Study Guide

Purgatorio Quotes

  • Time: Haste, Change

    [Cato]: “While I was there, within the other world,
    Marcia so pleased my eyes,” he then replied,
    “each kindness she required, I satisfied.
    Now that she dwells beyond the evil river,
    she has no power to move me any longer,
    such was the law decreed when I was freed.” (Purg. I, 85-90)

    As a guardian of the island of Purgatory, Cato no longer adheres to the same priorities he did during his lifetime. He puts emphasis on how much he has changed from the man he was on earth – one who dearly loved his wife Marcia – to the man he is now – one who is not moved any longer by thoughts of her. This is one of our first clues that human relationships in the afterlife operate differently than they do on earth.

    By now the sun was crossing the horizon
    of the meridian whose highest point
    covers Jerusalem; and from the Ganges,
    night, circling opposite the sun, was moving
    together with the Scales that, when the length
    of dark defeats the day, desert night’s hands;
    so that, above the shore that I had reached,
    the fair Aurora’s white and scarlet cheeks
    were, as Aurora aged, becoming orange. (Purg. II, 1-9)

    By referring to the celestial bodies – the sun and constellations like “the Scales” (Libra) – Dante shows readers that, unlike the timeless eternity of Hell, Purgatory operates on a time scale much like that of the mortal world. The reference to Aurora, the goddess of the dawn, changing from “white” to “orange,” reveals that it is morning when Dante arrives on Purgatory’s shores. The bright colors of the morning and the wide expanse of the sky emphasize the difference between Hell and Purgatory; in Hell all is darkness and close confined, there being no sky with which to tell time. Purgatory, as shown here, is much more beautiful and similar to the mortal world.

    Love that discourses to me in my mind
    he [Casella] then began to sing – and sang so sweetly
    that I still hear that sweetness sound in me.
    My master, I, and all that company
    around the singer seemed so satisfied,
    as if no other thing might touch our minds.
    We all were motionless and fixed upon
    the notes, when all at once the grave old man [Cato]
    cried out: “what have we here, you laggard spirits?
    What negligence, what lingering is this?” (Purg. II, 112-121)

    Casella’s singing seems to suspend time for the listeners, but in actuality they’re wasting time that they could be spending repenting and purging their sins in Purgatory. Dante seems to suggest that the arts that so enchant us in our mortal lives become a distraction and a waste of time in Purgatory, where one must fulfill an obligation to God. Cato acts as the voice of God here, reprimanding the souls for “lingering” and being too “laggard.” As the guardian of Purgatory, he understands just how much time they’ll have to spend here and how important it is to get started.

    [Virgil to the Late-Repentant souls]: “…please tell
    us where the slope inclines and can be climbed;
    for he who best discerns the worth of time
    is most distressed whenever time is lost.” (Purg. III, 75-78)

    Virgil, like Cato, understands that time is of the essence in Purgatory; he thus loses no time in asking every penitent soul he meets what is the quickest way up the mountain.

    [Manfred]: “But it is true that anyone who dies
    in contumacy of the Holy Church,
    though he repented at the end, must wait
    along this shore for thirty times the span
    he spent in his presumptuousness, unless
    that edict is abridged through fitting prayers.” (Purg. III, 136-141)

    One of the reasons that everyone in Purgatory is in such a rush to get to the top of Mount Purgatory is that many of them have been there for so long. As Manfred explains here, each penitent must languish in ante-Purgatory – not even Purgatory proper – “for thirty times the span / he spent in his presumptuousness.” In other words, every soul must stay for thirty lifetimes out on the shores before even beginning the labors of purgation. Prayer is the one expedient that can speed up waiting time.

    Compared to you [Florence], Athens and Lacedaemon,
    though civil cities, with their ancient laws,
    had merely sketched the life of righteousness;
    for you devise provisions so ingenious –
    whatever threads October sees you spin,
    when mid-November comes, will be unspun.
    How often, in the time you can remember,
    have you changed laws and coinage, offices
    and customs, and revised your citizens! (Purg. VI, 139-147)

    In general, haste is seen as a positive thing in Purgatory. Here, however, Dante shows the other side of haste. In his diatribe against Florence, he lampoons the city for “chang[ing] laws and coinage, offices / and customs” so often and so quickly (from “October” to “mid-November”) that nothing can get done in the city and it falls prey to the bickering of politicians who cannot make up their minds.

    “How is that?” he was asked. “Is it that he
    who tried to climb by night would be impeded
    by others, or by his own lack of power?”
    And good Sordello, as his finger traced
    along the ground, said: “Once the sun has set,
    then – look – even this line cannot be crossed.
    And not that anything except the dark
    of night prevents your climbing up; it is
    the night itself that implicates your will.
    Once darkness falls, one can indeed retreat
    below and wander aimlessly about
    the slopes, while the horizon has enclosed
    the day.” (Purg. VII, 49-61)

    Time dictates each soul’s progress up Mount Purgatory. Souls can only travel upwards during the day. Night immobilizes their movement. Thus, this cuts in half the amount of time that one might conceivably spend climbing the mountain, which also explains why the souls are in such a hurry to get to the top.

    My avid eyes were steadfast, staring at
    that portion of the sky where stars are slower,
    even as spokes when they approach the axle.
    And my guide: “Son what are you staring at?”
    And I replied: “I’m watching those three torches
    with which this southern pole is all aflame.”
    Then he to me: “The four bright stars you saw
    this morning now are low, beyond the pole,
    and where those four stars were, these three now are.” (Purg. VIII, 85-93)

    The position of the stars in the sky is used to indicate the passing of time. That the cluster of four stars Dante sees at dawn is now reduced to three (because one of them has set) means that a certain amount of time has passed, and serves as a reminder to Dante to hurry up.

    Our upward pathway ran between cracked rocks;
    they seemed to sway in one, then the other part,
    just like a wave that flees, then doubles back.
    “Here we shall need some ingenuity,”
    my guide warned me, “as both of us draw near
    this side or that side where the rock wall veers.”
    This made our steps so slow and hesitant
    that the declining moon had reached its bed
    to sink back into rest, before we had
    made our way through that needle’s eye; but when
    we were released from it, in open space
    above, a place at which the slope retreats,
    I was exhausted; with the two of us
    uncertain of our way, we halted on
    a plateau lonelier than desert paths. (Purg. X, 7-21)

    The terrain of Purgatory proper, unlike the wide-open spaces of ante-Purgatory, is narrow, steep, and difficult to navigate. This slows down all climbers’ progress. The message seems to be that the labor of penance is meant to be time consuming, difficult, and tedious.

    O empty glory of the powers of humans!
    How briefly green endures upon the peak –
    unless an age of dullness follows it.
    In painting Cimabue thought he held
    the field, and now it’s Giotto they acclaim –
    the former only keeps a shadowed fame.
    So did one Guido, from the other, wrest
    the glory of our tongue – and he perhaps
    is born who will chase both out of the nest.
    Worldly renown is nothing other than
    a breath of wind that blows now here, now there,
    and changes name when it has changed its course. (Purg. XI, 91-102)

    Oderisi expounds on the transience of human glory. As an artist he has experienced just how fleeting celebrity can be. He describes human glory as “a breath of wind that blows now here, now there”; this is reminiscent of Dante’s rant against Florence’s fickleness.

    [Forese]: “Now you remain behind, for time is costly
    here in this kingdom; I should lose too much
    by moving with you thus, at equal pace.”
    Just as a horseman sometimes gallops out,
    leaving behind his troop of riders, so
    that he may gain the honor of the first
    clash – so, with longer strides, did he leave us;
    and I remained along my path with those
    two who were such great marshals of the world. (Purg. XXIV, 91-99)

    The penitents, like Dante and Virgil, have a sense of haste as well. Here, Forese refuses to keep walking at Dante’s too-slow pace because “time is costly” and he “should lose too much / by moving with you thus, at equal pace.” Forese’s departure is compared to that of a knight rushing out to win “the honor of the first clash,” revealing that the penitents' haste is for a good cause: honor.

    [Matilda]: “The water that you see does not spring from
    a vein that vapor – cold-condensed – restores,
    like rivers that acquire or lose their force;
    it issues from a pure and changeless fountain,
    which by the will of God regains as much
    as, on two sides, it pours and it divides.
    On this side it descends with power to end
    one’s memory of sin; and on the other,
    it can restore recall of each good deed.
    To one side, it is Lethe; on the other,
    Eunoe; neither stream is efficacious
    unless the other’s waters have been tasted:
    their savor is above all other sweetness.” (Purg. XXVIII, 121-133)

    These two streams, the Lethe and the Eunoe, can effectively bring man back to the start of his life by wiping his memories clean. By drinking from the Lethe, one can ‘stop time’ and return to a state of innocence. For our purposes, however, the Lethe functions as preparation for immortality – eternal innocence in Heaven.

  • Love

    [Virgil to Cato]: “…but I am from the circle where the chaste
    eyes of your Marcia are; and she still prays
    to you, o holy breast, to keep her as
    your own: for her love, then, incline to us.
    Allow our journey through your seven realms…
    “While I was there, within the other world,
    Marcia so pleased my eyes,” he then replied,
    “each kindness she required, I satisfied.
    Now that she dwells beyond the evil river,
    she has no power to move me any longer,
    such was the law decreed when I was freed.” (Purg. I, 78-90)

    Romantic love, even when faithful and conjugal, has no place in Purgatory, where all of one’s love must be directed toward God. Cato proves this by renouncing his love for his wife Marcia (who now suffers in Hell) in favor of the new “law” of Purgatory. Now, mortal love has no power to move him. This principal holds true for all the penitents in Purgatory.

    [Manfred]: “After my body had been shattered by
    two fatal blows, in tears, I then consigned
    myself to Him who willingly forgives.
    My sins were ghastly, but the Infinite
    Goodness has arms so wide that It accepts
    who ever would return, imploring It.” (Purg. III, 118-123)

    God’s love is conveyed by his forgiveness of all those who repent, no matter how late in life. Here, Manfred describes his experience of God’s compassion, which he deems “Infinite Goodness” because it “willingly forgives” him no matter how “ghastly” his sins.

    Despite the Church’s curse, there is no one
    so lost that the eternal love cannot
    return – as long as hope shows something green. (Purg. III, 133-135)

    God’s love of an individual, Manfred suggests, has nothing to do with the Church’s opinion of him. This is exemplified by the character of Manfred, who was excommunicated by Pope Alexander IV for what was seen as an illegitimate bid for political power. By placing him in Purgatory, author-Dante hints that God can forgive even an excommunicate, if the individual repents and continues to “hope.”

    [The Late-Repentant who died of Violence]: “We all were done to death by violence,
    and we all sinned until our final hour;
    then light from Heaven granted understanding,
    so that, repenting and forgiving, we
    came forth from life at peace with God, and He
    instilled in us the longing to see Him.” (Purg. V, 52-57)

    With God’s forgiveness comes a renewed “longing” in the repentant individual to “see Him.” Thus, the individual reciprocates God’s love and expresses it in his labors in Purgatory. This is one of our first indications that love behaves as desire (in this case desire to see God) and that God condones this desire.

    [Buonconte da Montefeltro]: “…and there, as I
    had finished uttering the name of Mary,
    I fell; and there my flesh alone remained.
    I’ll speak the truth – do you, among the living,
    retell it: I was taken by God’s angel,
    but he from Hell cried: ‘You from Heaven – why
    do you deny me him? For just one tear
    you carry off his deathless part; but I
    shall treat his other part in other wise.’” (Purg. V, 100-108)

    God’s love – shown through forgiveness – can be initiated by something as simple as an utterance of the Virgin Mary’s name or “just one tear.” This shows God’s infinite compassion, which is in contrast to Hell’s crazed cruelty, represented here by the demon who wants to torture Buonconte’s soul.

    It was the hour that turns seafarers’ longings
    homeward – the hour that makes their hearts grow tender
    upon the day they bid sweet friends farewell;
    the hour that pierces the new traveler
    with love when he has heard, far off, the bell
    that seems to mourn the dying of the day;
    when I began to let my hearing fade
    and watched one of those souls who, having risen,
    had signaled with his hand for our attention. (Purg. VIII, 1-9)

    That the sunset evokes such descriptions of melancholy love reinforces the idea that man’s most natural desire is for God. If one interprets the sun as a symbol of God (what with all the light imagery), this metaphor is apt.

