Purgatory (Dante Alighieri) pdf, epub, doc

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For better waters now the little bark
of my indwelling powers raises her sails,
and leaves behind that sea so cruel and dark.

Now shall I sing that second kingdom given
the soul of man wherein to purge its guilt
and so grow worthy to ascend to Heaven.


If the arhitecture of Inferno was a giant funnel with ever receding terraces hosting the souls of the eternally damned in a carefully orchestrated arrangement of crime and its alloted punishment, Purgatory turns out to be its mirror image above ground: starting from sea level, Dante and his guide will have to climb a giant mountain constructed of succesive corniches where the souls seeking absolution for their sins endure the just sentences handed down from the higher authority of Heaven. The grand vision of the Renascentist poet that was only hinted at in the first book, is easier to follow now, as the allegoric parade of saints and sinners mirrors the movements of the demons and the damned below for almost every Canto. The personal quest of Dante to regain the path he lost at the beginning of the poem in the dark wood is again set against the background of the internecine wars between the city states of the Italian Peninsula, reiterating the major themes expressed down in Inferno: the separation of the spiritual from the secular power, the link between the classical world of Greco-Roman culture and Christianity, free will and predestination, the limits of Reason in providing answers to the spiritual needs of the soul.

He is insane who dreams that he may learn
by mortal reasoning the boundless orbit
Three Persons in One Substance fill and turn.


The Cantos, and the Corniches of the Purgatory mountain, are organized by putting in balance seven sins with seven virtues. So, the first major difference between Inferno and Purgatory is that the lessons to be learned here are no longer about sinners being punished, but about how those acknowledging and willing to atone for past mistakes are shown the way to redeem their souls. The virtues reflect what I said earlier about the roots of the poem in both the Classical and the Christian etics, being grouped as three Sacred Virtues (Faith, Hope and Charity) and four Cardinal Virtues (Justice, Prudence, Temperance and Fortitude). What is particular about Dante’s interpretation of Sin, is the gradation of severity and the judgement of vice as a manifestation of love.

Natural love may never fall to error.
The other may, by striving to bad ends,
or by too little, or by too much fervor.


Natural love being considered here the final aspiration and road to salvation for every human being, received as a gift from God at birth by everyone and misplaced along the way by:
- the proud, the envious, the wrathful as examples of bad love;
- the slothful as examples of too little love;
- the avaricious, the gluttons, the lustful as examples of immoderate love.

Ah, what a difference between these trails
and those of Hell: here every entrance fills
with joyous song, and there with savage wails!


If Dante is guided and encouraged along the way by the power of Reason illustrated by the spirit of Virgil assisted now by another classical poet named Statius, my support in decoding the text came from the commentaries of John Ciardi and the erudite posts and illustrations by fellow Goodreaders in the Commedia group. In all honesty, without this help the second part of the poem would have been a lot more difficult to enjoy than the first. In the example of the quote above, every step up the mountain is celebrated by a different hymn. I am unfamiliar with the traditions of the Catholic service, but professor MacAllister has this to say about how Dante plans carefully every line of his major opus and leaves nothing to chance:
The whole Purgatorio is built upon the structure of a Mass. The Mass moreover is happening not on the mountain but in church with Dante devoutly following its well known steps.

The allegory is operating on multiple levels, from one Canto to another. One of these levels is the battle between darkness and light, with the Inferno all darkness and the Paradiso all light, making the Purgatory a mixture of the two in its alteration of day and night. As Dante struggles up the mountain another level of allegory comes into play, dealing with gravity as the human soul is burdened at the beginning of the journey with the weight of its sins and worldy preoccupations, shedding them one by one as he witnesses the various examples of the punishment for vice and the rewards of virtues, to arrive at the gates of the Earthly Paradise almost weightless, carried away by its spiritual fervor. As Ciardi remarks :

There is suffering in Purgatory but no torment. The torment of the damned is endless, produces no change in the soul that endures it, and is imposed from without. The suffering of the souls in Purgatory, on the other hand, is temporary, is a means of purification, and is eagerly embraced as an act of the soul’s own will.

