Purgatorio (pronounced [purɡaˈtɔːrjo]; Italian for "Purgatory") is the second part of Dante's Divine Comedy, following the Inferno, and preceding the Paradiso. The poem was written in the early 14th century. It is an allegory telling of the climb of Dante up the Mount of Purgatory, guided by the Roman poet Virgil, except for the last four cantos at which point Beatrice takes over as Dante's guide.
Purgatory in the poem is depicted as a mountain in the Southern Hemisphere, consisting of a bottom section (Ante-Purgatory), seven levels of suffering and spiritual growth (associated with the seven deadly sins), and finally the Earthly Paradise at the top. Allegorically, the Purgatorio represents the penitent Christian life. In describing the climb Dante discusses the nature of sin, examples of vice and virtue, as well as moral issues in politics and in the Church. The poem outlines a theory that all sins arise from love – either perverted love directed towards others' harm, or deficient love, or the disordered or excessive love of good things.
As described in the Inferno, the first twenty-four hours of Dante's journey took place on earth and started on the evening of Maundy Thursday, 24 March (or 7 April) 1300 (Inf. I and II), and the next full day (Good Friday) was spent exploring the depths of Hell with Virgil as a guide (Inf. III-XXXIV.69). Dante and Virgil spent the next day ascending from Hell to see the stars (Inf. XXXIV.70-139). They arrive at the shore of the Mountain of Purgatory—the only land in the Southern Hemisphere—at 6 AM on the morning of Easter Sunday, which is 6 PM on Sunday evening in Jerusalem, since the two points are antipodal. Dante describes Hell as existing underneath Jerusalem, having been created by the impact of Lucifer's fall; the Mountain of Purgatory was created by a displacement of rock caused by the same event. The Purgatorio picks up where the Inferno left off, describing Dante's three-and-one-day trip up the mountain that ends with Dante in the Earthly Paradise at the time of noon on Wednesday, March 30 (or April 13).
Shore of the Island (Cantos I – II)
In Purg. I.4-9, with the sun rising on Easter Sunday, Dante announces his intention to describe Purgatory by invoking the mythical Muses, as he did in Canto II of the Inferno:
Now I shall sing the second kingdom
there where the soul of man is cleansed,
made worthy to ascend to Heaven.
Here from the dead let poetry rise up,
O sacred Muses, since I am yours.
Here let Calliope arise...
At the shores of Purgatory, Dante and Virgil meet Cato, a pagan who has been placed by God as the general guardian of the approach to the mountain (his symbolic significance has been much debated). The Purgatorio demonstrates the medieval knowledge of a spherical Earth, with Dante referencing the different stars visible in the Southern Hemisphere, the altered position of the sun, and the various timezones of the Earth. For instance, at the start of Canto II, the reader learns that it is dawn in Purgatory; Dante conveys this concept by explaining that it is sunset at Jerusalem (antipodal to the Mount of Purgatory), midnight (six hours later) over India on the River Ganges (with the constellation Libra overhead there), and noon (six hours earlier) over Spain. The journey is conceived as taking place during the vernal equinox, when the days and nights are of the same length.
"By now the sun was crossing the horizon
of the meridian whose highest point
covers Jerusalem; and from the Ganges,
night, circling opposite the sun, was moving
together with the Scales that, when the length
of dark defeats the day, desert night's hands;
so that, above the shore that I had reached,
the fair Aurora's white and scarlet cheeks
were, as Aurora aged, becoming orange."
In a contrast to Charon's ferry across the Acheron in the Inferno, Christian souls are escorted by an Angel Boatman from their gathering place somewhere near Ostia, the seaport of Rome at the mouth of the Tiber, through the Pillars of Hercules across the seas to the Mountain of Purgatory. The souls arrive singing In exitu Israel de Aegypto (Canto II). In his Letter to Cangrande, Dante explains that this reference to Israel leaving Egypt refers both to the redemption of Christ and to "the conversion of the soul from the sorrow and misery of sin to the state of grace".
