Study Guide

Purgatorio Purgatory Canto XXVI (the Seventh Terrace: the Lustful)

By Dante Alighieri

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.