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by Dante Alighieri

Purgatorio Theme of Education

Purgatory is essentially a grand school where individuals learn to improve their minds and souls. Education in this sense equates to purification. The lessons of Purgatory operate through tough love, but also teach by example. As Dante travels though the seven terraces of Purgatory, which correlate to the seven deadly sins, he becomes more and more pure until he's finally ready to ascend to Heaven. A certain amount of learning takes place through repetition, as each terrace of Mount Purgatory requires the penitents to recite examples of punished sin and counterexamples of its corresponding virtue. Dante’s education, however, has an extra level. He eventually realizes that man can only learn so much from reason and must, at some point, surrender to faith in order to accept what he cannot explain.

Questions About Education

  1. Does Purgatory teach its penitents only through punishment? Does it use any other methods does it use to reinforce its lessons, perhaps in a more positive manner?
  2. How does Dante learn from his teachers – namely Virgil, Statius, and Beatrice? What do they all encourage him to do in order to learn?
  3. What is the role of language in learning and purification?
  4. What does Dante learn about human reason? What must a good man have in addition to reason to count as a good Christian?
  5. What happens to men who try to understand how or why God created the universe? What does this imply about the difference between human knowledge and divine knowledge?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

Although Purgatory teaches its lessons through punishment, it also reinforces them with more positive methods – namely idolization of exemplary role models and repetition of didactic hymns.

In the latter stages of Dante’s journey through Purgatory, Statius and Beatrice replace Virgil as his guide because Virgil – a symbol of human reason – lacks faith in God and is thus no longer fit to mentor Dante.

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