Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings...©
Revised in 2012
Type of Work
Divine Comedy is an epic poem on a vast scale,
told by Dante himself in first-person point of view.
The Divine Comedy is also an allegory, a work
in which characters, objects, and events have
figurative as well as literal meanings. For example,
in The Divine Comedy, Virgil symbolizes
human reason, and Beatrice stands for faith and
supernatural truth. The three beasts Dante
encounters in Canto 1 represent sin; various
personages in other cantos symbolize specific types
of sin, such as envy, sloth, gluttony, and lust.
Some allegorical characters, objects, or events
symbolize several things at the same time.
Comedy was probably written between 1306 and
1321, although Dante may have begun writing the poem
as early as 1300. Most of the poem was written between
1315 and 1321. The poem won a large audience even
though copies of it had to be handwritten. (The
printing press had not yet been invented.) The
Divine Comedy ranks as one of the great literary
masterpieces of all time alongside the epics of Homer
and Virgil and the greatest plays of Shakespeare.
Comedy was originally entitled La commedia
di Dante Alighieri (The Comedy of Dante
Alighieri). In 1555, when a special edition of
the poem was published in Venice, its admirers added
the word Divina (Divine) to the title
to call attention to the greatness of the work. Thus,
it became known as La Divina Commedia (The
Divine Comedy) and the author's name was dropped
from the title. In the original title, di (of)
appears to have a double meaning. On the one hand, it
means Dante wrote the work. On the other, it means
Dante experienced what took place in the work.
The action takes
place in 1300. It begins in the Forest of Darkness on
Good Friday, the day commemorating the crucifixion and
death of Jesus Christ, and ends the following
Thursday. When Dante starts his journey, he is
thirty-five years old—exactly half the biblical life
span of "three score years and ten." From the Forest
of Darkness, Dante proceeds through Hell and
Purgatory, then ascends into Heaven.
The main character, or protagonist, of the poem is the
author himself. No other epic poets before
him—including Homer and Virgil—had made themselves the
main characters of their poems.
deceased Roman poet Publius Virgilius Maro, known as
Virgil or Virgil, escorts Dante through Hell and
Purgatory. He symbolizes human reason.
Virgil (70-19 BC), a poet Dante admired, wrote the
great Latin epic The
Aeneid. This work chronicled the exploits
of the legendary Trojan hero Aeneas, who escaped Troy
after the Trojan War and settled in Italy. There, his
descendants founded Rome.
Beatrice Portinari (1265-1290), believed to be the
daughter of banker Folco Portinari, guides Dante into
the celestial realm. Beatrice, who represents faith
and grace, was Dante's first love, and he never forgot
her even after he married Gemma Donati and Beatrice
married Simon de Bardi.
Bernard: A French Cistercian monk and abbot, St.
Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153), guides and instructs
Dante when the poet reaches the highest region of
heaven. Bernard supported the ascendancy of Pope
Innocent II against Anacletus II, an antipope. He
preached in favor of the Second Crusade, strongly
opposed heresy, and wrote many hymns that remain
Personages and Creatures: Examples of the
mythological figures in The Divine Comedy are
Monster with a stinger. Geryon is a symbol of fraud.
Humans: Among the deceased humans in the poem
are the following:
Ulysses: Wily Greek who devised the
Trojan horse, enabling Greece to defeat Troy in the
Trojan War; he is in hell
as a deceiver. The Greek name of Ulysses is
Odysseus. He was the main character Home's great
Maiden turned into a spider after angering Minerva
(Athena), goddess of wisdom and war.
Furies: Avengers of crimes.
Harpies: Hideous monsters.
Charon: Boatman who ferries soul across a
river to the entrance of hell.
Plutus: Servant of Satan. Plutus, a symbol of
greed, flatters the devil.
Wise centaur (creature that was part horse and part
Famed retriever of the Golden Fleece who abandoned
his wife, Medea, for another woman.
Great epic poet of ancient Greece who authored The
Iliad and The
Beings: These include Lucifer, demons, and
Ovid, and Lucan: Poets of ancient Rome.
da Rimini and Paolo Malatesta: Illicit lovers
killed by Francesca's husband.
Cleopatra of Egypt: Seductive and cunning Queen of Egypt in
the Macedonian dynasty. She was the seventh
Cleopatra, having the full title of Cleopatra VII
Thea Philopator (Goddess Who Loves Her Father).
She is famous for her love affairs with the Roman
leaders Julius Caesar and Mark Antony.
Righteous government official of ancient Rome.
Caiaphas: Jewish high priest during the time
Saladin: Muslim leader who fought valiantly
against the crusaders.
Semiramis: Sinful queen of Assyria who was
said to be the founder of Babylon.
