The Divine Comedy

views updated May 14 2018

The Divine Comedy

Pop group

For the Record

Selected discography


Neil Hannon and his band the Divine Comedy gave Britain instrumentally diverse, sophisticated, and intelligent pop music during the 1990s. From Enni-skillen, Ireland, came a gifted musical artist who created highly refined pop music for more than a decade. Hannon offered pop music that was well written, composed, and orchestrated. The finesse and skill Hannon put into the Divine Comedys recordings demonstrated respect and appreciation for the value of musical instruments more so than gimmick and effects. His music was highly regarded by critics and listeners even though it often earned only modest commercial success.

Drawing on a wide range of influences, Hannon received inspiration from artists such as Ravel, Stravinsky, Michael Nyman Philip Glass, Scott Walker, The Beach Boys and Electric Light Orchestra. Ken Micallef from captured Hannon mode in a description of his work: [his music shows] dual fascinations of literature and romance with lavish orchestral arrangements and a mercilessly dry wit. Dressed in a suit of fine linen as he sings of love, lust and revenge, bon vivant Neil Hannon offers Britain a sophisticated respite from all that rude rock music. John Kelly further identified Hannon in a 1998 article for the Irish Times, Fronting the Divine Comedy, Hannon masquerades successfully as the decadent sophisticate in an intriguing combination of send-up and serious purpose. Only the most humorless cynic could ever take a dislike to Neil Hannonhis is a most enduring class of genius and there is clearly much more still to come from this unique pop star son of the manse.

Hannon was born in Londonderry, Ireland, the son of a Bishop in the Church of Ireland. He lived his childhood years in the Northern Ireland town of Enniskillen as a shy, simple person who was modest in words but confident in thought. He lived the lazy life of one disillusioned, but always knowing he was creatively talented and showing it in his school homework. He professed to be a Protestant as a youth, but admitted he felt out of place in a 1993 autobiography posted on the Indulgence website, It later became clear that my familys religious persuasion was all that I had in common with the drum-beating, sash-wearing, 12th of July regulars I was lumped in with. Even though Hannon described himself as non-religious, he admitted he was likely influenced by religion and claimed to be a deeply spiritual being. He began his musical life in Enniskillen and Fermanagh, where his liberal political philosophies were accompanied with six years of lessons at the piano. He began writing music at the keyboard during that time and soon was composing songs and playing in bands.

The Divine Comedy was formed by Hannon, John McCullagh and Kevin Traynor in Ireland. They moved to England in search of a productive music career. The three started by recording for indie label, Setanta Records. Their first LP, Fanfare for The Comic Muse,

For the Record

Members include Miggy Barradas (born Miguel Barrados in Trinidad; member 1994-present), drums; Stuart Pinkie Bates (member 1994-present), organ; Rob Farrer (member 1998-present), percussion; Neil Hannon (born on November 7, 1970, in Londonderry, Northern Ireland; married Orla Little, 1999), vocals, guitar; John McCullagh (born in Ireland; member 1990-92), bass, vocals; Bryan Mills (member 1994-present), bass; Ivor Talbot (born in Ireland; member 1994-present), guitar; Joby Talbot (born in England; member 1994-present), piano; Kevin Traynor (born in Ireland; member 1990-92), drums, percussion.

Formed in 1990 by Hannon, McCullagh and Traynor in Ireland and moved to England, where they signed with indie label, Setanta Records; released Fanfare for the Comic Muse, 1990; McCullah and Traynor returned to Ireland, the Divine Comedy becomes a solo project for Hannon, 1991; released Liberation, 1993; released Casanova, 1996; released A Short Album About Love, 1997; worked with contemporary classical composer Michael Nyman called Grizzly Knife Attack, which performed at the Edinburgh new music festival, 1997; incorporated the Brunei Ensemble orchestra and the Crouch End Festival Choir for Fin de Siècle, 1998; signed to Parlophone Records, 1999; released Gin Soaked Box;, 2000; released Regeneration, 2001.

Addresses: Record company Parlophone Records. Website The Divine Comedy Official website:

was released in 1990. It was the product of the guitar-driven trio which included Hannon, only 19 years old, on guitar and vocals, McCullagh on bass and vocals, and Traynor on drums and percussion. The project was considered an average offering however, and McCullagh and Traynor returned to Ireland to study.

After his bandmates returned to Ireland, Hannon set out writing songs on his own. He described this time to Kelly, I was only really living in my own head and I dont think I was existing in the real world for quite a few years. I was in atticland and thats where the music came from. He initially waited to record a bunch of songs for the next album with producer Ian Broudie, but it did not happen. Experience in the studio with the Divine Comedys previous lineup must have given confidence to Hannon, because as he described his self-produced effort in the studio to Serge Nicolas of the Magic Mushroom, Rapidly I understood I didnt need somebody elses advice. I had a very strong personal opinion, linked to the music I recorded. Liberation was released in 1993 and received positive reviews but experienced meager commercial success.

The Divine Comedys next project built upon Hannons meager success with Liberation. Promenade, released in 1994, gained more praise including the title of a Best Album of 94 from Q magazine. A major goal for the albums songs was stage worthiness and Hannon wrote the album with a desire for performing the songs live. Piers Clifton admitted in his sketch for Rock, The Rough Guide, that a few of the tracks were odd, but, the music was a more than sufficient tonic: a mixture of strings, woodwinds, acoustic guitar, and piano Perhaps it was the influence of a new friend who held some similar visions as Hannon that brought about the bands transformation. It was during the recording of Promenade that he met the young composer and musician, Joby Talbot, who continued with the band after joining to play piano for touring.

The Divine Comedy also picked up a few more members after Promenades release. During a supporting tour for Tori Amos, Hannon met up with two old friends, Bryan Mills and Ivor Talbot (no relation to Joby Talbot). Mills came on to play bass and Ivor Talbot worked as a roadie before joining as guitar player. Stuart Pinkie Bates joined to play the Hammond organ and Miggy Barradas replaced an injured drummer.

