Study Guide

Purgatorio Purgatory Canto XV (Third Terrace: the Wrathful)

By Dante Alighieri

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.