The poets begin to climb in the early hours of morning. On the lower slopes (designated as "Ante-Purgatory" by commentators), Dante and Virgil encounter two main categories of souls whose penitent Christian life was delayed or deficient: the excommunicate and the late repentant. The former are detained at the base of the cliff for a period thirty times as long as their period of contumacy. The excommunicate include Manfred of Sicily. Manfred explains that prayer from those currently alive and in the grace of God may reduce the amount of time a soul spends in purgatory. The meeting with Manfred is over by about 9 AM. (Canto III).
The Late-Repentant includes (1) those too lazy or too preoccupied to repent (the Indolent), (2) those who repented at the last minute without formally receiving last rites, as a result of violent deaths, and (3) the Negligent Rulers. These souls will be admitted to Purgatory thanks to their genuine repentance, but must wait outside for an amount of time equal to their lives on earth. The lazy include Belacqua (possibly a deceased friend of Dante), whom Dante is relieved to discover here, rather than in Hell. The meeting with Belacqua is over by noon (Canto IV).
"may you remember me, who am La Pia;
Siena made, Maremma unmade me:
he who, when we were wed, gave me his pledge
and then, as nuptial ring, his gem, knows that."
Also in this category is the troubadour Sordello who, like Virgil, is from Mantua. When Sordello discovers the great poet's identity, he bows down to him in honour. This helps keep Virgil in the foreground of the poem, since (as a resident of Limbo) Virgil is less qualified as a guide here than he was in Hell. As a resident of Purgatory, Sordello is able to explain the Rule of the Mountain: that after sunset souls are incapable of climbing any further. Allegorically, the sun represents God, meaning that progress in the penitent Christian life can only be made through Divine Grace Virgil's conversation with Sordello ends as the sun is moving downward, that is, after 3 PM (Cantos VI to VII).
It is sunset, so Dante and his companions stop for the night in the beautiful Valley of the Princes where they meet persons whose preoccupation with public and private duties hampered their spiritual progress, particularly deceased monarchs such as Rudolph, Ottokar, Philip the Bold, and Henry III (Cantos VII and VIII). John Ciardi writes that these Negligent Rulers are "elevated above their negligent subjects because their special duties made it difficult for them to think about the welfare of their own souls". Dante also speaks with the souls of contemporary Italian statesmen Currado Malaspina and Nino Visconti, the latter being a personal friend whom Dante rejoices at not having found among the damned.
As night approaches, the souls sing the Compline hymns Salve Regina and Te lucis ante terminum. Dante's beautiful description of evening in this valley was the inspiration for a similar passage in Byron's Don Juan:
|Purgatorio, Canto VIII, 1–6 (Longfellow)||Don Juan, Canto 3, CVIII, 1–6|
|'twas now the hour that turneth back desire|
In those who sail the sea, and melts the heart,
The day they've said to their sweet friends farewell,
And the new pilgrim penetrates with love,
If he doth hear from far away a bell
That seemeth to deplore the dying day,
|Soft hour! which wakes the wish and melts the heart|
Of those who sail the seas, on the first day
When they from their sweet friends are torn apart;
Or fills with love the pilgrim on his way
As the far bell of vesper makes him start,
Seeming to weep the dying day's decay;
Dante falls asleep at 8:30 PM; his dream takes place just before the dawn of Easter Monday and he awakens just after 8 AM. Waking, Dante finds that he has been carried up to the gate of Purgatory proper. This gate has three steps: polished white (reflecting the purity of the penitent's true self), black (the colour of mourning; cracked in the shape of a Christian cross), and red (symbolising the blood of Christ and the restoration of true life) (Canto IX).
The gate of Purgatory, Peter's Gate, is guarded by an angel who uses the point of his sword to draw the letter "P" (signifying peccatum, sin) seven times on Dante's forehead, bidding him "take heed that thou wash / These wounds, when thou shalt be within." With the passage of each terrace and the corresponding purgation of his soul that the pilgrim receives, one of the "P"s will be erased by the angel granting passage to the next terrace. The angel at Peter's Gate uses two keys, silver (remorse) and gold (reconciliation) to open the gate – both are necessary for redemption and salvation.
