The Purgatorio (The Divine Comedy #2), by Dante Alighieri, trans. by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

My Copy: 9781593082192 (image from

Well, after The Inferno, I was curious how the rest of Dante the Pilgrim’s journey was to play out. Maybe it’s because The Inferno is so well known in comparison, but I was a bit disappointed with this one.

The Purgatorio is the continuation of Dante and his guide, Vergil, through the Earth and up to the mountain of Purgatory, which was apparently created by Satan’s fall when he was kicked down to Earth and the hole he made created Hell.

Well, like The Inferno, there is a lot of name-dropping, but I felt like much of what Dante was talking about here could’ve been streamlined. I was bored to tears with the first few Cantos (there are 33), because it was basically him trying to find his way up the path to Purgatory itself (the base of the mountain is like Purgatory-minor).

I didn’t get as invested in the structure of The Purgatorio like I did The Inferno, which had been confusing enough. The basic structure of The Purgatorio is like this: spirits/shades/guardians meet Dante and ask him why he’s there, he explains his mission (“We’re on a mission from God a divine lady.”), they let him pass and he gets sidetracked in conversations with at least a hundred different figures.

And I think why this one feels so bloated (especially the 1st 10 cantos) is because of the 100 canto breakdown Dante was going for (34, 33, and 33 respectively for each book).

I wanted to know more about what was going on, not the people who were there. The old illustrations scattered throughout the book were not terribly helpful as far as helping me get the gist of what this place looked like. Most aspects of it looked the same, though the behavior or appearance of the spirits there different.

Purgatory itself confused me, especially the worst offenders because I wondered why they just weren’t in Hell. Upper-levels of the mountain had those accused of the seven deadly sins–I thought those offenders were supposed to be in Hell. Was this supposed to be like the difference between a manslaughter charge versus murder charge, a degree of sinning that was lesser and therefore Purgatory-worthy instead of Hell-worthy?

I suppose it’s that hierarchy thing I just don’t understand. Again, was not raised with a belief in Purgatory, so a lot of this is confusion talking. And I kept losing my place, so I probably missed a few things.

But more than that, the language didn’t grab me like before (though I admit, I think it was actually easier to read than Pinsky’s translation of The Inferno). I was hoping to get more information than poetry, but found myself disappointed that the poetry aspect felt so lacking. I can’t explain why, it just didn’t grab me and make me want to keep going.

I gave up multiple times and came back only after going to the end-notes to clarify things. I’ve been trying to read this book for over a week, and the end-notes are nearly as long as the actual poem itself.

I can’t give a recommendation–yet. That’s for after The Paradiso, which may well round it out and give me a better grasp for how I’d recommend approaching this trilogy.

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