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by Dante Alighieri

Purgatorio Theme of Politics

Dante’s view of politics is essentially a negative one. The sorry state of politics is to be blamed on the passage of time, the infective nature of sin, and man’s misguided exercise of free will. As Purgatorio goes on, Dante’s political perspective becomes clear. Dante sees individuals as susceptible to selfishness; societies need a just ruler and laws to guide them towards virtue. However, Dante’s hope for an ideal emperor who might restore a beneficial balance between church and state seems to die halfway through Purgatorio. The second half of the text discusses politics not in terms of practice, but in terms of theory and philosophy. An important aspect of Dante’s theory is his emphasis on the importance of the individual and his soul.

Questions About Politics

  1. On the individual level, who is responsible for the rampant corruption in politics? Is it any one individual? Or is it the bad choices of many individuals? Can Heaven be blamed?
  2. What two forces are the most important for keeping politics operating in a pure manner? What has happened to compromise their power? What does Dante claim is the solution?
  3. How does Dante’s attitude toward politics change as the narrative continues? When does he seem most hopeful about the restoration of the Holy Roman Empire? When does he seem most skeptical?
  4. What do Beatrice’s prophecies foresee for European politics?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

By asserting that a just emperor is the cure for the maladies of the Empire, Dante claims that the secular arm of the state is more crucial for political purity than the Church.

When Beatrice charges Dante to accurately record his narrative “to profit the world which lives badly,” she asserts that it is neither the Church’s nor the state’s responsibility to see to the good of its citizenry; rather, the burden of living virtuously should fall to the individual himself.

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