by Dante Alighieri
Purgatorio Art and Culture Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Canto, Line). We used Allen Mandelbaum's translation.
…I sensed something
much like the motion of a wing, and wind
that beat against my face, and words: “Beati
pacifici, those free of evil anger!” (Purg. XVII, 66-69)
As an angel purges Dante’s forehead of its third P at the exit of the third terrace of the Wrathful, Dante hears the seventh Beatitude set to song. It translates as “Blessed are the peaceful,” celebrating the purgation of wrath from the souls of the penitents. This is, of course, also an echo to commemorate Dante’s purgation.
“I am,” she sang, “I am the pleasing siren,
who in midsea leads mariners astray –
there is so much delight in hearing me.
I turned aside Ulysses, although he
had longed to journey; who grows used to me
seldom departs – I satisfy him so.”
Her lips were not yet done when, there beside me,
a woman showed herself, alert and saintly,
to cast the siren into much confusion.
“O Virgil, Virgil, tell me: who is this?”
she asked most scornfully; and he came forward,
his eyes intent upon that honest one.
He seized the other, baring her in front,
tearing her clothes, and showing me her belly;
the stench that came from there awakened me. (Purg. XIX, 19-33)
The siren who uses her song to lure men to their deaths (as she tried to do with Ulysses) is a symbol of art used in its most sinful and malicious way. Not only does the siren have a wicked purpose in luring Dante, but she also uses her art dishonestly. This is the downside of art: where it can convey beauty and truth, art is inherently deceptive because it is not a true (but rather, stylized) representation of what is actually there. Virgil saves Dante from falling prey to this deceptive type of art by coming into his dream and stripping the siren to show Dante how wicked and deceptive she truly is.
When I was in the clearing, the fifth level,
my eyes discovered people there who wept,
lying upon the ground, all turned face down.
“Adhaesit pavimento anima mea,”
I heard them say with sighs so deep that it
was hard to comprehend the words they spoke. (Purg. XIX, 70-75)
This prayer, sung by the Avaricious, translates as “My soul cleaves to the dust.” This is ironic because it describes the prostrate position in which Dante finds the Avaricious, “lying upon the ground, all turned face down.” Here, the art mimics the action, describing the punishment of the penitents.