provided, hold sway only in a world where imagination has lost its power. In Eternity, human imagination is not bound by laws. In Jerusalem, we see the souls in Eternity creating exemplars of Memory and of Intellect Creating Space, Creating Time according to the wonders Divine Of Human Imagination [E 258]

As we come to the end of the Comedy, then, reading with Blake’s viewpoint in mind, we see that Dante comes frustratingly near to a true vision of God, only to fall short at the last moment. It is only that gap between the souls in the rose and the source of the light that needs to be closed—a final overcoming of that transcendence. The falling-short is emphasized by Dante’s repeated use of the inexpressibility topos in these last cantos. Again and again we read that what he experienced in Heaven exceeds his powers of expression, “vigour fail’d the towering fantasy,” and not language nor art can show what lies beyond the transcendental leap. Blake has tried to complete, in a picture, what Dante failed to tell. Blake’s final illustration in the series makes the rose of Heaven a real rose; he has drawn not only the petal-like shapes that Dante describes but also the green sepals below (fig. 95). The scale is much reduced from the description in the text; if the people within are the size of earthly people, the flower is far smaller than the diameter of the sun. Each petal contains a soul, and other people are perched above, in poses like those seen in Michelangelo’s Last

Figure 95. The Queen of Heaven in Glory, pen and ink and watercolor over pencil and black chalk (National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Felton Bequest, 1920 [1023–3]).


Part IV. The Illustrations

Judgment. At the top we see Mary, labeled by Blake in pencil. She is holding a scepter and a looking glass, also labeled. Below her and looking up at her are three female figures, and at each side of this group is an open book, one labeled “Homer” and the other “Aristotle.” At the far left and right of the flower are two figures too sketchy to be identified as male or female, labeled “Thrones” and “Dominions”—two types of angel. Each of these sits behind a closed book. The book on the left is labeled “corded round” and the right “Bible Chained round.” Above the rose we see an arch of small angels, probably flying, as Dante describes them, to the light above and then down again. Understandably, commentators have followed Roe in seeing this illustration as fully critical of Dante’s theology. The image of a chained Bible strikes us immediately, for example, as a sign that these people have rejected true religion. I will offer an interpretation here that makes the picture less oppositional; I think that many of the signs Roe reads as critical may be looked at as corrections rather than criticism. In keeping with my overall reading of the series, I think that Blake has made adjustments to the scene Dante describes in order to bring it into full agreement with his own theology. If I am correct, this picture is an almost mischievous game of paradox and forgiveness, or the coincidence of opposites, and redemption. Though we cannot accuse Blake of mariolatry, his view of the Virgin is generally positive. In his Vision of the Last Judgment he says that in his painting he has placed Mary among “those who are not of the dead but of those found Alive at the Last Judgment.” She “appear[s] to be innocently gay and thoughtless” because she was “ignorant of crime in the midst of a corrupted Age” (E 559). In Jerusalem she speaks wisely of forgiveness. When her husband Joseph accuses her of harlotry, she does not deny it, but replies, if I were pure, never could I taste the sweets Of the Forgive[ne]ss of Sins! [E 211]

And on a page in his notebook, Blake wrote: Was Jesus born of a Virgin pure with narrow soul and looks demure? If He intended to take on sin The Mother should an harlot been, Just such a one as Magdalen, With seven devils in her pen [E 877].

Damon tells us: Mary is one of the Transgressors, and therefore the appropriate mother of the greatest Transgressor of all, who also forgave an adulteress. Her female ancestry included some of the worst women in the Old Testament.… Here Blake adapted, or reinvented, a Jewish heresy of the seventeenth century: that the Messiah, to penetrate to the very heart of evil, must have the worst possible ancestry.109

Putting her here at the center of the rose of Heaven, then, becomes a bit of Blakean paradox, which is also at the heart of Christianity: in Heaven, the last shall be first. Even the objects she holds in the picture are not necessarily condemning. Roe is correct that a mirror is normally a sign of vanity, and the scepter a sign of worldly power, but this is Blake’s Heaven, where all is redeemed, and the judgments we made in the world below no longer hold. Could the mirror be a sign of self-knowledge, and the scepter be one of those weapons

11. Heaven


that cause harm in the world, but when employed in the mental fight of Eternity burns with righteousness? Such a paradoxical view also redeems the presence of Homer and Aristotle’s works in Heaven. These two traditionally form a pair of contraries, if we remember that Neoplatonists considered Homer’s works to be full of secret Platonic wisdom. Plato as the great idealist and Aristotle as materialist therefore comprise one of the great contraries of philosophy, and, as we have seen, contraries that seem opposed in our world are shown in Heaven to coincide perfectly. In Jerusalem, when Christ redeems the world and Albion recovers unity, a similar meeting of enemies occurs. The innumerable Chariots of the Almighty appeard in Heaven And Bacon & Newton & Locke, & Milton & Shakspear & Chaucer [E 257]

The three British thinkers whom Blake held responsible for the Fall appear here alongside his three poetic heroes, separated from them by a mere comma. If even Bacon and Newton and Locke may be redeemed, Homer and Aristotle seem like a shoe-in. What, then, of the shocking image of the chained Bible in the illustration of the rose? Is this not a clear sign that inspiration is a closed book? It depends in part on what part of the Bible is shut. If this is the Law of Moses, which Blake sees as a Satanic deception, then in Heaven it ought to be chained, because such Urizenic commandments have no place there. In Heaven, all is freedom and forgiveness. The angel that guards the chained Bible then is a merciful angel, protecting us from the reopening of a Urizenic age. Though the Bible, for Blake, is undoubtedly the great code of art, and the writings of the prophets are the greatest examples of wisdom, appearances of the Bible as a physical book in his visual work are not generally positive. In the first of the illustrations for the Book of Job, for example, Job worships with a huge Bible-like book open on his lap. Before he (and we) undergo Job’s trials and get a clearer view of true religion, using the Bible in that way seems to be the proper, obedient method of worship. When Job has experienced direct vision of God, however, and his eyes are opened to correct prayer, he is seen standing up, playing the harp, and there are no books in sight. In Blake’s address to the Christians in Jerusalem, he makes clear the message that Job has learned: I know of no other Christianity and of no other Gospel than the liberty both of body & mind to exercise the Divine Arts of Imagination [E 231].

Dante tells us that neither God nor the angels need books. In fact, they don’t need memory, because all truth is eternally visible to them. Human souls who have reached Eternity, therefore, having fulfilled the message of the Gospel, would no longer need to consult the book; they would be living it by exercising the divine arts of imagination in their most powerful forms. The First Book of Urizen contains an image we may use as a contrasting example to the closed books in the rose of Heaven (fig. 96). In that early illuminated book, Urizen is shown holding his Book of the Law wide open in front of him, presenting us with the laws of nature and of the false God that we are to obey in our fallen condition. The writing on the pages of the book is not legible; it is painted as a mish-mash of spots and blurs. We do not achieve the freedom of Heaven until this book is shut and chained.


Part IV. The Illustrations

Figure 96. From The Book of Urizen, relief etching with hand coloring, leaf size: 26 × 18 cm (Lessing J. Rosenwald Collection, Library of Congress; © 2013 William Blake Archive; used by permission).

11. Heaven


It would be very interesting to know what Blake intended when he drew the other book in the picture of the rose of Heaven, opposite the Bible. This book is also tied shut. There is no evidence in the drawing to confirm its identity, but Dante does mention another book earlier in the Paradise that we can be sure Blake would like to see closed for good. Earlier in the Paradise, in canto 19, at the sphere of Jupiter, the souls of the good kings of history have joined to form the shape of a giant eagle and are discussing with the pilgrim God’s perfect justice. As is so often the case in Dante’s theology, the answers to the hard questions boil down to the idea that God can know but the pilgrim cannot. The eagle has finished singing a song that either because of its language or its content—the narrator doesn’t say—is incomprehensible to the pilgrim. It then explains that God’s justice is likewise impossible for lesser beings to know. As are my notes To thee, who understand’st them not; such is The eternal judgment unto mortal ken [Paradise, 19; Cary, 380].

The eagle sternly reminds us that only God knows what the final results of divine judgment will be; non–Christians of other lands may, on the last day, see that certain rulers of Christendom have been dealt with more harshly than pagans. What shall the Persians say unto your kings, When they shall see that volume, in the which All their dispraise is written, spread to view? There amidst Albert’s works shall that be read, Which will give speedy motion to the pen, When Prague shall mourn her desolated realm [Paradise, 19; Cary, 380].

