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Purgatory | Quotes


My ship / of mind—alive again—hoists sail, and leaves / behind ... the gulf that proved so cruel.

Dante, Canto 1

Dante begins Purgatory by likening his thoughts to a ship which has just escaped the "gulf" of Hell. He now "sails" through the comparatively pleasant "waves" of Purgatory. Also notable is Dante's description of himself as "alive again" after the deadening experience of journeying through Hell. Even a sensitive soul like Dante, it seems, can be numbed by the succession of horrors faced in the Inferno.


Content yourselves with quia, human kind.

Virgil, Canto 3

Dante has just asked Virgil what seems like a very reasonable question: why don't souls cast shadows? Virgil's reply is, in essence, "Don't worry about it." (The Latin term quia means, roughly, "because.") His point is that human beings should accept what is without having to understand the inner workings of everything. This dodge is not typical for Virgil, who usually prefers to answer Dante's questions with lengthy philosophical explanations.


Look happy now. You've every reason to, / rich as you are, at peace and oh-so-wise.

Dante, Canto 6

This acidly sarcastic quip is directed at Dante's home city of Florence. The poet describes his city as arrogantly holding itself aloof from the troubles plaguing the rest of Italy. It will not be long, he implies, before Florence is dragged into the mud as well. Nor will the inhabitants of Florence be innocent victims when this happens, since they are not only smug but corrupt and selfish.


My sight lost that great Sun that you desire, / known too belatedly in time for me.

Virgil, Canto 7

This is as close to complaining as Virgil comes in Purgatory. Here, he is explaining why he lives in Hell, of which Limbo is, strictly speaking, a part. He is barred from Heaven, as he says, not for any sin but because he lived too early to have a chance of becoming Christian. Living underground in Limbo, he is both literally deprived of sunlight and figuratively deprived of the radiance of God's love. Although Virgil is cognizant of an immense loss in not being able to enter Heaven, his measured speech only faintly betrays his sorrow. He accepts it.


And now I saw a gate and ... a guardian who spoke no word.

Dante, Canto 9

This solemn quotation marks Dante's approach to the gate of Mount Purgatory. The imagery is worth comparing with the other, more famous gate that Dante encounters in the Inferno (Canto 9). There, the gate is a grandiose affair with a forbidding inscription and a squad of demons guarding it. The effect here is much more understated, with a single silent angel in a gray robe occupying the guard post. This contrast is representative of the broader stylistic difference between the lurid Inferno and the more subdued Purgatory.


This final prayer is made, O dearest Lord ... for those behind us, who've remained.

Penitent souls, Canto 11

These words conclude the version of the prayer uttered by the souls on the first terrace. The full passage occupies the first 24 lines of the canto and is a moving song-like paraphrase of the Our Father. It is notable for its insistence on a two-way connection between the dead and the living, who can assist one another through intercessory prayer (act of praying to a god on behalf of another).


We are, dear brother, now all citizens / of one true place.

Sapia, Canto 13

When Sapia utters these words, Dante has just asked to speak with any Italian souls who might be nearby. Her reply is unimpeachably correct by the standards of Purgatory, where souls cast off earthly desires in order to become "citizens" of Heaven. The line is especially appropriate here on the second terrace, where the sin of envy is being purged. By seeing themselves as members of God's kingdom, the envious souls can rid themselves of the nationalism and clannishness that sparked so many feuds.


The heavens wheel around and summon you, ... Yet your gaze fixes merely on the ground.

Virgil, Canto 14

This quotation succinctly captures the nature of sin in Dante's moral universe. In essence sin in Purgatory is about misplaced priorities—or as Virgil later puts it, misguided love. Having been made in God's image, humankind is supposed to be occupied with its quest for the highest good (the "heavens"). Settling for anything less—including wealth or powers—is tantamount to keeping one's eyes "fixed on the ground."


There was no way for us to turn aside. / It took from us our eyesight and pure air.

Dante, Canto 15

Dante ends Canto 15 on an ominous note. Smoke is rising ahead, and the poet's path goes right through it. Before he even encounters the smoke up close, Dante describes it in terms of its penitential purpose: robbing souls of their sight. Like the envious on the previous terrace, the wrathful are deprived of their eyesight in a stroke of poetic justice. Anger clouded their judgment on earth, so their penance is to walk about in a dark cloud.


The world is ... a sterile place where every virtue fails— / pregnant with viciousness that blankets all.

Dante, Canto 16

Speaking to the minor figure Marco Lombardo, Dante finds a willing audience for his belief that the world is not only bad, but getting worse. This viewpoint, known as deteriorationism, is shared by many in Purgatory. Dante's experiences of civil war provide some justification for this viewpoint, and the prophecies of turmoil for Florence (Canto 6) and the Church (Canto 32) further contribute to the gloomy picture. It is in the penitents' best interests, however, to take a somewhat pessimistic view of earthly life, since penance involves ridding oneself of worldly attachments.


Against a better will, will can't well fight.

Dante, Canto 20

In its immediate context this statement refers to Dante's polite deference to Pope Adrian V, who has asked to be left alone. On a deeper level Dante's remark points toward one of the lingering philosophical problems in the Divine Comedy. If God's will is irresistible, Dante wonders, what genuine freedom can humans be said to have? He has already taken up a similar question in Canto 18, where he asks Virgil about the relationship between will and desire. It's a question that continues to be asked.


Tremors strike here when any soul feels pure ... And that cry follows as the soul ascends.

Statius, Canto 21

Purgatory, as Dante sees it, is the ultimate self-graded quiz. Rather than being pummeled into shape by God and his angels, the souls submit willingly to their spiritual cleansing. Then, as Statius points out here, they decide for themselves when to leave a given terrace of Purgatory.


Lord of yourself, I crown and mitre you.

Virgil, Canto 27

With this majestic-sounding phrase, Virgil acknowledges Dante's spiritual and intellectual progress during his tour of Hell and Purgatory. These are Virgil's last words in the poem, marking a "changing of the guard" as Dante becomes his own guide. The double symbol of crown and mitre (a bishop's hat) hearkens back to the sharing of authority between secular rulers and the Church, Dante the poet and thinker's ultimate goal on earth for his city and his land.


Here, there is always spring and every fruit. / And that's the nectar they all speak about.

Matelda, Canto 28

In describing the divinely ordered beauty of the Earthly Paradise, Matelda makes this unusual claim: the Paradise, she insists, is both the biblical Garden of Eden and the classical Mount Parnassus, where the Muses dwelt. This melding of Scripture and Greco-Roman mythology is one of Dante's favorite devices in the Divine Comedy. Often, as here, Dante uses such pairings to suggest that the myths advanced by "pagan" authors (e.g., Virgil) had a kernel of Christian truth.


I came back from that holiest of waves ... pure and prepared to rise towards the stars.

Dante, Canto 33

After drinking the waters of Eunoe, Dante is "pure" in a much more meaningful sense than before. Drinking from Lethe emptied Dante of his memories of sin, which might be taken as a form of "purification." For Dante, however, purity requires more than merely being empty of bad things; it means being full of what is good. Hence the need, in Dante's poem, for a special river to fill one with memories of virtue. The closing image of "stars" matches the closing lines of the Inferno and the Paradise.

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