Divine Comedy: Purgatorio

Dante: Love and Goodness as Guidance to Self-improvement

“Love is the seed in you of every virtue and of all acts deserving punishment.”

——Purg. XVII, 104-5

Dante calls his great work a comedy, not for its humor but because it meets the traditional definition of a comedy: a story with a rising plot from sad to happy. In this sense, Dante’s beginning in Hell and ending in Heaven can be read as a comedy in the literary sense. Because comedy has long been regarded as a style lower than tragedy, Dante’s decision to call his work a comedy may have been one of modesty – he didn’t want to suggest he was in the company of Virgil, Ovid, and other great tragedians. After all, pride is the first sin in the purgatory Dante describes. This work embodies the concept of comedy on a deeper level, though, as it depicts self-improvement and ascension to God’s ideal realm under the guidance of love and goodness.

In the beginning of Inferno, Dante has already suggested the purpose of the journey: “When I had journeyed half of our life’s way, I found myself within a shadowed forest, for I had lost the path that does not stray.” His reference to “our life” shows everyone undertakes such a journey in order to understand one’s sins and improve oneself. Starting from “a shadowed forest,” or a lack of faith...

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