Alighieri, Dante The Divine Comedy

The Divine Comedy
by Dante Alighieri (1265
- 1321)

Type of Work:

Allegorical religious poem

Setting

Hell, Purgatory and Paradise; A.D. 1300

Principal Characters

Dante, the Pilgrim

Virgil, the Poet, and Dante's guide

Beatrice, Dante's womanly ideal and religious
inspiration

Story Overview

Prologue: Dante, realizing he has strayed
from the "true way,. into worldliness, tells of a vision where he travels
through all the levels of Hell, up the mount of Purgatory, and finally
through the realms of Paradise, where he is allowed a brief glimpse of

God.

The traveler sets out on the night before

Good Friday, and finds himself in the middle of a dark wood. There he encounters
three beasts: a leopard (representing lust), a lion (pride) and a she-wolf
(covetousness). Fortunately, his lady, Beatrice, along with the Virgin

Mary herself, sends the spirit of Virgil, the classical Latin poet, to
guide Dante through much of his journey. But as much as Dante admires and
reveres Virgil, and though Dante considers him to have prophesied of the
coming of Christ, Virgil is not a Christian. To Dante he represents human
knowledge, or unholy reason, which cannot lead a person to God. This infidel
may not pass into the highest realms. Thus, Dante is finally led to Heaven
by Beatrice, his own personal and unattainable incarnation of the Virgin,
who represents divine knowledge, or faith.

Pilgrimage: Terrified, lost "midway in
life's journey" in the worldly darkness of error, Dante met Virgil, who
offered himself as a guide. Together they passed through the gates of Hell
inscribed with the terrifying words: "Abandon every hope, Ye that Enter."

Dante, however, as a living soul who had not yet tasted death, was exempt
from such final despair. He found Hell to be a huge funnel-shaped pit divided
into terraces each a standing-place for those individuals who were guilty
of a particular sin. After passing Limbo, reserved for the unbaptized,

Dante observed and conversed with hundreds of Hell's souls, many of whom,
guilty of carnal sins, were being whirled about in the air or forced to
lie deep in mud or snow, under the decrees of eternal damnation. Ciacco,
a fellow Florentine, implored of Dante "... When thou shalt be in the sweet
world, I pray thee bring me to men's memory."

In pity, Dante frequently offered to write
about those he met when he returned to mortality. These gluttons, seducers,
and robbers were, for the most part, either historical figures or Dante's
personal acquaintances - and each one of them represented one of the apt
and horrible possibilities of Hell. For example, Alexander the Great and

Attila the Hun were found dwelling in Hell's seventh terrace, forced to
grovel in boiling blood - a just end for those who in life loved violence.

In the very depths of Hell was Satan -
with three heads, each grasping a sinner in its mouth, and with three pairs
of wings that continuously beat over the waters around him, freezing them
into perpetual currents of ice.

Dante and Virgil cautiously climbed down
the body of Satan. About midway, they turned and scrambled out through
an opening (earth's center of gravity) where all things were the opposite
of Hell: The sun was shining; it was Easter morning. Now hiking on in silence,
they finally arrived on the shores of the Mount of Purgatory, located exactly
opposite Jerusalem on the globe.

First and lowest on the mountain was Antepurgatory,
a place reserved for those spirits who were penitent in life, who had died
without achieving full repentance or without receiving the last sacrament
of the church. They were required to spend time there before they could
begin their arduous climb up the mountain. A group of those poor souls
who had passed away suddenly, unable to receive extreme unction, pled with
the mortal visitor to speak with their relatives and friends, urging them
to pray that their stay in Ante-purgatory might be shortened.

As the pilgrims entered Purgatory, an angel
inscribed the letter "P" on Dante's forehead seven times, to represent
the seven deadly sins (pride, envy, anger, sloth, avarice, gluttony, and
lust). As Dante made his way through the seven areas reserved for those
who committed each of these sins, the letters were erased one by one, and
the climb became less difficult.

Like Hell, Purgatory was arranged in terraces.

However, the inhabitants here could, through confession, repentance, patience,
and the prayers of the living, move on to higher realms after a time of
proper purification. In the first terrace (pride), the occupants bowed
down under huge stones which they carried on their backs, while reciting

The Lord's Prayer, a fitting penance for haughty souls. Each terrace in
turn was designed to purge its