The Divine Comedys music of the early 1990s embodied the return-to-values movement in England as Gilles Tordjman of French publication Les Inrockuptibles stated, How can one be astonished that The Divine Comedy has, in its way, come to be the incarnation of the back to basics movement, in bringing refinement and instrumental skills back to light in a sphere of expression which, since time immemorial, has formed itself against the established forms of the music which went before it? Hannon spoke often of writing a symphony at some time in his life. His love for composing and respect for the skills it requires were evident in his interview by Tordjman, No doubt Ill be 50 by the time Im ready for a symphonyyou need time to mature. But Im a hard worker, so Im getting ready. Each new song is a new stage, a new step to climb, a new difficulty. It was the same for The Beatles and The Stones: first of all you do your lessons and then everything becomes possible. Its the course Ive followed, very wisely. Even though the album was again respected by the critics and lagged commercially, the Divine Comedy gained more listeners.

The fourth album, Casanova, released in 1996, marked the rise of Hannon to pop star status. Three singles experienced mainstream radio play and hit the charts. The album reached Gold status in the United Kingdom and Ireland. Also, Hannons live performances were more entertaining than ever. The popular single, Becoming More Like Alfie gave Hannon the chance to include some showmanship in the bands performances.

Hannon expressed his perceptions of modern sexuality on Casanova, some quite personal. The tracks show appreciation for healthy, uplifting sexuality, wonder toward homosexuality and femininity, and disgust with greedy, selfish impulses, which much of British pop music portrayed. Hannon revealed how he wrote much of his music in his conversation with Mark Eitzel of the American Music Club, I find it really impossible to just sit down and write lyrics. It annoys me, because I always find that the lyrics are ruled by the tune they have to meet.

Hannon demonstrated his love for symphony and his talent for writing pop music supported by orchestra when he released 1997s A Short Album About Love. Recorded with the 30-piece Brunei Ensemble orchestra in two days at the Shepards Bush Empire theatre, Hannon stepped closer to his dreams as a musician. Keeping in synch, he took the ensemble with him on the supporting tour. Hannon admitted the huge influence of Scott Walker in his interview with Kelly, It changed my perspective completely. I listened to too much Scott Walker. I overdosed on Scott Walker until I started to sing like himbut that and Michael Nyman kick-started the Divine Comedy into something new.

The Divine Comedys new direction emerged when they worked with Nyman, a contemporary classical composer, during 1997. The band arranged classic Nyman tracks and also arranged their own songs for Nymans string quartet to perform. A special project including Hannon, Joby Talbot, and Nyman, called Grizzly Knife Attack, was performed at the new music festival in Edinburgh, Flux.

Just when Hannon seemed to finally realize his dream on A Short Album About Love, with the Brunei Ensemble, he went further. The 1998 release, Fin de Sicle, included the Ensemble and the Crouch End Festival Choir on background vocals. The album had more than 100 musicians contributing. Rob Farrer, who appeared on early projects, joined the band during this time on percussion. Along with fantastic symphony and choir-supported pop songs, Hannon finally mentioned some of his Irish background, wondering if peace could settle into Northern Ireland. He admitted his songwrit-ing tendencies to Kelly, I think all the musical reference points are from elsewhere but I think the attitude is totally Irish. The album hit Gold-selling status in 1999, behind a popular single, Generation Sex.

Setanta Records released a compilation album in 1999, A Secret HistoryThe Best Of The Divine Comedy. It included tracks from the five prior albums as well as a few unreleased songs and hit Gold in only three weeks. Hannon worked in 1999 with many well-known artists including R.E.M, Tom Jones, and Ute Lemper.

Hannons artistic muse shifted for the new millennium. Leaving the orchestras behind, he set out with his six bandmates and trying something new, gave them more creative freedom. Stating to Michael Hubbard, writing for music , Hannon revealed his new mode, With every album you just have to find ways to keep yourself interested. The Divine Comedys first release on their new label, Parlophone Records, was Regeneration, in spring of 2001. An accompanying tour commenced thereafter.

Selected discography

Fanfare for the Comic Muse, Setanta Records, 1990.

Liberation, Setanta Records, 1993.

Promenade, Setanta Records, 1994.

Casanova, Setanta Records, 1996.

A Short Album About Love, Setanta Records, 1997.

Fin de Siede, Setanta Records, 1998.

A Secret History The Best of The Divine Comedy, Setanta Records, 1999.

Gin Soaked Boy, Setanta, 2000.

Regeneration, Parlophone Records, 2001.



Buckley, Jonathan, Orla Duane, and Mark Ellingham, editors, Rock: The Rough Guide, second edition, Rough Guides, Ltd., 1999.


Irish Times, April 1996; August 1998.

Les Inrockuptibles, April 1994.

Magic Mushroom, 1993.


Indulgence, (February 9, 2001)., (Feburary 9, 2001), (April 10, 2001).

The Divine Comedy Official Website, (February 9, 2001).

Nathan Sweet

The Divine Comedy

views updated May 23 2018

The Divine Comedy

by Dante Alighieri


A narrative poem set in the Christian afterlife of hell, purgatory, and heaven during Easter week 1300; circulated in Italian from c. 1315; published in English in 1802.


Lost in a dark forest, Dante is rescued by the shade of the Roman poet Virgil, the first of three guides who lead Dante through hell, purgatory, and heaven. Along the way, he encounters hundreds of fictional and historical characters and constructs a deeply personal vision of the human condition and the possibility of human happiness.

