The Divine Comedy is an epic poem written by Dante Alighieri, the great Italian poet. It is widely considered the pre-eminent work of Italian literature and is seen as the greatest works of world literature. The poem’s imaginative and allegorical vision of the life after death (afterlife) is a culmination of the medieval world-view as it developed in the
. It helped
establish the Tuscan dialect, in which it is written, as the standardized
Italian language. It is divided into three parts: Inferno, Purgatorio and
Paradiso. On the surface, the poem
describes Dante’s travels through Hell, Purgatory and Heaven, but at a deeper
level, it represents allegorically the soul’s journey towards God. At this
deeper level, Dante draws on medieval Christian theology and philosophy,
especially Thomistic philosophy and the Summa Theologica of Thomas Aquinas.
Consequently, the Divine Comedy has been called “the Summa in verse”. Western
The Divine Comedy is composed of 14,233 lines that are divided into three canticas – Inferno (Hell), Purgatorio (Purgatory), and Paradiso (
Paradise) – each consisting of
33 cantos. The number three is prominent in the work, represented in part by
the number of canticas and their lengths with the lines composing tercets
according to the rhyme scheme aba, bcb, cdc, ded,…
The poem is written in the first person, and tells of Dante’s journey through the three places of the dead, lasting from the night before Good Friday to the Wednesday after Easter in the spring of 1300. The Roman poet Virgil guides him through Hell and Purgatory; Beatrice, Dante’s ideal woman, guides him through Heaven. Beatrice was a Florentine woman whom he had met in childhood and admired from afar in the mode of the then-fashionable courtly love tradition, which is highlighted in Dante’s earlier poems. At Paradiso (Heaven) Dante meets and converses with several great saints of the Church, including Thomas Aquinas, Bonaventure, Saint Peter and St.John. The Paradiso is consequently more theological in nature than the Inferno (Hell) and the Purgatorio. However, Dante admits the vision of heaven he receives is the one that his human eyes permit him to see, and the vision of heaven found in the Cantos is Dante’s own personal one.
The Divine Comedy finishes with Dante seeing the Triune God. In a flash of understanding, which he cannot express, Dante finally understands the mystery of Christ’s divinity and humanity, and his soul becomes aligned with God’s love. The Divine Comedy is primarily a religious poem, discussing sin, virtue and theology. Dante also discusses several elements of the science of his day. The poem can be described simply as an allegory which contains many alternative meanings and they are highly complex. Besides allegory, there are many levels of meaning: the historical, the moral, the literal and anagogical. Dante called the poem “Comedy” because poems in the ancient world were classified as High Tragedy or Low Comedy. Low poems had happy endings were written in everyday language, whereas High poems treated more serious matters and were written in elevated style. The adjective “Divine” was added later in the 14th century. In the Middle Ages Dante was the first Italian poet to write of a serious subject – the Redemption of humanity in the low and “vulgar” Italian language and not in the Latin one might expect for such a serious topic.
Although the Divine Comedy is primarily a religious poem, discussing sin, virtue and theology, Dante also discusses several elements of the science of his day. This mixture f science with poetry has received both praise and blame over the centuries. The Purgatorio repeatedly refers to the implications of a spherical Earth, such as the different stars visible in the southern hemisphere, the altered position of the sun, and the various time zones of the Earth. For example, at sunset in Purgatory it is midnight at the Ebro river in
dawn in Jarusalem, and noon on the River Ganges in . A briefer example occurs in Canto XV of the
Purgatorio, where Dante points out that both theory and experiment confirm that
he angle of incidence is equal to the angle of reflection. Other references
to science in the Paradiso include descriptions of clockwork in Canto
xxiv and Thales’ theorem about triangles in Canto xiii. Dante travels through the centre of the Earth
in the Inferno, and comments on the resulting change in the direction of
gravity. He also asks about the
existence of wind in the frozen inner circle of hell, since it has no
temperature differentials. The Paradiso in the poem discusses astronomy
extensively, It also discusses the importance of experimental method in
Paradiso: Canto XXI
In this part of the poem, Dante ascends with Beatrice to the seventh heaven, which is the planet Saturn. Here a golden ladder is placed and the height of the ladder is infinite and the top of the ladder is not visible to Dante. Here Dante meets the souls who had passed their earthly life in holy retirement and meditation and prayer. Piero Damiano (St. Peter Damian ) is one of the souls of this place of heaven and the spirit comes near them and answers questions put forward to him by Dante. Piero Damiano speaks about his identity on his earthly life and ends the conversation by a remark against the corrupted and luxurious priests and cardinals of the Church of his period.
