Study Guide

Purgatorio Love

By Dante Alighieri


The concept of love Dante presents in the Purgatorio has a theological bent. Love ultimately comes from God, who is Infinite Love and instills it in each of his creatures. However, being a loving God, He allows each man free will by dividing up man's loves (desires) into natural and mental; the natural inherently loves the ultimate good (God), while the mental love can desire whatever attracts it (usually beautiful things) and must be trained to desire only worthy things.

All of the sins punished in Purgatory are forms of perverted love or love expressed in improper measure. Perhaps the most shocking idea, though, is that love motivates all human action.

Questions About Love

  1. According to Virgil, where does love originate? Where does man get it?
  2. What are the two different kinds of love man possesses? Why is one kind inherently superior to the other? In what ways can the inferior of love go wrong?
  3. Given what we now know about love, how can we reinterpret the inscription on the Hellgate from Dante's Inferno, which it claims Hell was made from the “Primal Love”? Does Purgatory also reflect this type of structure, built from love?
  4. How does God show his infinite compassion? What does He require from sinners before forgiving them?

Chew on This

Given Virgil’s definition of mental love, prayer is perhaps the most selfless – and therefore superior – kind of mental love, one in which a soul prays for another, whom he may or may not know, out of the pure goodness of his heart.

In Purgatorio, Dante’s image of Beatrice conflates the concepts of mortal and divine love and it is clear that, as a mortal, he still has trouble differentiating the two.