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THE DIVINE COMEDY, AN ANALYSIS
Dante's Divine Comedy has stood out in the literary world as an unchallenged landmark, influencing all the works created in the realm of European literature even to this day. The poem narrates the travel of the poet himself through the nine circles of Inferno or the Hell, Purgatorio or the Purgatory and the Paradiso or Heaven. Based on the systems of belief during those times, the epic poet has tried to outline his understanding of the divine and the spiritual as well as the physical realms. Dante Aligheri's imagination and construction of the afterlife in the book stands as a model of the viewpoints of the medieval Europe as it developed under the Church.
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The theme of Sin in the Poem
Dante had written to his patron that his poem was about "the state of souls after death". With bible as its main source, it serves as a model to the reader and serves for greater understanding of this world as well as the next world to come. The poem depicts the journey of the poet in exile, Dante. He allegorically presents himself in the forest of error, and is halted and helped by the poet Virgil and the grace of the Holy Virgin and Saint Lucy. Finally he reaches heaven. But, it is the journey of the poet through hell, purgatory and Paradise that enchants us. There are several themes associated with the journey of Dante in the poem but the revelation of the true nature of sin and the penalty a human being has to pay for this is a main theme. The other epics before the time of Dante had dealt mainly with the heroic deeds of the protagonists and the obstacles that the he had to overcome. The epic by Dante was a complete deviation from this age old tradition and the introduction of sin as a major concern in the epic. On one side, Dante talked about the seriousness of sin and the penalty for it, and like a good Catholic professes the salvation that repentance and the belief of a person brings about. On the other hand, he cleverly argued that this salvation from sins is made accessible to man through confession and penance, but the soul has to pass through purgatory to cleanse itself from the stain of sin on the soul. This cleansing process happens in the purgatory, where sin is purged and the soul is made ready for heaven.
The author enters the sinful Forest of Error, which is a frightening and dark wood symbolizing the sinful ways that he himself had resorted to. In this wood itself the saving grace of resurrected Christ is also made visible in a distant hill. Here the poet is trying to say that the human being is capable of finding a way to reach Heaven with the help of God given reason, circumventing the obstacles placed by human sin, symbolized by the she-wolf and the other animals.
Next, the poet and the companion pass on to Hell. Here, the hierarchy itself is divided into several levels on the basis of the sins committed on the earth. The mortal sinners, who could not control their carnal desires, are allotted circles 2 to 6. Several of the old characters in epics like the Helen of Troy and Prince Paris who abducted her, are all seen suffering in Hell, for their sins. Seventh and Eight Circles are also allotted to still worse sinners and the ninth circle for the worst evildoers. Even the arch fiend, Satan himself is found frozen in the lake of hell. So we find that the poet is painting a picture of suffering dealt to sinners as just punishment. The sufferings are described even at the gate of hell itself. "Strange utterances, horrible pronouncements, accents of anger, words of suffering..."[Canto III Inferno] and continues to describe the sufferings faced by evildoers on the other side of the world. "..as that soul caught fire and burned and, as he fell, completely turned to ashes;...", he goes on.
The next area of the book Purgatory is also the place where souls are purged for their sins. Here Dante puts forth the idea that sin is the cause of suffering as the angel puts seven 'P's on Dante's forehead, each representing a deadly sin. Dante is also being slowly purged of his sin so that he could enter the kingdom of eternal bliss. He needs to wash away the 'P's to this end. All the non severe sinners according to the catholic belief is thought to have ended up here. This section of the poem presents the argument that mainly, the belief in Christ is paramount to salvation and even venial sins are to be atoned for and purged from the human soul to make it eligible for the eternal gift. It is within the Purgatory that Dante confesses his guilt to Beatrice and is also purged from the last sin that had gone unconfessed till then. He is completely purged of his faults of wrath and misdirected love, as he participates in the purging rights for these sins in the purgatory.
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Finally, the poet, without company reaches heavenly abode. To everyone's surprise, he finds some pagans, born before the time of Christ, in the heavenly realm. This shows the balance of views that the author is able to maintain with his reasoning ability, while being Catholic throughout. We find a complete absence of sin in the paradise. Even the poet comes to the revelation that heaven can be known only through the grace of God. Here Dante puts forth the Christian notion that God is the source of saving grace. Upon his vision of God, he says, ""O grace abounding, through which I presumed to set my eyes on the Eternal Light.." Canto XXXIII, Paradiso. And the poet finds himself like a wheel moving around the eternal Love, "that moves the sun and the other stars" .
The poem gives us a real perspective of the basic tenets of Catholicism in action. Written in terza rima and containing a 100 cantos, the poem is a complete allegory of the journey of the soul towards Eternal light. The Catholic view of the presence of purgatory that cleanses the soul from errors, and Hell as eternal punishment are all based on the Christian idea of sin. Dante develops this theme of sin into revealing its epic proportions and finally presents God's grace as the source and aim of all good in the earth.