Seven terraces of Purgatory
After passing through the gate of Purgatory proper, Virgil guides the pilgrim Dante through the mountain's seven terraces. These correspond to the seven deadly sins or "seven roots of sinfulness": Pride, Envy, Wrath, Sloth, Avarice (and Prodigality), Gluttony, and Lust. The classification of sin here is more psychological than that of the Inferno, being based on motives, rather than actions. It is also drawn primarily from Christian theology, rather than from classical sources. The core of the classification is based on love: the first three terraces of Purgatory relate to perverted love directed towards actual harm of others, the fourth terrace relates to deficient love (i.e. sloth or acedia), and the last three terraces relate to excessive or disordered love of good things. Each terrace purges a particular sin in an appropriate manner. Those in Purgatory can leave their circle voluntarily, but will only do so when they have corrected the flaw within themselves that led to committing that sin.
The structure of the poetic description of these terraces is more systematic than that of the Inferno, and associated with each terrace are an appropriate prayer and beatitude. Robert Hollander describes the shared features of all the terraces as "(1) description of the physical aspect of the terrace, (2) exemplars of the virtue that counters the sin repented here, (3) description of the penitents, (4) recitation of their sins by particular penitents, (5) exemplars of the vice, (6) appearance to Dante of the angel representing the countering virtue".
First terrace (Pride)
The first three terraces of Purgatory relate to sins caused by a perverted love directed towards actual harm of others.
The first of the sins is Pride. Dante and Virgil begin to ascend this terrace shortly after 9 AM. On the terrace where proud souls purge their sin, Dante and Virgil see beautiful sculptures expressing humility, the opposite virtue. The first example is of the Annunciation to the Virgin Mary, where she responds to the angel Gabriel with the words Ecce ancilla Dei ("Behold the handmaid of the Lord," Luke 1:38). An example of humility from classical history is the Emperor Trajan, who, according to a medieval legend, once stopped his journey to render justice to a poor widow (Canto X).
Also associated with humility is an expanded version of the Lord's Prayer:
Our Father, You who dwell within the heavens
but are not circumscribed by them out of
Your greater love for Your first works above,
Praised be Your name and Your omnipotence,
by every creature, just as it is seemly
to offer thanks to Your sweet effluence.
Your kingdom's peace come unto us, for if
it does not come, then though we summon all
our force, we cannot reach it of our selves.
Just as Your angels, as they sing Hosanna,
offer their wills to You as sacrifice,
so may men offer up their wills to You.
Give unto us this day the daily manna
without which he who labors most to move
ahead through this harsh wilderness falls back.
Even as we forgive all who have done
us injury, may You, benevolent,
forgive, and do not judge us by our worth.
Try not our strength, so easily subdued,
against the ancient foe, but set it free
from him who goads it to perversity."
After being introduced to humility, Dante and Virgil meet the souls of the proud, who are bent over by the weight of huge stones on their backs. As they walk around the terrace, they are able to profit from the sculpted examples of humility. The first of these souls is Omberto Aldobrandeschi, whose pride lies in his descent ("I was Italian, son of a great Tuscan: / my father was Guiglielmo Aldobrandesco"), although he is learning to be more humble ("I / do not know if you have heard his name"). Oderisi of Gubbio is an example of pride in achievements – he was a noted artist of illuminated manuscripts. Provenzano Salvani, leader of the Sienese Ghibellines, is an example of pride in dominating others (Canto XI).
In Canto XIII, Dante points out, with "frank self-awareness," that pride is also a serious flaw of his own:
"I fear much more the punishment below;
my soul is anxious, in suspense; already
I feel the heavy weights of the first terrace"
After his conversations with the proud, Dante notes further sculptures on the pavement below, this time illustrating pride itself. The sculptures show Satan (Lucifer), the building of the Tower of Babel, King Saul, Niobe, Arachne, King Rehoboam, and others.
The poets reach the stairway to the second terrace at noon. As they ascend, an angel brushes Dante's forehead with his wings, erasing the letter "P" (peccatum) corresponding to the sin of pride, and Dante hears the beatitude Beati pauperes spiritu ("Blessed are the poor in spirit", Matthew 5:3) (Canto XII).