Events in History at the Time of the Poem

The Poem in Focus

For More Information

Dante Alighieri was born into the minor nobility of Florence in May or June of 1265. He claims to have been just nine years old when he first set eyes on his beloved Beatrice, who in various guises would inspire a lifetime of literary creation. As a young boy Dante probably studied with a local grammar master to gain the basics of Latin language and letters, the gateway to higher study. He later spent time in the schools of Florence that were attached to the great churches of the new monastic orders (the Franciscans and/or the Dominicans) and spent a brief period in Bologna, site of the first European university. Dante began writing courtly love lyrics in the Italian vernacular as a teenager, becoming part of an elite group of philosophically minded Tuscan poets who would elevate the genre to a dolce stil nuovo, or “sweet new style” (see Stil Novo Poetry , also in WLAIT 7: Italian Literature and Its Times). When Dante was about 20, he married a woman named Gemma Donati, with whom he had at least four children. Several years later, in the 1290s, he collected many of his poems and surrounded them with prose commentary to form his first book, the Vita nuova or “New Life,” a first-person account of his youthful love for Beatrice. The work recounts the shattering effect of Beatrice’s young death and the poet’s difficult contemplation of human mortality, ending with Dante’s vow not to write again of Beatrice until he can do so in a manner worthy of her now quasi-divine status. This last statement is often taken to announce the Divine Comedy, in which the poet will narrate his journey back to Beatrice in paradise. During this same period, Dante began his participation as sometime soldier and government official in Florence, which was on its way to becoming the most wealthy and powerful of those Tuscan cities that had grown into states. Dante’s career as public servant culminated in the summer of 1300 with a two-month term as one of six priors; forming the city’s highest executive body, they struggled to reign in factional violence between powerful Florentine families. The years 1300–02 found Dante on the losing side of the battle between the White Guelphs (his party) and Black Guelphs: at age 35, he was exiled from Florence, never to return. Little is known with certainty about his whereabouts during the exile that would define his last 20 years of life. He was the guest of various princes of Tuscany and northern Italy, including Guido da Polenta in Ravenna, where he succumbed to a malarial fever in 1321. His tomb remains there to this day. Cut off from active participation in Florence, a place he dearly cherished, Dante’s poetic and scholarly creativity intensified. He produced two other important minor works in exile: the incomplete Convivio (Banquet) an encyclopedia of sorts based on several of Dante’s own poems and De vulgari eloquentia (On Eloquence in the Vernacular). Written in Latin, this last work surveys the history of human language from Adam and Eve to the many dialects and poets of Italy in Dante’s day. The work also defends the new Italian vernacular as a scientific and poetic language that is as viable as Latin. Dante also composed a Latin treatise on government, De Monarchic, which advocates strict separation of church and state. He began work on the Comedy shortly after going into exile and labored on it through the end of his life. Written in three parts and in the vernacular, the poem engages all of ancient and medieval culture to reflect one man’s experiences at a troubled time in history.

Events in History at the Time of the Poem

Grandeur and greed in Dante’s Florence

After the year 1000, the cities of northern Italy—never entirely expunged since Roman times—began to witness a gradual rebirth. Only now the cities included a new middle class of workers, artisans and bankers. By the time Dante was born, the towns of the Tuscany region were swelling with new people and activity; during his lifetime, Florence would grow from one of a handful of prominent urban centers (Lucca, Siena, Pisa) to the wealthiest, most populous and culturally prestigious city in the region. Wool-working was the Florentines’ major industry, but they had already minted the first gold florin more than a decade before Dante’s birth and were destined to become the bankers of Europe during the fourteenth century. The streets in and around Dante’s boyhood home were abuzz with new construction. Many of the monuments admired today—the churches of Santa Croce and Santa Maria Novella, the Duomo cathedral of Florence, Giotto’s bell tower—were beginning to rise during the years leading up to his exile. We can appreciate Dante’s rage at some of his fellow citizens for casting him out unjustly from an ebullient hub that must have felt in many ways like the center of a new world.

The Florentines were industrious in devising systems of governance for the new social and economic reality that was their city. In this endeavor, they strove to keep peace among themselves and to ward off undue interference from outsiders, particularly from the contending medieval powers of the pope and the Holy Roman Emperor (whose imperial realm included present-day Germany, Prussia, Hungary, Bohemia, Switzerland, and Italy). Though ultimately the Florentines failed to either keep the peace or ward off outsiders, they forged some truly innovative experiments in popular government. Central to their popular government were the trade guilds, or arti. An ordinance of 1293 prohibited anyone not enrolled in one of these guilds from participating in government, and around this time Dante himself joined the Guild of Doctors and Apothecaries.

Yet Dante’s Florence was anything but a picture of social harmony. Wealth and power inspired bitter rivalries and a complex system of alliances among the city’s leading families. They, in turn, sought support and legitimacy from an external power, the pope in Rome or the Germanic Holy Roman Emperor. Fighting between Guelphs (party of the pope) and Ghibellines (party of the emperor) had plagued the streets of Florence since early in the century; shortly after Dante’s birth, however, the Florentine Ghibellines were routed for good, after which the city was solidly Guelph. This did not prevent local hostilities from reemerging in battles between White Guelphs (who wanted to keep Florence independent) and Black Guelphs (who wanted to align it with Dante’s great nemesis, Pope Boniface VIII). These tensions came to a head during the summer of 1300, when Dante served as prior. In cahoots with the French king Charles of Valois, Boniface’s designs on Florence became increasingly apparent. Dante was probably on his way back from Rome, having made a diplomatic attempt to appease Boniface there, when he learned that Charles and his troops had taken Florence (in late 1301). As was the custom, the triumphant Black Guelphs banished leading Whites from the city and confiscated or destroyed their property. Dante was initially sentenced to two years in exile and a heavy fine (the official charge was graft), later converted to perpetual exile on pain of death by fire. For a time, Dante held out hope of a return to Florence as he consulted with fellow exiles on strategies to retake the city. He personally felt that the rule of a single just emperor, such as Augustus in ancient Rome, would constitute the ideal political system, and he blamed the political misfortune of Italy (and consequently Florence and himself) on the lack of such a ruler. Around 1310 he pinned his hopes for political redemption on the newly elected Holy Roman Emperor, Henry VII of Luxembourg. Henry intended to leave Luxembourg and to rule his empire from Italy, but he never quite made it to Florence, and after he died suddenly in 1313, Dante appears to have given up on the dream of returning home to Florence, at least in the literal sense.

The world and the afterlife: medieval thought and belief

Medieval Christians believed that the human being was made up of a mortal body and an immortal soul. The soul survived bodily death and lived on eternally. The state of an individual soul through eternity depended on the type of life that person had led: 1) virtuous individuals gained the timeless joy of heavenly paradise; 2) those committed to a life of vice or sin suffered eternal damnation and torment in hell; 3) sinners who repented spent time in purgatory, a makeshift middle kingdom for those in a temporary holding pattern of penance and preparation for heaven. Dante’s poem leads us through these realms, focusing on the state of many different human souls after death in order to teach us something about life in the here and now. His purpose, aside from flexing his powers of imagination and creative writing, is to help humans out of misery and towards happiness in this life on earth, as he writes in a famous letter to his patron Cangrande della Scala, to whom the third part of the Comedy is dedicated. (Although scholars still debate the authenticity of this letter, it in any case provides a valuable key to understanding the poem.)

