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.
Just as a crossbow that is drawn too taut
snaps both its cord and bow when it is shot,
and arrow meets its mark with feeble force,
so, caught beneath that heavy weight, I burst;
and I let tears and sighs pour forth; my voice
had lost its lift along its passage out. (Purg. XXXI, 13-21)
Language is seen here as an outlet for intense, bottled-up emotion. Dante compares his shame to a “crossbow that is drawn too taut [and] snaps both its cord and bow when it is shot [so that] that arrow meets its mark with feeble force.” Because his confession is so affected by the deep emotion he feels, the words he uses to describe it do not move Beatrice or his readers. As established in Inferno, Dante considers human speech a faculty of the intellect, completely separate from that of the physical body. Here, however, he finds that the two cannot so easily be separated.
[Beatrice]: “Take note; and even as I speak these words,
do you transmit them in your turn to those
who live the life that is a race to death.
And when you write them, keep in mind that you
must not conceal what you’ve seen of the tree
that now has been despoiled twice over here.” (Purg. XXXIII, 52-57)
Beatrice charges Dante to practice his craft with virtue, to always write with truth.
[Beatrice]: “But from now on the words I speak will be
naked; that is appropriate if they
would be laid bare before your still-crude sight.” (Purg. XXXIII, 100-102)
After charging Dante to write with clarity and truth, Beatrice imposes the same sentence on her speech, promising that “from now on the words I speak will be naked” so that Dante with his “still-crude sight” will understand them. Emphasis here is put on not only the truth of the speaker’s words but on the comprehension of the listener as well. Both need to function in order for language to work properly.