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    Yes, I realize this is a very famous and revered work. I had read it decades ago, but remembered little. Last year I read a spoof of it in the form of a graphic novel, Through Hell With Hiprah Hunt, and I was determined to read the real thing soon after. In addition, several years ago, I also read Dan Brown's Inferno, inspired also by this late medieval classic. Plus, I recently purchased a book of William Blake's Divine Comedy Illustrations, so I figured now was the time to tackle this very long work. It turned out to be poor timing, because I am so tied up with the farm during the summer. I really did not expect it to be such a challenge.
    My copy pictured here is an old Modern Library edition that I bought at a used bookstore when I was in college. It is a scholarly edition with ample footnotes, first published in 1932, then again in 1950, so I couldn't ask for more. So I thought. Inferno wasn't too difficult to understand, but as the poem progressed into Purgatory and Paradise, it became almost painful, and without the footnotes, I would have been lost. And the reason? Because it is mostly about historical people and events. And extremely conservative religious dogma of the time. And so I must state up front that, at least this edition is TRULY for those who are serious scholars of Dante, the history of Italy, and medieval literature. Every paragraph, every sentence, every WORD has been analyzed to the hilt. Ad nauseum. I am thinking that likely there are other editions which are less scholarly but more readable translations. This one focused on staying true to every tiny detail, which made it a tedious task to read. I don't have a problem with ancient literature. I love Ancient Greek plays, and medieval works, but with this one I did have major problems.
    And another problem is, and I find this disturbing, that people actually still believe there is a "Hell" and that sinners are sent there for eternal punishment. No wonder we still, here in 2021 are dealing with perverted people who are into torture of both animals and humans. It seems to me that anyone who believes these biblical myths are sadistic people who worship a sadistic god. Religion, Christianity in particular, is and always has been a means to control the population. Shut up and obey. And so now, as we face extremely dire and immediate life-threatening covert activities on this planet, especially concerning climate engineering, the vast majority believes they are "good" if they turn a blind eye and refuse to speak out about the lies, fraud, and criminal activity being perpetrated by those in control. I know TOO MANY people who feel it is their duty to "not interfere with god," and to go about their merry lives, as each day brings us closer to extinction.
    But this book of Dante's is an allegory. Dante was wrapped up in the internal political wars going on in Florence, and much of Italy, in his lifetime, and before and after. In Florence, the wars were between two political factions, the Guelphs, which included Dante's family, and the Ghibellines. He was eventually forced to flee his native city and he remained exiled for the rest of his life. Dante became, as a result, a very angry man, especially toward those who became his enemies. This book is his fantasy on what form of punishment was due to these people, and if you read it with that perception, it is tolerable. It is a story of indictment and a message to Italy on what he felt it deserved. But for anyone that even remotely believes there is a Hell, Purgatory and Heaven and it's anything like what Dante envisioned—well—it's utterly ridiculous. At least that's my personal opinion. I found going Through Hell with Hiprah Hunt much more enjoyable. It is a real comedy and not the least bit divine!
    And the other aspect that truly baffled me was that he, supposedly a devout Catholic, although he vents much of his spleen on church hierarchy, mixed pagan and mythological characters and tales with Christian people of his time, which adds to the confusion. His guide through Hell is his hero, Virgil, who, having died before Christ's time, therefore not being Christian, was stuck in limbo, though he committed no sin, (according to Dante, of course). And by the way, I read Virgil's poem, The Aeneid, understood it perfectly, and greatly enjoyed it. In any case, one must have a great deal of fortitude to read this poem. And it's a long poem.