Other Christians before Dante had written accounts of experience in the world beyond death (St. Patrick’s Purgatory, for example, or St. Bonaventure’s Itinerarium mentis in deum). It is unclear if or how any of these works influenced Dante. They tend to be either popular in inspiration or highly conceptual and impressionistic; none comes close to matching the elaborate scope and realistic detail of Dante’s vision. Significantly, Dante’s most important predecessor in describing the world beyond the grave remains the ancient writer Virgil in his epic Aeneid. In book 6, the hero Aeneas, with the Sybil as his guide, ventures to the classical underworld in search of his dead father. Although Virgil (70–19 b.c.e.) lived and died before Christ, the ancient poet uses a moral standard. He invokes pagan notions of vice and virtue to invent a clear moral topography in his afterlife, with categories of human shades or spirits: those who died for love, those who took their own lives, and so forth. Virgil even designates an area where those who led wicked lives suffer unspeakable torments, as well as a zone of light and beauty where dignified souls enjoy serenity.

Dante developed intimate familiarity with the Aeneid and dozens of other classical and Christian texts through a combination of intense private study, instruction in the Florentine schools, and perhaps attendance at medieval universities. Certainly he was well-versed in the sorts of learning taking place at the universities of his day. Late medieval university culture was generally obsessed with new Latin translations, interpretations, and elaborate commentary on the works of the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle (384–322 b.c.e.). For much of his natural science, ethics, and the moral organization of hell, Dante relies on Aristotle and on medieval versions of Aristotle. The university of Paris reigned supreme for the study of philosophy and theology in the thirteenth century, and Dante was well acquainted with the work and thought of Paris’s most famous professor, Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225–74), a fellow Italian (Aquino is a small town in the mountainous interior of southern Italy). Thomas wrote a multivolume work in Latin (Summa theologica) that uses Aristotle’s methods of logical deduction to reconcile Christian belief with Aristotelian ideas on topics ranging from the definition of body and soul to the structure of the universe. For centuries, Thomas’s Summa would become the definitive reference for details of Christian doctrine.

Medieval intellectuals of the time were less directly acquainted with the other great Greek philosopher, Aristotle’s teacher Plato (428–328 b.c.e.). But Dante certainly knew of and shared Plato’s commitment to an invisible, unchanging realm of ideal forms and Plato’s conviction that our life here on Earth is a mere and temporary shadow of these forms. Study and interpretation of Plato’s concepts had continued virtually uninterrupted since ancient times in a movement known as Neoplatonism. Important Christian Neoplatonists included Saint Paul (3–64 c.e.), Saint Augustine (354–430 c.e.), and medieval mystics like Saint Bernard (1090–1153 c.e.), the final guide in upper paradise in Dante’s Comedy. Though fiercely intellectual, these writers tended to favor intuitive vision over logical thought and to stress the futility of material achievement or human glory in this life. They thought of earthly life as dwarfed to insignificance by the eternal: the human lifespan was conceived of as a pilgrimage, a momentary detachment from the eternal that will ideally return to its origins in divine totality and goodness.

Though Dante’s learning was vast, he was first and foremost a poet, because only poetry afforded him the liberty to mix and match many theological, literary, and philosophical perspectives. It may be difficult today to appreciate the supreme power of poetry in Dante’s worldview. Much like their fellow citizen artisans, Dante and his colleagues were craftsmen; they plied their trade in language and thought. But for Dante, the poet or writer was uniquely charged with an additional serious moral responsibility: to ensure that his or her creations be both beautiful and instructive. In the liberal arts curriculum, poetry was included in the broad category of rhetoric, the advanced language course that taught how to shape words to dazzling effect and, most crucially, to persuade people to your cause. Ancient society had identified rhetoric mostly with public speaking, but as time passed the public forum shifted to writing, including the writing of poetry. More than philosophy or theology, poetry was rhetorical; it persuaded through beautiful artifice, speaking directly to human hearts. Poems could affect human will and thought, and so could change behavior and history in ways that philosophy, directed at the intellect, could never hope to do. Thus, poetry was a noble calling and a grave responsibility. Dante writes the Comedy to present a compelling vision of the universe, to convince his fellow humans of the goodness of life and the real benefits of faith, hope, and love. His poem aims to lead (as stated plainly in the vexed letter to Cangrande) human beings out of despair and into happiness.

The Poem in Focus

Contents summary

Inferno 1 and 2 serve as a prologue to the entire Divine Comedy. At the start Dante writes of finding himself lost in a dark wood halfway along the path of “our life,” beginning already to present himself as a character at once unique and representative of all humanity (Dante, The Divine Comedy, Inferno, canto 1, line 1). He is about to embark on an extraordinary voyage, but then again so are we, since he has decided to take his readers along for the ride. He is one among us, “in the middle” of human experience, as he puts it (Inferno 1.1). At the same time, the “middle” refers to his own existence. Given the average human lifespan (according to Scripture) of 70 years, the character Dante is 35, which makes it the year 1300, a time of harsh political and personal turmoil in the poet’s own life. Thus, the opening lines plunge us right into the thick of adventure and a midlife crisis for both humanity and a man named Dante. The poet tells us he wants to go back and relive the journey with us, so from the very start, we must keep in mind the poem’s two Dantes: the poet Dante who uses memory to recall a past journey he claims to have taken, and the character Dante that the poet creates, the main protagonist of the poem’s present action.

The first canto projects a dramatic landscape of hope and despair, the dual moral poles of the entire poem. Dante has barely escaped with his life from a night in the low, dark forest. He emerges onto a plane that slopes upward into a hill bathed in sunlight from above. The sight of the sun and the spring morning revives his spirit as he moves instinctually up the slope. But a ferocious spotted leopard intervenes to block his progress, then a lion, and finally a ravenous wolf. The beasts succeed in beating him back to the edge of the wood, that is, to despair and near death. The faint shade of Virgil appears at this moment and Dante cries out for help. Virgil presents himself as a fellow Italian, a pagan, and poet of the story of ancient Rome. Dante is awestruck before his hero, whom he calls “master” and whose Aeneid he professes to know by heart. Virgil gently chastises Dante for succumbing to the beasts and focuses on the wolf’s insatiable appetite for material gain in terms that condemn the current political chaos of Italy. He mysteriously prophesizes (one of several political prophecies in the poem) the advent of “a greyhound,” a savior for Italy. Identified with wisdom, love, and virtue, this savior will chase the wolf of envy back to hell. After the prophecy, Virgil returns to the present moment. Dante cannot, Virgil explains, simply climb the hill before him. If willing, Dante must follow Virgil on another journey: through the desperate screams of hell (Inferno), up a mountain of souls happy in their torments (Purgatorio), and then, with another guide more worthy than he, through the realms of the blessed (Paradiso). Dante agrees and the two men set out.

