Washington State University
THE DIVINE COMEDY
Dante — an online index.
DANTE, THE DIVINE COMEDY
Thomas Aquinas is credited with working out what is considered the greatest feat of Medieval philosophy: the reconciliation of Aristotelian thought and Christian dogma. It seemed like a perennial philosophy, a perfect and unshakable cathedral requiring centuries to explore fully.
Dante’s Commedia, or The Divine Comedy, manifests this in the artistic mode. The work has been compared to a cathedral because of its massive architectonic undertaking. Most previous artistic and poetic material came from classical sources and stories; and the Bible has very little to say about Hell. So Dante is relying on his pagan predecessors for much of the material, but is aligning it all within a Christian framework. The masterpiece is considered a “comedy” not because it’s a laugh riot but rather because it meets the loose medieval definition: it begins in misery and ends in happiness.
Inferno is dramatic. Dante is childlike and chiefly a spectator with Virgil as his guide.
Purgatorio is lyrical. Dante emerges as the protagonist.
Paradiso is metaphysical. His personality fades again, but fades forward into a dissolve to God. The last canto of Paradiso is considered one of the summits of Western art.
Dante is closer to the Renaissance than the Middle Ages (fourteenth-century England and France are still Medieval, but Italy is moving on, such as Dante’s friend Giotto in painting). He can call the Church of his time the Harlot of Kings and prepare a seat in Hell for a living Pope. This despite firm Medieval convictions.