Dante Alighieri's "The Divine Comedy" is often held to be one of the most influential poems from classic literature. Written around 1308-1321 A.D., near the end of the poet's life, the poem follows the journey of Dante -- assisted or guided by Virgil, author of the Aeneid -- through the three stages of hell and heaven. Dante was born in Italy around 1265, and died around 1321.
Dante's poem is divided into three parts (cantiche): the Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso. The Inferno catalogs the narrator's journey through the stages of hell. The Inferno has 34 "canti," or chapters. The Inferno has upper hell and lower hell. The Inferno's hell is further divided into nine levels, five of which represent deadly sins. The lower portion of hell contains the final two sins.
During Dante's lifetime, the ideas of numbers and order were much revered. The three parts of the poem corresponded to the Holy Trinity of Christianity. The number 3 itself was considered important. Other numerical references in the poem include 9, a multiple of 3; the number 100, which represented the Holy Trinity's oneness; and 7, representing the seven deadly sins and the seven days of Creation.
Virgil the Poet
Dante's narrator, the Pilgrim, was assisted by Virgil, author of the poem "The Aeneid." This work told the story of Aeneas, founder of Rome. Virgil represents reason in Dante's work, and that quality is supposed to help the Pilgrim through the Inferno and Purgatorio.
Biblical & Cultural Influence
Dante's work shows that he was thoroughly versed in Christian ideology and knew the stories and information within the text extremely well. The poem focuses on Christian heaven and hell. The stages of hell are based on deadly sins, and characters in the poem have their roots in Christian parables. Dante's work was written in his native Italian, contrary to custom, which at that time was to write in Latin. The poem's popularity helped Dante's version of the language to become the standard dialect that is used today.
Influence on Later Works
Dante's work not only influenced the modern Italian spoken today, but "The Divine Comedy" also greatly influenced other poets, other authors and philosophers. Chaucer was influenced by Dante, as were John Milton, William Blake and Victor Hugo, among many others.
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