The volume that records the unjust actions of the various rulers is undoubtedly the one mentioned in Revelation 20:12. “And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.” This is a volume that Blake sees no place for in Eternity. No judgment of souls can occur based on Urizenic law, which is an error. No judgment can be made on the works of souls in their former states, which they have passed through. The Bible is inscribed in the hearts of the souls in Eternity, and its printed version may be shut; the Book of Judgment was a mistake to begin with, and should never be reopened. The fact that Dante doesn’t mention the presence of any books in Heaven might lead us to believe that Blake has added these volumes to his illustrations as critical symbols. We have seen before, however, that Blake is happy to draw literally the images that Dante wrote as metaphor. Or we could say that, as visual poet, Blake sees no difficulty in translating a verbal symbol directly into a visual one. With this in mind, we can see that the bound volumes are this work’s final representation of Blake’s great goal: to rejoin into one the myriad pages that in the fallen world, due to our narrowed vision, seem scattered. This is the pilgrim’s highest vision of Heaven: O grace, unenvying of Thy boon! that gavest Boldness to fix so earnestly my ken


Part IV. The Illustrations On the everlasting splendour, that I look’d, While sight was unconsumed, and, in that depth, Saw in one volume clasp’d of love, whate’er The universe unfolds; all properties Of substance and of accident, beheld, Compounded, yet one individual light The whole [Paradise, 33; Cary 441].

When God’s grace gives the pilgrim the power to see Heaven completely, as Blake knows we can, all is revealed. The books are the universe itself, its essence and all of its contingencies, regathered, compiled, and corded by love. The Bible, as source of inspiration, in our world is obscured by Greek rationalism and Urizenic fear. Its power is weakened by dilution in modern times because its sources are hidden and its messages removed from visionary power. In Heaven, however, it is visible in its unity. It is chained by love so that we no longer attempt to understand it through dividing its parts. It provides one individual light that illuminates everything there is, including Heaven itself. We do not know the order in which Blake made the pictures in the series, whether he drew them one by one following the progression of the text or jumped to different portions as the spirit moved him. If we think of this drawing of the Rose of Heaven, though, as the last page in his last project, completed while he knew he was at death’s door, we may see it as a triumphant Christian work—a selfless act of grace, in which contraries really are redeemed, the scattered pages of the universe are regathered, and all is forgiven.

Conclusion The dominant theologian and philosopher of the thirteenth century in Europe was Thomas Aquinas. Dante, writing a generation after that saint, found little to disagree with in his theology. Yet nothing in our world remains eternally unchanged, and theology after Thomas continued to develop, often in ways that the Thomists and the Catholic Church found unacceptable. Nicholas of Cusa, though a staunch Catholic all his life, provided the seeds for a revolution in our ways of thinking about God that took root and grew among Protestants, and resonated with thinkers in the more esoteric traditions of the Perennial Philosophy, of alchemy and Neoplatonic heresies. The antinomian tendencies in Europe, which sprang up periodically to challenge social orthodoxy, also gained intellectual justification from these new ideas. One of the movements that resulted was a small but enduring group of dissenters in England, who gained confidence in the time of Cromwell and never quite faded away. From their number emerged an influential circle of one, the poet and artist William Blake. There are any number of differences between Blake’s theology and that of Thomas Aquinas or Dante. The main one we have examined here is the concept of absolute immanence, a denial that God is in any way transcendent of humans, or that God will be eternally unknowable in any of his aspects. Dante’s belief in transcendence, which is still an orthodox part of Catholic dogma, required certain poetic limitations: when faced with his vision of the highest Heaven, he was required to fall back on the expression of inexpressibility, and say that what he experienced was unsayable. Blake, as we have seen, sees vision in a more active role. For him, that which we have seen clearly, we have created. There can be nothing that can be experienced but not expressed, because the means of expression are the means through which we create the world—perception is imagination, which is language, which is art. Blake could be supremely, even insanely self-confident. He corrected the writings not only of the most successful artists of his own day, but also of Moses and Homer and Milton. Yet he did not deny the greatness of his artistic forebears or refuse to collaborate with them. His poem Milton is an epic conversation in Eternity between the two poets, and if some genius of our own time could write an epic called Blake, to correct his corrections, we can imagine him smiling down from Eternity, eager to engage his new peer. The illustrations for the Comedy are likewise a respectful engagement, full of loving corrections, the development of opportunities missed in the original poem, and the fulfill267



ment of those parts where Dante, through his more restricted view of God, fell short. Like Dante, Blake invites us to participate with him in the journey he makes. Unlike Dante, he believes that he can show us everything; he can make the text incarnate, in the visual medium, in a way that Dante could not. If the Spectator could Enter into these Images in his Imagination approaching them on the Fiery Chariot of his Contemplative Thought if he could Enter into Noahs Rainbow or into his bosom or could make a Friend & Companion of one of these Images of wonder which always intreats him to leave mortal things as he must know then would he arise from his Grave then would he meet the Lord in the Air & then he would be happy [E 560].

Chapter Notes


in pain / Disclose a hideous orifice; thence issuing the Giant-brood / Arise as the smoke of the furnace, shaking the rocks from sea to sea. / And there they combine into Three Forms, named Bacon & Newton & Locke” (E 224). 9. Henry Crabb Robinson, Diary, Reminiscences, and Correspondence, vol. 2, ed. Thomas Sadler (London: Macmillan, 1869), 309. 10. Bette Charlene Werner, Blake’s Vision of the Poetry of Milton (Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press, 1986), 17. 11. Dennis M. Read, “The Rival Canterbury Pilgrims of Blake and Cromek: Herculean Figures in the Carpet,” Modern Philology 86, no. 2 (November 1988): 171–90. 12. Gerda S. Norvig, Dark Figures in the Desired Country: Blake’s Illustrations to The Pilgrim’s Progress (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993). 13. Bo Lindberg, William Blake’s Illustrations to the Book of Job (Abo: Abo akademi, 1973); Kathleen Raine, The Human Face of God (London: Thames and Hudson, 1982). 14. This date may indicate the year the work was begun, not its completion. For a detailed discussion of the dates of Milton’s printing, see William Blake, Milton a Poem, ed. Robert N. Essick and Joseph Viscomi (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993), 35–41. 15. Blake, Milton a Poem, 16. 16. “Baron de Montesquieu, Charles-Louis de Secondat,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, January 20, 2010, http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/montesquieu/ #4.3. 17. William Stukeley, Stonehenge, a Temple Restor’d (London: Printed for W. Innys and R. Manby, 1740), quoted in Robert N. Essick, Blake and the Language of Adam (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989), 200. 18. S. Foster Damon, A Blake Dictionary (Boulder: Shambhala, 1965), 108. 19. Amanda Gilroy, ed., Romantic Geographies: Discourses of Travel, 1775–1844 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2000), 204. 20. Ibid., 220. 21. Archibald G.B. Russell, The Engravings of William Blake (Houghton Mifflin, 1912), 191.

1. William Blake: The Complete Poetry and Prose of William Blake, ed. David V. Erdman (New York: Anchor, 1988), 777. All quotes from Blake’s work are from this edition. Further references will be given as “E” followed by the page number. Blake’s original spelling and punctuation are maintained throughout. indicate Blake’s changes to the text. 2. Jacob Boehme, Von göttlicher Beschaulichkeit, chap. i, quoted in G.W.F. Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy; Part Three: Modern Philosophy, Section 1.B, Jacob Boehme, trans. E.S. Haldane, http://www. marxists. org/ reference/ archive/ hegel/ works/ hp/ hp boehme.htm. 3. Albert S. Roe, Blake’s Illustrations to the Divine Comedy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1953). 4. For example, Milton Klonsky, Blake’s Dante (New York: Harmony, 1980). 5. Rodney M. Baine, “Blake’s Dante in a Different Light,” Dante Studies, with the Annual Report of the Dante Society 105 (1987): 113–36; David Fuller, “Blake and Dante,” Art History 11 (1988): 349–73.

