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Saturday, 25 October 2014

Divine Comedy

Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) was an Italian poet from Florence. The Divine Comedy, an imaginary journey through Hell, Purgatory and Paradise, is generally considered the greatest poem of the Middle Ages.

Written by Dante in the Tuscany dialect, the Divine Comedy was only completed a few months before his death. So successful was Dante's epic work that the Tuscany dialect became the standard language of Italy.

The Divine Comedy was written in the style of terza rima, an Italian verse form in triplets which the Roman poet Virgil used. (Virgil was Dante's fictional guide during his journey through Hell). This meant it was written in lines of 11 syllables, the second line rhymed with the first and third line of the succeeding triplet and in the last there was an extra line rhyming with it's second. Basically, it rhymed A-B-A, B-C-B, C-D-C, D-E-D.

The poem, which utilizes St Paul's theology, describes how the author "found myself in a dark wood where the straight way was lost". He is given a tour of hell where he finds written on it's entrance “abandon Hope All Ye who enter here…”, purgatory and heaven. His tour guides are Virgil, then the love of his life Beatrice, and finally Bernard of Clairvaux. In hell he meets Homer, Cleopatra, Ovid, Horace and other unbaptized historical figures.

The nine circles of hell where the sins (and punishments) worsen the further down one goes are:
Limbo (for the unbaptized)
The lustful
The gluttons
The avaricious
The wrathful and the sullen
The heretics
The violent
The fraudulent
The treacherous.
At the bottom in circle nine is Lucifer with his three faces chomping on Julius Caesar’s assassins, Brutus and Cassius with his sidemouths and Judas, the betrayer of Christ with his central mouth.

Dante described the meaning of his masterpiece in a letter to his patron Can Grande della Scala “Man, by the exercise of his free will deserving good or ill, becoming liable to the rewards or punishments of justice.”

Songs that reference Dante's Divine Comedy include "Pyramid Song" by Radiohead and "Roll Right" by Rage Against The Machine. Also Christian rockers Red have cited Dante's epic work as an influence on the concept of their Innocence and Instinct album.


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