Dante Alighieri


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  • Features 33 chapter summaries and 5 sections of expert analysis
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Purgatorio Summary & Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 65-page guide for “Purgatorio” by Dante Alighieri includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 33 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Purification as Communal Journey and History as Revelation of Divine Truth.

Purgatorio is the second of three poems that make up The Divine Comedy by Florentine statesman, poet, and philosopher Dante. In The Divine Comedy, Dante travels first through Hell (the poem Inferno), then through Purgatory (the poem Purgatorio), and finally through Heaven (the poem Paradiso). Purgatorio follows Dante on his journey from the shores of Purgatory, through the seven levels where penitents atone for the seven deadly sins, and into the Garden of Eden. The poem is divided into 33 cantos.

Scholars believe that Dante wrote the poem (in Italian, in the Tuscan dialect) during the period, from approximately 1308 to 1320, when he lived in exile from his native Florence. Purgatorio explores how human souls purify themselves from sin through a journey to recover their communal selves. According to Dante, this process, which leads souls closer to the divine, requires that they engage all their human faculties: imaginative, intellectual, and sensory. Dante also addresses how human history reveals divine truth.

This study guide refers to the Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition translated by Robin Kirkpatrick.

Plot Summary

Cantos 1-9 find Dante and his guide, Roman poet Virgil, arriving at Purgatory’s shores and searching for the entrance. Penitents, who sing hymns and comfort one another as they await their opportunity to repent, assist the two in their search. An angel marks Dante’s brow with seven Ps, one to represent each of the seven deadly sins: pride, envy, wrath, sloth, avarice, gluttony, and lust.

In Cantos 10-26, Virgil and Dante travel through the seven levels of purgation, one for each of the sins. They see examples of virtue and vice from figures represented in classical Greco-Roman myth, as well as in Hebrew and Christian scriptures. Penitents continue to sing relevant hymns together. Dante marvels at the sights and sounds he experiences and engages in conversations with historical figures from Middle Ages Europe. These conversations include discussions about the nature of sin, love, and human development, with an emphasis on humanity’s unique feature: a conscious self.

After passing through the final level, Dante’s brow is clear, and he and Virgil arrive at the entrance to the Garden of Eden, where Cantos 28-33 take place.

In Canto 28, Dante meets a woman, Matelda, who will lead him to Beatrice, a woman he fell in love with as a child but who married another man and died young. Beatrice will take over as Dante’s guide in the Garden of Eden and on his next journey, through Heaven. After a procession representing divine truth as the course of history has revealed it, Beatrice chastises Dante for having lost his way after she died and takes his confession. Dante repents, and Matelda bathes him, first in the Lethe, the river of forgetfulness that erases the memory of sins, and then in the Eunoe, a river that restores the memory of good deeds. Beatrice warns Dante of retribution to come after their procession faces seven fierce attacks by various creatures. She enjoins Dante to write about what he has seen and experienced as a warning for the living. Dante is now ready to undertake the next step in his journey through Heaven.

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Cantos 1-5