Part I 1. Richard Holmes, Coleridge: Early Visions, 1772– 1804 (New York: Pantheon, 1999). 2. Valeria Tinkler-Villani, Visions of Dante in English Poetry (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1989), 125–72. 3. Albert S. Roe, Blake’s Illustrations to the Divine Comedy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1953), 32. 4. Quoted in Arthur Symons, William Blake (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1907), 258. 5. Roe, Blake’s Illustrations, 164–71. 6. Morton Paley, The Traveller in the Evening (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 115. 7. William Butler Yeats, Essays and Introductions (New York: Collier, 1961), 128. 8. For example: “the key-bones & the chest dividing



Notes. Parts II and III

22. Essick, Blake and the Language of Adam, 78. 23. Blake, Milton a Poem, 231. 24. Damon, Blake Dictionary, 167. 25. Ibid., 419. 26. G.E. Bentley, Blake Records (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004), 316–17. 27. Blake, Milton a Poem, 16. 28. Roe, Blake’s Illustrations, 17. 29. David Fuller, “Blake and Dante,” Art History 11 (1988): 349–73. 30. Damon, Blake Dictionary, 416. 31. Roe, Blake’s Illustrations, 37. 32. Ibid., 48. 33. Ibid., 38. 34. Ibid., 37–8. 35. Fuller, “Blake and Dante,” 353. 36. In addition to Lindberg and Raine, see S. Foster Damon, Blake’s Job (New York: Dutton, 1969), and Joseph Hartley Wicksteed, Blake’s Vision of the Book of Job (New York: Haskell House, 1971). 37. Lindberg, William Blake’s Illustrations to the Book of Job, 194. 38. S.K. Heninger, The Cosmographical Glass: Renaissance Diagrams of the Universe (San Marino: Huntington Library Press, 1977), 28. 39. Glenn Alexander Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2001), 105.

Part II 1. Morris Eaves, The Counter-Arts Conspiracy (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1992), 3. 2. Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, 2nd American ed. (Philadelphia: Abraham Small, 1816), 8:76. 3. Dictionary of Art Historians, “Jonathan Richardson,” http://www.dictionaryofarthistorians.org/ richardsonj.htm. 4. Damon, Blake Dictionary, 272. 5. Morton Paley, The Traveller in the Evening (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 101. 6. Ibid., 102. 7. Antonella Braida, Dante and the Romantics (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), 14. 8. Ibid., 15. 9. Werner Paul Friederich, Dante’s Fame Abroad, 1350–1850 (Rome: Edizioni di Storia e Letteratura, 1950), 227–28. 10. David Bindman, Stephen Hebron, and Michael O’Neill, Dante Rediscovered (Grasmere: Wordsworth Trust, 2007), 7. 11. Richard Holmes, Coleridge; Darker Reflections (London: HarperCollins, 1998), 458. 12. Ibid., 468. 13. Braida, Dante and the Romantics, 131. 14. Bindman, Hebron, and O’Neill, Dante Rediscovered, 14. 15. Braida, Dante and the Romantics, 100. 16. Paley, Traveller in the Evening, 105. 17. Ibid., 106. 18. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York

has a sculpture in its collection of Ugolino and his sons by Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux (1827–1875). The marble group shows Ugolino gnawing his fingers, and his soonto-be-eaten children at his feet. In the most hilarious feat of curatorship I have ever seen, this sculpture was for a time placed at the entrance to the Met’s snack bar, whose long weekend lines must have inspired museumgoers to sympathize with Ugolino. 19. Geoffrey Keynes, ed., Blake: Complete Writings with Variant Readings (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1966), quoted in Morton Paley, Energy and the Imagination (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1970), 87. 20. Paley, Traveller in the Evening, 107. 21. Braida, Dante and the Romantics, 15. 22. Paley, Traveller in the Evening, 109. 23. Ibid., 107. 24. Kenneth Clark, The Drawings by Sandro Botticelli for Dante’s Divine Comedy (New York: Harper and Row, 1976), 7. 25. Paley, Traveller in the Evening, 111. 26. Ibid., 111. 27. Ibid., 111. 28. Unless otherwise noted, information on Blake’s relationship with Linnell and the practicalities of commissioning the Dante series is from James King, William Blake (London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1991), 211– 24. 29. A.T. Story, The Life of John Linnell (London: Richard Bentley and Son, 1892), quoted in G.E. Bentley, The Stranger from Paradise: A Biography of William Blake (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001), 421. 30. Bentley, Stranger from Paradise, 424. 31. Ibid., caption to plate 118B. 32. G.E. Bentley, Blake Records (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004), 290. 33. Bentley, Stranger from Paradise, 424. 34. Anthony Blunt, The Art of William Blake (New York: Columbia University Press, 1959), 89. 35. Paley, Traveller in the Evening, 111. 36. A.H. Palmer, Life and Letters of Samuel Palmer (London: Seeley, 1892) quoted in Paley, Traveller in the Evening, 11.

Part III 1. Henry Boyd, A Translation of the Hell of Dante Alighieri, in English Verse, with Historical Notes, and the Life of Dante (Dublin: P. Byrne, 1785), v; italics in original. 2. S. Foster Damon, A Blake Dictionary (Boulder: Shambhala, 1965), 176. 3. For example: “Thou lovedst me well, / And hadst good cause; for had my sojourning / Been longer on the earth, the love I bare thee / Had put forth more than blossoms,” Paradise, 8; Cary, 325–26; spoken by Charles Martel. 4. Boyd, A Translation of the Hell of Dante Alighieri, 163. 5. Ibid., 23. 6. Dante Alighieri, The Vision of Dante Alighieri,

Notes. Part III translated by H.F. Cary (London: J.M. Dent, n.d.), 277; all other references to this book will be given in the text. 7. Boyd, A Translation of the Hell of Dante Alighieri, 118. 8. Ibid., 132. 9. Ibid., 136. 10. Ibid., 141. 11. M.H. Abrams, Natural Supernaturalism (New York: W.W. Norton, 1971), 57. 12. Richard Blome, The Fanatick History, or an exact Relation and Account of the Old Anabaptists and New Quakers (London: printed for J. Sims, 1660), quoted in A.L. Morton, The Everlasting Gospel (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1958), 56. 13. Ibid. 14. Ibid. 15. The Correspondence of Robert Southey with Caroline Bowles, ed. Edward Dowden (Dublin: Hodges, Figgis, 1881), quoted in Abrams, Natural Supernaturalism, 330. 16. Abrams, Natural Supernaturalism, 332. 17. “Antinomianism,” Catholic Encyclopedia, http: //www.newadvent.org/cathen/01564b.htm. 18. Paul Johnson, A History of Christianity (London: Penguin, 1976), 228. 19. Ibid., 251. 20. Ibid. 21. Abeiezer Coppe, A Fiery Flying Roll, 1649, https: //archive.org/stream/fieryflyingroll00coppuoft#page/ n3/mode/2up. 22. E.P. Thompson, Witness Against the Beast (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 65. 23. David V. Erdman, Blake: Prophet Against Empire (New York: Dover, 1991), 156. 24. G.E. Bentley, The Stranger from Paradise: A Biography of William Blake (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001), 113. 25. Erdman, Blake: Prophet Against Empire, 224. 26. Bentley, The Stranger from Paradise, 197. 27. Ibid., 196. 28. Ibid., 59–60. 29. Erdman, Blake: Prophet Against Empire, 428. 30. Abrams, Natural Supernaturalism, 334. 31. Ibid. 32. John Milton, Paradise Lost, book 12, lines 586– 87. 33. R.W. Church, Dante, an Essay, to Which Is Added a Translation of De Monarchia by F.J. Church (London: Macmillan, 1879); an announcement in this edition claims that it is the first English translation to be made. 34. Explanations for Marco’s speech are from Robert M. Durling and Ronald L. Martinez, Purgatorio (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 269–73. 35. Ibid., 270; according to Martinez and Durling, in defining the function of civil authority to be the moral education of the population, Dante voices his agreement with the central European tradition of political thought, going back to Plato and Aristotle and represented in medieval Europe by John of Salisbury, Aquinas, and many others. 36. Regarding a similar statement in the Monarchia, Martinez and Durling write: “This passage is of first im-


