Study Guide

Purgatorio

Purgatorio Summary

Purgatorio picks up right where Inferno left off—Dante and Virgil have just emerged from their tour through Hell. (Not going to lie: Dante's trilogy of wacky afterworld adventures is a bit like the Hangover trilogy... the first one is definitely the most surprising and shocking. But don't worry, the second and third are pretty fascinating as well.)

The two travelers find themselves on the island of Mount Purgatory at the dawn of a new day. On the shores of the island, Dante and Virgil watch a boat arrive. Guided by an angel, the boat shuttles a new batch of penitent souls to Purgatory. Like these souls, Dante is about to climb Mount Purgatory, learning lessons, and cleansing himself of sin in preparation for ascending to Heaven. Fun times!

Before beginning to scale the mountain, Dante and Virgil must first pass through ante-Purgatory. They meet a variety of souls, most of whom are shocked to see that Dante casts a shadow, showing that he's alive. Along their travels they pass though the First Spur of the Indolent and the Second Spur of the Late-Repentants. They travel to the Valley of the Rulers and meet a bunch of deceased kings. In the valley, a serpent appears at dusk, only to be driven away by two angels.

The penitent souls are unable to travel in Purgatory at night, so, although Virgil is in a hurry, he and Dante rest until morning. Dante sleeps and dreams about an eagle abducting him. When he wakes up, he finds himself at the entrance to Purgatory proper. Virgil informs him that St. Lucia came while he slept and carried him to the gate to Purgatory. They climb the three steps to the gate, and the angel guarding the entrance carves seven P’s into Dante’s forehead.

Now in Purgatory proper, Dante and Virgil have seven terraces to pass through, each of which corresponds to one of the seven deadly sins. On the first terrace of the Prideful, Dante and Virgil observe in the wall of the cliff sculptures representing humility. They come across the Prideful penitents, who are being punished for their sin of pride by carrying massive weights on their backs. The penitents are permanently hunched over, and Dante takes on their bent position in order to speak with them.

Dante remains in this position through the entire first terrace, identifying with the Prideful, until they reach the exit, where an angel erases one P from Dante’s forehead. Dante and Virgil climb to the second terrace of the Envious. Voices there call out examples of fraternal love. They witness the Envious penitents being punished by having their eyelids sewn shut with iron wire. Voices call out examples of punished envy. Dante and Virgil exit the second terrace, and another angel removes a P from Dante's forehead.

Now in the third terrace of the Wrathful, Dante has a vision containing examples of gentleness. Black smoke, the punishment of the Wrathful, envelops them, rendering them blind. In the smoke, they meet a man named Marco Lombardo, who discourses on free will and political corruption. Dante and Virgil meet the angel who removes the third P from Dante’s forehead.

As they travel to the fourth terrace of the Slothful, Virgil explains how love determines the structure of Purgatory. He continues to lecture on love and free will. The Slothful penitents, meanwhile, shout examples of zeal and show that their punishment is to run without rest. Dante has a nightmare about a Siren, but the next morning, they exit the terrace and an angel removes Dante’s fourth P.

Dante and Virgil ascend to the fifth terrace of the Avaricious and Prodigal, where they witness the penitents' punishment: lying stretched face down on the ground and bound by hand and foot. The penitents shout examples of poverty and generosity.

Suddenly, Mount Purgatory trembles. We learn that this happens every time a penitent soul becomes completely purged and ready to ascend to Heaven. An epic poet named Statius joins Dante and Virgil. He turns out to be a big fan of Virgil; and he is also the purged soul for whom the mountain trembled. The trio meets an angel who erases Dante’s fifth P.

On the sixth terrace of the Gluttonous, they encounter a strange tree. A disembodied voice cites examples of temperance. They encounter a man named Forese Donati, who explains the punishment of the Gluttonous as agonizing thirst and hunger. He points out the poet Bonagiunta da Lucca, who chats with Dante about poetry. At the exit of the sixth terrace, an angel removes Dante’s sixth P.

Dante, Virgil, and Statius climb to the seventh terrace of the Lustful. Reflecting on the thin penitents he encountered in the terrace of the Gluttonous, Dante asks how souls can grow lean if they don’t need food. Virgil cedes the floor to Statius, who explains the generation of the soul and their aerial bodies. Here among the Lustful, however, they witness the punishment of the penitents, who walk in flames. The Lustful shout examples of chastity.

Dante meets the poet Guido Guinizzelli, whom he reveres, and also the poet Arnaut Daniel. At sunset, the travelers reach the exit to the seventh terrace, and an angel removes Dante’s final P. However, to leave the terrace, Dante must first walk through a wall of flames. He hesitates with fear, but Virgil lures him through with the promise that he will see Beatrice on the other side. Past the fire, Dante sleeps. In the morning, Virgil announces Dante’s readiness for the Earthly Paradise.

In the Earthly Paradise, Dante meets a woman named Matilda, who explains the origins of wind and water in the forest of the Earthy Paradise. At the banks of the river Lethe, an extraordinary procession passes by, halting before Dante. Virgil disappears, to Dante’s distress, but Beatrice appears.

Beatrice, however, rebukes Dante for crying over Virgil’s disappearance. She continues accusing him of his sins and faults. Dante confesses to his sins, then passes out from the sight of Beatrice’s beauty. Matilda immerses the unconscious Dante in the waters of the Lethe and he wakes up. The procession proceeds to the Tree of Knowledge, where Dante falls asleep.

When he wakes, Beatrice charges him with a mission: to observe and write down everything he sees here for use in his poetry when he goes back to earth. Dante witnesses the procession's chariot attacked by an eagle, a fox, the eagle again, and a dragon. Then the chariot turns into a whore, courted by a giant. Beatrice prophesies God’s vengeance on the dragon, whore, and giant.

At the closing of Purgatorio, Matilda leads Dante to the river Eunoe, and immerses him in the water. He is now ready to ascend to Heaven, with Statius and Beatrice as his guides.

  • Purgatory Canto I

    • Having left Hell behind (as described in Inferno), Dante begins Purgatorio with a metaphor. He compares his talent/genius to a ship that now has the task of crossing kinder waters (than those of Hell) to a place where people are cleansed of their sins: Purgatory.
    • After inflating his own ego, Dante proceeds to invoke the Muses. He asks Calliope, the head muse, to help him so that his “poem [may] rise again from Hell’s dead realm.”
    • He’s relieved to be out of Hell (located underground) and to see the sky—“the gentle hue of oriental sapphire”—again at last.
    • Now for an astronomy lesson courtesy of Dante: on the eastern horizon is the planet Venus, which looks like a very bright star. At the south pole, four old (but still shiny) stars are glowing. We know they’re ancient because Dante says they were seen by the “first people.”
    • Looking back to the north pole, Dante sees a constellation that tells him the time of day, but before he can calculate it down to the exact minute, an old man distracts him.
    • The old man is sage-like, one of those white-bearded men who immediately commands respect; perhaps even more respect because his face is framed by the light of those four significant (but secretive) stars.
    • The old man comes up to Dante and asks who he is that he could escape Hell. He follows with a deluge of questions: who was your guide? Have the laws of Hell been broken? Or have the powers that be changed them?
    • Virgil, who unlike Dante isn’t distracted by the man’s questions, forces Dante’s “knees and brow [to] show reverence.” In other words, knowing who the old man is, Virgil makes Dante kneel.
    • Then Virgil goes through his spiel, which hasn’t changed since Inferno. The Virgin Mary sent me, yada yada, Dante needed to learn a lesson, yada yada, so I guided him and showed him Hell, and now I’m going show him Purgatory… so could we have your blessing please?
    • Virgil then shows his impressive knowledge by identifying the nameless old man. Basically he says, “You’re Cato and you died in Utica for political freedom. And I (Virgil) am from the same circle in Hell as your true love, Marcia. She still prays for your love.” Then, to sweeten the deal, Virgil deals a low blow: “You should let us through Purgatory because if you do, I’ll take your condolences back to her.”
    • But Cato’s no longer a lover boy. He tells Virgil that Marcia “has no power to move me any longer” because unlike Cato, she’s in Hell.
    • Here’s the clincher. Cato tells Virgil that if he’s been sent by the Virgin Mary, there’s no need for flattery. He can go through for her sake.
    • Cato then commands Virgil to go on, but to first get Dante a new wardrobe, because burnt-to-a-crisp togas are so last year. He needs to get a new belt made out of a rush (a kind of plant) and wash his face so he can be all cleaned up for Purgatory. Cato says that they’re in luck because no plants except rushes grow on this island. After freshening up, they should start climbing Mount Purgatory.
    • With those instructions, Cato vanishes.
    • Virgil and Dante head back down to the shores to get rushes for belts.
    • Meanwhile, the sun rises. In the distance, the sea trembles. Translation: it’s pretty.
    • On the shore, the rushes are all wet with dew. Dante notices that the dew should’ve evaporated because it’s smack dab in the sunlight, but the “sea winds” protect it, so the grass is still wet.
    • Virgil places his hands on the wet grass. Dante reads his intent and kneels, letting Virgil wash his face with the dew.
    • Dante notes that they’re walking on a shore that has never felt the footstep of a living man. In other words, Dante’s very special.
    • Virgil, all business-like, ties a new rush around Dante’s waist.
    • Right where Virgil has plucked the reed, a new one immediately springs up.
  • Purgatory Canto II

    • Dante takes the opportunity to remind us again that it is dawn, with a pretty personification of Aurora’s (goddess of the dawn) cheeks changing color—from pale white to orange—as she ages.
    • Dante spies something in the water. It’s glowing like the planet Mars in the morning as it approaches. Dante also compares it to a flying bird.
    • Dante turns to Virgil to ask the inevitable question: what the heck is that?
    • Virgil isn't not curious—he knows exactly what's happening. He orders Dante to kneel and join his hands in prayer. This shiny white guy must be important.
    • The glowing figure just happens to be an angel of God—as Virgil tells us.
    • Virgil raves adoringly: “Look—our pretty angel is simply too good for mortal means. He will only use his wings as sails and oars. And look how they point to heaven, and always stay milky-white, because they’re immortal!”
    • As the angel gets closer, Dante has to turn his eyes away to keep from being blinded.
    • The angel reaches the shore, guiding a boat.
    • Because he can’t look at the angel, Dante has to content himself with looking at the boat. He notes that there are at least a hundred souls seated within.
    • The souls are all singing a psalm. The Latin words, “In exitu Israel de Aegypto,” come from Psalm 114 and translate as “During the departure of Israel from Egypt.”
    • The angel makes the sign of the cross over the souls, who fling themselves to the ground. The boat leaves.
    • The new arrivals gape as they look around and, finally seeing Dante, they ask him how they can climb the mountain. (If you haven’t figured it out yet, the souls are penitents sent to Purgatory to cleanse themselves of sin.)
    • Because Dante is just as gape-mouthed as the penitents, Virgil answers to this effect: we may look like we’re experts, but we’re just as lost as you. We came from Hell. Lucky us, right?
    • The penitents aren't listening. They’ve all fixated on Dante, who is (gasp) still living, and they turn pale in astonishment.
    • Now the center of attention, the ever-so-humble Dante compares himself to a messenger of peace (complete with the olive branch), around whom everyone crowds to hear the good news.
    • One soul admires Dante so much that he actually steps forward to hug the poet. Dante returns the gesture—not because he’s reveling in his celebrity, but because he recognizes the admirer.
    • We have a problem here: Dante can’t hug him because the souls are only shades. They don't have bodies. So Dante’s hands go straight through him. Three times. Because it takes him three tries to realize what's going on.
    • The soul comforts him, reassures him that he loves Dante, and then asks him why he’s here.
    • Dante gives him the short version, identifies the soul as Casella, and then asks him why it’s taken him so long to arrive here. This implies that Casella died a while ago—certainly before Dante’s journey through Hell.
    • Casella doesn’t give a straight answer. He says the Helmsman Angel (the one guiding the boat of penitents souls) can pick and choose whom he wants to take first, even though he’s been taking all comers for the past three months.
    • But there’s no harm done, insists Casella, since the angel’s will is God’s will. So Casella waited at Ostia, Rome’s port at the mouth of the river Tiber, to cross. In case you didn’t know, Ostia is where all souls who aren’t damned to Hell gather to cross to Purgatory.
    • Then Dante asks for Casella to sing and Casella complies. (Apparently, these two were musical partners in the good ol’ days; Dante wrote the poetry, Casella set it to song.) He sings a love song.
    • Casella’s voice is so beautiful that his singing hypnotizes everyone, including Virgil. They all gather motionlessly around Casella.
    • Then Cato breaks up the fun. He shouts at them to stop dilly-dallying with their silly music and get on with the business of purgation.
    • Metaphor time! Casella’s audience breaks up like a flock of feeding doves interrupted by some scary beast. They all rush towards the slope of the mountain.
    • Our heroes, Dante and Virgil, follow just as quickly.
  • Purgatory Canto III (Ante-Purgatory: the Late-Repentants; the base of the mountain: the Excommunicates)

    • As the souls scatter, Dante draws close to Virgil because of their special connection. Dante feels like Virgil is his conscience. They run together towards the mountain.
    • As they slow down, Dante focuses on the mountain before them.
    • Dante describes the way the sun shines on his body. He then freaks out when he sees that he—and only he—casts a shadow on the ground. Virgil doesn’t. Guess why?
    • Dante’s not as smart as you because Virgil must remind him that he (Dante) is still alive and has a body, whereas Virgil’s body is long gone, buried in Naples.
    • Virgil goes on to praise the Lord, saying that lowly man cannot hope to understand His divine ways. He pleads for man to attempt to answer only the what, not the why, of God’s ways. Those who try to answer the why—like Aristotle and Plato—always fail. This is really depressing to Virgil (being so much like Aristotle and Plato—all three being condemned to Hell’s Limbo), so he hangs his head.
    • By this time, they’ve reached the foot of the mountain and figured out it’s quite steep. Virgil remarks that it’ll be hard to find a place where a creature without wings can climb it. Great.
    • As Virgil studies the slope, Dante spies a group of souls approaching them very slowly from the left.
    • Dante tells Virgil to look up and ask these guys for advice, since he seems at a loss. Interesting—Dante is getting bossy!
    • But Virgil happily agrees and even tells Dante to have hope.
    • They don’t get very close to the souls before the group huddles against the wall of the mountain and freeze there.
    • Virgil speaks nicely to them, asking eloquently if they know of a gentler slope on the mountain that can be climbed.
    • These spirits, “favoured by good fortune,” are rather timid and approach our heroes like a flock of sheep, with those in the back following the movements of those ahead without knowing why. When the sheep-like souls to Dante’s right see that he casts a shadow, they stop dead and back up a little. Yes, a shadow is a big deal.
    • Virgil is tired of all this fuss and he tells the souls straight up that yes, Dante has a shadow. Yes, Dante is alive. And yes, he’s virtuous enough to be here in Purgatory.
    • This convinces the flock. They gesture for our heroes to come forward.
    • One of the souls taps Dante on the shoulder and asks our narrator if he recognizes him. This soul is blond and handsome and princely, but one of his eyebrows is cut in half. Dante says, nope, never seen you before.
    • So the blond guy, smiling, points out his massive chest wound to Dante.
    • He proceeds to introduce himself as Manfred, grandson of the Empress Constance. He requests that when Dante gets back to the living world, he visit Manfred’s daughter to give her news that her father is in Purgatory, not Hell.
    • Manfred’s story: At the battle of Benevento, he received two fatal wounds. Right before dying, Manfred repented of all his sins and gave himself completely to the merciful God. Unfortunately, his enemy was Pope Clement IV and he excommunicated him after death. So this Pope's man dug up Manfred’s body—originally buried at Benevento—to move it outside papal territory.
    • But, here’s the rub: Manfred snubs the Pope’s authority, claiming (from first hand experience) that God forgives everyone who repents—in spite of the Pope’s sentence. (You might want to dog-ear this passage because it’s really important.)
    • There is a catch, of course. These penitent souls aren’t just granted a free ticket to Purgatory. If they have died with hearts set against the Church, they must wait for thirty times the length of their sin to actually start climbing the mountain of Purgatory. Yes, they’ve got to twiddle their thumbs on the island’s shores all that time. However, they can shorten that wait if they receive prayers from living souls.
    • Manfred asks Dante to take his message to his daughter Constance so that she can pray for him.
  • Purgatory Canto IV (Ante-Purgatory, the First-Spur: the Indolent)

