CliffsNotes on Dante’s Divine Comedy: Purgatorio

CliffsNotes on Dante’s Divine Comedy: Purgatorio

CliffsNotes on Dante’s Divine Comedy: Purgatorio

CliffsNotes on Dante’s Divine Comedy: Purgatorio



Dante’s Life

Dante’s World

Dante’s Minor Works

The Divine Comedy


General Synopsis

Summaries and Commentaries

Critical Essays

Selected List of Characters

Review Questions and Essay Topics

Selected Bibliography


The story of the Divine Comedy is simple: One day Dante finds himself lost in a dark wood; but Virgil appears, rescues him from that savage place, and guides him to a contemplation of Hell and Purgatory. Then, having confessed his faults, and with Beatrice as his guide, he is conducted into Paradise and attains a glimpse of the face of God.

Dante gave the title of Comedy to his masterpiece because the word indicated a pleasant or (as Dante himself put it) a “prosperous” ending after a “horrible” beginning. Dante used the humble lowly language “which even women can understand,” rather than the sublime language of tragedy. The adjective “divine” was added to the title later, apparently by an editor some time in the sixteenth century.

The Divine Comedy is distinctly a product of medieval times. Its view of the universe is the Ptolemaic view; its social setting that of the jealous, warring city-states of Italy, and of the powerful, arrogant, and feuding aristocrats and the political factions which supported them. Over all were the contesting powers of a fading empire and a grasping papacy.

In attempting understanding, one may become so entangled in the complexities of the Comedy and its environment that one loses sight of Dante the man. And it was Dante, the man of his times, who wrote the Divine Comedy—a man whose lifelong devotion to the figure of Beatrice was in the highest tradition of courtly love; whose political feuds were first with the party of the opposition, then with factions within his own party, until he formed a party of his own; a man who believed firmly in alchemy and astrology, in witchcraft and spells; and finally, an intensely human man, with fierce hatreds and loyalties, with no little vanity, with pity, and with love.

The date of the composition of the Divine Comedy is uncertain, but undoubtedly the poem was written during Dante’s exile. Even here there is some disagreement, for there is a tradition which insists that the first seven cantos were written before he was banished from Florence. The predominant opinion is that it was begun around 1307; the setting of the poem is the year 1300. There is some evidence that the Inferno had been completed and circulated before 1314, and that the Purgatorio followed very soon after. The Paradiso was completed shortly . . .

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