"The Divine Comedy" is actually three books: "The Inferno," "Purgatorio" and "Paradiso." Written by Italian Dante Alighieri, they were completed in 1314. The "Divine Comedy" is a cornerstone in Western literature that influenced writers throughout the centuries. Many lines in "The Wasteland," by Nobel-prize winner T.S. Eliot, are direct references to this work.
The opening line of the "The Inferno" reads, "In the middle of the journey of our life I came to myself within a dark wood where the straight way was lost." This sets the stage for poet's meeting with the Roman poet Virgil, who will accompany Dante to hell. Together they traverse the nine circles of hell and witness areas of hell reserved for those who are gluttonous, lustful and avaricious. Dante's vision of hell was peopled with real characters, such as Pope Nicholas III.
"Purgatorio," or purgatory, begins as Dante and Virgil leave hell and enter purgatory. Dante envisions purgatory as a mountain with multiple terraces, each terrace devoted to overcoming one of the seven deadly sins: pride, envy, wrath, sloth, covetousness, gluttony and lust. The writer's tone is lighter here. Upon leaving, Dante comments that "From that most holy wave I now returned to Beatrice; remade, as new trees are renewed when they bring forth new boughs. I was pure and prepared to climb unto the stars."
In the "Paradisio," Dante ascends to the heavens alone. Virgil, a pagan, can no longer accompany him. In heaven, he reconnects with his beloved Beatrice, who died before "The Divine Comedy" was written. Just as there were nine circles in hell, there are nine spheres in heaven, devoted to planets, stars and angels. As he traverses these spheres, Dante meets saints and holy men. Ultimately, he obtains spiritual enlightenment, which enables him to see God.
References to Beatrice pepper "The Divine Comedy." Beatrice was a Florentine woman who served as Dante's muse. Although Dante and Beatrice married other people, he remained deeply in her sway. The relationship between Dante and Beatrice exemplifies courtly love. He met her only several times during his life, yet she provides much of the spiritual impetus for his work.
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