    • Dante observes that he is so fascinated by Manfred’s tale that he loses track of time (the sun has risen fifty degrees in the sky).
    • He uses his distraction to refute one of Plato’s theories of the human soul; namely, that a single human being has more than one soul (a.k.a. a “plurality of souls”).
    • We now interrupt our regularly scheduled programming to bring you a philosophy lesson. Plato believed that each of man’s different functions—like life, intellect, sensation, movement—is controlled by a different soul.
    • According to Dante’s logic, if a person had several souls, he would still notice the passage of time, no matter how spellbound he might be by something else (say… Manfred), because not all of his souls are concentrating on the same thing at one time. But, because Dante doesn’t notice the passing of time, this proves that man has only soul.
    • Dante’s wonderful leaps of logic are cut short by a shout. The mysterious band of souls has found what Dante is seeking: a mountain path he can climb.
    • The path is really narrow, though. Its opening is very small.
    • It’s such a steep path that Dante has to fly (figuratively, not literally) up it, in Virgil’s wake.
    • At one point, Dante asks Virgil which way they should go, only to be warned by Virgil to shut up and keep climbing until they find someone who can give them directions. We thought Virgil knew where he was going.
    • They climb. And climb. And climb some more.
    • The mountain is so high that Dante can’t even see its top. Picture Everest’s summit lost in the clouds. Now multiply that by a thousand.
    • By now, Dante is exhausted. He begs Virgil to stop.
    • Virgil the rigorous taskmaster shows a glimmer of mercy. He orders Dante to climb up to the ridge where he’s standing and they’ll take a break together. Dante scrambles up obediently.
    • As they relax for a bit, Dante looks down the path they’ve just climbed and feels all warm and fuzzy with satisfaction.
    • But wait! There’s something wrong. The sun is on their left! The world is being turned upside down!
    • Not really, Virgil explains. He can basically read Dante’s mind. He explains in very complicated astrological and geographical terms something that we can explain very simply. Basically, Dante’s seeing the world from the southern hemisphere after spending his whole life seeing it from the northern hemisphere. Hence, backwards!
    • Dante says, “Whoa, I never thought of it like that!” But he can’t bear to be outsmarted by Virgil so he shows off his own intelligence by citing the exact distance between them and the equator. And between Jerusalem (in the northern hemisphere) and the equator.
    • Then he asks Virgil how much further they have to keep climbing.
    • Virgil comforts Dante, telling him that the climb is worst at the bottom. It’ll get better as they go on.
    • Soon a voice cries out, “Perhaps you will need to sit before you reach that point!”
    • Dante and Virgil do a double take and notice a massive boulder they haven’t seen before.
    • They investigate. Behind the boulder they find a little community of lounging men. The men are all worn out and lying down. It’s almost like a nude beach without all the towels and sand and sea; just the prone naked men.
    • One of them catches Dante’s eyes. He’s sitting up with his head down between his knees. Talk about depressed.
    • Dante makes fun of his laziness.
    • The penitent man overhears and shoots back, “Climb, then, if you’re so vigorous!”
    • Dante recognizes the man's voice and worry overwhelms him as he sits down by the tired fellow and looks him in the face. The indolent man keeps speaking.
    • Dante replies, calling him Belacqua. He smiles at Belacqua, relieved to find him here (and not in Hell), but asks him why he’s languishing here. Is he waiting for a tour guide? Or has he simply fallen into his old ways (i.e., laziness)?
    • Belacqua is majorly depressed. He asks Dante, "What’s the use in continuing to climb?" The guardian angel won’t let him through the gate to do his penance until he’s languished the length of his life out here in ante-Purgatory. For now, he can only hope for prayers to shorten his wait (kind of like the situation with Manfred).
    • Before Dante can comfort his friend, Virgil crows, “Let’s shake a leg! It’s already noon.”
    • So they leave wretched Belacqua behind.
  • Purgatory Canto V (Ante-Purgatory, the Second Spur: Those Who Died by Violence and without Last Rites)

    • As Dante and Virgil are leaving the Indolent souls in the First Spur behind, one of the souls sees Dante, gapes, and points him out to the others. They stare at Dante’s shadow and say, “Hey, he’s alive!”
    • Dante turns around to bask in his aliveness and glory. Or maybe just to see who’s talking to him.
    • Virgil rolls his eyes and commands Dante to ignore them. He tells him to be like “a sturdy tower” in the face of strong winds.
    • Dante is duly shamed, follows orders, and blushes a bright red.
    • As they continue climbing, they’re approached by a band of singing people. They’re penitents singing the “Miserere,” not the cheeriest of Latin hymns.
    • When they see that Dante casts a shadow, their song changes in unison to a long “Oh!”
    • Two of the souls rush up from the group to ask Dante to tell more about himself.
    • Virgil kindly speaks for Dante. He tells the two messengers that yes, Dante’s alive. Get over it. And we’re welcome here, right?
    • The two messengers very quickly speed back to their group.
    • Virgil’s thoroughly sick of Dante’s celebrity and tells him to move on, but to keep his ears open.
    • The penitents call after them to stop and talk, and to bring word of them to the living world.
    • They announce that they all died by violence, but repented of their sins at the very last second before death.
    • Dante stops to look at them. He says he doesn’t recognize any of them but would be happy to help them.
    • One soul steps forward and asks Dante to bring news of him to Fano, his hometown, before proceeding to tell his life story. Or rather, his death story. He was betrayed and killed in Padua. He regrets fleeing towards Oriaco instead of Mira, implying that the town of Oriaco was in on the dastardly scheme. Had he gone to Mira, the penitent implies, he might still be alive. Instead, he ended up in a marsh where his blood soaked into the ground.
    • From this account, Dante can identify this man as Jacopo del Cassero.
    • Then without a break, another penitent starts talking. He asks for Dante’s help in bringing news to the Montefeltro. (If this sounds familiar, it should. We’ve already met Guido da Montefeltro amongst the false counselors in Hell. For more, check out Shmoop's coverage of Inferno.). He names himself as Buonconte da Montefeltro.
    • Dante freaks out and asks him how he died. The last anyone had seen of him was in the battle of Campaldino. After that, nobody could find his body.
    • Buonconte gives his story: during the battle, he suffered a throat wound and was running for his life when he fell along the banks of the Archiano, repented, and died. He stops to beg Dante to retell this true story and dispel any rumors about him. After death, he was taken by an angel in Heaven, despite a Hell demon’s argument. Buonconte compares the demon’s ill will to the power of a storm. A storm like the one that suddenly broke loose that night, flooded the Archiano, and buried Buonconte’s body in silt and debris. That’s why nobody could find him.
    • Suddenly, a third soul speaks; it belongs to a woman, who identifies herself as La Pia and begs Dante to take her story to the living world… only after he’s rested a bit, though. She implies that her treacherous husband caused her death, despite his wedding vows to her.
  • Purgatory Canto VI (Ante-Purgatory, the Second Spur: Those Who Died by Violence and without Last Rites)

    • Dante compares himself to the winner of a dice game, who gets all the attention while the loser sulks in solitude. The penitents lavish him with attention, tapping his shoulders, tugging at him, all asking to be remembered.
    • Amongst the crowd, Dante recognizes such luminaries as Benincasa da Laterina, Federigo Novello, Gano of Pisa, Count Orso, and Pier de la Brosse.
    • Dante notes that he soon struggles free of all these grabby people, people who pray for others’ prayers. Clever, no?
    • Then he realizes something and addresses Virgil. Dante remarks that “in one passage” (by which he means a passage in Virgil’s Aeneid), Virgil denies the power of prayer to “bend the rule of Heaven,” but these souls in Purgatory seem to do exactly what Virgil refutes as untrue. So what’s the deal?
    • Virgil answers that he’s talking only about pagan souls, whose “prayers [are] without a passageway to God.” Christian prayers, he asserts, are indeed effective. To further convince him, Virgil tells Dante to wait until he meets Beatrice, who’ll defend him.
    • At the mention of Beatrice, Dante perks up and urges Virgil to get a move on. Not because he’s hankering for Beatrice, of course, but because it’s getting late.
    • Virgil responds that they’ll climb as far as possible during the day, but Dante can’t expect them to make so much progress so quickly. They can’t possibly climb to the top before the sun sets.
    • At that moment they see a soul seated alone and they rush towards him to get directions.
    • The soul says nothing, though, but only watches them as a lion would. Creepy.
    • Instead of telling them where to go, the mysterious soul asks them who they are and where they’re from.
    • When Virgil says “Mantua,” the penitent’s attitude completely changes. He stands up, identifies himself as Sordello of Mantua, and promptly hugs Virgil.
    • At this point, Dante launches into a scathing invective against Italy, calling his native country first a ship without a helmsman and secondly a whore. Ouch!
    • He looks admiringly on Sordello, who can—just by mentioning his hometown—wish such goodwill on his fellow citizen, while the Italians can find no such inner peace. Instead, they wage war among themselves.
    • He then goes into a long metaphor comparing Italy to a horse. Historical figures like Emperor Justinian have come along to “mend your bridle,” but Dante concludes this is useless since “the saddle’s empty.” In other words, Italy has yet to find a good leader.
    • Dante rants on against Italy, but adds the Church to the metaphor of the horse. He scolds the Church for not allowing Caesar to sit in Italy’s saddle, but instead controlling the bit themselves. In short, the Church has made Italy its plaything and allowed it to roam free, lawless and wild.
    • Now he’s on rampage. Dante continues, reprimanding Albert I of Austria for ignoring Italy during his reign and for failing to quell its internal strife. He summons him to come and see the results of his reign.
    • Then, Dante uncharacteristically shows pity for the Ghibellines (his rival faction) by lamenting both Guelph and Ghibelline nobility together. Had a proper emperor ruled Italy, he would’ve reconciled the two parties and brought peace to the country.
    • Dante then turns his eyes towards God and asks why He is letting this misfortune continue in Italy.
    • Finally, Dante turns to his own city. He ironically “exempts” Florence from his insults. But his tone goes something like, “while other cities ignore justice, Florence… talks about it. Good for you! Where other countries simply don’t make laws, Florence… changes hers every week! Congratulations!”
    • And he ends by calling Florence a sick woman. Lovely.
  • Purgatory Canto VII (Ante-Purgatory: the Valley of the Rulers)

    • Following Dante’s rant about Italy, Sordello introduces himself to our two pilgrims. He then subtly asks Virgil who he is.
    • Virgil, in his fancy but humble way, explains who he is and that he is a sinner.
    • At which point, Sordello drops to his knees, kowtows to the Roman poet, and asks where Virgil came from… Hell or elsewhere? Great question.
    • Virgil answers that he is indeed from Hell but that God is allowing him to move beyond Hell and into Purgatory, where he usually could not enter. Also, he’s not really bad because he lives in Limbo, not the real Hell. Here, Virgil stresses, live the pagans who died before Christ and thus couldn’t observe the three holy virtues (faith, hope, and charity), but who followed all the other virtues. In other words, he's (mostly) a good boy.
    • Having said enough about himself, Virgil asks Sordello to point them to the path that would take them most easily to the entry to Mount Purgatory.
    • Sordello, being a nice guy, decides to guide them. But not yet. It’s nighttime and the rule in Purgatory is that no one can travel at night. Something about the evil of darkness and so forth.
    • Sordello invites them to sleep with his people.
    • Virgil’s curiosity has been piqued. Why can’t we climb at night?
    • Sordello patiently explains. The darkness apparently saps people of their will and they cannot physically climb higher. They can go downwards and rest, but not upwards. Interesting…
    • Bedtime doesn’t sound too bad, and Virgil agrees to go sleep with Sordello.
    • Sordello leads them to a spot in the valley that’s so bright with the color of grass and flowers that it surpasses such beauties as “gold and fine silver, cochineal, white lead, / and Indian lychnite.” In fact, it’s so pretty that Dante describes nature as a painter.
    • Picnicking on this lovely spot are a bunch of penitent souls. They’re so perfect that they’re singing a hymn, “Salve, Regina.” Which translates to “Hail, Queen.”
    • Sordello asserts that this spot has the best view of the valley and that here Dante and Virgil can do some sight-seeing in case they get bored.
    • Sordello points out the highest-seated penitent and identifies him as Emperor Rudolph, who is the only one not singing. Sordello laments that this is the one monarch who could’ve restored Italy to glory (but obviously didn’t).
    • Beside him is Ottokar II, who (Sordello says) is much better than his lazy son, Wenceslaus.
    • The “small-nosed man” nearby is Philip III, a disgrace to France because he lost a big battle. Dante, in attempting to poetically describe this defeat, calls it “deflowering the lily” (because France’s symbol is the lily), which sounds vaguely sexual.
    • Philip’s friend—who is resting his head on his hand—is Henry I ("the Fat"). Obviously not interested in the evening prayers.
    • Back to Philip. Sordello quite rudely calls him the “father-in-law of the pest of France,” this pest being Philip IV, who supported making Clement V the pope. Quick history lesson: this resulted in the Pope being abducted from Rome.
    • Then there is the masculine duo of Charles of Anjou, who has a “nose so manly,” and Pedro III of Aragon. Sordello’s point is that they’re singing in harmony while on earth they were bitter rivals over the throne.
    • Seated behind them is Pedro, Pedro III’s youngest son, who might’ve brought virtue to the throne had he succeeded in gaining it. But now, Sordello laments, the throne belongs to nasty old James and Frederick.
    • Then Sordello launches into a general complaint that so few kings have sons worthy of their legacy.
    • Sordello continues. Only Henry III of England, “who led the simple life,” had a worthy son.
    • Finally, the ruler seated lowest in the valley is William the Marquis, whose son brought on war between Monferrato and Canavese.
    • Sordello ends his extensive catalogue of the Valley of Rulers.
  • Purgatory Canto VIII (Ante-Purgatory: the Valley of the Rulers)

    • Dante opens this canto rather romantically, describing the sunset as “the hour that makes [seafarers’] hearts grow tender” and that “pierces the new traveler with love when he has heard, far off, the bell that seems to mourn the dying of the day.” In plain English, the sunset is beautiful.
    • In the midst of this reverie, one of the penitents raises his hand for attention, turns to face the east, and begins a hymn called “Te lucis ante.” Everyone follows suit.
    • This, too, is beautiful, so Dante listens.
    • Then a miracle happens! It’s so… well… miraculous that Dante directly calls on the reader to take notice.
    • From the gorgeous sky descend two angels holding flaming swords with broken tips. They’re dressed in vibrant green and their wings are green too.
    • One angel lands above Dante, the other on the opposite bank.
    • Dante notes that they are blond.
    • Sordello, who’s familiar with angels, explains that they come from the Virgin Mary herself and serve as guards for the valley against the serpent. What serpent? Read on if you’re curious.
    • Dante must be afraid of snakes because at the mention of “serpent,” he keeps turning around to see if a serpent is approaching and he hides behind Virgil.
    • Quite unaware of Dante's fear, Sordello calmly proceeds to lead them down the bank with the intent of talking to the singing penitents.
    • Dante takes three mincing steps before he realizes someone’s watching him—a soul trying to recognize Dante.
    • Dante thanks his lucky stars that it hasn’t yet grown so dark that he can’t identify his stalker. Turns out to be an old pal… Judge Nino!
    • Dante’s relieved to find his friend among the penitents and not among the damned in Hell.
    • When Nino asks where Dante has come from, Dante answers that he has just arrived in Purgatory this morning… while still alive.
    • This turns some heads—namely, Nino’s and Sordello’s. (Sordello has gone all this time not realizing that Dante has a solid body.)
    • The gape-mouthed judge calls a guy named Currado to greet Dante.
    • Then he turns to Dante and humbly asks for a favor. He requests that when Dante returns to the living world, he visit Nino’s daughter, Giovanna, and ask for her prayers.
    • This seems like a harmless request. But then Nino starts babbling about his grudges against his former wife. He prophecies that she’ll regret re-marrying because her new husband will soon experience hard times and not be able to provide for his family.
    • Dante, meanwhile, has stopped listening and has fixed his eyes on the horizon. Virgil, also not paying attention to Giovanna, asks him what he’s looking at. Dante answers that he’s watching three stars on the south pole. Fascinating.
    • Virgil explains that the four stars Dante saw earlier are now setting, which is why only three are visible.
    • Sordello then points out something truly fascinating: the serpent! Remember that?
    • At the edge of the valley, an “evil streak” slithers amongst all the pretty flowers, stopping occasionally to preen its back.
    • Suddenly, it’s gone. Why?
    • Dante explains that the two blond angels have made their move so swiftly in the air that human eyes couldn’t follow it. They’ve swept down on the serpent and scared it away.
    • Now that the venomous threat has been conquered, Dante notices that Currado is staring at him.
    • After several awkward moments, Currado speaks. He wishes Dante luck in his endeavors up in Purgatory, and then asks for news about his homeland, Val di Magra. He introduces himself as Currado Malaspina II, son of Currado Malaspina.
    • Dante replies courteously, heaping praise on Currado’s homeland. He goes on sucking up, claiming that although everyone else is affected by the “evil head” (Satan), the Malaspina family alone walks the true path.
    • Currado concurs. He prophecies that in seven years’ time, Dante will experience first-hand the greatness of the Malaspina family.
  • Purgatory Canto IX (Ante-Purgatory: the Valley of the Rulers)

