Divine Comedy: Purgatorio Quotes


"Hence thou mayst comprehend that love must be

The seed within yourselves of every virtue,

And every act that merits punishment."

Virgil, Canto XVII, 103-105 (Longfellow translation)

In this theologically dense set of lines spoken by Virgil, Dante is presenting a concise truth about human psychology and motivation: love is essentially the root of all actions, both morally positive and negative. Love is "the seed of every virtue" in that, as virtue is necessarily for its own sake, it springs from a love of the Good; love of the correct things both results in virtue and constitutes virtue. Sin ("every act that merits punishment") also springs forth from love, but this is the love of incorrect things, or of correct things but to an excessive degree (for example, gluttony is the love of food, a good thing, but taken to an extreme).

"And unto me Virgilius said: 'My son,

Here may indeed be torment, but not death.'"

Canto XXVII, 20-21 (Longfellow translation)

Virgil is speaking a fundamental truth about Purgatory. Even though it is filled with Christians, it is not Paradise, but a gateway to Paradise through which they might purge their sins. These blemishes are purged through suffering, both mental and physical, but their completion is not death, as in Inferno, but life and salvation.

For example, the envious in Purgatory must walk around with their eyes sewn shut like falcons, as their eyes were too hungry in life. When their souls have been reoriented and trained to desire God rather than the possessions of others, they are released from their penance and ascend the mountain to enter Paradise.

"Our purging's proof rests solely in the will,

which, free to change its place and company,

takes the soul by surprise, and brings delight

To will the change. Before this, certainly

we will – but our desire will not allow,

wishing that Justice deal us punishment

As once we wished to sin."

Statius, Canto XXI, 61-67 (Esolen translation)

Here the Roman poet Statius is explaining how Purgatory works. He says that, rather than having to endure a pre-specified duration of punishment, a soul in Purgatory endures punishment until his will reorients itself and delights wholly in God. Before this change takes place, the soul certainly wills to love God more than fleshly desires, but, being infused with a sense of Justice, wishes to be punished in order to right its own wrongs. When this sense of Justice is overwhelmed by a love for God and acceptance of Grace, the soul ascends Mount Purgatory and enters Paradise, as Statius does in the course of the poem.

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