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The Symbolic Figure of the Course of Human History Described by Virgil. 1824-27
pen, ink and watercolour over pencil and ? black chalk (NGV13)
Felton Bequest, 1920
National Gallery of Victoria

Inferno XIV, 94-119. Dante and Virgil, in the third ring of the seventh circle, come across a blood-red stream. Dante explains that the rivers of Hell are formed by tears falling from the giant old man encased in the mountain of Ida on the island of Crete, the centre of the known world. For Dante this figure embodied the course of human history. His head is of gold, his arms and breast of silver, his lower abdomen brass, and below that he is of iron save that his right foot is of clay; this denotes the decay of the world from the Golden Age before the Fall to Dante's own time, the clay foot representing the degenerate church. Blake endows the figure with a crown, an orb and a sceptre to show that in his view the decay of the world was the result of political oppression - kingship and tyranny.

(c)1999 National Gallery of Victoria