    [Judge Nino]: “Through her [Giovanna’s mother], one understands so easily
    how brief, in woman, is love’s fire – when not
    rekindled frequently by eye or touch.” (Purg. VIII, 76-78)

    Judge Nino condemns earthly romantic love as sinful lust. He denounces his wife Giovanna’s desires as “brief” and merely physical, since they constantly have to be “rekindled…by eye or touch.” This, of course, differs distinctly from God’s love.

    [The guardian angel to Dante]: “Whenever one of these keys fails, not turning
    appropriately in the lock,” he said
    to us, “this gate of entry does not open.
    One is more precious, but the other needs
    much art and skill before it will unlock –
    that is the key that must undo the knot.
    These I received from Peter; and he taught me
    rather to err in opening than in keeping
    this portal shut – whenever souls pray humbly.” (Purg. IX, 121-130)

    That Saint Peter instructed the guardian angel to “err in opening [rather] than keeping this portal shut” reveals God’s boundless compassion and His desire to forgive anyone who “prays humbly.” The frequent openings of the gate represent God’s generous bestowal of second chances upon all who repent.

    [The Prideful]: “Even as we forgive all who have done
    us injury, may You, benevolent,
    forgive, and do not judge us by our worth.
    Try not our strength, so easily subdued,
    against the ancient foe, but set it free
    from him who goads it to perversity.
    This last request we now address to You,
    dear Lord, not for ourselves – who have no need –
    but for the ones whom we have left behind.” (Purg. XI, 16-24)

    On the first terrace, the Prideful – who presumed themselves above God while on earth – show their humility by taking God as their role model. Just as He forgives sinners, the Prideful generously “forgive all who have done [them] injury.” However, they also show great love for their fellow man by their prayer at the end to “forgive…the ones whom we have left behind.” The message is that those still on earth have more need of compassion than those in Purgatory, who are already guaranteed entry into Heaven. This prayer, perhaps, shows the ultimate love: unreciprocated love for those who are less fortunate.

    I think no man now walks upon the earth
    who is so hard that he would not have been
    pierced by compassion for what I saw next;
    for when I had drawn close enough to see
    clearly the way they paid their penalty,
    the force of grief pressed tears out of my eyes.
    Those souls – it seemed – were cloaked in coarse haircloth;
    another’s shoulder served each shade as prop,
    and all of them were bolstered by the rocks:
    so do the blind who have to beg appear
    on pardon days to plead for what they need,
    each bending his head back and toward the other,
    that all who watch feel – quickly – pity’s touch
    not only through the words that would entreat
    but through the sight, which can – no less – beseech. (Purg. XIII, 52-66)

    Reminding us of Dante in Inferno, Dante again is “pierced by compassion” by the terrible suffering of the Envious penitents. He seems to pity most those who have obviously lost God’s love; while this may not true of the Envious, their sightlessness (their eyes sewn are shut by iron wire) moves him because it means they cannot see the loving light of the sun.

    [Virgil]: That Good, ineffable and infinite,
    which is above, directs Itself toward love
    as light directs itself to polished bodies.
    Where ardor is, that Good gives of Itself;
    and where more love is, there that Good confers
    a greater measure of eternal worth.
    And when there are more souls above who love,
    there’s more to love well there, and they love more,
    and, mirror-like, each soul reflects the other.” (Purg. XV, 67-75)

    Virgil explains the miraculous self-multiplying effect of love. God, who is present wherever love is, gives himself to those who love. Now for the weird part: because God, the “infinite…Good” is infinite, the more people love, the more He gives His love. Thus the sheer amount of love increases exponentially when many people show love, unlike all material goods whose numbers decrease the more people acquire them.

    She [the wife of Pisistratus] said: “If you are ruler of that city
    to name which even goddesses once vied –
    where every science had its source of light –
    revenge yourself on the presumptuous
    arms that embraced our daughter, o Pisistratus.”
    And her lord seemed to me benign and mild,
    his aspect temperate, as he replied:
    ”What shall we do to one who’d injure us
    if one who loves us earns our condemnation?” (Purg. XV, 97-105)

    As an example of Gentleness (the corresponding virtue to Wrath), King Pisistratus shows compassion to the man who would love his daughter. Whereas the Queen wants the lover punished for his insolence in daring to love a woman above his station, the King acts with mercy. This reaffirms God’s compassion, since we see it happening between humans on earth.

    …although his [St. Stephen’s] eyes were bent
    always on Heaven – they were Heaven’s gates –
    praying to his high Lord, despite the torture,
    to pardon those who were his persecutors;
    his look was such that it unlocked compassion. (Purg. XV, 110-114)

    Another example of Gentleness, Saint Stephen takes the selfless compassion shown in Canto XI by the Prideful to another level. Where one might expect him to wrathfully d--n his torturers, he instead “pray[s] […] to his high Lord [….] to pardon those who were his persecutors.” He goes beyond the Prideful’s prayers for their fellow men by wishing good not just on indifferent souls, but on those who actively wish him harm.

    [Marco Lombardo]: “Issuing from His hands, the soul – on which
    He thought with love before creating it –
    is like a child who weeps and laughs in sport;
    that soul is simple, unaware; but since
    a joyful Maker gave it motion, it
    turns willingly to things that bring delight.
    At first it savors trivial goods; these would
    beguile the soul, and it runs after them,
    unless there’s guide or rein to rule its love.
    Therefore, one needed law to serve as curb;
    a ruler, too, was needed, one who could
    discern at least the tower of the true city.” (Purg. XVI, 85-96)

    In explaining free will to Dante, Marco Lombardo begins with a discourse on the soul and its desires. It is no accident that he compares to the soul to a distinctly loveable object: a human child. This shows how much love God had in creating man. Marco Lombardo argues that God expresses His love in the soul by its desire for “things that bring delight.” Like a child, the soul is attracted to beautiful things – gold, jewels, art, music, pretty women – but, if properly educated by society, it turns away from these “trivial goods” to pursue the only truly worthy object of desire: God.

    [Virgil]: “My son, there’s no Creator and no creature
    who ever was without love – natural
    or mental; and you know that,” he began.
    “The natural is always without error,
    but mental love may choose an evil object
    or err through too much or too little vigor.
    As long as it’s directed toward the First Good
    and tends toward secondary goods with measure,
    it cannot be the cause of evil pleasure;
    but when it twists toward evil, or attends
    to good with more or less care than it should,
    those whom He made have worked against their Maker.
    From this you see that – of necessity –
    love is the seed in you of every virtue
    and of all acts deserving punishment.” (Purg. XVII, 91-105)

    To further elucidate Dante’s (and our) understanding of love, Virgil explains the difference between natural and mental love. Natural love is always “without error” because it inherently desires its Creator. Mental love, however, is where free will comes in. Because mental love is not ruled by God as natural love is, it may err by “choos[ing] an evil object [to love]” or love with “too much or too little vigor.” Thus, not only is it important for a Christian to love the proper things (God, most of all), but for them to love objects in the proper measure. Here, Virgil introduces a distinctly Aristotelian concept, that “love is the seed […] of every virtue and of all acts deserving punishments.” The idea that everything man does is motivated by desire reveals how pervasive and powerful love is in human life.

    [Virgil]: “Thus, if I have distinguished properly,
    ill love must mean to wish one’s neighbor ill;
    and this love’s born in three ways in your clay.
    There’s he who, through abasement of another,
    hopes for supremacy; he only longs
    to see his neighbor’s excellence cast down.
    Then there is one who, when he is outdone,
    fears his own loss of fame, power, honor, favor;
    his sadness loves misfortune for his neighbor.
    And there is he who, over injury
    received, resentful, for revenge grows greedy
    and, angrily, seeks out another’s harm.
    This threefold love is expiated here
    below; now I would have you understand
    the love the seeks the good distortedly.” (Purg. XVII, 112-126)

    Having distinguished between natural and mental love, Virgil goes on to characterize different types of sinful mental love (also called perverted love). He specifies three kinds. The first is pride (“hopes for supremacy”), the second is envy (“when he is outdone, fears his own loss of fame”), the third is wrath (in which one “seeks out another’s harm”). Thus, readers can see that the first three terraces (which Dante has already experienced) contain the three kinds of perverted love. Following what Virgil said earlier, there are only two other kinds of sinful love: loving with “too much or too little vigor.” It should come as no surprise that these kinds of insufficient and excessive love are punished in the higher terraces, still to come.

    [Virgil]: “The soul, which is created quick to love,
    responds to everything that pleases, just
    as soon as beauty wakens it to act.
    Your apprehension draws an image
    from a real object and expands upon
    that object until soul has turned toward it;
    and if, so turned, the soul tends steadfastly,
    then that propensity is love – it’s nature
    that joins the soul in you, anew, through beauty.
    Then, just as flames ascend because the form
    of fire was fashioned to fly upward, toward
    the stuff of its own sphere, where it lasts longest,
    so does the soul, when seized, move into longing,
    a motion of the spirit, never resting
    till the beloved thing has made it joyous.
    Now you can plainly see how deeply hidden
    truth is from scrutinists who would insist
    that every love is, in itself, praiseworthy;
    and they are led to error by the matter
    of love, because it may seem – always – good;
    but not each seal is fine, although the wax is.” (Purg. XVIII, 19-39)

    Virgil explains how man comes to love objects. Not surprisingly, it works like a fantasy, wherein a person's senses first discover something aesthetically pleasing. Then the soul takes over and “draws an image from a real object”; in other words it takes that object of desire, perfects it, and puts it up on a pedestal to admire and lust after. If the soul lusts after that object “steadfastly” or repeatedly, it becomes love, though it may be perverted love if the object isn't worthy of being loved. This is why some people are wrong in asserting that “every love is, in itself, praiseworthy.”

    a stammering woman came to me in dream:
    her eyes askew, and crooked on her feet,
    her hands were crippled, her complexion sallow.
    I looked at her; and just as sun revives
    cold limbs that night made numb, so did my gaze
    loosen her tongue and then, in little time,
    set her contorted limbs in perfect order;
    and, with the coloring that love prefers,
    my eyes transformed the wanness of her features.
    And when her speech had been set free, then she
    began to sing so, that it would have been
    most difficult for me to turn aside. (Purg. XIX, 7-18)

    In his dream about the siren, Dante transforms the ugly beast into a seductive woman. It is only through his love (or desire) for beautiful things that he does this; it turns out, however, that even though he desires for the woman to be good, she still hides some evil (depicted here as ugliness). This proves that love is not virtuous if directed at the wrong object.

    When he [Virgil] saw me still halting, obstinate,
    he said, somewhat perplexed: “Now see, son: this
    wall stands between you and your Beatrice.”
    As, at the name of Thisbe, Pyramus,
    about to die, opened his eyes, and saw her
    (when then the mulberry became bloodred),
    so, when my stubbornness had softened, I,
    hearing the name that’s always flowering
    within my mind, turned to my knowing guide. (Purg. XXVII, 34-42)

    Virgil craftily dangles Beatrice as an incentive for Dante to overcome his fear and move past the fire, playing on Dante’s obsessive love for her. Dante responds by comparing himself to the dying Pyramus in the epic love story from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. That Dante associates his love for Beatrice with the famous story of Pyramus and Thisbe reveals just how highly he esteems her…and himself, as a poet.

    [Virgil]: “I’ve brought you here through intellect and art;
    from now on, let your pleasure be your guide;
    you’re past the steep and past the narrow paths.
    Look at the sun that shines upon your brow;
    look at the grasses, flowers, and the shrubs
    born here, spontaneously, of the earth.
    Among them, you can rest or walk until
    the coming of the glad and lovely eyes –
    those eyes that, weeping, sent me to your side.
    Await no further word or sign from me:
    your will is free, erect, and whole – to act
    against that will would be to err: therefore
    I crown and miter you over yourself.” (Purg. XXVII, 130-142)

    In his parting words to Dante, Virgil explains that so far “intellect and art” (the concepts Virgil represents) have guided Dante, but now that he has learned his lessons so well, his mental love has been properly aligned with his natural love. Now it is safe to “let [his] pleasure be [Dante's] guide” because his “pleasure” or desire is now correctly directed towards God. To reinforce this idea, that Dante's love is now proper, Virgil asserts that “to act against that will would be to err.”