The text of Purgatory was for me more convoluted and more ambitious than the one in Inferno, requiring more attention to detail and more frequent referrals to commentaries to decypher the frankly obscure passages where Dante shows off his geography and astronomy interests, transforming some of the stanzas into veritable puzzles – instead of saying ‘the Sun has just risen’, or ‘this guy comes from Padua’ he embarks on long , intricate allusions to past events, myths and legends or local rivers, mountains and villages that are completely unfamiliar to the modern reader. Other passages are brilliant in their analysis and exposition, with my favorite probably being the lengthy debate about free will between Dante, Virgil and Statius. I can truly understand how not only historians and poets, but also philosophers and sociologists can choose to study the Commedia in depth over long years. In the context of the period when it was written, I find it amazingly relevant still to the search for meaning and purpose of the individual in the modern world, in the study of the relation between the secular and the spiritual authority, in the passion for knowledge and for preserving the treasures of ancient wisdom:

Mankind sees in the heavens alone the source
of all things, good and evil; as if by Law
they shaped all mortal actions in their course.

If that were truly so, then all Free Will
would be destroyed, and there would be no justice
in giving bliss for virtue, pain for evil.


also : With reason as the principle of conduct, the soul is then responsible for its actions.

I must admit than not all the arguments presented by Dante found resonance with my more atheistic world view. In the case of free will, Dante ultimately argues for abandoning the gift of Reason in favor of attaining Epiphany through unquestioning Faith. At the end of the ascent, Virgil congratulates Dante on conquering all doubts and logically choosing the correct path to salvation, but Virgil as a guide stops at the gates of the Terrestrial Paradise and passes the poet into the hands of Beatrice, as the incarnation of Divine Love.

Here your will is upright, free, and whole,
whatever your own impulse prompts you to:
lord of yourself I crown and mitre you.


The finale of Purgatorio is as beautiful and spectacular as it is confusing, with a magnificent pageant of angels, saints, mythological beasts and allegorical processions, all preparing the way for the next and last part of the trilogy, for leaving the Earth behind and travelling to the nine celestial spheres of the Paradiso, guided this time by Beatrice.

I had a few more quotes I wanted to use in my review, but it’s already early in the morning, and I have to leave for work at 6. I’ll just leave them here, as another example of the numerous avenues of debate and of the rare gems to be found in the text:

On the wars between brothers in the peninsula, with reference to the two families made famous later by Shakespeare (Montagues and Capulets):

O wretched land, search all your coasts, your seas,
the bosom of your hills – where will you find a single part
that knows the joy of peace?


On the nascent Renaissance spirit of curiosity and faith in the power of Reason:

My eyes, always intent to look ahead
to some new thing, finding delight in learning,
lost little time in doing as he said.


On the degradation of Papal authority:

... since the Church has thought to be
two governments at once, she sinks in muck,
befouling both her power and her ministry.


On the inspiration Dante found in the works of the great poets of antiquity:

The sparks that were my seeds of passion came
from the celestial fire which has enkindled
more than a thousand poets; I mean the flame

of the Aeneid, the mother that brought forth,
the nurse that gave suck to my song. Without it
I could not have weighed half a penny’s worth.


On the thirst for knowledge and for spiritual salvation:

This is the day your hungry soul shall be
fed on the golden apples men have sought
on many different boughs so ardently.


On the artist need and passion to express his feelings:

When Love inspires me with delight,
or pain, or longing, I take careful note,
and as he dictates in my soul, I write.


and, finally, a stanza that I find expresses my gratitude and respect for the achievement of this literary titan:

... in my heart a grateful place to feast his name was laid.

Beam me up, Beatrice!
I’m ready for the next stage of the journey!

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