Dante’s Divine Comedy One of the Best Poems of European Literature
Type of Literature
Late Medieval Literature (Dante finished shortly before his death in 1321 AD)
Originally written in the Italian vernacular
“ Divine” indicates subject matter
“ Comedy” indicates style of poem
Starts off oppressive but ends on a happy note
Not written in an elevated style, such as that of Homer’s Illiad or Virgil’s Anead
Dante’s Divine Comedy
Numbers in Medieval Society
Number were extremely important in Medieval Society.
100 is the square of 10 , and is therefore considered the perfect number.
The number 3 was associated with the Trinity and 9 was important as the square of 3.
The Significance of the Number Three
The number three is prominent throughout the Divine Comedy , most specifically the “Inferno.”
The Trinity provides one possible reason for the frequency of the number three: Dante, obviously, wrote the Comedia as a deeply Christian work, and would have understood three to be a deeply theological number.
Uses of 3
Three Books: Inferno, Purgatorio, Paradiso
Each book has thirty three cantos. (not counting the introduction in the Inferno)
Terza Rima Rhyme Scheme: the poem also employs a unique, interlocking terza rima rhyme scheme (aba bcb cdc...) that seems to be Dante's own invention.
In Canto One Dante encounters 3 beasts
Satan is represented as being a 3 headed creature.
Structure of the Divine Comedy
Contains three great divisions
Cantica One: Hell (Inferno)
Cantica Two: Purgatory (Purgatorio)
Cantica Three: Paradise (Paradiso)
Each Cantica contains thirty-three cantos with an additional canto in Inferno serving as a prologue
33 + 33 + 33 + 1 = 100 cantos
The three greater divisions or canticas were to represent the Trinity.
The number 9, the square of three, figures centrally in the interior structure of each of the three divisions.
There are nine circles in the Inferno
There are nine ledges in the Purgatorio
There are nine planetary spheres in Paradiso
Dante varied the lengths of the individual cantos for a purpose:
The canto length in the Inferno is chaotic, this parallels the chaos between souls and God.
The canto length becomes more standardized in Purgatorio, this parallels the state of the soul and God
The canto length in Paradiso is uniform, this parallels the harmony between the souls and God.
The Nature of the Divine Comedy
Allegory and Journey
Allegory is a story operating at a literal and symbolic level, each character and action signify the literal as well as represent an idea.
The Divine Comedy is a narrative that details the journey of one man, Dante, through Hell, Purgatory and Heaven.
Allegory and Journey
Dante represents every human.
The journey represents rejection of sin (Hell), redemption of the soul (Purgatory), and finally the unification between soul and God (Heaven).
The journey mirrors medieval Catholic theology.
Journey and Allegory Continued
Virgil represents Reason, which can take Dante only through Hell and Purgatory.
Beatrice, or Divine Revelation, must take Dante through Heaven.
Dante & Virgils Journey
Dante, guided by Virgil, heads down into the Inferno.
Hell is an inverted cone, wide at the top and narrow at the bottom.
Dante and Virgil travel through Hell and Dante recounts the sights of sinners being punished in ways that symbolically fit the sin.
Structure of Inferno (cross section)
Structure of Inferno
There are 9 concentric circles in Hell.
Hell is geographically divided into Upper Hell and the Lower Hell by the Walls of the Dis.
Four Areas of Hell, Four Types of Sin
Hell is theologically divided into four sections:
Opportunisim (vestibule/outside hell)
Sin of Paganism (circle 1)
Sins of Incontinence (circles 2-6)
Sins of Violence (circle 7)
Sins of Fraud (circles 8-9)
Sin: choosing neither right nor wrong.
Punishment: floating around outside Heaven, Hell and Purgatory chasing a banner (opportunity) being stung by bees (conscience or guilt).
Circle One: Limbo
Sin: Not knowing Jesus Christ
Punishment: No physical torments, only the emotional torment of never knowing God or experiencing Heaven (no hope).
Incontinence: Circles 2-6
Sins of incontinence are irrational sins against God. Sins in which people give into their physical or emotional urges without regard to rational thought or moral consequences.
Circle 2: Sins of Lust
Sin: Lust or Adultery
Punishment: To have one’s soul float around in a whirlwind, just as one gave into physical desires.
Circle 3: Gluttony
Sin: to give into one’s physical desires to eat and drink regardless of consequences
Punishment: To be bloated and mired in filth, while filth rains down from the sky
Circle 4: Avarice & Prodigality
Sin: Hoarding (greed) or Wasting (prodigality) without thought to consequence.
Punishment: Souls of misers push rocks into the rocks pushed by spendthrifts
Circle 5: Anger
Sin: Wrathfulness or great anger in life
Punishment: to be immersed in the filthy river, Styx, and constantly tear at one another
Sin: Sullen, those who refused to welcome the light of God into their hearts
Punishment: To forever be buried underneath the Styx, never seeing light.
Circle 6: Heretics
Sin: Heretics who denied the idea of immortality (they thought the soul died with the body)
Punishment: To exist eternally in graves in the fiery morgue of God’s wrath
Circle 7: Violence
Circle 7 is an area divided into three separate rounds, each round is an area in which specific groups of sinners are punished.
Round One: The Violent Against Neighbors
Round Two: The Violent Against Themselves
Round Three: The Violent Against God, Nature and Art
Circle 8: The Fraudulent and Malicious
Circle 8 consists of 10 bolgias or pockets.
They are often referred to as malebolges, or ‘pockets of evil.’
Each pocket or bolgia is where a group of specific sinners is punished.
Ten Malebolgias of Circle 8
Bolgia 1: Panderers and Seducers
Bolgia 2: Flatterers
Bolgia 3: Simoniacs
Bolgia 4: Fortune Tellers and Diviners
Bolgia 5: The Grafters
Bolgia 6: The Hypocrites
Bolgia 7: The Thieves
Bolgia 8: The Evil Counselors
Bolgia 9: The Sowers of Discord
Bolgia 10: The Falsifiers
Circle 9: Treachery
Circle 9 includes four areas called rounds:
Round 1: Treacherous to Kin
Round 2: Treacherous to Country
Round 3: Treacherous to Guests & Hosts
Round 4: Treacherous to Their Masters
The Center: Satan
Dante Emerges from Hell
Dante views Satan and proceeds to climb his spiny back to emerge on Earth, not far from the nine ledges of Purgatory.