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by Dante Alighieri

Purgatorio Education Quotes

How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Canto, Line). We used Allen Mandelbaum's translation.

Quote #7

Those two [Virgil and Statius] were in the lead; I walked alone,
behind them, listening to their colloquy,
which taught me much concerning poetry.” (Purg. XXII, 127-129)

Here, Dante follows his two idols and soaks up their words concerning their (and his) craft. Again, listening to one’s elders, especially those known for their art, is exemplified as a method of learning.

Quote #8

And as the fledgling stork will lift its wing
because it wants to fly, but dares not try
to leave the nest, and lets its wing drop back,
so I, with my desire to question kindled
then spent, arrived as far as making ready
to speak. But my dear father, though our steps
were hurrying, did not stop talking, for
he said: “The iron of the arrow’s touched
the longbow; let the shaft of speech fly off.”
Then I had the confidence enough to open
my mouth and ask him: “How can one grow lean
where there is never need for nourishment?” (Purg. XXV, 10-21)

Dante compares his hesitancy to impinge on his teacher to a “fledgling stork [who]…wants to fly, but dares not leave the nest." However, Virgil encourages him to ask questions. Thus communication between teacher and student is presented as an essential part of learning. It is not surprising that Dante so espouses the Socratic method, for in medieval Europe it served as one of the standard learning tools and enjoyed widespread use at the university level.

Quote #9

[Beatrice]: “…The fledgling bird
must meet two or three blows before he learns,
but any full-fledged bird is proof against
the net that has been spread or arrow, aimed.”
As children, when ashamed, will stand, their eyes
upon the ground – they listen, silently,
acknowledging their fault repentantly –
so did I stand…(Purg. XXXI, 60-67)

Shame, Beatrice implies, is useful in teaching lessons to children (or to unrepentant Christians), even though it is inherently painful and humiliating. The comparison of Dante to a child with his “eyes upon the ground” should remind readers of Marco Lombardo’s comparison of the desiring soul to a child – one who means well, but who simply cannot yet distinguish between good and evil.

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