Venedico Caccianemico: Italian
politician accused of pimping.
of Arezzo: Man who pretended that he could
teach Alberto of Siena to fly.
Nicholas III: Pontiff associated with simony,
the practice of buying or selling ecclesiastical
offices or benefices.
de la Brosse: Chancellor of France executed in
1278 for treachery. He was innocent.
and Cassius: Ringleaders of the assassination
plot against Julius Caesar.
Betrayer of Christ.
Thomas Aquinas, St. Benedict, St.Peter, St. John:
Important figures in the development of Roman
Catholicism and Christianity.
By Michael J. Cummings...©
The Divine Comedy has
three sections: Inferno (Hell), Purgatorio
(Purgatory) and Paradiso (Paradise
or Heaven). The first section has 33 cantos
(chapters) and an introduction of 1 canto for a total
of 34. The second and third sections each have 33
cantos. The characters include mythological and
The Forest of Error
On Good Friday in 1300, the
thirty-five-year-old Dante enters the Forest of
Error, a dark and ominous wood symbolizing his own
sinful materialism and the materialism of the world
in general. At the top of a hill in the distance, he
sees a light representing the hope of the
resurrected Christ. When he attempts to climb toward
the light, a leopard, lion, and she-wolf—which
symbolize human iniquity—block his way. The spirit
of the Roman poet Virgil (also spelled Vergil),
author of the epic The Aeneid, comes forth
to rescue him. Virgil, the exemplar of human reason,
offers to escort him out of the Forest of Error by
another route, for there is no way to get by the
she-wolf. This alternate route leads first through
Hell, where Dante will recognize sin for what it is,
then through Purgatory, where Dante will abjure sin
and purge himself of it. Finally, it leads to
Heaven, where Beatrice—a woman Dante had loved
before her death in 1295—will become his guide while
Virgil returns from whence he came, for human reason
cannot mount the heights of paradise. Dante happily
agrees to make the journey, and they depart.
passing into hell, Dante and Virgil hear the groans
and wails of the damned in the outer reaches of the
abyss and see persons who were lukewarm and
halfhearted in their moral lives. They then cross
the Acheron River and arrive at a cone-shaped cavern
with nine circles. In the First Circle at the top,
called Limbo, are the least offensive souls, such as
unbaptized but well-meaning heathens. They suffer no
torment. However, they cannot move on to Purgatory
or Heaven because they died before Christ brought
redemption. Virgil himself dwells in the First
They then pass down through
the other eight circles, seeing terrible sights of
suffering experienced by those who died in mortal
sin (in Catholicism, the worst kind of sin, such as
willful murder and rape). Circles 2 through 6
contain those who could not control their desires
for sex, food, money, or false religion (heresy).
Among the personages they encounter are Queen
Cleopatra of Egypt, the Greek
warrior Achilles, Helen of Troy, and the man who
carried her off, Paris.The Seventh Circle
contains those who committed violence against
themselves or others, or against God himself. The
Eighth Circle contains hypocrites, thieves, forgers,
alchemists, swindlers, flatterers, and deceivers.
The Ninth Circle, reserved for the worst evildoers,
are traitors of every kind—those who were false to
friends or relatives, or to their country or a noble
cause. Dante sees two political leaders frozen
together in a lake, head to head. He also encounters
the most abominable of all traitors—Judas Iscariot,
the betrayer of Christ—and Brutus and Cassius, the
assassins of Julius Caesar. Satan himself, the arch
fiend, is here frozen in the lake.
Virgil next arrive at the Mount of Purgatory, which
is surrounded by an ocean. On ten terraces running
up the side of the mountain are souls purging
themselves of venial (less serious) sins such as
negligence, pride, envy, sloth, or political
intrigue. Dante exults in the light and hope that
greet him after leaving the horrid realm of darkness
and death. At the entrance to Purgatory, Dante and
Virgil meet Cato, an ancient Roman who, as censor in
184 BC, attempted to root out immorality and
corruption in Roman life. In Dante's poem, Cato
symbolizes the four cardinal virtues of Roman
Catholicism: prudence, justice, fortitude and
temperance. On Cato's instructions, Virgil cleanses
Dante's face of the grime of hell and girdles his
waist with a reed, symbolizing humility. An angel
writes seven P's across Dante's forehead,
each representing one of the seven deadly sins. (The
Italian word for sin begins with a P.) The
angel then tells Dante he must wash away the P's—that
is, purge himself of sin—while in Purgatory.
