The Divine Comedy Study Guide
Introduction to The Divine Comedy
Written between 1308 and 1320 by the Florentine poet Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy is an epic poem in three parts, or canticles, corresponding to the three realms of the Catholic afterlife: Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso, or hell, purgatory, and heaven. The poem is further divided into a hundred individual cantos and was originally written in Italian using terza rima, a rhyme scheme of Dante’s own invention. It traces the allegorical Christian journey of a fictionalized Dante as he first descends, in the company of the Roman poet Virgil, through the nine circles of hell, where the dead are punished for their sins; then as he climbs the seven-layered mountain of purgatory, where those who have been saved purify themselves before ascending to heaven; and finally as he arrives in heaven itself, where he is granted understanding of the divine order. Dante ultimately achieves salvation with the help of his beloved Beatrice, who guides him through heaven’s ten concentric spheres to the abode of God. While Inferno is the most well-known canticle today, The Divine Comedy continues to be read, studied, and translated in its entirety, standing as a monumental achievement not only of Italian or medieval poetry but of world literature as a whole.
A Brief Biography of Dante Alighieri
Dante Alighieri (c. 1265–1321) was a medieval Italian poet. His most enduring work, The Divine Comedy, is an epic, three-volume journey through hell (Inferno), purgatory (Purgatorio), and heaven (Paradiso). Perhaps the most famous of the three parts is Inferno, which describes in great, gory detail the nine layers of hell and the punishments of those imprisoned there. Dante’s main achievement in The Divine Comedy is that he transformed and elevated Italian literature to world-class status with his philosophical and poetic writing. In the seven centuries since its publication, Dante’s masterpiece has continued to influence thinkers, artists, and authors from every major period that followed, including the Renaissance and the Enlightenment.