Dreaming in Dante’s Purgatorio

Dreaming in Dante’s Purgatorio

By Brittany Lynn O’Neill

Honor’s Thesis, Ohio State University, 2010

Abstract: Three successive nights throughout Dante’s ascent in Purgatorio, the pilgrim pauses to sleep and engages in dreaming. The dreams are prophetic in nature and foreshadow elements of Dante’s journey. Though many Dante scholars have analyzed the various dreams and their meanings, connections between the dreams have rarely been studied. While some scholars have argued that the dreams serve a common purpose, the manner in which the dreams achieve this purpose has not been characterized. This project seeks to examine the three dreams as a unit. In this analysis, I will demonstrate the way in which language is used in the dreams and the ways in which their introductions and conclusions are unified. Additionally, I will characterize the ways that the dreams create various continuums, one continuum that represents a decrease in eroticism and an increase in maternal qualities and another that represents a move from disorder to order. I will show how these continuums fit within Dante’s progression toward Paradise and the changes he undergoes to prepare for his divine experiences.

Introduction: Three successive nights on the mountain of Purgatory, Dante pauses to rest, engaging in regenerative sleep. As he sleeps, he experiences three distinct morning-dreams, describing each in detail. These dreams occur at key points in Dante’s journey through Purgatory, serving both as a form of mental rejuvenation and as prefiguration of things to come. The three morning-dreams of Purgatorio appear to stand as separate entities since they occur in canti IX, XIX, and XXVII, three very different moments in the structure of the narrative; thus, many scholars have approached them in this manner.

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