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.

Frequently Asked Questions about The Divine Comedy

The Divine Comedy

The number three comes up numerous times and in numerous different ways in The Divine Comedy, particularly in the Inferno. Dante Alighieri encounters three wild beasts before meeting Virgil in the...

Latest answer posted December 21, 2021, 4:08 pm (UTC)

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The Divine Comedy

The Divine Comedy often strikes the modern reader as a characteristic product of the medieval mindset, focused on eternal damnation and salvation. However, Dante's views on life and religion were...

Latest answer posted December 21, 2021, 2:36 pm (UTC)

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The Divine Comedy

The Divine Comedy is not a comedy in the modern sense, since few readers have found much humor in the poem. It is called a comedy, as opposed to a tragedy, because it has a happy ending, concluding...

Latest answer posted December 21, 2021, 1:58 pm (UTC)

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The Divine Comedy

When the poem opens, we are not told exactly what sin has resulted in Dante's being taken on a tour of Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise, but we can infer that it is due to his loss of faith in God. We...

Latest answer posted December 21, 2021, 12:11 pm (UTC)

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The Divine Comedy

The Divine Comedy is composed of three parts: Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso. Each section corresponds to different parts of the Catholic afterlife, covering Dante's journey through them....

Latest answer posted December 21, 2021, 11:35 am (UTC)

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The Divine Comedy

In The Divine Comedy, Dante the poet writes about the adventures of Dante the pilgrim in Hell (Inferno), Paradise (Paradiso), and Purgatory (Purgatorio). As the protagonist, Dante the pilgrim goes...

Latest answer posted December 20, 2021, 1:36 pm (UTC)

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The Divine Comedy

Dante meets a number of people he knew or who are famous as he enters Purgatory with Virgil. As they arrive at the mountain to Purgatory, they meet up with Cato, whom God has appointed to guard its...

Latest answer posted December 20, 2021, 12:26 pm (UTC)

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The Divine Comedy

The Divine Comedy is often considered an epic. It is common to associate epics with larger-than-life heroes and grand illustrations of warfare (think of Homer's works), making The Divine Comedy an...

Latest answer posted December 20, 2021, 12:25 pm (UTC)

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The Divine Comedy

While these two poems have a similar structure (Dante moves through different areas in the afterlife, learning about the nature of sin and salvation), the main difference between Purgatorio and...

Latest answer posted December 20, 2021, 11:39 am (UTC)

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The Divine Comedy

In the Paradiso section of his Divine Comedy, Dante guides readers through nine spheres or circles of Heaven and then finally into the Empyrean. Let's look briefly at each of these circles. In the...

Latest answer posted December 19, 2021, 8:04 pm (UTC)

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The Divine Comedy

The Divine Comedy is an example of an epic poem, monumental in length and scale and divided into three sections (Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso). Dante's epic poem is subdivided into cantos (one...

Latest answer posted December 19, 2021, 1:04 pm (UTC)

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The Divine Comedy

While journeying through Purgatory, Dante learns a variety of lessons, all of which emphasize the true nature of divine love. Firstly, Dante learns that love is the root of both virtue and sin,...

Latest answer posted December 19, 2021, 11:41 am (UTC)

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The Divine Comedy

The last canto of Paradiso in Dante's Divine Comedy begins with hymn and prayer to the Blessed Virgin Mary, continues with Dante's vision of God, and ends with a reflection on prayer and worship...

Latest answer posted December 18, 2021, 2:53 pm (UTC)

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The Divine Comedy

The Divine Comedy is firstly important as an epic written in the vernacular Italian of its author rather than in Latin, the scholarly language of the period in which Dante Alighieri lived. Latin...

Latest answer posted December 18, 2021, 11:50 am (UTC)

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The Divine Comedy

Dante's three-part epic poem is called a comedy because it has a happy ending: Dante climbs to paradise in the final book and witnesses the awe-inspiring, dancing, rainbow-colored beauty of the...

Latest answer posted December 18, 2021, 11:42 am (UTC)

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The Divine Comedy

Dante's The Divine Comedy can seem archaic today on some levels. For example, we are likely not concerned with the political infighting of medieval Florence or the destinies of certain medieval...

Latest answer posted December 19, 2021, 11:44 am (UTC)

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The Divine Comedy

Although Virgil is a great poet and the epitome of how good a human being can be based on reason and wisdom alone, he cannot ascend to Paradise because he never became a Christian. Virgil lives in...

Latest answer posted December 19, 2021, 11:27 am (UTC)

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The Divine Comedy

Having witnessed Hell and been purified by his trip through Purgatory, Dante begins his ascent to Heaven, guided by Beatrice. With her, he ascends through the first seven heavens to the Eighth...

Latest answer posted December 18, 2021, 12:12 pm (UTC)

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The Divine Comedy

The word contrapasso literally means “suffer the opposite,” and it was coined by Dante to describe the punishments of the sinners in Hell and, to some extent, the purification of the souls in...

Latest answer posted December 20, 2021, 2:50 pm (UTC)

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The Divine Comedy

The message of Dante's Divine Comedy revolves around the ideas that sin has consequences but that people can repent of their sins, receive God's forgiveness, and embrace eternal life. Let's look at...

Latest answer posted December 19, 2021, 12:02 am (UTC)

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Summary