Among the terrace dwellers are excommunicants
who repented before they died, a lazy Florentine who
postponed doing good works most of his life, and
monarchs who neglected their duties. As Dante and
Virgil continue upward, they also meet the proud,
the envious, the avaricious, the wasteful, and the
lustful. Farther up the mountain, they can gaze
across the River Lethe and see the Earthly Paradise,
signaling it is time for Virgil to leave and return
to his abode, the First Circle of the
Still observing from the
opposite bank of the river (and still in Purgatory),
Dante sees a pageant in which the participants and
sacred objects symbolize books of the Bible,
virtues, the human and divine natures of Christ,
Saints Peter and Paul, and other disciples of the
Christian religion. Beatrice is there, too. Out of
love for him, she rebukes him for the sins he has
committed. After he confesses his guilt, she invites
the purified Dante to come across the river and
ascend to heaven.
place of perfect happiness, is a celestial region
with planets, stars, and other bodies.
Astronomically, it resembles the earth-centered
(geocentric) system of Ptolemy rather than the
sun-centered (heliocentric) system of Copernicus and
Galileo. The placement of an individual depends on
the level of goodness he or she achieved in life,
although everyone experiences the fullness of God's
love. Dante and Beatrice then rise into heaven.
There the poet discovers that even some
pagans—persons born before the time of Christ—abide
in the heavenly realm because they accepted
revelations from God. At the lowest level of Heaven
is the Moon. Next come Mercury, Venus, the Sun,
Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, the Stars (where St. Peter
condemns corruption under Pope Boniface VIII) and
the Primum Mobile (First Mover), the cause of time
and of all movement in the universe. The highest
level is the Empyrean, the abode of the Triune God,
the Virgin Mary, other angels, and saints.
When Dante and Beatrice
reach the Empyrean, St. Bernard comes forth to
prepare Dante to look upon the resplendent beings
within. Dante realizes here that knowledge of heaven
comes only through the grace of God and deep
meditation, not through theology textbooks. After
St. Bernard prays to Mary on Dante's behalf, she
begs the light of God to welcome the prayer. When
Dante glimpses that light, it overpowers him with a
love so radiant that he cannot fathom its depth or
even remember what he saw.
following canto-by-canto outline of The Divine
Comedy accompanies the Charles Eliot Norton
translation of the epic, which is in the public
domain and is available at Project Gutenberg. Click
here to access the complete text.
Dante, astray in a wood, reaches the foot of a hill
which he begins to ascend; he is hindered by three
beasts; he turns back and is met by Virgil, who
proposes to guide him into the eternal world.
Dante, doubtful of his own powers, is discouraged at
the outset.—Virgil cheers him by telling him that he
has been sent to his aid by a blessed Spirit from
Heaven.—Dante casts off fear, and the poets proceed.
The gate of Hell. Virgil leads Dante in.—The
punishment of the neither good nor bad.—Acheron, and
the sinners on its bank.—Charon.—Earthquake.—Dante
The further side of Acheron.—Virgil leads Dante into
Limbo, the First Circle of Hell, containing the
spirits of those who lived
virtuously but without Christianity.—Greeting of
Virgil by his fellow poets.—They enter a castle,
where are the shades of ancient worthies.—Virgil and
The Second Circle: Carnal sinners.—Minos.—Shades
renowned of old.—Francesca da Rimini.
The Third Circle: the
The Fourth Circle: the Avaricious and the Prodigal.—
Pluto.—Fortune.—The Styx.—The Fifth Circle: the
Wrathful and the Sullen.
The Fifth Circle.—Phlegyas and his boat.—Passage of
the Styx.—Filippo Argenti.—The City of Dis.—The
demons refuse entrance to the
The City of Dis.—Eriehtho.—The Three Furies.—The
Heavenly Messenger.—The Sixth Circle: Heresiarchs.
The Sixth Circle: Heresiarchs.—Farinata degli
Uberti.— Cavalcante Cavalcanti.—Frederick II.
The Sixth Circle: Heretics.—Tomb of Pope
Anastasius.— Discourse of Virgil on the divisions of
the lower Hell.
First round of the Seventh Circle: those who do
violence to others.—Tyrants and Homicides.—The
Minotaur.—The Centaurs.—Chiron.—Nessus.—The River of
Boiling Blood, and the Sinners in it.
Second round of the Seventh Circle: those who have
done violence to themselves and to their goods.—The
Wood of Self-murderers.—The Harpies.—Pier della
Vigne.—Lano of Siena and others.
Third round of the Seventh Circle those who have
done violence to God.—The Burning
Sand.—Capaneus.—Figure of the Old Man in Crete.—The
Rivers of Hell.
Third round of the Seventh Circle: those who have
done violence to Nature.—Brunetto Latini.—Prophecies
of misfortune to Dante.
