Purgatory | Study Guide

Dante Alighieri

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Purgatory | Canto 27 | Summary

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Summary

At last Dante and his companions ascend from the trials of Purgatory. An angel pronounces the final Beatitude, "Beati mundo corde" ("Blessed [are] the pure of heart") and beckons to Dante. First, however, the poet must cross through a wall of flame. He is afraid to do so and haunted by the recollection of "human bodies [he has] seen burn" in real life. (Burning at the stake was still a common method of execution in Dante's time.) Virgil shrewdly encourages Dante by reminding him that Beatrice is on the other side. Stepping into the flames, Dante is nearly overwhelmed by the fierceness of the heat. He emerges unharmed then falls asleep on one of the steps carved into the steep upward path.

As the moon rises over Mount Purgatory, Dante has a dream of the biblical sisters Leah and Rachel. He opens his eyes to find Virgil and Statius already wide awake. Together the three climb the final steps, and Dante enters the Earthly Paradise.

Analysis

Dante's ascent to the Earthly Paradise is a kind of spiritual "graduation." In Hell Dante was timid and sometimes cruel and vindictive, with little empathy for the damned. In Purgatory he not only speaks with the penitents but commiserates with them, weeps over them, and turns to contemplation of his own sins. His personal work of purgation is not quite done, since, as Cantos 30–31 will show, he still retains vestiges of his sinful nature. Nonetheless, this is a milestone for Dante and is fittingly recognized by Virgil with the following lines: "Your will is healthy, upright, free and whole. / And not to heed that sense would be a fault. / Lord of yourself, I crown and mitre you." Although he does not report it directly, Dante has also been rid of the last P inscribed on his forehead. Virgil alludes to this when he asks Dante to note "the sun [...] shining on your brow."

For Virgil himself, the journey is nearly complete. He has escorted Dante safely through all nine circles of Hell and all seven terraces of Purgatory, as Beatrice asked him to do. Reaching the summit is a bittersweet moment for the Roman poet, who will soon be returning to Limbo. For now, however, he is as close to Heaven as his unbaptized state permits. Moreover, although he is implied to have entered the garden along with Dante, Virgil's final spoken lines are found in this canto. He will vanish unceremoniously and much missed from Dante's side in Canto 30.

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