    Within her [Beatrice’s] presence, I had once been used
    to feeling – trembling – wonder, dissolution;
    but that was long ago. Still, though my soul,
    now she was veiled, could not see her directly,
    by way of hidden force that she could move,
    I felt the mighty power of old love.
    As soon as that deep force had struck my vision
    (the power that, when I had not yet left
    my boyhood, had already transfixed me),
    I turned around and to my left – just as
    a little child, afraid or in distress,
    will hurry to his mother – anxiously,
    to say to Virgil: “I am left with less
    than one drop of my blood that does not tremble:
    I recognize the signs of the old flame.” (Purg. XXX, 34-48)

    As a mortal man still bearing a physical body, Dante is still subject to overwhelming physical responses to the woman he formerly loved so ardently. Notice all the sensual words he uses to describe his reaction to her: “feeling,” “trembling,” “struck my vision,” “transfixed,” and “old flame.” Regular penitents (who are all souls) would not have a problem with encountering a past love, author-Dante suggests.

    And she [Beatrice]: “Had you been silent or denied
    what you confess, your guilt would not be less
    in evidence: it’s known by such a Judge!
    But when the charge of sinfulness has burst
    from one’s own cheek, then in our court the whet-
    stone turns and blunts our blade’s own cutting edge.” (Purg. XXXI, 37-42)

    Beatrice, as a spokesperson for God, shows the compassion that He would. Because Dante has willingly confessed his sins and feels shame for them, the blade of justice is “blunt[ed].” Notice, however, that his confession does not lessen Dante’s guilt; Dante is not made a more virtuous person by his confession; instead, it is God who is moved to show His mercy.

  • Education

    [Virgil to Dante]: “Foolish is he who hopes our intellect
    can reach the end of that unending road
    only one Substance in three Persons follows.
    Confine yourselves, o humans, to the quia;
    had you been able to see all, there would
    have been no need for Mary to give birth.
    You saw the fruitless longing of those men
    who would – if reason could – have been content,
    those whose desire eternally laments:
    I speak of Aristotle and of Plato –
    and many others.” (Purg. III, 34-44)

    Virgil reiterates that man cannot hope to fully understand God’s universe. His admonition for man to “confine [himself]…to the quia” (which is Latin for “what”) should remind us of Ulysses in Inferno, Canto XXVI, who sets sail as an old man, trying to “gain experience of the world / and of the vices and worth of men.” Because Ulysses tried to reach beyond the scope of men, God punishes him by condemning him to eternal damnation. Here, Virgil warns Dante of doing the same, but instead of comparing him to Ulysses, he compares Dante to “Aristotle and [...] Plato,” both confined to Limbo for trying to reach beyond the bounds of human reason.

    Even as sheep that move, first one, then two,
    then three, out of the fold – the others also
    stand, eyes and muzzles lowered, timidly;
    and what the first sheep does, the others do,
    and if it halts, they huddle close behind,
    simple and quiet and not knowing why…(Purg. III, 79-84)

    It makes sense that the Excommunicates should be described as sheep in Purgatory. Because they were too rebellious in life – to the point of getting exiled by the Pope – here they pay for their crimes by taking the opposite role: being exceedingly meek. Here, it seems they do not think for themselves; instead of questioning things (as they did in life), they obediently follow the example of their leader.

    [Virgil]: “Come, follow me, and let these people talk:
    stand like a sturdy tower that does not shake
    its summit though the winds may blast; always
    the man in whom thought thrusts ahead of thought
    allows the goal he’s set to move far off –
    the force of one thought saps the other’s force.” (Purg. V, 13-18)

    Virgil imparts a very relevant lesson to Dante. He urges his pupil to be firm in his resolution and to focus so that he does not become distracted from his ultimate goal. In his case, that means Dante should stop his ears to the gossip of others.

    O Christians, arrogant, exhausted, wretched,
    whose intellects are sick and cannot see,
    who place our confidence in backward steps,
    do you not know that we are worms and born
    to form the angelic butterfly that soars,
    without defenses, to confront His judgment?
    Why does your mind presume to flight when you
    are still like the imperfect grub, the worm
    before it has attained its final form? (Purg. X, 121-129)

    In scolding the Prideful, Dante gives us a metaphor for education. Man’s mind is “sick and cannot see” the way that God’s universe works. Nevertheless, proud men have pretenses to understanding and thus try to excel in the world, “presum[ing] to flight” like an “angelic butterfly” when they truly are still “imperfect grub[s],” not yet endowed with the knowledge (or wings, to continue the metaphor) needed to succeed. In other words, man should accept that he is an immature being with much to learn and should submit to God’s teachings.

    I opened – wider than before – my eyes;
    I looked ahead of me, and I saw shades
    with cloaks that shared their color with the rocks. (Purg. XIII, 46-48)

    One of the most important ways of learning is to open one’s eyes and really observe one’s surroundings. Here, Dante shows he is slowly learning by “open[ing] – wider than before –[his] eyes.” He sees that the rock wall in front of him is not simply a rock wall. The cloaks of the Envious bear the same color as the dark rock and are camouflaged in it. Mandelbaum tells us that “the ‘livid’ blue-black color of its ‘raw rock’ suggests the bruised hearts of those who have been wounded by the sight of the good fortune of others.” In other words, the environment of the penitents reflects their sin; Dante, in opening his eyes, becomes aware of this.

    [Statius]: “…Know then that I was far
    from avarice – it was my lack of measure
    thousands of months have punished. And if I
    had not corrected my assessment by
    my understanding what your [Virgil’s] verses meant
    when you, as if enraged by human nature,
    exclaimed: ‘Why cannot you, o holy hunger
    for gold, restrain the appetite of mortals?’ –
    I’d now, while rolling weights, know sorry jousts.” (Purg. XXII, 34-42)

    This passage emphasizes the didactic importance of poetry. Statius, a former pagan, converted to Christianity because he was so moved by Virgil’s verses. He therefore implies that man should indeed look to the words of poets as sources of knowledge.

    Those two [Virgil and Statius] were in the lead; I walked alone,
    behind them, listening to their colloquy,
    which taught me much concerning poetry.” (Purg. XXII, 127-129)

    Here, Dante follows his two idols and soaks up their words concerning their (and his) craft. Again, listening to one’s elders, especially those known for their art, is exemplified as a method of learning.

    And as the fledgling stork will lift its wing
    because it wants to fly, but dares not try
    to leave the nest, and lets its wing drop back,
    so I, with my desire to question kindled
    then spent, arrived as far as making ready
    to speak. But my dear father, though our steps
    were hurrying, did not stop talking, for
    he said: “The iron of the arrow’s touched
    the longbow; let the shaft of speech fly off.”
    Then I had the confidence enough to open
    my mouth and ask him: “How can one grow lean
    where there is never need for nourishment?” (Purg. XXV, 10-21)

    Dante compares his hesitancy to impinge on his teacher to a “fledgling stork [who]…wants to fly, but dares not leave the nest." However, Virgil encourages him to ask questions. Thus communication between teacher and student is presented as an essential part of learning. It is not surprising that Dante so espouses the Socratic method, for in medieval Europe it served as one of the standard learning tools and enjoyed widespread use at the university level.

    [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)

    Shame, Beatrice implies, is useful in teaching lessons to children (or to unrepentant Christians), even though it is inherently painful and humiliating. The comparison of Dante to a child with his “eyes upon the ground” should remind readers of Marco Lombardo’s comparison of the desiring soul to a child – one who means well, but who simply cannot yet distinguish between good and evil.

    As soon as I, responding to my duty,
    had joined her [Beatrice], she said: “Brother, why not try,
    since now you’re at my side, to query me?”
    Like those who, speaking to superiors
    too reverently do not speak distinctly,
    not drawing their clear voice up to their teeth –
    so did I speak with sound too incomplete
    when I began: “Lady, you know my need
    to know, and know how it can be appeased.” (Purg. XXXIII, 22-30)

    Beatrice, like Virgil, encourages Dante to ask questions of her and to take advantage of her superior knowledge. That Beatrice knows the extent of Dante’s curiosity suggests that good teachers can anticipate the needs of their students.

    [Dante to Beatrice]: “But why does your desired word ascend
    so high above my understanding that
    the more I try, the more am I denied?”
    “That you may recognize,” she said, “the school
    that you have followed and may see if what
    it taught can comprehend what I have said –
    and see that, as the earth is distant from
    the highest and the swiftest of the heavens,
    so distant is your way from the divine.” (Purg. XXXIII, 82-90)

    Beatrice reinforces the message that Virgil imparted to Dante earlier: God’s knowledge is not for man to understand, no matter how hard he strives towards it. However, if man behaves as a good Christian and earns entry into Heaven, then – as a pure soul and no longer just human – he may have hope of learning God’s ways.

    [Beatrice]: “But from now on the words I speak will be
    naked; that is appropriate if they
    would be laid bare before your still-crude sight.” (Purg. XXXIII, 100-102)

    Beatrice, after spewing many confusing and convoluted words to Dante in the form of prophecies, finally promises that her words will be “naked,” so that Dante with his “still-crude sight” can comprehend them. Here, author-Dante suggests that good teachers should attempt to make their subject as clear as possible for their students to understand.

    From that most holy wave I now returned
    to Beatrice; remade, as new trees are
    renewed when they bring forth new boughs, I was
    pure and prepared to climb unto the stars. (Purg. XXXIII, 142-145)

    Dante’s education is complete. After his horrific lessons in Hell and his penance in Purgatory, the waters of the Lethe river wash his mind completely clean by the and he is ready for Heaven. The mundane message to take away seems to be that a good education can, after long, hard hours, provide a student access to places previously locked to him.

  • Art and Culture

    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)

    In his continuing nod to the Classical tradition, Dante invokes the Muses at the beginning of Purgatorio. Of course, in describing his situation he Christianizes it, asking that the Muses help “this poem rise again from Hell’s dead realm”; in a way, Dante is asking for the Muses to bring his poetry back to life after its stint in Hell. The Muses can't bring anyone back to life, though. Of the Classical deities, only Zeus, the king of the gods and analogous to the single Christian God, is capable of bringing someone back to life. So, Dante is equating the Muses with the Christian God, combining the Classical with the Christian.

    [Dante to Casella]: And I: “If there’s no new law that denies
    you memory or practice of the songs
    of love that used to quiet all my longings,
    then may it please you with those songs to solace
    my soul somewhat; for – having journeyed here
    together with my body – it is weary.”
    Love that discourses to me in my mind
    he then began to sing – and sang so sweetly
    that I still hear that sweetness sound in me.
    My master, I, and all that company
    around the singer seemed so satisfied,
    as if no other thing might touch our minds.
    We all were motionless and fixed upon
    the notes, when all at once the grave old man [Cato]
    cried out: “what have we here, you laggard spirits?” (Purg. II, 106-121)

    Here, Casella’s sweet singing so mesmerizes the company that they “all were motionless and fixed upon the notes.” In the context of Purgatory, music (and art in general) distracts souls from attending to their duties. Where art is an ennobling and welcome addition to mortal life, it seems to have no place in Purgatory. Cato reinforces this message by reprimanding the company for loitering while there’s work to be done.

    Gold and fine silver, cochineal, white lead,
    and Indian lychnite, highly polished, bright,
    fresh emerald at the moment it is dampened,
    if placed within that valley, all would be
    defeated by the grass and flowers’ colors,
    just as the lesser gives way to the greater.
    And nature there not only was a painter,
    but from the sweetness of a thousand odors,
    she had derived an unknown, mingled scent.
    Upon the green grass and the flowers, I
    saw seated spirits singing “Salve, Regina”;
    they were not visible from the outside. (Purg. VII, 73-84)

    Dante’s first sight of the Valley of the Rulers, the last cornice in ante-Purgatory, is reminiscent of a painting in its vivid description of colors. Indeed, Dante invokes this idea of the artist with “nature [as] […] a painter.” As always, this metaphor has deeper religious meaning. As the Creator, God is often referred to as an artisan or craftsman. One of his creations is nature. So, this description of nature as “a painter” is a reference to God painting the known world.

    Te lucis ante” issued from his lips
    with such devotion and with notes so sweet
    that I was moved to move beyond my mind.
    And then the other spirits followed him –
    devoutly, gently – through all of that hymn,
    their eyes intent on the supernal spheres. (Purg. VIII, 13-18)

    As the first of many songs, this hymn represents the best social use of art (in Dante’s perspective): the espousal of Christianity and praise of God. Translated from the Latin, this hymn reads, “Before the light of You,” although it’s often glossed as “Before the ending of the day.” In it, the singers ask God to protect them from any evil or tempting dreams, essentially guarding them against even the most unconscious kinds of sin. Because this hymn comes from the lips of the Late-Repentant, it could be a plea of continued vigilance.