In Inferno 2, Dante is beset by doubt and questions his personal qualifications for such an unusual voyage. He invokes two important human predecessors who have glimpsed the world beyond death—one pagan, the other Christian. Virgil’s hero Aeneas was chosen to descend to the underworld (Aeneid 6) in order to facilitate his historical mission to establish Rome. Likewise St. Paul was carried up into heaven for a blinding instant on the road to Damascus (II Corinthians 12:4) in order to spread the message of Christianity to the entire world. Now Dante is to follow a similar path but he feels unworthy. To restore his confidence, Virgil explains that his voyage is ordained from on high. His decision to rescue Dante in the dark wood was prompted by a visit from Dante’s love, Beatrice, who came down from paradise at the insistence of St. Lucy and the Virgin Mary. Dante’s courage is thus renewed and the voyage begins. Between them, Inferno 1 and 2 have set the itinerary for the entire poem, have suggested that Dante’s journey is divinely sanctioned and of historical magnitude, and have let us know that for Dante the man the journey to heaven is at the same time a journey back to Beatrice.

Inferno—the bowels of the earth

The trip begins in earnest with Inferno 3, whose opening verses relay a now-famous inscription on the gate of hell. The dramatic last line—“Abandon all hope you who enter here”—underscores Dante’s view of hell as a state of despair (The Divine Comedy, Inferno 3.9). Dante’s Inferno is an inverted cone that extends below the earth’s northern hemisphere (for him, the only hemisphere with land and people) to the center of the earth, which was also considered the center of the universe in Dante’s day. Here lodged in ice is monstrous Lucifer, the fallen angel, source of all sin and suffering. We soon learn that this underworld unfolds in a series of nine, ever-narrower concentric circles, each with a specific class of sinners and punishment. As Dante and Virgil descend, the sins worsen and so do the punishments until the pair reaches Lucifer at the very bottom.

The first group of sinners that Dante and his guide meet are the neutrals, souls who in life refused to take sides for or against good and thought only of themselves. They are herded into groups that are constantly being stung by large wasps, and they chase eternally after banners of various sorts. We are not yet in the first circle of hell but rather in a kind of ill-defined antechamber or vestibule. Neither heaven nor hell really wants these sinners, who were unwilling to commit to one side or the other in life. Just as the neutrals chose passive self-interest and refused to take a side in life, so in eternity they are stimulated into unceasing group action, forever chasing a partisan banner of the sort carried into battle in medieval warfare. Thus, before even entering hell proper, Dante instructs the reader in an important principle of divine justice (Dantean divine justice, that is). It is a principle about the relationship between sins and punishments, which he later calls “counter-suffering” or contrapasso. The reader needs always, then, to pay attention to the sometimes obvious, often subtle relationship between the sin and the punishment the poem invents for it, which can reveal much about the poet’s intent in a given circle.

Circle one is Limbo, a rather special case. Christian theologians had created a marginal zone (limbo just means “edge” in Latin) for babies who died before receiving the ritual cleansing of baptism, thought to remove the original sin of Adam and Eve that stains all human souls by default. We find unbaptized babies in the poem’s Limbo, but Dante uses the space for a much grander purpose as well: to contain virtuous pagans, morally great individuals born before Christ or outside Christ’s geographical reach and so ineligible for paradise. Scores of esteemed pagan thinkers (like Plato and Aristotle) and characters from classical history and literature fill this circle. In it, there is no gruesome physical torment or thick black air, but relative light and calm, interrupted by sighs of unfulfilled longing. The pagan Virgil normally sits in this circle with an elite school of great epic poets, who momentarily invite Dante to join their club (no false modesty here!).

Dante and Virgil continue through upper hell. In circle two, a pair of famous adulterers named Paolo and Francesca are blown about in an eternal wind with other lustful sinners of their sort. Francesca claims she was an innocent victim of the inexorable god of Love as portrayed in the pages of medieval romance. Dante the character swoons in romantic sympathy as Dante the poet slyly condemns romance literature and reasserts the writer’s moral responsibility. A putrid acid rain drenches the gluttons of circle three in eternal suffering. In circle four, the greedy and wasteful push huge stone weights. The angry and the sullen slap and tear at one another in the foul slime of the river Styx in circle five.

Dante and Virgil are ferried across the Styx to the great stone battlements of the city of lower hell, also called Dis. The monstrous female Furies and the infernal female Medusa (hair entwined with snakes and eyes glaring) temporarily impede their path. Relief comes from a Christ-like heavenly messenger, who descends to scatter the demons and shatter the gates with a touch of her wand: now Dante and Virgil are in lower hell.

Red-hot tombs with suspended lids cause un-ending misery for the heretics of circle six, those who in life stubbornly insisted that the soul dies with the body. Here we encounter the great Ghibelline general Farinata, a picture of personal majesty and misguided political obsession, who spars verbally with Dante the character from the opposing political camp, the Guelphs. Dante and Virgil spend the last two-thirds of Inferno moving through the bottom three circles (seven, eight, and nine), which are divided and subdivided in complex ways unlike the top six circles. Various categories of sinners who committed violence are punished in the three rounds of circle seven: 1) murderers, tyrants, bandits—those who wronged others—stew in a river of boiling blood guarded by Centaurs with bow and arrow; 2) suicides—those who committed violence against themselves—are implanted in gnarled trees fed upon by Harpies; 3) blasphemers, userers, and sodomites—those who practiced violence against God and Nature—suffer skin-scorching rain on a plain of burning sand. To get down to the next circle, Dante and Virgil take an amazing flight on the back of a terrifying winged beast with a scorpion’s tail called Geryon. Circle eight consists of an inwardly sloping amphitheater named Malebolge (“Pouches of Evil”); here no fewer than ten separate varieties of fraud are punished in ten concentric mini-circles connected by spoke-like bridges, over which Dante and Virgil must pass. Pimps, flatterers, lying popes, fortune-tellers, corrupt politicians, hypocrites, thieves, con men, instigators, and counterfeiters come alive for readers in an awesome display of twisted human potential. In Malebolge, Dante and Virgil are granted an audience with the great Greek epic hero Odysseus—the Romans called him Ulysses—who suffers among the con men or false counselors of the eighth pouch. While today’s world knows Odysseus from Homer’s famous poem The Odyssey, Dante had barely encountered Homer’s works and so decided to invent a Ulysses all his own: a super-human adventurer who used his considerable intellect and rhetorical skill to convince his crew to sail beyond the proper limits of human experience into the for-bidden southern hemisphere. This brazen attempt to capture, what for a medieval Christian must remain, divine knowledge necessarily ended in doom.

