Book Review: Purgatory by Dante

The Divine Comedy Volume II: Purgatory by Dante Aligheri, translated with an introduction, notes, and commentary by Mark Musa

Here’s the link to my review of Volume I: Inferno.

Dante the Pilgrim continues his journey through the afterlife. Having slogged his way through Hell and come out on the other side of the earth, he and his guide Virgil (author of the Aeneid) begin their ascent of Mount Purgatory. Instead of the circles in Hell, Purgatory has various terraces where sins and the punishment due to sin are expiated. All souls have to ascend through every terrace, but some terraces are passed more quickly–if envy or sloth weren’t a particular problem, an individual would travel through them quickly.

Dante learns more about the fates of famous historical figures and of Italians who died in the 1200s (the past century when the poem was written). He also learns some theology on the way and hears many prophecies. At the top of the mountain is the Garden of Eden where he finally meets Beatrice, the love of his life, who will lead him through Heaven.

Like the Inferno, the volume packs in a lot vivid descriptions of the place. The sinners are inspired by examples of the virtues they have failed at (e.g. the prideful see the Virgin Mary humbly accepting to be the mother of God at the Annunciation) and of their particular vices (e.g. the covetous or avaricious see King Midas’s greed for gold). The blending of Christian and pagan examples gives a richness to the text and shows how we humans have been falling into these same sins for thousands of years. When Dante gets to Eden, the imagery is allegorical and prophetic.

Musa’s notes are very helpful throughout, filling in many gaps in my knowledge and understanding of the text. The text itself is very readable. The blank verse keeps the poetic form of the poem without the translator having to force rhymes or use archaic phrasing and word order to keep the rhythm. This edition is very reader-friendly.

I can’t wait for the big finale!

A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast has a commentary on this, as well as their previous Inferno discussion.

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