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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.

Quote #22

…and I could see the candle flames move forward,
leaving the air behind them colored like
the strokes a painter’s brush might have described,
so that the air above that retinue
was streaked with seven bands in every hue
of which the rainbow’s made and Delia’s girdle. (Purg. XXIX, 73-78)

Each of the seven candles in the candelabra leaves a streak of color – like “strokes [from] a painter’s brush” – in the air. The reference to a “painter” is again reminiscent of God the artist.

Quote #23

[Beatrice]: “Here you shall be – awhile – a visitor;
but you shall be with me – and without end –
Rome’s citizen, the Rome in which Christ is
Roman; and thus, to profit that world which
lives badly, watch the chariot steadfastly
and, when you have returned beyond, transcribe
what you have seen.” (Purg. XXXII, 100-106)

Here, Beatrice gives Dante his artistic mission: “Watch the chariot steadfastly / and, when you have returned beyond, transcribe / what you have seen.” This puts a new spin on all the prior text in the Divine Comedy: as a true account commissioned by Beatrice of the human afterlife. Beatrice charges Dante to compose his verse with truth so that his work may profit mortal men and perhaps inspire them to live virtuous lives.

Quote #24

If, reader, I had ampler space in which
to write, I’d sing – though incompletely – that
sweet draught for which my thirst was limitless;
but since all of the pages pre-disposed
for this, the second canticle, are full,
the curb of art will not let me continue. (Purg. XXXIII, 136-141)

Dante gives the readers an impression that his poetry is rigidly structured; he only has a certain number of “pages pre-disposed / for this, the second canticle” and can write no more once he has filled that quota. This reflects God’s ordered universe, where everything has a purpose. Dante reminds us, however, that his “thirst [is] limitless”; in other words, his desire to learn far surpasses the time and space he is allotted. But the “curb of art” requires that he end the second part of his narrative now.

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