One of the greatest books of the western world—and, indeed, of the entire world of literature—The Divine Comedy is the masterpiece of fourteenth-century Italian poet Dante Alighieri. Composed of three parts—Inferno (Hell), Purgatory, and Paradise—The Divine Comedy chronicles the voyage of Dante and the spirit of the poet Virgil through Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven. Each region consists of a series of concentric, cone-shaped circles in which the dead reside. Which circle the dead inhabit depends on the degree of their sinfulness or goodness while on earth. Among those Dante and Virgil encounter are famous politicians, popes, and philosophers, including Emperor Frederick II, who attempted the unification of Italy and Sicily, Pope Boniface VIII, Dante’s bitter enemy, and Brunetto Latini, a beloved mentor.The poem, written in terza rima, reflects the greatest politico-religious struggle of the Middle Ages, that between the Holy Roman Empire and the papacy. This struggle manifested itself in the formation of the two chief political parties of Dante’s time, the Guelphs, comprised of the middle class who opposed the Holy Roman Empire while supporting papal supremacy, and the Ghibellines, who represented the aristocracy and supported the Holy Roman Empire. As a supporter of the Guelphs, Dante desperately wanted to see a unified Italy. In fact, it is said that Dante’s writing marks the beginning of the “true” Italian language as we know it today.Dante’s choice of the Latin poet Virgil as a traveling companion is significant. Virgil represented the two chief institutions of Dante’s time: the papacy and the Holy Roman Empire. Virgil’s poem, the Aeneid, served as a model for the Inferno
. Moreover, the Aeneid speaks of a coming “Child” who would save the world. In Dante’s day, this Child was recognized as Jesus, the Christ, the Savior of the world.
Copyright 2006 by MaryAnn Diorio, Ph.D. All rights reserved. This abstract may not be published, copied, or reproduced in any form whatsoever without the written permission of the author.