    But in a more favorable light, it certainly is a historical document. Mostly, although the footnotes point out glaring errors. Dante apparently knew a lot of people and he knew who was corrupt and who wasn't and everything in between. He was involved in politics, so that would stand to reason. And he seemed to know lots of little secrets, too. Maybe they weren't secrets back then, but, goodness, he must have been keeping lists of who was naughty and who was nice, as he contemplated their ideal punishment. And this work also exposes the ludicrous laws of the Catholic Church, of which many, unfortunately still exist, and too many "devout" still follow. Fortunately, there are also those like myself that escaped its clutches. Like the law that one who has not been buried correctly, for instance, if they drowned at sea, would not be allowed into "Paradise." WTF?? Anyways, I could go on and on, and if you want more of my opinions, read my articles and Bible articles. Now, on to the "official" critique of this work. Incidentally, I must say, also in favor of it, that it certainly inspired many great works of art.
    Dante Alighieri was born in Florence, Italy in 1265 and died in Ravenna, Italy, in 1321, according to Wikipedia. Dante's life and times were extremely complicated, so I will not even attempt to go into detail, as this book is complicated enough. I do have to mention that Beatrice Portinari, who plays a huge role in this poem, was a real person, with whom Dante became enamored at the age of nine. And despite the indication in the poem that they had a relationship, even a friendly one, that was probably false, as they perhaps never even met. He was promised in marriage by his family at age twelve, and she also married another. But apparently his infatuation remained throughout his life. She died at age twenty-five. Incidentally, one more little issue concerning the political factions in Florence at the time. The Ghibellines were supported by the Holy Roman Emperor, and the Guelphs supported the Papacy. The Guelphs defeated the Ghibellines, but then they broke into two factions, the White Guelphs (Dante's party), and the Black Guelphs, led by Corso Donati. The Blacks supported the Pope, but the Whites, who eventually expelled the Blacks, wanted more freedom from Rome. Therefore, Pope Boniface VIII planned a military occupation, which included sending Charles of Valois, brother to King Philip IV of France, as ambassador of peace. But things did not go well, so Dante and other delegates were sent to Rome to learn what the Pope was planning. The Pope sent away all but Dante, and at the same time Charles and the Black Guelphs destroyed much of Florence and killed the Whites. Dante was therefore sentenced to exile for two years, and accused of corruption. He was ordered to pay a fine, which he did not because he did not believe he was guilty, plus his assets were all seized. Because of that, he was ordered to not return to Florence, or he would be burned at the stake. All of this is from the Wikipedia article above. And it is also what the poem is really about. But better late than never: "In June 2008, nearly seven centuries after his death, the city council of Florence passed a motion rescinding Dante's sentence."
    As mentioned above, there are three sections to this poem, Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso. All three follow a similar mathematical scheme which adds up to 10, first descending into the levels of Hell, then ascending the mountain of Purgatory, then on to the spheres of Heaven. In each level, souls are condemned, (or rewarded) according to their behavior, except for Purgatory, where they are purging themselves of imperfections, and moving upward. Each section is divided into Cantos, and, in this edition, each Canto begins with an explanatory paragraph, which was a huge help to me. There are also numerous illustrations which were often as confusing as the text!
    As would be expected, I took mountains of notes, but will just provide as brief a synopsis as possible, pointing out tidbits I found interesting. Incidentally, as I said, this is really for scholars of Dante, down to the point where the fairly exact hours of the day and night, and the position of the stars/constellations have been analyzed. Oh, my! And that is also connected with Dante's obsession with mythological people and events, who play a huge role in the story. Below is "Dante shown holding a copy of the Divine Comedy, next to the entrance to Hell, the seven terraces of Mount Purgatory and the city of Florence, with the spheres of Heaven above, in Domenico di Michelino's 1465 fresco" from Wikipedia. That kind of gives you an idea of what these places looked like in Dante's mind. Here's a quote from that page.