Third round of the Seventh Circle: those who have
done violence to Nature.—Guido Guerra, Tegghiaio
Aldobrandi and Jacopo Rusticucci.—The roar of
Phlegethon as it pours downward.— The cord thrown
into the abyss.
Third round of the Seventh Circle: those who have
done violence to Art.—Geryon.—The Usurers.—Descent
to the Eighth Circle.
XVIII. Eighth Circle: the first pit: Panders and
Seducers.— Venedico Caccianimico.—Jason.—Second pit:
false flatterers.— Alessio Interminei.—Thais.
Eighth Circle: third pit: Simonists.—Pope Nicholas
Eighth Circle: fourth pit: Diviners, Soothsayers,
and Magicians.— Amphiaraus.— Tiresias.—
Aruns.—Manto.—Eurypylus.— Michael Scott.—Asolente.
Eighth Circle: fifth pit: Barrators.—A magistrate of
Lucca.—The Malebranche.—Parley with them.
Eighth Circle: fifth pit: Barrators.—Ciampolo of
Navarre.—Brother Gomita.—Michael Zanche.—Fray of the
XXIII. Eighth Circle. Escape from the fifth pit.—The
sixth pit: Hypocrites.—The Jovial
Eighth Circle. The poets climb from the sixth pit.—
Seventh pit: Fraudulent Thieves.—Vanni
Fucci.—Prophecy of calamity to Dante.
Eighth Circle: seventh pit: Fraudulent Thieves.—
Cacus.—Agnello Brunellesehi and others.
Eighth Circle: eighth pit: Fraudulent Counsellors.—
Ulysses and Diomed.
XXVII. Eighth Circle: eighth pit: Fraudulent
Counsellors.— Guido da Montefeltro.
XXVIII. Eighth Circle: ninth pit: Sowers of discord
and schism.—Mahomet and Ali.—Fra Dolcino.—Pier da
Medicina.— Curio.—Mosca.—Bertran de Born.
Eighth Circle: ninth pit.—Geri del Bello.—Tenth pit:
Falsifiers of all sorts.—Griffolino of
Eighth Circle: tenth pit: Falsifiers of all sorts.—
Myrrha.—Gianni Schiechi.—Master Adam.—Sinon of Troy.
The Giants around the Eighth Circle.—Nimrod.—
Ephialtes.—Antiens sets the Poets down in the Ninth
XXXII. Ninth Circle: Traitors. First ring: Caina.
—Counts of Mangona.— Camicion de' Pazzi.—Second
ring: Antenora.— Bocca degli Abati.—Buoso da
XXXIII. Ninth Circle: Traitors. Second ring:
Antenora.— Count Ugolino.—Third ring:
Ptolomaea.—Brother Alberigo.—Branca d' Oria.
XXXIV. Ninth Circle: Traitors. Fourth ring:
Judecca.— Lucifer.— Judas, Brutus and Cassius.—
Centre of the universe.— Passage from Hell.—Ascent
to the surface of the Southern hemisphere.—
Invocation to the Muses.—Dawn of Easter on the shore
of Purgatory.—The Four Stars.—Cato.—The cleansing of
Dante from the stains of
Sunrise.—The Poets on the shore.—Coming of a boat,
an angel, bearing souls to Purgatory.—Their
his song.—Cato hurries the souls to the
Ante-Purgatory.—Souls of those who have died in
of the Church.—Manfred.
Ante-Purgatory.—Souls of those who have died in
contumacy of the Church.—Manfred.
Ante-Purgatory.—Ascent to a shelf of the
mountain.—The negligent, who postponed repentance to
the last hour—Belacqua.
Ante-Purgatory.—Spirits who had delayed repentance,
and met with death by violence, but died
repentant.—Jacopo del Cassero.—Buonconte da
Montefeltro.—Via de' Tolomei.
Ante-Purgatory.—More spirits who had deferred
repentance till they were overtaken by a violent
death.—Efficacy of prayer.—Sordello.—Apostrophe to
Virgil makes himself known to Sordello.—Sordello
leads the Poets to the Valley of the Princes who
have been negligent of salvation.—He points them out
Valley of the Princes.—Two Guardian Angels.—Nino
Visconti.—The Serpent.—Corrado Malaspina.
Slumber and Dream of Dante.—The Eagle.—Lucia.—The
Gate of Purgatory.—The Angelic Gatekeeper.—Seven P's
inscribed on Dante's Forehead.—Entrance to the First
First Ledge the Proud.—Examples of humility
sculptured on the Rock.
First Ledge: the Proud.—Prayer.—Omberto
Aldobrandeschi.—Oderisi d' Agubbio.—Provinzan
First Ledge: the Proud.—Examples of the punishment
of Pride graven on the pavement.—Meeting with an
Angel who removes one of the P's.—Ascent to the
Second Ledge: the Envious.—Examples of Love.—The
Shades in haircloth, and with sealed eyes.—Sapla of
Second Ledge: the Envious.—Guido del Duca.—Rinieri
de' Calboli.—Examples of the punishment of Envy.