Second terrace (Envy)
Envy is the sin that "looks with grudging hatred upon other men's gifts and good fortune, taking every opportunity to run them down or deprive them of their happiness". (This in contrast to covetousness, the excessive desire to have things like money.) As one of the envious souls on this terrace says:
"My blood was so afire with envy that,
when I had seen a man becoming happy,
the lividness in me was plain to see."
On entering the terrace of the envious, Dante and Virgil first hear voices on the air telling stories of generosity, the opposite virtue. There is, as in all the other terraces, an episode from the life of the Virgin Mary; this time, the scene from the Life of the Virgin is the Wedding at Cana, in which she expresses her joy for the newly married couple and encourages Christ to perform his first miracle. There is also Jesus' saying "Love your enemies." A classical story shows the friendship between Orestes and Pylades.
The souls of the envious wear penitential grey cloaks, and their eyes are sewn shut with iron wire, resembling the way a falconer sews shut the eyes of a falcon in order to train it. This results in audible, rather than visual, examples here (Canto XIII).
The souls of the envious include Guido del Duca, who speaks bitterly about the ethics of people in towns along the River Arno:
"That river starts its miserable course
among foul hogs, more fit for acorns than
for food devised to serve the needs of man.
Then, as that stream descends, it comes on curs
that, though their force is feeble, snap and snarl;
scornful of them, it swerves its snout away.
And, downward, it flows on; and when that ditch,
ill-fated and accursed, grows wider, it
finds, more and more, the dogs becoming wolves.
Descending then through many dark ravines,
it comes on foxes so full of deceit
there is no trap that they cannot defeat."
The voices on the air also include examples of envy. The classical example is Aglauros, who, according to Ovid, was turned to stone because she was jealous of Hermes' love for her older sister Herse. The Biblical example is Cain, mentioned here not for his act of fratricide, but for the jealousy of his younger brother Abel that led to it (Canto XIV).
As he is leaving the terrace, the dazzling light of the terrace's angel causes Dante to reveal his scientific knowledge, observing that the angle of incidence is equal to the angle of reflection "as theory and experiment will show" (Canto XV).
Third terrace (Wrath)
On the terrace of the wrathful, which the poets reach at 3 PM examples of meekness (the opposite virtue) are given to Dante as visions in his mind. The scene from the Life of the Virgin in this terrace of purgation is the Finding in the Temple. Whereas most parents would be angry at their child for worrying them, Mary is loving and understanding of Christ's motives behind his three-day disappearance. In a classical example, the wife of Peisistratos wanted a young man executed for embracing their daughter, to which Peisistratos responded: "What shall we do to one who'd injure us / if one who loves us earns our condemnation?" Saint Stephen provides a Biblical example, drawn from Acts 7:54–60 (Canto XV):
Next I saw people whom the fire of wrath
had kindled, as they stoned a youth and kept
on shouting loudly to each other: Kill!
Kill! Kill! I saw him now, weighed down by death,
sink to the ground, although his eyes were bent
always on Heaven: they were Heaven's gates,
Praying to his high Lord, despite the torture,
to pardon those who were his persecutors;
his look was such that it unlocked compassion."
The souls of the wrathful walk around in acrid smoke, which symbolises the blinding effect of anger:
Darkness of Hell and of a night deprived
of every planet, under meager skies,
as overcast by clouds as sky can be,
had never served to veil my eyes so thickly
nor covered them with such rough-textured stuff
as smoke that wrapped us there in Purgatory;
my eyes could not endure remaining open;
Marco Lombardo discourses with Dante on free will – a relevant topic, since there is no point being angry with someone who has no choice over his actions (Canto XVI). Dante also sees visions with examples of wrath, such as Procne, Haman and Lavinia.
The prayer for this terrace is the Agnus Dei: "Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis... dona nobis pacem" ("Lamb of God, you who take away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us... grant us peace") The poets leave the third terrace just after nightfall (Canto XVII).
While staying on the fourth terrace, Virgil is able to explain to Dante the organization of Purgatory and its relationship to perverted, deficient, or misdirected love. The three terraces they have seen so far have purged the proud ("he who, through abasement of another, / hopes for supremacy"), the envious ("one who, when he is outdone, / fears his own loss of fame, power, honor, favor; / his sadness loves misfortune for his neighbor."), and the wrathful ("he who, over injury / received, resentful, for revenge grows greedy / and, angrily, seeks out another's harm."). Deficient and misdirected loves are about to follow. Virgil's discourse on love concludes at midnight (Cantos XVII and XVIII).