portance, of course, and in terms of orthodox Church doctrine it is erroneous and smacks of Averroism, … the Monarchia was on the Catholic Church’s Index of Forbidden Books until the twentieth century”; ibid., 273. 37. Dante, Monarchia III.iv.9: “[T]he two ruling powers [empire and papacy] exist as the directors of men toward certain ends, as will be shown further on; but had man remained in the state of innocence in which God made him, he would have required no such direction. These ruling powers are therefore remedies against the infirmity of sin [infirmitatem peccati].” http:// oll. libertyfund. org/ index. php?option= com_ staticxt&staticfile=show.php%3Ftitle=2196&layout= html. 38. Kevin Brownlee, “Dante and the Classical Poets,” in The Cambridge Companion to Dante, ed. Rachel Hoff (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 100; I am indebted to Brownlee throughout this section on Dante’s relationship to the classical poets. 39. Aeneid, ii, 32. 40. Robert Hollander, “Virgil,” in The Dante Encyclopedia, ed. Richard Lansing (New York: Garland, 2000), 862. 41. Ibid., 863. 42. Boyd, A Translation of the Hell of Dante Alighieri, 193. 43. Northrop Frye, Fearful Symmetry (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1947), 116. 44. Ibid., 341. 45. Ibid., 346. 46. Paley, Traveller in the Evening, 113: “The reference to Churchill (1731–64) is to ‘The Prophecy of Famine. A Scots Pastoral Inscribed to John Wilkes, Esq.,’ lines 93–6: Thou, Nature, art my goddess—to thy law Myself I dedicate—hence, slavish awe, Which bends to fashion, and obeys the rules Imposed at first, and since observed by fools! The opening words are of course more familiar to us— and no doubt to Blake—from King Lear, where Edmund begins his first speech “Thou, Nature, art my goddess; to thy law / My services are bound.” Edmund then goes on to reveal his plan to displace his older brother in an intrigue that will result in the blinding and ultimate death of his own father. Such, to Blake’s mind, was the result of Nature-worship. Churchill was “poor Churchill because (perhaps unconsciously) he naively appropriated Edmund’s line without realizing the consequences of such an attitude.” 47. Many of the words are not legible in reproductions, though the general groupings can be made out. In what follows I am using the reading of words given by Erdman in The Complete Poetry and Prose of William Blake, but I have changed the order in which I read the sentences. Erdman gives the text in this order: “Every thing in Dantes Comedia shews That for Tyrannical Purposes he has made This World the Foundation of All & the Goddess Nature & not the Holy Ghost as Poor Churchill said Nature thou art my Goddess [Reading after insertions:] … & the Goddess Nature & not the Holy Ghost…. Round Purgatory is Paradise & round Paradise is Vacuum or Limbo. so that Homer is the Center of All


Notes. Part III

I mean the Poetry of the Heathen Stolen & Perverted from the Bible not by Chance but by design by the Kings of Persia and their Generals The Greek Heroes & lastly by The Romans Swedenborg does the same in saying that in this World is the Ultimate of Heaven This is the most damnable Falshood of Satan & his Antichrist[.]” I feel sure that the sentence about Swedenborg, which Erdman places at the end, should come immediately after “Nature thou art my Goddess.” When Blake wrote that Swedenborg “does the same,” he intended “the same” to refer to what Churchill does, not what the Romans did. 48. Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, trans. Paul Guyer and Allen W. Wood (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), A 120. 49. Richard Kearney, The Wake of Imagination (New York: Routledge, 1988), 117. 50. Ibid., 124. 51. Ibid., 75. 52. John Smith, Select Discourses (London: F. Flesher, 1660), quoted in Morton Paley, Energy and the Imagination (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1970), 236. 53. Ibid. 54. Hans Lassen Martensen, Jacob Boehme: His Life and Teaching, or Studies in Theosophy (Whitefish: Kessinger, 2004; reprint of 1885 edition), 65. 55. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Biographia Literaria (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983), 304. 56. Kathleen Lundeen, Knight of the Living Dead: William Blake and the Problem of Ontology (Selinsgrove: Susquehanna University Press, 2000), 22. 57. Abrams, Natural Supernaturalism, 375. 58. John Joseph Stoudt, Jacob Boehme: His Life and Thought (New York: Seabury, 1968), 229. 59. G.F.W. Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. A.V. Miller (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977), 67. 60. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, “The Friend,” The Collected Works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Volume 4: The Friend, ed. B.E. Rooke (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969), quoted in Abrams, Natural Supernaturalism, 183. 61. William Eaves, William Blake’s Theory of Art (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1982), 32. 62. Georg Lukacs, History and Class Consciousness, 1923, http://www.marxists.org/archive/lukacs/works/ history/hcc05.htm. 63. Henry Crabb Robinson, Diary, Reminiscences, and Correspondence, vol. 2, ed. Thomas Sadler (London: Macmillan, 1869), 307–08. 64. Ibid., 306. 65. Henry Crabb Robinson, letter to Wordsworth, http:// en. wikisource. org/ wiki/ William_ Blake_ % 28 Symons%29/Extracts_from_the_Diary,_Letters,_and_ Reminiscences_of_Henry_Crabb_Robinson. 66. Joshua Reynolds, Discourses on Art (Chicago: A.C. McClurg, 1891), 65. 67. Christian Moevs, The Metaphysics of Dante’s Comedy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 175. 68. Bruno Nardi, “Dante profeta,” Dante e la cultura medievale, 2d ed. rev. (1941; reprint, Bari: Laterza, 1949), 336–416. 69. Teodolinda Barolini, The Undivine Comedy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992), 5–8.

70. Dante Alighieri, The Convivio, trans. Richard Lansing, 1998, http://dante.ilt.columbia.edu/books/ convivi/convivio3.html#15. 71. Augustine, Confessions, trans. F.J. Sheed (London: Sheed and Ward, 1999), 170. 72. Gerrard Winstanley, “The New Law of Righteousnes [sic],” in The Works of Gerrard Winstanley, ed. George H. Sabine (New York: Russell & Russell, 1965), quoted in Abrams, Natural Supernaturalism, 53. 73. It’s unclear whether Cusanus was directly educated in these practices or not. Cassirer claims he was first taught by the Brothers of the Common Life, a Devotio Moderna group, but Duclow has questioned this. See Donald F. Duclow, “Life and Works,” in Introducing Nicholas of Cusa, ed. Christopher M. Bellitto et al. (New York: Paulist, 2004), 25–58. 74. Margaret Miles, The Word Made Flesh (Oxford: Blackwell, 2005), 203. 75. Morimichi Watanabe, “An Appreciation,” in Introducing Nicholas of Cusa, ed. Bellitto et al., 15. 76. Ernst Cassirer, The Individual and the Cosmos in Renaissance Italy (Mineola, NY: Dover, 2000; reprint of 1963 edition), 18. 77. Ibid., 21. 78. Ibid., 36. 79. Bellitto, Introducing Nicholas of Cusa, 222. 80. Cassirer, The Individual and the Cosmos, 37. 81. “Nicholas of Cusa,” in Catholic Encyclopedia, http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11060b.htm. 82. “Immanence,” in Catholic Encyclopedia, http:// www.newadvent.org/cathen/07682a.htm. 83. “Pantheism,” in Catholic Encyclopedia, http:// www.newadvent.org/cathen/11447b.htm. 84. Kevin Fischer, Converse in the Spirit (Madison: Farleigh Dickinson University Press, 2004), 33. 85. Glenn Alexander Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2001), 38. 86. Jacob Boehme, De Electione Gratiae and Quaestiones Theosophicae, 2.13, trans. John Rolleston Earle (London: Constable, 1930), quoted in Fischer, Converse in the Spirit, 85. 87. Jacob Boehme, Mysterium Magnum, [L] 1.2; trans. John Sparrow (London: 1654), reprint, C.J. Barker, ed. (London: John M. Watkins, 1965), quoted in Fischer, Converse in the Spirit, 86. 88. Fischer, Converse in the Spirit, 86. 89. Jacob Boehme, The High and Deep Searching out of the Threefold Life of Man through or according to the Three Principles, 6.45, trans. John Sparrow (London: 1650), reprint, C.J. Barker, ed. (London: John M. Watkins, 1909), quoted in Fischer, Converse in the Spirit, 86. 90. G.F.W. Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy, part B, Jacob Boehme, http://www.class.uidaho. edu/ mickelsen/ texts/ Hegel%20-%20Hist%20Phil/ boehme.htm. 91. Jacob Boehme, The Forty Questions of the Soul and the Clavis, trans. John Sparrow (London: 1647), reprint: C.J. Barker and D.S. Hehner, eds. (London: John M. Watkins, 1911), quoted in Fischer, Converse in the Spirit, 73. 92. Jacob Boehme, The Epistles of Jacob Behmen, 5.14; trans. John Ellistone (London: M. Simmons, 1649), quoted in Fischer, Converse in the Spirit, 74.