Second Ledge: the Envious.—An Angel removes the
second P from Dante's forehead.—Discourse concerning
the Sharing of Good.—Ascent to the Third Ledge: the
Wrathful.—Examples of Forbearance seen in Vision.
Third Ledge: the Wrathful.—Marco Lombardo.—His
discourse on Free Will, and the Corruption of the
Third Ledge: the Wrathful.—Issue from the
Smoke.—Vision of examples of Anger—Ascent to the
Fourth Ledge, where Sloth is
purged—Second Nightfall—Virgil explains how Love is
the root of Virtue and of Sin.
XVIII. Fourth Ledge: the Slothful.—Discourse of
Virgil on Love and Free Will.—-Throng of Spirits
running in haste to redeem their Sin.—The Abbot of
San Zeno.—Dante falls asleep.
Fourth Ledge: the Slothful.—Dante dreams of the
Siren—The Angel of the Pass.—Ascent to the Fifth
Ledge.—Pope Adrian V.
Fifth Ledge: the Avaricious.—The Spirits celebrate
examples of Poverty and Bounty.—Hugh Capet.—His
discourse on his descendants.—Trembling of the
Fifth Ledge: the Avaricious.—Statius.—Cause of the
trembling of the Mountain.—Statius does honor to
Ascent to the Sixth Ledge—Discourse of Statius and
Virgil.—Entrance to the Ledge: the Gluttonous.—The
Mystic Tree.—Examples of Temperance.
XXIII. Sixth Ledge the Gluttonous.—Forese
Donati.—Nella.—Rebuke of the women of Florence.
Sixth Ledge: the Gluttonous.—Forese
Donati.—Bonagiunta of Lucca.—Pope Martin IV.—Ubaldin
dalla Pila.—Bonifazio.—Messer Marchese.—Prophecy of
Bonagiunta concerning Gentucca, and of Forese
concerning Corso de' Donati.—Second Mystic Tree.—The
Angel of the Pass.
Ascent to the Seventh Ledge.—Discourse of Statius on
generation, the infusion of the Soul into the body,
and the corporeal semblance of Souls after
death.—The Seventh Ledge:the Lustful.—The mode of
Seventh Ledge: the Lustful.—Sinners in the fire,
going in opposite directions.—Guido
XXVII. Seventh Ledge: the Lustful.—Passage through
the Flames.—Stairway in the rock.—Night upon the
stairs.—Dream of Dante.—Morning.—Ascent to the
Earthly Paradise.—Last words of Virgil.
XXVIII. The Earthly Paradise.—The Forest.—A Lady
gathering flowers on the bank of a little
stream.—Discourse with her concerning the nature of
The Earthly Paradise.—Mystic Procession or Triumph
of the Church.
The Earthly Paradise.—Beatrice appears.—Departure of
Virgil.—Reproof of Dante by Beatrice.
The Earthly Paradise.—Reproachful discourse of
Beatrice, and confession of Dante.—Passage of
Lethe.—Appeal of the Virtues to Beatrice.—Her
XXXII. The Earthly Paradise.—Return of the Triumphal
procession.—The Chariot bound to the Mystic
Tree.—Sleep of Dante.—His waking to find the Triumph
departed.—Transformation of the Chariot.—The Harlot
and the Giant.
XXXIII. The Earthly Paradise.—Prophecy of Beatrice
concerning one who shall restore the Empire.—Her
discourse with Dante.—The river Eunoe.—Dante drinks
of it, and is fit to ascend to Heaven.
Proem [Introduction].—Invocation.—Beatrice and Dante
ascend to the Sphere of Fire.— Beatrice explains the
cause of their ascent.
Proem.—Ascent to the Moon.—The cause of Spots on the
Moon.—Influence of the Heavens.
The Heaven of the Moon.—Spirits whose vows had been
broken.—Piccarda Donati.—The Empress Constance.
Doubts of Dante, respecting the justice of Heaven
and the abode of the blessed, solved by
Beatrice.—Question of Dante as to the possibility of
reparation for broken vows.
The sanctity of vows, and the seriousness with which
they are to be made or changed.—Ascent to the Heaven
of Mercury.—The shade of Justinian.
Justinian tells of his own life.—The story of the
Roman Eagle.—Spirits in the planet Mercury.—Romeo.
Discourse of Beatrice.—The Fall of Man.—The scheme
of his Redemption.
