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by Dante Alighieri

Analysis: Writing Style

Formal, Elevated

Purgatorio is so formal. There’s very little that’s easy and accessible about Dante’s style.

By “formal,” we mean that Dante adheres to a very rigid literary form. In this case, epic conventions include tons of invocations to the muses, epithets, apostrophes, epic similes, divine creatures, and a character list longer than the Encyclopedia Britannica:

But here, since I am yours, o holy Muses,
may this poem rise again from Hell’s dead realm;
and may Calliope rise somewhat here,
accompanying my singing with that music
whose power struck the poor Pierides
so forcefully that they despaired of pardon.
(Purg. I, 7-12)

The “elevated” part points to the difficultly of the text. Sentences tend to be about fifty lines long and chock full of prepositional phases. This sort of language tends to describe a larger-than-life topic—like the purgation of man’s eternal soul—and to address it in a very serious, occasionally stuffy way.

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