The narrator of the poem is Dante himself. Beatrice the ideal beautiful woman guides the narrator through Heaven. They are on the sphere of Saturn. Dante turns to face Beatrice, but she is not smiling. She tells Dante that if she smiles, Dante will be reduced to mere ashes. She tells Dante of the tragedy of a woman named Semele who had been turned to ashes when smiled. The reason was that they have climbed so high on the heavenly ladder and they have reached the point where Dante’s senses cannot bear the great power of God’s reflected love.
The beauty of Beatrice was more glorified and powerful when they reached the top step of the ladder and God’s power of love and glory reflected on the face of Beatrice will burn the mortal senses of Dante when he looks at her. She says that Dante will become like a leaf of a tree which is burned to ashes when lightning and thunder strike it. Beatrice now announces that they have reached the Seventh Heaven.
It is just below the Constellation of Leo which is always burning and light flashes everywhere downwards with the power and glory of God. Beatrice again warns Dante to listen and concentrate his mind and eyes and look where he usually looks and the see the reflected image of what comes next. So Dante looks at Beatrice’s eyes. There the narrator sees the wonderful landscape of Saturn reflected. Dante says that he is really grateful to his escort, Beatrice and he blindly obeys every word of the ideal companion.
When he looks at her his joy was unlimited and she was also very happy on seeing the pleasure of the narrator. The narrator then saw a golden ladder was seen coming up and the sunlight is reflected on it. The ladder is going up so high that the narrator cannot see its top. When he looked down the steps, it was so bright that all the lights in the heaven seemed to be appeared there. Dante saw an amazing sight.
Thousands of souls are climbing down the steps of the ladder every minute just like flocks of rooks (birds) fly away in the bright morning to various parts of the sky in order to warm their cold feathers in the bright sunlight. Some of them fly off without return, some others come back to where they started from and some others flying round here and there. A multitude of shining spirits are climbing up and down the ladder to a certain point made those different movements, as of birds. One of the spirits came so near Dante and Dante turns to the nearest soul and thinks that he is so bright, Dante wants to speak but must wait for the permission from Beatrice before speaking to the soul. At this unspoken thought, Beatrice promptly gives the signal and Dante speaks to the soul why he stepped up so close and why there is perfect silence in this place, whereas every other sphere is full of glorious music. The soul answers Dante that it is quite silent here because if they were to sing, the power of the song would break the ear-drums of Dante. In other words, Dante’s mortal hearing could not bear the glory and power of the divine song at this level of heaven. Now the soul answers the first question of Dante.
The soul says that he has descended the golden ladder with the emergency purpose of meeting Dante. He also adds that the soul is fully governed by God’s love and will and therefore the soul is asked to move down the ladder to meet Dante. Dante agrees with the soul that the soul is fully surrendered itself to God’s love and will, but Dante does not understand why the soul in particular was predestined to meet Dante. Before the soul can even say the last words, the spirit begins spinning at a high speed and its spinning only makes the soul grow brighter, and it says that its sight is good and this is why God blesses him with so much grace. No one can know the mind of God. The soul warns Dante that he should remind this truth to the earthly men when Dante returns home below.
This warning of the spirit trembles Dante with fear and humbly asks the identity of the soul. This time the spirit is willing to reveal his identity. The brightly burning soul tells Dante once long ago he was a monk in a monastery at Catria. It was called Santa Croce di Forte Avellana. He worshipped God in meditation and prayer and he lived on a simple of vegetables cooked in olive juice. The monastery used to supply truly virtuous souls during his time but now it is corrupted and barren. When he first went to the monastery, he was called “Peter the Sinner”. But now he names himself as St. Peter Damian. Dante nods in realization.
St.Peter Damian continues his story. Form the monastery, he was dragged out to become a cardinal. He preferred his monastery life to the Papal dignity and power. St. Peter Damian recalls that once upon a time Popes were good and they led very simple and holy life, strictly following the teaching of the Bible as when
wore the hat of
the Cardinal and he walked “barefoot” and was lean, simple and holy. St. Paul
But now, shaking his head Peter says that the pops are plump and corrupted and that they need a lot of servants and helpers to do everything because they love luxurious life. Peter’s words have attracted other souls who are now gathered round in a spectacle of light. When Peter stops talking, they cry out in agreement and Dante drops like an achor because their combined voices have the power of thunderbolt in the blue sky and he was trembled with fear, as his senses are paralysed with shock. Kjt/15-03-2014