Ascent to the Heaven of Venus.—Spirits of Lovers,
Source of the order and the varieties in mortal
The Heaven of Venus.—Conversation of Dante with
Cunizza da Romano,—With Folco of
Marseilles.—Rahab.—Avarice of the Papal Court.
Ascent to the Sun.—Spirits of the wise, and the
learned in theology.—St. Thomas Aquinas.—He names to
Dante those who surround him.
The Vanity of worldly desires,—St. Thomas Aquinas
undertakes to solve two doubts perplexing Dante.—He
narrates the life of St. Francis of Assisi.
Second circle of the spirits of wise religious men,
doctors of the Church and teachers.—St. Bonaventura
narrates the life of St. Dominic, and tells the
names of those who form the circle with him.
St. Thomas Aquinas speaks again, and explains the
relation of the wisdom of Solomon to that of Adam
and of Christ, and declares the vanity of human
At the prayer of Beatrice, Solomon tells of the
glorified body of the blessed after the Last
Judgment.—Ascent to the Heaven of Mars.—Souls of the
Soldiery of Christ in the form of a Cross with the
figure of Christ thereon.—Hymn of the Spirits.
Dante is welcomed by his ancestor, Cacciaguida.—
Cacciaguida tells of his family, and of the simple
life of Florence in the old days.
The boast of blood.—Cacciaguida continues his
discourse concerning the old and the new Florence.
Dante questions Cacciaguida as to his fortunes.—
Cacciaguida replies, foretelling the exile of Dante,
and the renown of his Poem.
XVIII. The Spirits in the Cross of Mars.—Ascent to
the Heaven of Jupiter.—Words shaped in light upon
the planet by the Spirits.—Denunciation of the
avarice of the Popes.
The voice of the Eagle.—It speaks of the mysteries
of Divine justice; of the necessity of Faith for
salvation; of the sins of certain kings.
The Song of the Just.—Princes who have loved
righteousness, in the eye of the Eagle.—Spirits,
once Pagans, in bliss.—Faith and
Ascent to the Heaven of Saturn.—Spirits of those who
had given themselves to devout contemplation.—The
Golden Stairway.—St. Peter
Damian.—Predestination.—The luxury of modern
Beatrice reassures Dante.—St. Benedict appears.—He
tells of the founding of his Order, and of the
falling away of its brethren. Beatrice and Dante
ascend to the Starry Heaven.— The constellation of
the Twins.—Sight of the Earth.
XXIII. The Triumph of Christ.
St. Peter examines Dante concerning Faith, and
approves his answer.
St. James examines Dante concerning Hope.—St. John
appears,with a brightness so dazzling as to deprive
Dante, for the time, of sight.
St. John examines Dante concerning Love.—Dante's
sight restored.—Adam appears, and answers questions
put to him by Dante.
XXVII. Denunciation by St. Peter of his degenerate
successors.—Dante gazes upon the Earth.—Ascent of
Beatrice and Dante to the Crystalline Heaven.—Its
nature.—Beatrice rebukes the covetousness of
XXVIII. The Heavenly Hierarchy.
Discourse of Beatrice concerning the creation and
nature of the Angels.—She reproves the presumption
and foolishness of preachers.
Ascent to the Empyrean.—The River of Light.—The
celestial Rose.—The seat of Henry VII.—The last
words of Beatrice.
The Rose of Paradise.—St. Bernard.—Prayer to
Beatrice.—The glory of the Blessed Virgin.
XXXII. St. Bernard describes the order of the Rose,
and points out many of the Saints.—The children in
Paradise.—The angelic festival.—The patricians of
the Court of Heaven.
XXXIII. Prayer to the Virgin.—The Beatific
Vision.—The Ultimate Salvation.
Divine Comedy presents life as a journey in
which one man (representing all human beings) must
overcome obstacles to achieve the ultimate goal,
eternal bliss in the sight of God. Therefore—unlike
epics such as The
Beowulf—The Divine Comedy
focuses mainly on life as a spiritual journey. The
obstacles the traveler must overcome are temptation
Even if a
person sins, he is not lost. Sincere contrition and
penitence will restore the soul to eligibility for
entrance into heaven.
confession of sins and penance will restore a human
being to a state of grace, after he dies must he
must purge himself of the stains sin leaves on his
soul if he has not done so in his lifetime. This
purgation in the afterlife takes place in
was a child of nine, Dante met Beatrice Portinari
and loved her from that moment on. Although he
married another woman and she married another man,
he continued to love her from afar and dedicated
many poems to her. She died when she was only
twenty-four. In The Divine Comedy, she
appears to him in Canto XXX of Purgatory, wearing a
white veil and crown. Out of love for him, she
rebukes him harshly until, in Canto XXXI, he
confesses his guilt as a sinner. She then acts as
his guide, leading him into Paradise.
