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Parallel exempla: a theological reading of Dante's terrace of pride (Purgatorio x-xii)

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The terrace of pride is framed by three examples of humility (Pg. x.34-93) and twelve (or thirteen) examples of pride (Pg. xii.25-63); its centrepiece is Dante-character's encounter with three prideful souls (Pg. xi.37-142). These three groups fall into three different cantos, and scholars have typically addressed them on their own. With each group, questions have arisen about Dante's choice of exempla, and scholars have been particularly puzzled by Dante's list, and ordering, of the exempla of pride (which has become, indeed, a crux of its own). This article interprets these three groups together as a triptych, and proposes that Dante's choice of exempla becomes understandable when we interpret them in relation to each other in terms of Dante's moral purpose for the terrace as a whole. It argues that Dante invites his reader to reflect upon the three prideful souls identified (Omberto, Oderisi and Salvani) and upon the three groups of prideful examples (delineated by the acrostic 'VOM') in counterposition with the three exempla of humility (Mary, King David and Trajan). By relating these three parts of the terrace and by drawing on a range of theological contexts, it shows how Dante models, in this way, a spiritual exercise of conversion from pride to humility.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)73-96
JournalLe Tre Corone
Publication statusPublished - 2017

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