Notes. Part III 93. Jacob Boehme, Aurora oder Morgenröte im Aufgang, 1612, quoted in G.W.F. Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy, part B, Jacob Boehme. https://www. marxists. org/ reference/ archive/ hegel/ works/ hp/ hp boehme.htm#fn32 94. G.W.F. Hegel, Encyclopedia Logic, paragraph 24, trans. T.F. Geraets (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1991), quoted in Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, 85. 95. Wayne M. Martin, “In Defense of Bad Infinity,” Bulletin of the Hegel Society of Great Britain 55/56 (2007): 168–87. 96. David Punter, Blake, Hegel and Dialectic (Amsterdam: Editions Rodopi, 1982), 79. 97. Jean Hyppolite, Studies on Marx and Hegel, trans. J. O’Neill (New York: Basic Books, 1969), quoted in Punter, Blake, Hegel and Dialectic, 79. 98. Jacob Boehme, Mysterium Magnum, 2.6; trans. John Sparrow (London: 1654), reprint, C.J. Barker, ed. (London: John M. Watkins, 1965), quoted in Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, 44. 99. Jacob Boehme, Aurora, 10.98; trans. John Sparrow (London: 1656), reprint, C.J. Barker and D.S. Hehner, eds. (London: John M. Watkins, 1960), quoted in Fischer, Converse in the Spirit, 64. 100. Fischer, Converse in the Spirit, 26. 101. Ibid., 35. 102. Ibid., 38. 103. Crabb Robinson, Diary, Reminiscences, and Correspondence, vol. 2, 305. 104. Ludwig Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity, trans. George Eliot (Mineola, NY: Dover, 2008), 29. 105. Damon, Blake Dictionary, 428. 106. Dante Alighieri, The Banquet of Dante Alighieri: Il Convivio, trans. Elizabeth Price Sayer (London: George Routledge and Sons, 1887), 122; Convivio 3.7.5. 107. Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy, Paradiso, vol. 1: Text, trans. Charles S. Singleton (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1975), 81. 108. Damon, Blake Dictionary, 341. 109. Dante Alghieri, The Paradiso, trans. John Ciardi (New York: Signet, 1970), 221. 110. Moevs, Metaphysics of Dante’s Comedy, 170. 111. Ibid., 87. 112. “Immanence,” in Catholic Encyclopedia, http:// www.newadvent.org/cathen/07682a.htm. 113. W.J.T. Mitchell, Blake’s Composite Art (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1978), 129. 114. Punter, Blake, Hegel and Dialectic, 116. 115. Frye, Fearful Symmetry, 189. 116. Durling and Martinez, Purgatorio, 287. 117. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, 1a q. 60 a. 1 ad 3, quoted in Durling and Martinez, Purgatorio, 287. 118. Durling and Martinez, Purgatorio, 281. 119. Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, trans. Terence Irwin (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1985), 44. 120. Ibid., 106. 121. Dante Alighieri, Convivio 4.17.7. 122. The Oxford Companion to the Bible, ed. Bruce M. Metzger and Michael D. Coogan (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), 277. 123. In the King James Version, Sheol is translated in these psalms as “hell” and “the grave.”


Psalm 16:9 “Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoiceth: my flesh also shall rest in hope. 10 For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.” Psalm 30:2 “O LORD my God, I cried unto thee, and thou hast healed me. 3 O LORD, thou hast brought up my soul from the grave: thou hast kept me alive, that I should not go down to the pit.” 124. Teodolinda Barolini, “Hell,” in The Dante Encyclopedia, 472. 125. “Hell,” in Catholic Encyclopedia, http://www. newadvent.org/cathen/07207a.htm. 126. Damon, Blake Dictionary, 128. 127. Ibid., 5. 128. Abrams, Natural Supernaturalism, 151. 129. Ibid., 152. 130. Timothy Dalrymple, “Adam and Eve: Human Being and Nothingness,” in Kierkegaard and the Bible, vol. 1, ed. Lee C. Barrett and Jon Stewart (Burlington, Vermont: Ashgate, 2010), 9. 131. Juan Luis Vives, On Education, trans. Foster Watson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1913), quoted in Abrams, Natural Supernaturalism, 295. 132. Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, 129. 133. Ibid., 45. 134. Stoudt, Jacob Boehme, 303. 135. Jacob Boehme, Von der Gnadenwahl, Works, 4:232. ed. William Law (London: M. Richardson, 1764), quoted in Punter, Blake, Hegel and Dialectic, 80. 136. Stoudt, Jacob Boehme, 231–32. 137. Abrams, Natural Supernaturalism, 261. 138. Ibid., 208–9. 139. Ibid., 96. 140. Friedrich Nietzsche, The Dawn of Day, 79, trans. John McFarland Kennedy (New York: Macmillan, 1911), quoted in Abrams, Natural Supernaturalism, 121. 141. Bo Lindberg, William Blake’s Illustrations to the Book of Job (Abo: Abo akademi, 1973); Kathleen Raine, The Human Face of God (London: Thames and Hudson, 1982); Damon, Blake’s Job. 142. Lindberg, William Blake’s Illustrations to the Book of Job, 123. 143. Morton Paley, Energy and the Imagination (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1970), 35. 144. James Gollnick, Love and the Soul: Psychological Interpretations of the Eros and Psyche Myth (Waterloo, Ontario: Wilfred Laurier University Press, 1992), 15. 145. Raymond J. Clark, Catabasis: Vergil and the Wisdom Tradition (Amsterdam: B.R. Grüner, 1978), 15. 146. Richard Bauckham, The Fate of the Dead: Studies on the Jewish and Christian Apocalypses (Leiden: Koninklijke Brill, 1998), 25–26. 147. Ibid., 9–44. 148. William Franke, “Dante’s Hell as Poetic Revelation of Prophetic Truth,” Philosophy and Literature 33 (2009): 252–66. 149. Bauckham, The Fate of the Dead, 35. 150. George Mills Harper, The Neoplatonism of William Blake (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1961), 228; see also Thomas Taylor, The Eleusinian and Bacchic Mysteries (Bibliolife, n.d.). 151. Bauckham, The Fate of the Dead, 31. 152. Robert N. Essick, Blake and the Language of


Notes. Part IV

Adam (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989), 125– 26. 153. Kathleen Raine, Blake and Tradition, vol. 1 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1968), 99. 154. Ibid., 100. 155. William Blake, The Early Illuminated Books, with notes by Morris Eaves, Robert N. Essick, and Joseph Viscomi (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993), 79. 156. Frye, Fearful Symmetry, 238. 157. Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene (London: Penguin, 1978), 469. 158. Ibid. 159. Ibid., 470. 160. Ibid. 161. Heraclitus, fragments 74–76, 72, 68, quoted in John Burnet, ed. and trans., Early Greek Philosophy (London: Adam and Charles Black, 1908), 151–152. 162. Spenser, Faerie Queene, 471. 163. Ibid., 472. 164. Raine, Blake and Tradition, vol. 1, 75; Christopher Heppner, Reading Blake’s Designs (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 239. 165. Heppner, Reading Blake’s Designs, 245. 166. R.T. Wallis, Neoplatonism (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1972), 55. 167. Stoudt, Jacob Boehme, 80. 168. Harper, The Neoplatonism of William Blake, 55. 169. Ibid., 30. 170. Proclus, Commentaries on the Timaeus of Plato, vol. 1, trans. Thomas Taylor (London: A.J. Valpy), 12. 171. Porphyry, On the Cave of the Nymphs in the Thirteenth Book of the Odyssey, trans. Thomas Taylor (London: John M. Watkins, 1917), 38–39. Further quotations of Porphyry are from this edition. 172. Heppner, Reading Blake’s Designs, 250. 173. Norman Bryson, Word and Image: French Painting of the Ancien Regime (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981). 174. Porphyry, On the Cave of the Nymphs in the Thirteenth Book of the Odyssey trans. Thomas Taylor (London: John M. Watkins, 1917), 34. 175. Thomas Taylor, The Eleusinian and Bacchic Mysteries (Bibliolife, n.d.), 42.

Part IV 1. M.H. Abrams, Natural Supernaturalism (New York: W.W. Norton, 1971), 295; Schelling’s term Ichheit means literally “I-hood,” but it is usually translated into English as “Selfhood,” as in the works of Rudolf Steiner. See, for example, Rudolf Steiner, The Occult Movement in the Nineteenth Century and Its Relation to Modern Culture (London: Rudolf Steiner, 1973). 2. Thomas Taylor, The Eleusinian and Bacchic Mysteries (Bibliolife, n.d.), 135. 3. Christian Moevs, The Metaphysics of Dante’s Comedy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 39. 4. Taylor, Eleusinian and Bacchic Mysteries, 154. 5. Morton Paley, The Traveller in the Evening (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 119.