A great, dumb giant lowers Dante and Virgil to the icy floor of hell in the palm of his hand. Encrusted to various degrees in the rock-hard ice of circle nine are traitors, for Dante a special category of fraud. Traitors deceive people who have exceptional reason to trust them: family members, fellow citizens, guests, benefactors. In the last famous episode of Inferno, Ugolino, a prominent citizen of Pisa, feeds on the bloodied nape of the archbishop Ruggieri, his one-time political ally. Ugolino tells the dreadful tale of how the archbishop Ruggieri turned on Ugolino and had him locked in a tower with his little children to die of starvation. Overcome by hunger, Ugolino suggests he may have eaten the bodies of his dead offspring before succumbing to death by hunger himself. He bites into Ruggieri’s neck in an act of cannibalistic revenge and blind rage.

Dante and Virgil escape hell’s darkness by climbing down Lucifer’s haunch through the earth’s center and then up through a natural grotto to emerge at the base of a mountain in the middle of the southern hemisphere.

Purgatorio—the mountain of hope

The word purgatory simply describes a place to clean one-self; it came to designate the medieval Christian notion of a middle realm where souls prepared to enter paradise. Not hardened in their sinful ways and thus not condemned to eternal hell, purgatorial souls nonetheless possess significant sinful dispositions that need to be purged before the souls can go to heaven. Purgatory is a happy place because, though they suffer punishments like those in Inferno, the souls here are filled with hope: they will enter paradise after fulfilling their period of penance. Time is thus a major theme of purgatory—the only of Dante’s three realms to exist in time, as life does on Earth (and the only of the three realms actually on earth, in the middle of the uninhabited southern hemisphere surrounded by ocean). At the end of history and time, the poem suggests, there will be just the damned and the saved, Inferno and Paradiso.

On the shore, Dante and Virgil meet the guardian of purgatory, Cato of Utica, from ancient Rome, who chose death rather than life under Caesar’s tyranny. A symbol of personal liberty, Cato underscores purgatory’s other great theme as Virgil informs him that Dante too is seeking liberty from all the sin that has weighed him down. Cato instructs them to cleanse themselves of Inferno’s grime in the waves that lap the shore. Dante and Virgil go on to spend the first third of this part of the poem in a zone called “antepurgatory” (before purgatory), where they meet a variety of souls who waited until the very last moment of their lives to repent their sinful ways. As punishment for their negligence in life, they must now wait thousands of years in this purgatory-outside-purgatory before they can begin the process that will get them to heaven. So we see that a kind of contrapasso applies in purgatory too.

There are subtle structural similarities between Inferno and Purgatorio. Dante’s purgatory is a mountain that mirrors hell’s subterranean inverted cone. Just as Inferno has an upper hell before the city of Dis, so Purgatorio has an ante-purgatory. When Dante and Virgil reach the gate of purgatory proper, a guardian angel inscribes Dante’s forehead with seven P’s (probably for the Latin “peccatum” or “sin”). The mountain rises in a series of seven concentric terraces, each of which purges one of what medieval Christians knew as the seven deadly sins. Just as hell descends from the least to the most serious sins, so purgatory rises terrace by terrace in the opposite moral direction, from the most to the least serious sin: 1) Pride, 2) Envy, 3) Wrath, 4) Sloth, 5) Avarice, 6) Gluttony, 7) Lust.

On each terrace, Dante encounters souls suffering some penance aimed at purging their particular vice: the proud, for instance, are bowed low under great slabs of rock. Each terrace also contains artistic representations of that vice along with scenes of the opposite virtue (on the first terrace, humility is praised). Especially in purgatory the poem focuses on the meaning of art and artistic representation since it is only in time and on Earth that art can be useful to represent eternity and give humans some idea of the right direction. On the upper terraces, Dante meets a series of poets, provides a history of vernacular lyric poetry in his day, and offers his understanding of the origin and function of true poetry. At the end of each terrace, an angel erases one of the P’s from Dante’s forehead until he is utterly free of sin at the top of the mountain.

Dante the poet chooses to place earthly paradise—the very Garden of Eden from which Adam and Eve were banished due to original sin at the beginning of human history—at the top of his mountain of purgatory. Dante the character is initially hesitant to pass through the wall of fire that separates him from paradise until Virgil informs him that Beatrice is waiting inside. The last part of Purgatorio takes place inside earthly paradise, where Dante witnesses an elaborate pageant that symbolizes all of history as defined by Christian scripture. At the very center of this parade of human history is a mythical griffon (half eagle, half lion) meant to signify Christ (God and man); the creature pulls a chariot on which Beatrice—Dante’s own personal savior—stands triumphant. Dante is overcome with emotion as a stern Beatrice berates him like a little child for his moral wandering. Virgil has disappeared. Dante swoons. When he comes to, he is being bathed and purified in two Edenic rivers. He then stands ready with Beatrice at his side to ascend to the heavens.

Paradiso—light and joy

The character Dante is at first confused when he finds himself soaring heavenward with Beatrice. But Beatrice soon explains that it would be unnatural for Dante not to ascend now that he has been freed of all earthly vice. All elements in the universe possess a sort of innate moral gravity. Just as in Aristotle’s physical universe heavy objects fall to earth and fire rises, so in Dante’s moral universe individual souls fall or rise to their appropriate place. All human souls naturally harbor an inherent desire to return to their origins in divine truth, though some lose sight of this while on earth. Weighed down and waylaid by earthly concerns or attractions, they fall to infernal damnation.

Dante’s Paradiso reflects the perpetual joy of those reunited and continually reuniting with divine light. Around the planet Earth revolves a series of translucent spheres at differing speeds. The first seven spheres, or heavens, carry the orbiting bodies for which they are named: the Moon, Mercury, Venus, the Sun, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn. The eighth heaven holds the Fixed Stars, including the zodiacal schemes and other stars against whose backdrop the remaining heavenly bodies revolve. The ninth heaven is the Primum Mobile or Prime Mover, the invisible motor for all the rest. Finally, God in his essence resides in a motionless tenth heaven of perfect superabundant light and repose that Dante calls “Empyrean.” The rest of the heavens all spin—each one faster than the previous heaven—as a sign of their appetite for this ultimate fulfillment, reunion with divine essence.

