The Divine Comedy: Wikis


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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 Michelino's fresco.

The Divine Comedy (Italian: La Divina Commedia) is an epic poem written by Dante Alighieri between 1308 and his death in 1321. It is widely considered the preeminent work of Italian literature,[1] and is seen as one of the greatest works of world literature.[2] The poem's imaginative and allegorical vision of the Christian afterlife is a culmination of the medieval world-view as it had developed in the Western Church. It helped establish the Tuscan dialect in which it is written as the Italian standard.[3] It is divided into three parts, the Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso.

On the surface the poem describes Dante's travels through Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven; but at a deeper level it represents allegorically the soul's journey towards God.[4] At this deeper level, Dante draws on medieval Christian theology and philosophy, especially the teachings of Thomas Aquinas.[5] For the surface level, "the key fiction of the Divine Comedy is that the poem is true."[6]

Originally the work was simply titled Commedia and was later christened Divina by Giovanni Boccaccio. The first printed edition to add the word divine to the title was that of the Venetian humanist Lodovico Dolce,[7] published in 1555 by Gabriele Giolito de' Ferrari.


Structure and story

Detail of a manuscript in Milan's Biblioteca Trivulziana (MS 1080), written in 1337 by Francesco di ser Nardo da Barberino, showing the beginning of Dante's Comedy.

The Divine Comedy is composed of over 14,000 lines that are divided into three canticas (Ital. pl. cantiche) — Inferno (Hell), Purgatorio (Purgatory), and Paradiso (Paradise) — each consisting of 33 cantos (Ital. pl. canti). An initial canto serves as an introduction to the poem and is generally considered to be part of the first cantica, bringing the total number of cantos to 100. The number 3 is prominent in the work, represented here by the length of each cantica. The verse scheme used, terza rima, is hendecasyllabic (lines of eleven syllables), with the lines composing tercets according to the rhyme scheme aba, bcb, cdc, ded, ....

The poem is written in the first person, and 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 whom 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.

In Northern Italy's political struggle between Guelphs and Ghibellines, Dante was part of the Guelphs, who in general favored the Papacy over the Holy Roman Emperor. Florence's Guelphs split into factions around 1300, the White Guelphs, and the Black Guelphs. Dante was among the White Guelphs who were exiled in 1302 by the Lord-Mayor Cante de' Gabrielli di Gubbio, after troops under Charles of Valois entered the city, at the request of Pope Boniface VIII, who supported the Black Guelphs. This exile, which lasted the rest of Dante's life, shows its influence in many parts of the Comedy, from prophecies of Dante's exile to Dante's views of politics to the eternal damnation of some of his opponents.[citation needed]

In Hell and Purgatory, Dante shares in the sin and the penitence respectively. The last word in each of the three parts of the Divine Comedy is stelle, "stars."


Gustave Doré's engravings illustrated the Divine Comedy (1861–1868); here Charon comes to ferry souls across the river Acheron to Hell.

The poem begins on the night before Good Friday in the year 1300, "halfway along our life's path" (Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita). Dante is thirty-five years old, half of the biblical life expectancy of 70 (Psalms 90:10), lost in a dark wood (understood as sin[8][9][10]), assailed by beasts (a lion, a leopard, and a she-wolf) he cannot evade, and unable to find the "straight way" (diritta via) - also translatable as "right way" - to salvation (symbolized by the sun behind the mountain). Conscious that he is ruining himself and that he is falling into a "deep place" (basso loco) where the sun is silent ('l sol tace), Dante is at last rescued by Virgil, and the two of them begin their journey to the underworld. Each sin's punishment in Inferno is a contrapasso, a symbolic instance of poetic justice; for example, fortune-tellers have to walk with their heads on backwards, unable to see what is ahead, because that was what they had tried to do in life:

"they had their faces twisted toward their haunches
and found it necessary to walk backward,
because they could not see ahead of them.
…and since he wanted so to see ahead,
he looks behind and walks a backward path.[11]

Allegorically, the Inferno represents the Christian soul seeing sin for what it really is, and the three beasts represent three types of sin: the self-indulgent, the violent, and the malicious.[12] These three types of sin also provide the three main divisions of Dante's Hell: Upper Hell (the first 5 Circles) for the self-indulgent sins; Circles 6 and 7 for the violent sins; and Circles 8 and 9 for the malicious sins.

