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by Dante Alighieri

Purgatorio Suffering Quotes

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

Quote #10

Each shade had dark and hollow eyes; their faces
were pale and so emaciated that
their taut skin took its shape from bones beneath.
I don’t believe that even Erysichthon
had been so dried, down to his very hide,
by hunger, when his fast made him fear most.
Thinking, I told myself: “I see the people
who lost Jerusalem, when Mary plunged
her beak into her son.” The orbits of
their eyes seemed like a ring that’s lost its gems;
and he who, in the face of man, would read
OMO would here have recognized the M.
Who – if he knew not how – would have believed
that longing born from odor of a tree,
odor of water, could reduce souls so? (Purg. XXIII, 22-36)

For their unrestrained hunger on earth, the Gluttonous suffer starvation in Purgatory. This is so intense that their bodies show utter emaciation: “their taut skin took its shape from bones beneath.” In other words, their bodies are skeletal, so skinny that the OMO formation of the face (the two eyes flanking the “M” of the cheekbone-to-nose structure) is dominated by the M. This means that there is absolutely no fat on their cheeks and that their eyes have shrunken into the face.

Quote #11

And he [Forese] to me: “From the eternal counsel,
the water and the tree you left behind
receive the power that makes me waste away.
All of these souls who, grieving, sing because
their appetite was gluttonous, in thirst
and hunger here resanctify themselves.
The fragrance of the fruit and of the water
that’s sprayed through that green tree kindles in us
craving for food and drink; and not once only,
as we go round this space, our pain’s renewed –
I speak of pain but I should speak of solace,
for we are guided to those trees by that
same longing that had guided Christ when He
had come to free us through the blood He shed
and, in His joyousness, called out: ‘Eli.’ (Purg. XXIIII, 61-75)

As usual, a penitent representative of his vice (Forese for gluttony) describes the just nature of his punishment. Forese, however, is one of the first to speak of his suffering in glowing terms: “I speak of pain but I should speak of solace.” Interestingly, Forese finds “solace” or comfort in his suffering. This means that the Gluttonous (and, as we’ll soon see, the Lustful) are so close to purging themselves entirely that they’ve learned to take a small amount of pleasure in their overwhelming pain.

Quote #12

Then, from the heart of that great conflagration,
I heard “Summae Deus clementiae
sung – and was not less keen to turn my eyes;
and I saw spirits walking in the flames,
so that I looked at them and at my steps,
sharing the time I had to look at each…
Then they returned to singing, and they praised
aloud those wives and husbands who were chaste,
as virtue and as matrimony mandate.
This is – I think – the way these spirits act
as long as they are burned by fire: this is
the care and this the nourishment with which
one has to heal the final wound of all. (Purg. XXV, 121-139)

The “final wound of all” is the last and least serious vice: Lust. The Lustful are punished by “walking in flames.” Of all the punishments described so far, this one – to readers – may seem the most immediately painful. However, the Lustful show no signs of pain; indeed, they are singing as they burn. Furthermore, Dante describes this burning as “care” and “nourishment,” not agony or excruciating pain.

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