6. Taylor, Eleusinian and Bacchic Mysteries, 56. 7. Morton Paley, Energy and the Imagination (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1970), 77. 8. Robert N. Essick, Blake and the Language of Adam (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989), 196. 9. Taylor, Eleusinian and Bacchic Mysteries, 51. 10. Ibid., 51. 11. Antonella Braida, Dante and the Romantics (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), 26. 12. Paley, The Traveller in the Evening, 106. 13. Rodney M. Baine, “Blake’s Dante in a Different Light,” Dante Studies, with the Annual Report of the Dante Society 105 (1987): 115. 14. As in the hand-colored print Albion Rose, sometimes also called Glad Day, in the collection of the British Museum. 15. Abrams, Natural Supernaturalism, 153–61. 16. Francis Macdonald Cornford, Plato’s Cosmology: The Timaeus of Plato (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1937), 145. 17. George Mills Harper, The Neoplatonism of William Blake (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1961), 232. 18. Albert S. Roe, Blake’s Illustrations to the Divine Comedy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1953), 53. 19. Robin Hamlyn and Michael Phillips, William Blake (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000), 204–5; in another impression of this print (reproduced in William Blake, ed. Gert Schiff [Tokyo: National Museum of Western Art, 1990], 193), Blake has colored Lamech’s hair and beard brown. 20. S. Foster Damon, Blake’s Job (New York: Dutton, 1969), 32. 21. Morton Paley, review of Hazard Adams, Blake’s Margins: An Interpretive Study of the Annotations, Review 19; http://www.nbol-19.org/view_doc.php?index=81. 22. Ibid. 23. Paley, The Traveller in the Evening, 122. 24. Roe, Blake’s Illustrations to the Divine Comedy, 13. 25. Damon, Blake Dictionary, 306. 26. Glenn Alexander Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2001), 40. 27. Paley, Energy and the Imagination, 129. 28. Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, 41. 29. Gert Schiff, William Blake, 193. 30. Damon, Blake Dictionary, 269. 31. David Punter, Blake, Hegel and Dialectic (Amsterdam: Editions Rodopi, 1982), 11. 32. Karl Marx, Capital, vol. 1, afterword to the 1873 edition, http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/ 1867-c1/p3.htm. 33. Theodor Adorno, Minima Moralia, Aphorism 152 (New York: Verso, 2010). 34. Ibid., Aphorism 86. 35. Henry Boyd, A Translation of the Hell of Dante Alighieri, in English Verse, with Historical Notes, and the Life of Dante (Dublin: P. Byrne, 1785), 218. 36. Roe, Blake’s Illustrations to the Divine Comedy, 54. 37. William Blake, The Complete Illuminated Books (New York: Thames and Hudson, 2000), 134. 38. Hamlyn and Phillips, William Blake, 42.

Notes. Part IV 39. Dino Cervigni, “Acheron,” in The Dante Encyclopedia, ed. Richard Lansing (New York: Garland, 2000), 3. 40. William Blake, Milton a Poem, ed. Robert N. Essick and Joseph Viscomi (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993), 150. 41. Paley, Energy and the Imagination, 242. 42. E.g., that of Baccio Baldini, reproduced in HeinTh. Schulze Altcappenberg, Sandro Botticelli: The Drawings for Dante’s Divine Comedy (London: Royal Academy of Arts, 2001), 46. 43. Roe, Blake’s Illustrations to the Divine Comedy, 61. 44. Daniel Stempel, “Blake, Foucault, and the Classical Episteme,” Modern Language Association 96, no. 3 (May 1981): 388–407; 400. 45. Punter, Blake, Hegel and Dialectic, 115. 46. Hesiod, Theogony, line 310. 47. Taylor, Eleusinian and Bacchic Mysteries, 64. 48. Martin Butlin, The Paintings and Drawings of William Blake (London: Paul Mellon Centre for British Art, 1981). 49. Milton Klonsky, Blake’s Dante (New York: Harmony, 1980); David Bindman, The Divine Comedy of William Blake (Bibliotheque De L’image, 2000). 50. Dante Alighieri, Inferno, notes by Robert M. Durling and Ronald L. Martinez (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), 111. 51. Boyd, Translation of the Hell, 277. 52. Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri, trans. John Aitkin Carlyle (New York: Modern Library, 1932), 45. 53. Durling and Martinex, Inferno, 127. 54. Roe, Blake’s Illustrations to the Divine Comedy, 73. 55. Damon, Blake Dictionary, 400. 56. Roe, Blake’s Illustrations to the Divine Comedy, 77. 57. Abrams, Natural Supernaturalism, 184. 58. Punter, Blake, Hegel and Dialectic, 106. 59. Blake, Milton a Poem, 142. 60. Ibid. 61. Guy Raffa, “Usury,” in Lansing, Dante Encyclopedia, 847. 62. Durling and Martinez, Inferno, 228. 63. Damon, Blake Dictionary, 311. 64. Ibid., 115. 65. Lawrence Baldassaro, “Malebolge,” in Lansing, Dante Encyclopedia, 585. 66. Durling and Martinez, Inferno, 392. 67. Dante Alighieri, The Inferno of Dante, trans. Robert Pinsky, notes by Nicole Pinsky (New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 1994), 340. 68. Robert Durling, “Plato,” in Lansing, Dante Encyclopedia, 703. 69. Plato, Timaeus, trans. Benjamin Jowett, http:// classics.mit.edu/Plato/timaeus.html. 70. Kathleen Raine, Blake and Tradition, vol. 2 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1968), 238. 71. Damon, Blake Dictionary, 365. 72. Paley, Energy and the Imagination, 79. 73. Rosemary Guiley, The Encyclopedia of Magic and Alchemy (New York: Facts on File, 2000), 234. 74. Pinsky, Inferno, 202–203. 75. John Flaxman, Flaxman’s Illustrations for Dante’s Divine Comedy (Mineola, NY: Dover, 2007), 53.


76. Steven Botterill, “Falsifiers,” in Lansing, Dante Encyclopedia, 369. 77. Roe, Blake’s Illustrations to the Divine Comedy, 135. 78. Hamlyn and Phillips, William Blake, 225. 79. William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience (New York: Penguin, 1982), 189. 80. Ibid., 194. 81. Ibid., 195. 82. Ibid. 83. William James, The Correspondence of William James, 12 vols., general editor, John J. McDermott (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1995), 9:501. 84. James, Varieties of Religious Experience, 196. 85. Paley, Energy and the Imagination, 143. 86. Rebecca S. Beal, “Sun,” in Lansing, Dante Encyclopedia, 802. 87. Paley, Energy and the Imagination, 234. 88. Damon, Blake Dictionary, 246. 89. Roe, Blake’s Illustrations to the Divine Comedy, 145. 90. William Eaves, William Blake’s Theory of Art (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1982), 27. 91. Ibid., 69. 92. Damon, Blake Dictionary, 114. 93. Dante Alighieri, The Purgatorio, trans. John Ciardi (New York: Signet Classics, 1957), 298. 94. Durling and Martinez, Purgatorio, 623. 95. Harold Bloom, “Blake’s Jerusalem: The Bard of Sensibility and the Form of Prophecy,” in Harold Bloom, ed., The Ringer in the Tower: Studies in Romantic Tradition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press), 65–79. 96. Christopher Rowland, “Wheels Within Wheels”: William Blake and the Ezekiel’s Merkabah in Text and Image (Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 2007), 31. 97. Joan M. Ferrante, “Beatrice,” in Lansing, Dante Encyclopedia, 90. 98. Roe, Blake’s Illustrations to the Divine Comedy, 171. 99. Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition 43, 45. 100. Roe, Blake’s Illustrations to the Divine Comedy, 185. 101. Ibid., 193. 102. Northrop Frye, Fearful Symmetry (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1947), 345. 103. Abrams, Natural Supernaturalism, 153. 104. Blake’s depiction of Dante and Beatrice’s reunion as a physical re-merging of their bodies reminds us of Aristophanes’ myth in the Symposium of Plato. 105. Gustave Doré, The Doré Illustrations for Dante’s Divine Comedy (Mineola, NY: Dover, 1976), 118–35. 106. John Pope-Hennessy, Paradiso: The Illuminations to Dante’s Divine Comedy by Giovanni di Paolo (New York: Thames and Hudson), 1991. 107. Northrop Frye, Words with Power (New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1990), 245. 108. Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy: Paradiso, trans. Charles Singleton (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1975), 343. 109. Damon, Blake Dictionary, 264.

