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The Divine Comedy

The Divine Comedy, by Dante Alighieri

Summary


“The Divine Comedy” is composed of three separate poems written by Dante circa 1320. The poem itself occurs during the week of Easter in the year 1300. My favorite poem was “Inferno.” This is partly because I spent the most amount of time trying to understand and interpret “Inferno”, but also partly because the poems became more and more philosophical as Dante ascends towards Heaven, and they contain progressively more unfamiliar Italian characters. Dante himself was Italian, and the poem was originally written in Italian. Therefore, I think much of the original poem’s artistic value is lost in translation. Nevertheless, it tells an interesting story that has survived the test of time, and I enjoyed reading it. I do not think that “The Divine Comedy” is a poem for the casual reader. It’s challenging, and I struggled to finish it. However, if you’re ambitious, then I think it’s worth the read!


In general, the topography of “The Divine Comedy” is that the most sinful souls sink to the bottom, but the most righteous souls ascend effortlessly towards the top. Satan resides at the center of Hell, whereas God resides at the center of Paradise. Much of the poem describes the sights and sounds of Dante’s journey, as well as the interactions that Dante has with the denizens of each realm. Dante is able to vividly see and describe Satan’s appearance, but Dante struggles to see God, so he is forced to describe God as blindly bright light. With regards to sounds, Hell is filled with moans and screams, whereas Heaven is filled with wonderful songs of praise.


Inferno


Unredeemed souls suffer in Hell. The region of Hell and type of suffering depends on the sin that each soul struggled with. The sights and sounds that fill Hell are grotesque. The circles of Hell are:

  1. Limbo (for the souls that preceded Christ and did not have the opportunity to be baptized)

  2. Carnal lust (sexual lust, guarded by Minos, the judge of Hell)

  3. Gluttony (guarded by Cerberus, the three-headed dog)

  4. Hoarders (avaricious) and wasters (guarded by Plutus, the god of wealth)

  5. Wrath (denizens suffer in the river Styx)

  6. Heretics (protected by the gates of Dis, the inner city of Hell)

  7. Violent (guarded by Chiron, a Centaur)

  8. Violence against one’s neighbor

  9. Violence against one’s self

  10. Violence against God (including hypocrisy, flattery, theft, and simony)

  11. Fraudulent (Circle 8 is called Malebolge, Dante and Virgil are transported there by mounting Geryon)

  12. Seducers and panderers

  13. Flatterers

  14. Simony

  15. Soothsayers, sorcerers, fortune tellers, seers

  16. Barrators (corrupt politicians)

  17. Hypocrites

  18. Thieves

  19. Deceptive and those who give false council and practice fraud

  20. Sowers of discord

  21. Falsifiers, alchemists, and counterfeits

  22. Traitors (Circle 9 is called Cocytus, guarded by giants, including Nimrod)

  23. Caina (traitors to kin, characterized by Cain, who murdered his brother, Abel)

  24. Antenora (traitors to country, characterized by Antenor, who betrayed Troy)

  25. Ptolomea (traitors to guests, characterized by Ptolemy, who betrayed the Maccabees at a banquet)

  26. Judecca (traitors to their Lords, characterized by Judas, who betrayed Jesus)


Purgatory


Mount Purgatory is characterized primarily by love. In the first 3 terraces of Mount Purgatory, souls love the wrong things. In the middle terrace, souls love too little. In the last 3 terraces, souls love excessively. At each level of Mount Purgatory, souls stay for an extended time in order to purge their sins. The exact amount of time spent at each level depends on how much each specific soul struggled with the sin associated with the terrace. However, prayers from the living can accelerate a soul’s time through Purgatory. Therefore, the souls in this level commonly ask Dante to pray for them. The 7 levels are Mount Purgatory are:

  1. Pride

  2. Envy

  3. Wrath

  4. Sloth

  5. Avarice

  6. Gluttony

  7. Lust


Paradiso


According to Dante, Heaven is structured as concentric circles, with earth located in the center. The 9 spheres of Heaven are characterized by the 3 theological virtues and the 4 cardinal virtues. In the first 3 spheres, souls lacked virtue. In the next 4 spheres, souls exemplified the 4 cardinal virtues. The eighth sphere is characterized by the 3 theological virtues, and the ninth sphere houses the angels. Finally, God resides in the Empyrean, outside of all material things. Visually, Heaven is mostly bright and effulgent lights. The 9 Spheres of Heaven are:

  1. Moon: souls who were inconsistent with their faith

  2. Mercury: souls that struggled with ambitiously meting out justice

  3. Venus: souls that lacked temperance

  4. Sun: souls who exemplified wisdom

  5. Mars: souls who exemplified courage

  6. Jupiter: sphere that embodies justice

  7. Saturn: souls who practiced temperance (the ascetics)

  8. Fixed Stars: characterized by the three theological virtues: faith, hope, and charity

  9. Primum Mobile: The Angel’s sphere

  10. Empyrean: God’s sphere

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