Beginning with Purgatorio's cantos 1 and 2, Dante is engaged in highlighting and exploring the question of “liberty” and he designates it as the new way and the new orientation from the tragedies of history described in Hell. Dante meets in these cantos the Roman Cato, who has committed suicide for the sake of “liberty”, and the meeting leads the poet to reflect on liberty as the possible human and classical foundation of a new political/moral order. Over the same two cantos, souls arrive singing “In exitu Israel de Aegypto”, the Psalm (113) which recalls the Jews' flight from their bondage in Egypt to the Promised Land.
These two explicit references--respectively political and theological--inaugurate a new pattern of thinking around questions such as the tyranny of the past, the necessity of free choice, the possibility of morality, the dilemmas of predestination etc. The textual pattern culminates in the farewell scene at the top of Purgatorio where the pilgrim attains his “liberum arbitrium voluntatis.” In Paradise, Dante's language of freedom changes. In the wake of St. Paul and especially of St. Augustine's reflections against Cato in “The City of God” and on the Pauline “Epistle to the Romans”, Dante introduces the question of “grace”, and grace opens up for us a new path to the question of faith, history, and politics.
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Giuseppe Mazzotta is the Sterling Professor of Humanities for Italian. He has written a number of essays about every century of Italian literary history. He served as president of the Dante Society of America (2003-2009). His books include: Dante, Poet of the Desert: History and Allegory in the Divine Comedy (Princeton, 1979); The World at Play in Boccaccio’s Decameron (Princeton, 1986); Dante’s Vision and the Circle of Knowledge (Princeton, 1993); The Worlds of Petrarch (Duke UP, 193); The New Map of the World: the Poetic Philosophy of Giambattista Vico (Princeton, 1998) (Italian translation, Turin: Einaudi, 2001); Cosmopoiesis: The Renaissance Experiment (Toronto UP, 2001) (Italian translation, Palermo: Sellerio 2008). He has also edited or co-edited several boooks, such as Critical Essays on Dante (Hall, 1991) and Master Regis (Fordham UP, 1985). In 2008, he published the Norton edition of Dante’s Inferno (translated by M. Palma).