Divine Comedy: Purgatorio Imagery

Divine Comedy: Purgatorio Imagery

Ship Imagery

Throughout the course of Purgatorio, Dante and his narrative journey are often described using the imagery of a voyage in a ship. This has particular import as being metaphorical of Dante's progression to heaven in relation to the journey of the Christian; as Dante completes his voyage, so will the Christian arrive safely in Heaven.

The P's on Dante's Forehead

Dante enters the seven terraces with seven P's on his forehead, and one is removed each time he advances up a terrace. These P's represent sins ("peccatum" being Italian for "sin"); the imagery of blemishes being removed from Dante's forehead mirrors the removal of sins through Christ's atonement, making sinners "white as snow" (Isaiah 1:18).

The Souls in Penance

In each level of Purgatory, there are souls of sinners being punished and trained in righteousness in order to reorient their souls toward God rather than toward sinful nature. The physical positions of these sinners reflect their current state; they are doing things such as lying face down (prideful) or walking in circles with their eyes sewn shut (envious) or running in circles and shouting (slothful). This circular or downward focus denotes a lack of progress and right focus on God; once they finally overcome their fleshly desires, then they may ascend the mountain, progressing toward the Ultimate goal.


In the heavenly procession Dante witnesses in the Earthly Paradise, an eagle harasses and pecks at the chariot (which represents the church). The eagle is traditionally symbolic of the Roman Empire; this harassment, therefore, represents the Roman persecution of Christians. When the eagle suddenly sheds all its feathers, coating the chariot, it represents Rome's attempt to take over the church and unite it with the empire (possibly the act of Constantine).

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