by Dante Alighieri
Purgatorio Language and Communication Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Canto, Line). We used Allen Mandelbaum's translation.
“Either your speech deceives me or would tempt me,”
he [Marco Lombardo] answered then, “for you, whose speech is Tuscan,
seem to know nothing of the good Gherardo.” (Purg. XVI, 136-138)
Unlike in Inferno, where it happens more frequently, this is the only time in Purgatorio that Dante is identified by his Tuscan accent. Perhaps in Purgatory, the souls are less concerned with who a person was in life, but more concerned with what he is becoming now – purified. Here, however, Dante’s accent does more than simply link him to a certain region of Italy; it implies that by living in that region he should know the man Marco Lombardo is talking about, “good Gherardo.”
Now I am held by one side and the other:
one keeps me still, the other conjures me
to speak; but when, therefore, I sigh, my master
knows why and tells me: “Do not be afraid
to speak, but speak and answer what he has
asked you to tell him with such earnestness.” (Purg. XXI, 115-120)
This is a very telling moment. Dante is caught between the contrasting desires of his two mentors, Virgil and Statius. Appropriately, author-Dante represents this conflict as a verbal one. To whose favor will character-Dante speak? Whose orders will he follow? Finally, Virgil solves the problem in a most favorable manner; he tells Dante to answer Statius’ questions and to speak the truth. This is consonant with the message author-Dante has been conveying to his readers about language: that questions should be asked and addressed, and that they should be answered with truth.
“O you upon the holy stream’s far shore,”
so she [Beatrice], turning her speech’s point against me –
even its edge had seemed too sharp – began
again, without allowing interruption,
“tell, tell if this is true; for your confession
must be entwined with such self-accusation.”
My power of speech was so confounded that
my voice would move and yet was spent before
its organs had released it. (Purg. XXXI, 1-9)
Beatrice’s speech here is described as a blade. Her previous words in Canto XXX are supposedly directed not towards Dante, but towards the angels in the procession. In content, however, they discuss Dante, his sins, and shame. Now, after letting Dante feel the sidelong “edge” of her criticism, Beatrice turns “her speech’s point against [him],” directing her disapproval at him. However, she doesn’t pierce him immediately; instead, she asks for his confession, giving him a chance to spare himself some shame by openly admitting his sins. Dante is so overwhelmed by seeing Beatrice again that his “power of speech” becomes “confounded” and he cannot speak.