Purgatorio Summary

Dante Alighieri


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Purgatorio Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics.  This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of Purgatory by Dante Alighieri.

Purgatoria, or Purgatory, is the middle section of The Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri. It comes after The Inferno and prior to The Paradiso in the fourteenth-century allegorical poem.  As Dante climbs up the Mount of Purgatory with Virgil, the Roman poet serves as his guide until being replaced by Beatrice in the final four cantos. Purgatory is represented in the poem as a mountain in the Southern Hemisphere which has Ante-Purgatory at the bottom, then seven levels of suffering that are connected to the seven deadly sins. There is also spiritual growth within the levels. Finally, at the top of the mountain, is Earthly Paradise. The journey to the top is accompanied by discussions about sin, virtue, morality and religion. There is an underlying concept that all sin comes out of love and the misguided or misunderstood aspects of it.

After leaving Hell (The Inferno), Dante and Virgil are questioned by Cato of Utica as they continue their journey. Virgil explains what their journey is about and is told by Cato to perform a cleansing ritual, which he does. At sunrise on the shore of Purgatorio, Dante sees a red glow approaching which turns out to be a boat being moved by an angel and which carries the souls of the redeemed. They meet Dante and Virgil as they sing religious songs. Cato instructs them to go to the mountain. At the foot of the mountain they encounter the souls of the excommunicated, who are frightened when they see that Dante is alive. As they begin a difficult climb, Dante is confused by the sun’s position until Virgil explains that they are in the Southern Hemisphere.  Continuing, they see the souls of the lazy and those of the Late Repentant who, in their final moments of life, managed to repent. As souls realize that Dante is alive, they ask that he bring messages from them to their relatives about help they might be able to provide. Dante and Virgil then talk about the power of prayer, with Virgil eventually telling Dante that Beatrice will be better able to fully explain it.

Virgil asks the Middle Ages poet Sordello about the best way to continue up the mountain. Sordello offers to guide them but also explains that night is falling so they will have to stop, as it is not legal to ascend without sunlight. They spend the night in the Valley of the Negligent Princes, where two angels from Heaven arrive to guard the valley against a serpent. Later they reach the gates of Purgatory, where there are three steps leading to the entrance. The first is white, then one of black, and finally a red step on which a guardian angel is standing. The angel unlocks the gate and Dante and Virgil enter. On the walls they see carvings exemplifying the virtue of humility. They then encounter the souls of the Proud. The next carvings they find represent the vice of Pride. An angel symbolically removes pride from Dante, who can then climb with less effort.

At the next terrace they reach the virtue Generosity and its correlating vice, Envy. As they move from the second to the third terrace a bright light coming from an angel surprises Dante, but Virgil tells him he will soon become used to it. Virgil tells of the differences between earthly and heavenly possessions and the virtue/vice pair of Meekness and Wrath is examined through visions that include the Virgin Mary, Christ, and Lazarus, among others. The two poets are then shrouded by a cloud of black fog. After further visions of Wrath, Sloth and Solicitude are discussed. As their climb continues, Dante and Virgil see the souls of the Avaricious and Dante speaks with Pope Adrian V. Soon they encounter the Gluttonous, juxtaposed with the virtue of Moderation. One morning as Dante awakens feeling ready to continue, Virgil talks of Dante’s moral progress and tells him that he no longer requires Virgil as a guide.

Dante walks along a forest and comes upon a woman singing and picking flowers. She tells him he has arrived at a paradise, the Garden of Eden, and tells him of two streams there: Lethe, which takes away the memory of sin, and Eunoe, which brings back memories of good actions. Further encounters include a group of twenty-four elders and an elderly man who wrote the Book of Revelation. Amid a large group of angels, Beatrice appears. It is at this point the Dante realizes that Virgil is no longer with him. Beatrice chastises Dante for straying from the path to the Truth and for squandering his talents. Dante becomes remorseful and acknowledges his guilt. Dante and Beatrice form a connection when he is bathed in the waters of Lethe.

Dante finds himself before the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, which is barren due to the actions of Adam and Eve. The ending of the middle section of The Divine Comedy brings Dante to the end of his suffering and finds him to have purged his sins. Where his relationship with Beatrice will end up and how Dante will continue his acquisition of divine knowledge are topics left open for the final part, The Paradiso.