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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.

Quote #1

[Dante to the Late-Repentant who died of Violence]: “…if there’s anything within
my power that might please you, then – by that
same peace which in the steps of such a guide
I seek from world to world – I shall perform it.”
And one began: “We all have faith in your
good offices without your oath, as long
as lack of power does not curb your will.” (Purg. V, 60-66)

By swearing an oath, Dante performs one of the most meaningful tasks with language: he asserts his honor by putting the truth of his words to the test. The Late-Repentant accepts his oath and trust that – out of the goodness of his heart – Dante will bring word of them back to earth.

Quote #2

…in an age
when record books and measures could be trusted… (Purg. XII, 104-105)

A common theme throughout this text is the degeneration of man’s virtue over time. Because Dante sees truth as intrinsically tied up with language, he vents his frustration here with a reference to the decay of language. He claims that in the old days, when man properly worshipped God, man’s use of language was similarly honest and accurate. Thus, in the past, “record books and measures could be trusted.”

Quote #3

The other [Rinieri da Calboli] said to him [Guido del Duca]: “Why did he [Dante] hide
that river’s name, even as one would do
in hiding something horrible from view?”
The shade to whom this question was addressed
repaid with this: “I do not know; but it
is right for such a valley’s name to perish,
for from its source…
until its end point…
virtue is seen as serpent, and all flee
from it as if it were an enemy,
either because the site is ill-starred or
their evil custom goads them so; therefore,
the nature of that squalid valley’s people
has changed, as if they were in Circe’s pasture.” (Purg. XIV, 25-42)

This passage follows the concept of taboo: certain things are so evil that even naming them can bring about bad luck. Here, the river Arno remains unnamed because it provides a vital stream of water to Italian regions where – according to Dante – men run most corrupt.

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