Oh You Possessed of Sturdy Intellects, observe the teaching that is

Oh You Possessed of Sturdy Intellects, observe
the teaching that is hidden here/Beneath the
veil of verses so obscure
Dante’s Inferno
A big jump in time and worlds
• Our last jump took us 450 years from the
youthful Roman Empire of Virgil to the dying
empire of Augustine
• Our latest jump takes us 800 years from the
death of Augustine in 430 to the birth of
Dante in 1265
• We leap over most of the middle ages, that
period of European Collapse and Regrouping
• We “touch down” in the Dante’s Era: The
High Middle ages of Italy in a world of great
religious, intellectual, and political ferment
Dante and his Times
Dante’s Europe could be seen as a clash between “centripetal” and
“centrifugal” forces
Centripetal Forces
– Religious Unity under the Church
– Attempts at political unity under the “Holy Roman Empire”
– Unity of all knowledge under scholastic philosophy
Centrifugal forces
– Religious unity undermined by
• Political ambitions of the papacy
• Forces of religious dissent
– Political unity undermined by
• Rising nation states clashing with each other and Holy Roman Empire
• Papacy clashing with everyone
– Unity of knowledge temporarily secure
Dante’s Italy as an intense battleground of Centripetal and centrifugal
– Clash of City States with one Another
– Clash of Popes and Holy Roman Emperors
Dante’s life marred and poetry made by these clashes.
Poetic and Political Life
• Born in the city of Florence in 1265
• His poetic inspiration
– At 9 years old a “casual meeting” with the 9 year old Beatrice
Portinari “kindled an unquenchable flame” as Ruth Fox writes in
(Fox, Ruth Mary. Dante Lights the Way. Milwaukee: Bruce, 60
– Love at first sight has seldom left such permanent monument
– From it came a “new life” which he celebrated in in his early work
of the same name, “La Vita Nuova”
– Beatrice as a “God-bearing” image (Sayers)
• His political disaster
– Became a leader in the triumphant Guelf Party
– Mafia-like” family feuds split that party into two factions, the
“Whites” and the “Blacks
– Dante was a “White”
– While on a mission to the pope, Blacks seize power and exile Dante
– Divine Comedy reflects bitterness of exile
The Divine Comedy as a Poetic
• Cathedrals take their architecture from Christian doctrine
– An Instance: Design of a Cathedral reflects the doctrine of God
– 3 spires, 3 portals, 3 aisles reflect the trinity:
• Dante’s “architecture” also based on Christian doctrine
– Trinitarian” verse pattern
• Three line “tercets” reflect “tri-personality
• 11 syllables in each line reflect “oneness.”
– Trinitarian structure
• Poem has 3 divisions, each division has 33 cantos; hell as
3divisions; purgatory has 9 (3X3);
• But the poem has one introductory canto, 100 full cantos, all
reflecting the “oneness
Other Cathedral-like Aspects
• Cathedrals overwhelm and draw attention
upward—as does The Comedy
• Cathedrals combine a passion for detail with a
thirst for unity—as does The Comedy
– What The Comedy “crowds” together.
Christian Doctrine
Ethics, psychology, and spirituality of Medieval Church
The philosophy and science of the era
The political realities of the day
The union of the classical world with the Christian
The love of a woman who becomes a “God-bearing” image
Comedy and Allegory
• Definition of Comedy
• Definition of Allegory: The use of characters, images, or
events to “stand for” abstract ideas—usually of a moral
or spiritual nature
• Examples of Allegory:
– Canto 1: The lepard=self-indulgence, the lion=violence, and the
– Canto 2: Beatrice stands for Divine Grace
– Canto 5. The whirling winds of 3rd circle stand for uncontrolled
• Allegory means that the poem proceeds on two levels:
– The literal story
– And the allegorical message.