    There we had yet to let our feet advance
    when I discovered that the bordering bank –
    less sheer than banks of other terraces –
    was of white marble and adorned with carvings
    so accurate – not only Polycletus
    but even Nature, there, would feel defeated.
    The angel who reached earth with the decree
    of that peace which, for many years, had been
    invoked with tears, the peace that opened Heaven
    after long interdict, appeared before us,
    his gracious action carved with such precision –
    he did not seem to be a silent image.
    One could have sworn that he was saying, “Ave”;
    for in that scene there was the effigy
    of one who turned the key that had unlocked
    the highest love; and in her stance there were
    impressed these words, “Ecce ancilla Dei,”
    precisely like a figure stamped in wax. (Purg. X, 28-45)

    Purgatory often uses the visual arts as means of impressing its moral lessons on its penitents. Here, on the first terrace of the Prideful, carved right into the cliff side, sculptures abound that show images of Gentle souls – counterexamples to pride. The “angel […] with the decree of that peace” is Gabriel and the “one of turned the key that had unlocked the highest love” is the Virgin Mary accepting the Annunciation from God. The fleeting reference to nature in the first lines reinforces the idea of Nature (through God) as an artist. And the fact that these sculptures “did not seem to be […] silent image[s]” reveals just how incredible an artist God is in his ability to make lifeless stone seem alive.

    “Oh,” I cried out, “are you not Oderisi,
    glory of Gubbio, glory of that art
    they call illumination now in Paris?”
    “Brother,” he said, “the pages painted by
    the brush of Franco Bolognese smile
    more brightly: all the glory now is his;
    mine, but a part. In truth I would have been
    less gracious when I lived – so great was that
    desire for eminence which drove my heart.
    For such pride, here one pays the penalty;” (Purg. XI, 79-88)

    When Dante meets a famous artist, the renowned illuminator immediately shows how deeply he has absorbed his lessons here in Purgatory. Instead of smugly acknowledging his fame, Oderisi humbly deflects the remark, claiming his colleague Franco Bolognese paints better than he. He is perhaps an exemplar that Dante strives to be, because, as a fellow artist, Dante has not yet purged himself of pride.

    While we began to move in that direction,
    Beati paupers spiritu” was sung
    so sweetly – it can not be told in words.
    How different were these entryways from those
    of Hell! For here it is with song one enters;
    down there, it is with savage lamentations. (Purg. XII, 109-114)

    As Dante leaves the first terrace of the Prideful, he hears the Latin phrase that translates “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” a phrase from Christ’s Sermon on the Mount. Interestingly, these Beatitudes (as they’re called) are set to music. Again, this deliberate manipulation of art directs praise towards God, reinforcing the Christian message and flaunting the best social use of art.

    We climbed, already past that point; behind us,
    we heard “Beati misericordes” sung
    and then “Rejoice, you who have overcome.” (Purg. XV, 37-39)

    The Beatitude sung here translates as “Blessed are the merciful.” Coming from the mouths of the Wrathful, this is especially merciful, particularly because the penitents are celebrating the overcoming of their vice.

    But I heard voices, and each seemed to pray
    unto the Lamb of God, who takes away
    our sins, for peace and mercy. “Agnus Dei
    was sung repeatedly as their exordium,
    words sung in such a way – in unison –
    that fullest concord seemed to be among them. (Purg. XVI, 16-21)

    After the smoke of the Wrathful envelops Dante and Virgil, they hear the hymn "Agnus Dei" sung. The Latin translates to “Lamb of God.” That is it sung “repeatedly” and “in unison” is especially relevant given that the Wrathful are blind. The repetition of the verses and their singing in unison help them, perhaps, stay in step with one another when they cannot see each other. In addition, the unison style of singing expresses the “fullest concord,” in contrast to the discord they have sown in life with their divisive wrath.

    …I sensed something
    much like the motion of a wing, and wind
    that beat against my face, and words: “Beati
    pacifici
    , those free of evil anger!” (Purg. XVII, 66-69)

    As an angel purges Dante’s forehead of its third P at the exit of the third terrace of the Wrathful, Dante hears the seventh Beatitude set to song. It translates as “Blessed are the peaceful,” celebrating the purgation of wrath from the souls of the penitents. This is, of course, also an echo to commemorate Dante’s purgation.

    “I am,” she sang, “I am the pleasing siren,
    who in midsea leads mariners astray –
    there is so much delight in hearing me.
    I turned aside Ulysses, although he
    had longed to journey; who grows used to me
    seldom departs – I satisfy him so.”
    Her lips were not yet done when, there beside me,
    a woman showed herself, alert and saintly,
    to cast the siren into much confusion.
    “O Virgil, Virgil, tell me: who is this?”
    she asked most scornfully; and he came forward,
    his eyes intent upon that honest one.
    He seized the other, baring her in front,
    tearing her clothes, and showing me her belly;
    the stench that came from there awakened me. (Purg. XIX, 19-33)

    The siren who uses her song to lure men to their deaths (as she tried to do with Ulysses) is a symbol of art used in its most sinful and malicious way. Not only does the siren have a wicked purpose in luring Dante, but she also uses her art dishonestly. This is the downside of art: where it can convey beauty and truth, art is inherently deceptive because it is not a true (but rather, stylized) representation of what is actually there. Virgil saves Dante from falling prey to this deceptive type of art by coming into his dream and stripping the siren to show Dante how wicked and deceptive she truly is.

    When I was in the clearing, the fifth level,
    my eyes discovered people there who wept,
    lying upon the ground, all turned face down.
    Adhaesit pavimento anima mea,”
    I heard them say with sighs so deep that it
    was hard to comprehend the words they spoke. (Purg. XIX, 70-75)

    This prayer, sung by the Avaricious, translates as “My soul cleaves to the dust.” This is ironic because it describes the prostrate position in which Dante finds the Avaricious, “lying upon the ground, all turned face down.” Here, the art mimics the action, describing the punishment of the penitents.

    Gloria in excelsis Deo,” they all cried –
    so did I understand from those nearby,
    whose shouted words were able to be heard.
    Just like the shepherds who first heard that song,
    we stood, but did not move, in expectation,
    until the trembling stopped, the song was done. (Purg. XX, 136-141)

    When the mountain trembles, signaling the complete purgation of one soul and his readiness for Heaven, all the penitents rejoice. Not surprisingly, they express their joy in song. This hymn that they sing translates to “Glory to God in the highest,” originally sung by the angels to announce the birth of Christ to the shepherds. Thus, we are supposed to equate the newly cleansed soul to baby Jesus – an image of ultimate purity.

    [Statius]: “I had sufficient fame beyond,” that spirit
    replied; “I bore the name that lasts the longest
    and honors most – but faith was not yet mine.
    So gentle was the spirit of my verse
    that Rome drew me, son of Toulouse, to her
    and there my brow deserved a crown of myrtle.
    On earth my name is still remembered – Statius:
    I sang of Thebes and then of great Achilles;
    I fell along the way of that last labor.
    The sparks that warmed me, the seeds of my ardor,
    were from the holy fire – the same that gave
    more than a thousand poets light and flame.
    I speak of the Aeneid; when I wrote
    verse, it was mother to me, it was nurse;
    my work, without it, would not weigh an ounce.” (Purg. XXI, 85-99)

    Here is the exemplar of useful art. Virgil’s Aeneid, a pagan work, inspired Statius so much that he turned to the faith of Christianity. Statius compares Virgil’s poetry to a “holy fire” that “warmed [him]” and gave him “seeds of ardor.” This latter comparison to “seeds” suggests that poetry, like plants, can produce a new generation of its art through inspiration.

    And – there! – “Labi mea, Domine
    was wept and sung and heard in such a manner
    that it gave birth to both delight and sorrow. (Purg. XXIII, 10-12)

    This hymn, sung on the sixth terrace by the Gluttonous, has the opening lines, “O, Lord, open thou my lips, and my mouth shall shew forth thy praise.” This is especially appropriate because the Gluttonous used to open their mouths only to satisfy their physical hunger; now they give thanks to God with the same mouths, but reformed.

    [Forese]: “But tell me if the man whom I see here
    is he who brought the new rhymes forth, beginning:
    Ladies who have intelligence of love.’”
    I answered: “I am one who, when Love breathes
    in me, takes note; what he, within, dictates,
    I, in that way, without, would speak and shape.”
    “O brother, now I see,” he said, “the knot
    that kept the Notary, Guittone, and me
    short of the sweet new manner that I hear.
    I clearly see how your pens follow closely
    behind him who dictates, and certainly
    that did not happen with our pens; and he
    who sets himself to ferreting profoundly
    can find no other difference between
    the two styles.” (Purg. XXIV, 49-63)

    Donati Forese recognizes Dante purely by his art; as a fellow poet, he has deep knowledge of Dante’s style. Forese quotes the opening line of Dante’s “Vita Nuova” and Dante acknowledges that it’s his poem by confirming himself as a lyric love poet. Author-Dante sees his style of writing, known in Italian as the dolce stil novo (sweet new style), as superior to any other, including Forese’s. It is a testament to Dante’s pride that Forese is shown here admitting that Dante’s style is superior to his own. The names Forese mentions in conjunction with his – the Notary and Guittone – also exemplify an older school of poetry from which Dante breaks.

    As, after the sad raging of Lycurgus,
    two sons, finding their mother, had embraced her,
    so I desired to do – but dared not to –
    when I heard him [Guinizzelli] declare his name: the father
    of me and of the others – those, my betters –
    who ever used sweet, gracious rhymes of love. (Purg. XXVI, 94-99)

    Dante considers Guinizzelli one of the fathers of his preferred style, the dolce stil novo. As such, Dante considers him the poetic “father of me and of the others […] who ever used sweet, gracious rhymes of love.” In claiming something like a familial link to Guinizzelli, Dante establishes an artistic pedigree for his poetry, not only humbling himself before Guinizzelli, but also preparing future generations of dolce stil novo poets to look to him as an icon.

    He [the Angel of Chastity] stood along the edge, beyond the flames,
    singing “Beati mundo corde” in
    a voice that had more life than ours can claim. (Purg. XXVII, 7-9)

    The Angel of Chastity sings the final Beatitude heard in Purgatory proper. It translates as “Blessed are the pure in heart.” This is especially fitting given Dante’s situation. He is about to pass through the final terrace of Purgatory, having the final P on his forehead removed, and thus be purified ("pure of heart") and prepared to see God.

    A voice that sang beyond us was our guide;
    and we, attentive to that voice, emerged
    just at the point where it began to climb.
    Venite, benedicti Patris mei,”
    it sang within a light that overcame me:
    I could not look at such intensity. (Purg. XXVII, 55-60)

    As our heroes pass from Purgatory proper into the Earthly Paradise, the final angel welcomes them with the Latin song, “Come, ye blessed of my father” – which will be Jesus' words to the faithful at the Last Judgment. He urges them to come and “inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”

    …but they were not deflected with such force
    as to disturb the little birds upon
    the branches in the practice of their arts;
    for to the leaves, with song, birds welcomed those
    first hours of the morning joyously,
    and leaves supplied the burden to their rhymes –
    just like the wind that sounds from branch to branch
    along the shore of Classe, through the pines
    when Aeolus has set Sirocco loose. (Purg. XXVIII, 13-21)

    Dante’s first impression of the Earthly Paradise is of harmonious music. Because the harmonies come from birdsong and the wind in the leaves, we're reminded of the concept of nature as an artist. It is as if God created this place as a sanctuary after the trials of Purgatory.

    O Virgins, sacrosanct, if I have ever,
    for your sake, suffered vigils, cold, and hunger,
    great need makes me entreat my recompense.
    Now Helicon must pour its fountains for me,
    Urania must help me with her choir
    to put in verses things hard to conceive. (Purg. XXIX, 37-42)

    For the second time in Purgatorio, Dante invokes the Muses to help him complete his poetic task. This time, he wants their help in describing and accurately recording the procession that he sees in the forest, ending with Beatrice. The “Helicon” invoked here is the mountain home of the Muses where the wellsprings were thought to inspire poetry. Also “Urania” is the goddess of astronomy and all things celestial. It is appropriate that Dante invokes her because he is getting ready to describe something celestial: the procession from Heaven.

    …and I could see the candle flames move forward,
    leaving the air behind them colored like
    the strokes a painter’s brush might have described,
    so that the air above that retinue
    was streaked with seven bands in every hue
    of which the rainbow’s made and Delia’s girdle. (Purg. XXIX, 73-78)

    Each of the seven candles in the candelabra leaves a streak of color – like “strokes [from] a painter’s brush” – in the air. The reference to a “painter” is again reminiscent of God the artist.