    • Night has fallen. Dante tells us that dawn (or Aurora, if you want to get technical) has abandoned the bed of her lover and is growing beautifully pale. Meanwhile, opposite her the constellation Scorpio has jewels (read: stars) lining its tail. You astronomers out there can calculate to the exact minute what time of night it is, but for us average readers, roughly two-thirds of the night have passed by.
    • Dante observes that, unlike his comrades, he bears “something of Adam” (he has a human body with a biological clock) and is sleepy. So he lies down on the grass.
    • It’s implied that he falls asleep.
    • In the hour “when the swallow begins her melancholy songs,” or near dawn, Dante has a dream. (Note: popular medieval belief held that dreams experienced close to daybreak were most likely to come true.)
    • In his dream, Dante sees a golden eagle poised high in the sky, as if ready to swoop down on him. Hmm, this might be highly symbolic.
    • Dante imagines that the eagle can only hunt for food here, not elsewhere. How comforting.
    • Then, the inevitable happens: the eagle dives like a lightning bolt and snatches up Dante in its talons and soars upward. They both burn in the flaming sky.
    • At this point, Dante does something clever: he wakes up.
    • Being the proud man he is, Dante compares his awakening to Achilles’ when he woke up in a new kingdom after being carried there by his mother. Dante is so startled that he turns pale and cold.
    • Virgil, at his side, comforts him.
    • Dante notices that the sun is already up; it’s two hours into the morning.
    • But something’s gone wonky. Dante sees the sea… which wasn’t in sight when he went to sleep.
    • Virgil explains to Dante that they’re already at the gate of Purgatory; see over there, where there’s a breach in the wall?
    • To stymie Dante’s questions, Virgil continues. At dawn, while Dante was still in the throes of his nightmare, a lady came by, called herself Lucia, and asked permission to “speed [Dante] on his way.”
    • Apparently someone gave consent because Lucia (yes, the saint) carried Dante all the way to Purgatory’s gate, with Virgil in tow. She set Dante down, showed Virgil the entrance, and then disappeared.
    • Dante listens with consternation but quickly regains his composure.
    • Afterwards, he follows Virgil confidently to the entrance.
    • As they draw near, Dante notices three stair-steps that lead towards the entrance, each a different color. There’s also a guard sitting on the top step; and he’s shining. In fact, he’s so bright that Dante can't bear to look at him. It doesn’t help that the guard holds an unsheathed sword that reflects more light into Dante’s eyes.
    • The guard speaks, asking them where their escort is and warning them to be careful in their approach.
    • Virgil answers: that a lady from Heaven just pointed them here.
    • Suddenly, the guard doesn’t seem so menacing anymore. He blesses them and invites them onto the stairs.
    • Dante, being a keenly observant poet, makes note of the color of each step. The first step is made of white marble, so polished that Dante can see his own reflection in it. The second, made out of cracked rock, is dark purple. And the third appears to be made from blood-red porphyry.
    • On the top step stands the guardian angel before the adamant (read: diamond) gate.
    • Virgil urges Dante to climb these steps and to beg the guard to let them through. Dante, being a closet thespian, overdoes it a little.
    • He beats thrice on his chest, Tarzan-like, then throws himself at the angel’s feet, begging for mercy.
    • The angel’s response is equally strange. He raises his sword and carves seven letter P’s in blood on Dante’s forehead.
    • The angel says that when Dante enters Purgatory, he’ll slowly be able to wash away those wounds.
    • Now let’s check out the angel’s clothes. Seriously. Dante notes that the angel’s robe is the color of ash (earth tones?) and from beneath that robe, the angel fishes out two keys, one gold and one silver.
    • He uses both to unlock the gates. He then tells Dante that although one key is more expensive, the other requires more skill to use. Cryptic. He informs Dante that he got the keys from Peter, who warned him—when in doubt—to open the gate rather than turn praying souls away. A truly nice Apostle.
    • He allows Virgil and Dante to enter, but warns them that they can't look back or they’ll be ousted. Consider him the bouncer for Club Purgatory.
    • The gates creak as they open, sounding really old.
    • From within come the lovely strains of “Te Deum laudamus,” yet another hymn (which translates as “We praise you Lord”).
    • Dante compares this music to an organ and vocal song—where the words are fleeting.
    • On that strange note, the canto ends.
  • Purgatory Canto X (The First Terrace: the Prideful)

    • After they cross the threshold, which—Dante is proud to say—few men are privileged enough to pass, Dante hears the door close and fears looking back.
    • Their path is hard—running up the mountain and constantly doubling back on itself like waves on the sea. The difficult trail makes their going so slow that the moon has set before they find their way out.
    • They finally come upon an open space, realize they’re tired and lost, and stop.
    • The mountain ledge is deep, its depth measuring three times one man’s height on all sides. (In his distress, Dante takes the time to measure it.)
    • As Dante groans in frustration, he notices the opposite embankment. It’s less steep than theirs and also prettier, since it’s not only made of white marble but is also decorated with carvings so complex that even such artists as Polycletus and Nature herself would be overwhelmed.
    • Carved on that rock are images of Gabriel the angel, who opened Heaven to men after Adam and Eve had been banished from Eden. The artist rendered Gabriel so beautifully that he hardly seems to be just an image, and Dante claims one can almost hear him saying “Ave” (“Hail”) in prayer to a painted Virgin Mary in front of him. Even her very figure seems to cry out “Ecce ancilla Dei” (“Behold the handmaiden of the Lord”).
    • Virgil, on Dante’s right-hand side, interrupts Dante’s gape-mouthed staring to advise him to look at all the images.
    • So he looks some more. Past the figure of Mary is another Biblical story rendered in the stone. This one shows a cart drawn by oxen carrying a sacred ark. A crowd of people stands before it, divided into seven choirs.
    • These choirs seem so realistic that although Dante’s eyes are telling him they aren’t real, his ears can almost hear their singing. Similarly, his nose and eyes try to sense whether or not he’s really smelling the incense painted there. In front of the ark, King David is dancing, while Michael watches scornfully from the palace window.
    • Beyond that picture is another. There, Dante sees the Roman Emperor Trajan mounted on horseback and surrounded by golden banners emblazoned with the eagle emblem. Near him stands a poor widow. The representation is so detailed that Dante can hear the conversation being held. The widow begs God to avenge her son’s murder. The Emperor Trajan asks her to wait until he returns to fulfill her request. She asks sadly, what if he doesn’t return? Trajan responds that his regent will perform the duty for her. Still doubtful, she asks why he is neglecting his duty. He assures her that the act will be done before he leaves because his duty and mercy require it of him.
    • Dante is agape with wonder that God could make a picture seem so real. He explains that this is because God sees nothing new (including fantastic pictures), while men are fascinated by novelties all the time.
    • Virgil interrupts, drawing Dante’s attention to a group of approaching penitents. He hopes that they’ll be able to show them the way up the mountain.
    • Dante turns toward them, reluctantly tearing his eyes from the glorious paintings.
    • He warns readers that the punishment they’re about to see may be harsh, but not to dwell on that. Instead, he asks us to think about the salvation that lies beyond Judgment Day.
    • Wait, Dante thinks; those people coming towards us don’t seem like… people. He thinks his sight is just off and shares this thought with Virgil.
    • Virgil assures him that it’s not his vision; these people are punished by bearing heavy weights on their shoulders and are thus bent over.
    • On closer inspection, Dante finds that the forms beneath the stones are indeed human.
    • He laments that men could be so proud as to render them blind and force them to walk backwards. He asserts that men are worms and that only after they’ve gone through purgation can they morph into angelic butterflies. He asks the rhetorical question, why do men try to fly when they’re still merely worms—or sinful.
    • He then compares these bent-over penitents to corbels (wooden brackets used to support a roof), which are shaped like men in despair, with their knees drawn up to their chests.
    • When Dante looks again, the penitents' forms echo the despair. Everyone is bent over at different heights, according to the weights on their backs. All of them seem on the verge of collapsing. Poor guys.
  • Purgatory Canto XI (First Terrace: the Prideful)

    • Despite the stones on their backs, the penitents praise God. This canto opens with the penitents praying for God to please give them His blessing and daily manna so that they may come into His kingdom. They then collectively forgive everyone who’s ever wronged God and ask that He set them free from evil, as well as their brothers who are still alive.
    • The prideful penitents lug their burdens around the first terrace as they sing this prayer.
    • Suddenly, author-Dante (as the poet and narrator) steps in, voicing a strong opinion. He expresses gratitude to the penitents for praying for those still alive (like him), then insists that we (probably all mankind) should pray for them so that they can eventually reach Heaven.
    • Virgil voices what Dante is thinking, but puts it in more practical terms. He agrees to pray for the Prideful penitents if they will show him and Dante the easiest way up the mountain, adding in a whisper that Dante—because he still has a body—isn’t quite as athletically gifted in climbing as the bodiless souls.
    • One of the souls, lost in the crowd, answers. He urges our pilgrims to come with him to the right-hand path, where even a live person can climb.
    • He goes on, wishing aloud that he could raise his eyes (his face is forced down by the weights, remember?) to see Dante’s face and beg for his prayers. We learn that the speaker is Tuscan and that his father is Guiglielmo Aldobrandesco, apparently a great man. So great that the speaker takes excessive pride in his family; he was really pompous in life.
    • He names himself as Omberto and laments that his arrogance has not only brought pain to him, and to his whole family.
    • But Omberto admits that here he bears the burden that he refused to shoulder on earth.
    • Dante informs us that during this whole speech, he’s been in the posture of the prideful, bent over and facing the ground. Hmmm, we wonder why. This nevertheless allows Omberto—also in this position—to twist his head around and catch a glimpse of Dante’s face.
    • At this, Dante cries out in recognition; the man is Oderisi, the superstar illuminator! Yes indeed, medieval people loved their comic books too. Except that theirs were more like illustrated versions of the Bible.
    • Oderisi, obviously pleased that he’s so famous, quickly shows how far he’s come as prideful penitent. He insists that his colleague Franco Bolognese was the better painter.
    • Oderisi regrets being so proud during his lifetime because he’s paying the price here. He rants against mankind in general for its pride, because those acclaimed at a certain time can never stay great forever.
    • As an example, Oderisi cites his fellow artists: Cimabue, whose glory gave way to Giotto’s, whose glory gave way to Guido’s. Then, as if we didn’t get it, he characterizes human glory as a fickle wind that’s always changing its course. Our pride is nothing in comparison to God’s power, he claims.
    • Still on his soapbox, Oderisi points out the guy in front of him and whispers to Dante that this man was once the pride of Siena. Apparently, he won a big battle against the Ghibellines in Florence.
    • But now, Oderisi asserts, his glory has gone from the green of flourishing grass to a withered brown brought on by the sun’s rays. Okay, we get it: human greatness is fleeting.
    • Dante is now dying to know who this Ghibelline hater is. He tells Oderisi that his words have inspired great humility in him, but please tell who is this man of whom you speak?
    • Oderisi answers: his name is Provenzan Salvani and he’s amongst the prideful because he reached too far in trying to conquer all of Siena.
    • We figure Provenzan must’ve died recently because Dante asks how he reached the first terrace so quickly, especially if the penitents have to spend the length of their whole lifetime praying before they can enter Purgatory proper.
    • Oderisi gives us the answer. At the height of his power, Provenzan suddenly stopped acting like a pompous jerk and humbled himself for a cause he believed in. In an attempt to free his buddy from Charles of Anjou’s prison, Provenzan raised the ransom money by begging on the streets. Now that’s humility.
    • Suddenly Oderisi throws in a prophecy, predicting that Dante will understand his words more fully when he witnesses his “neighbor’s acts,” which will free him from ante-Purgatory.
  • Purgatory Canto XII (First Terrace: the Prideful)

    • Want to know how Dante is like an ox? He is “yoked” to the Prideful penitents. Seriously, he compares himself to an ox that pulls his burden alongside his fellow bovines. Virgil follows behind.
    • When Virgil’s had his fill of seeing sorry behinds, he tells Dante to leave his new friends behind in the interest of continuing their journey. So we say bye-bye, pride.
    • This also means Dante can quit hunching over like the Prideful penitents and stand up straight again. Dante comments, though, that his thoughts are still “bent” or humble.
    • Dante and Virgil speed up their pace.
    • Virgil then tells Dante to take a look downwards because it will give him some comfort.
    • Dante glances down at some statues… and immediately obscures what he sees in the metaphor. He compares the statues on the path to carved stone images on tombs that depict the dead inside. He claims that viewing such reminders of lost ones can bring tears to the eyes of sympathetic onlookers. In plain English, sad memories can make you cry.
    • The sculptures protrude from the mountain.
    • On one side, Dante sees a sculpture of Lucifer falling from Heaven. On another side, there’s a sculpture of Briareus the giant impaled on a thunder bolt.
    • He continues to see sculptures of many mythological figures who have suffered for their pride: Thymbraeus, Mars, and Pallas, who contemplate the giants they’ve dismembered; Nimrod at the foot of his Tower of Babel; Niobe amongst her fourteen murdered children; Saul, who died on his own sword; Arachne, who was turned into a spider; Rehoboam, who’s running from a chariot Alcmaeon; the children of Sennacherib as they attack their father Tomyris; the Assyrians; and, finally, the city of Troy.
    • Dante walks along with his head bent, taking in all the images below. He’s blown away by how life-like they seem.
    • He rages against the arrogant “sons of Eve” (humankind), telling them sarcastically to turn a blind eye on their evil ways.
    • From the position of the sun, Dante realizes he’s spent a long time browsing the sculpture garden.
    • So Virgil tells Dante to lift his eyes because it’s time to stop browsing; would he be so polite as to greet the angel who’s fast approaching? Remember, Dante, be nice! That way the angel might allow us to continue. Don’t waste this chance because there won’t be another!
    • The angel, Dante tells us, is handsome, dressed all in white, and glows like a star in the morning sky.
    • Apparently the angel is both beautiful and nice, because he loses no time in opening his arms and welcoming Dante and Virgil to the staircase of the next terrace. He remarks on how few human beings actually make it this far.
    • He leads them to a crack in the wall. Before they enter, the angel hits Dante on the head with his wing.
    • They enter and the path is surprisingly not steep. They move to the right.
    • As they walk, they hear a song.
    • The words to the song are “beati paupers spiritu” and they float along beautifully on the breeze.
    • Dante takes us back to Inferno, remarking on how different this pretty song is compared to Hell’s soundtrack, which consists mostly of bloodcurdling screams.
    • As they continue climbing the stairs, Dante realizes he doesn’t have to work as hard. He’s not as heavy as he used to be! Whoo for workouts! Or wait… is it really the exercise?
    • Virgil answers, don’t be silly. You’re not as tired because one of your P’s has been erased from your forehead and every time that happens your burden is eased a little and your feet take joy in traveling uphill. Hmm, maybe this is a big clue about what those P’s stand for.
    • Dante’s reaction is a big what?, and his hands fly to his forehead. He feels only six P’s on his forehead now.
    • Meanwhile, Virgil watches Dante poking at his forehead and it makes him crack up.
  • Purgatory Canto XIII (Second Terrace: the Envious)

