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Research Paper: Divine Comedy

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Research Paper: Divine Comedy

Epic poems were popular as early as Ancient Greece. These poems depicted the events and the ideas of the time they were written in. One such epic poem was Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy. Written in the early fourteenth century the Divine Comedy takes on an allegoric view of the Christian and of the political beliefs held by Dante at the time. Dante was part of a political group in Italy known as the White Guelphs, who favored the Pope as leader over the Holy Roman Emperor. This held influence in the Divine Comedy. In trying to get these ideas out the people Dante wrote the epic poem in the vernacular of the Italian people.
The Divine Comedy is centered on Dante and his two guides. The poem takes the reader on a journey with Dante and his guides through Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven. This is accomplished through the poem being broken up into three main canticles. Each one of these canticles contains thirty-three cantos. The number three is an important Christian symbol as it symbolizes the Trinity. This is important to Dante in his poem due to his religious beliefs. As the reader gets a literal description on Dante’s travels, the reader symbolically gains insight on how people viewed the progression of a person’s soul toward God.
The first canticle is about Dante’s and his guide, Virgil’s, descent through the ten circles of Hell. As they descend through Hell the reader learns about the 10 circles. The deeper in Hell the worse your sin is considered. The sins that represented the circles included lust, gluttony, greed, anger, heresy and more. The reader also learns that the punishment a soul in Hell receives is tailored to the sin they committed. For example fortune tellers have their heads placed on backwards so they cannot see what lay ahead. Heretics are buried in tombs that burn forever. Lastly Dante and Virgil come across the tenth circle, where Satan is kept frozen. The lowest circle is not only for the greatest betrayer of God, which is Satan, but also the three greatest human betrayers. The main human betrayer is Judas for having betrayed Jesus. He gets chewed on my Satan, while having his back clawed at. The other two human betrayers are Brutus and Cassius. Their eternal punishment is to be chomped on by Satan. Their presence in the tenth circle is significant because it reflected the view of some Italians, that Brutus’ and Cassius’ betrayal of Julius Caesar led to the destruction of a unified Italy and that they had killed a man appointed by God to rule. As a soul gets perverted is sinks deeper into Hell receiving more grueling punishments.
The next canticle is about Dante’s and Virgil’s experience as they ascent through the ten rings of the Mount of Purgatory. Unlike Hell souls here can redeems themselves though having committed sins. The main difference is that souls in Purgatory are penitent for sins or may have been just short of receiving all the sacraments. Receiving the sacraments was seen as necessary method of getting grace from God during this time in history. In each ring or level to Purgatory souls are doing a particular penance in order to receive forgiveness for their sins. The gluttonous for example, have to starve just out of the reach of food. The proud have to carry large stones on their back to learn humility. The top level to the Mount of Purgatory is an earthly paradise. It is where the repentant soul has reached an innocence similar to the time of the Garden of Eden. In the Mount of Purgatory the soul does penance for its sins and climbs its way to an earthly paradise.
The final canticle is about Dante’s and Beatrice’s progression through the ten realms of Heaven. Virgil being a pagan cannot travel into Heaven so instead a lovely woman named Beatrice becomes Dante’s guide. She is the subject of Dante’s love. This is influenced by medieval literature’s popular theme of courtly love. Unlike in the first two canticles this canticle focuses on how virtuous a soul is. The more virtuous a soul is the higher and the closer to God it is. For example, the fifth realm is reserved for those who died for their faith. The tenth realm is where God is and where one can find their soul aligned with God’s love.
As the reader travels with Dante he or she sees the symbolic journey of a soul toward God. First the soul becomes muddied with perversion and gives into sin. This was represented with the descent into Hell in Dante’s epic. Next the reader notes the soul enter a repentant state, where the soul is remorseful for its perversion. This was represented by Dante’s climb of the Mount of Purgatory. Lastly the reader identifies the soul’s achievement of grace and of God’s love, when it is reunited with God. This was conveyed with Dante’s scaling of Heaven. This journey of the soul depicts the belief people of the time held. They believed that in their sin they were becoming perverted and would received punishment for it. They also believed that if they received the sacraments and also indulgences as a manner of repentance they would get closer to the full grace of God. Finally they believed that if they had received grace that they could enter Heaven and have their soul aligned with God’s love.

Works Cited
Burge, James. "Dante: Reason And Religion." History Today 61.3 (2011): 10-15. Humanities Full Text (H.W. Wilson). Web. 29 Mar. 2013.
Hollander, Robert. "Dante: A Party Of One." First Things: A Monthly Journal Of Religion & Public Life 92 (1999): 30-35. Humanities Full Text (H.W. Wilson). Web. 29 Mar. 2013.
Yezzi, David. "The Poetry Of Paradise." First Things: A Monthly Journal Of Religion & Public Life 179 (2008): 55-57. Humanities Full Text (H.W. Wilson). Web. 29 Mar. 2013.

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