Purgatory | Study Guide

Dante Alighieri

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Purgatory | Canto 24 | Summary

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Summary

Dante and his companions continue to traverse the terrace of the gluttonous. Forese Donati walks with them a while and points out two of his fellow penitents: the poet and magistrate Buonagiunta Orbicciani degli Overardi (c. 1220–c. 1300), and Pope Martin IV (reigned 1281–85). Dante engages Buonagiunta in a long conversation about the merits of their respective poetic styles, with Buonagiunta acknowledging Dante as the superior poet. He then turns back to Donati and the two commiserate about the decline of Florence—and perhaps of Italy in general. Finally, Dante, Virgil, and Statius take their leave of the penitent souls but are distracted by another oddly shaped tree. A voice within the tree tells Dante not to be tempted to linger. He obeys and is soon greeted by an angel who wipes away the sixth scar on his forehead. The angel proceeds to declare (in Italian, this time, not Latin) that those who hunger for justice are among the blessed.

Analysis

Dante's writerly chat with Buonagiunta is, perhaps, even more illuminating 700 years after it was written down. Buonagiunta represents the so-called Guittonian school of the 13th century, while Dante and his associates back on earth profess the dolce stil novo ("sweet new style"). When he meets Dante, Buonagiunta humbly claims to have been stuck in a stylistic "knot" which burdened his writing and restricted his achievements. Dante, in contrast, is credited with wielding a "winged pen" which gives his writing a speech-like fluidity. Today, it is hard to imagine anyone talking the way Dante writes, if indeed anyone ever did; Dante's poetry may even seem excessively formal and mannered by modern standards. In his own time, however, Dante was an innovator, bringing the Tuscan language to new heights and applying it to such ambitious projects as the Divine Comedy. The "sweet new style" was still "new" and, to at least some readers, quite impressive in what it could accomplish. Since these praises are coming from Dante himself, mixed with his pride, however, they must be taken with grains of salt.

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