The Divine Comedy is a narrative poem published by an Italian poet, Dante Alighieri. That he was a philosopher and theologist a part of religion and political dilemmas in medieval Florence, his hometown. That he started writing The Divine Comedy in 1308, and finished it in 1321.

In the centre Ages, poetry was primarily written in Latin, which made it available solely to the educated. Dante Aligheri chose not just to ignore this tradition, but wrote The Divine Comedy in a more primitive version of the Italian language—the Tuscan dialect. The job is regarded as a comedy because, in a classical context, as opposed to a contemporary one, a comedy is a work that relates to explaining the beliefs of an ordered universe. The Divine Comedy is considered one of the more important items of world literature. Many writers and artists were so greatly inspired by it that in turn, they've created their particular masterpieces.

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The poem, The Divine Comedy, is about a journey of the author himself, towards God. It has three parts: Inferno (Hell), Purgatorio (Purgatory) and Paradiso (Heaven). Each part contains thirty-three cantos. Such division reflects the medieval theology specific to Christianity. The objective of Dante’s Divine Comedy was to show people the horrors their souls would undergo if they failed to obey God's laws, and did not live their lives righteously.

There exists a lot of symbolism in connection with numbers throughout the novel. The number three is amongst the most common and important ones. In Inferno, the first the main Divine Comedy, we encounter three beasts, a three-headed dog—Cerberus, and a three-faced Satan. The main reason Dante Aligheri chose the number 3 is specifically due to its significance in Christianity: there is a Holy Spirit, God—the Father, and Jesus (the three godheads). Another number significant to The Divine Comedy is seven. You can find seven life-threatening sins and seven terraces in Purgatorio. Lastly, the quantity nine can be used for the nine circles of Hell, and the nine spheres in Heaven.

You might also be interested in discovering symbolism and ways to use it in your own writing effectively

In this specific article we will have a detailed look at all the parts of the poem, paying most focus on Dante’s Inferno book. We shall analyze the primary characters and their significance to the plot.
Batten down the hatches, take a deep breath and let the hell begin!

Dante’s Divine Comedy Summary

In Dante’s Inferno, he finds himself lost in the forest and realizes he has died. Virgil helps him on his journey, accompanying him throughout Inferno and Purgatorio. He encounters the horrors happening within Inferno and goes through the nine circles of it. We will have a closer look at all the circles of hell and determine their specifics and differences, along with look at Dante’s Inferno—Satan himself. Purgatorio is a the main Divine Comedy in which Dante and Virgil travel through the seven terraces of the mountain, each of them representing a lethal sin. In Paradiso, the key character, with the guidance of his beloved Beatrice, travel through the nine celestial spheres of Heaven. As opposed to Inferno and Purgatorio, in the last the main poem the protagonist encounters virtues, perhaps not sins.

Inferno Summary

The very first part of The Divine Comedy begins with Dante lost in a forest. He is confused and doesn't know how that he got there:

Canto 2 “When I had journeyed half of our life’s way,
I found myself within a shadowed forest,
for I had lost the path that does not stray.”

Dante is the protagonist and main character of three areas of the poem. His journey is an autobiographical portrayal where he includes many of his enemies and historical figures of yesteryear to all intervene in an intricate world of Heaven and Hell. He's spiritually lost and is in need of guidance to find the means of righteousness to God—called the “True Way”. When that he goes through the circles of Hell, he's often portrayed as having pity and compassion for the sinners. He realizes that they are guilty of their sins, but that he still believes in the good included and finds their enduring devastating. He's also terrified by most of the horrors that he encounters in Inferno and seems only a little frightened. Though, Dante is extremely curious, so he attempts to consult with a lot of the sinners along his way.

Canto 28 “Who, though with words unshackled from the rhymes,
Could yet tell full the tale of wounds and blood
Now shown me, let him try ten thousand times?”

In this quote from Dante’s Inferno, we could see the vulnerability and sensitivity with that the protagonist speaks of his emotions through the journey. His compassion and love for the poor souls chained in Dante’s Inferno shows him as a good Christian and God-fearing man.

In the forest, he sees a mountain nearby and tries to climb it, but his path is blocked with a lion, a leopard, and a wolf. A spirit of Virgil, an Ancient Roman poet whose major work is titled Aenid, concerns help him get through this obstacle and lead him through Inferno and Purgatorio to Heaven. Virgil is just a brave and courageous soul. He represents human reason and wisdom acquired through the ages. On the journey through Inferno they meet many beasts and scary creatures, but Virgil stands up to each and every one one. He is also incredibly smart and intelligent; he can trick any creature into helping them because he is a gifted speaker. He is a good friend as that he supports Dante and comforts him when he feels scared or uneasy in regards to the challenges that he faces all through Inferno and Purgatorio. Virgil understands that Dante and his fate are dependent on him. Despite this, he's fair to Dante, scolds him when he gets too soft, and pities the sinners a little too much. He encourages him to be strong and brave:

Canto 5 “Be as a tower, that, firmly set,
Shakes not its top for any blast that blows!”

