by Dante Alighieri
Purgatorio Love Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Canto, Line). We used Allen Mandelbaum's translation.
[Virgil]: “Thus, if I have distinguished properly,
ill love must mean to wish one’s neighbor ill;
and this love’s born in three ways in your clay.
There’s he who, through abasement of another,
hopes for supremacy; he only longs
to see his neighbor’s excellence cast down.
Then there is one who, when he is outdone,
fears his own loss of fame, power, honor, favor;
his sadness loves misfortune for his neighbor.
And there is he who, over injury
received, resentful, for revenge grows greedy
and, angrily, seeks out another’s harm.
This threefold love is expiated here
below; now I would have you understand
the love the seeks the good distortedly.” (Purg. XVII, 112-126)
Having distinguished between natural and mental love, Virgil goes on to characterize different types of sinful mental love (also called perverted love). He specifies three kinds. The first is pride (“hopes for supremacy”), the second is envy (“when he is outdone, fears his own loss of fame”), the third is wrath (in which one “seeks out another’s harm”). Thus, readers can see that the first three terraces (which Dante has already experienced) contain the three kinds of perverted love. Following what Virgil said earlier, there are only two other kinds of sinful love: loving with “too much or too little vigor.” It should come as no surprise that these kinds of insufficient and excessive love are punished in the higher terraces, still to come.
[Virgil]: “The soul, which is created quick to love,
responds to everything that pleases, just
as soon as beauty wakens it to act.
Your apprehension draws an image
from a real object and expands upon
that object until soul has turned toward it;
and if, so turned, the soul tends steadfastly,
then that propensity is love – it’s nature
that joins the soul in you, anew, through beauty.
Then, just as flames ascend because the form
of fire was fashioned to fly upward, toward
the stuff of its own sphere, where it lasts longest,
so does the soul, when seized, move into longing,
a motion of the spirit, never resting
till the beloved thing has made it joyous.
Now you can plainly see how deeply hidden
truth is from scrutinists who would insist
that every love is, in itself, praiseworthy;
and they are led to error by the matter
of love, because it may seem – always – good;
but not each seal is fine, although the wax is.” (Purg. XVIII, 19-39)
Virgil explains how man comes to love objects. Not surprisingly, it works like a fantasy, wherein a person's senses first discover something aesthetically pleasing. Then the soul takes over and “draws an image from a real object”; in other words it takes that object of desire, perfects it, and puts it up on a pedestal to admire and lust after. If the soul lusts after that object “steadfastly” or repeatedly, it becomes love, though it may be perverted love if the object isn't worthy of being loved. This is why some people are wrong in asserting that “every love is, in itself, praiseworthy.”
a stammering woman came to me in dream:
her eyes askew, and crooked on her feet,
her hands were crippled, her complexion sallow.
I looked at her; and just as sun revives
cold limbs that night made numb, so did my gaze
loosen her tongue and then, in little time,
set her contorted limbs in perfect order;
and, with the coloring that love prefers,
my eyes transformed the wanness of her features.
And when her speech had been set free, then she
began to sing so, that it would have been
most difficult for me to turn aside. (Purg. XIX, 7-18)
In his dream about the siren, Dante transforms the ugly beast into a seductive woman. It is only through his love (or desire) for beautiful things that he does this; it turns out, however, that even though he desires for the woman to be good, she still hides some evil (depicted here as ugliness). This proves that love is not virtuous if directed at the wrong object.