December 28, 2020

#08-028: The Divine Comedy

busy image with humans emerging from a cleft, a multi-tiered mountain in the background, and the Cathedarl of Florence (maybe) with Dante in the foreground
Dante with scenes from The Divine Comedy

Note: England has Shakespeare. Spain has Cervantes. Italy has Dante Alighieri, best known by just his first name, Dante, but in Italy known as "the Supreme Poet." His works raised the status of vernacular Italian, and his home dialect became the base of the modern national language.

Get Ready: Do you believe in Heaven and Hell? How about Purgatory? What are those places like (real or imagined)?

Dante is best remembered--among his half-dozen or so works--for his unusual epic poem, The Divine Comedy.

Most epics focus on the actions of gods and heroes, but this one portrays an interior, spiritual journey from the depths of hell to the pinnacle of heaven. It is not a "comedy" in the sense of something funny, but in the older, theatrical sense of a story with a happy ending.

The work is divided into three parts: "Inferno" (Hell), "Purgatorio" (Purgatory), and "Paradiso" (Paradise or Heaven).

It begins with the narrator describing his "mid-life crisis," stating, "Midway upon the road of our life I found myself within a dark wood, for I had lost the right way." Though begun around 1308 and completed in 1320, it's set in 1300, Dante's 35th year. As the standard life-span was considered to be 70 years (the Biblical "three-score and ten"), this should have been literally the "middle of his life"--though in fact he died in 1321, around age 56.

Each level of the "Comedy" has 33 cantos or stanzas; these 99 plus one introductory canto make a total of 100. Each level is made up of nine circles, plus an extra making ten. The pilgrim (identified with Dante) is guided by two figures. The Roman poet Virgil (who wrote his own epic, The Aeneid), not being a Christian, leads Dante through the "ungodly" levels of Hell and Purgatory. He represents the positive value of human reason.

When Dante reaches Heaven, though, he is reunited with a girl named Beatrice (meaning "she who makes happy"). She is a complex figure, based on a girl that Dante met when they were both nine, but with whom he was never involved. Thus, she remains an idealized vision of romantic and spiritual love.

This imaginative vision of medieval concepts of the afterlife is today considered one of the greatest works of world literature.


Read more:

Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. afterlife
  2. dialect
  3. half-dozen
  4. idealized
  5. mid-life crisis
  6. pilgrim
  7. pinnacle
  8. stanzas
  9. ungodly
  10. vernacular

  1. six
  2. a person traveling for religious purposes
  3. "everyday," non-literary language
  4. sections of a poem
  5. held as a form of unreal perfection
  6. supposed life after death
  7. a psychological change at the start of middle age
  8. the local version of a language
  9. the high point
  10. irreligious; atheistic

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for December 28, 2020

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. f; 2. h; 3. a; 4. e; 5. g; 6. b; 7. i; 8. d; 9. j; 10. c