Virgil was provided for help Dante by Beatrice, his beloved. Her character was inspired by a real woman, also named Beatrice, whom Dante met when he was a child and instantly fell so in love with. Unfortunately, she died when she was only 25. Dante wrote many beautiful poems specialized in her, praising her beauty and love.

Dante and Virgil approach the entrance to Inferno and see a band of souls whose fate will later be determined, since it is not clear whether there's more bad or good they have committed. In order to reach Hell, one must cross the river Acheron. Charon is an old man who takes souls across the river. He is hesitant to transport Dante at first, because, technically he's still alive, but Virgil convinces him to do so anyway, because Dante’s journey is overseen by God. If they enter Inferno, they see an inscription on its gate:

Canto 3 "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here."

First Circle – Limbo

The initial circle consists not of sinners, but people who are maybe not baptized; either they lived before Christ when baptism had not yet spread, or they never got baptized. They have a home in a castle with seven gates, symbols of the seven virtues. Technically, it really is an inferior type of Heaven where pagans are stuck and punished for eternity. Here, Dante and Virgil meet many Greek and Roman philosophers, poets, and artists, such as Homer, Ovid, Socrates, Cicero, and also Julius Cesar. Virgil is one of them, which he explains in the next quote:

Canto 4 “They sinned perhaps not; yet their merit lacked its chiefest
Fulfillment, lacking baptism, which is
The gateway to the faith which thou believest;
Or, living before Christendom, their knees
Paid not aright those tributes that belong
To God; and I myself am one of these.”

Second Circle – Lust

The 2nd circle features a more old-fashioned appearance of Hell. It's dark, saturated in screaming noises, and enduring. Near the entrance to the 2nd circle stands Minos, a massive beast who decides where souls must certanly be sent for torment. The 2nd circle holds people who were lustful all through their lives. They are punished by strong winds blown over them, throwing them back and forth. These winds symbolize the restlessness and instability of people guilty of lust. Dante and Virgil notice many people of Greek and Roman antiquity, mythology and history—such as Cleopatra, Tristan, and Helen of Troy. Among other sinners punished for lust, they meet with the souls of Paolo and Francesca da Rimini—a couple condemned to Hell due to their adultery and numerous love affairs. Francesca explains:

Canto 5 "Love, which quickly arrests the gentle heart,
Seized him with my beautiful form
Which was taken from me, in a fashion which still grieves me. ”

Dante, so touched and devastated by their story, faints. When that he wakes, that he realizes he has already found its way to the third circle of Hell.

Third Circle – Gluttony

In the third circle of Hell, Dante and Virgil encounter souls whose sin is gluttony. A worm-monster, Cerberus, watches over them. They've been punished with icy, slushy rain that pours throughout them without stopping. They've been not permitted to stand, so the slushy water covers their physique as they lie. The slushy rain is just a symbol of personal destruction and the shortcoming to stop eating. People who are in this circle of Inferno have weak will and cannot resist the earthly pleasures of indulgence—food and drinks. Here, the protagonist meets the soul Ciacco, his political opponent from Florence.

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Fourth Circle – Greed

The fourth circle of Dante’s Inferno is guarded by Pluto, a Roman god of the underworld who's also thought to be the god of wealth. Here, the sinners are divided into two groups: those that hoarded their possessions, and the ones who spent sumptuously. Their punishment would be to push very heavy weights up a mountain—mostly boulders, which symbolize their lust for never-ending money and possessions. There, Dante recognizes many people he's familiar with, such as for example clergymen, popes, and cardinals—all of whom have been greedy throughout their lifetime.

Fifth Circle – Anger

In this circle of hell, Dante and Virgil encounter people who are guilty of wrath and fury. Those found guilty to be angry and impatient are immersed in the river Styx, or simply just are forced to fight among one another on its surface. They gurgle the water of the river, struggle, and drown. The water consists of a black toxic liquid and they are left there to suffer. Dante encounters still another political enemy of his, Filippo Argenti, who confiscated his possessions when that he was banished from Florence. He tries to climb up in to a boat, but gets pushed away.

Phlegyas is the boatman who helps Dante and Virgil get across this river. They have been stopped with a group of fallen angels. Furies threatens to summon Medusa so that she can turn Dante into stone, because that he does not belong in the world of the dead. An angel arrives and opens the gate for them before Medusa is able to arrive at them.