    • Dante and Virgil arrive at the top of the stairs and the official starting line of the second terrace.
    • It looks much the same as the first terrace except it’s smaller in circumference (not surprising, because as you go up a mountain, it gets narrower), there are no strange sculptures, and the color of the rock is a weird bluish black.
    • Just as Dante begins settling down to wait for the next passersby so they can ask directions, Virgil says no, they’d be wasting too much time waiting.
    • Instead, Virgil does what any good guide would do: he uses a compass. Actually, a natural compass. The sun.
    • First, Virgil utters a prayer to the sun that it guide them safely.
    • Virgil now turns to face the sun and starts walking. Don’t ask us how that doesn’t take him straight off the cliff and plunging into the abyss, but it doesn’t. Mystified but blindly loyal, Dante follows.
    • They’ve traveled a mile making good time when they’re interrupted by the sound of souls speaking all around them. It's not the usual “hey, how are you?” greeting, but words of love.
    • Dante hears such things as “vinum non habent,” “I am Orestes,” and “Love those by whom you have been hurt.” Instead of running away screaming, Dante calmly asks Virgil what’s going on.
    • Virgil explains: this is the terrace in which envy is purged. So what’s the opposite of envy? Love.
    • Just in case Dante is beginning to relax too much, Virgil warns him that he’ll get to hear the punished envious soon enough.
    • He directs Dante’s attention towards the path in front of them, where a crowd of souls sits.
    • Dante opens his eyes and sees people wearing clothes the same color as the stone all around them. Medieval camo.
    • As Dante and Virgil approach, the souls cry out to famous Biblical people who were full of love, like the Virgin Mary.
    • As he gets closer, Dante realizes that he’s witnessing the punishment of envious souls, and his eyes immediately fill with tears.
    • Their punishment? Well, for starters they’re all wearing “coarse haircloth.” Here, as conscientious readers, we must stop and ask the question that’s on the tip of everyone’s tongue: where in the world did they get blue-black fur? What kind of shameless animal goes around everyday with a bruise-colored coat?
    • Each envious soul rests his hands on his neighbor’s shoulder, like the blind leading the blind. Dante, being a tender-hearted chap, cries at the thought of poor, blind beggars.
    • Lo and behold, the Envious really are blind. Their eyelids are sewn shut with iron wires! Dante compares them to hooded hunting hawks, blinded so that they’re easier to handle. Poor guys, Dante says, they can't see the light of heaven.
    • Dante turns to Virgil with the comment that it’s rude for them to pass through the midst of the Envious without being seen.
    • Virgil, quite vexed, allows Dante to say what he will to the Envious souls, provided he keeps it short.
    • As he approaches them, Dante becomes highly aware of the local geography. Virgil is to his right, protecting him from falling off the mountain; to his left are the souls with their eyes sewn shut and tears on their cheeks.
    • Dante calls on his mighty orator’s skills. He first praises the Envious because they are destined to eventually enter Heaven and to regain their sight and memory. Then he gets down to real business. He asks if anyone there is Italian. Dante suggests that he might be able to help his fellow countrymen.
    • One soul answers rather impudently, correcting Dante. She claims that everyone here is a citizen of “one true city” and what Dante meant to say was “one who lived in Italy as a pilgrim.”
    • Not used to being corrected, Dante fixes his eyes on the speaker—who can’t see him—and asks her who she is.
    • She answers that she’s Sienese and that she’s sorry for her vices in life. She says, “I was not sapient, though I was called Sapia” (nice pun). She also took more joy in others’ misfortune than in her own good luck.
    • She tells Dante how her fellow Sienese backed the Ghibelline leader Colle di Val d’Elsa, while she was envious of their power. When they were defeated in battle, Sapia rejoiced and dared to turn her face to God to say “Now I fear you no more!” Bad move.
    • However, she continues, she repented at the end of her life and thus ended up in Purgatory. She also gives a shout-out to a friend named Pier Pettinaio, whose prayers have already gotten her into Purgatory proper.
    • Now she turns her attention to Dante and asks who he is, that he should be able to see and to use breath to speak. In other words, she’s curious why he’s alive and allowed in Purgatory.
    • Dante answers that he’ll pass through here eventually too and be blinded for a little while, but not for long, because he never was really envious in his life. Instead, he's more afraid of the first terrace. Dante must think he’s proud and most likely to end up among the Prideful.
    • Sapia’s not finished with Dante. She asks who guided him up here.
    • Dante avoids her question by saying only that his guide is a soul just like them. He also asks if she wants him to pray for her.
    • That tactic works. She immediately jumps on his offer. She tells him that, miraculously, he already has “God’s love” and says yes, please pray for her. Greedily, she also asks him to give her a good reputation back on earth.
    • Sapia ends with a prophecy. Among the Sienese, she claims, there are still envious people. These people can be easily identified because they either invest in or work at the port of Talamone in Genoa. Being a dead person, Sapia can foresee that the venture will end badly.
    • Now for a short history lesson: Talamone was doomed from the start. Its banks contained a large amount of silt, requiring frequent (and expensive) dredging to clear up the water so that ships could safely dock. Also, Talamone was infested with malaria.
    • Thus Sapia predicts that the admirals at Talamone “will lose the most.” She doesn’t just mean their money.
  • Purgatory Canto XIV (Second Terrace: the Envious)

    • Two unnamed souls in the Envious group are speaking. They wonder aloud who this person is, who cannot only see, but is alive. One urges the other to ask the man himself because “you’re closer.”
    • Dante watches the souls argue, amused.
    • One of them finally turns to Dante and asks who he is and where he’s from, since he’s such an oddity in this place.
    • Dante answers in a needlessly mysterious way, saying that he’s from the Tuscan land which holds a great river that’s “born in Falterona” and refuses to give his name because “my name has not yet gained much fame.”
    • The first soul ponders this and correctly identifies Dante’s mysterious river as the Arno.
    • Then his friend asks why Dante hid the name of the river from them, as if it were a taboo topic.
    • The other soul answers that he doesn’t know, but they shouldn’t speak of that place because there, “virtue is seen as serpent, and all flee from it.” In fact, it’s so bad that its name has changed.
    • Then, he starts tracing the geography of the river.
    • According to the soul, the Arno starts in a place full of “foul hogs,” then descends to a land of dogs that fight amongst themselves. Apparently these dogs are so disgusting that even the Arno turns away from them and makes a sharp right and as it grows wider, while the dogs surrounding it become wolves. As the river descends further, it comes across wily foxes. If you’re sharp, you’ve rightly guessed that these animals aren’t really animals but are symbolic of the horrible people living near the river.
    • The shade then makes a prophecy out of nowhere. This seems to be a trend. He predicts that his companion’s grandson has become a wolf hunter on the banks of the river. Strangely enough, the wolves are scared of this wolf hunter because he “sells their flesh while they are still alive” and then, like the devil, kills them all. These actions bring dishonor upon him. He triggers such fear in the forest that when he leaves, it’s never the same.
    • The listener (who’s also the grandfather of this troubled teen) grows increasingly depressed. What a legacy.
    • Dante’s curiosity finally overwhelms him and he asks the two speakers who they are.
    • The first soul points out that Dante has asked him for something that he himself refused to give (his name), but reveals his identity anyway. His name is Guido del Duca. He confesses that he was so envious in his lifetime that when he saw his neighbors happy, he grew livid with jealousy.
    • He introduces his friend as Rinieri da Calboli, a worthy man who—unfortunately—did not pass that quality onto his sons.
    • Seeing how dejected poor Rinieri is, Guido goes on to say that it’s not only the Calboli family that’s lost the truth and gone bad, but a bunch of other good families’ children (“poisoned stumps”) as well. In fact, it’s so bad that any reform would be too little too late.
    • Now he’s on a roll. Guido laments on a bunch good Tuscan souls who’ve either died or been corrupted—people like Bernadin di Fosco, Ugolino d’Azzo, Guido da Prata, Ugolino de’ Fantolini, and the houses of Bagnacaval, Castrocuro, Conio, and Pagani.
    • Guido, overcome by his grief, sends Dante away.
    • Just as Dante and Virgil leave the Envious behind, a thunderous voice speaks out of nowhere: “whoever captures me will slaughter me.”
    • Before our heroes have time to react, another voice thunders, “I am Aglauros, who was turned to stone.” At this, Dante inches nearer Virgil for protection.
    • These are voices calling out examples of punished envy, in order to help the Envious learn their lesson.
    • Virgil scolds Dante for not recognizing good, but fearing it.
  • Purgatory Canto XV (Third Terrace: the Wrathful)

    • Time check. Dante tells us (in very convoluted astronomical terms) that it is three o’ clock in the afternoon. Our heroes head west, straight into the sunlight.
    • Needless to say, they’re blinded. But it’s not just the sun. Dante raises his hands to shield his eyes from the brilliance.
    • Dante, after a long calculation, compares the light to that which is reflected by a mirror.
    • Predictably, Dante asks Virgil what the light is. He observes that it’s moving closer.
    • Virgil explains that the light is nothing to worry about; it’s just an angel come to welcome them to the third terrace. Soon, he tells his pupil, Dante will take delight in all the things he sees.
    • The angel makes a cameo appearance, telling our dynamic duo where to enter the terrace, and to keep climbing because the slope has become even less steep.
    • They obey, and as they enter the staircase, they hear a strain of a hymn, “beati misericordes.”
    • Accustomed now to random bursts of song, Dante decides he wants to learn something from Virgil as they walk. He asks what Guido del Duca meant when he said “sharing cannot have a part.”
    • Virgil explains it in terms of envy, Guido’s sin. When a person desires something that can be divided up (and as a result, each share is small), then this inspires envy. But if the person turns his desire heavenward, envy is not possible because up there the more people there are in Heaven, the more love and happiness there is to go around.
    • Dante, in the meantime, is counting on his fingers. He hits a snag. He asks Virgil how something shared between more people could make them all richer than if it were shared by only a few. Good question.
    • Virgil reminds his naïve pupil that Heaven doesn’t work like earth does, explaining patiently that God is attracted to love and that wherever He finds love in a person’s heart, He adds to it. Thus, the more loving souls there are, the more love there is.
    • If you don’t believe me, continues Virgil, just wait for Beatrice. She’ll back me up.
    • Virgil wants to hurry up so that those five remaining P’s on Dante's forehead can be erased as well. (Yes, we missed the erasing of the sixth one too.)
    • Satisfied with Virgil’s answer, Dante hurries to comply with Virgil’s commands.
    • He’s suddenly stopped in his tracks by an ecstatic vision.
    • He sees a temple with a woman inside, lecturing a boy at her feet. The boy is in trouble. She asks him why he’s done what he’s done, worrying his parents so. With that, she fades away.
    • This scene is reminiscent of a New Testament story of Mary and the young Jesus. Mary and her husband Joseph had just returned from a Passover feast in Jerusalem to discover their son missing. For three days they search, only to find their son in the temple, debating with scholars.
    • The vision of the Virgin Mary is followed by another. A woman appears, crying. She begs her husband—King Pisistratus of Athens—to kill the man who has dared to touch their daughter. The good King answers no, for how should they treat their enemies if they condemn someone who only wants their love? Wow, generous guy.
    • As this couple fades away, a new vision appears. An angry mob chants “Kill! Kill! Kill!” while stoning a boy. As the youth dies, his eyes turn towards Heaven, and he prays to God to forgive his persecutors.
    • When he disappears, Dante comes back to himself. He wakes up.
    • Virgil asks what is wrong with him. He tells Dante that he has sleepwalked crookedly for more than half a league.
    • Dante begs Virgil to hear his explanation.
    • But Virgil already knows everything—he seems to read Dante's mind. He tells Dante that he cannot conceal his thoughts from him, even if he wore a hundred masks over his face.
    • He explains that Dante’s visions are images of gentleness, the opposite of wrath, in the hopes of rendering Dante free of that vice.
    • Virgil continues, saying that he asked Dante “What’s wrong with you?” because, having seen the visions, he wanted to urge Dante to hurry along, to take advantage of the daylight and continue his purgation.
    • They continue walking until vespers (evening prayers), following the light of the sun.
    • Soon, though, they are swallowed up by black smoke, which appears from nowhere. This smoke blinds them.
  • Purgatory Canto XVI (Third Terrace: the Wrathful)

    • In typical fashion, Dante begins this canto with a simile. He claims that this mysterious smoke is darker and rougher than the darkness of Hell or a moonless night. Creepy.
    • In fact, it’s so bad that Dante is forced to close his eyes.
    • Virgil, in an uncharacteristically helpful mood, moves closer to Dante to lend him a helping hand. Literally.
    • Again, Dante compares himself to a blind man seeking the assistance of a guide to protect him. Virgil, a willing accomplice, urges Dante not to lose him in the smoke.
    • Suddenly, countless voices compete for dominance in the smoke. Luckily for Dante, all they’re doing is praying and singing the hymn “Agnus Dei.”
    • Because they’re singing in unison, Dante gets the impression that each singer is in perfect harmony with the others, and not just vocally. They genuinely like each other (unlike the contestants on American Idol).
    • Dante takes a wild guess that these people are spirits.
    • Virgil applauds him for his brilliance, but then one-ups him. In addition to knowing that they’re souls, Virgil also knows that the singers are the Wrathful, trying to purge away their… well… wrath.
    • Right on cue, a ghostly voice calls out to Dante. It asks the identity of this guy “whose body pierces through our smoke” and “who speaks of us exactly like a man who uses months to measure time.” You guessed it, said speaker is intrigued by Dante’s alive-ness.
    • Virgil advises Dante to answer and then ask for directions.
    • Dante answers the Wrathful penitent in a grandiose style, but what he really says is “cool, you’re a penitent” and “follow me.” That doesn't really sound like what Virgil said to do.
    • The penitent agrees to follow Dante as far as he’s “allowed.” In case Dante feels worried about losing him in the smoke, the soul comforts our poet, saying that they can keep track of each other through their sense of hearing. Very resourceful.
    • It's now Dante's turn to speak. He acknowledges that he’s alive and has been permitted access not only to Purgatory, but also to Hell. He then puts his privileged status on the offensive, charging the soul to reveal his life story and then direct them to the path… because God gives him the right.
    • Appropriately intimidated, the soul tells Dante that he’s a Lombard and that his name is Marco. He claims that he lived in a time when men had better moral values than they do now.
    • Then he proceeds to answer Dante’s other request. He tells the two visitors to go keep going straight and they’ll reach the top of the mountain.
    • As an afterthought, Marco begs Dante to pray for him.
    • Dante agrees, but has a question still unanswered. Marco’s speech has reminded Dante of a conversation he had with Guido del Duca. In support of Marco’s words, Dante agrees that the world is now full of sin, but he wants to know why. Is man’s wickedness caused by heaven or earth? Dante begs Marco to answer him so that he can spread the word.
    • Like a professor harried by a bothersome student, Marco sighs. His wise words are dismissive of Dante. He tells the eager pupil that “the world is blind, and you come from the world.” In other words, Dante can’t possibly understand.
    • He continues anyway. Mortals, Marco lectures, believe that Heaven controls and preordains everything. Interestingly, he puts it in physical terms, saying that people believe Heaven is “the necessary source of every motion.”
    • This, of course, is wrong, because then there would be no free will. Marco goes on to explain that if there were no free will, the punishment system (Hell, Purgatory, etc.) would break down, because then man could neither be blamed for his sins nor rewarded for his virtue.
    • Marco argues that Heaven “set[s] your appetites in motion.” In plain English, all Heaven does is awaken your desires. Some of them. But not all.
    • Here is where free will comes in. Marco claims that a greater power than Heaven created man’s mind. This power, of course, is God, who made man in such a way that he not be completely ruled by the heavens; he can choose how to behave.
    • Thus, if—as Marco has claimed—the world is a worse place than it once was, man has only himself to blame, not God.
    • The lecture continues. The soul, Marco argues, was created by God. He made the soul a simple thing, like a playing child who is unaware of his maker. The only thing the child cares about is pleasing himself.
    • This childlike soul thing, though, does necessarily know what’s good for it. It pursues “trivial goods” that may or may not promote virtue. Because of this, men need some force to restrain their desires or guide them in a better direction. This force is political: men need laws to restrain them and a ruler to direct them to the only true city—the city of God.
    • Here’s where things get tricky. Marco proceeds to lambaste the political rulers of the day, but he does it in a confusing way. He accuses the “shepherd” (who is supposed to enforce the laws on his herd) of “chew[ing] the cud” while he “does not have cleft hooves.”
    • Translation: The shepherd is Dante's favorite villain of all time, Pope Boniface VIII. That the Pope “chews the cud” means he thinks about and reads the Scriptures, but his lack of “cleft hooves” means he does not recognize the need for separation of church and state in a political leader.
    • Marco goes on to blame this shepherd for setting a bad example for his flock. People now, he claims, follow only their greed, thanks to their bad role model. Marco blames men’s degeneracy on “misrule,” not on the heavens, which men have claimed as the source of their depravity.
    • In his tirade, Marco laments that Rome, which “made the world good” by separating and limiting the powers of church and state, now joins the two separate forces under one ruler (yes, our lovely Boniface). Now that “the sword has joined the shepherd’s crook,” neither church nor state balances out the other and they no longer have to fear one another.
    • Marco asserts that the old is morally superior to the new.
    • He cites the example of the country of Lombardy, which once had “valor and courtesy,” but now houses people “ashamed of talking with the righteous.”
    • He names three old men who are moral exemplars: Currado da Palazzo, Gherardo, and Guido da Castel.
    • Marco’s conclusion? The Roman Church has now mixed up two powers which should be separate, and because of this dilution, the entire society sinks into degeneracy.
    • Dante wisely humbles himself before Marco, complimenting his impressive reasoning power.
    • But, of course, he has a question. Dante asks who Gherardo is, seemingly too good for this modern age.
    • Marco’s mouth drops wide open when he hears that Dante doesn’t know who Gherardo is, especially since Dante is Tuscan.
    • Marco says Gherardo was also known as “Gaia’s father,” and then decides the conversation is over. That was abrupt.
    • He tells Dante that the smoke is starting to clear up and sunlight is coming through; this is his sign to leave—before the angel arrives.
    • Marco skedaddles, leaving Dante and Virgil alone again.
  • Purgatory Canto XVII (Third Terrace: the Wrathful, Fourth Terrace: the Slothful)

