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Quotes

Quote #10

[Beatrice]: “…The fledgling bird
must meet two or three blows before he learns,
but any full-fledged bird is proof against
the net that has been spread or arrow, aimed.”
As children, when ashamed, will stand, their eyes
upon the ground – they listen, silently,
acknowledging their fault repentantly –
so did I stand…(Purg. XXXI, 60-67)

Dante is so ashamed by Beatrice’s ruthless accusations that he compares his degraded self to a “fledgling bird” who “must meet two or three blows before he learns.” He also compares himself to a sulky child who knows he’s done wrong and who “silently…acknowledges [his] fault.” Dante’s shame is so strong here that he cannot even think of himself as a human adult, instead representing himself as an animal and a child.

Quote #11

[Beatrice]: “Your intellect’s asleep if it can’t see
how singular’s the cause that makes that tree
so tall and makes it grow invertedly.
And if, like waters of the Elsa, your
vain thoughts did not encrust you mind; if your
delight in them were not like Pyramus
staining the mulberry, you’d recognize
in that tree’s form and height the moral sense
God’s justice had when He forbade trespass.
But since I see your intellect is made
of stone and, petrified, grown so opaque –
the light of what I say has left you dazed –
I’d also have you bear my words within you –
if not inscribed, at least outlined – just as
the pilgrim’s staff is brought back wreathed with palm.” (Purg. XXXIII, 64-78)

In a final humiliating stab, Beatrice attributes Dante’s intellectual blindness to his pride. It’s his “asleep intellect” and “vain thoughts” that keep him from realizing why the Tree of Divine Justice is shaped so strangely. His pride so distracts him that Beatrice has to tell him the reason, but warns him to remember her words. Her reference to a “pilgrim” is a veiled reminder to Dante to be humble, for a pilgrim is by definition a subordinate to God and does not think too highly of his memory, for he always comes from his pilgrimage with a “staff […] wreathed with palm” to remind himself of where he’s been and of the lessons he’s learned.

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