by Dante Alighieri
Purgatorio Politics Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Canto, Line). We used Allen Mandelbaum's translation.
[Guido del Duca]: “This is Rinieri, this is he – the glory,
the honor of the house of Balcoli;
but no one has inherited his worth.
It’s not his kin alone, between the Po
and mountains, and the Reno and the coast,
who’ve lost the truth’s grave good and lost the good
of gentle living, too; those lands are full
of poisoned stumps; but now, however much
one were to cultivate, it is too late.” (Purg. XIV, 88-96)
Dante nurtures an opinion that considers older times more virtuous than more current times. Thus, he claims, the house of Rinieri, despite starting out well (with “the glory, the honor of the house of Balcoli”), has “lost the good of gentle living.” Rinieri’s descendants, then, have not “inherited his worth.” Here, the sin of envy has spread from one noble family into the peasantry and even into the land itself, which is “full of poisoned stumps.” The idea that a bad monarchy might bring about a reciprocal wasteland (where the land is no longer fertile) is a common one in medieval literature.
[Marco Lombardo]: “Thus, if the present world has gone astray,
in you is the cause, in you it’s to be sought;
and now I’ll serve as your true exegete.” (Purg. XVI, 82-84)
Marco Lombardo blames the political corruption of man on man himself, for God has given him the free will and an intelligent mind with which to avoid such moral depravity. This bolsters Dante’s idea that people need a strong ruler and laws to curb people’s selfish tendencies.
[Marco Lombardo]: “Therefore, one needed law to serve as curb;
a ruler, too, was needed, one who could
discern at least the tower of the true city.
The laws exist, but who applies them now?
No one – the shepherd who precedes his flock
can chew the cud but does not have cleft hooves;
and thus the people, who can see their guide
snatch only at that good for which they feel
some greed, would feed on that and seek no further.
Misrule, you see, has caused the world to be
malevolent; the cause is clearly not
celestial forces – they do not corrupt.
For Rome, which made the world good, used to have
two suns; and they made visible two paths –
the world’s path and the pathway that is God’s.
Each has eclipsed the other; now the sword
has joined the shepherd’s crook; the two together
must of necessity result in evil,
because, so joined, one need not fear the other:
and if you doubt me, watch the fruit and flower,
for every plant is known by what it seeds.” (Purg. XVI, 94-114)
Dante criticizes the political corruption of his times, which have allowed self-serving popes to be elected into office. These popes do “not have cleft hooves,” meaning they do not see the crucial importance of maintaining the “cleft” between church and state, by which the one always checks the other and they reciprocally keep each other in line. Instead, society has allowed “the sword [to] join the shepherd’s crook,” so that the boundaries between state and church are blurred; the Church can often be bought by the wealth of princes and other politicians. This “must of necessity result in evil, because, so joined, one need not fear the other.” By Dante’s reasoning, a country must be ruled by a virtuous king to keep the whole population virtuous. But, this “misrule” by the combined church and state “has caused the world to be malevolent” and the laws to be discarded. Man is wrong in blaming the heavens for this corruption, for “celestial forces […] do not corrupt”; they have only themselves to blame.