Aligheri Dante
Historical Context
 Dante
Alighieri was born in 1265 in Florence, Italy,
to a family of moderate wealth that had a history of
involvement in the complex Florentine political
 Around 1285, Dante married a woman chosen for
him by his family, although he remained in love
with another woman—Beatrice, whose true
historical identity remains a mystery—and
continued to yearn for her after her sudden death in
 Three years later, he published Vita Nuova (The
New Life), which describes his tragic love for
 Around
the time of Beatrice’s death, Dante began
a serious study of philosophy and intensified his
political involvement in Florence. He held a
number of significant public offices at a time of
great political unrest in Italy, and, in 1302, he was
exiled for life by the leaders of the Black Guelphs,
the political faction in power at the time.
 All of Dante’s work on The Comedy (later called
The Divine Comedy, and consisting of three
books: Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso) was
done after his exile.
 In Northern Italy's political struggle between
Guelphs and Ghibellines, Dante was part of the
Guelphs, who in general favored the Papacy over
the Holy Roman Emperor.
 Florence's
Guelphs split into factions around
1300: the White Guelphs, who opposed secular
rule by Pope Boniface VIII and who wished to
preserve Florence's independence, and the Black
Guelphs, who favored the Pope's control of
 Dante was among the White Guelphs who were
exiled in 1302 by the Lord-Mayor Cante de'
Gabrielli di Gubbio, after troops under Charles of
Valois entered the city, at the request of Boniface
and in alliance with the Blacks.
 The Pope said if he had returned he would be
burned at the stake.
 This
exile, which lasted the rest of Dante's
life, shows its influence in many parts of the
Comedy, from prophecies of Dante's exile
to Dante's views of politics to the eternal
damnation of some of his opponents.
 He completed Inferno, which depicts an
allegorical journey through Hell, around
 Dante
roamed from court to court in Italy,
writing and occasionally lecturing, until his
death from a sudden illness in 1321
 His wife meanwhile maintained his home
and family back in his beloved Florence.
The Big Questions
 What
is man?
 Why does he act as he
 What is Good and
what is Evil?
 When it so often looks
like "Good guys finish
last," why should
anyone be good?
 The
whole world,
ultimately, has meaning,
reason, and order.
 The source of the
meaning, reason, and
order is God's Divine
 The Divine Order is
both knowable and
The Construction of the
 The
Divine Comedy is composed of over 14,000
lines that are divided into three (3) canticas (Ital.
pl. cantiche) — Inferno (Hell), Purgatorio
(Purgatory), and Paradiso (Paradise) — each
consisting of 33 cantos (Ital. pl. canti).
 An initial canto serves as an introduction to the
poem and is generally not considered to be part of
the first cantica, bringing the total number of
cantos to 100. The number 3 is prominent in the
work, represented here by the length of each
 The verse scheme used,
terza rima, is
hendecasyllabic (lines of
eleven syllables), with the
lines composing tercets
according to the rhyme
scheme aba, bcb, cdc, ded,
Albert Ritter sketched the Comedy's geography from Dante's
Cantos: Hell's entrance is near Florence with the circles descending
to Earth's centre; sketch 5 reflects Canto 34's inversion as Dante
passes down, and thereby up to Mount Purgatory's shores in the
southern hemisphere, where he passes to the first sphere of Heaven
at the top
The poem is written in the first person, and tells of
Dante's journey through the three realms of the
dead, lasting during the Easter Triduum in the
spring of 1300. The Roman poet Virgil guides him
through Hell and Purgatory; Beatrice, Dante's
ideal woman, guides him through Heaven.
Beatrice was a Florentine woman whom he had
met in childhood and admired from afar in the
mode of the then-fashionable courtly love tradition
which is highlighted in Dante's earlier work La
Vita Nuova.
 In Hell and Purgatory, Dante shares in the sin and
the penitence respectively. The last word in each
of the three parts of the Divine Comedy is "stars."
Bartokomeo c. 1420
Sandro Botticelli
Barry Moser - c. 1980:
Major themes
 The
Perfection of God’s Justice
– Dante creates an imaginative correspondence between a
soul’s sin on Earth and the punishment he or she
receives in Hell. The Sullen choke on mud, the
Wrathful attack one another, the Gluttonous are forced
to eat excrement, and so on. This simple idea provides
many of Inferno’s moments of spectacular imagery and
symbolic power, but also serves to illuminate one of
Dante’s major themes: the perfection of God’s justice.
The inscription over the gates of Hell in Canto III
explicitly states that God was moved to create Hell by
justice (III.7). Hell exists to punish sin, and the
suitability of Hell’s specific punishments testify to the
divine perfection that all sin violates.
 Evil
as the Contradiction of God’s Will
– In many ways, Dante’s Inferno can be seen as a kind of
imaginative taxonomy of human evil, the various types
of which Dante classifies, isolates, explores, and
judges. At times we may question its organizing
principle, wondering why, for example, a sin punished
in the Eighth Circle of Hell, such as accepting a bribe,
should be considered worse than a sin punished in the
Sixth Circle of Hell, such as murder. To understand this
organization, one must realize that Dante’s narration
follows strict doctrinal Christian values. His moral
system prioritizes not human happiness or harmony on
Earth but rather God’s will in Heaven. Dante thus
considers violence less evil than fraud: of these two
sins, fraud constitutes the greater opposition to God’s
 Storytelling
as a Way to Achieve
– Dante places much emphasis in his poem on the
notion of immortality through storytelling,
everlasting life through legend and literary
legacy. Several shades ask the character Dante
to recall their names and stories on Earth upon
his return. They hope, perhaps, that the retelling
of their stories will allow them to live in
people’s memories.
– Yet, in retelling the sinners’ stories, the poet
Dante may be acting less in consideration of the
sinners’ immortality than of his own.
Sites Cited
 “Divine
Comedy.” Wikipedia. 1 Dec. 2008
 Gardner, Patrick and Brian Phillips.
SparkNote on Inferno. 29 Nov. 2007
 The World of Dante. Institute for Advanced
Technologies in the Humanities