Inferno, Purgatory and Paradise: the redemption journey of The Divine Comedy

“The secret of getting things done is to act!” Dante Alighieri

descargaDante Alighieri and The Divine Comedy. The Florentine Dante Alighieri was a poet and a philosopher best known for his epic poem The Divine Comedy. This poem is regarded as the greatest literary work created in Europe in the medieval period, and the basis of the modern Italian language since it was written in Italian vernacular rather than in Latin. But, what hides this literary landmark? To begin with, on the author’s personal level, The Divine Comedy pictures Dante’s own experience of exile from Florence, his native city. In the same way, on a more comprehensive level, it may be read as a religious allegory, which depicts a visionary journey through the Christian afterlife. It is worth mentioning that following the profound Christian vision of the poem, ‘Comedy’ does not mean ‘funny’ here, but it expresses the poem ending in a kind way.

Let’s take a look at the journey, the poem begins in medias res on Good Friday in 1300,  and it is broken into three canticles which represent stages to eternity. First,  Hell, “Inferno”, Dante finds himself in the Valley of Evil. He is rescued by the spirit of Virgil, who tells Dante that he has been sent to guide him out of Hell because of prayers by Beatrice, the woman who Dante loved his entire life. Then, Purgatorio, “Purgatory”, after emerging from Hell just before the dawn of Easter Sunday, Dante, guided by Virgil, starts the difficult ascent of Mount Purgatory, the place where occurs the renunciation of sin. Lastly, Heaven,“Paradise”, Dante’s imaginative conception of Heaven. And, who takes Dante through the nine Spheres of Heaven? Of course, it is his beloved Beatrice. On the other hand, did you know that the last word in each of the three sections of The Divine Comedy is the word ‘stars’?

“The Commedia, it must be remembered, is a vision of the progress of man’s soul toward perfection.” The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri.

Who guides Dante towards this journey to redemption? He chose none other than thethe-divine-comedyinferno-2-638 great Virgil to guide him through this challenging trip because Dante considered the Roman poet as his teacher. This fact is quite explanatory for the references in form of characters, facts, and creatures from the classical culture. For instance, an obvious reference occurs in “Inferno”. In this canticle, after being alone and disoriented, Dante descends into Hell escorted by Virgil. Suffice it to say that the descent itself is a noticeable reference pulled from Homer’s Odyssey and Virgil’s Aeneid. Additionally, the presence of Virgil, a classical figure, becomes indispensable as Dante constructs his vision of the underworld by means of Virgil’s poem. Let’s see how Virgil introduces himself to Dante with pertinent biographical details: “I was a poet and sang of that just man, son of Anchises, who sailed off from Troy after burning of proud Ilium.” The Divine Comedy (I, 73-75).

“Be as a tower that, firmly set, shakes not its top for any blast that blows!” The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri.

Why did Dante write The Divine Comedy? The author himself wrote in a letter that his purpose in writing this poem was “to remove those living in this life from their state of misery and lead them to the state of felicity.” Furthermore, The Divine Comedy was greatly influenced by the politics of late-thirteenth-century Florence. The struggle for power between the church and the state for temporary authority in this city was a reflection of a crisis that affected both Italy and most of Europe from the twelfth to the fourteenth century, a fact which was echoed in Dante’s masterpiece. It should be noticed that the author was exiled from Florence, where he served as one of the six priors governing the city, due to his political activities. It was during his time of exile when he conceived the idea of The Divine Comedy, as a virtual wanderer, seeking protection for his family in town after town.

“Remember tonight… for it is the beginning of always.” Dante Alighieri.

dante_gabriel_rossetti_-_salutation_of_beatrice_-_2-4461Dante Alighieri & Beatrice Porinari. It was at the age of nine when Dante met Beatrice Portinari in a gathering at her father’s palazzo in Florence. She was a few months younger than him and dressed in a crimson dress. Beatrice captivated him completely, in Dante’s words “from that time forward love fully ruled my soul.” Upon his second meeting with her, the poet remarked: “she greeted me, and such was the virtue of her greeting that I seemed to experience the height of bliss.” Unfortunately, arranged marriages were really common back then, especially amongst the upper classes, to which both Dante and Beatrice belonged. So, at the age of 21, Dante got married to Gemma Donati, to whom he had been betrothed when he was 12 and Beatrice married a year later too, only to die three years later, at the age of 24. Dante was devastated and remained devoted to Beatrice for the rest of his life. After her death, she became his muse for much of his well-known work, such as La Vita Nuova and The Divine Comedy. The love which Dante felt for Beatrice represented a spiritual ideal for the poet, a fact that is amply supported by his “Paradise, in which Beatrice serves as the poet’s guide in Heaven. Finally, let’s finish this article by Tierra Trivium with a fragment of the first sonnet of Dante’s La Vita Nuova where the author portrays vividly his feelings for his beloved Beatrice:

“And when this most gracious being actually bestowed the saving power of her salutation, I do not say that love as an intermediary could dim for me such unendurable bliss but, almost by excess of sweetness, his influence was such that my body, which was then utterly given over to his governance, often moved like a heavy, inanimate object. So it is plain that in her greeting resided all my joy, which often exceeded and overflowed my capacity.” La Vita Nuova XI by Dante Alighieri.

(The images contained in this article are not a property of Tierra Trivium).

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