The climax of a literary work can
be defined as (1) the turning point at which the
conflict begins to resolve itself for better or
worse, or as (2) the final and most exciting event
in a series of events. According to the first
definition, the climax of The Divine
Comedy occurs in Purgatory when Beatrice
causes Dante to admit guilt and repent. According to
the second definition, the climax occurs in Paradise
when Dante beholds the light of God.
How Dante's Epic Differs From Previous
epics, such as Homer's Iliad
Odyssey and the
anonymous English work Beowulf, focus on
individual heroes in specific locales. The main
stories in these epics generally borrow heavily from
myths and legends handed down from generation to
generation. The Divine Comedy, on the other
hand, gets its story mainly from the author's own
imagination. In addition, it encompasses heroes and
villains from everywhere, including the material and
Dante's Political, Social, and Religious
Passages in The
Divine Comedy reflect Dante's political and
social views. Generally, he believed in separation of
church and state, with the papacy reigning supreme in
spiritual matters and the temporal ruler (an emperor
or a king) reigning supreme in material matters. As a
Roman Catholic, Dante supported the views of his
church and accepted its teachings on life after death.
However, he did not blindly support the church's
leaders. In fact, he places seven popes in Hell in The
Definition of Comedy
A comedy in
earlier times was a work with a happy ending. Since
The Divine Comedy involves redemption, it
fits this category. The word comedy is
derived from the Greek words komos (meaning
revel, delight or happiness)
and aoidos (meaning singer). Thus, a
comedy was a work in which a writer "sang" about a
happy event. Comedies of earlier times did not
necessarily contain jokes or humorous situations.
However, they did have to have a happy ending.
Verse Format and Structure of the Poem
Comedy contains one hundred cantos (major
divisions or "chapters" of the epic poem) written in
terza rima, an Italian verse form invented by Dante.
It consists of three-line stanzas in which line 2 of
one stanza rhymes with lines 1 and 3 of the next
stanza. The rhyme scheme progresses in the following
pattern from the beginning of a canto: aba, bcb, cdc,
ded, efe, ghg, and so on. The following English
translation of the first lines from the Divine
Comedy—with the original Dante lines on the
right—demonstrate the rhyme scheme:
.........Along the journey of
our life half way.................Nel
del cammin di nostra vita
.........I found myself again
in a dark wood.................mi ritrovai
per una selva oscura
.........Wherein the straight
road no longer lay.............ché
diritta via era smarrita.
.........Ah, tongue can
never make it understood:........Ahi quanto a dir
qual era è cosa dura
.........So harsh and dense
and savage to traverse.......esta selva selvaggia
e aspra e forte
.........That fear returns
in thinking on that wood..........che nel pensier
rinova la paura!
.........It is so bitter
death is hardly worse....................Tant'è
che poco è più morte;
.........But, for the good
it was my chance to gain,........ma
per trattar del ben ch'i' vi trovai,
.........The other things I
saw there I'll rehearse.............dirò de
l'altre cose ch'i' v'ho scorte
Dale, Peter. The Divine Comedy. London:
Anvil Press, 1996.
Significance of the Number 3
Dante wrote The
Divine Comedy in honor of the three Persons who
make up the one God: God the Father, God the Son, and
God the Holy Spirit. Thus, throughout the poem, the
number 3 has special significance. Consider that the
poem has the following:
main sections: Hell, Purgatory and Paradise.
cantos in each section. (The first section also
has an introductory canto.)
- Three-line rhyme scheme
(terza rima) in which the second line of one
stanza rhymes with the first and third lines of
the next stanza. (See format
- Three guides—Virgil,
Beatrice and St. Bernard—who lead Dante through
the realms of the afterlife. (See the next
paragraph for more information on the guides.)
- A division of sin into
three types: (1) incontinence, involving lack of
self-control over natural appetites (for sex,
food, drink, etc.); (2) violence, involving anger
and brutality; (3) malice or fraud, including
simony, hypocrisy, flattery and forgery.
leopard, a lion, and a wolf symbolizing these sins
in the opening canto.
to the Trojan War
Dante alludes or
refers to the Trojan War in The Divine Comedy.
Following is a brief account of the cause and outcome
of the war.
In the ancient
Mediterranean world of the second millennium BC,
feminine beauty reaches its zenith in Helen, wife of
Menelaus, the king of the Grecian state of Sparta.
Her wondrous face and body are without flaw. She is
perfect. Even the goddess of love, Aphrodite,
admires her. One day, Aphrodite competes with other
goddesses in a beauty contest in which the winner is
to receive a golden apple. The judge is a young
Trojan named Paris. Aphrodite tells him that if he
selects her she will award him the most ravishing
woman in the world. After Paris chooses Aphrodite,
she tells him about Helen, who lives in Greece with
her husband, Menelaus, the king of Sparta.