Fourth terrace (Sloth)
On the fourth terrace we find souls whose sin was that of deficient love – that is, sloth or acedia. Since they had failed in life to act in pursuit of love, here they are engaged in ceaseless activity. The examples of sloth and of zeal, its opposite virtue, are called out by these souls as they run around the terrace. A scene from the life of the Virgin outlined in this terrace is the Visitation, with Mary going "in haste" to visit her cousin Elizabeth. These examples also include episodes from the lives Julius Caesar and Aeneas. This activity also replaces a verbal prayer for this terrace. Since the formerly slothful are now too busy to converse at length, this section of the poem is a short one.
Allegorically, spiritual laziness and lack of caring lead to sadness, and so the beatitude for this terrace is Beati qui lugent ("Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted," Matthew 5:4) (Canto XVIII and XIX).
Dante's second night's sleep occurs while the poets are on this terrace, and Dante dreams shortly before Tuesday's dawn of a Siren, symbol of disordered or excessive love represented by greed, gluttony and lust. The dream ends in the light of the sun, and the two poets climb toward the fifth terrace (Canto XIX).
Fifth terrace (Avarice)
On the last three terraces are those who sinned by loving good things, but loving them in an excessive or disordered way.
On the fifth terrace, excessive concern for earthly goods – whether in the form of greed, ambition or extravagance – is punished and purified. The avaricious and prodigal lie face-down on the ground, unable to move. Their prayer is Adhaesit pavimento anima mea, taken from Psalm 119:25 ("My soul cleaveth unto the dust: quicken thou me according to thy word"), which is a prayer expressing the desire to follow God's law. Dante meets the shade of Pope Adrian V, an exemplar of desire for ecclesiastical power and prestige, who directs the poets on their way (Canto XIX).
The scene from the Life of the Virgin, used here to counter the sin of avarice, is the humble birth of Christ. Further down the terrace, Hugh the Great personifies greed for worldly wealth and possessions. He bemoans the way that, in contrast, avarice has motivated the actions of his successors, and "prophesies" events which occurred after the date in which the poem is set, but before the poem was written:
"The other, who once left his ship as prisoner
I see him sell his daughter, bargaining
as pirates haggle over female slaves.
O Avarice, my house is now your captive:
it traffics in the flesh of its own children
what more is left for you to do to us?
That past and future evil may seem less,
I see the fleur-de-lis enter Anagni
and, in His vicar, Christ made prisoner.
I see Him mocked a second time; I see
the vinegar and gall renewed and He
is slain between two thieves who're still alive.
And I see the new Pilate, one so cruel
that, still not sated, he, without decree,
carries his greedy sails into the Temple."
These events include Charles II of Naples selling his daughter into marriage to an elderly and disreputable man, and Philip IV of France ("the fleur-de-lis") arresting Pope Boniface VIII in 1303 (a pope destined for Hell, according to the Inferno, but still, in Dante's view, the Vicar of Christ). Dante also refers to the suppression of the Knights Templar at Philip's instigation in 1307, which freed Philip from debts he owed to the order. Following the exemplars of avarice (these are Pygmalion, Midas, Achan, Ananias and Sapphira, Heliodorus, Polymestor, and Crassus), there is a sudden earthquake accompanied by the shouting of Gloria in excelsis Deo. Dante desires to understand the cause of the earthquake, but he does not question Virgil about it (Canto XX).
In a scene that Dante links to the episode where Jesus meets two disciples on the road to Emmaus, Dante and Virgil are overtaken by a shade who eventually reveals himself as the Roman poet Statius, author of the Thebaid. Statius explains the cause of the earthquake: there is a tremor when a soul knows that it is ready to ascend to heaven, which he has just experienced. Dante presents Statius, without obvious or understandable basis, as a convert to Christianity; as a Christian, his guidance will supplement Virgil's Statius is overjoyed to find himself in the company of Virgil, whose Aeneid he so greatly admired (Canto XXI).
