Study Guide

Purgatorio Fate and Free Will

By Dante Alighieri

Fate and Free Will

In Purgatorio, the famous tension between fate and free will is explained in terms of love. According to Purgatorio, there are two kinds of love: natural and mental. Natural love is one’s innate attraction to God (whether or not one is conscious of it) and it is fated; man cannot do anything about it, so he is not judged based on his natural love. Instead, his virtue and vice come with his mental love. This love operates by free will. It can target any object of desire. Heaven’s laws, however, require that an individual cannot love unworthy objects (material goods, money) over God, and cannot love anything in improper measure (too much or too little). So if a person exercises free will to err on either side, he can be punished with eternal damnation.

Questions About Fate and Free Will

  1. How are fate and free will explained in terms of love? What kind of love is preordained? Which operates under the principle of free will?
  2. How does Heaven activate an individual’s fate? What does it “set into motion” within each man? How is this different from simply dictating what each man’s life is going to be like?
  3. Consider Virgil and Beatrice’s explanations of Dante’s destiny. How is his journey through the Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise a result of both fate and Dante’s own choices?
  4. How does Dante see his own future prospects?

Chew on This

If heaven only “set[s] your appetites in motion,” it does not dictate your destiny. Fate is not an integral part of an individual’s life; the exercise of free will is much more important.

As seen with Dante, fate determines where one’s soul will end up (in Hell or Heaven); fate is thus the key driving force in an individual’s life and there is little one can do to resist it.