In the opening cantos of Paradiso, Beatrice offers Dante and the reader a number of difficult doctrinal lessons to explain some basic truths about light and vision in heaven and about God’s creation generally. Dante finds her staring directly at the sun and he follows suit. But his human sight cannot sustain this direct solar gaze for long and soon he averts his glance to Beatrice herself as she reflects the sunlight. Embodied humans, it seems, cannot experience divine light directly, but can sense divinity indirectly through reflections and accommodations to their inferior vision. (To Dante’s mind, the whole visible universe is one such accommodation, a reflection or shadow of divine unity that points to God; also right-minded literature is a rhetorical invention that reflects divine truth in ways humans can understand.) Apparently each individual element of creation has a unique capacity to absorb and reflect divine light—some more, some less. There is immense individual diversity within perfect unity in this joyous part of the universe. Yet all can completely satisfy their separate appetites for perfect fulfillment. The divine light is shared but unlike a physical substance, whose amount diminishes when shared, divine light-energy increases when reflected to others. Beatrice explains that in its essence heavenly paradise is complete light and silence, all souls at one with God in the Empyrean. But the souls have, as it were, condescended to the limitations of human vision and understanding in a display of the nine heavens to allow Dante the character (and the readers) to experience paradise within the confines of their abilities.

To this end, Dante the poet creates for Paradiso categories of blessedness and a structure of graded blessedness comparable to the circles and terraces of sin in the previous two books. The first three heavens contain souls whose undeniable virtue was in some small measure marred by human defect. In the heaven of the Moon, Dante meets Piccarda Donati, sister of his great Florentine political opponent Corso Donati, and Constance of Normandy, mother of the emperor Frederick II. Both were virtuous women who entered a convent but then broke their vows due to difficult circumstances. In the heaven of Mercury are souls like the sixth-century Roman emperor Justinian, whose great service to humanity was slightly sullied by ambition for worldly fame. The lovers in the heaven of Venus were a force for good in the world, but their love was not always 100 percent pure—the biblical Rahab, whore of Babylon for a time, is but one example. Only with the fourth heaven of the Sun do we leave the shadow of earthly defect entirely behind to meet souls of total virtue. So Paradiso too has a less perfect subrealm, like Inferno’s upper hell and Purgatorio’s antepurgatory.

Dante populates the heaven of the sun with his intellectual heroes, ancient wise men and medieval theologians like Saint Thomas Aquinas. Unlike the shadowy bodies of hell and purgatory, souls in paradise appear as brilliant points of light who form dynamic configurations in a concert of luminosity. Souls of the wise men configure themselves into two circular crowns that dance around Dante and Beatrice at their center. In the fifth heaven of Mars are the courageous warriors for Christ arrayed in a Greek cross. Dante here meets his great-great-grandfather Cacciaguida, who confirms Dante’s historical destiny as prophet and poet. In the sixth heaven of Jupiter, just rulers spell out words of light that enjoin all rulers on earth to love justice, in many ways the theme of the entire Divine Comedy. One of the letters transforms into an eagle, symbol of the emperor and reminder of Dante’s political convictions even at this great height. In the seventh heaven of Saturn, thinkers and mystics form a ladder reaching to the very top of paradise. In the heaven of the Fixed Stars, Dante meets the apostle-saints Peter, James, and John, who grill Dante on the three theological virtues of faith, hope, and love, his entrance exam to upper paradise. There Dante also sees Adam, the first man, and does some intense questioning of his own about the nature and origin of human language.

Dante’s experience of the uppermost reaches of heaven is a metaphorical flood of overwhelming light, first a flowing river that he drinks in, then a celestial rose reflected off the convex surface of the Primum Mobile. In this rose, which quickly becomes a sort of immense amphitheatre, all of the blessed souls have their seats. Beatrice quietly takes her place among these blessed souls as the poem returns to the point promised way back at the beginning of Inferno.

Dante becomes aware of another presence beside him, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, who urges him to look up and at long last to take in the source of all love and light, that is, to face God directly. Words, says the poet, fail to describe what he saw: a flashing point of light that was at the same time the image of a human face and three circles (suggesting the Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the central mystery of Christianity). The poet knows only that at that enraptured moment of complete joy and satisfaction, he was one with all creation, an integral piece of the divine love that moves the sun and all the stars.

History and allegory

Critics still debate the nature of the allegory in Dante’s Divine Comedy. His medieval world used the term allegory to describe a text or image that contained an additional meaning beyond what was immediately apparent, what today might be called symbolism. Most common was a type called poetic allegory (or personification allegory). In poetic allegory, a person or animal simply represented an abstract category: a female figure, for example, might be called Patience or Pride. In this rather crude form of allegory, the actual person has little or no substance, but functions as a mere cipher for the concept. Dante’s poem sometimes flirts with poetic allegory of this sort. The three beasts of Inferno 1 seem to represent three large categories of sin. But one does not know for sure. Dante the poet rarely links his elements to one clear meaning, preferring instead to leave his verse open to a range of possible meanings.


Dante called his poem a “comedy” in accordance with ancient definitions of comedy and tragedy (“divine” was added later by an early commentator). Tragedies used elevated language to treat upper-class characters in a plot that begins in great fortune and ends unhappily. By contrast, comedies treated a broader social spectrum of society (including servants and peasants), often in popular language. Like Dante’s poem, they typically began in confusion and ended in happiness.

Yet Dante clearly wants his reader to take his poem as history—the literal story of a man who journeyed to a very real place beyond death. His exhaustive attention to details of every sort, the dramatic flair of his characters’ encounters with real people, and the psychological complexity of his portraits persuade the reader of the poem’s realism. Meanwhile, the poem’s many episodes allow Dante the poet to offer instruction for living a happy life and on the good and bad effects of various mental attitudes. Dante also conveys a very specific theory of history, according to which the events of the Hebrew Bible and the ancient classical world unfolded in preparation for the coming of Christ, who gives meaning to everything before and after. Virgil came before and so is relegated to Limbo in hell, yet he is chosen as a main guide because Virgil is the poet who captures an important segment of history for Dante, the history of the founding and destiny of Rome. Virgil neatly represents the story of the world right up to the birth of Christ, and of the limit of human virtue before this birth. Then Dante takes this story up to his own day, translating official history into very individual terms (and inviting us to do the same): hundreds of years after Christ, Dante enjoyed a personal savior named Beatrice who informed his life with meaning and led him to divine truth. The allegory can be understood on a personal level too. Whether or not one is Christian or believes in an afterlife, the Inferno can be understood to represent despair, an attitude the poet, in unhappy exile, finally rejects. To have no hope that life has direction or meaning is to be in hell. In the same vein, Purgatorio is challenge and suffering gladdened by hope. Paradiso affirms that human longing can end in fulfillment.

