Posted: April 20th, 2022

Known first for the Vita Nuova, a collection of 31 poems that describe his love

Dante Alighieri (1265-1321)

Known first for the Vita Nuova, a collection of 31 poems that describe his love for a woman he calls Beatrice. Beatrice will be Dante’s guide in the Paradiso. The Divine Comedy (Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso) was inspired by the Vita Nuova. Why is it called The Divine Comedy (La Divina Comedia)? The narrative structure of a comedy begins in misery and ends happily—the obverse if true of a tragedy. Comedy also combines a vast array of written style, whereas tragedy is only an elevated style. Last, but not least, comedy deals with characters of ALL types—kings, queens, servants, and those who occupy levels between these 2 highest groups of individuals.

Similar to a lot of the characters that we have read about this past semester, Dante is a real life example of an exile. In the 13th and 14th centuries there were two political factions—the Guelphs and the Ghibellines. The Guelphs, of which Dante was a member, were upper class Florentines and artisans who supported Florentine independence. The Ghibellines, on the other hand, were members of the ancient aristocracy.

By 1300, the Guelphs had divided into two different groups—the Blacks and the Whites. Dante was a member of the Whites, a group that resisted the power of the pope. While Dante was on a diplomatic mission the Blacks staged a coup and Dante was condemned to the life of an exile. He would never return to Florence, the city that he loved, during his lifetime.

The Divine Comedy, as noted above, is a three part series/canticles (a canticle is a hymn or song. It is derived from the Latin canticulum)—the Inferno, the Purgatorio, and the Paradiso. The Inferno has 34 canticles, but the first canto (song) acts a prologue. The Purgatorio and the Paradiso have 33 cantos. You’ll notice how numerology is important to The Divine Comedy. The number 3 is a VERY IMPORTANT number to Dante (and Christianity as a whole). Three being the Holy Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Nine is also very important since it is the square of three.

Dante invented a style of verse in the DC (Divine Comedy) called terza rima and he wrote it in the vernacular, which was unusual for the time. In fact, the Middle Ages was a period in which many writers were embracing the use of the vernacular in their works—Dante, Boccaccio, Chaucer, the Gawain poet, Langland, etc. Vernacular is used to describe writing in your native tongue, not Latin or French, which were two of the primary languages to write in.

In the original Italian, the rhyme scheme is aba, bcb, cdc, and so on, forming groups of three, also known as tercets (or terzine in Italian). Consider how difficult the role is, then, of the translator, to continue this rhyme scheme. Each line contains eleven syllables, so the total number of syllables in each tercet is 33 (3×11).

The people in Hell are divided into three man groups—the incontinent, the violent, and the fraudulent. The incontinent are represented by the wolf, the violent by the lion, and the fraudulent by the leopard—Dante meets all three of these animals in the prologue to the Inferno. The three groups are then split into 9 different levels in Hell:

Cantos 1-2 describe the Ante-Inferno. The dead must pass over the River Acheron to get to the first circle of Hell.

Circle 1 (canto 4): the virtuous Pagans. They can never ascend because they

were born before the coming of Christ. They are in Hell, but it’s not the worst part of Hell to be in. This is where Virgil, Dante’s guide, resides.

The next five circles are represented by the wolf (incontinent)

Circle 2 (canto 5): the lustful

Circle 3 (canto 6): the gluttonous

Circle 4 (canto 7): the prodigal and miserly

Circle 5 (canto 8): the wrathful

The River Styx divides the fifth and sixth circles of Hell

Circle 6 (cantos 9-10): the arch-heretics

Next we must cross the River Phlegethon

Circle 7: The seventh circle is divided into three levels (the lion/the violent). You will notice that each level gets progressively worse:

Those violent against their neighbors (canto 12)

Those violent against self (canto 13). Called the wood of suicides.

Those violent against God (cantos 14-16)

Circle 8 (the fraudulent/leopard). There are ten levels here:

The panderers and seducers (canto 18)

The flatterers (canto 19)

The Simonists (canto 20)

The Soothsayers (cantos 21-22)

The Grafters (canto 23)

The Hypocrites (cantos 24-25)

The thieves (cantos 26-27)

The deceivers (canto 28)

The sowers of discord (cantos 29-30)

The falsifiers

Circle 9 (the worst level designated for the MOST treacherous) divided into four groupings:

Treacherous to kindred (canto 32)

Treacherous to country (canto 33)

Treacherous to guests (canto 33 continued)

Treacherous to benefactors (canto 34)

SATAN is at the end!

You will notice that the Inferno is actually representative of the seven deadly sins (we’re talking heavy medieval Catholicism here):

1. Lust

2. Gluttony

3. Greed

4. Sloth

5. Wrath

6. Envy

7. Pride

The seven deadly sins are matched by the seven cardinal virtues of:

1. Chastity (opposite of lust)

2. Temperence (opposite of gluttony)

3. Charity (opposite of greed)

4. Diligence (opposite of sloth)

5. Patience (opposite of wrath)

6. Kindness (opposite of envy)

7. Humility (opposite of pride)

***Dante meets, and subsequently introduces to the reader, REAL people, so bear this in mind as you read!***

The Purgatorio is divided into the Ante-Purgatory (cantos II-IX), the seven terraces, and the Earthly paradise.

In Ante-Purgatory you will find the late-repentants, who are classified under the following categories:

The excommunicates

The indolent (lazy)

Those who died by violence without receiving their last rites

In ascending order, the terraces are as follows:

1. pride

2. envy

3. wrath

4. sloth

5. avarice (coupled with its counter-sin, prodigality)

6. gluttony

7. lust

The seven terraces are formed into three different groups:

Those guilty of perverted love (the prideful, the envious, and the wrathful)

Those guilty of insufficient love (the slothful)

Those guilty of excessive love of Earthly goods (the avaricious and prodigal,

he gluttonous, and the lusftul

Dante travels through Purgatorio from Easter Sunday through Wednesday.

He has three dreams each night—one about an Eagle, one about a Siren and the nameless “alert and saintly” woman, and the last about

Leah and Rachel (who represent the active and contemplative lives respectively).

Virgil ceases to speak once they get to the Earthly Paradise. The last time he speaks is in canto XXVII. He disappears in XXX. Statius also becomes silent. Beatrice takes over from here, and there are a total of nine women who speak in these final cantos—Beatrice, her friend/companion, Matilda, and the seven handmaidens.

9 levels of Paradiso:








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