University of Leicester
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The door of Purgatory: A study of multiple symbolism in Dante's Purgatorio (canto 9, lines 70-145).

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posted on 2015-11-19, 08:56 authored by Peter. Armour
Logical, theological, and artistic considerations are presented which cast doubt upon the original, and now traditional, interpretation of this episode as an allegory of the Sacrament of Penance. The symbols of the steps, the angel, the threshold, Dante's submission, the seven P's, the keys, and the door are then examined individually in the light of biblical, classical, patristic, and Scholastic texts, of the Comedy itself, and of the early commentaries. After it has been shown that the steps could represent a preliminary process of self-awareness and ascent, the other symbols are seen to allude to various themes, notably the Church, the Papacy, Rome, and the doctrine of satisfaction. The episode's thematic and poetic importance in the narrative structure of the whole work - looking back to hell and Antepurgatory and forward to the cornices and Paradise - derives primarily from the fact that in it Dante is defining the rest of Purgatory as the Church Suffering, with lessons which are to be read back to the corrupt earthly Church of his time. A further level of symbolism may be traced in the associations between this episode and contemporary descriptions of the Jubilee of the year 1300. This leads to investigation of the hypothesis that Dante was in Rome at the end of Lent in 1300 and of the possible polemical and personal importance of the episode of the door in the poem's account of Dante's 'other journey' (Inferno, l:91) from hell to salvation at that time. An Appendix describes related research on the theme of the Exodus in the Epistle to Can Grande and in the Purgatorio, with results which confirm the figural and realistic approach to the Comedy and assist in elucidating its fundamental polysemy and its function as an exemplum.


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Politics and International Relations

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University of Leicester

Qualification level

  • Doctoral

Qualification name

  • PhD



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