In writing The Divine Comedy, Dante wanted to settle a number of scores with his political enemies as well as make wider theological and metaphysical points. A prime example comes in the shape of Pope Boniface VIII, who is presented by Dante as Public Enemy Number One. The fact that Boniface was actually still alive during the period when the Comedy is set gives you some idea as to how much Dante hated him. Dante's absolutely certain that the Pope is going straight to Hell, and not before long.
When Dante comes across another less than saintly Pope, Nicholas III, the stricken pontiff assumes that the great poet is Boniface, sent down to Hell before his time. As with the rest of the damned, Nicholas can see the future, and so this episode reinforces Dante's conviction that Boniface's greed, ambition, and corruption have bought him a one-way ticket to Hell.
As for Nicholas himself, he's been consigned to Hell for the serious sin of simony, the buying and selling of church offices. During the...
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