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Metzger, Bruce M., and Michael D. Coogan. The Oxford Companion to the Bible. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993. Mitchell, W.J.T. Blake’s Composite Art. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1978. Moevs, Christian. The Metaphysics of Dante’s Comedy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005. Nardi, Bruno. “Dante profeta.” In Dante e la cultura medievale, 336–416. 2nd ed. rev. Bari: Laterza, 1941; reprint, 1949. Norvig, Gerda S. Dark Figures in the Desired Country: Blake’s Illustrations to The Pilgrim’s Progress. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993. Paley, Morton. Energy and the Imagination. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1970. _____. The Traveller in the Evening. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003. Pope-Hennessy, John. Paradiso, The Illuminations to Dante’s Divine Comedy by Giovanni di Paolo. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1993. Porphyry. On the Cave of the Nymphs in the Thirteenth Book of the Odyssey. Translated by Thomas Taylor. London: John M. Watkins, 1917. Proclus. Commentaries on the Timaeus of Plato. Translated by Thomas Taylor. London: A.J. Valpy, 1816. Punter, David. Blake, Hegel and Dialectic. Amsterdam: Editions Rodopi, 1982. Raine, Kathleen. Blake and Tradition. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1968. _____. The Human Face of God. London: Thames and Hudson, 1982. Read, Dennis M. “The Rival Canterbury Pilgrims of Blake and Cromek: Herculean Figures in the Carpet.” Modern Philology 86, no. 2 (1988): 171–190. Roe, Albert S. Blake’s Illustrations to the Divine Comedy. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1953. Rowland, Christopher. “Wheels Within Wheels”: William Blake and the Ezekiel’s Merkabah in Text and Image. Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 2007. Russell, Archibald G.B. The Engravings of William Blake. Houghton Mifflin, 1912. Russell, Bertrand. The History of Western Philosophy. London: Routledge, 2004. Spenser, Edmund. The Faerie Queene. London: Penguin, 1978. Stempel, Daniel. “Blake, Foucault, and the Classical Episteme.” Modern Language Association 96, no. 3 (1981): 388–407. Stoudt, John Joseph. Jacob Boehme, His Life and Thought. New York: Seabury, 1968. Symons, Arthur. William Blake. New York: E.P. Dutton, 1907. Thompson, E.P. Witness Against the Beast. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993. Tinkler-Villani, Valeria. Visions of Dante in English Poetry. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1989. Wallis, R.T. Neoplatonism. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1972. Werner, Bette Charlene. Blake’s Vision of the Poetry of Milton. Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press, 1986. Wicksteed, Joseph Hartley. Blake’s Vision of the Book of Job. New York: Haskell House, 1971. Yeats, W.B. Essays and Introductions. New York: Collier, 1961.

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Index Numbers in bold italics indicate pages with photographs. Abrams, Meyer Howard 35, 39, 53, 96, 124, 176, 253 Adorno, Theodor 145, 242 Agnello Brunelleschi 200, 201 Agrippa, Cornelius 97, 224 Albion (character and placename) 9, 11, 70, 92, 93, 99, 133, 138, 143, 147–148, 157, 191, 195, 263 All Religions Are One 132 America 36, 229 The Ancient of Days 77 Antaeus 211–212 antinomianism 2, 36–40, 43, 46, 48, 68, 72, 76, 84, 87, 88, 93, 95, 124, 187, 267 Aristophanes 105, 160 Aristotle 44, 47, 62, 72, 85–87, 114, 128, 143, 262–263 The Arlington Court Picture (The Sea of Time and Space) 110, 113–121, 117, 120, 134, 135, 224 Bacon, Francis 5, 11–12, 145, 195, 261, 263 Baine, Rodney M. 1, 14, 133 Basire, James 8 Beatrice 5, 15, 32–33, 46–47, 57– 58, 74, 78–79, 85, 104, 121, 132, 137, 219, 228, 240–241, 240, 243–244, 251–255, 252, 253, 254, 258, C7 Bertrand de Born 206, 207 Bindman, David 161 Blair, Robert 26, 111, 147 Bloom, Harold 52, 242 Boehme, Jacob 1, 2, 15, 16, 37, 53–54, 65–67, 68–70, 76, 93, 97–98, 104, 105, 113, 114, 124, 133, 143, 144, 189, 242, 244 Bocca degli Abbati 213, 214 Book of Job 6, 15, 48, 56, 99, 101, 246, 251

The Book of Los 191 The Book of Thel 13, 98, 106–113, 107, 108, 114, 134 The Book of Urizen 10, 180, 263, 264 Botterill, Steven 208 Botticelli 24, 133, 255 Boyd, Henry 3, 20, 23, 29–34, 39, 40, 43, 47, 51, 57, 109, 145, 161 Boydell, John 20 Bromion 83 Bruno, Giordano 62, 65, 133 Bryant, Jacob 8, 195 Bunyan, John 6 Buoso Donati 200, 202, 202 Butlin, Martin 161 Butts, Thomas 25 Byron, George Gordon 8 Caiaphas 90, 191 Capaneus 178–180, 182, 198, 206, 212, 217, 257, C1 Cary, Henry Francis 21, 24, 57, 75, 77, 85, 86, 94, 126, 130, 145, 161, 165, 191, 196, 207, 255, 260 Cassirer, Ernst 61–65 Cato of Utica 220–221 Cavalcante Cavalcanti 171, 172 Cerberus 160–161, 162 Charon 149–151, 150, 151, 220 Chaucer, Geoffrey 6, 90, 263 Ciampolo the Barrator 191, 192 Ciardi, John 78, 241 Coleridge, Samuel Taylor 3, 8, 21, 36, 53, 54, 115 Coppe, Abiezer 37–38 Cowper, William 6, 23, 31 Cromwell, Oliver 35, 36, 267 Damon, S. Foster 8, 15, 69, 99, 140, 143, 144, 168, 180, 240, 262


Dante Alighieri: Convivio 40, 60, 74, 87; De Monarchia 40, 57; on government 40–44; on hylomorphism 72–77; on sin 33, 40–42, 85–87, 88, 130, 131, 143, 152, 177–178, 184, 219, 224, 235–236 Darwin, Erasmus 196 David (king) 94, 230, 249 Davies, Edward 7 Descriptive Catalogue 6, 8 Doré, Gustave 255 Dürer, Albrecht 87 Durling, Robert M. 85–86, 165, 178, 241 Ephialtes 211–212, 211 Erdman, David 2, 39, 161 Erigena, Johannes Scottus 52, 72, 88, 96, 253 Essick, Robert 2, 7, 106, 148, 176 Europe 36 “The Everlasting Gospel” 84, 195 Farinata degli Uberti 171, 172 felix culpa 96–97, 101, 104 Feuerbach, Ludwig 68 Filippo Argenti 165, 167, 168 Fischer, Kevin 2, 66 Flaxman, John 6, 19, 20, 23, 24, 26, 31, 68, 197, 200 Fludd, Robert 15 For Children: The Gates of Paradise 22, 22, 93, 140, 147 For the Sexes: the Gates of Paradise 147 Four Zoas 47, 53, 69–71, 157– 158, 168, 184, 203, 206, 215, 235–236, 242–243, 244, 247 The Four Zoas [Vala] 13, 69, 89, 91, 99, 117, 131, 132, 137, 157, 168, 180, 183, 196, 220, 227, 239, 241, 244, 260

282 Francesca da Rimini or Francesca da Polenta see Paolo and Francesca The French Revolution 36 Frye, Northrop 48, 49, 83, 110, 245, 246, 257 Fuller, David 1, 13, 14–15 Fuseli, Henry 20–21, 24, 215 Galileo Galilei 63, 65 Geryon 184, 185 The Ghost of a Flea 116, 212 Gianni Schicchi 209 Gibbon, Edward 19 Giovanni di Paolo 255 Godwin, William 38 Goya, Francisco 54 The Grave 26, 111, 147, 147 “Gwin, King of Norway” 36 Harper, George Mills 2 Hayley, William 3, 20–21, 23, 30–31 Hazlitt, William 22 Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich 2, 54, 61–62, 66–67, 97, 98, 124, 145 Heppner, Christopher 114, 118– 119, 121 Heraclitus 112, 116, 119, 128 Hesiod 118, 161 Hirst, Desiree 2 Hogarth, William 20 Holmes, Richard 21 Homer (character in The Divine Comedy) 50, 152–154, 153, 155, 262–263 Homer (Greek poet) 6, 21, 24, 32, 46, 105, 114–119, 154, 242, 267 Huggins, William 20 Illustrations for the Book of Job 1, 6, 10, 13, 15–16, 17, 25–26, 99– 101, 100, 102, 103, 119, 139– 140, 141, 180, 237, 247, 249, 263 imagination 4, 11, 48, 50, 52–55, 57, 69–72, 77–78, 81, 82, 90, 94, 100, 123–124, 132–133, 137, 148, 153, 157, 159–160, 203, 217, 220, 224, 230, 232, 235, 239, 245, 246, 249, 254, 261, 263, 267, 268 inexpressibility topos 18, 59, 261 infinity 62–72, 77–79, 83–85, 87, 89, 90, 92, 123–124, 143, 157 James, William 218–219 Jerusalem 11, 12, 31, 47, 69, 82, 84, 88, 90, 91, 92, 94, 95, 117, 124, 137, 138, 140, 142, 143, 147, 183, 195, 227, 241, 242,

