Literature

Literary Summary: Dante’s Divine Comedy

If the Bible is the premier epic of salvation, Dante’s Divine Comedy is a close second. The Divine Comedy is broken into three parts – most people, sadly but understandably, only know the first part: The Inferno.

Dante, our poet pilgrim, awakens in a dark forest having “wandered from the straight and true path.” He meets the Roman poet Virgil, his man-crush, who tells him that a woman named Beatrice sent to guide him to heaven. But the path to heaven runs through hell. In the Inferno, Dante learns the nature of sin misdirected love in the form selfishness and refusal to acknowledge one’s own faults (i.e., pride). Refusing to acknowledge faults, inability to forgive, is something Dante and Virgil must learn to get out of hell and begin the ascent up Mount Purgatory. Dante’s dillydallying causes Virgil to rage at him. Dante, realizing he has caused Virgil to be angry, asks forgiveness. Virgil, recognizing his harshness, forgives Dante and implores Dante that they should put it behind them. The only moment of forgiveness in the poem is in The Inferno and the two enter the final lair of hell and slip out the backside of the beast and begin their ascent up Mount Purgatory.

Journeying up Mount Purgatory, in Purgatorio, Dante learns how to properly order his love through the wisdom of poetry which directs us to good things. They meet many poets throughout history, the most important being Statius, who forms the third member of the poetic trio—a symbolic manifestation of the Trinity as they journey to the land of the Trinity because their loving friendship is a human iteration of Divine Love. Atop Mount Purgatory, Dante meets Beatrice who replaces Virgil and ushers Dante (and Statius) into heaven.

Now in paradise, Paradiso, Dante learns from Beatrice the ultimate source of love: God. She consistently reminds Dante that all love has its origins in God. Though human love is good, human love can never forget that it is properly a reflection of God’s love. Dante then takes his seat among the choir of saints and angels to sing of the love of God forever: the love that “moves the sun and other stars.”

Furthermore, in hell, purgatory, and paradise we see contrasting imagery: the carnality of hell in contrast to the interior spirituality of heaven: love in hell is associated with carnal things, love in purgatory is associated with directionality to the heavens, love in heaven is wisdom (knowledge).

Over the course of the Divine Comedy, Dante comes to know love in its entirety: to escape sin and hell one must learn forgiveness and take responsibility for their actions; to ascend to heaven (purgatory) one must learn to order their passions to the Good; to unite with God—which is salvation—one must know God is the source of love itself and seek God in all things one loves. And according to Dante, this is the revelatory power poetry teaches.

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Hesiod, Paul Krause in real life, is the editor-in-chief of VoegelinView. He is writer, classicist, and historian. He has written on the arts, culture, classics, literature, philosophy, religion, and history for numerous journals, magazines, and newspapers. He is the author of The Odyssey of Love and the Politics of Plato, and a contributor to the College Lecture Today and the forthcoming book Diseases, Disasters, and Political Theory. He holds master’s degrees in philosophy and religious studies (biblical studies & theology) from the University of Buckingham and Yale, and a bachelor’s degree in economics, history, and philosophy from Baldwin Wallace University.

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