Written in the first person, the poem tells of Dante's journey through the three realms of the dead, lasting from the night before Good Friday to the Wednesday after Easter 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 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.

Domenico di Michelino's 1465 Fresco

    The poem is an allegory, filled with symbolism, that also makes it extremely difficult to grasp because so many of these symbols are no longer pertinent in our age. It is a journey of the soul from sinfulness to divinity. At least that's the idea, but as I mentioned, unless you really embrace the dogma, it all is a bit out of touch, even as an allegory. Much of it also has to do with Dante's personal longing for peace in Italy, and his reconciliation with Florence, which never came.

    On the Thursday before Good Friday, Dante, age thirty-five, finds himself lost in a deep woods. The poet Virgil is sent to guide him through Hell and Purgatory, through the divine intercession of Beatrice, the Virgin Mary, and others. Though Dante is in fear, Virgil assures him that it was commanded by a "blessed spirit" and he would be protected. Even though Virgil cannot enter Heaven, he is still in contact with the divine.
    Through the Wikipedia page linked above, you can see all the divisions of Hell, and what sort of sin they encompassed, along with ever more severe punishment, as the two poets descend. So I will only mention certain points I made in my notes. Incidentally, there's way too much weeping here—lots of it coming from Dante himself who feels such compassion, especially when he runs into friends. But for others, he obviously feels a sense of "what goes around, comes around."
    In Canto III, we meet the fence-straddlers, running from wasps and hornets. "These are the unhappy people , who were never alive—never awakened to take any part in good or evil, to care for anything but themselves." HA!! There's LOTS of people on earth now heading that way! "Heaven chased them forth to keep its beauty from impair; and the deep Hell receives them not, for the wicked would have some glory over them." The First Circle is Limbo, where Virgil is, and numerous other pre-Christian era people, like Homer, Horace and Ovid, awaiting their advancement to Heaven. But it is the Second Circle that takes them to the real beginning of Hell, where we see the cardinal sinners, such as Dido, Cleopatra, Helen (the bitch that caused the Trojan War) and her lover, Paris.
    In the Third Circle we meet the epicures and gluttons, who suffer an eternal storm of heavy hail, foul water, and putrid smelling snow. Sounds like the eastern USA after a day of heavy spraying. They also see the angry souls, naked in the Styx, maiming each other with hands, heads, chests and teeth. Which brings me to the question I had throughout. If these people are dead and only souls lacking a body, how can they be subject to all this physical torture? Hmm?
    When they reach the city of Dis, the demons guarding it will not allow them in. Dante is scared, and even Virgil is upset, but he awaits divine assistance, who orders the demons to let them through. Here, the sins are much more serious, and it is interesting how Dante organized his levels of evil. We see those guilty of fraud, violence, hypocrisy, flattery, sorcerers, cheaters, theft and simony, panders and barraters. I had to look up that last one, which means "traffic in public office." HA! Goodness, Hell is gonna be overflowing when this generation is dead!! Traitor are even farther below them.
    The Seventh Circle is guarded by the Minotaur, right out of Roman mythology. Tyrants are punished more severely than murderers. As they continue to descend to the center well, where the traitors and Satan abide, they meet up with the Simonites, those guilty of trafficking in spiritual office. Here they recognize Pope Nicholas III, Boniface VIII, and Clement V.
    The hypocrites are right along with them. As they continue lower, they see souls in flames, and those being tortured by serpents. Sometimes two people merge together, or themselves change into a serpent. The sowers of scandal and schism, because of their sin of division, are now themselves cleft in some way, such as through the face or chest. When it grows back, one of the demons slices it again. Wow, I'll bet that area is overpopulated these days, too. In the Tenth Chasm, the falsifiers and counterfeiters rot in stench.
    We eventually reach the bottom, where Satan dwells, not in flames but in ice, and souls are suffering in the frozen lake. Some are frozen together, like the two men, one who is spending eternity gnawing on the other's skull. But enough of that. Satan makes a ladder with his hair, and at 6 p.m. on Saturday, the two poets leave Hell. Whew.
    They then begin their climb to Purgatory, which is still "Earthly."
    OK, so Hell wasn't that difficult to understand, and I must say, the Purgatory section was perhaps the one in which I could most relate, because I feel that many of us are going through a terrible purging of karma and the results of damage done to us by the Reptilian Invasion, and for many of us through no fault of our own, but inherited through corrupt DNA. In any case, there was still lots of weeping and suffering here, but the "shades" knew they were on their way to Heaven when the process had been complete.
    Like Hell, Purgatory was still part of the Earth. In Dante's time, people believed the southern hemisphere was all water, and only the northern hemisphere contained land, but Purgatory was on the only island in the southern hemisphere. The Wikipedia page has a good diagram, including the top of the mountain, which is the Earthly Paradise, the step before the heavens. I suggest you take a glance at these Wikipedia pages because they provide wonderful artwork. As I said at the beginning, this poem inspired a great body of visual art. I wish I had looked at them before I finished reading, because it would have helped me visualize it all.
    Anyways, Cato is the moral guide and guardian of Purgatory, and Virgil still Dante's guide and represents "human philosophy." Dante is now so thrilled to be able to see the sun and stars and breathe fresh air. They see Charon bringing a happy boatload of souls from the mouth of the Tiber, glad to be making this journey. Virgil is not familiar with the route to ascend, like he was with Hell, so they must frequently seek assistance. Here are two images from the Wikipedia page, which explain a lot! In the first one, " Dante speaks with the souls of the envious," by Hippolyte Flandrin. Here is the description of the second: "Elevation of Mount Purgatory. As with Paradise, the structure is of the form 2 + 7 + 1 = 10, with one of the ten regions different in nature from the other nine."

Elevation of Mount Purgatory.

Dante speaks with the souls of the envious.