    [Beatrice]: “Here you shall be – awhile – a visitor;
    but you shall be with me – and without end –
    Rome’s citizen, the Rome in which Christ is
    Roman; and thus, to profit that world which
    lives badly, watch the chariot steadfastly
    and, when you have returned beyond, transcribe
    what you have seen.” (Purg. XXXII, 100-106)

    Here, Beatrice gives Dante his artistic mission: “Watch the chariot steadfastly / and, when you have returned beyond, transcribe / what you have seen.” This puts a new spin on all the prior text in the Divine Comedy: as a true account commissioned by Beatrice of the human afterlife. Beatrice charges Dante to compose his verse with truth so that his work may profit mortal men and perhaps inspire them to live virtuous lives.

    If, reader, I had ampler space in which
    to write, I’d sing – though incompletely – that
    sweet draught for which my thirst was limitless;
    but since all of the pages pre-disposed
    for this, the second canticle, are full,
    the curb of art will not let me continue. (Purg. XXXIII, 136-141)

    Dante gives the readers an impression that his poetry is rigidly structured; he only has a certain number of “pages pre-disposed / for this, the second canticle” and can write no more once he has filled that quota. This reflects God’s ordered universe, where everything has a purpose. Dante reminds us, however, that his “thirst [is] limitless”; in other words, his desire to learn far surpasses the time and space he is allotted. But the “curb of art” requires that he end the second part of his narrative now.

  • Politics

    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.

    [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.

    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.

    What use was there in a Justinian’s
    mending your [Italy’s] bridle, when the saddle’s empty?
    Indeed, were there no reins, your shame were less.
    Ah you – who if you understood what God
    ordained, would then attend to things devout
    and in the saddle surely would allow
    Caesar to sit – see how this beast turns fierce
    because there are no spurs that would correct it,
    since you have laid your hands upon the bit!
    O German Albert, you who have abandoned
    that steed become recalcitrant and savage,
    you who should ride astride its saddlebows –
    upon your blood may the just judgment of
    the stars descend with signs so strange and plain
    that your successor has to feel its terror!
    For both you and your father, in your greed
    for lands that lay more close at hand, allowed
    the garden of the Empire to be gutted. (Purg. VI, 88-105)

    The cure for Italy’s corruption, Dante believes, is a just emperor, metaphorically illustrated here as a rider for Italy’s “empty saddle.” Emperor Justinian “mend[ed the] bridle” by codifying Roman laws, thus directing the ways in which an emperor could control Italy, but these laws are useless if Italy has no emperor. Given free rein, the steed of Italy has “become recalcitrant and savage,” roaming wherever it pleases and bucking whichever laws it wants. “Ah you” is directed at the Church, whose lust for political power has blinded it to “things devout” and, out of envy, has kept anyone from taking the throne. Dante lambastes the “German Albert” I for being more concerned with expanding the empire (“greed for lands that lay more close at hand”) than for quelling the strife in Italy. He considers Italy the “garden of the Empire” because the heart of the Church, the Vatican, dwells in Rome and marks the place where the Holy Roman Emperors are crowned. This entire passage shows Dante’s belief that communities of people (countries) need governance by a virtuous ruler. In other words, people are too selfish to direct their own communities well and require external checks to flourish.

    My Florence, you indeed may be content
    that this digression would leave you exempt:
    your people’s strivings spare you this lament.
    Others have justice in their hearts, and thought
    is slow to let it fly off from their bow;
    but your folk keep it ready – on their lips.
    Others refuse the weight of public service;
    whereas your people – eagerly – respond,
    even unasked, and shout: “I’ll take it on.”
    You might be happy now, for you have cause!
    You with your riches, peace, judiciousness!
    If I speak truly, facts won’t prove me wrong. (Purg. VI, 127-138)

    In this satirical passage, Dante criticizes his hometown of Florence for its undeserved reputation. Instead of “having justice in their hearts,” Florentines only have it “on their lips”; in other words, their professed virtue is insincere. The “weight of public service” here seems to mean political office, a cesspool of dirty money. Thus, Florentine citizens “eagerly […] shout: ‘I’ll take it on’” not out of the goodness of their hearts, but out of greed for the wealth to be gained. Dante’s heavy sarcasm here reveals just how much contempt he has for his corrupt city. Its depravity, he suggests, stems from its politics, stained by its self-serving nature.

    [Oderisi of Gubbio]: …“Provenzan Salvani,”
    he answered, “here because – presumptuously
    he thought his grip could master all Siena.
    So he has gone, and so he goes, with no
    rest since his death; this is the penalty
    exacted from those who – there – overreached.” (Purg. XI, 121-126)

    The reason given for Provenzan Salvani’s time in Purgatory is his presumption that “his grip could master all Siena.” By “overreach[ing]” past the boundaries of his human ability, Salvani is punished. Pride is the vice that pushes an individual to reach for political power, to desire political control over others for purely selfish reasons.

    [Guido del Duca]: “This is Rinieri, this is he – the glory,
    the honor of the house of Balcoli;
    but no one has inherited his worth.
    It’s not his kin alone, between the Po
    and mountains, and the Reno and the coast,
    who’ve lost the truth’s grave good and lost the good
    of gentle living, too; those lands are full
    of poisoned stumps; but now, however much
    one were to cultivate, it is too late.” (Purg. XIV, 88-96)

    Dante nurtures an opinion that considers older times more virtuous than more current times. Thus, he claims, the house of Rinieri, despite starting out well (with “the glory, the honor of the house of Balcoli”), has “lost the good of gentle living.” Rinieri’s descendants, then, have not “inherited his worth.” Here, the sin of envy has spread from one noble family into the peasantry and even into the land itself, which is “full of poisoned stumps.” The idea that a bad monarchy might bring about a reciprocal wasteland (where the land is no longer fertile) is a common one in medieval literature.

    [Marco Lombardo]: “Thus, if the present world has gone astray,
    in you is the cause, in you it’s to be sought;
    and now I’ll serve as your true exegete.” (Purg. XVI, 82-84)

    Marco Lombardo blames the political corruption of man on man himself, for God has given him the free will and an intelligent mind with which to avoid such moral depravity. This bolsters Dante’s idea that people need a strong ruler and laws to curb people’s selfish tendencies.

    [Marco Lombardo]: “Therefore, one needed law to serve as curb;
    a ruler, too, was needed, one who could
    discern at least the tower of the true city.
    The laws exist, but who applies them now?
    No one – the shepherd who precedes his flock
    can chew the cud but does not have cleft hooves;
    and thus the people, who can see their guide
    snatch only at that good for which they feel
    some greed, would feed on that and seek no further.
    Misrule, you see, has caused the world to be
    malevolent; the cause is clearly not
    celestial forces – they do not corrupt.
    For Rome, which made the world good, used to have
    two suns; and they made visible two paths –
    the world’s path and the pathway that is God’s.
    Each has eclipsed the other; now the sword
    has joined the shepherd’s crook; the two together
    must of necessity result in evil,
    because, so joined, one need not fear the other:
    and if you doubt me, watch the fruit and flower,
    for every plant is known by what it seeds.” (Purg. XVI, 94-114)

    Dante criticizes the political corruption of his times, which have allowed self-serving popes to be elected into office. These popes do “not have cleft hooves,” meaning they do not see the crucial importance of maintaining the “cleft” between church and state, by which the one always checks the other and they reciprocally keep each other in line. Instead, society has allowed “the sword [to] join the shepherd’s crook,” so that the boundaries between state and church are blurred; the Church can often be bought by the wealth of princes and other politicians. This “must of necessity result in evil, because, so joined, one need not fear the other.” By Dante’s reasoning, a country must be ruled by a virtuous king to keep the whole population virtuous. But, this “misrule” by the combined church and state “has caused the world to be malevolent” and the laws to be discarded. Man is wrong in blaming the heavens for this corruption, for “celestial forces […] do not corrupt”; they have only themselves to blame.

    [Marco Lombardo]: “You can conclude: the Church of Rome confounds
    two powers in itself; into the filth,
    it falls and fouls itself and its new burden.” (Purg. XVI, 127-129)

    The popes, who represent “the Church of Rome,” by allowing themselves to be bribed by nobles and princes with their own political agendas, deflect the Church from its duty of maintaining virtue.

    [Hugh Capet]: “I found the reins that ruled the kingdom tight
    within my hands, and I held so much new-
    gained power and possessed so many friends
    that, to the widowed crown, my own son’s head
    was elevated, and from him began
    the consecrated bones of all those kings.
    Until the giant dowry of Provence
    removed all sense of shame within my house,
    my line was not worth much, but did no wrong.
    There its rapine began with lies and force;
    and then it seized – that it might make amends –
    Ponthieu and Normandy and Gascony.” (Purg. XX, 55-66)

    The “widowed crown” refers to King Louis V’s inability to produce an heir, resulting in Hugh Capet’s seizure of the throne. Hugh claims his family (the Capetians) ruled justly until “the giant dowry of Provence” – a marriage between the Capetian family and the ruling dynasty of Provence – allowed the Capetians to gain influence in Provence, another province in France. Out of spite, Philip IV the Fair (from the Capetian line) seized “Ponthieu and Normandy and Gascony,” beginning a long series of spats with the Church that ultimately ended with Philip’s seizing of the papacy and his moving it from Rome to Avignon. Here, Hugh Capet blames the families of Provence for the eventual corruption of the Capetian line, but it is not clear that Dante agrees with him.

  • Suffering

    [Virgil to Dante]: …“This mountain’s of such sort
    that climbing it is hardest at the start;
    but as we rise, the slope grows less unkind.
    Therefore, when this slope seems to you so gentle
    that climbing farther up will be as restful
    as traveling downstream by boat, you will
    be where this pathway ends, and there you can
    expect to put your weariness to rest.” (Purg. IV, 88-95)

    The closer a soul is to the bottom of the mountain, the harder it is to motivate himself to climb upwards, partly because the path is so steep. As he purges himself of his sins, though, his suffering eases and he actually feels lighter as he climbs higher. The higher he climbs, the easier the path becomes, so that his virtue increases along with his willingness to suffer as he climbs.

    [Belacqua]: …“O brother, what’s the use of climbing?
    God’s angel, he who guards the gate, would not
    let me pass through to meet my punishment.
    Outside that gate the skies must circle round
    as many times as they did when I lived –
    since I delayed good sighs until the end –
    unless, before then, I am helped by prayer
    that rises from a heart that lives in grace;
    what use are other prayers – ignored by Heaven?” (Purg. IV, 127-135)

    Belacqua, stuck in ante-Purgatory and simply lounging around, is frustrated in his attempts to climb the mountain because he has not fulfilled his waiting time (of thirty times one’s lifespan) yet. Ironically, he suffers merely by sitting around. Even more ironically, he wants to begin his real suffering by climbing up the mountain. So Belacqua – like the rest of the penitents – suffers from something not inherently painful (waiting); essentially he suffers from not suffering enough.

    …But I would
    not have you, reader, be deflected from
    your good resolve by hearing from me now
    how God would have us pay the debt we owe.
    Don’t dwell upon the form of punishment:
    consider what comes after that; at worst
    it cannot last beyond the final Judgment. (Purg. X, 105-111)

    Despite the intense suffering of the penitents as they take on the punishments on each terrace, they should not despair and give into pain – Dante says – because, unlike the sinners in Hell, these souls are guaranteed admittance into Heaven. While they’re suffering, they should “consider what comes after,” not “dwell upon the form of punishment.” In other words, they should keep their eye on the prize to motivate themselves.

    Beseeching, thus, good penitence for us
    and for themselves, those shades moved on beneath
    their weights, like those we sometimes bear in dreams –
    each in his own degree of suffering
    but all, exhausted, circling the first terrace,
    purging themselves of this world’s scoriae. (Purg. XI, 25-30)

    Dante’s point here is that a penitent soul's punishment is exactly tailored to fit his vices, just like the sinners’ punishments in Hell. God assigns each soul “his own degree of suffering” in accordance with Divine Justice. So the suffering that each soul undergoes is fair and is no more than he deserves. Of course, Purgatory is built on this idea of Divine Justice. In the first terrace, this justice means that each soul drags around a different amount of weight on its back, but each individual is appropriately bent over so that his eyes face the ground in a gesture of humility – a fitting punishment for excessive pride.

