M5 Assignment Essay Sample
Dante’s allegorical epic the Divine Comedy is written in vernacular Italian in cantos ranging from 131 to 156 lines and is composed in the rhyming scheme known as the terza rima. The structure of the terza rima is aba bcb cdc and so on. The Divine Comedy is divided into three canticles or sections. The first section is named the Inferno or the hell, the second the Purgatory, and the third the Paradise. Each canticle has 33 cantos, with an introductory canto in the Inferno making 100 cantos in total-- the divine number three is present through-out the Divine Comedy. According to the Christian scriptures the hell is described as a place of unquenchable fire, which to say the least is an ambiguous picture. Dante in the Divine Comedy, especially the Inferno borrows liberally from the Classical Greco-Roman tradition of the underworld or Hades. He appropriates the characters, the symbols and in places even the landscape of the underworld from such epic poets as the Greek Homer’s Odyssey (Book XII) and the Roman Virgil’s Aeneid (Book VI). However, Dante in the Inferno paints a more vivid and horrifyingly concrete picture of the Christian hell than either of the above-mentioned master poet was able to portray the underworld of the antiquity. Virgil, the “sagio” or the sage is the guide of Dante the “everyman” in this pilgrimage through the hell on the way crossing the Purgatory before him attaining the final salvation in Paradise. The Inferno as is appropriate has the mythological rivers Acheron and Styx flowing through it and the gates of the various levels of the hell are guarded by the mythological beasts from the Greek underworld like the three-headed hell-hound Cerberus, the Furies, and the Minotaur among many others. The river Acheron and the figure Charon, however, deserve special mention. According to Dante in the Inferno the Acheron or the river of “woes” is the entrance to Dante’s hell. According to Dante the river Acheron originates from the tears of the old giant “gran veglio” who stands inside Mount Ida in Crete. The “gran veglio” gazes on “Rome as his mirror”—Rome, the ruined, spiritual and the physical capital of the Christendom during Dante’s time. Charon is the mythological ferryman who transports the souls of the sinners across the river Acheron to the first gate of the hell guarded by Cerberus. According to Dante Charon is an old “demon” with his “red eyes” and his hair turned “white with rage.” Dante’s Charon is bitterly insolent and befittingly treats the sinners with utter disdain and complete contempt. In essence Dante’s Inferno or the first canticle of the Divine Comedy is the Christianized version of the Classical underworld. Dante’s Inferno is not a simple allegorical epic only but is also to be read and comprehended at the historical, anagogical and tropological levels. Therefore, the mystical, the moral and the political interpretations are important to the full understanding of the Christian frame-work of the epic. On the one hand, Dante’s Divine Comedy, specifically the Inferno transforms or subsumes the Hellenic underworld, in particular and the Classical tradition, in general into a completely Christian one. While on the other hand, as the Divine Comedy is written in the vernacular Italian rather than the Latin, it affords the common-man the opportunity to understand the religious concept and connotation of the Christian hell in simple language and in concrete terms.