Dante Alighieri’s The Divine Comedy, PurgatoryDante’s The Divine Comedy section of Purgatory is a depiction of Dante and his struggle to reach paradise. He is a character as well as a narrator. The purgatory section deals with the seven deadly sins and Dante’s task of cleansing himself on his journey to heaven. He confronts many different people on his journey to self-righteousness, which help and guide him to his destiny. Accompanied by Virgil or reason as he is depicted, his quest is a hard journey with many answers to be found.
Dante was born in May 1265 and lived his early life at a time of change and of great economic and cultural expansion in Florence (Kirkpatrick 2). The poet was critically aware of developments in Florentine poetry and painting (2). He also had an eye for the political scene as well. He was elected several times to one of the six priors that governed his republic. Dante had left the city for a short time when a revolt took place between the Black’s and the Whites. Dante was exiled and sentenced to death for corruption. Little is known about Dante’s personal life or family life. His mother died early in his childhood and his father died shortly after remarrying again in 1285 (Grandgent 2). He gained a half brother and half sister out of this marriage, but little is known of them either (2). There was possibly another sister but if she was from the first or second marriage, we do not know. Around 1277 Dante’s father arranged Dante’s marriage to Gemma, daughter of Manetto Donati. The approximate date of marriage is around 1283, but again not for certain. Dante had three children, two sons and a daughter who became a nun and changed her name to Beatrice (Foster 12 ). After Gemma’s death, Dante began studying philosophy, which he soon seemed to fall in love with. Dante was never able to return to the city for fear of his life. He wandered for the next twenty years depending on patrons to help him survive. It is hard to find any documentation on Dante’s journey outside of Florence. It is know that his last days were spent in Ravenna, under the watchful eye of Guido da Polenta. The city recognized him as a great poet and it was here the last of The Divine Comedy was written. Dante died shortly after finishing his final and best work in 1322. His ashes are still buried next to the church of San Francesco.
Dante’s Purgatory section of The Divine Comedy covers Dante’s journey through Purgatory and the challenges he faces. Purgatory was an island with a huge mountain towering from it. At the top was Paradise or heaven. It was sealed off by a gate with angles guarding the entrance. The bottom was antepurgatory where the souls that were not ready for the journey resided. The mountain itself was composed of seven concentric ledges separated by steep cliffs. On each ledge, one of the seven capital sins waited on a soul. They were composed of Pride, Envy, Wrath Sloth, Avarice, Gluttony, and Lust. When the soul had released his sin, he was able to proceed to the next level. When he ascends to the next level, an angle would greet him and perform a cleansing ritual. In addition, on each ledge of Purgatory, there were models of the sin as well as the virtues which opposed the sin. These were a kind of test for the soul. Dante was guided by Virgil or reason as Virgil is depicted. Cato refuses to let Dante sit around and do nothing. At first, he will not let them pass, but Virgil explains their reasons for being there and gains passage. For Dante to be purified, he must first witness a miracle. He breaks a reed in his hand and it instantly regrows itself. Dante is now ready for his journey through Purgatory. The journey is a quest for freedom, which could be considered the idea of purgatory. After leaving Hell, each soul must make it through purgatory to find its place in heaven.
Why was freedom so important to Dante in The Divine Comedy? Early on in his life he had been persecuted by the Black Party and forced into exile for his beliefs. This could have influenced his writings in the Purgatory section of his work (Haller 6). We do not have much information on the early part of his life, but he should have been seemingly happy for the most part. He had married a women which he did not choose and seemingly fell in love. After her death, he seemed to search for something. He had lost his home, his family, his wife and now searched for a way out. His search was for freedom. The Purgatory section portrays him conquering each of the seven deadly sins on his way to Paradise or freedom.
Dante picked the seven deadly sins as to his life. He must overcome seeing old friends and family on each of the ledges as he climbs. His reasoning for picking these particular seven sins is interesting. Did he pick them because of his vast traveling and meditation? He had been studying philosophy during his exile, which probably helped him picking some of the sins. Pride has always been a problem in society. Dante also names gluttony. Why is eating too much a sin in Dante’s eyes? The envy ledge should not be a sin but a stepping stone for sin. If a person envies someone or something so much, it could cause him to commit a sin. Sloth is not a sin, but an unsophisticated state of being. People that are lazy are not considered sinners. Anger could be considered a sin in that is promotes sin after the fact. Greed should have been written in the Ten Commandments. Dante does describe this sin correctly being that greed has promoted many sins in all cultures. Lust is another sin most people will agree on. Lust constitutes many crimes of passion and should remain at the top of the list.
At the entrance to each of the levels, Dante would meet someone he knew. Dante’s life seemed to be a happy one for the most part and it can be seen through the people he met. Most of the people along the way were closely associated with Dante but some were not. He goes into long descriptions of each of the souls and how they seemed to affect his life. Each of the souls was on the ledge of their demise. Dante becomes involved in discussions with some of them or narrates why they are there. Each of the souls has their own story, which in someway affected Dante’s life. Dante of the characters shows probability of suffering and pain he felt going through life. Each of the people he met at one time in his life influenced him.
Purgatory was only one of the three sections in Dante’s The Divine Comedy. It was a weigh station to heaven. Once leaving hell, a soul was almost certain to make it to heaven on in purgatory. Dante’s depiction of purgatory in a sense was a depiction of his quest for holiness. The story is of one man’s journey to heaven through the perils of Hell. Dante’s notions of the seven deadly sins are wise but do not seem to grasp some of the other sins thought to be worse. Why did he not include murder? He did include anger and greed, which could lead to murder. Would stealing not make his top 7 list? Again, we can look at greed or lust to cause someone to steal. The people Dante met along the way had influenced his life in some way or another. Each of the people met had a story which seemed to tell of one segment of Dante’s life. Dante’s struggle for freedom in Purgatory is finalized when he is introduced into Paradise. He has overcome all the seven deadly sins and confronted all adversities on his way to holiness. Dante’s life truly inspired The Divine Comedy into one of the classic poetic stories of the 14th century. The Purgatory section of The Divine Comedy is by far the most intriguing of the three in its attempt to relate to the seven deadly sins that to this day confront society. One has to wonder if Dante knows something about death and what is to come of us. Dante died over 600 years ago but his knowledge lives on in philosophy and reworks of The Divine Comedy.