Study Guide

Purgatorio Purgatory Canto XII (First Terrace: the Prideful)

By Dante Alighieri

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.