Sources and literary context

The Divine Comedy reflects Dante’s wide acquaintance with, indeed passion for, ancient and medieval learning and literature of many kinds. Two books stand out for the sheer degree of their presence in his mind and thus in the text of the Comedy. The first is the Bible in the medieval Latin translation by Saint Jerome (c. 340-420), commonly known as the Vulgate. The second is Virgil’s Aeneid, the great Latin epic that tells of the founding of Rome.

Also influential was the popular vernacular literature and Dante’s contact with other Italian writers. Old French romances about the military exploits and torturous loves of knights and ladies at court like Lancelot and Guinivere circulated widely in many versions. Picking up on various traditions, Dante wrote in the vernacular and included episodes that recalled, for example, romance as well as other forms of literature. Dante’s past experience as a man of letters was with fellow Italian poets like Guido Guinizelli and Guido Cavalcanti (Dante’s one-time best friend), who themselves were indebted to earlier versifiers in Provence and Sicily. Dante the character meets many of these predecessors in the Comedy, while Dante the poet is keen within its confines to share his assessment of the romance tradition, the new vernacular poetry, his fellow practitioners, and his own (superior) place among them.

For his construction of a reality beyond death, Dante may have been influenced by other Christian poems on the afterlife, though none can rival Virgil’s Aeneid as a source for concrete detail. In a broad sense, Dante was surely influenced by the Christian Neoplatonists, for whom all human desire pointed to an unchanging, invisible unity beyond our understanding. This is Saint Augustine’s insistent message in his Confessions, a meditation on individual human consciousness in time and the crucial role of rhetoric in moving human hearts. For Dante’s understanding and ordering of sins in Inferno, Aristotle’s Ethics is fundamental. His Purgatorio relies on long-held notions of the seven deadly sins as well as Christian mythology of the Garden of Eden. His scheme in Paradiso draws on ancient and medieval astronomy along with established mystical notions of the angelic hierarchies.


Dante’s Comedy was an enormous success from the moment it first circulated in manuscript. A tradition of interpretation and meticulous line-by-line reading of the text began immediately and has continued virtually uninterrupted to the present day. The Divine Comedy has generated a body of commentary second perhaps only to the Bible. The Florentines soon regretted the shabby way they had treated the now famous Dante; in the late fourteenth century, the community commissioned an aging Boccaccio, writer of the Decameron , to deliver public lectures on what was regarded as Dante’s glorious poem (also in WLAIT 7: Italian Literature and Its Times).

The poem’s architectural structure captured the imagination of illustrators and artists from the very start. While Dante’s original appears to have vanished, dozens of manuscript versions—some illuminated with brilliant images of tormented sinners, mischievous demons, and radiant angels—have transmitted Dante’s text, which was also among the most popular choices for early printers. The best-known illustrators include the painter Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510) in the Renaissance, much later in the nineteenth century, the English poet and engraver William Blake (1757-1827) and the French engraver Gustave Doré (1832-1883). A testament to Dante’s powers of persuasion, Renaissance mathematicians began the tradition of calculating the exact size and shape of Dante’s realms and mapping his hell, purgatory, and paradise with professional precision. The heirs to these early maps can be found in the visual supplements that accompany today’s many printed and online editions of the poem.

Dante’s importance for other poets and writers the world over has endured for centuries. His presence can be felt throughout the English and American tradition in the poetry of Geoffrey Chaucer, Alfred Tennyson, William Blake, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (an important early translator) to the verse of a modernist like Ezra Pound or, in our own day, the Irish poet Seamus Heany. Another modernist poet, T. S. Eliot, spelled out Dante’s stature in no uncertain terms: “Dante and Shakespeare divide the modern world between them; there is no third” (Eliot, p. 225). Across seven centuries the Divine Comedy has inspired lines of human thought and creativity, from commentary, to mapmaking,


As a rhetorician and poet, Dante needed to make his creation beautiful in order to attract readers to his moral message. Medieval aesthetics identified beauty with symmetry and arithmetic harmony. For a Christian poet like Dante, the most significant numbers were three and one, a reflection of the Holy Trinity said to contain three persons (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) in one perfect divine unity. The Divine Comedy contains three books in one; each book contains 33 brief chapters called “cantos” plus the introductory first canto of Inferno for a total of 100 cantos (33 times three plus one). Dante used the classic Italian eleven-syllable line known as hendecasyllable and invented an elaborate interlocking rhyme scheme of three verse stanzas or tercets (aba bcb cdc …), but each canto ends with an additional single verse. Thus, the number of verses in each canto is a multiple of three plus one verse, or 3x + 1, and the total number of verses is 14,233, also a multiple of three plus one.

prose, poetry, drawing, music, painting, sculpture, film, television, and video. This is perhaps the surest sign of the poem’s success.

—Gary P. Cestaro

For More Information

Dante Alighieri. The Divine Comedy. Trans. Charles S. Singleton. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1970.

——. The Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri. Ed. and trans. Robert M. Durling and Ronald L. Martinez. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.

“Dante Online.” Italian Dante Society in Italian and English.

“Digital Dante.” Columbia University.

Eliot, T. S. Selected Essays 1917–1932. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1932.

Hollander, Robert. Dante: A Life in Works. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001.

Jacoff, Rachel, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Dante. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

Lansing, Richard, ed. The Dante Encyclopedia. New York: Garland Publishing, 2000.

Taylor, Charles H., and Patricia Finley. Images of the Journey in Dante’s Divine Comedy. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997.

Divine Comedy, The

views updated Jun 27 2018

Divine Comedy, The (La Divina Commedia). A long poetic work by Dante, describing the three domains of the life to come, Inferno, Purgatory, Paradise. Begun c.1307, it was completed shortly before his death in 1321. The poet is guided by Virgil through the circles of hell to the rim of purgatory, and in company with Beatrice is granted a glimpse of the beatific vision.

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