    • Dante puts readers into his own shoes. Remember that time when you were trapped on a misty mountain and couldn’t see anything and the sunlight was just able to make its way through the thick fog… yes, he says, that’s what it felt like for me. But, what about those of us who don’t go getting ourselves lost on mountains… what then, Dante?
    • When at last Dante and Virgil can see the sky again, they realize the sun is about to set. So we go from darkness into more darkness.
    • Dante follows Virgil’s trusty footsteps out of the cloud of smoke.
    • Dante then has one of his weird moments in which he randomly starts spouting rhetoric about some subject. This time, it’s fantasy. He speculates that fantasy is made possible by human contemplation of an external object. Having established this, he then asks how fantasy works in the absence of an external object to contemplate?
    • He proceeds to answer his own question. When there’s no object to contemplate, fantasy is directed by the light from the heavens (like stars) or is directed by God’s will itself.
    • Dante now proceeds to have a fantasy—specifically, about an example of wrath. After all, you’ll remember that we are on the Terrace of the Wrathful.
    • First up is the image of Procne, who was turned into a nightingale for her sin of wrath. The back-story is that Procne’s sister, Philomela, was a great beauty, so gorgeous that she inspired the lust of her own brother-in-law, Tereus.
    • The rest is pretty much your standard Greek tragedy: boy sees girl; boy wants girl; boy rapes girl; boy cuts out girl’s tongue so she can’t tell; girl goes to her sister with magical powers; girl magically conveys what happened; girl and sister take their revenge by murdering the rapist’s son and serving him on a silver platter to his father, who—when he finds out what has happened, tries to have girl and sister murdered. While they’re running, they’re all magically changed into birds.
    • Anyway, Procne disappears from Dante’s inner sight, only to be replaced by another image of wrath: the crucified body of Haman. He’s surrounded by King Ahasuerus, Esther, and Mordecai.
    • In the Bible, Haman is the counselor for King Ahasuerus of Persia. When Mordecai, a Jew, refuses to bow down to him, Haman tries to have all the Jews killed. Esther, the King’s wife, comes to the rescue and Haman is hanged for his crime on the same gallows he has prepared for Mordecai.
    • Then this image bursts like a bubble and another replaces it. A beautiful girl cries and laments for her dead mother, who has committed suicide. The girl is Lavinia and the unnamed mother is Amata from Virgil’s Aeneid. According to Virgil, when Queen Amata sees her city of Latinum attacked by Aeneas’ forces, she assumes that Lavinia’s suitor, Turnus, has been killed by Aeneas. She hangs herself in rage.
    • Just when we’re getting lost in the sea of mythological names, Dante’s visions stop. Of course, they must stop poetically; so, Dante analogizes the ceasing of his visions to waking up. When the sunlight beats upon one’s closed eyes, they draw the sleeper into wakefulness. In just this way, Dante comes back to his senses when a peculiarly bright light shines on him.
    • He looks around wildly for the source of light, but hears only a voice that says, “Here one can ascend.”
    • The voice is so gorgeous that it makes Dante desire to see its source. But then the sun metaphor continues, thwarting his plans. When the sun shines too brightly, Dante says, one cannot look at it. This source of light is, like the sun, simply too bright.
    • Virgil intervenes. He explains to Dante that this is a divine messenger (an angel), who has kindly offered to lead them to the fourth terrace. Virgil urges Dante to follow him quickly before night falls.
    • Led by the angel, they climb a stairway. Just as Dante puts his foot on the first step, the angel’s wing flaps, there’s a wind against Dante’s face, and a voice cries out “Beati pacifici, those free of evil anger!”
    • Night has fallen rather abruptly. They’ve only made it to the top of the stairs.
    • Dante feels his strength melt away and his legs stop of their own accord. He describes their halting at the top of the stairs as a ship which has just touched the shore.
    • Dante perks his ears, straining in the darkness to hear what this new terrace will bring.
    • Then he decides it’d be much easier to ask Virgil. He asks what vice is punished here.
    • Virgil answers that “the love of good that is too tepidly pursued is mended.” That’s a fancy way of saying “the Slothful.”
    • But now Virgil is in full lecture mode, ordering Dante to pay attention since they’re stuck here for the night; Dante might as well learn something while they’re resting.
    • He begins talking about love. No, he’s not confessing his eternal devotion to Dante. Instead, he talks about love from a theological standpoint.
    • All creatures created by God (meaning, of course, simply “all creatures”) are capable of love. There are two types of love: natural and mental.
    • Natural love, Virgil claims, is infallible, but mental love can choose to love the wrong thing or err in loving too much or too little. If mental love is directed toward God first and foremost, it will not succumb to evil. However, if it turns toward evil or does not love God above all other things, then it is turning against its Maker.
    • So, the big message, Virgil says, is that love is the sole motivation of every action, whether it promotes virtue or vice. Hmm, this could be a really important concept worth bookmarking.
    • By Virgil’s logic, entities cannot hate themselves because love is always concerned with the well being of the lover. Similarly, since no being creates itself, it cannot be separated from God; thus, it cannot hate God.
    • Virgil concludes that “ill love,” then, can only mean faulty love for one’s neighbor. This type of love consists of three categories: 1) pride (when someone wishes that his neighbor might fall so that he—by contrast—will look better), 2) envy (when someone wishes for his neighbor’s misfortune when his neighbor is better than he), and 3) wrath (when someone seeks to harm his neighbor for some perceived injury). These types of ill love are the terraces of Mount Purgatory that Dante has already passed.
    • Virgil talks about “love that seeks the good distortedly.” Those who love distortedly do indeed love God the best, but do not act enough upon their love to attain it. This fourth terrace punishes those who have been lax.
    • Other distorted loves target secondary goods (not God) as objects of primary love and thus love them too much.
    • Virgil, sly fellow that he is, does not tell Dante how distorted love manifests itself in humans. He reveals only that in the three terraces to come, distorted love is punished.
    • Dante will have to discover those vices on his own.
  • Purgatory Canto XVIII (Fourth Terrace: the Slothful)

    • Finally finishing his little lecture from Canto XVII, Virgil watches Dante to make sure he’s gotten everything.
    • Dante perhaps still has more questions but remains silent, thinking he’s already annoyed his guide by asking too many.
    • You’ll remember, though, that Virgil is good at reading Dante's mind. So he tells Dante to quit being so nice and to just go for what he wants.
    • So Dante asks the million-dollar question, one that all of us have stayed up at night pondering: What is this love which Virgil claims causes all good and evil?
    • Taskmaster Virgil orders Dante: “direct your intellect’s sharps eyes toward me.” In other words, “Pay attention!” Then he launches into a second lecture.
    • The soul, which he's already established is made by God to love, is drawn to anything pleasurable. For Virgil, this means anything beautiful.
    • When we see something we like, our minds conjure up an image of that thing in an idealized form, so that what we’re seeing and lusting after is not really the real thing in the material world, but some too-good-to-be-true illusion. When our soul has “turned towards it” and does so frequently, it’s called love.
    • Just when we’re beginning to actually understand what Virgil’s saying, he goes into metaphorical mode. He compares man’s longing for said beautiful object to the natural propensity of fire to reach towards the sky, where the ethereal fire burns.
    • Note: This is one of those weird medieval things. At that time, common belief held that all of the elements—water, air, earth, and fire—have both earthly forms and higher, heavenly forms. So even beyond heaven, there’s a ring of ethereal fire surrounding us and this is Virgil’s explanation for why when fires burn, their flame-tips reach upwards. The flames are just trying to get back to their purest form in the sky.
    • Now, Virgil continues, there are some folks out there who say that all love is good. But, Virgil says, that’s simply a load of bull because although God’s love is holy and perfect, man’s love is not always the mirror image of God’s.
    • All good, right? Of course not… Dante, being Dante, sees a problem. He’s satisfied now with the definition of love, but if—as Virgil says—love is the only force that drives man to act (and God makes it that way), how can it be said that man has free will? How can he be rewarded or punished for his actions if God controls them all through love? Good question.
    • Of course, Virgil has an answer ready. But for the first time, we see a glimmer of doubt in him. He replies to Dante’s question, but first gives a caveat: he [Virgil] will answer only so far as reason can apply, but to get past the utter implausibility of these words and learn faith, Dante should trust to Beatrice.
    • Back to Virgil: He starts off on the seemingly unrelated tangent that one cannot see love, but can only know of its presence through one’s actions. Strange idea? Virgil apparently thinks it needs some explaining, so he compares it to a tree. Nobody would know trees were alive except that they sprout leaves and flowers periodically.
    • In this same way, human beings are completely unaware that love is their innermost, motivating desire. So this Love that God puts in us is pre-ordained and we can’t do anything about it. Thus, man cannot be praised or blamed for that part of him.
    • There is, however, another part of man that judges and distinguishes between right and wrong, and this is the part of man that can be praised or blamed for his actions, because it’s his free will.
    • So, even though one’s love may make him desire a million things at once, one still has the power to restrain those desires by exercising free will.
    • This ability to control one’s desires, Virgil says, is what Beatrice means by free will.
    • With that, the lecture ends. Good timing, because now the moon has risen so high that its light makes the stars dim. In other words, it’s late.
    • Dante’s all happy, having absorbed his daily quota of knowledge from Virgil. He is about to fall asleep on his lovely ledge of rock, when a partying crowd interrupts him.
    • Okay, we admit it’s not actually a party, but a group of penitents singing counterexamples of sloth. Which is probably as close to a party as you’re going to get in Purgatory.
    • Two of the penitents run ahead of their main posse, babbling. The words are about Mary rushing to a mountain and Caesar rushing back and forth across the Continent to make war.
    • The rest of the penitents rushes after the first two, shouting stuff about making haste because there is so little time. They want to work so hard! They want to be so productive!
    • Virgil tries to calm them down by assuring them that Dante—still a living man—will pray for them, if they’ll just do a small favor and show them the way up the mountain.
    • One nice guy answers, telling Virgil and Dante to follow, saying not to be offended by their hurry: it’s their punishment for being lazy on earth.
    • The nice man keeps on talking at 80 mph. He tells them he was the abbot of St. Zeno in Verona.
    • This triggers a cascade of memories and prophecies which he, of course, cannot keep to himself. So he tells Dante and Virgil all about the future of St. Zeno. Right now, it’s under the rule of a man “with one foot in the grave, who soon will weep over that monastery.” Why? Well, this man has stupidly handed down the abbacy to the worst possible candidate: his illegitimate son. (For the record, the father is Alberto della Scala and his son is Giuseppe.)
    • This is all that Dante’s able to hear from the abbot, because at this point the rush of the crowd has carried him far away.
    • Virgil turns his attention to the last two members of that crowd, who are still within earshot.
    • As they run away, Dante hears the Slothful penitents giving two last examples of lazy people who have been punished. They chatter on about the Israelites who refused to follow Moses to the Promised Land; they were left to die in the desert. The Trojans who pled exhaustion to get out of following Aeneas to Italy died also cowardly deaths.
    • As these words of wisdom fade away, Dante has a host of new thoughts, which float randomly from one to the other. In other words, he’s having some crazy dreams.
  • Purgatory Canto XIX (Fifth Terrace: the Avaricious and Prodigal)

    • Dante has more dreams as dawn draws near. Remember that dreams near dawn were believed, at that time, to have the greatest chance of coming true.
    • In Dante’s dream, a woman appears. Her eyes are crossed, her feet are crooked, her hands are crippled, she’s pale, and stammers when she talks.
    • But Dante decides that hey, it’s his own dream, so he turns her into his fantasy woman. With just one look (which he describes as the reviving rays of the sun), his gaze “loosen[s] her tongue and then, in a little time, set[s] her contorted limbs in perfect order, and, with the coloring that love prefers, [his] eyes transformed the wanness of her features.”
    • The newly beautiful woman is a siren.
    • Not surprisingly, she talks about siren things: seducing men to their deaths, distracting Ulysses, brushing her hair, etc., while Dante drools more and more.
    • But before she even finishes her song, another woman shows up.
    • The second woman is “alert and saintly.” Her appearance makes the siren fall silent. She asks Virgil the identity of this siren and glares daggers at her.
    • So Virgil appears in the dream as well, toga and all, approaches the siren, and does what Dante wanted to do… rips her clothes off.
    • But, Dante’s dream doesn’t turn NC-17 at this point. Instead of being turned on by the naked siren, Dante is completely revolted by a terrible rotten stench that’s steaming from her bare stomach.
    • Dante wakes up in a cold sweat.
    • Virgil, though, takes no notice, because it’s morning and he’s anxious to get moving up the mountain. He says he’s already called to Dante three times to get up.
    • Dante practices the unhealthy technique of suppressing his worries and follows Virgil humbly, his head bent.
    • At some point, they hear a voice announcing their arrival at the passageway onto the fifth terrace. It turns out that it’s an angel speaking.
    • As they walk past in reverence, the angel fans them with his wings, telling them that those “qui lugent” (“who mourn their sinfulness”) will have consolation in their souls.
    • It’s taken this long for Virgil to notice Dante’s depression. After they pass the angel, he asks Dante what’s wrong.
    • Dante answers that his dream from last night troubles him.
    • Virgil comforts him by explaining what the dream means. The hag whom Dante transformed into a beautiful siren represents a vice which is atoned for in the terraces above. This is Virgil’s way of explaining the dream and getting Dante to hurry up.
    • He tells Dante to “fasten [his] eyes upon that lure that’s spun above” (in other words, Heaven) instead of focusing on his dream.
    • Dante obeys. In doing so, he creates a metaphor. He compares his desire to climb higher up the mountain to a falcon’s desire for the food in its master’s hand.
    • Immediately, Virgil and Dante see the penitents in their punishment. Here on the fifth terrace, penitents lie face down on the ground, chained down, and weeping.
    • Virgil speaks, praying for their salvation and then (of course) asking for the proper path to follow.
    • A penitent answers that if they don’t need to lie down with their fellow penitents, they should to take the path to the right.
    • Dante hears something in that voice and looks at Virgil, who wordlessly gives him permission to do as he wishes.
    • Dante asks the penitent who he is, why he is lying on the ground, and if he should pray for him. This really could be a veiled way of saying, “I’ll pray for you if you tell me what I want to hear.”
    • The penitent goes on to say that he’s worn the “great mantle” and been the “Roman shepherd.” In other words, he was a pope on earth!
    • This former pope only got his office after converting and finding that the mortal life held no satisfaction for him. So he became interested in the afterlife (which, it is implied, is when he was saved).
    • Up until that point, he claims, he was a greedy little jerk. He explains the logic of their (the Avaricious’ and Prodigals') punishment. Since they wanted only material things on earth and never “lift[ed] their eyes on high,” here in Purgatory their eyes are “impelled… towards earth.”
    • As if it weren’t bad enough to have your nose rubbed in the dirt all the time, their limbs are chained down by “justice” so that they can’t move. (This also means they can’t face Dante when he talks to them.)
    • Dante kneels, wanting some more talk, but the penitent (by means of his supersensitive sense of hearing) anticipates him and asks why he’s kneeling.
    • Dante answers that seeing him prostrate on the ground has made Dante feel ashamed of standing up over him.
    • The pope doesn’t want his pity and orders Dante to stand up straight. He says they’re all under the power of God and to underscore it he spits out another Latin phrase (he’s from the Vatican, remember?) This time it’s neque unbent (which translates as “not marrying”).
    • Quick aside for some context: This phrase comes from the New Testament book of Matthew and talks metaphorically about the “marriage” between God and the Church, headed by the Pope. Our pope’s meaning here may be that this “marriage” he had before, on earth, was corrupt, but now that he’s in Purgatory his earthly past doesn’t matter anymore.
    • Fully perturbed now, the pope tells Dante to leave him alone to his suffering.
    • As an afterthought, he mentions his good niece Alagia who is still alive and pious. So we can assume that he means for Dante to find her and ask for her prayers.
  • Purgatory Canto XX (Fifth Terrace: the Avaricious and the Prodigal)