Dante follows Virgil and Statius upward. Statius explains that he was not avaricious but prodigal, but that he "converted" from prodigality by reading Virgil, which directed him to poetry and to God. Statius explains how he was baptized, but he remained a secret Christian—this is the cause of his purgation of Sloth on the previous terrace. Statius asks Virgil to name his fellow poets and figures in Limbo, which he does (Canto XXII)
Sixth terrace (Gluttony)
It is between 10 and 11 AM, and the three poets begin to circle the sixth terrace where the gluttonous are purged, and more generally, those who over-emphasised food, drink, and bodily comforts. In a scene reminiscent of the punishment of Tantalus, they are starved in the presence of trees whose fruit is forever out of reach. The examples here are given by voices in the trees. The Virgin Mary, who shared her Son's gifts with others at the Wedding at Cana, and John the Baptist, who only lived on locusts and honey (Matthew 3:4), is an example of the virtue of temperance. A classical example of the opposite vice of gluttony is the drunkenness of the Centaurs that led to the Battle of Centaurs and Lapiths.
The prayer for this terrace is Labia mea Domine (Psalm 51:15: "O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise") These are the opening words from the daily Liturgy of the Hours, which is also the source of prayers for the fifth and seventh terraces (Cantos XXII through XXIV).
Here Dante also meets his friend Forese Donati and his poetic predecessor Bonagiunta Orbicciani. Bonagiunta has kind words for Dante's earlier poem, La Vita Nuova, describing it as the dolce stil novo ("sweet new style"). He quotes the line "Ladies that have intelligence of love," written in praise of Beatrice, whom he will meet later in the Purgatorio:
"Ladies that have intelligence of Love,
I of my lady wish with you to speak;
Not that I can believe to end her praise,
But to discourse that I may ease my mind.
I say that when I think upon her worth,
So sweet doth Love make himself feel to me,
That if I then should lose not hardihood,
Speaking, I should enamour all mankind."
It is 2:00 PM when the three poets leave the sixth terrace and begin their ascent to the seventh terrace, meaning that they have spent four hours among the Gluttonous. During the climb, Dante wonders how it is possible for bodiless souls to have the gaunt appearance of the souls being starved here. In explaining, Statius discourses on the nature of the soul and its relationship to the body (Canto XXV).
Seventh terrace (Lust)
The terrace of the lustful has an immense wall of flame through which everyone must pass. As a prayer, they sing the hymn Summae Deus Clementiae (God of Supreme Clemency) from the Liturgy of the Hours. Souls repenting of misdirected sexual desire call forth in praises of chastity and marital fidelity (the Virgin Mary's chastity and the chastity of Diana) (Canto XXV).
Two groups of souls run through the flames calling out examples of lust (Sodom and Gomorrah by the homosexual and Pasiphaë by the heterosexual). As they circle the terrace, the two groups of penitents greet each other in a way Dante compares to ants:
"There, on all sides, I can see every shade
move quickly to embrace another shade,
content they did not pause with their brief greeting,
as ants, in their dark company, will touch
their muzzles, each to each, perhaps to seek
news of their fortunes and their journeyings."
Shortly before sunset, the Poets are greeted by the Angel of Chastity, who instructs them to pass through the wall of fire. By reminding Dante that Beatrice can be found in the Earthly Paradise on the other side, Virgil finally persuades Dante to pass through the intense fire. After the poets pass through the flame, the sun sets and they lie down to sleep on the steps between the final terrace and the Earthly Paradise. On these steps, just before the dawn of Wednesday morning, Dante has his third dream: a vision of Leah and Rachel. They are symbols of the active (non-monastic) and contemplative (monastic) Christian lives, both of which are important
".. in my dream, I seemed to see a woman
both young and fair; along a plain she gathered
flowers, and even as she sang, she said:
Whoever asks my name, know that I'm Leah,
and I apply my lovely hands to fashion
a garland of the flowers I have gathered.
To find delight within this mirror I
adorn myself; whereas my sister Rachel
never deserts her mirror; there she sits
all day; she longs to see her fair eyes gazing,
as I, to see my hands adorning, long:
she is content with seeing, I with labor."