    [Omberto Aldobrandeschi]: “And were I not impeded by the stone
    that, since it has subdued my haughty neck,
    compels my eyes to look below, then I
    should look at this man who is still alive
    and nameless, to see if I recognize
    him – and to move his pity for my burden.
    I was Italian, son of a great Tuscan:
    my father was Guiglielmo Aldobrandesco;
    I do not know if you have heard his name.
    The ancient blood and splendid deeds of my
    forefathers made me so presumptuous
    that, without thinking on our common mother,
    I scorned all men past measure, and that scorn
    brought me my death – the Sienese know how,
    as does each child in Campagnatico.
    I am Omberto; and my arrogance
    has not harmed me alone, for it has drawn
    all of kin into calamity.
    Until God has been satisfied, I bear
    this burden here among the dead because
    I did not bear this load among the living.” (Purg. XI, 52-72)

    Here, Omberto emphasizes the just nature of his suffering. In the last line, he says, “I bear / this burden here among the dead because / I did not bear this load among the living.” This is the exact nature of punishment here in Purgatory; one repents for what one has done wrong in life and then works to correct it in the afterlife. Omberto suffers for his “scorn” and “arrogance” that he thought befitted him as a nobleman in life. One of the consequences of being proud is shown here, in the first few lines: Omberto cannot lift his head to look at Dante because his punishing weights keep his face firmly fixed downward. Thus, he is so shamed that he cannot even bring himself to the same level as a normal standing man.

    Those souls – it seemed – were cloaked in coarse haircloth;
    another’s shoulder served each shade as prop,
    and all of them were bolstered by the rocks:
    so do the blind who have to beg appear
    on pardon days to plead for what they need,
    each bending his head back and toward the other,
    that all who watch feel – quickly – pity’s touch
    not only through the words that would entreat
    but through the sight, which can – no less – beseech.
    And just as, to the blind, no sun appears,
    so to the shades – of whom I now speak – here,
    the light of heaven would not give itself;
    for iron wire pierces and sews up
    the lids of all those shades, as untamed hawks
    are handled, lest, too restless, they fly off. (Purg. XIII, 58-70)

    For allowing their eyes to wander to others’ possessions in life, the Envious are forced into blindness in the afterlife. Their eyes are sewn shut by “iron wires” so that they need to lean on each other for support. As a result of their blindness, the Envious cannot see the greatest gift of all – the light of Heaven – until they purge themselves of their vice.

    Guido del Duca]: “My blood was so afire with envy that,
    when I had seen a man becoming happy,
    the lividness in me was plain to see.
    From what I’ve sown, this is the straw I reap:
    o humankind, why do you set your hearts
    there where our sharing cannot have a part?” (Purg. XIV, 82-87)

    Guido admits that the vice of envy includes more than just jealously wanting someone else’s belongings; it also includes wishing ill on that other person simply because he has something that the envious one lacks. Guido’s “lividness” here is a testament to the rage he felt against the person whom he envied. But, again, he justifies his punishment: “From what I’ve sown, this is the straw I reap.” Of course, “straw” is not very valuable, so Guido suggests that what he sewed in life was not something to be envied.

    Following them, the others [the Slothful] cried: “Quick, quick,
    lest time be lost through insufficient love;
    where urge for good is keen, grace finds new green.” (Purg. XVIII, 103-105)

    The Slothful are punished by an immoderate sense of haste; they feel the urge to rush everywhere. This obviously has physical ramifications, wearing down their bodies and feet, but also not allowing their minds to reflect or relax. However, the sense of justice pervades here – as with all the penitents – because “where urge for good is keen," “grace finds new green.” They realize that their suffering now will result in a rebirth (“new green”) of their grace, after which they’ll be permitted to enter Heaven.

    [Pope Adrian V]: “Until that point I was a squalid soul,
    from God divided, wholly avaricious;
    now, as you see, I’m punished here for that.
    What avarice enacts is here declared
    in the purgation of converted souls;
    the mountain has no punishment more bitter.
    Just as we did not lift our eyes on high
    but set our sight on earthly things instead,
    so justice here impels our eyes toward earth.
    As avarice annulled in us the love
    of any other good, and thus we lost
    our chance for righteous works, so justice here
    fetters our hands and feet and holds us captive;
    and for as long as it may please our just
    Lord, here we’ll be outstretched and motionless.” (Purg. XIX, 112-126)

    Because the Avaricious have twisted their natural desires towards material goods and have spent their whole lives pursuing wealth, their ability to reach out and grab things is restricted in Purgatory. As Pope Adrian V explains, “justice here fetters our hands and feet and holds us captive,” leaving the sinners “motionless.” Because in life the Avaricious never turned their eyes upward towards God in desire, here they are punished by being forced to look downwards – just as they did on earth. But, like the others, Pope Adrian recognizes the justice of his situation, even naming “justice” as the force that punishes him.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    Then certain of them [the Lustful] came as close to me
    as they were able to while, cautiously,
    they never left the boundaries of their burning. (Purg. XXVI, 13-15)

    Interestingly, the Lustful – who you might think would want to jump out of the fire at any given moment – do not take the excuse of greeting Dante as an opportunity to step out of the flames. Indeed, they seem to enjoy their punishment; it is the non-burning places they seem to fear, because they “cautiously / …never left the boundaries of their burning.”

    But Virgil had deprived us of himself,
    Virgil, the gentlest father, Virgil, he
    to whom I gave my self for my salvation;
    and even all our ancient mother lost
    was not enough to keep my cheeks, though washed
    with dew, from darkening again with tears.
    “Dante, though Virgil’s leaving you, do not
    yet weep, do not weep yet; you’ll need your tears
    for what another sword must yet inflict.” (Purg. XXX, 49-57)

    The penitents are not the only ones who suffer in Purgatory. Dante, a living being simply visiting the place, seems to take on the punishments as well. (Remember how he bends over with the Prideful in the first terrace?) Here, he is introduced to a different kind of suffering: the loss of a friend. Virgil, who has faithfully guided Dante through the horrors of Hell and the lessons of Purgatory, suddenly disappears. As a pagan, Virgil is no longer useful to the purged Dante and so he disappears, bringing “tears” to Dante’s eyes. Dante must suffer something the penitents have experienced long before: the loss of loved ones. But, as Dante is warned, this isn’t the worst of what is to come; he is destined for even greater pain from “another sword.”

    [Beatrice]: “He [Dante] fell so far there were no other means
    to lead him to salvation, except this:
    to let him see the people who were lost.
    For this I visited the gateway of
    the dead; to him who guided him above
    my prayers were offered even as I wept.
    The deep design of God would have been broken
    if Lethe had been crossed and he had drunk
    such waters but had not discharged the debt
    of penitence that’s paid when tears are shed.” (Purg. XXX, 136-145)

    Beatrice, in mercilessly describing Dante’s faults, reinforces the concept that sinners must suffer. It is a “debt of penitence” that they owe to God for their bad behavior. Like all the penitents, Dante must earn his purging drink at the rive Lethe through sweat, blood, and tears. He must suffer before being allowed entry into Heaven.

  • Faith

    I started: “O my light, it seems to me
    that in one passage you deny expressly
    that prayer can bend the rule of Heaven, yet
    these people pray precisely for that end.
    Is their hope, therefore, only emptiness
    or have I not read clearly what you said?”
    And he to me: “My text is plain enough,
    and yet their hope is not delusive if
    one scrutinizes it with sober wit;
    the peak of justice is not lowered when
    the fire of love accomplishes in one
    instant the expiation owed by all
    who dwell here; for where I asserted this –
    that prayers could not mend their fault – I spoke
    of prayers without a passageway to God.” (Purg. VI, 28-42)

    Dante thinks Virgil contradicts himself by claiming that prayer can benefit living souls, but saying the opposite in his Aeneid. However, Virgil defends the truth of his statements by qualifying his Aeneid statement with the fact that those who pray in the Aeneid are pagan and thus their prayers are “without a passageway to God.” This all-important “passageway” is faith. Those with faith, it is implied, can use “prayers” to “mend their fault.”

    “I am Virgil, and I am deprived of Heaven
    for no fault other than my lack of faith.” (Purg. VII, 7-8)

    Virgil’s only real sin, the only reason he is in Hell, is his lack of faith. This hardly seems fair, since Virgil was born before the time of Jesus, and thus could never have heard of Christianity. Nevertheless, faith in Jesus is a prerequisite for Dante’s Heaven, so Virgil’s lack of faith keeps him forever from the ultimate paradise.

    Upon my forehead, he traced seven P’s
    with his sword’s point and said: “When you have entered
    within, take case to wash away these wounds.” (Purg. IX, 112-114)

    Each of the seven P’s represents “peccatum,” the Italian word for “sin” but which can also mean “wound.” The number seven signifies that Dante will have to pass through all seven terraces of Purgatory, to battle each of the seven capital vices, to reach Heaven. In order to “wash away these wounds,” Dante must have faith in God that He will provide Dante with the willpower to work through the pain of penance, no matter how agonizing it becomes.

    [The Prideful]: “Try not our strength, so easily subdued,
    against the ancient foe, but set it free
    from him who goads it to perversity.
    This last request we now address to You,
    dear Lord, not for ourselves – who have no need –
    but for the ones whom we have left behind.” (Purg. XI, 19-24)

    Dante seems to see prayer as one of the ultimate demonstrations of faith. Here, the Prideful beg God to give them the strength to resist “the ancient foe” (Satan). However, their faith and compassion are displayed most boldly in the last three lines, where they request this not for themselves but for “the ones whom [they] have left behind” – their loved ones still living on earth who still have time to change their sinful ways and be guaranteed a place in Heaven.

    [Statius]: “I had sufficient fame beyond,” that spirit
    replied; “I bore the name that lasts the longest
    and honors most – but faith was not yet mine.
    So gentle was the spirit of my verse
    that Rome drew me, son of Toulouse, to her
    and there my brow deserved a crown of myrtle.
    On earth my name is still remembered – Statius:
    I sang of Thebes and then of great Achilles;
    I fell along the way of that last labor.
    The sparks that warmed me, the seeds of my ardor,
    were from the holy fire – the same that gave
    more than a thousand poets light and flame.
    I speak of the Aeneid; when I wrote
    verse, it was mother to me, it was nurse;
    my work, without it, would not weight an ounce.
    And to have lived on earth when Virgil lived –
    for that I would extend by one more year
    the time I owe before my exile’s end.” (Purg. XXI, 85-102)

    Statius, originally a pagan, found his faith in God through Virgil’s Aeneid. This is heavily ironic for Virgil: he is a pagan and condemned to Hell for it, but his works have the power to inspire faith and to convert others. Statius seems sympathetic to this fact, even though he does not yet know that he is speaking to Virgil; he shows this by claiming “I would extend by one more year the time I owe before my exile’s end.” If only he could have lived on earth when Virgil did. Ostensibly, he would have tried to convert Virgil to Christianity had he lived in the same period, thereby saving Virgil from damnation.

    “Now, when you sang the savage wars of those
    twin sorrows of Jocasta,” said the singer
    of the bucolic poems [Virgil], “it does not seem –
    from those notes struck by you and Clio there –
    that you had yet turned faithful to the faith
    without which righteous works do not suffice.
    If that is so, then what sun or what candles
    drew you from darkness so that, in their wake,
    you set your sails behind the fisherman?”
    And he [Statius] to him: “You were the first to send me
    to drink within Parnassus’ caves and you,
    the first who, after God, enlightened me.
    You did as he who goes by night and carries
    the lamp behind him – he is of no help
    to his own self but teaches those who follow –
    when you declared: ‘The ages are renewed;
    justice and man’s first time on earth return;
    from Heaven a new progeny descends.’
    Through you I was a poet and, through you,
    a Christian…” (Purg. XXII, 55-72)

    Statius highlights Virgil’s tragic situation. Statius puts Virgil on a level almost akin to that of God (“You were the first […] after God, who enlightened me.”) He says, “You did as he who goes by night and carries the lamp behind him – he is of no help to his own self but teaches those who follow.” However, it is hard to ascribe such a generous description to Virgil because, if he has performed this sort of selfless leadership at all, he’s done it unintentionally and certainly without the goal of converting his readers to Christianity. Thus, it is heavily ironic that Statius reads the birth of Christ into a passage that is probably just a flattering referral to the birth of renowned Roman consul Gaius Asinius Pollio.

