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The Duality of Purgatory

The Duality of Purgatory attempts to elucidate a gen- eralising type of question of long standing: was Dante “the last poet of the Middle Ages and the first of the modern era” (as was thought in the 19th century) or should he be considered the perfect Christian who subordinated everything to the only true teaching (as Victor Klemperer believed in 1921).

The author of this explanation points out that there is more modernity in Dante than there appears to be at first glance. He points to five circumstances in defending his position.

He considers “purgatory” first of all. This is undoubtedly a notion that can only belong to the Middle Ages but at the same time, another aspect merits consideration as well. The idea had been arrived at that mortals in this world could alleviate the sufferings of souls languishing in the nether world by their prayers. This consequently meant that this world and the nether world were connected. It could even be said that the nether world was in some way subordinated to this world.

Secondly, cosmogony has particular meaning in Dante’s poem. All three parts end with the words “celestial bodies”. In the view of medieval scholars, the kingdom of heaven came into consideration primarily as an exemplifier of the hierarchy of the angels, while in the early modern era, heaven started being seen in a more worldly light. The alteration of the “micro-cos- mos” proves this most convincingly. This concept had denoted the connection between the spirit and matter since antiquity, but in the early modern era, “mi- cro-cosmos” became a code name for analogies that showed the human body as giving indication of itself in comparison with the kingdom of heaven.

Self-consciousness is considered as the third circumstance. Dante has consigned Siger of Brabant, who did not consider humility to be a virtue and who was killed under “indistinct circumstances”, to Paradise. It is not out of the question that the sub- conscious recognition of a kindred spirit in this case may have compelled the poet to do so.

The author of this essay considers the fourth argument to be the peculiarity of Dante’s allegory. As a truly medieval intellectual, the poet recognised allegorical presentation exclusively but this can al- ways retreat before the depiction of real life. Dante’s “topicality”, utterly foreign to the medieval spirit, catches the eye so sharply that he has even been referred to as the “newspaper of Florence”.

The author of this essay presents the special status of the state of Rome as the fifth and last argu- ment. Dante had no intention whatsoever to admire archaic paganism, but he nevertheless saw the fact that the Roman republic was older than Christianity as a value of its own.