Dante awakens with the dawn, and the Poets continue up the rest of the ascent until they come in sight of the Earthly Paradise (Canto XXVII).
The Earthly Paradise
At the summit of Mount Purgatory is the Earthly Paradise or Garden of Eden. Allegorically, it represents the state of innocence that existed before Adam and Eve fell from grace – the state which Dante's journey up Mount Purgatory has been recapturing. Here Dante meets Matilda, a woman whose literal and allegorical identity "is perhaps the most tantalizing problem in the Comedy." Critics up to the early twentieth century have connected her with the historical Matilda of Tuscany, but others suggested a connection with the dream of Leah in Canto XXVII. However, Matilda clearly prepares Dante for his meeting with Beatrice, the woman to whom (historically) Dante dedicated his previous poetry, the woman at whose request (in the story) Virgil was commissioned to bring Dante on his journey, and the woman who (allegorically) symbolizes the path to God (Canto XXVIII).
With Matilda, Dante witnesses a procession which forms an allegory within the allegory, somewhat like Shakespeare's play within a play. It has a very different style from the Purgatorio as a whole, having the form of a masque, where the characters are walking symbols rather than real people. The procession consists of (Canto XXIX):
- "Twenty-four elders" (a reference to Revelation 4:4), representing the 24 books of the Hebrew Bible, as classified by Jerome
- "Four animals" with "six wings as plumage" (a reference to Revelation 4:6–8), a traditional representation of the four Evangelists
- "A chariot triumphal on two wheels," bearing Beatrice, which is drawn by…
- A griffin, representing the conjoined divinity and humanity of Christ
- "Three circling women" coloured red, green, and white, representing the three theological virtues: Love, Hope, and Faith, respectively
- "Four other women" dressed in purple, representing the four cardinal virtues: Prudence, Justice, Temperance, and Fortitude
- "Two elders, different in their dress," representing the Acts of the Apostles and the Pauline epistles
- "Four of humble aspect," representing the general epistles
- "When all the rest had passed, a lone old man," representing the Book of Revelation
The appearance of Beatrice, and a dramatic reconciliation scene between Beatrice and Dante, in which she rebukes his sin (Cantos XXX and XXXI), help cover the disappearance of Virgil, who, as a symbol of non-Christian philosophy and humanities, can help him no further in his approach to God (and in the rest of the Divine Comedy, Beatrice is Dante's guide):
"But Virgil had deprived us of himself,
Virgil, the gentlest father, Virgil, he
to whom I gave my self for my salvation;
and even all our ancient mother lost
was not enough to keep my cheeks, though washed
with dew, from darkening again with tears."
Dante then passes through the River Lethe, which erases the memory of past sin (Canto XXXI), and sees an allegory of Biblical and Church history. This allegory includes a denunciation of the corrupt papacy of the time: a harlot (the papacy) is dragged away with the chariot (the Church) by a giant (the French monarchy, which under King Philip IV engineered the move of the Papal Seat to Avignon in 1309) (Canto XXXII):
"Just like a fortress set on a steep slope,
securely seated there, ungirt, a whore,
whose eyes were quick to rove, appeared to me;
and I saw at her side, erect, a giant,
who seemed to serve as her custodian;
and they again, again embraced each other."
It is noon as the events observed in the Earthly Paradise come to a close. Finally, Dante drinks from the River Eunoë, which restores good memories, and prepares him for his ascent to Heaven (described in the Paradiso, the final cantica). As with the other two parts of the Divine Comedy, the Purgatorio ends on the word "stars" (Canto XXXIII):
"From that most holy wave I now returned
to Beatrice; remade, as new trees are
renewed when they bring forth new boughs, I was
pure and prepared to climb unto the stars."
In the arts
The Divine Comedy has been a source of inspiration for countless artists for almost seven centuries. While references to the Inferno are the most common, there are also many references to the Purgatorio. Franz Liszt's Symphony to Dante's Divina Commedia (1856) has a "Purgatorio" movement, as does Robert W. Smith's The Divine Comedy (2006). Chaucer and others have referenced the Purgatorio in their writing. Many visual artists have depicted scenes from the Purgatorio, including Gustave Doré, John Flaxman, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, John William Waterhouse, and William Blake.