Purgatory | Study Guide

Dante Alighieri

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Purgatory | Canto 5 | Summary

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Summary

As Dante and Virgil continue to seek a path up Mount Purgatory, they are distracted by gossiping souls who comment on Dante's appearance: "'See that?'—a finger pointing long—'The one behind! / No sun ray shines, it seems, toward his left! / And doesn't he behave as though alive?'" Virgil rebukes Dante for listening to the souls' chatter and urges him to stay close. "Let them say their say," he commands. When another group of souls stops and stares, however, Virgil agrees to let Dante speak with them—as long as he keeps moving. In this group Dante meets two fellow Florentines, Jacopo del Cassero (c. 1260–98) and Buonconte da Montefeltro (c. 1250-89). Each of the two shades provides a vivid account of his death, with Buonconte describing a battle between God and the Devil for his soul. A third spirit identifies herself as La Pia (i.e., Pia dei Tolomei, d. 1295), who died at the hands of her husband.

Analysis

Dante's thinking has evidently grown more mature and flexible since he completed the Inferno. In the earlier cantica, the poet consigns many of his political enemies to Hell, including Buonconte's father, Guido da Montefeltro, who shows up in Inferno 27. In Purgatory, however, Dante is more charitable, awarding former foe Buonconte a place among the saved. The mindset of "Dante the narrator" naturally follows that of "Dante the poet," but because it has been only a few days within the world of the poem, his change of heart seems swift, even sudden. The man climbing the mountain in Purgatory is wiser, more forgiving, and more inclined to pity than the one who descended into Hell in the Inferno.

Dante, like many leading Florentines of his time, was personally involved in the civil war, which sent Buonconte to his unmarked grave. The two factions, the Guelphs and the Ghibellines, originally fought for control of much of Western Europe, but by the late 13th century (Dante's time), the dispute had localized to northern Italy. In death Jacopo (a Guelph) and Buonconte (a Ghibelline) seem to have reconciled—unlike their counterparts in the Inferno, who nourish an eternal and insatiable hatred of one another. As he comes up from Hell and ascends the terraces of Purgatory, Dante is himself learning not to be distracted by earthly affairs, including partisan disputes. His eyes, increasingly though imperfectly, are on the ultimate prize of Heaven, where his beloved Beatrice awaits.
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