Dante's Purgatory: A Study on Part II of The Divine Comedy


We Know What Happens in Hell...But What about Purgatory?

Dante's Inferno revealed some titillating details about the punishments inflicted on sinners - but in a way, we already knew what happens to people in Hell. What we don't know is what happens to people who end up in Purgatory. In this second part of The Divine Comedy, Dante probes the mysteries of that strange and often misunderstood place between earth and Heaven.
Climb the Mount

Purgatory is a place to work through - no one gets stuck there forever. The souls in Dante's Purgatory must climb up seven terraces on Mount Purgatory before they can reach Heaven. On these terraces, Dante and Virgil find:
  • The prideful who are forced into humility by heavy loads of stones on their backs
  • The envious whose eyes are sewn shut to prevent them from seeing the goods of others
  • The wrathful climb through choking smoke which represents the blinding nature of anger
  • The slothful engage in ceaseless activity to overcome their former laziness
  • The covetous who must lie face down on the ground for their attachment to earthly goods
  • The gluttonous must starve in sight of unreachable fruit hanging from trees above them
  • The lustful are purified by running through a wall of flame which represents God's pure love

Along the way, they are cleansed from the stains of sin by punishments which are like, and very unlike, those suffered by the sinners in Hell. Here, the suffering souls glorify God and rejoice in their suffering because they know it prepares them for the eternal bliss of Heaven.

A Real Place

Virgil and Dante discover the astonishing spiritual reality of Purgatory as they climb through the terraces on Mount Purgatory. Dante created a poetic vision which might be the best imaginative representation of Purgatory ever written. While his poem might not reflect the actual nature of Purgatory, his insights can help us understand it better.


  • Cantos 1–4: On the Shores of a New World
    • Dante and Virgil continue their journey on the shores of Mount Purgatory, where the sweet sapphire of morning dawns, renewing joy in the soul.
  • Cantos 5–8: At the Threshold of Penance
    • Dante meets the late repenters who await entrance to Purgatory proper; he takes repose in the Valley of the Princes, and prays Vespers with those noble souls.
  • Cantos 9–12: Learning to Bow the Head
    • Dante enters the gates of Purgatory, and begins travelling through the terrace of pride where souls achieve true humility, encouraged by the example from the life of the Queen of Virtue, Mary.
  • Cantos 13–16: Learning to See Straight
    • Virgil and Dante continue upwards through the terraces of envy, where blinded souls must rely on each other, and wrath, which is filled with a choking smoke.
  • Cantos 17–20: Learning to Race Indeed
    • On the next terrace, Dante and Virgil witness souls atoning for sloth who run ceaselessly, driven by zeal for God. The souls in the terrace of avarice “cleave to the dust,” repenting of their earthly greed.
  • Cantos 21–24: A Lantern on the Road
    • Dante and Virgil are joined by a new companion, and continue into the terrace of gluttony whose boundary is marked by an angel, glowing as red as metal in a furnace.
  • Cantos 25–29: The Fire of Love
    • Dante approaches the final terrace of lust, where souls are purified in the midst of searing flames. He must pass through this fire to arrive at the Earthly Paradise atop Mount Purgatory.
  • Cantos 30–33: The Final Preparation for Paradise
    • At the height of the mountain, Dante must bid farewell to noble Virgil; but blessed Beatrice appears to guide him upwards into the higher realm of the stars.

Lecture Sample


Your Expert Guide

A celebrated translator and teacher of Dante, Professor Esolen interprets and describes the rich theological insights discovered by Dante on his journey up the mountain. Join Dante, Virgil, and Professor Esolen to continue the journey begun in the Inferno which will culminate in the ineffable beauty of Paradise.


Homeschooling Products

The Homeschooling Set includes the Streaming Video and Homeschooling Course Guide. Each Course Guide contains everything needed for a student to complete the course, including:

  • Lesson Plan
  • Quizzes 
  • Final Essay 
  • Lecture Notes
  • Answer Key
Anthony Esolen, PhD
TAN Courses
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