Sixth Circle – Heresy

The sixth circle of Inferno is for heretics – people who have contrary opinions to Christian beliefs. There, they lie in tombs that burn them alive. Dante talks with Farinata degli Uberti, a political leader and his contemporary, who did not rely on God. That he also sees Epicurus, Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II, and Pope Anastasius II.

Seventh Circle – Violence

The passage to the seventh circle is blocked by way of a Minotaur—half-man, half-bull. Virgil insults him, and the minotaur bursts right into a violent outrage, letting Dante and Virgil sneak past him. The seventh circle of Hell of Dante’s Inferno is divided into three rings. Nessus is a centaur who carries the protagonist through the initial ring. In this circle, they visit a forest inhabited by harpies – mythological creatures with birds’ bodies and womens’ heads. Dante tears off a branch from a tree that shrieks in horror and pain. The tree turns out to be the soul of Pier della Vigna. That he ended his life because he was accused of conspiracy contrary to the emperor. They blinded him for treason and threw him in to jail where he killed himself. That he explains that the souls who commit suicide are kept in the seventh circle and be trees. There, their leaves are eaten by harpies, which cause the trees a lot of pain.

'The Suicides' from Dante's Divine Comedy. Illustration by Gustave Dore

To be able to get from the seventh to the eighth circle of Inferno, Virgil and Dante get help from Geryon – a giant Monster of the Fraud. He's got a dragon-like body and wings, the paws of a lion, and a human face.

Eighth Circle – Fraud

This circle is divided up into ten Bolgias – ditches with bridges between them, which are placed around a circular well. Malacoda is the leader who guards the entrance to the eighth circle of Hell. He lies and deceives both the poet and Virgil by telling them there are bridges in this circle, and that they have nothing to worry about. non-etheless, their path is very dangerous. Each Bolgia has different types of people who sin is fraud:

Canto 11 “Of all malicious wrong that earns Heaven's hate
The end is injury; all such ends are won
Either by force or fraud. Both perpetrate
Evil to others; but since man alone
Is capable of fraud, God hates that worst;
The fraudulent lie lowest, then, and groan”

They encounter panderers, seducers, sorcerers, false prophets, corrupt politicians, hypocrites, thieves, evil counselors and advisers, alchemists, counterfeits, and perjurers. Pope Boniface VIII, Dante’s political enemy, is among the sinners they meet in this circle. In the journey from the eighth to the ninth of Dante’s Inferno circles of hell, they get help from Antaeus, a huge who carries them down the well, which is the road to the ninth, and final circle of Hell.

Ninth Circle – Treachery

This circle consists of a lake – Cocytus. The sinners here are submerged in ice, only their heads stand out. Dante sees Bocca degli Abati, a Florentine traitor, who is so ashamed of his sins, he doesn't want to tell Dante his name, in the beginning. As Dante and Virgil proceed through the lake, they see the giant figure of Lucifer, also stuck in ice. Lucifer is the Prince of Hell. He has three mouths, and in every one of them he holds a sinner: Judas, Brutus and Cassius:

Canto 34 “Each mouth devoured a sinner clenched within,
Frayed by the fangs like flax beneath a brake;
Three at a time he tortured them for sin.”

So that you can get out of Inferno Dante and Virgil must climb Lucifer’s body. They manage to crawl out of the hole and find themselves on an island where they view a lot of bright stars, and Mt. Purgatory. This ends the Dante’s Inferno book.

Lucifer, king of Hell, frozen in the ice. Illustration by Gustave Dore

Purgatorio Summary

At the start of the next part of The Divine Comedy, Dante and Virgil find themselves at the dawn of a fresh day. They stand at the shore and visit a boat arrives. On the boat, you can find souls brought by an angel who'll climb Mount Purgatory, alongside Dante, to rid themselves of sins and check out Heaven. Dante cannot waste any time, but he is forced to spend the night time outside of Purgatory with other souls, who, unlike him, cannot travel at night. Dante falls asleep, and when that he wakes up, Virgil tells him that St. Lucia helped him and carried him right to the gates of Purgatory.

In Purgatory, they will have seven terraces to journey through. Before they enter, an angel puts seven “P”’s on Dante’s forehead. They match the seven deadly sins. The angel says that each time a terrace of a sin is surpassed, a “P” will be removed.

The first terrace is of Pride. There, Dante and Virgil see penitents carry heavy weights up the mountain of humility to cure them of their pride:

Canto 10 “Whatever makes them suffer their
heavy torment bends them to the ground;
at first I was unsure of what they were.
But look intently there, and let your eyes
unravel what’s beneath those stones: you can
already see what penalty strikes each.”

The second terrace is dedicated to Envy. The envious penitents you will find treated with their eyelids sewn shut with iron wire. Voices shout samples of punished envy to intensify the effect.

The third terrace is due to Wrath. The penitents listed below are treated with black smoke that enters their eyes and makes them blind.

