illustration of a human covered in a starry sky walking from the sky and plains toward a fiery opening to hell

The Divine Comedy

by Dante Alighieri

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How is the theme of good vs evil relevant in The Divine Comedy?

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The opening of Dante's work is reflective of the pilgrim who is searching for meaning in life.  The search for meaning revolves around the central questions of what defines individual identity and what choices individuals should make:  “Midway upon the journey of our life, I found myself within a forest dark, for the straightforward pathway had been lost.”  The "forest dark" is reflective of a condition in which individuals struggle to make decisions about the paths between good and evil.  The theme of good and evil is critical to Dante's work.

The layout of the inferno is predicated upon the choices made between good and evil.  Individuals who choose the latter are condemned to different layers of hell.  The pervasiveness of sin is a critical element within this.  Good and evil are essential themes in Dante's work because they provide a very basis for how individuals should live their lives.  Sin and the nature of human transgression is not embedded within the human psyche. Dante offers a view of hell whereby individuals are responsible for the choices they make.  There is good and there is evil and Dante sees the sum total of human actions are reflective of the choices that are accordingly made.  The failure to understand this condition is where sinful actions, choosing bad over good, condemns those who Dante and Virgil meet on their guide through the underworld.    It is through good and evil that humans can make active choices about the lives they live.  Emergence into the realm of Paradiso, to the domain where Beatrice fuses all opposites, can only be understood through the recognition and acknowledgement of good and evil.  The emergence from a "forest dark" is only possible through the recognition of good and evil.  In Canto III, Dante writes about the experience though which humans recognize the role good and evil play in their lives:  "And when his hand he had strech'd forth/ To mine, with pleasant looks, whence I was cheer'd/ Into that secret place he led me on."  Being led on, Dante, the pilgrim, understands the role that good and evil play in the formation of the human soul.  In this way, good and evil are relevant to Dante's The Divine Comedy.

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