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by Dante Alighieri

Purgatorio Fate and Free Will Quotes

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

Quote #1

[Virgil]: “As I have told you, I was sent to him
for his deliverance; the only road
I could have taken was the road I took.
I showed him all the people of perdition;
now I intend to show to him those spirits
who, in your care, are bent on expiation.
To tell you how I led him would take long;
it is a power descending from above
that helps me guide him here, to see and hear you. (Purg. I, 61-69)

Virgil describes how his mission to guide Dante through Hell is divinely ordained and thus fated. He emphasizes, “the only road / I could have taken was the road I took”; in other words, Virgil has no choice in the matter. Looking deeper, however, you can see this entire scenario might have been avoided. Had Dante followed the virtuous path, his free will would have instinctively steered him clear of the grave sins, so God wouldn't have decided that Dante needed a tour through Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven.

Quote #2

[Dante to Guido del Duca]: “to tell you who I am would be to speak
in vain – my name has not yet gained much fame.” (Purg. XIV, 20-21)

Dante, out of arrogance and his self-proclaimed superiority in his craft, claims that he is destined for fame. Remember, though, that Dante learned his poetry would become famous by the foresight of a sinner in Hell. Seen in this light, his fame is indeed fated.

Quote #3

[Marco Lombardo]: “If this were so, then your free will would be
destroyed, and there would be no equity
in joy for doing good, in grief for evil.
The heavens set your appetites in motion –
not all your appetites, but even if
that were the case, you have received both light
on good and evil, and free will, which though
it struggle in its first wars with the heavens,
then conquers all, if it has been well nurtured.
On greater power and a better nature
you, who are free, depend; that Force engenders
the mind in you, outside the heavens’ sway.” (Purg. XVI, 70-81)

Marco Lombardo blasts the idea that the heavens ordain each and every one of man’s actions. According to Lombardo, man does indeed have his share of free will. Heaven merely “sets your appetites in motion” and “not all your appetites.” The only thing a person can blame Heaven for is having desire. Man, however, is the one who chooses whether or not to act on those desires. He must use his mind to distinguish between good and evil.

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