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The Characteristics of Humility and Goodwill of The Souls in Purgatory in Dante Alighieri's Inferno

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The souls in Purgatory possess a common characteristic—they are all humble. They discard their pride and set aside the divisions that reign in the living world. Instead, they treat every person they meet as if that person were to be a much greater and holier person than they. They reduce themselves to begging Dante to convey messages to the living world and for his prayers. This sort of humility and goodwill towards other people stands in stark contrast to the reality of the living world during Dante’s time, where the living run around like fools seeking money, power, and self-glorification. It is this contrast between the living world and purgatory that leads Dante to chastise and bemoan the evil, corruption, and division of Italy.

In Canto V of the Purgatory, the third class of the Late Repentant, those who met a violent death wait for their time to begin their ascent up Mount Purgatory (Pur. IV,130-132). As Virgil and Dante come upon this group of souls, they find these souls chanting the Miserere, begging God for forgiveness, even though these prayers cannot help the souls themselves (Pur. V, 22-24). As Virgil and Dante make their way through the crowd, multiple souls come up to them asking for information and for Dante’s prayers while also telling him who they were in the living world and how they died.

In addition to asking for prayers, Jacopo del Cassero tells Dante how he died, describing his gruesome death saying “Azzo of Este had me killed (his hatred for me reached far beyond all reason’s bounds)” (Pur. V, 73-81). Another soul, Buonconte of Montefeltro, also describes his death saying, “I made my way, my throat an open wound, fleeing on foot, and bloodying in pain” (Pur. V, 97-99). He sustained those fatal injuries while engaging in battle over a political dispute. However, he managed to humble himself moments before his death and call upon Mary to guide him to heaven. Another soul came up to Dante implying that her death involved her fiancé when Maremma gave her death as “he knows who began it when he put his gem upon my finger, pledging faith” (Pur. V, 134-135).

In Canto VI, Dante makes his way through the crowd being approached by one soul after another that tells him how they died. He meets Benincasa, a jurist who was killed “at the revengeful hand of Ghin di Tacco” (Pur. VI, 13-15). He sees Federigo Novello who was killed in battle by one of the Guelphs (Pur. VI, 17), Count Orso who was viciously murdered by his cousin, and Pierre de la Brosse, whose soul was “torn from his body…by hate and envy” (Pur VI, 20-21). These encounters culminate with Virgil meeting a soul who was from Mantua, just as Virgil was, by the name of Sordello (Pur. VI, 72-75). Both Virgil and Sordello, although never having met one another before, embrace in a fraternal hug as if they both were family. All of these souls exhibit extreme humility. They belittle themselves, reduce themselves to begging, and plead with Dante for him to hear them out. In the living world such people, Counts, politicians, soldiers, and wealthy businessmen, would never dare reduce themselves to begging and yet here in the purgatory they recognize that it was pride that led them to sin in the first place. Moreover, because they repented late in life and would not humble themselves before God earlier in life to ask for forgiveness, they see their pride as also the reason their stay in purgatory has been lengthened. Their lack of humility in the living world has, in the end, gained them nothing and cost them much.

Dante sees all of this and is moved to righteous anger against Italy. In the living world, many of the politicians and clergy are concerned with gaining more power, pride, and prestige. In seeking these things, they do not care for other people. They are willing to kill, torture, betray, and push aside anyone that gets in their way. The result of this sort of attitude generates a perpetual conflict between cities and within cities. In their greed and ambition, everyone competes against one another and this competition devolves into violence rooted in pride, greed, and ambition. Yet in the end, everyone must face death. When they die, all the power, pride, and money they gained stays in the living world while their soul goes to the after life to be judged. In the eyes of God, the pursuit of money, power, and prestige on earth is a waste of precious time. It is only when these politicians and clergymen are dead do they realize that they, in the pride, wasted their time on earth and ruined the lives of many for no good reason.