    In this section, Dante meets up with lots of friends. Everyone seems to be from Italy! They all are curious of the fact that he has a body, and so he and Virgil spend much time explaining. They all want him to take messages back to the living. Many of the shades are still suffering, but they accept it as the means to get to Heaven, so they do what they need to do with gusto.
    Dante and Virgil must ascend the mountain aways before actually reaching the gate of Purgatory. Dante is sleeping sound when he dreams an eagle sweeps him into the air and he feels on fire. When he awakens, Virgil informs him that it was Lucy who bore him to the gate. Here, Virgil informs the gatekeeper of their holy mission. With his sword, he inscribes the seven "Ps" on Dante's forehead, perhaps for the seven sins. They are let through the gate, but Dante is warned to not look back. As they ascend they see carvings of Biblical scenes on the rocks, and later see people carrying the burden of a heavy stone, and bent over.
    As they progress through each of the terraces, one by one, the "Ps" are removed from his forehead. Perhaps out of the entire poem, that is the one aspect that struck me as familiar. Many of us now are feeling strong energy shifts, and it is my belief that we are also being cleared of all the evil Reptilian implants and karma, which are not even our own. Because, like Dante, I will suddenly feel much lighter, free, and usually experience some sort of revelation. For Dante, suddenly the ascent seems less steep and less tiring. He seems to have lots of visions and dreams, which helps him grow in wisdom and enlightenment.
    Unlike the wailing and suffering in Hell, in Purgatory, the poets hear the singing and reciting of psalms and prayers. They encounter Marco Lombardo of Venice, who speaks wisely of the problems in Italy.

Clearly canst thou see that evil leadership is the cause which hath made the world sinful, and not nature that may be corrupted within you.

Rome, that made the good world, was wont to have two suns, which made plain to sight the one road and the other; that of the world and that of God.

One hath quenched the other; and the sword is joined to the crook; and the one together with the other must perforce go ill;

because, being joined, one feareth not the other. If thou believest me not, look well at the ear, for every plant is known by the seed.

    He ends his speech by saying, "Say henceforth, that the Church of Rome, by confounding two powers in herself, falls into the mire, and fouls herself and her burden."

    The church certainly has not changed for the better in our time.
    At this point, Virgil can really not answer many of Dante's questions, so he tells him that they will soon meet Beatrice, who will answer all, and take over as his guide. The last most important event that happens is what appears to be an earthquake. But it turns out to be a soul who has been lying prone and is now purged to ascend. He is Statius and holds Virgil in great reverence. The three of them can now ascend to the top of the mount, to the Earthly Paradise, or Eden. There they meet Beatrice who awaits them. And it is here that Virgil departs.
    One more point on Purgatory. The souls that are there must only spend time in the terrace that pertains to their sin. Some have to be purged in more than one terrace, but others, not.
    And it is also here that the symbolism becomes overwhelming. And everything from here on becomes gooey sweet and all filled with love and light and the wonder of God. Therefore, of the three sections, it was Paradise that I liked the least and could not relate to at all. Because there is nothing that even remotely corresponds with anything I believe. I made some sarcastic and even rather nasty notes here, which I won't share.
Paradise, or Heaven
    As in Purgatory, there are different levels where souls abide according their level of deserving, but everyone is happy where they are, and the heavenly spheres are all part of the same Heaven. It is the spheres that I found fascinating. According to Dante, they are as follows, keeping in mind that at that time people believed the sun and everything else revolved around the earth. Here are the Seven Planetary Heavens: Moon; Mercury; Venus; Sun; Mars; Jupiter; Saturn. After that is the Stellar Heaven where the souls abide, then the Primum Mobile, where the angels abide, and finally the tenth Heaven, the Empyrean, where dwells God, his angels and the redeemed. With each one, the music becomes more beautiful and so does Beatrice, until they reach the point where his senses are no longer able to even hear the music, and Beatrice says that her smile would turn him to ashes. But he adjusts, eventually. The Wikipedia page supplies an excellent summary on these ten Heavens. And the quotes that are included confirm my suspicion that there are better translations of this work. And it reads like a poem, unlike the version I have that is definitely not poetic.
    Just a couple more points. While Dante is in Heaven, he speaks with numerous saints, apostles, founders of religious orders, Adam, and at the very end, Beatrice leaves him so he can see her at her true place with God, in the tenth Heaven, along with Mary. But one thing I found rather curious is that, other than Beatrice, there were very few women mentioned in any of the places he journeyed. I also wanted to make note that Dante thought Heaven was out in space. That's obvious because the moon and planets are considered Heavens. The tenth Heaven, however, at least how I understood it, was sort of all encompassing and outside of time and space. Much of what he used in his poem comes from the writings of Aristotle. And finally, as I said, this is really a scholarly edition. It even includes fifteen family trees or genealogical tables of people included in this work!
    So, do I recommend reading it? Well, not this edition, unless you're a scholar of Dante, religion, or medieval Italy. But if you are committed to reading the great literary works of art throughout the history of civilization, then this one must be included. Whether you agree with it or not, it is a work of immense renown.
    Below: Dante gazes at Mount Purgatory in an allegorical portrait by Agnolo Bronzino, painted c. 1530.

Dante gazes at Mount Purgatory in an allegorical portrait by Agnolo Bronzino.

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