Forthwith, Paris goes to Greece, woos Helen, and
absconds with her to Troy, a walled city in Asia
Minor (in present-day Turkey).
The elopement of Helen
and Paris is an affront to all the Greeks. How dare
an upstart Trojan invade their land! How dare he
steal the wife of one of their kings! Which Greek
family would be next to fall victim to a Trojan
machination? Infuriated, King Menelaus and his
brother, Agamemnon, king of the state of Mycenae,
assemble a mighty army of brother Greeks who include
the finest warriors in the land. Together, they
cross the sea in one thousand ships to make war
against Troy and win back their pride—and Helen.
After years of
fighting, the greatest of the Greek warriors,
Achilles, slays the greatest of the Trojan warriors,
Hector. However, the Trojan warriors fight on. One
of the Greek leaders—Odysseus, the king of
Ithaca—then devises a plan to end the conflict. He
suggests that the Greeks construct a great wooden
horse as a weapon of war. A Greek named Epeus
supervises its construction. Afterward, a Greek with
a persuasive tongue deceives the Trojans into
believing that their foes have wearied of the war
and that the giant horse, which stands at the gates
of Troy, is a parting gift. Seeing no Greeks on the
battlefield, the Trojans move the horse into the
city. At night, Greek soldiers hiding inside the
belly of the horse drop down and open the gates of
the city for Greek armies hiding outside. The Greeks
pour into the city and overwhelm the Trojans,
wreaking slaughter and destruction and taking women
Free Texts in
Italian and English
.......The following reliable
sites post Dante's epic. Be aware that the quality and
readability of English translations vary from book to
book, depending on the skill of the translator.
Harvard Classics: English translation in
Dante: English translation and the
original Italian poem
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Translation
Original Italian poem
of New York at Stony Brook: James Finn
Volume 1, Inferno: English translation of
Volume 1 by Charles Eliot Norton
Volume 2, Purgatorio: English translation
of Volume 2 by Charles Eliot Norton
Volume 3, Paradiso: English translation of
Volume 3 by Charles Eliot Norton
Boyd, Publishers, Volume 1, Inferno: S.
Fowler Wright Translation
Boyd, Publishers, Volume 2, Purgatorio: S.
Fowler Wright Translation
Boyd, Publishers, Volume 3, Paradiso: S.
Fowler Wright Translation
of Inferno in Italian: Actor Vittorio
Gassman reads The Inferno (Hell) in
Italian while the listener sees the words.
Study Questions and Essay Topics
does The Divine Comedy remain one of the
world's most popular literary classics, appearing
in college curriculums around the world?
the denizens of Hell (Inferno) have any admirable
Roman epic poet Virgil guided Dante partway
through his journey. To what extent did Virgil (70-19 BC) guide Dante in the
latter's literary career?
- To what extent did Dante intend his
description of the afterlife to be taken
literally? To what extent was it to be taken
figuratively or allegorically?
- Dante mentioned by name many
historical personages condemned to eternal
damnation. In doing so, was he going too far?
After all, the Bible (Matthew: Chapter 7, Verse
1) declares, "Judge not, lest ye be
in detail the difference between the
earth-centered (geocentric) system of Ptolemy and
the sun-centered (heliocentric) system of
Copernicus and Galileo.
completed The Divine Comedy more than one
hundred years before the invention of the printing
press. Write an essay explaining how a literary
work in Dante's time was mass-produced and
The author of
The Divine Comedy was Dante Alighieri, Italy's
greatest poet, who was born to a middle-class family
in Florence in 1265. After his mother died when he was
an adolescent, his father remarried and had two more
children, a boy and a girl. Dante began writing poetry
when he was a teenager, One of his mentors was the
poet Vito Cavalcanti, who exerted a strong influence
on Dante. Before beginning work on The Divine
Comedy, Dante wrote two major works, La Vita
Nuova (The New Life) and Il Convivio
(The Banquet), both of which included verse and
prose. In the latter work, he urged the use of
vernacular Italian instead of classical Latin in the
composition of literary works. After becoming involved
in rivalries between Florentine politicians and
between Vatican and secular authorities vying for
power, Dante was banished from Florence. In exile, he
wrote The Divine Comedy, incorporating in it
commentary on the various factions competing for
political control. He wrote it in the Italian Tuscan
dialect that favors a familiar, conversational style,
thus breaking with the tradition that serious literary
works had to be written in Latin and thereby helping
to establish Italian as the language of literature. He
died in Ravenna, Italy, in 1321. .
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