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.
“Gloria in excelsis Deo,” they all cried –
so did I understand from those nearby,
whose shouted words were able to be heard.
Just like the shepherds who first heard that song,
we stood, but did not move, in expectation,
until the trembling stopped, the song was done. (Purg. XX, 136-141)
When the mountain trembles, signaling the complete purgation of one soul and his readiness for Heaven, all the penitents rejoice. Not surprisingly, they express their joy in song. This hymn that they sing translates to “Glory to God in the highest,” originally sung by the angels to announce the birth of Christ to the shepherds. Thus, we are supposed to equate the newly cleansed soul to baby Jesus – an image of ultimate purity.
[Statius]: “I had sufficient fame beyond,” that spirit
replied; “I bore the name that lasts the longest
and honors most – but faith was not yet mine.
So gentle was the spirit of my verse
that Rome drew me, son of Toulouse, to her
and there my brow deserved a crown of myrtle.
On earth my name is still remembered – Statius:
I sang of Thebes and then of great Achilles;
I fell along the way of that last labor.
The sparks that warmed me, the seeds of my ardor,
were from the holy fire – the same that gave
more than a thousand poets light and flame.
I speak of the Aeneid; when I wrote
verse, it was mother to me, it was nurse;
my work, without it, would not weigh an ounce.” (Purg. XXI, 85-99)
Here is the exemplar of useful art. Virgil’s Aeneid, a pagan work, inspired Statius so much that he turned to the faith of Christianity. Statius compares Virgil’s poetry to a “holy fire” that “warmed [him]” and gave him “seeds of ardor.” This latter comparison to “seeds” suggests that poetry, like plants, can produce a new generation of its art through inspiration.
And – there! – “Labi mea, Domine”
was wept and sung and heard in such a manner
that it gave birth to both delight and sorrow. (Purg. XXIII, 10-12)
This hymn, sung on the sixth terrace by the Gluttonous, has the opening lines, “O, Lord, open thou my lips, and my mouth shall shew forth thy praise.” This is especially appropriate because the Gluttonous used to open their mouths only to satisfy their physical hunger; now they give thanks to God with the same mouths, but reformed.