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by Dante Alighieri

Purgatorio Politics Quotes

How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Canto, Line). We used Allen Mandelbaum's translation.

Quote #1

he [Dante] goes in search of liberty – so precious,
as he who gives his life for it must know.
You know it – who, in Utica, found death
for freedom was not bitter, when you left
the garb that will be bright on the great day.
Eternal edicts are not broken for us;
this man’s alive, and I’m not bound by Minos…(Purg. I, 71-77)

Virgil tries to get Cato’s sympathy for Dante’s cause by pleading their common goal of freedom. Dante is attempting to find freedom for his soul – which means a pathway to Heaven – while Cato died for political freedom in Utica. It is for this ideal of political freedom that Cato earns his entry into Heaven, when “the garb [his body]…will be bright on the great day.” Author-Dante sets up political freedom as one aspect of an ideal society.

Quote #2

[Jacopo del Cassero]: “My home was Fano; but the piercing wounds
from which there poured the blood where my life lived –
those I received among Antenor’s sons,
there where I thought that I was most secure;
for he of Este, hating me far more
than justice warranted, had that deed done.
But had I fled instead toward Mira when
they overtook me at Oriaco, then
I should still be beyond, where men draw breath.
I hurried to the marsh. The mud, the reeds
entangled me; I fell. And there I saw
a pool, poured from my beings, form on the ground.” (Purg. V, 73-84)

Through the character of Jacopo del Cassero, author-Dante castigates Italy for its treachery. Jacopo, chief magistrate of Bologna, earned the jealousy and spite of Azzo VIII d’Este, who wanted that throne for himself. When Jacopo was traveling to Milan to take on another magistracy, Azzo deviously had him wounded and eventually killed. Here, Jacopo describes his desperate flight from his enemies towards Padua, the home of “Antenor’s sons,” where he “thought that [he] was most secure,” but where “he of Este […] had that deed done.” This implies that Antenor, a city named after the betrayer of Troy, betrayed Jacopo as well by plotting with Azzo to kill him. In general, Dante suggests that Italy is not as politically virtuous and unified as it once was.

Quote #3

But those who are alive within you [Italy] now
can’t live without their warring – even those
whom one same wall and one same moat enclose
gnaw at each other. Squalid Italy,
search round your shores and then look inland – see
if any part of you delight in peace. (Purg. VI, 82-87)

In his famous invective against Italy, Dante criticizes his country for its disunity. The entire population of Italy, it seems, is “warring.” These wars – all petty political squabbles – keep Italy from uniting to form a great nation or from tackling greater issues like the corruption of the Church.

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