Purgatory | Study Guide

Dante Alighieri

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Purgatory | Canto 14 | Summary

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Summary

This canto opens with the envious souls resuming their gossip about Dante, whose presence in Purgatory continues to draw attention. Two souls break away from the rest to ask Dante about his place of birth. Using a string of geographical clues, he describes himself as a Florentine but denies that he is famous enough for the dead to have heard of him. The first soul to speak (later identified as Guido del Duca, c. 1170–c. 1250) proceeds to describe the Arno Valley, which includes Florence, as a place where wickedness flourishes. Tracing the river's course, he describes the residents of each valley in the city via colorful animal-themed insults appropriate to their specific vices.

Guido then introduces his less chatty companion as Rinieri da Calboli (c. 1225–92) before continuing to lament the moral decline of Tuscany, the region surrounding Florence. Finally, as Guido falls into silent weeping, Dante takes his leave. As he continues his trek around the terrace of the envious, he hears thunderous voices recounting stories of punished envy.

Analysis

Guido's complaints about the Tuscan city-states include a veritable roll call of locally famous figures. For the most part he draws a contrast between the generations prior to Dante and the corrupt leaders of the present (i.e., the early 14th century). Members of the former group are characterized as noble-hearted figures, dearly missed; the latter are described as morally inferior to their forefathers in almost every way. More important than the individual figures are Guido's praise of both noble Guelphs (Dante's historical allies) and noble Ghibellines (Dante's enemies). This narrative move further signals Dante's departure from the sometimes-vicious partisan politics he espoused in the Inferno. The overall sense of Guido's long speech might be described as deteriorationism: Things are falling apart these days—"They don't make 'em like they used to."

The unseen voices at the end of the canto may be a little more familiar. "They'll murder me whoever captures me!" is the complaint of Cain, who murders his brother Abel out of envy in the biblical Book of Genesis. Aglauros, mentioned later, was the daughter of Cecrops in Greek myth—the legendary serpent-king who founded Athens. She grew envious of her sister Herse and sought to interfere in Herse's love affair with the god Mercury. According to Ovid, Aglauros was punished for her presumption by being turned into a statue.

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