The fourth terrace is of the Slothful. They've been punished by running without stopping, or any rest.

On the fifth terrace, they punish greedy and avaricious souls. The punished are tied by their feet and arms, face down on the ground. To be able to rid themselves of these sins, they must shout examples of poverty and generosity.

The sixth terrace is dedicated to Gluttony. Here, penitents clean their souls by experiencing extreme hunger and thirst.

The seventh and final terrace is of Lust, where the penitents walk in flames and raise your voice examples of chastity.

At sunset, they reach the exit of the last terrace, and Dante’s last “P” is removed by the angel. Although, so that you can proceed, that he must undergo a wall of flames that separates Purgatorio and Paradiso. He's very scared and hesitates a lot, but Virgil convinces him to cheer up and be brave, because, once he is through this obstacle, he will finally see Beatrice. When Dante passes through the flames, he falls asleep. That he wakes up the following morning ready to start his journey through Paradiso. They approach the banks of the river Lethe, and suddenly, Virgil disappears, and as an alternative Beatrice appears in front of the protagonist. He is devastated by the increasing loss of his friend and grieves.

Beatrice is portrayed as Dante’s guide through Purgatorio. She actually is very knowledgeable, a little strict, and clearly believes in the good in Dante. She believes that this trip will save his soul and grant him salvation. She actually is a personification of divine knowledge, wisdom, and good, righteous judgment.

Dante confesses to Beatrice all his sins. She judges him for them and expresses her disappointment in this quote:

Canto 2 “What trenches did you meet, what chains or rope
Did you find barring you from passing on,
That you should have divested all your hope?”

A female named Matilda washes them off in the river Lethe when Dante falls asleep. When he wakes up, Beatrice tells him that he can proceed under one condition: he has to create about every thing he sees in Paradiso when that he returns to earth.

Then, Matilda submerges Dante in the river Eunoe, helping to make him willing to ascend to Heaven along side Beatrice.

Paradiso Summary

Paradiso consists of nine spheres:

  1. The very first sphere is of the Moon. Beatrice explains to Dante the structure of the universe. She says that the Moon could be the home for souls that broke their vows. Their words lacked in courage and can not be trusted.
  2. The 2nd sphere is of Mercury. There, Dante and Beatrice meet Justinian, who explains the history of Ancient Rome. This sphere is situated too close to the sun, it represents those who did good deeds for fame and glory.
  3. The 3rd sphere is of Venus. There, Dante encounters Charles Martel of Anjou. That he talks to Dante about the need for societal diversity and improving its function by the inclusion of individuals with differing backgrounds.
  4. The fourth sphere is the sphere of the sun's rays. There, St. Thomas, along side another eleven souls, reveal to Dante the value of perhaps not judging hastily and knowing prudence.
  5. The fifth heavenly sphere is Mars. It has to do with warriors who died for their faith and God. There, Dante meets Cacciaguida, who tells him concerning the noble past of Florentines, and Dante’s mission in delivering all of the knowledge he's got gained on his journey to Florence and its citizens.
  6. The sixth sphere is of Jupiter. It's a place of kings who display justice. A huge eagle speaks to Dante of divine justice and the rulers of yesteryear, such as Constantine and Trajan.
  7. The seventh degree of heaven may be the sphere of Saturn. It really is dedicated to those that live by temperance and pray vigorously all their lives. He witnesses people who climb up and down a golden ladder. Here, Dante meets St. Peter Damian, who lectures him on corruption of clergy and predestination. They discuss the moral decline of the institute of church.
  8. The eighth level is called the Fixed Stars. Here, Dante and Beatrice find the Virgin Mary as well as other Biblical characters, such as Adam, John, Peter, and James. They reveal to Dante the complexities of Heaven and Eden.
  9. The ninth sphere is known as the Premium Mobile. It is controlled by God specifically and for that reason affects all of the lower spheres accordingly. It's the place where angels live. Beatrice explains to Dante the story of the creation of the universe and angels’ lives. They slowly ascend to Empyrean, the highest invest heaven. After they get there, Dante becomes covered in light, and it allows him to see God and the Holy Trinity.

After his journey has ended, Dante realizes that God’s love is eternal. He now fully understands the mystery of Incarnation. The answer is blessed upon Dante by God’s hand, and now that he fully grasps the complete picture of the planet.

Dante’s Divine Comedy is a complex work of art. It requires the reader through the nine circles of Hell, the seven terraces of Purgatory and the nine spheres of Paradise. Each one of the parts of the journey are full of dead souls who suffer attempting to rid themselves of their sins, or simply survive in the afterlife. It really is filled with many historical figures, and mystical and mythological creatures.

It could be difficult to grasp all of the events surrounding The Divine Comedy in a single article

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