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7 Deadly Sins of Dante’s Purgatory...

Earlier this week we explored Dante’s Inferno, the first canticle of his three-part Divine Comedy. While Inferno is certainly the most popular of the three, the other two, Purgatorio and Paradiso, are just as insightful.

Purgatorio is particularly fascinating. It begins with Dante emerging from the depths of hell and casting his eyes on the mountain of Purgatory: a mountain composed of 10 terraces, with the middle seven corresponding to each of the seven deadly sins. As Dante undertakes the journey up it, he metaphorically gets purged of each of these sins, and on each terrace learns a lesson about virtue and vice that is essential for spiritual salvation.

These lessons on salvation, however, are just as applicable as archetypes of self-improvement. For example, the climb is most difficult at the lower terraces, but becomes easier as you ascend. This illustrates that personal development, much like climbing a mountain, becomes more manageable as one acquires and practices new habits of virtue.

Whether you approach Purgatorio from a spiritual or secular perspective, the canticle is a rich fount of insight. We’ll discover what it reveals about self-development, and how the archetypes Dante uncovers can help you on your journey…

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The Structure of Mount Purgatory

The mountain of Purgatory is composed of 10 terraces: one “pre-Purgatory” terrace at the bottom, then the seven corresponding to the seven deadly sins, and two final terraces where the Earthly Paradise is found.

The terraces corresponding to the seven deadly sins are split into three categories: sins of perverted love, deficient love, and misdirected love. The first three deadly sins of pride, envy, and wrath constitute perverted love, acedia (sloth) constitutes deficient love, and finally greed, gluttony, and lust constitute misdirected love.

Because the mountain is hardest to climb at the lower terraces, there’s already a lesson here: overcoming pride is the key to overcoming all other vices. Only by first overcoming pride can you begin to overcome envy, only by overcoming envy can you overcome wrath, and so on and so forth…

The Terraces of Perverted Love:

Pride

First Terrace of Purgatory, Joseph Anton Koch (1828)

In Dante’s depiction, souls in the terrace of Pride carry heavy boulders, symbolizing how pride weighs individuals down and impedes progress. This imagery illustrates the dual consequences of pride: it not only slows down personal achievements, but the colossal size of a boulder also (literally and metaphorically) blinds individuals to self-awareness and the broader perspective necessary for growth.

As for practical approaches to overcoming pride, Dante suggests a focus on its opposite and corresponding virtue: humility. By using the example of a prideful soul who, in the very midst of saying something prideful, stops himself and redirects course, Dante emphasizes the importance of self-awareness and vigilance in remedying the sin of pride.

Envy

Dante Guided by Virgil Offers Consolation to the Spirits of the Envious, Hippolyte Flandrin (1835)

On the next terrace of Purgatory, Dante encounters the souls of the envious. To be clear, envy extends beyond mere covetousness — it is an intense resentment towards others for possessing things one does not have.

The souls on this terrace are therefore depicted with their eyes sewn shut, which represents the cure for envy: a fixed focus inward rather than on external desires, and the triumph of self-reflection over external comparison. Dante suggests that the opposite and corresponding virtue to envy is generosity, and makes clear that by becoming more generous, one can better overcome the sin of envy.

Wrath

Marco Lombardo, Gustave Doré (1870)

The final terrace in the grouping of perverted love is for wrath. Dante defines wrath not as mere anger, but as a defensive, harmful reaction characterized by blindness and disorientation, which prevents individuals from seeing the bigger picture in life situations.

The souls on this terrace are depicted wandering blindly in acrid smoke, symbolizing the blinding rage that wrath induces, and again echoing the themes of blindness associated with the previous sins of pride and envy.

The corresponding virtue to wrath is gentleness, and as souls depart the terrace of wrath a Beatitude is proclaimed: "Blessed are the peacemakers."

Dante highlights the importance of calm-headedness and non-escalation as means of overcoming wrath, and consequently continuing one’s journey up the mountain of Purgatory.

Next up — those who failed in life to take action in the pursuit of love…

The Terrace of Deficient Love:

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