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The Divine Comedy (1308–1321) is considered one of the greatest works of European literature. Written by Italian poet Dante Alighieri (1265–1321), The Divine Comedy is divided into three books: Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso. It tells the story of a man who is led through hell (the Christian concept of the place where sinners go after death) and purgatory (the region between hell and heaven, the place where the righteous go after death) by the Roman poet Virgil (70–19 B.C.). The man is then escorted through heaven by a character named Beatrice. The main theme of the poem concerns the ability of humans to exercise free will in "rewarding or punishing justice." The Divine Comedy was the first well-received epic (long narrative) poem written in Italian rather than Latin, thus gaining respect for the Italian language, which had formerly been considered vulgar.
The character of Beatrice is based upon Beatrice Portinari (?–1290), the woman Dante loved. Beatrice died in 1290, and though Dante later married another woman he had been powerfully affected by Beatrice's grace and wisdom. He essentially devoted his life and works to her memory. The Divine Comedy is a tribute to Beatrice, whose character in the epic represents a guided journey toward God and truth in Heaven. Dante later published The New Life (1293), a collection of love poems for Beatrice, and The Banquet (1304–1307), a collection honoring her after death.
Further Information: Bloom, Harold. Dante's Inferno. New York: Chelsea House, 1996; Dante. [On-line] Available http://www.ancientsites.com/-Torrey_Philemon/calliope/dante.htm, October 23, 2000; Divine Comedy. [Online] Available http://www.divinecomedy.f9.co.uk, October 23, 2000; Foster, K., and Boyde, P. Cambridge Readings in Dante's Comedy. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1982; Freccero, John. Dante: the Poetics of Conversion. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1986; Jacoff, Rachel. The Cambridge Companion to Dante. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995.
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