Thank you to Robbie Cheadle, a long time member of the U. L. S. The Underground Library Society!
Dante’s Divine Comedy
Divine Comedy is a narrative poem, written in Italian and translated to English. Dante Alighieri spent twelve years writing this poem which was completed in 1320. The poem is divided into three parts: Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso.
The poem starts with Dante, the protagonist of the poem, finding himself in a dark and wild forest at night. The road towards the sunshine on the other side of a hill is guarded by three beasts which Dante cannot pass. He is in despair when Virgil, a pagan soul from the first circle of Hell, appears and tells him that the beautiful and good Beatrice, a woman who died young and was an object of admiration and desire by Dante, had arrange for him to journey through Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven in an attempt to redeem his soul and return him to the path of virtue.
The first part of the poem, comprising of 33 cantos, depicts Dante’s journey through the nine circles of Hell which is structured like an upside-down cone. Each circle is smaller and contains more depraved souls and more suffering. Each circle is devoted to a different kind of sin and the sins are in order of their seriousness according to Dante’s hierarchy. The first circle holds the unbaptised and the pagans who were born before the coming of Christ. The order of the other circles and sins is as follows: lust (circle 2), gluttony (circle 3), greed (circle 4), wrath and depression (circle 5), heresy (circle 6), violence (circle 7), deception (circle 8), and betrayal (circle 9). A three-faced Satan, trapped in the middle of a frozen lake, pays for his sins in the deepest region of circle 9 and chews on the worst betrayers in history, Judas, who betrayed Christ, and Brutus and Cassius, who betrayed Julius Caesar.
The second part of Divine Comedy, Purgatorio, tells the tale of Dante and Virgil’s journey through Purgatory. This is the place where penitent souls endure punishments to cleanse themselves of their former sins before entering Heaven. It is also a place where souls reflect on their sins.
Purgatory is described as a mountain with seven layers aligning with the seven deadly sins of pride, envy, wrath, slovenliness, covetousness, gluttony, and lust. The souls in Purgatory embrace their punishments, unlike the souls in Hell who continuously fight against theirs, as the purging fire is making them holy and readying them to ascend to Heaven.
When Dante and Virgil reach the top of the mountain, Virgil disappears and is replaced as Dante’s guide by Beatrice.
Paradiso is the third and final part of Divine Comedy. The first level of Heaven is the sphere of the Moon and houses souls who broke their vows. Beatrice explains vows in terms of absolute and contingent human will. The second phase is Mercury which contains souls who were just but motivated by fame. Venus (3rd phase) teaches Dante how and why sons end up different to their fathers. Sun (4th phase) explains to Dante the source of the blessed souls’ light. Jupiter (6th phase) explains to Dante the concept of Divine Justice and God’s Mind. In Saturn (7th sphere) Dante sees the golden ladder and meets St. Benedict. The fixed stars (8th phase) is where Dante is examined on faith, hope and charity and Dante goes blind. In the Emphyrean (10th phase), Dante sees the illusion and the real Celestial Rose. Beatrice disappears and is replaced by St. Bernard.
Finally, Dante investigates the Eternal Light and sees the image of the Holy Trinity. God bestows the answer to the mystery of the Incarnation on Dante and his soul is finally at one with God’s.
How did Dante influence the modern world?
Dante played a significant role in developing humanism, the use of language as spoken by ordinary in people in literature, and challenged the dominant role played by the church in society and politics. His ideas helped to generate the cultural and intellectual changes known as the Renaissance, which changed the world.
Dante’s poem also remains an important piece of literature in exploring the implications of human life choices regarding good and evil and makes it clear there are consequences for these choices.
Finally, the Divine Comedy has influenced writing, music, and art for 700 years.
Here is a YouTube video about why people should read Dante’s Divine Comedy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YbCEWSip9pQ
Quotes from Divine Comedy
“All hope abandon, ye who enter here.”
“O human race, born to fly upward, wherefore at a little wind dost thou so fall?”
“If the present world go astray, the cause is in you, in you it is to be sought.”
“What is it then? Why do you hesitate?
Why do you relish living like a coward?
Why cannot you be bold and keen to start?”
“They had their faces twisted toward their haunches and found it necessary to walk backward, because they could not see ahead of them. …And since he wanted so to see ahead, he looks behind and walks a backward path.”
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