    • The avaricious pope is sick of Dante now, so Dante wisely decides to leave, reining in the countless questions he still has. Of course, as a poet Dante can’t simply say, “I left him alone even though I wanted to talk more,” but instead says “I drew my unquenched sponge out of the water.”
    • Virgil leads the way, finding walking room wherever the path isn’t completely covered by prostrate penitents.
    • Now comes a condemnation from Dante. He starts ranting about a wolf that’s very hungry. Sound familiar? Even vaguely? Perhaps it’s that starving she-wolf that threatened Dante in Inferno Canto I (learn more in Shmoop's coverage of Inferno).
    • Looks like it, because Dante prays at length for someone to come and drive her (the wolf) away.
    • Virgil, a smart man, keeps walking and Dante follows suit. As they travel, they notice the souls around them lamenting and crying.
    • One voice calls out, like a woman giving birth (in other words, quite painfully), “Sweet Mary!” Then she describes how Mary's act of giving birth to Jesus in a stable demonstrates how poor she was.
    • The penitents proceed to call out further examples of poverty and generosity, the cures to their sins of avarice and prodigality.
    • Another voice praises Fabricius, who “chose… indigence with virtue rather than much wealth with vice.”
    • Time for a history lesson: Fabricius was a Roman consul who tried to censor the Romans’ materiality and refused to accept bribes to further his political career.
    • This show of humility pleases Dante so much that he steps forward, trying to find the speaker; now the voice is chanting about Saint Nicholas, who donated money to poor girls so they could get married.
    • Dante asks the speaking soul who he is and why it’s only he that talks about such good role models. To get him to talk, Dante promises him prayers when he returns to the living world.
    • The penitent soul agrees, but specifies that he’s doing it not for the prayers, but simply because Dante looks like he’s in God’s grace.
    • We quickly learn that this guy loves metaphors as much as Dante. He introduces himself not with a “Hi, my name is…” but with “I was the root of the obnoxious plant that overshadows all the Christian lands…”
    • He goes on to name four cities that would like to take vengeance on him and prays to God that they might do it.
    • Another quick history lesson: these four French cities (Bouai, Lille, Ghent, and Bruges) have reason to want revenge against the speaker because he pretty much devastated them in a bloody episode of the Flemish wars.
    • He names himself as Hugh Capet, a king of France, who had lots of sons named Louis and Philip.
    • Surprisingly, Hugh tells us he was not of royal blood. Instead, he was the son of a butcher. However, when the current king died without an heir, Hugh somehow took control and—unsurprisingly—crowned his own son king after that.
    • When a marriage in Provence allowed Hugh to take the throne, all hell broke loose.
    • His family—the Capetians—started seizing cities, killing people, and poisoning enemies.
    • Out of nowhere, Hugh starts prophesying. He sees a man named Charles coming out of France to seek eternal fame. (Read: to become king and make the whole family proud and, of course. royal.) This Charles doesn’t carry weapons… sounds good, right?... except the “lance that Judas tilted.” Oh, not so good. Armed (or unarmed) with this, he brings “shame and sin” upon himself.
    • History lesson #3: This is Charles of Valois, sent by Boniface VIII to make peace with Florence. Except that he ended up throwing that cause out the window in favor of ratcheting up the power of the Black party (Dante’s hated rivals) so much that they exiled the Whites (with Dante). In short, he’s a backstabber.
    • Then Hugh foresees another Charles, defeated at war, selling his daughter like pirates might sell slave girls.
    • History lesson #4: This is Charles II of Anjou, who was taken prisoner in a naval battle and ended up marrying his youngest daughter off for a large sum of money.
    • Hugh laments that his house has fallen so low—to the point of trafficking their children for money.
    • Had enough yet? No? Okay then, how about when Philip the Fair, one of Hugh’s sons, kidnapped Pope Boniface VIII and had him tortured. Hugh compares Pope Boniface to Christ, who was equally mocked and tormented. Philip’s henchmen are so evil that Hugh compares them to the “new Pilate,” (the official by whose orders Christ was crucified).
    • Finally, Hugh turns back to Dante and tells him that this is how he and his fellow penitents talk all day. Well, it must be a blast to hang out with them. But at night, he says, they recite contrary examples. In other words, examples of avarice. Brace yourselves.
    • So we start with Pygmalion, Queen Dido’s husband who tried to murder her for her inheritance.
    • Then, Hugh goes on, they talk about King Midas, who, out of greed, made everything he touched turn to gold.
    • Then Achan, who, against Joshua’s orders, stole from the spoils of a battle which had been consecrated to God.
    • Then Sapphira, who—with her husband Heliodorus—secretly withheld some money which was dedicated to the Apostles.
    • Then Polymnestor, King of Thrace, who, when Polydorus came from King Priam with gift of gold and a request for help, simply killed him and kept the gold.
    • Finally, the most famous of all: Crassus. A member of a the famous Roman triumvirate (which in Latin means “coalition of three men”) who ruled Rome along with Julius Caesar and Pompey, his greed was so well known that when he was finally defeated, his enemies poured molten gold down his throat to kill him.
    • To explain why his is the only voice Dante hears, Hugh tell us that sometimes the penitents sing loudly or softly—depending on their mood—and it just so happens that he’s singing the loudest today.
    • Finally, Dante leaves him. We imagine he’s as tired of the name-dropping as we are.
    • Before Virgil and Dante have gone far, there’s an earthquake! The whole mountain shakes and Dante nearly pees his pants.
    • But, of course, he’s not too scared to make up a metaphor. He compares the trembling mountain to the trembling of the island of Delos when the goddess Latona gave birth to the twins that would eventually become the sun and moon—Apollo and Diana.
    • Back to our mountain. To comfort Dante, Virgil tells him not to be afraid.
    • However, the penitents don’t seem to be wetting themselves. In fact, they seem quite happy. Happy enough to sing the hymn “Gloria in excelsis Deo.” The song stops Dante in his tracks and he listens, stunned, until they finish.
    • As soon as the quake ends, they start moving again. Curiously, the penitents have had a severe mood swing. Instead of singing joyfully, they’re now crying again.
    • Dante feels confused; our genius is at his wit’s end. He can’t understand penitents’ behavior. And he doesn’t dare ask Virgil, because he’s all “make haste” and whatnot. So, Dante wisely shuts his mouth and follows Virgil.
  • Purgatory Canto XXI (Fifth Terrace: the Avaricious and the Prodigal)

    • Still plagued by the fact that he can’t figure out the Avaricious and Prodigal penitents’ behavior, Dante moves on with Virgil.
    • Now, lo and behold, here’s a new character! Our dynamic duo doesn’t realize someone is following them until the man speaks, greeting them.
    • When this happens, Dante compares the man to Jesus, newly risen from his grave, following a pair of pilgrims who do not realize he is there until he speaks. Hmm, a comparison to Jesus himself. Maybe this is a really important moment.
    • Virgil returns the greeting, saying something about how he’s “consigned… to eternal exile.”
    • The mysterious man says, “What? If you’re from Hell, how are you here?”
    • Virgil explains by pointing to Dante’s forehead with the three remaining Ps. He goes into a discussion about how Dante is meant to “reign with all the righteous,” but has fallen off his path and it’s Virgil’s job to set him straight.
    • Then Virgil questions the newcomer, asking why there was an earthquake just now. Dante listens silently.
    • The mysterious man explains that it wasn’t an accident, because Purgatory proper does not have regular weather; the clouds cannot reach any higher than the three steps at the entrance of Purgatory.
    • So the trembling of the mountain indicates something special: it only shakes when a soul has been completely cleansed and is ready to ascend to Heaven. At that point, all the penitents give a joyous shout and sing happy hymns. (This seems to be their reaction to everything.)
    • The man reveals that it was for him that the mountain shook. Congratulations!
    • Virgil, too, congratulates him, then asks this graduate of Purgatory who he is. But he smartly uses the phrase, “who you were,” because he’s been caught red-handed before using the wrong tense. Oh the horror!
    • The mysterious man explains how he was a famous person in his own time, but not a Christian. He came from Toulouse but found his glory days in Rome. Finally he names himself as the poet Statius, who wrote the Thebiad and the Achilleid, but lost his moral compass while writing that latter one.
    • So he turns to his favorite work of all time: Virgil’s Aeneid. Do you notice the irony? Statius is talking to Virgil, but doesn’t know it.
    • Statius continues talking. He worships Virgil so much that he would gladly add a year to his sentence here in Purgatory to have been able to live during Virgil’s time.
    • At these words, Virgil turns to Dante silently with a look that says, “Be still.” But as hard as he tries to remain impassive, Dante can’t help but smile a little. That knowing smile.
    • Statius notices and looks inquiringly at Dante. What’s so funny? He doesn’t get the joke.
    • Dante feels torn between telling Statius the truth and obeying Virgil’s order to keep quiet. Oh, what to do?
    • Finally, Virgil decides, by letting out a great big sigh and ordering Dante to tell him the truth, which he does.
    • At the big revelation, Statius drops to his knees to kiss Virgil’s feet, but Virgil quickly lifts the man to his feet. He tells him there’s no need to humble himself so, saying, “you are a shade, a shade is what you see.” In other words, they’re of the same rank—just souls.
    • Statius answers that his reaction (dropping to his knees) shows just how much respect he has for Virgil. He treats Virgil almost as a human being, instead of a fellow soul.
  • Purgatory Canto XXII (Sixth Terrace: the Gluttonous)

    • In the time between the last canto and this one, our heroes—now three in number, including Statius —have reached the Angel of Justice, Dante has had another P purged from his brow, and the angel has blessed them with part of a Beatitude condemning thirst and hunger. The angel, however, stops at the word thirst. It is implied that we’ll hear the rest of the Beatitude later, after our heroes have passed through the terrace of the Gluttonous.
    • Dante follows his two guides, his feet light and his heart happy.
    • Virgil begins speaking about “love that is kindled by virtue” and how it always is reciprocated. We ask, “what?” He continues, talking about how Statius’ love for him has come down to him in Hell, making Virgil know he likes Statius too.
    • Now Virgil asks Statius as a friend, how he became avaricious (remember, they found him on the fifth terrace) when he seems like such a nice guy.
    • Statius answers that Virgil is assuming his sin was avarice, but it was really the opposite—prodigality. (They’re both punished on the fifth terrace, remember?) Statius was a spendthrift and he paid for it with many months’ penance in Purgatory. But, he says, he’s thankful because if he hadn’t realized his sin, he’d be pushing weights along with the prodigal in Hell.
    • Virgil continues his questioning. Well, he says, in your Thebiad, you didn’t sound Christian. So what converted you to following the faith (Christianity) of Peter the fisherman?
    • Statius answers, “You.” (“You were… the first who, after God, enlightened me.”) He goes on: you’re like a lantern-bearer; you yourself gain nothing by carrying the light, but it lights the path for the ones who come behind you. He then quotes Virgil and tells him it was by reading his works, he (Statius) converted to Christianity.
    • Hmm, Virgil the pagan converting someone? This sounds like an important passage.
    • Statius goes on to “color what I sketch”; in other words, he’ll give more details now. In his lifetime, Christianity had already spread and was widely practiced. The preachers communicated messages that Statius found in Virgil’s writings, so that he often hung out with them. But Emperor Domitian was stoutly pagan and had all the Christians persecuted. Statius felt sympathetic for the Christians. He converted secretly, was baptized, and hid his new faith for a long time. For this reluctance to show his faith, he was punished for a long time in Purgatory. Ouch.
    • Now, Statius wants to ask Virgil some questions. He asks about the location of some poets he knew —Terence, Caecilius, Plautus, and Varius.
    • Virgil answers that they all reside in Limbo, a part of Hell. He names a ton of other poets who reside there as well. Homer stands out, but we won’t get into the rest.
    • Now both of them fall silent and content themselves with walking.
    • Dante notices the position of the sun in the sky and concludes it’s about 10 a.m.
    • Virgil, deciding where to go, orders everyone to turn so that the terrace is on their right hand side. They travel like this for a little while, the two guides ahead, Dante behind, listening in on their talk of poetry and learning a lot.
    • They’re soon interrupted by the sight of a huge tree in front of them, fragrant with the scent of ripe figs. It is shaped weirdly, though: instead of branching up and out, all the branches taper downward, making it impossible to climb. Beneath the tree is a pool of bright water.
    • As they approach the tree, a disembodied voice cries out, “This food shall be denied to you.”
    • The voice goes on, citing examples of temperance (the corresponding virtue for the sin of gluttony). It talks about Mary, who noticed at the marriage feast of Cana that there was no wine for her guests. This shows she was more concerned about her guests than her own hunger and thirst.
    • The voice goes on to talk about how Roman women only drank water, never wine.
    • Then it mentions how Daniel refused food and drink to gain wisdom.
    • Then, in the age of gold, men ate only acorns and drank only nectar and life was good.
    • Finally, the voice cites the example of John the Baptist in the wilderness. He ate only honey and locusts.
    • On that yummy note, the canto ends.
  • Purgatory Canto XXIII (the Sixth Terrace: the Gluttonous)

    • Dante, tempted by the fruit tree and puzzled by the disembodied voice, is hypnotized.
    • Virgil, unperturbed by the voice, tells Dante to come on. They need to hurry up. He obeys.
    • As they travel, they hear a hymn sung on the wind: “Labi mea, Domine” (which means “O Lord, open thou my lips”).
    • Dante asks who is singing this and Virgil answers that it’s probably penitents.
    • Right on cue, a crowd of penitents overtakes them, traveling along the same road faster than our heroes. Each party silently examines the other.
    • Dante is struck by how skinny each soul is. They’re so thin he can practically see their skeletons underneath their skins.
    • In his head, Dante compares them to Erysichthon.
    • Quick mythology lesson: Erysichthon is a Thessalian prince who makes the mistake of chopping down a goddess’ sacred tree. She punishes him by making him starve, and he eventually gets so desperate that he tries to eat himself.
    • The shades are so skinny that Dante can clearly see the M of OMO on their faces. Quick explanation: “Homo” is the Latin word for man, and medieval people saw it (minus the H) inscribed on everyone’s face. The two O’s are the eyes, while the M consists of the lines from the two cheekbones connected to the nose. So these people’s faces are so emaciated that the M shows more prominently than any of the other letters.
    • As Dante wonders why they’re so thin, one of the souls turns and speaks to him. His face is so emaciated that Dante doesn’t recognize it, identifying the figure only by his voice. He turns out to be Dante's friend Donati Forese.
    • He begs Dante not to scold him for being so malnourished. Instead, he wants to know about Dante’s two guides.
    • Dante answers a question with a question. He asks Forese why he is here.
    • Forese points out the tree behind them and replies that all the souls here suffer for their gluttony on earth. Their punishment is to constantly smell fruit and pure water but to vainly circle the tree, unable to eat or drink.
    • Now here’s an interesting moment. Forese calls their suffering “pain,” but corrects himself, saying it should be called “solace” because they are following in Christ’s footsteps to reach God.
    • Dante continues questioning Forese. He’s done some quick calculations in his head: Forese died only five years ago. He asks his friend why he isn’t still in ante-Purgatory, where Dante would expect to find him.
    • Forese answers that his sweet wife Nella has been praying for him and that this is winning her God’s love more than ever, because she is living alone. He rhapsodizes on how faithful and modest she is—so much better than Florentine women who go around bare-breasted.
    • Forese then goes into prophecy-mode. He foresees a time when it will be forbidden for Florentines to walk around so indecently. If they could see what’s coming, they would howl in pain.
    • But then he seems to remember the questions he asked Dante, which remain unanswered. So he begs Dante not to keep the information from him any longer.
    • Dante introduces Virgil as the man who guided him from Hell up to this point and who will continue to guide him until he finds Beatrice.
    • Then he points to Statius. Without naming him, Dante simply calls him “the shade for whom, just now, your kingdom caused its every slope to tremble as it freed him from itself.” Nice.
  • Purgatory Canto XXIV (Sixth Terrace: the Gluttonous)

