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The Divine Comedy - A Summary

Victor Doppelt is a professional consultant, writer, and world traveler. He lives in San Diego with a menagerie of assorted rescue animals.


The Divine Comedy is one of the most iconic works of literature; its dramatic imagery and symbolism has entered the popular imagination, and shaped our concepts of the afterlife and Heaven and Hell.

Divine Comedy

Divine Comedy

The Divine Comedy in a Nutshell

The Divine Comedy, one of the greatest works of literature is the product of Dante Alighieri, a renowned Italian poet. The poem is a masterpiece and is broken down into three books which are further broken down into chapters. It can be said the Dante favored the number three as the poem was in three books each of which had 33 chapters. Then he divides the chapters into 3 line units. This is cross referenced to the theological concept of the Christian Trinity. The poem is a timeless piece of literary work.

Upon the first reading the poem you can get a bit befuddled as there are many references to politics, classical literature and medieval theology. You also have to be careful of which translated version you choose to read as some are better than others.

Despite its name, there is nothing comedic or funny about the Divine Comedy. In this context, "comedy" refers to "low" poetry in contrast to fancier or more high brow "high" poetry and is in specific reference to the fact that Dante chose to compose his poem in Italian rather than the Latin, which was the literary language of the time and used for works of serious fiction.

In fact, Dante wrote the Divine Comedy in the Florentine dialect, which was the version of Italian spoken in his native city of Florence. However the work proved to be so influential that it, and the Florentine dialect, came to be accepted as the standard form of Italian. At the time, and to some extent even today, there were many regional and local dialects spoken in Italy, which was divided into a number of separate and often warring city states and small kingdoms. By promoting a national language, Dante's work inadvertently help foster the reunification of Italy.

Divine Comedy - Hell (the Inferno)

Divine Comedy - Hell (the Inferno)

The Journey Through Hell, Purgatory, Heaven and Back

The plot of the poem is set around Dante’s pilgrimage through the afterlife. He starts out being lost and is guided by the spirit of the poet Virgil (whom he admired), advising him that he had to go through Hell to get out. With Virgil’s aid he goes through Hell in which he interacts with real historical characters as well as fictional ones, all of whom are being punished in accordance with the sins they had committed in life. Dante uses his trip through Hell as a way to slander and mock many actual political leaders and princes of Renaissance Italy, placing them in various circles of the Inferno to highlight their wickedness. In many cases, Dante seems to revel in settling personal scores in this way.

After reaching the lowest circle of Hell where Satan is imprisoned in a lake of ice, Dante resurfaces and reaches Purgatory, which like Hell is a place of punishment but not of eternal damnation. The souls here will eventually be released once they have paid for their sins.

Dante is guided through Purgatory and later Heaven by a woman named Beatrice, based on an idealized version of his muse and childhood crush, who had died young.

After journeying through Purgatory, Dante enters Heaven where he traverses the celestial spheres inhabited by choirs of angels, and the souls of the blessed. In direct opposition to the levels of hell, the souls in heaven inhabit levels closer and closer to God, depending on their merit and sanctity. In the final and uppermost sphere, Dante comes face to with God.

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Interestingly, God is described as a shining light at the end of a circular pipe or tunnel full of angels and souls adoring the Deity. The image of a white light at the end of a tunnel has often been reported by people who have undergone a near death experience. Did Dante influence the creation of this imagery, or was he basing it on what others had reported?

After witnessing God triumphant amid His angels, Dante returns to this world, no longer despondent. The Divine Comedy is an allegory rich in poetic and religious symbolism, touching on many universal themes including that of death and rebirth.

This is a trailer from a modern adaptation of the Divine Comedy, which has almost nothing to do with the original work by Dante.

Dante stands in the presence of God, depicted as a shining white light at the end of a tunnel lined with adoring angels.

Dante stands in the presence of God, depicted as a shining white light at the end of a tunnel lined with adoring angels.

The Journey

In the first section, when he goes through Hell (called the Inferno in the poem), he allots nine circles. Each circle is reserved for the souls of those guilty of particular types of sin, with punishments appropriate to their crime. It gets even more complex as the sixth circle through the ninth circle has other levels within them.

In the second stages of the journey, Dante journeys through Purgatory, a place where the souls of the dead are punished in order to atone for their sins, but unlike hell, the punishment here is less severe and is not eternal. These souls have the hope of being eventually freed and allowed to enter Heaven.

The word purgatory is related to "purge", in other words to get rid of, and in this context describes the place and process where sins are gotten rid of. Here the punishment is therapeutic, though like in Hell it is geared to the severity and degree of sin committed by the soul during their lifetime.

Dante's journey through Purgatory highlights the seven levels of sin for which you have to atoned to get safe passage. At the seventh level there is a passage through a wall of fire-the final stage of cleansing after which he is guided by Beatrice to Heaven which again had levels in the form of seven Spheres. Each sphere represented a different virtue. It is at the final Sphere that he gets to meet God whom he is significantly left alone with.

The poem is rampant with symbolism and some of its content parallels what is occurring in our society today. It is a timeless classical literary work to which no other can be compared. The Divine Comedy is also a rather satirical piece as Dante unabashedly makes reference to real people of his era, particularly his personal and political enemies (which he had a lot of) and placed them in either Hell or Purgatory, depending on what he thought about them. His worst political enemies found themselves consigned to Hell, experiencing various eternal torments.


Pinky on April 21, 2012:


nobbie on January 06, 2012:

tnx sa nfo.. may assignment na aq..

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