by Dante Alighieri
Purgatorio Education Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Canto.Line). We used Allen Mandelbaum's translation.
O Christians, arrogant, exhausted, wretched,
whose intellects are sick and cannot see,
who place our confidence in backward steps,
do you not know that we are worms and born
to form the angelic butterfly that soars,
without defenses, to confront His judgment?
Why does your mind presume to flight when you
are still like the imperfect grub, the worm
before it has attained its final form? (Purg. X, 121-129)
In scolding the Prideful, Dante gives us a metaphor for education. Man’s mind is “sick and cannot see” the way that God’s universe works. Nevertheless, proud men have pretenses to understanding and thus try to excel in the world, “presum[ing] to flight” like an “angelic butterfly” when they truly are still “imperfect grub[s],” not yet endowed with the knowledge (or wings, to continue the metaphor) needed to succeed. In other words, man should accept that he is an immature being with much to learn and should submit to God’s teachings.
I opened – wider than before – my eyes;
I looked ahead of me, and I saw shades
with cloaks that shared their color with the rocks. (Purg. XIII, 46-48)
One of the most important ways of learning is to open one’s eyes and really observe one’s surroundings. Here, Dante shows he is slowly learning by “open[ing] – wider than before –[his] eyes.” He sees that the rock wall in front of him is not simply a rock wall. The cloaks of the Envious bear the same color as the dark rock and are camouflaged in it. Mandelbaum tells us that “the ‘livid’ blue-black color of its ‘raw rock’ suggests the bruised hearts of those who have been wounded by the sight of the good fortune of others.” In other words, the environment of the penitents reflects their sin; Dante, in opening his eyes, becomes aware of this.
[Statius]: “…Know then that I was far
from avarice – it was my lack of measure
thousands of months have punished. And if I
had not corrected my assessment by
my understanding what your [Virgil’s] verses meant
when you, as if enraged by human nature,
exclaimed: ‘Why cannot you, o holy hunger
for gold, restrain the appetite of mortals?’ –
I’d now, while rolling weights, know sorry jousts.” (Purg. XXII, 34-42)
This passage emphasizes the didactic importance of poetry. Statius, a former pagan, converted to Christianity because he was so moved by Virgil’s verses. He therefore implies that man should indeed look to the words of poets as sources of knowledge.