    And he [Forese] to me: “It is my Nella who,
    with her abundant tears, has guided me
    to drink the sweet wormwood of torments: she
    with sighs and prayers devout has set me free
    of that slope where one waits and has freed me
    from circles underneath this circle. She –
    my gentle widow, whom I loved most dearly –
    was all the more beloved and prized by God
    as she is more alone in her good works.” (Purg. XXIII, 85-93)

    Here, Donati Forese praises the steady faith of his widow Nella, who prays selflessly for her deceased husband, speeding him on his way to Paradise. Her prayers are especially pious because “she is more alone in her good works.” With these altruistic words she earns the love of God.

    [Virgil]: “But that your will to know may be appeased,
    here’s Statius, and I call on him and ask
    that he now be the healer of your doubts.”
    “If I explain eternal ways to him,”
    Statius replied, “while you are present here,
    let my excuse be: “I cannot refuse you.” (Purg. XXV, 28-33)

    This is one of the first times Virgil concedes his authority as a mentor to the Christian Statius, in an acknowledgement of his inferior status as a pagan. This is supposed to prepare Dante for Virgil’s eventual departure in Canto XXX and for the entrance of the heavenly Beatrice as his replacement.

    …My gentle escorts turned to me
    and Virgil said: “My son, though there may be
    suffering here, there is no death. Remember,
    remember! If I guided you to safety
    even upon the back of Geryon,
    then now, closer to God, what shall I do?
    Be sure: although you were to spend a full
    one thousand years within this fire’s center,
    your head would not be balder by one hair.
    And if you think I am deceiving you,
    draw closer to the flames, let your own hands
    try out, within the fire, you clothing’s hem –
    put down, by now put down, your every fear;
    turn toward the fire, and enter, confident!”
    But I was stubborn, set against my conscience.
    When he saw me still halting, obstinate,
    he said, somewhat perplexed: “Now see, son: this
    wall stands between you and your Beatrice.” (Purg. XXVII, 19-36)

    When Dante balks at the final passage through fire on the seventh terrace, Virgil reminds him of a previous episode in Hell when Dante also hesitated, but the loyal Virgil persevered and delivered him safely, as promised. Virgil’s words seem to suggest that after the terrifying ride on the monster Geryon’s back, this trial fire should be nothing. He tries to inspire Dante to have faith in him, but it doesn’t work. Indeed, Dante does not yet have simple faith, forcing Virgil to turn to luring him across with the thought of his childhood sweetheart, Beatrice, who awaits him on the other side. Virgil’s crafty words illustrate the concept of mental love beguiling an innocent childlike soul.

    [Virgil]: “My son, you’ve seen the temporary fire
    and the eternal fire; you have reached
    the place past which my powers cannot see.
    I’ve brought you here through intellect and art;
    from now on, let your pleasure be your guide;
    you’re past the steep and past the narrow paths.
    Look at the sun that shines upon your brow;
    look at the grasses, flowers, and the shrubs
    born here, spontaneously, of the earth.
    Among them, you can rest or walk until
    the coming of the glad and lovely eyes –
    those eyes that, weeping, sent me to your side.
    Await no further word or sign from me:
    your will is free, erect, and whole – to act
    against that will would be to err: therefore
    I crown and miter you over yourself.” (Purg. XXVII, 127-142)

    Here, Virgil essentially announces that Dante’s mental love is now all faith; it has been redirected into the true path that will lead to God. Thus, Dante can “let [his] pleasure be [his] guide” because Dante correctly equates pleasure with God. Thus, he no longer has need of Virgil as his guide “through intellect and art,” for he has found faith.

  • Fate and Free Will

    [Virgil]: “As I have told you, I was sent to him
    for his deliverance; the only road
    I could have taken was the road I took.
    I showed him all the people of perdition;
    now I intend to show to him those spirits
    who, in your care, are bent on expiation.
    To tell you how I led him would take long;
    it is a power descending from above
    that helps me guide him here, to see and hear you. (Purg. I, 61-69)

    Virgil describes how his mission to guide Dante through Hell is divinely ordained and thus fated. He emphasizes, “the only road / I could have taken was the road I took”; in other words, Virgil has no choice in the matter. Looking deeper, however, you can see this entire scenario might have been avoided. Had Dante followed the virtuous path, his free will would have instinctively steered him clear of the grave sins, so God wouldn't have decided that Dante needed a tour through Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven.

    [Dante to Guido del Duca]: “to tell you who I am would be to speak
    in vain – my name has not yet gained much fame.” (Purg. XIV, 20-21)

    Dante, out of arrogance and his self-proclaimed superiority in his craft, claims that he is destined for fame. Remember, though, that Dante learned his poetry would become famous by the foresight of a sinner in Hell. Seen in this light, his fame is indeed fated.

    [Marco Lombardo]: “If this were so, then your free will would be
    destroyed, and there would be no equity
    in joy for doing good, in grief for evil.
    The heavens set your appetites in motion –
    not all your appetites, but even if
    that were the case, you have received both light
    on good and evil, and free will, which though
    it struggle in its first wars with the heavens,
    then conquers all, if it has been well nurtured.
    On greater power and a better nature
    you, who are free, depend; that Force engenders
    the mind in you, outside the heavens’ sway.” (Purg. XVI, 70-81)

    Marco Lombardo blasts the idea that the heavens ordain each and every one of man’s actions. According to Lombardo, man does indeed have his share of free will. Heaven merely “sets your appetites in motion” and “not all your appetites.” The only thing a person can blame Heaven for is having desire. Man, however, is the one who chooses whether or not to act on those desires. He must use his mind to distinguish between good and evil.

    [Virgil]: “My son, there’s no Creator and no creature
    who ever was without love – natural
    or mental; and you know that,” he began.
    “The natural is always without error,
    but mental love may choose an evil object
    or err through too much or too little vigor.
    As long as it’s directed toward the First Good
    and tends toward secondary goods with measure,
    it cannot be the cause of evil pleasure;
    but when it twists toward evil, or attends
    to good with more or less care than it should,
    those whom He made have worked against their Maker.
    From this you see that – of necessity –
    love is the seed in you of every virtue
    and of all acts deserving punishment.” (Purg. XVII, 91-105)

    Love is given as the motive force for all of man’s actions. It controls both man’s fated life and his free will. The primary love is natural. This is the fated part of man’s life, for “natural love is always without error.” Natural love is every person's inherent love for God, their creator. Because everyone is born with this love, no one can be praised or blamed for an attraction to God. The mental love, however, is based on free will. Man, through his thoughts, can choose whatever secondary objects (after God) he is attracted to. Here, one can err by “choos[ing] an evil object or err through too much or too little vigor.” This is where a person decides his own destiny. If he chooses to love evil or unworthy objects, or loves certain objects in unjust measure (“too much or too little”), he condemns himself to Hell.

    [Virgil]: “And thus man does not know the source of his
    intelligence of primal notions and
    his tending toward desire’s primal objects:
    both are in you just as in bees there is
    the honey-making urge; such primal will
    deserves no praise, and it deserves no blame.
    Now, that all other longings may conform
    to this first will, there is in you, inborn,
    the power that counsels, keepers of the threshold
    of your assent: this is the principle
    on which your merit may be judged, for it
    garners and winnows good and evil longings…
    Even if we allow necessity
    as source for every love that flames in you,
    the power to curb that love is still your own.” (Purg. XVIII, 55-72)

    Interestingly, man is blind to his "natural love." It is so ingrained in him and he’s so attracted to things of beauty (made by God) that he does not realize how much he loves God. Virgil reinforces the idea that this natural love (simply because it is natural) “deserves no praise, and it deserves no blame.” He spins mental love, however, in a different manner. He calls it “the power that counsels, keepers of the threshold of your assent.” In other words, mental love is one’s conscience, the force in a person that distinguishes good from evil. This desire can be judged because it is “the principle” and “the power to curb” that one chooses to exercise, or not.

    “If you observe the signs the angel traced
    upon this man,” my teacher said, “you’ll see
    plainly – he’s meant to reign with all the righteous;
    but since she who spins night and day had not
    yet spun the spool that Clotho sets upon
    the distaff and adjusts for everyone,
    his soul, the sister of your soul and mine,
    in its ascent, could not – alone – have climbed
    here, for it does not see the way we see.
    Therefore, I was brought forth from Hell’s broad jaws
    to guide him in his going; I shall lead
    him just as far as where I teach can reach.” (Purg. XXI, 22-33)

    Virgil tells Statius that Dante is destined for Heaven (“he’s meant to reign with all the righteous”); however, because of his sin in Florence, he “does not see the way we see.” Thus, Virgil has been “brought forth from Hell’s broad jaws to guide him in his going”; in other words, Virgil’s task is to remedy Dante’s sight so that he can recognize good from evil and then act accordingly. Here we get the tension between fate and free will. From his birth, Dante was destined for Heaven, but his free will gets him in trouble and God has to intervene, bringing in Virgil to guide Dante back to his true path. The image of fate here is represented in the mythological spinners – Lachesis, Clotho, and Atropos – who, respectively, spin the threads of men’s lives, hold the spool, and cut the thread. That Lachesis has not yet fully “spun the spool” of Dante’s life means that Dante can still choose virtue over vice; all is not yet lost.

    [Beatrice] “Not only through the work of the great spheres –
    which guide each seed to a determined end,
    depending on what stars are its companions –
    but through the bounty of the godly graces,
    which shower down from clouds so high that we
    cannot approach them with out vision, he,
    when young, was such – potentially – that any
    propensity innate in him would have
    prodigiously succeeded, had he acted.
    But where the soil has finer vigor, there
    precisely – when untilled or badly seeded –
    will that terrain grow wilder and more noxious.” (Purg. XXX, 109-120)

    Beatrice describes Dante as a seed that is given every opportunity to succeed by being watered by “the godly graces.” Dante’s free will, though, leaves the environment around him “untilled or badly seeded,” so that his “terrain grows wilder and more noxious.” Beatrice compares Dante’s free will to a farmer’s tending of his lands. Because he neglects to live morally, his seeds grow wildly. Interestingly, Beatrice’s words evoke not only Dante’s moral life, but his poetic talent. He has – she suggests – the “propensity innate in him” which could have “prodigiously succeeded” had he tended it well, but because he runs astray, some of that talent goes to waste. Her goal in telling him all this is to shake Dante up and scare him back into properly tilling his own talent.

    [Beatrice]: “He [Dante] fell so far there were no other means
    to lead him to salvation, except this:
    to let him see the people who were lost.
    For this I visited the gateway of
    the dead; to him who guided him above
    my prayers were offered even as I wept.
    The deep design of God would have been broken
    if Lethe had been crossed and he had drunk
    such waters but had not discharged the debt
    of penitence that’s paid when tears are shed.” (Purg. XXX, 136-145)

    Through his own bad choices, Dante “fell so far there were no other means to lead him to salvation” except to scare him straight by “let[ting] him see the people who were lost.” Thus fate, which has destined Dante to go to Heaven, intervenes upon seeing that Dante’s free will has led him astray. Virgil, then, appears as an emissary of fate, trying to correct Dante’s path so that he can fix it in accord with “the deep design of God.”

    [Beatrice]: “The eagle that had left its plumes within
    the chariot, which then became a monster
    and then a prey, will not forever be
    without an heir; for I can plainly see,
    and thus I tell it: stars already close
    at hand, which can’t be blocked or checked, will bring
    a time in which, dispatched by God, a Five
    Hundred and Ten and Five will slay the whore
    together with that giant who sins with her.” (Purg. XXXIII, 37-45)

    Beatrice prophecies that fate will rectify the Church and bring it back to God. The eagle symbolizes the Roman Empire, which is “without an heir” because Frederick II of Hohenstaufen – the last legitimate emperor – died in 1250. The chariot represents the Church, which “became a monster” when the Donation of Constantine bestowed much wealth on the Church, attracting the greedy eyes of politicians and princes. Dante equates the Donation of Constantine to the beginning of the melding of the Church and the state, which has led to disaster. The Church then becomes “a prey” because it caters to the interests of various political figures.

    Dante also thinks of this state of the Church as its prostitution, with popes courting the favor of princes and so forth. Thus, the Church is the “whore.” The “giant” is the French monarchy, forever bullying the Church to do its bidding. Beatrice, however, foresees the coming of a figure, the “Five Hundred and Ten and Five” (often glossed in terms of its Roman numerals: 500 = D, 10 = X, 5 = V, forming the anagram DVX or DUX, which is the Latin word for “leader”), who will “slay the whore together with the giant who sins with her.” In other words, this enigmatic leader will purge the Church of its dealings with the secular Empire. Who this mysterious “leader” is, however, is still a topic of heated debate. Thus, author-Dante sees the current corruption of the Church as a historical anomaly, a bad choice made by religious leaders who have poorly exercised their free will. Fate, Dante claims, has a different view of the Church and will work to set it back to rights.

