Leah Icon
Leah and Rachel: Terrace 7, Purgatorio 27
Dante's third and final dream on the mountain of Purgatory is as clear and tranquil as the first two dreams were fraught with violence and (sexual) angst. Having witnessed the painful purgations of all seven terraces (in particular, having experienced for himself the searing heat of lust), Dante now sees in a dream a scene of pastoral calm. Young and beautiful, the biblical character Leah gathers flowers to make into a garland, and she tells how her sister Rachel never stops observing her reflection in a mirror. In their roles of "doing and seeing," Leah and Rachel were conventionally viewed as symbols, respectively, of the active and contemplative lives. (Leah, the first wife of Jacob, bore seven children, while her younger sister Rachel, Jacob's second wife, died while giving birth to her second child [Gen. 29-30, 35].) In the Convivio, his earlier philosophical work, Dante followed the traditional hierarchy, largely based on Aristotle, of contemplation over action:
We must know, however, that we may have two kinds of happiness in this life, according to two different paths, one good and the other best, which lead us there. One is the active life, the other the contemplative life, and although by the active, as has been said, we may arrive at a happiness that is good, the other leads us to the best happiness and state of bliss, as the Philosopher proves in the tenth book of the Ethics. (4.17.9)
Here in the Divine Comedy Dante's thinking is also influenced by the Platonic-Ciceronian ideal of the philosopher-ruler. Thus the two modes--contemplation and action, "seeing" and doing"--appear complementary and equally important. For Dante, more so than for many classical and medieval authorities, the life of the mind and the life of the world become one.