In addition to personal and practical motivations, Dante had an instructional purpose for writing The Divine Comedy. He wanted to provide lessons to readers about living ethically and following God’s law. The Divine Comedy is an epic poem about people going to Heaven, Hell, or Purgatory after they die. Dante uses this idea to voice strong views about right and wrong, and the consequences of one’s actions.
Consider other figures Dante meets throughout The Divine Comedy. Think about what landed them in Hell or earned them a place in Heaven. Draw a conclusion about what this fate may have said to the reader about their own life: could the reader learn about how to best live their life according to Dante’s system of reward and punishment?
Be certain to use examples from the text. If your translation of The Divine Comedy is annotated, it should tell you more about the people Dante encounters on his journey. Otherwise, you can research these names online (but make sure you use a reputable source and credit it as needed). Which historical figures end up in Hell or Heaven? What did they do to get there? Remember that the character of Dante actually meets people that Dante knew in real life. For example, Filippo Argenti was a member of a rival political party in Florence. In Dante’s story, Argenti is among the wrathful in Hell. Dante placing his rival in Hell tells us about Dante’s own politics but also serves as a warning to readers who might have supported the “wrong side.”
In addition to the story itself, think about the beautiful language Dante uses to draw in the audience or the powerful imagery he uses to emphasize his points. For example, one of the first sights in Hell is the angels who refused to pick a side in the war between God and Satan. They run in a circle being attacked by insects for all of eternity. It’s an ironic and brutal punishment that tells the reader what Dante thinks about cowardly indecisiveness in the face of important struggles. The Divine Comedy is filled with such examples, and nearly all of these examples have some moral behind them.