Dante's poem, and particularly its allegorical qualities, provoked commentary almost from the moment of its completion. Indeed Dante himself was perhaps its first critic. In a letter he wrote to his patron, Can Grande della Scala, the man to whom he dedicated the Paradise, Dante suggested that his poem should be read on four levels. The first level is the literal one. On this level, the poem is about a physical journey toward God taken by the poet himself. The other three levels are allegorical, abstractly symbolic, and very complex. From the beginning of its public life, commentators have extracted and studied these abstract allegorical meanings of Dante's epic, to dig deeper meanings out of its literal level just as they did with Holy Scripture. As Ricardo Quinones notes in Dante Alighieri, 1979, there were twelve commentaries written on the Divine Comedy from Dante's death in 1321 to 1400. Dante, a political exile, was praised in the year of his death by his fellow Florentine, Giovanni Villani, who included a biography and praises of Dante in his chronicle of Florence. Dante's sons Jacopo and Pietro were the first to write commentaries on the Divine Comedy, and their work, like that of other early commentators', is vital to our understanding of the socio-cultural references that pervade the work. (Many of these commentaries are now online and accessible through the Dartmouth Dante...
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