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Educating Desire: Conversion and Ascent in Dante’s Purgatorio

Augustine and Culture Seminar Program, Villanova University, 800 E. Lancaster Avenue, Villanova, PA 19010, USA
Religions 2019, 10(5), 305; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10050305
Received: 6 March 2019 / Revised: 19 April 2019 / Accepted: 25 April 2019 / Published: 4 May 2019
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Teaching Dante)
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Abstract

In Cantos 17 and 18 of the Purgatorio, Dante’s Virgil lays out a theory of sin, freedom, and moral motivation based on a philosophical anthropology of loving-desire. As the commentary tradition has long recognized, because Dante placed Virgil’s discourse on love at the heart of the Commedia, the poet invites his readers to use love as a hermeneutic key to the text as a whole. When we contextualize Virgil’s discourse within the broader intention of the poem—to move its readers from disordered love to an ordered love of ultimate things—then we find in these central cantos not just a key to the structure and movement of the poem, but also a key to understanding Dante’s pedagogical aim. With his Commedia, Dante invites us to perform the interior transformation which the poem dramatizes in verse and symbol. He does so by awakening in his readers not only a desire for the beauty of his poetic creation, but also a desire for the beauty of the love described therein. In this way, the poem presents a pedagogy of love, in which the reader participates in the very experience of desire and delight enacted in the text. In this article, I offer an analysis of Virgil’s discourse on love in the Purgatorio, arguing for an explicit and necessary connection between loving-desire and true education. I demonstrate that what informs Dante’s pedagogy of love is the notion of love as ascent, a notion we find articulated especially in the Christian Platonism of Augustine. Finally, I conclude by offering a number of figures, passages, and themes from across the Commedia that provide fruitful material for teachers engaged in the task of educating desire. View Full-Text
Keywords: Dante; Purgatorio; love; education; Virgil; Augustine; Confessions Dante; Purgatorio; love; education; Virgil; Augustine; Confessions
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited (CC BY 4.0).
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Camacho, P.A. Educating Desire: Conversion and Ascent in Dante’s Purgatorio. Religions 2019, 10, 305.

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