    • As they walk on, the Gluttonous penitents gather around Dante, incredulous that he casts a shadow.
    • Continuing to talk about Statius, Dante muses that perhaps he wouldn’t have climbed so fast had he not met Virgil.
    • Dante asks Forese about his sister Piccarda. Forese answers that she is already in Heaven, lucky lady.
    • Then he seems to remember his manners and introduces a few of the Gluttonous souls around him.
    • Dante is only interested in one—Bonagiunta da Lucca, a fellow poet and friend.
    • Upon seeing Dante, he immediately starts prophesying. He murmurs the name Gentucca, and tells Dante that when he visits his [Bonagiunta’s] home, the woman Gentucca will welcome him, even though the men of city are all no-accounts.
    • After he finishes his daily dose of foresight, Bonagiunta asks, in a complex poetic way, who Dante is. Which is rather strange, given that he has already prophesied for him and knows Dante’s identity. This is purely for show.
    • He asks if Dante was the man who wrote “Ladies who have intelligence of love” (which is the first line of Dante’s Vita Nuova).
    • Dante answers that yes, he’s that love poet.
    • Unexpectedly, Bonagiunta begins to humble himself and his writing before Dante. He says that he sees now how his own style of writing (along with those who practice it) is “short of the sweet new manner that I hear.” This is a reference to Dante’s innovative way of writing, called the dolce stil novo (the sweet new style). By calling his own work “short” of that, he’s admitting Dante’s superiority in poetry. Must be a nice ego boost for Dante.
    • It seems like their visit is over because all the souls suddenly turn in unison like a concerted flock of birds and hurry away.
    • Except Forese Donati; he stays for more small talk.
    • Forese asks Dante when they will see each other again; which is to say, when do you plan to die?
    • Dante replies that he doesn’t know, but that he will always long to come back here because his city on earth is a wretched place.
    • Forese tries to comfort him by foreseeing a Florentine sinner being punished—his own brother, Corso Donati. He prophecies that his brother—a violent Black Guelph—will die by being dragged by the tail of a horse and having his body smashed, all the way to Hell. Not much brotherly love here.
    • With those words, he tells Dante he must leave because he’s losing too much time by staying.
    • As he strides away, Dante compares Forese to a horseman riding out to seek glory ahead of his cavalry.
    • Dante strikes out yet again with his two companions. As they’re walking, they glimpse another tree, again heavy with fruit. Beneath it the Gluttonous are vainly reaching up towards the fruit on the branches. The tree seems to taunt them by keeping its branches just out of reach. Eventually, they give up and leave.
    • Again, there’s a disembodied voice that warns our heroes not to get close to the tree because it’s related to the one that Eve ate from (the Tree of Knowledge).
    • The voice then goes on to cite an example of gluttony being punished: Centaurs who gorged with the food and wine at a wedding feast abducted the bride and were later driven away by Theseus. It also references the Hebrews who “drank too avidly” and were thus abandoned by Gideon.
    • Dante, Virgil, and Statius listen as they walk and eventually run into the Angel of Temperance, who glows a brilliant red. He takes them by surprise; they don’t even see him until he speaks, warning them to turn right or else they’ll lose their way.
    • They obey, and as they turn, Dante feels the wind of the angel’s wing against his forehead.
    • The canto ends with the angel’s song. He finishes the Beatitude begun at the start of Canto XXIII, which praises those who use moderation when eating.
  • Purgatory Canto XXV (the Seventh Terrace: the Lustful)

    • The constellations in the sky show that it’s 2 p.m. and time to move on. Our heroes climb the straight and narrow stairway onto the Seventh and last terrace.
    • Something has been bothering Dante since the last terrace but he is too hesitant to ask what. He describes himself as a “fledgling stork” who wants to fly but can only lift and drop its wing repeatedly as it decides whether or not to try.
    • Virgil, though, knows what Dante is thinking and encourages him to ask, since “the iron of the arrow’s touched the longbow; let the shaft of speech fly.”
    • So Dante asks, how can a shade grow so skinny if it doesn’t really need food anyway? It is, after all, immaterial.
    • Virgil looks to Statius and asks him to answer instead. Now, why would Virgil do that? We’d like you to ponder this very important moment.
    • Statius agrees to do it, but only because he will not refuse Virgil. He starts by explaining how a soul is born.
    • Quick science lesson: Medieval people thought that our food goes through four rounds of digestion, the third taking place in the heart. Weird, we know.
    • Statius claims that when the food goes through its fourth round of digestion, and is taken out of the heart and turned into “perfect blood,” there’s some leftover blood; not all of it gets transformed.
    • Within the heart, those remnants of blood gain a formative power (meaning they can shape themselves) and, transformed again, they flow down into the genital area, which Statius delicately calls “what is best not named.” There the former blood resides as semen. Yes, they really thought this was what happened in the body.
    • From there, this man gets some hanky-panky and the semen flows into the “natural receptacle,” which is a polite way of saying “womb.”
    • Here the blood of the man and woman mix—two-thirds of it is “passive” (the woman’s menstrual blood) and one-third of it “active” (the male’s semen). When the active blood reaches the passive, the whole mass coagulates and becomes (voila!) a soul. Yeah, we’re thinking yuck, too. If that’s a soul, we don’t want one.
    • Within the newborn soul, the active substance (from the male) works to give it senses and to shape it so that it has limbs.
    • Now for the best part: how does the soul become human? Well, Statius says, be careful what you believe because wiser men than you, Dante, have been mistaken about this process.
    • Once the fetus is in complete human form, God himself intervenes. He turns to it with joy and breathes into it “new spirit,” which combines with the active substance. Suddenly the soul has self-consciousness; it is now fully human and ready to be born.
    • Now, jump ahead a few decades. After the soul dies, it lands bodiless in Hell or on the shores of Purgatory. Either way, once the soul has landed, that formative power that shaped it in the womb becomes active again and radiates from the soul outward, forming anew the airy semblance of a human body. Now it is called a “shade.”
    • Statius compares this radiating process to the sun sending out its rays to form rainbow colors all around itself.
    • After that, the shade can do whatever humans physically do—speak, laugh, cry, sigh, eat. And that, dear Dante, is how the Gluttonous shades can become thin.
    • Back to the journey. As our heroes make a final turn, they confront a wall of flame that’s kept in check only by a strong wind that forms its boundaries.
    • Our trio tries to bypass it, walking with the sheet of flame on their left and the cliff on their right. The way is narrow and hazardous.
    • Virgil warns Dante not to look at the flame or else they could become distracted, take a misstep, and plummet to their doom.
    • Right on cue, voices are heard from within the flames. They’re singing “Summae Deus Clementiae,” which translates as “God of Greatest Mercy.”
    • Dante disobeys Virgil to look at the flames, only to see souls walking in the flames. Yes, in the flames. Ouch.
    • As they finish singing their hymn, the voices begin shouting examples of punished lust.
    • Dante introduces this as the punishment for “the final wound of all,” lust.
  • Purgatory Canto XXVI (the Seventh Terrace: the Lustful)

    • As Dante watches the flames, transfixed, Virgil cautions him not to forget his warning about not looking at the flames.
    • Dante takes no heed, instead describing the arc of the sun, which shows him it is almost dusk, about 4 p.m.
    • Where the sun strikes him, he leaves a shadow on the flames ahead, which excites the curiosity of the Lustful souls within.
    • One of them steps forward, careful not to move beyond the boundaries of the fire, and begs Dante to tell them why he is still alive, for he and his friends desire life more than an “Indian or Ethiopian thirsts for cool water.”
    • Dante almost answers when he’s distracted by something. In the distance, he sees another group of souls coming the opposite way toward the group in the fire. When the two groups meet, they hug each other briefly before returning to walking on their path through the fire.
    • As soon as they finish hugging, they begin shouting examples of unnatural lust, such Sodom and Gomorrah, and Pasiphae who slept with a bull.
    • Then like a flock of migrating cranes, the two parties part, traveling in opposite directions, but both within the flames.
    • The first party comes back to Dante to hear his response. He tells them that he is still alive and has a body. A divine lady has sanctioned his visit here so that he may learn to be virtuous in the mortal world.
    • Citing his need to learn, Dante asks them who they are, as well as who those people are moving the opposite direction.
    • The Lustful are stunned silent, like mountaineers who catch their first glimpse of a city.
    • Soon one begins to talk. He explains that the other group of Lustful contains those who have committed acts of unnatural lust, which is why they shouted those examples.
    • This group of Lustful, he claims, committed normal acts of lust with the opposite sex. With this introduction, he names himself as Guido Guinizzelli, a poet.
    • At that name, Dante compares himself to a joyous son who has found his mother after long years of separation. He knows Guinizzelli through his poetry and admires him like a father. Indeed Guinizzelli is considered one of the first proponents of the dolce stil novo style which Dante uses. Dante offers to serve him.
    • Guinizzelli is flattered. But he is curious why Dante considers him so dear.
    • Dante explains quite simply that he loves Guinizzelli poetry.
    • Guinizzelli does an aw-shucks thing and points out another soul walking ahead of them. That guy, he says, is a far better poet than I; he wrote these amazing love songs.
    • Some people think that another poet, Giraut de Bornelh, is better, but they are listening only to rumors, not truth. Some others even consider Guittone to be the best, but they’re all hacks. Now if you, dear boy, want to help us out, say a prayer for both me and him.
    • With that, Guinizzelli plunges back into the fire, like a fish diving through water.
    • Saying a prayer for Guinizzelli, Dante approaches the other poet that Guinizzelli has pointed out.
    • He welcomes him and introduces himself as Daniel Arnaut. He narrates how his “hoped-for day” is drawing near and beseeches Dante to say a prayer for him. Then he, too, draws back into the fire. Shy types, these love poets.
  • Purgatory Canto XXVII (the Seventh Terrace: the Lustful)

    • According to the sky, it s almost sunset and our heroes hurry ahead.
    • Luckily, they soon meet the last angel, the Angel of Chastity. He sings the Sixth Beatitude, “Beati mundo corde,” which translates as “Blessed are the pure of heart.”
    • He then tells them that they can't move forward until they’ve gone through the fire of the Lustful. He urges them to proceed and to listen for the song in the flames.
    • At this, Dante becomes frozen with fear. He lifts his hands to block the flames from his face. We don’t blame him.
    • Virgil and Statius try to calm him, reminding him that there is no possibility of death here. Virgil reminds Dante of their mutual trust, built up by riding on Geryon’s back in Hell (check out Shmoop's coverage of Inferno), and he tells Dante that this close to God, he will be even more faithful.
    • He promises Dante that the flames will not harm him and urges Dante to put his hands in to prove it.
    • But Dante, for once in his life, stands his ground.
    • Perplexed, Virgil tries a different tactic. He coyly tells Dante that Beatrice is waiting on the other side.
    • At that name, Dante opens his eyes, just as the dying Pyramus did to see his beloved Thisbe.
    • With that, Virgil plunges into the fire, followed by Statius. Dante follows.
    • As he walks through, he thinks man, it’s hot!... so much so that he’d rather throw himself on molten glass to try to find some coolness.
    • But Virgil is at his side, constantly reminding him of Beatrice.
    • At the same time, an angelic voice sings a hymn, "Venite, benedicti Patris mei,” which translates as “Come, ye blessed of my father.” Dante follows the sound out of the fire.
    • The angel’s voice tells them to hurry onward as soon as they’re out of the fire (no rest for the weary) because the sun will set soon.
    • They hurriedly climb a staircase of rock, but they’ve only gone a few steps before the sun sets, as evidenced as Dante’s vanishing shadow.
    • The travelers drop down to make their beds on the stony steps, unable to climb further.
    • As they rest, Dante compares himself to a goat guarded by two herdsmen. Okay, now we see some trust-building.
    • As he’s falling asleep, Dante looks at the stars, which seem so much bigger at this altitude. That’s his last waking thought.
    • In his sleep, he dreams. He sees a pretty young lady gathering flowers along a field and singing. She sings that her name is Leah and that she loves to make flower garlands. Her sister is Rachel and she likes to sit all day in front of a mirror. Where Rachel takes delight in seeing, Leah loves to labor.
    • Quick background: in the Bible, Jacob loves Rachel and works as her father’s servant for seven years to earn her hand in marriage. On their wedding night, the father substitutes his older daughter Leah for Rachel and forces Jacob to work seven more years before he’ll give him Rachel as well.
    • In the meantime, Leah bears Jacob seven children, whereas Rachel only gives him two. Thus, Leah is often considered an exemplar of the active life, while Rachel is the paragon for the contemplative life.
    • When Dante wakes up, he finds his two guides already awake.
    • Virgil announces that today Dante's desires will be fulfilled. Ooh, what does that mean? Beatrice? Is it Beatrice?
    • Dante’s joy is so great that he climbs really quickly because his feet are as light as wings.
    • When he reaches the top step of the staircase, Virgil turns to him and tells him how proud he is. We all tear up.
    • More to the point, Virgil tells Dante that so far he has been guided only by “intellect and art” (for which Virgil is the symbol), but that now Dante's mental love has been perfected and turned to God, so that it’s safe for him to follow his own pleasure now. He urges Dante to explore the Earthly Paradise until he meets Beatrice. Before sending him off, Virgil blesses him with these words: “there I crown and miter you over yourself.”
  • Purgatory Canto XXVIII (The Earthly Paradise)

    • Dante now leaves to explore the forest of the Earthly Paradise. It is lush, green, and fragrant.
    • A gentle wind blows on him and he notices that the wind bends the branches of the trees gently, but not enough to disturb the songbirds singing so sweetly there. Indeed, the place is so perfect that the wind harmonizes with the birdsong.
    • By now Dante has wandered so far into the forest that he can't tell where he entered; this might be scary if this weren’t the Earthly Paradise.
    • He comes across a stream of the purest water imaginable, but—Dante notices—the water is very dark, untouched by the sun or moonlight. It is like a stream of moving shadows.
    • Not disturbed in the least by this, Dante gazes at the far bank and is astonished to see a young woman gathering flowers there.
    • So he uses his charm on her, asking the lovely lady to move nearer the bank so that Dante can hear more fully what song she is singing. Her singing is so lovely that it reminds Dante of the song Ceres sings every winter when her daughter Proserpina (or Persephone) must leave her for the Underworld.
    • The lady turns coyly to Dante, her eyes lowered. She inches nearer the bank and keeps singing.
    • When she reaches the edge of the bank, where the waves can lap at her feet, she lifts her eyes and looks at Dante.
    • Dante is completely taken aback by her breathtaking beauty, calling her glance a “gift”; he thinks that she is even more beautiful than Venus when she was struck by Cupid’s arrow.
    • Now the stream keeps them only three steps apart and Dante compares his situation to that of Leander, kept apart from his beloved Hero by the hated sea.
    • Finally, the young woman speaks. She understands, she says, why he might be perplexed that here she smiles and takes such delight in a place where original sin was committed. But to understand why, she directs him to the Psalm beginning Delectasti, which translates as “gladdened.”
    • She asks him if he has any more questions, because she’s here to satisfy him.
    • Perplexed by the wind that seems to be blowing, Dante asks about it, since Statius told him before that Purgatory doesn’t experience any atmospheric changes.
    • The lovely lady explains that here man made the mistake of committing original sin and that for this his stay here has been cut short, as he exchanges “frank laughter and sweet sport for lamentation and for anxiousness.” It’s true what Statius told him, that all the atmospheric disturbances occur far below them, not up on the mountain. This place is indeed free of such earthly weather.
    • But the sky above revolves in a circle and the music of the spheres—made by the stars—is echoed here in the Earthly Paradise.
    • Because the foliage is so thick here, whenever this heavenly wind strikes a plant, it releases some seeds into the air; these are carried into the other hemisphere (the northern), where they might land in the soil and sprout. That is why, she explains, he shouldn’t be surprised if he sees plants growing where no seeds can be seen. They come from here.
    • She continues, reveling in her knowledge, that Dante should know that every type of plant flourishes here, even species not seen on earth. Even the water from the stream does not come from such a mundane source as melted snow or some watery runoff, but from a “pure and changeless fountain.”
    • On one side, she brags, it flows with the power of making one forget all his past sins, and on the other side, it has the power to restore memories of good deeds. The former is called Lethe and the latter called Eunoe, but in order for their powers to work, they must be drunk one right after the other.
    • At this point, she stops to take a breath. Finally. Just when we think she’s done, she continues.
    • She says that she realizes Dante’s thirst may be satisfied, but that she’ll give him one last tidbit of info: this is the place that old poets used to dream of, the only place in the world where man was once innocent.
    • Hearing this, Dante turns to his two poet guides and finds them smiling; they’re loving this information.
    • Seeing them happy, Dante turns back to the beguiling lady.
  • Purgatory Canto XXIX (The Earthly Paradise)

