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- Note: It is a sin to read this article without first passing through Inferno. Please don't sin.
Having survived the depths of Hell, Dante and Virgil ascend out of the depths of the Earth, having gone through the center. They arrive at the Mountain of Purgatory on the far side of the world. The Mountain is on an island, and is an attractive luxury resort. At the shores of Purgatory, Dante and Virgil are greeted with musical performances, but are reprimanded by Cato, a very naughty boy whom God has hired to guard the gates of Purgatory. Whether or not Cato ever gets into heaven is not clear, since his contract was written in Italian.
Dante starts the ascent on Mount Purgatory. On the lower slopes, Dante encounters lazy bums who didn't apologize to God for being naughty until they were almost dead. They don't get invited to the complimentary breakfast buffet on Purgatory Island. Finally, Dante is shown a beautiful valley where he sees the dead rich people of Europe, and a number of other persons whose devotion to being pretentious made them less desirable as guests in the resort. Dante decides to take a little nap, but Virgil decides to play a funny joke on Dante by carrying him up the Mountain of Purgatory while Dante is sleeping. Dante wakes up, and freaks out for a second because he does not know where he is, but Virgil just laughs his ass off and Dante gets all annoyed and tells Virgil to stop being stupid.
From there, Virgil guides Dante through the seven plastic surgery clinics of Purgatory. These correspond to the seven deadly sins, each clinic purging a particular sin in an appropriate manner. Those in purgatory can leave whenever they choose, but they get laughed at if they do, so nobody ever leaves. Dante finds that there is only an "Up" escalator, which runs only during the day because it is solar powered. Dante asks Virgil why God doesn't just make the escalator run all the time, and Virgil tells him that the angels are all part of a union and have been on strike for many, many years.
edit The Clinics of Purgatory
In the clinics of Purgatory, souls get their ugliness removed by having intensive cosmetic surgery, because everyone knows only beautiful people get into Heaven. Hey, would you call it Paradise if it were filled with wrinkly faces and sagging thighs? No, you wouldn't. Even God doesn't like looking at ugly people.
- First Terrace: Pride, by carrying a heavy weight on their backs. The wearer is unable to stand up straight (Cantos X through XII). This teaches the sinner that pride puts weight on the soul and it is better to throw it off. Furthermore, there are stones of historical and mythological examples of pride to learn from. With the weight on one's back, one cannot help but see this carved pavement and learn from it. After completing this terrace, like every terrace, an Angel clears a letter P from Dante's head. Each time a P is removed, Dante's body feels lighter, because he becomes less and less weighed down from sin.
- Second Terrace: Envy, by having one's eyes sewn shut, and wearing clothing that makes the soul indistinguishable from the ground (Cantos XIII through XV). This is akin to a Falconer who sews the eyes of a falcon shut in order to train it. God is the Falconer and is training the souls not to envy others and to direct their love towards Him.
- Third Terrace: Wrath, by walking around in acrid smoke (Cantos XV through XVII). Souls correct themselves by learning how wrath has blinded their vision, impeding their judgment.
On the fourth terrace we find sinners whose sin was that of deficient love - that is, sloth or acedia.
- Fourth Terrace: Sloth, by continually running (Cantos XVIII and XIX). Those who were slothful in life can only purge this sin by being zealous in their desire for penance.
On the fifth through seventh terraces are those who sinned by loving good things, but loving them in a disordered way.
- Fifth Terrace: Avarice & Prodigality, by lying face-down on the ground, unable to move (Cantos XIX through XXI). Excessive concern for earthly goods - whether in the form of greed or extravagance - is punished and purified. The sinner learns to turn his desire from possessions, power or position to God. It is here that the poets meet the soul of Statius, who has completed his purgation and joins them on their ascent to paradise.
- Sixth Terrace: Gluttony, by abstaining from any food or drink (Cantos XXII through XXIV). Here, people's desire to eat a forbidden fruit causes their shade to starve. Once they master their desire to be a glutton, their appetite for sin leaves them and they are no longer starved by it.
- Seventh Terrace: Lust, by burning in an immense wall of flames (Cantos XXV through XXVII). All of those who committed sexual sins, both heterosexual and homosexual, are purified by the fire. Excessive sexual desire misdirects one's love from God and this terrace is meant to correct that. In addition, perhaps because all sin has its roots in love, every soul who has completed his penance on the lower six cornices must pass through the wall of flame before ascending to the Earthly Paradise.
The ascent of the mountain culminates at the summit, which is the Garden of Eden (Cantos XXVIII through XXXIII). This place is meant to return one to a state of innocence that existed before the sin of Adam and Eve caused the fall from grace. Here Dante meets Matelda, a woman of grace and beauty who prepares souls for their ascent to heaven. With her Dante witnesses a highly symbolic procession that may be read as an allegory of the Church. One participant in the procession is Beatrice, whom Dante loved in childhood, and at whose request Virgil was commissioned to bring Dante on his journey.
Virgil, as a pagan, is a permanent denizen of Limbo, the first circle of Hell, and may not enter Paradise: he vanishes. Beatrice then becomes the second guide (accompanied by an extravagant procession), and will accompany Dante through the Paradise.
Dante drinks from the River Lethe, which causes the soul to forget past sins, and then from the River Eunoe, which effects the renewal of memories of good deeds. Thus purified, souls can direct their love fully towards God to the best of their inherent capability to do so. They are then ready to leave Mount Purgatory for Paradise. Being totally purged of sin, the Purgatorio ends with Dante's vision aimed at the stars, anticipating his ascent to heaven.