Divine Comedy

Author: DANTE ALIGHIERI

Created from 1307 to 1320, the Divine Comedy is a philosophical and at the same time a fantastic poem by Dante Alighieri. It is a rhymed novel considered a masterpiece of the world literature written in Tuscan dialect. In the poem’s three parts, Dante describes his journey to God first following Virgil and then stepping after Beatrice, who embodies the grace of God. The work can be viewed as the encyclopedia of medieval learnings and is one of the best pieces of the Italian poetry.

The Divine Comedy is a three-part journey in which Dante, as himself, travels through Hell, then Purgatory (in Catholic theology, the place that is a kind of God’s waiting room for the souls not yet ready for Paradise), then Heaven.

Initially, the poem was called simply Comedìa and later Giovanni Boccaccio added the word Divina. Published in 1555 by Gabriele Giolito de’ Ferrari, the edition first had the word divina in its title.

The Divine Comedy’s structure is extremely symmetrical. It is divided into three parts – canticas: Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise, each of which consists of 33 cantos. Together with an introduction canto, these make 100 altogether. Each canto is subdivided into nine groups plus an additional tenth. The whole poem consists of tercets – verses composed of three lines – and all of its parts end with the word stelle (“stars”). It is interesting how Dante places the part significant for him personally, the encounter with Beatrice, in the thirtieth canto of Purgatory. First, the number of the canto is divisible by three and ten. Second, he puts the words of Beatrice exactly in the center of the poem – in the 73rd line (the poem has 145 lines).

In the Divine Comedy, Virgil leads Dante through Hell into Purgatory, and at the doorstep of Paradise, he gives place to Beatrice. The day when Dante’s journey begins is laden with spiritual and renovation sense: the 25th of March is a day of creation of the world by God, the day of conceiving of Christ, the real beginning of spring, and the beginning of the new year among the Florentines of that time.

It is easy to count that the whole journey of Dante lasted from 25th till 31st of March 1300. The year of 1300 is a significant church date. That year, declared as the anniversary, the pilgrimage to Rome to the tombs of the apostles Peter and Paul was treated as the plenary indulgence. Dante could possibly visit Rome in spring of 1300 – this is testified by the description of the real events that took place in this city in the 18th canto.

The composition of the three kingdoms adheres to the numerical pattern of 9 plus 1 which in total makes 10. In each group, seven elements coincide to a definite moral scheme that is divided in its turn into three categories, while two others of greater particularity are added to total nine. Virgil develops a teaching about love as a source of various sorts of good and evil and explains the gradation of the circles of Purgatory: circles I, II, III – love to someone else’s evil (pride, envy, anger), IV circle – insufficient love to the true good (despondency), circles V, VI, VII – excessive love to the false good (greed, gluttony, voluptuousness).

By its form, the Divine Comedy is an afterlife apparition, a widespread genre in the medieval literature. Just like other poems of the era, the Divine Comedy seems to represent the allegorical structure. For example, the thick wood in which the poet got lost in the middle of his lifetime is a symbol of the sins made throughout life. These allegories have a political sense as well: the lynx is Florence while the spots on its skin symbolize the feud of two parties – Guelphs and Ghibellines. The lion in its turn symbolizes a thuggish force and stands for France; the she-wolf, greedy and lewd, represents the Roman Curia – all these animals threaten the national entity of Italy, which Dante has always dreamed of. In 1302, Dante was banished from his city with his party of the White Guelphs, and he would never see Florence again, dying in exile.