  • Pride

    And he [Virgil] to me: “Whatever makes them suffer their
    heavy torment bends them to the ground;
    at first I was unsure of what they were.
    But look intently there, and let your eyes
    unravel what’s beneath those stones: you can
    already see what penalty strikes each.” (Purg. X, 115-120)

    On the first terrace, the Prideful are punished by carrying heavy stone weights on their backs that force them to “bend to the ground” in a submissive position so humiliating that Dante does not even recognize them as human at first glance.

    O Christians, arrogant, exhausted, wretched,
    whose intellects are sick and cannot see,
    who place our confidence in backward steps,
    do you not know that we are worms and born
    to form the angelic butterfly that soars,
    without defenses, to confront His judgment?
    Why does your mind presume to flight when you
    are still like the imperfect grub, the worm
    before it has attained its final form? (Purg. X, 121-129)

    Dante chastises man for presuming to understand God’s ways enough to try to “fly” when he cannot even walk correctly (“backward steps”). Man’s pride makes humans believe they are already an “angelic butterfl[ies]” when truly “we are worms.” Although good Christians can one day hope to achieve the rank of an “angelic butterfly,” they should not delude themselves through their “sick intellects” into thinking that they are better than they are.

    [Omberto Aldobrandeschi]: “And were I not impeded by the stone
    that, since it has subdued my haughty neck,
    compels my eyes to look below, then I
    should look at this man who is still alive
    and nameless, to see if I recognize
    him – and to move his pity for my burden.
    I was Italian, son of a great Tuscan:
    my father was Guiglielmo Aldobrandesco;
    I do not know if you have heard his name.
    The ancient blood and splendid deeds of my
    forefathers made me so presumptuous
    that, without thinking on our common mother,
    I scorned all men past measure, and that scorn
    brought me my death – the Sienese know how,
    as does each child in Campagnatico.
    I am Omberto; and my arrogance
    has not harmed me alone, for it has drawn
    all of my kin into calamity.” (Purg. XI, 52-69)

    As asserted in Inferno, sin is infective, spreading once it has captured an individual. Here, the sin of pride spreads from Omberto outward through the rest of his family, bringing “all of [his] kin into calamity.” Now, as punishment for his sin, Omberto’s “haughty neck” is so “subdued” that he cannot look up, even to see who is talking to him. This is another instance of contrapasso punishment.

    [Oderisi]: O empty glory of the powers of humans!
    How briefly green endures upon the peak –
    unless an age of dullness follows it.
    In painting Cimabue thought he held
    the field, and now it’s Giotto they acclaim –
    the former only keeps a shadowed fame.
    So did one Guido, from the other, wrest
    the glory of our tongue – and he perhaps
    is born who will chase both out of the nest.
    Worldly renown is nothing other than
    a breath of wind that blows now here, now there,
    and changes name when it has changed its course. (Purg. XI, 91-102)

    Oderisi condemns human pride and glory as “empty” and “brief.” He compares them to foliage on a mountain: “how briefly green endures upon the peak.” He adds the example from his own life as a celebrated illuminator, in which his fame was fleeting and was soon passed on to the freshest face – Cimabue, Giotto, and now Guido.

    As oxen, yoked, proceed abreast, so I
    moved with that burdened soul as long as my
    kind pedagogue allowed me to; but when
    he said: “Leave him behind, and go ahead;
    for here it’s fitting that with wings and oars
    each urge his boat along with all his force,”
    I drew my body up again, erect –
    the stance most suitable to man – and yet
    the thoughts I thought were still submissive, bent. (Purg. XII, 1-9)

    As a self-proclaimed prideful sinner, Dante finds himself so sympathetic to the sufferings of the Prideful that he assumes their humble, bent-over stance. Even when Virgil orders him to stand up straight so he can speed up his pace, Dante’s “thoughts…[are] still submissive, bent,” indicating that the lesson of humility has stayed with him mentally, even if he no longer shows the physical signs of it.

    [Forese]: “But tell me if the man whom I see here
    is he who brought the new rhymes forth, beginning:
    Ladies who have intelligence of love.’”
    I answered: “I am one who, when Love breathes
    in me, takes note; what he, within, dictates,
    I, in that way, without, would speak and shape.”
    “O brother, now I see,” he said, “the knot
    that kept the Notary, Guittone, and me
    short of the sweet new manner that I hear.
    I clearly see how your pens follow closely
    behind him who dictates, and certainly
    that did not happen with our pens; and he
    who sets himself to ferreting profoundly
    can find no other difference between
    the two styles.” (Purg. XXIV, 49-63)

    This passage is designed to feed Dante’s ego. Donati Forese, a fellow poet and friend, recognizes Dante by quoting the opening line of Dante’s “Vita Nuova,” suggesting that the poem is already considered a classic, widely memorized by scholars and students alike. As if this were not self-serving enough, author-Dante has his friend admit that his own work is not as good as his own: “I clearly see how your pens follow closely behind him who dictates, and certainly that did not happen with our pens.” This unambiguously sets up Dante’s dolce stil novo style of poetry as the supreme form, not to be rivaled by anyone else.

    And through the incandescent air there ran
    sweet melody; at which, just indignation
    made me rebuke the arrogance of Eve
    because, where earth and heaven were obedient,
    a solitary woman, just created,
    found any veil at all beyond endurance;
    if she had been devout beneath her veil,
    I should have savored those ineffable
    delights before, and for a longer time. (Purg. XXIX, 22-30)

    In the Earthly Paradise, Dante reproaches the first woman, Eve, for scorning God’s warning and overreaching her bounds by tasting of the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. Dante sounds personally offended by her transgression; he is spiteful at being robbed of “savor[ing] those ineffable delights” because of her. This also establishes Dante as somewhat proud, for he assumes that he is virtuous enough to deserve to live in Eden.

    [Beatrice]: “Dante, though Virgil’s leaving you, do not
    yet weep…
    (I’d turned around when I had heard my name –
    which, of necessity, I transcribe here)…(Purg. XXX, 55-63)

    After the only mention of his own name in the entire Divine Comedy, Dante hastens to apologize for naming himself. Instead of devaluing the importance of his name, however, his bashfulness only seems to heighten its importance, thereby increase Dante’s fame.

    [Beatrice]: “Nevertheless, that you may feel more shame
    for your mistake, and that – in time to come –
    hearing the Sirens, you may be more strong,
    have done with all the tears you sowed, and listen:
    so shall you hear how, unto other ends,
    my buried flesh should have directed you.” (Purg. XXXI, 37-48)

    Beatrice has no qualms about stating outright that she is here to humiliate Dante, so that when future temptations (“Sirens”) come, he "may be more strong.” She wants him to “feel more shame” at his sins, so that he will not commit the sin of pride again.

    [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.

    [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.

  • Language and Communication

    [Dante to the Late-Repentant who died of Violence]: “…if there’s anything within
    my power that might please you, then – by that
    same peace which in the steps of such a guide
    I seek from world to world – I shall perform it.”
    And one began: “We all have faith in your
    good offices without your oath, as long
    as lack of power does not curb your will.” (Purg. V, 60-66)

    By swearing an oath, Dante performs one of the most meaningful tasks with language: he asserts his honor by putting the truth of his words to the test. The Late-Repentant accepts his oath and trust that – out of the goodness of his heart – Dante will bring word of them back to earth.

    …in an age
    when record books and measures could be trusted… (Purg. XII, 104-105)

    A common theme throughout this text is the degeneration of man’s virtue over time. Because Dante sees truth as intrinsically tied up with language, he vents his frustration here with a reference to the decay of language. He claims that in the old days, when man properly worshipped God, man’s use of language was similarly honest and accurate. Thus, in the past, “record books and measures could be trusted.”

    The other [Rinieri da Calboli] said to him [Guido del Duca]: “Why did he [Dante] hide
    that river’s name, even as one would do
    in hiding something horrible from view?”
    The shade to whom this question was addressed
    repaid with this: “I do not know; but it
    is right for such a valley’s name to perish,
    for from its source…
    until its end point…
    virtue is seen as serpent, and all flee
    from it as if it were an enemy,
    either because the site is ill-starred or
    their evil custom goads them so; therefore,
    the nature of that squalid valley’s people
    has changed, as if they were in Circe’s pasture.” (Purg. XIV, 25-42)

    This passage follows the concept of taboo: certain things are so evil that even naming them can bring about bad luck. Here, the river Arno remains unnamed because it provides a vital stream of water to Italian regions where – according to Dante – men run most corrupt.

    “Either your speech deceives me or would tempt me,”
    he [Marco Lombardo] answered then, “for you, whose speech is Tuscan,
    seem to know nothing of the good Gherardo.” (Purg. XVI, 136-138)

    Unlike in Inferno, where it happens more frequently, this is the only time in Purgatorio that Dante is identified by his Tuscan accent. Perhaps in Purgatory, the souls are less concerned with who a person was in life, but more concerned with what he is becoming now – purified. Here, however, Dante’s accent does more than simply link him to a certain region of Italy; it implies that by living in that region he should know the man Marco Lombardo is talking about, “good Gherardo.”

    Now I am held by one side and the other:
    one keeps me still, the other conjures me
    to speak; but when, therefore, I sigh, my master
    knows why and tells me: “Do not be afraid
    to speak, but speak and answer what he has
    asked you to tell him with such earnestness.” (Purg. XXI, 115-120)

    This is a very telling moment. Dante is caught between the contrasting desires of his two mentors, Virgil and Statius. Appropriately, author-Dante represents this conflict as a verbal one. To whose favor will character-Dante speak? Whose orders will he follow? Finally, Virgil solves the problem in a most favorable manner; he tells Dante to answer Statius’ questions and to speak the truth. This is consonant with the message author-Dante has been conveying to his readers about language: that questions should be asked and addressed, and that they should be answered with truth.

    “O you upon the holy stream’s far shore,”
    so she [Beatrice], turning her speech’s point against me –
    even its edge had seemed too sharp – began
    again, without allowing interruption,
    “tell, tell if this is true; for your confession
    must be entwined with such self-accusation.”
    My power of speech was so confounded that
    my voice would move and yet was spent before
    its organs had released it. (Purg. XXXI, 1-9)

    Beatrice’s speech here is described as a blade. Her previous words in Canto XXX are supposedly directed not towards Dante, but towards the angels in the procession. In content, however, they discuss Dante, his sins, and shame. Now, after letting Dante feel the sidelong “edge” of her criticism, Beatrice turns “her speech’s point against [him],” directing her disapproval at him. However, she doesn’t pierce him immediately; instead, she asks for his confession, giving him a chance to spare himself some shame by openly admitting his sins. Dante is so overwhelmed by seeing Beatrice again that his “power of speech” becomes “confounded” and he cannot speak.

    Just as a crossbow that is drawn too taut
    snaps both its cord and bow when it is shot,
    and arrow meets its mark with feeble force,
    so, caught beneath that heavy weight, I burst;
    and I let tears and sighs pour forth; my voice
    had lost its lift along its passage out. (Purg. XXXI, 13-21)

    Language is seen here as an outlet for intense, bottled-up emotion. Dante compares his shame to a “crossbow that is drawn too taut [and] snaps both its cord and bow when it is shot [so that] that arrow meets its mark with feeble force.” Because his confession is so affected by the deep emotion he feels, the words he uses to describe it do not move Beatrice or his readers. As established in Inferno, Dante considers human speech a faculty of the intellect, completely separate from that of the physical body. Here, however, he finds that the two cannot so easily be separated.

    [Beatrice]: “Take note; and even as I speak these words,
    do you transmit them in your turn to those
    who live the life that is a race to death.
    And when you write them, keep in mind that you
    must not conceal what you’ve seen of the tree
    that now has been despoiled twice over here.” (Purg. XXXIII, 52-57)

    Beatrice charges Dante to practice his craft with virtue, to always write with truth.

    [Beatrice]: “But from now on the words I speak will be
    naked; that is appropriate if they
    would be laid bare before your still-crude sight.” (Purg. XXXIII, 100-102)

    After charging Dante to write with clarity and truth, Beatrice imposes the same sentence on her speech, promising that “from now on the words I speak will be naked” so that Dante with his “still-crude sight” will understand them. Emphasis here is put on not only the truth of the speaker’s words but on the comprehension of the listener as well. Both need to function in order for language to work properly.