Dante sees how many of the humble souls of purgatory were killed in this senseless struggle and how now many of them, like Virgil and Sordello, embrace one another after death when they would not have done so when they were alive. Dante is angered by the fact that Italians are not able to put aside their differences and prioritize that which is important. He bemoans Italy calling her a “home of grief…whorehouse of shame!” (Pur. VI, 78) in which “no one within your bounds knows rest from war, and those enclosed by the same wall and moat, even they are at each other’s throats” (Pur. VI, 82-84). Italy has grown accustomed to such violence as evidenced by the souls that Dante meets as he walks through the crowd and how they were killed. Jacopo del Cassero was killed when he thought he was safe and Benincasa was killed in his own courtroom. In each case, the victim thought that they would be safe from violence and attack, instead they became victim to the fact that there is not a single place in Italy that could be considered at peace. Their murderers were so brazen and blood thirsty that they did not fear going into places that were not technically at war. Their pride led to them killing these men.

These priests are called to be above earthly concerns and ambition for money, power, and prestige. They are called to “render to Caesar what is Caesars and to God what is God’s” (Matthew 22:21). They are called to act on behalf of the poor and be their advocate. They are called to serve the poorest of the poor and be a servant of God and his people. They should act as ombudsmen challenging and balancing the ambition of politicians. But rather than stand up for what is right and challenge those in power, they themselves seek power and try to take control of political affairs. The priests, whose very vocation to holiness demands that they be humble, instead seek money, power, and prestige for themselves. They bring shame to the office they hold. It is impossible for Italy to become more peaceful if the very people that are supposed to be peacemakers, the clergy, are also the ones driving and encouraging continued violence in this power struggle.

Moreover, these clergymen who are disregarding their duties to God and the Church are able to do so because the person that ought to be in charge of the body politic, the Emperor “O great Albert” (Pur. VI, 97) has abandoned Italy. Dante accuses Albert of dereliction of his duty to govern Italy because he himself seeks “greater wealth” (Pur. VI 103) in Germany while letting “the garden of the Empire” (Pur. VI, 105) be laid to waste. Everywhere one goes, Italy is wounded, suffering (Pur VI, 110), and in mourning (Pur VI, 112) and Dante lays the blame at feet of the Emperor. If the Emperor does not pity the Italians, then Dante challenges him to “come and feel the shame that [his] name has earned” (Pur VI, 117).

Finally, Dante mentions the troubles in Florence. While many places in Italy suffer under the hand of a tyrant, Florence differs in that instead of a tyrant, it suffers from disorder and lack of memory where “by the time November is half done the laws spun in October are in shreds” (Pur. VI, 143-144). This condition too is caused by a lack of humility, as each politician, unwilling to admit his own inadequacy, advocates for a position and is willing to go into battle for political power, regardless of whether their proposal is truly the best one available.

The unfortunate fact is that men are easily blinded with ambition and fail to see beyond that ‘which is right under their nose’. Seeing the seeming greatness of wealth, power, and honor, they make money and position their idols and devote their lives to procuring them. In the process, however, they forget the ultimate prize of being able to enter heaven. In their pride, the living are blind to what is important in life. Dante, having seen where souls end up, realizes that in order to achieve the ultimate prize of paradise, the short-term glory driven by mortal pride must be rejected. The greatest of glories, entering paradise, can only be obtained by rejecting glory on earth and embracing holy humility—begging God for forgiveness.

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The Characteristics of Humility and Goodwill of the Souls in Purgatory in Dante Alighieri’s Inferno. (2018, October 26). GradesFixer. Retrieved February 9, 2023, from https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/the-characteristics-of-humility-and-goodwill-of-the-souls-in-purgatory-in-dante-alighieris-inferno/
“The Characteristics of Humility and Goodwill of the Souls in Purgatory in Dante Alighieri’s Inferno.” GradesFixer, 26 Oct. 2018, gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/the-characteristics-of-humility-and-goodwill-of-the-souls-in-purgatory-in-dante-alighieris-inferno/
The Characteristics of Humility and Goodwill of the Souls in Purgatory in Dante Alighieri’s Inferno. [online]. Available at: <https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/the-characteristics-of-humility-and-goodwill-of-the-souls-in-purgatory-in-dante-alighieris-inferno/> [Accessed 9 Feb. 2023].
The Characteristics of Humility and Goodwill of the Souls in Purgatory in Dante Alighieri’s Inferno [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2018 Oct 26 [cited 2023 Feb 9]. Available from: https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/the-characteristics-of-humility-and-goodwill-of-the-souls-in-purgatory-in-dante-alighieris-inferno/
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