Index 244, 245, 252, 254, 261, 262, 263 Johnson, Joseph 38 Jung, Carl 90 Kant, Immanuel 52, 53, 62, 64, 66, 67, 69, 98, 145 Keats, John 21 Kepler, Johann 62, 63 The Keys of Calais 36 Kircher, Athanasius 104 Klonsky, Milton 161 Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm 62 Lessing, Gotthold Ephraim 62 Lindberg, Bo 15, 99 Linnell, John 5, 25–27 Locke, John 5, 11–12, 19, 52, 55– 56, 65, 81–82, 95, 124, 131, 145, 263 Los 53, 94, 137, 138, 143, 147, 148–149, 168, 215, 220, 224 Lucan (character in The Divine Comedy) 152 Lucan (Roman poet) 46, 194 Lukacs, Georg 54 Lundeen, Kathleen 2, 53 Luther, Martin 4, 29, 34, 36, 39 Magee, Glenn Alexander 2 Manto 189 The Marriage of Heaven and Hell 6, 7, 21–22, 36, 51, 80–81, 83, 87, 158, 176, 180, 189, 243 Marx, Karl 68, 145 merkabah 48, 241–244 Michelangelo 6, 19–20, 27, 45, 68, 139, 151, 261 Milton 4, 7, 9, 11–14, 31, 39, 49, 56, 91, 92, 117, 120, 137, 140– 141, 142, 143, 148, 175, 195, 220, 267 Milton, John 6–7, 9–12, 14, 16, 24, 31, 35, 39, 47, 49, 53, 55– 56, 68, 72, 77, 79, 94, 96, 120, 142, 149, 263, 267 Minos 155–158, 156, 159 Minotaur 177, 177 Mitchell, W.J.T. 2, 83 Moevs, Christian 78 Montesquieu, Baron CharlesLouis de Secondat de 7, 19 “Morning” 228 Muggletonianism 37–38 Nardi, Bruno 57, 59 Newton 77 Newton, Isaac 5, 11–12, 77, 82, 145, 176, 186, 195, 226, 252, 261, 263 Nicholas of Cusa (Cusanus) 16, 52–54, 61–69, 76, 83, 87, 92, 93, 98, 143, 154, 242, 267

Nimrod 211–212, 232 Numenius 115, 119 Orc 39, 45, 131, 180–181, 196, 198, 205, 206, 217, 229, 236, 257 Origen 72, 88, 96 Ovid (character in The Divine Comedy) 152 Ovid (Roman poet) 45, 46, 182, 194 Paine, Thomas 38–39 Paley, Morton 5, 21–24, 27, 53, 101, 131, 141, 196, 220, 224 Paolo and Francesca 20, 152, 158–160, 159, 170 Paracelsus 15, 37, 53, 65, 97, 133, 224 Paradise Lost 6, 11, 12, 13, 14, 55– 56, 68, 77, 96, 144, 149, 170, 215 Phlegyas 165, 167, 168 Pico della Mirandola 62, 104 Pinsky, Nicole 194 Pinsky, Robert 197 Plato 9, 51, 57, 60, 62, 89, 105, 110, 111–112, 114–116, 118, 119, 128, 133, 160, 194, 263 Plotinus 16, 52, 62, 72, 97–98, 105, 109, 113, 114, 130 Plutus 161–162, 163 Porphyry 52, 109–110, 114–121, 154, 224 Portrait of Dante Alighieri 23, 23, 133 Priestley, Joseph 38 Proclus 52, 115, 130, 133 Pseudo-Dionysius the Aeropagite 58, 64 Punter, David 2, 67, 83, 144–145, 157, 176 Raine, Kathleen 2, 15, 99, 109– 111, 114, 118–119 Raphael 6, 23, 23, 133, 243 Reynolds, Joshua 5, 21, 56, 91, 204, 215 Richardson, Jonathan 19–20 Robinson, Henry Crabb 4, 6, 55, 68 Roe, Albert S. 1–2, 5, 13–16, 79, 91, 121, 133, 137, 142, 145, 149, 154, 161, 168, 171, 186, 190, 215, 227, 244, 262 Rogers, Charles 20 Russell, Archibald G.B. 8 Rusticucci, Jacopo 181 St. Ambrose 96 St. Augustine 16, 42, 52–54, 61, 67, 88, 96, 105 St. Gregory the Great 58, 96

Index St. John 48, 57, 141, 241–245, 247, 249, 254, C7 St. Lucia 137, 228, C5 St. Peter 253, 253, 254, C7 St. Thomas Aquinas 16, 52, 54, 62, 74, 76, 85, 93, 96, 267 Satan 8, 11, 32, 39, 41, 50, 55, 56, 72, 80, 91, 93–94, 95, 99–100, 123, 124, 139, 140, 142, 153– 154, 161, 174–176, 180, 195, 213, 215–216, 216, 263 Schiller, Johann Christoph Friedrich 98 Shakespeare, William 6, 19, 32, 133 Shelley, Percy Bysshe 8, 21, 115 Singleton, Charles 75, 260 Smith, John 53 Smollet, Tobias 20 Southey, Robert 8, 35 Spenser, Edmund 110–113, 128 Statius 46, 73, 178, 236–237, 238, 240 Stempel, Daniel 157 Stoudt, John Joseph 97 Stukeley, William 7 Swedenborg, Emmanuel 50, 98, 131 Taylor, Thomas 114–115, 117, 120, 127–132, 161; “Cave of the

Nymphs” 114–121; The Eleusinian and Bacchic Mysteries: A Dissertation 127, 132, 161 Tharmas 168 Thel 106–110, 112–113, 128, 131, 133–134, 143, 186 There Is No Natural Religion 77 Thompson, E.P. 2, 36, 37–38 Thorton, Robert John 25 Tiresias 189 Toynbee, Paget 20 Ugolino 19–23, 160, 213–215, 214, C4 Ulysses 205–206, 217 Urizen 9–11, 33, 34, 39–40, 45, 47, 48, 53, 54, 55, 69–71, 82, 84, 92, 124, 131–132, 137, 144– 145, 148–149, 157, 168, 180, 196, 212, 217, 236, 242, 257, 260, 263, 264, 265, 266 Vala 15, 69–72, 79, 121, 137, 148, 154, 195, 227, 236, 244 Vanni Fucci 198, 199, 205, 212, 217 Vaughan, Thomas 194–195 Virgil (character in The Divine Comedy) 45, 47, 73, 85–87, 126–240, 129, 136, 146, 150, 151, 153, 155, 156, 159, 162,

283 163, 167, 170, 171, 172, 177, 178, 179, 181, 185, 188, 190, 193, 199, 201, 202, 207, 208, 209, 210, 211, 214, 216, 222, 223, 225, 227, 231, 233, 234, 238, 240, C1, C2, C3, C4, C5, C6 Virgil (Roman poet) 6, 8, 25, 31, 45–46, 94, 105, 110, 113, 128, 129, 130, 132, 148, 187 the Virgin Mary 34, 45, 137, 228, 230, 262 Viscomi, Joseph 7, 148, 176 Visions of the Daughters of Albion 10, 83 Walpole, Edward 20 Walpole, Horace 20 Warton, Thomas 31, 47 Watanabe, Morimichi 62 Werner, Bette Charlene 6–7 Wicksteed, Joseph 15 Wilford, Francis 8 Winckelmann, Johann 19 Wollstonecraft, Mary 38 Wordsworth, Dorothy 55 Wordsworth, William 36, 39, 115 Yeats, William Butler 5