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The Earthly Paradise: Matelda

After entering the Garden of Eden, Dante sees Matelda on the opposite bank of the Lethe River that is preventing him to go on. Many critics have discussed about the maiden's identity, whilst she may also be an imaginary character. At Dante's request, Matelda explains to him why and how water and wind are generated in the Earthly Paradise. She also recalls the function of the Lethe River, sprung directly from God, which is to make souls forget about their own sins, while the Eunoe River strengthens the memory of good deeds.

"I will relate how from its cause
Proceedeth that which maketh thee to wonder,
And purge away the cloud that smites upon thee.
The Good Supreme, sole in itself delighting,
Created man good, and this goodly place
Gave him as hansel of eternal peace.
By his default short while he sojourned here;
By his default to weeping and to toil
He changed his innocent laughter and sweet play.
That the disturbance which below is made
By exhalations of the land and water,
(Which far as may be follow after heat,)
Might not upon mankind wage any war,
This mount ascended tow'rds the heaven so high,
And is exempt, from there where it is locked.
Now since the universal atmosphere
Turns in a circuit with the primal motion
Unless the circle is broken on some side,
Upon this height, that all is disengaged
In living ether, doth this motion strike
And make the forest sound, for it is dense;
And so much power the stricken plant possesses
That with its virtue it impregns the air,
And this, revolving, scatters it around;
And yonder earth, according as 'tis worthy
In self or in its clime, conceives and bears
Of divers qualities the divers trees;
It should not seem a marvel then on earth,
This being heard, whenever any plant
Without seed manifest there taketh root.
And thou must know, this holy table-land
In which thou art is full of every seed,
And fruit has in it never gathered there.
The water which thou seest springs not from vein
Restored by vapour that the cold condenses,
Like to a stream that gains or loses breath;
But issues from a fountain safe and certain,
Which by the will of God as much regains
As it discharges, open on two sides.
Upon this side with virtue it descends,
Which takes away all memory of sin;
On that, of every good deed done restores it.
Here Lethe, as upon the other side
Eunoe, it is called; and worketh not
If first on either side it be not tasted.
This every other savour doth transcend".

Purghatory, XXVIII, 88-133.

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