    • Thankfully, the lady is done speaking, but she immediately starts singing “like an enamored woman.”
    • Of, course her song is in Latin: “Beati quorum tecta sunt peccata!” Which translates as “Blessed are those whose transgressions are forgiven.”
    • She turns and begins coyly walking along the riverbank, against the current, like a woodland nymph. Dante follows, shortening his footsteps to match hers.
    • Before they’ve gone more than a hundred paces, the bank curves so that they’re facing east. At this point, she gets Dante’s attention by calling him “brother” and telling him to keep his eyes and ears peeled.
    • Right on cue, a brilliant light illuminates the forest. Dante thinks lightning has struck, but quickly realizes it can’t be lightning because it lasts far too long to be just a flash.
    • Just as his brain is working at its most frantic pace, a lovely melody wafts through the air. It’s so ravishingly beautiful that Dante feels a stab of hate for Eve’s arrogance. He rebukes her for being so disobedient at the dawn of time, forcefully taking all these pleasures away from mankind. Had she just listened to God, Dante himself would’ve been able to live here forever.
    • As the song grows stronger, Dante invokes the Muses to help him accurately record the miraculous things to come.
    • The first thing he sees approaching looks like seven golden trees. As they come nearer, however, Dante realizes that the distance made them appear to be something they were not. Now that they are easier to discern, Dante realizes that they form a single candelabra with seven separate candles. These candles flame more brightly than a full moon at midnight on a cloudless night.
    • Astonished, Dante turns to Virgil with a question on his lips, but for the first time, Virgil is as awestruck as Dante.
    • Dante turns back to see a long line of people approaching at a snail’s pace; he elegantly describes their pace as that of a bride coming down the aisle at her wedding.
    • The nameless lady takes this moment to scold Dante for looking only at the “living lights” and for ignoring the people dressed in white behind them.
    • Only at this point does Dante even realize that the people are there. They are dressed in white so brilliant that it is reflected in the stream, like a mirror.
    • Dante moves to the very edge of the stream so he can see them more clearly.
    • Still focused on the candles, Dante realizes that as they move forward, each one leaves a banner of light behind it, and that each is a different color. So, as they pass, a beautiful streamer of rainbows drifts along behind, as if a painter has just painted the sky. How pretty.
    • Ten paces behind the candelabra come twenty-four elders, all dressed in white and wearing wreaths of lilies on their heads. They sing as they proceed.
    • After the twenty-four elders come four animals, each of them bearing green leaves as a crown on his head and each having six wings full of eyes, like the monster Argus. Dante cannot “squander more rhymes” describing the animals, but directs us to read the Biblical book of Ezekiel, for we’ll find more about them there.
    • After the animals comes a triumphal two-wheeled chariot drawn by a griffin. The wings of the griffin are lifted high, but they are positioned so that they don’t break the seven bands of colored light, instead rising between the pennants. The griffin’s wings are gold, as are the rest of his eagle parts, while the lion half of him is “white mixed with bloodred.”
    • The chariot is so grand that not even the famed sun chariot of Phaethon can rival it, nor those of such eminent generals as Africanus or Augustus.
    • Then three women dance by, each dressed in a different color—the first in fiery red, the second in emerald green, and the third in snow white. They change places and paces as they dance, one sometimes leading and soon conceding the lead to another.
    • On the left side, four more women dance by, all dressed in red, following the rhythm set by the first three.
    • Behind them, a group of seven elders follows, divided up into groups of two, then four, then one.
    • Dante identifies the first one as Luke, a follower of the “great Hippocrates,” and the other one carries a naked sword.
    • The next four pass by, followed by a “lone old man, his features keen… as if in sleep.”
    • These seven are dressed in white, just like first twenty-four, except they wear no lilies on their heads, but instead red roses.
    • As the procession passes by Dante, a peal of sudden thunder rends the sky, seeming to block their path, and they stop; the chariot is right in front in Dante.
  • Purgatory Canto XXX (The Earthly Paradise)

    • Calling the candelabra the “Seven-Stars,” Dante compares them to the constellation of the Bear, which guides sailors home.
    • The twenty-four elders between the candelabra and the chariot turn toward the candelabra and one sings a hymn three times: “Veni, sponsa, de Libano,” which translates as “Come with me from Lebanon, my spouse.”
    • In response, all the elders rise to sing back, as though they’re at the Final Summons singing the Alleluia. They cry “Benedictus qui venis” (Blessed art thou that comest) and as they scatter flowers around, they call out “Manibus, oh, date lilia plenis” (With full hands, give me lilies).
    • This is the moment we’ve been waiting for. Out of the cloud of falling flowers—which Dante beautifully compares to mist veiling the face of the rising sun—a woman appears, wearing a white veil, green cape, and a flame-red dress. Her head is crowned by olive branches.
    • At the first sight of her, even veiled, Dante trembles, feeling within himself a familiar sensation, “the mighty power of old love.” Yes folks, this is Beatrice.
    • Like a scared little child, Dante turns to Virgil to tell him who this is, but finds—to his chagrin—that Virgil is gone. Where has Virgil gone?
    • We feel like crying, but Dante does it for us, mingling the dew on his cheeks with tears again.
    • For the first time, we hear Beatrice’s voice. She implores Dante not to cry because he’ll need to keep his tears ready for yet another wound from another sword. Well, that sounds promising.
    • As he turns to look at Beatrice, Dante compares her to an admiral stepping down to check on her fellow sailors. Indeed, she stands beside the chariot, her face obscured by the veil.
    • As he gazes both with admiration and a little fear, she announces, “Look here! For I am Beatrice, I am!”
    • Without mercy, she scolds Dante for crying here in the Earthly Paradise, where men are supposed to be happy.
    • Ashamed, Dante bends his head and catches sight of his reflection in the stream, where he seems so incredibly shame-faced that he diverts his eyes back to the grass.
    • Beatrice is compared to a mother scolding her child.
    • Suddenly the angels surrounding Beatrice intervene, singing in Latin and then begging their lady to have pity on poor Dante.
    • At this plea for mercy on his behalf, Dante is so moved that his tears burst forth like a stream fed by the melting runoff from the mountain snows.
    • Beatrice turns to them, reprimands them gently for interrupting and explains to them why she wants Dante to understand and heed her words.
    • She explains to them (though her speech is clearly meant for Dante) that when Dante was young, all the spheres and godly graces favored him so much that he could’ve succeeded with his great poetic talent.
    • But, Beatrice says, Dante neglected to till his seed well and it has grown “wilder and more noxious.” In other words, his talent has thus far been misguided.
    • She goes on: when I was young, I used to lead him down the right path by virtue of his love for me. But as soon as I died, he abandoned me to follow someone else and began going down a crooked path where he “followed counterfeits of goodness.” I tried to come to him in dreams and lead him back, but he never heeded me again. Finally, he strayed so far from the true path that the only way to save his soul was to show him all the horrors of Hell. For that task, I requested Virgil. He is meant to drink of the Lethe and to purge his soul in order to match the “deep design of God” destined for him.
    • Way to go, Dante. You’ve gotten your true love upset with you.
  • Purgatory XXXI (The Earthly Paradise)

    • Now, having told her story indirectly to the angels, Beatrice turns her speech directly on the shame-faced Dante.
    • She commands him to speak, to tell her if her accusations are true. His confession must be like this, she says, intertwined with both her accusations and his confession. Harsh.
    • Completely stunned at her words, Dante can't speak. What a time to get a frog in your throat. Whatever happened to the glib poet we all know?
    • Seeing him silent, she encourages him a little more gently to speak, because the waters of the Lethe haven’t wiped clean his memories yet.
    • Still unable to speak, Dante wants to say "yes" and to agree to all her accusations, but his voice won’t cooperate.
    • Finally, all his pent-up emotion bursts forth, like a crossbow strung so tautly that when it finally shoots its arrow, its bowstring breaks and the arrow just barely finds its target. In this way, Dante’s voice pours out of him but is not strong enough to make its way to Beatrice, mingled as it is with tears.
    • But Beatrice is unmerciful. She continues, asking Dante straight up what troubles he ran across after her death that made him stop moving forward along the true path? What temptations did others lure him with to make him parade in front in them?
    • Finally, Dante manages to whisper bitterly that “mere appearances turned me aside with their false loveliness, as soon as I had lost your countenance.”
    • Beatrice thunders that had Dante failed to confess this, he would’ve still been guilty of it, because God knows all of his faults. But (and here she softens a little), because he has openly admitted to his sins, the blade of justice will come down a little less harshly. Whew.
    • She’s not done yet. Oh no, not by a long shot. She tells Dante he must feel more shame to keep from sinning again when temptation comes along. She informs him what he should’ve done after she died.
    • Showing a bit of arrogance herself, Beatrice says that nothing should’ve been as beautiful to Dante as herself, even after her death. If her supreme beauty couldn’t keep him from sin, what could?
    • When the first false arrow struck you, Dante, she says, you should’ve “lifted up your wings to follow me.” Nothing else should’ve tempted you—no pretty girls or other novelties. You should’ve flown.
    • As he listens, guilt-ridden, Dante compares himself to a fledgling bird, who must be struck a couple times by his parents before he learns. He stands like a child, sullen and silent but knowing the truth of his accuser’s words.
    • When Beatrice sees Dante looking down, she tells him to lift his eyes so that, by looking at her, he can increase the shame he feels just hearing her.
    • But he meekly obeys and as he lifts his eyes, he sees her facing the griffin.
    • Underneath her veil, she seems even more beautiful than he remembers, and this brings on more tears, because he cannot imagine being lured away from her. The sight of her beauty and his corresponding shame overwhelm him so that he faints.
    • When he awakes, he finds himself being held by the nameless young lady, who plunges him into the Lethe up to his neck, and then draws him up into her gondola to take him to Beatrice.
    • Near the shore, she dips him in the water again, this time so deeply that he’s forced to drink some of the water. Then, she gently bathes him and leads him among the four dancing women.
    • They introduce themselves in song as the handmaidens of Beatrice, though they’re really stars in the sky; their task is to help Dante see into her eyes. Say what?
    • They lead him over to where Beatrice stands beside the griffin and tell him to gaze into her eyes.
    • He obeys and find himself lost in her brilliant green eyes.
    • Her eyes seem full of emerald fires as they gaze serenely upon the griffin, but the flames make the reflection of the griffin waver and constantly shift shape. Dante is hypnotized.
    • As one of the handmaidens stands beside Dante, the other three approach Beatrice and beseech her to look at her lover. Moreover, they ask her to reveal her face to him, “so that he may discern the second beauty you have kept concealed.”
    • At this Dante prays to the Muses again, pleading for the ability to stay sane when confronted with Beatrice’s full beauty.
  • Purgatory Canto XXXII (the Earthly Paradise)

    • When Beatrice unveils herself, Dante is utterly hypnotized, quenching their “ten-year thirst” so fully that he doesn’t notice anything else.
    • Finally, the handmaidens tell Dante to turn away, saying, “You stare too fixedly.”
    • He obeys, but is so dazzled by Beatrice’s beauty that he remains blind for a little while.
    • When he regains his sight, he realizes that the entire procession has turned so as to be facing east, just like a squadron will wheel around to save itself in battle. The griffin is so noble, though, that his movements don’t even ruffle his feathers.
    • Dante, led by the lovely lady and Statius, falls in behind the chariot, on its right-hand side.
    • They march for the length of three flights of arrows (don’t ask us to measure that) before Beatrice dismounts from the chariot at the foot of a huge tree. The tree, though, is completely barren, stripped of all leaves or flowers.
    • All those around Dante murmurs “Adam” as they approach the tree, identifying it as the Tree of Knowledge from which Eve stole the forbidden fruit.
    • In unison, the whole company blesses the griffin for refraining from tasting the fruit that brought about the fall of mankind.
    • The griffin, speaking for the first time, replies, “Thus is the seed of every righteous man preserved.”
    • With that, he pulls the chariot closer, reaches up and grabs a branch, and ties the chariot and the tree together.
    • When the two are linked, the enormous tree miraculously bursts into bloom, its color somewhere between red and violet.
    • While Dante watches this miraculous sight, the others begin chanting a hymn that Dante cannot understand. Instead, he feels himself getting sleepy. After describing how he wishes he had the talent to paint just how he will fall asleep, he does just that: he falls dead asleep.
    • When Dante awakes, he finds the nameless lady standing over him.
    • Groggy, he voices his first waking thought: “Where’s Beatrice?”
    • The lady answers: she’s sitting alone on the root of the tree. All the others have ascended, following the griffin into Heaven.
    • Dante stops listening when she reveals Beatrice’s location.
    • He finds Beatrice sitting beneath the tree, guarding the chariot, and surrounded by her seven handmaidens.
    • As Dante approaches, she announces that he will stay with her now for a little while (though, after he dies, he’ll be able to spend eternity with her), and his task for now will be to observe and write down what he sees, with the greatest possible adherence to the truth, so that his work can “profit that world which lives badly.” What? Put his poetry to use? You know Dante is completely psyched to be able to serve his Beatrice with his talent.
    • Having grabbed Dante’s attention now, Beatrice proceeds to show him what she wants him to write about.
    • Like a lightning bolt from above, an eagle plummets from the sky, tears through the branches of the tree, and attacks the chariot with all its might, leaving the poor vehicle twisted like a storm-battered ship.
    • After that, a ravenous fox leaps deviously into the seat of the chariot, looking like pure mischief. Beatrice herself “rail[s] against its squalid sins” and drives it out of the chariot.
    • Suddenly, the eagle plummets again, this time leaving its feathers scattered all over the chariot. A disembodied voice from Heaven cries out, charging the chariot with carrying “freight” of “wickedness.”
    • As if this isn’t strange enough, the ground beneath the chariot suddenly splits open and a massive dragon surfaces, only to drive its venomous tail through the poor chariot. When it withdraws its tail, it takes part of the chariot with it back into the earth.
    • Eagle feathers, which Dante thinks look like they’ve been offered with kindness, cover what is left of the chariot.
    • Out of nowhere, the chariot suddenly begins sprouting heads. Eek! Three of them, to be exact, all of them horned and monstrous.
    • Then, just as suddenly, the chariot turns into a naked whore, who is guarded by a jealous giant.
    • Over and over they "embrace" each other.
    • But when the whore turns her seductive glance on Dante, the giant flies into a rage and proceeds to beat her thoroughly.
    • Finally, he unties the “chariot-made-monster” from the tree, drags it and the whore away into the forest, and disappears. Weird.
  • Purgatory Canto XXXIII (the Earthly Paradise)

    • Utterly horrified, Beatrice’s handmaidens cry and begin to sing a Psalm. Beatrice, too, seems as sad as Mary underneath the cross.
    • After they complete their Psalm, Beatrice speaks some phrases in Latin which translate to “A little while and ye shall not see me: and again, a little while, and ye shall see me…”
    • Beatrice then orders all her handmaidens, the lovely, nameless lady, and Statius to fall in behind her while she approaches Dante. She looks into his eyes, and—calling him “brother”—tells him to ask any questions he might have.
    • Again, Dante is tongue-tied. After several stuttering attempts, he gives up and simply tells Beatrice she knows best what he needs to know and to please teach him.
    • She orders him, “Disentangle yourself… from fear and shame, that you no longer speak like one who dreams.”
    • She then turns her attention to the happenings with the chariot. She tells him not to fear for the chariot which the serpent broke because God will punish him soundly.
    • She goes on: the eagle which left its feathers in the chariot will not be forever without an heir, for she can foresee in the constellations a figure called only the “Five Hundred and Ten and Five” who will come to slay both the whore and the her giant companion.
    • She tells Dante that she knows her words are mysterious and hard to decipher at this point, but that time will clarify them.
    • Now, she tells him to pay attention to her words so that he can “transmit them in [his] turn to those who live the life that is a race to death.” Hmm, sounds important.
    • Whoever, she says, robs the tree of its fruit offends God, who created the tree for His sole use.
    • She tells him that his mind is asleep if he can’t see why the tree is built so strangely, made so tall and its branches inverted to make it hard to climb. Dante’s arrogance and vain thoughts are keeping him from seeing this simple truth: God made the tree this way to make it difficult for anyone to trespass against His decrees.
    • Seeing that his intellect is blind to this, she urges him to copy her words down, so he doesn’t forget them—even if it means bearing back to earth a pilgrim’s staff as a reminder.
    • He answers that there’s no need; her words are already emblazoned on his mind.
    • But, Dante finally asks, why her words escape his grasp, no matter how hard he tries to understand them?
    • She answers that the difficulty of her words is proof of just how much distance there is between man’s reasoning and God’s. Man cannot hope to understand God.
    • Dante finally works up the courage to say he doesn’t remember her being so cold to him before.
    • She says that he doesn’t remember because his mind has just been washed by the Lethe.
    • To soften her presentation a little, though, she promises that her words from now on will be “naked,” so that Dante with his “still-crude” sight can understand them.
    • At this point, Dante notices from the position of the sun that it’s noon.
    • The seven handmaidens suddenly stop walking before the banks of a river.
    • To Dante, the twin streams seem like the Euphrates and Tigris, two familiar rivers that bring him comfort.
    • He asks her what rivers these are, that come from a single source.
    • She tells Dante to ask Matilda—the lovely lady—who is now finally named.
    • Matilda explains that he’s already heard of these two rivers. Even the Lethe can’t have wiped that memory from him. They’re the Lethe and Eunoe.
    • Beatrice replies that perhaps some other concern has made Dante forget this important fact.
    • So she orders Matilda to lead Dante into the Eunoe to restore his memory of good deeds.
    • Just like a noble soul who doesn’t try to make any excuses, Matilda leads him forward and asks Statius to come forth as well.
    • At this point, Dante addresses his readers directly, telling us that all the pages allotted for Purgatorio have run out and that now it’s time to stop.
    • However, we get a final glimpse of him, after he’s bathed in the Eunoe and has returned “remade” to Beatrice. Now, we learn, he’s ready to climb up into the stars of the Heaven.