Dante gazes at Mount Purgatory in an allegorical portrait by Agnolo Bronzino, painted circa 1530


Having survived the depths of Hell, Dante and Virgil ascend out of the undergloom, to the Mountain of Purgatory on the far side of the world. The Mountain is on an island, the only land in the Southern Hemisphere, created by the displacement of rock which resulted when Satan's fall created Hell[13] (which Dante portrays as existing underneath Jerusalem[14]). At the shores of Purgatory, Dante and Virgil are attracted by a musical performance by Casella, but are reprimanded by Cato, a pagan who has been placed by God as the general guardian of the approach to the mountain. The text gives no indication whether or not Cato's soul is destined for heaven: his symbolic significance has been much debated (Cantos I and II).

Allegorically, the Purgatorio represents the Christian life. Christian souls arrive escorted by an angel, singing in exitu Israel de Aegypto. In his Letter to Cangrande, Dante explains that this reference to Israel leaving Egypt refers both to the redemption of Christ and to "the conversion of the soul from the sorrow and misery of sin to the state of grace."[15] Appropriately, therefore, it is Easter Sunday when Dante and Virgil arrive.

The Purgatorio is notable for demonstrating the medieval knowledge of a spherical Earth. During the poem, Dante discusses the different stars visible in the southern hemisphere, the altered position of the sun, and the various timezones of the Earth. At this stage it is, Dante says, sunset at Jerusalem, midnight on the River Ganges, and sunrise in Purgatory.


Dante and Beatrice speak to Piccarda and Constance of Sicily, in a fresco by Philipp Veit, Paradiso, Canto 3
First printed edition, 11 April 1472

After an initial ascension (Canto I), Beatrice guides Dante through the nine celestial spheres of Heaven. These are concentric and spherical, similar to Aristotelian and Ptolemaic cosmology. Dante admits the vision of heaven he receives is the one that his human eyes permit him to see. Thus, the vision of heaven found in the Cantos is Dante's own personal vision, ambiguous in its true construction. The addition of a moral dimension means that a soul that has reached Paradise stops at the level applicable to it. Souls are allotted to the point of heaven that fits with their human ability to love God. Thus, there is a heavenly hierarchy. All parts of heaven are accessible to the heavenly soul. That is to say all experience God but there is a hierarchy in the sense that some souls are more spiritually developed than others. This is not determined by time or learning as such but by their proximity to God (how much they allow themselves to experience Him above other things). In Dante's schema all souls in Heaven are, on some level, always in contact with God.

While the structures of the Inferno and Purgatorio were based around different classifications of sin, the structure of the Paradiso is based on the four cardinal virtues and the three theological virtues.

Earliest manuscripts

According to the Italian Dante Society, no original manuscript written by Dante has survived, though there are many manuscript copies from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries - more than 825 are listed on their site.[16] The oldest belongs to the 1330s, almost a decade after Dante's death. The most precious ones are the three full copies made by Giovanni Boccaccio (1360s), who himself did not have the original manuscript as a source. The first printed edition was published in Foligno, Italy, by Johann Numeister and Evangelista Angelini da Trevi on 11 April 1472.[17] Of the 300 copies printed, fourteen still survive. The original printing press is on display in the Oratorio della Nunziatella in Foligno.

Thematic concerns

The Divine Comedy can be described simply as an allegory: Each canto, and the episodes therein, can contain many alternative meanings. Dante's allegory, however, is more complex, and, in explaining how to read the poem - see the Letter to Cangrande[18] - he outlines other levels of meaning besides the allegory: the historical, the moral, the literal, and the anagogical.

The structure of the poem, likewise, is quite complex, with mathematical and numerological patterns arching throughout the work, particularly threes and nines, which are related to the Trinity. The poem is often lauded for its particularly human qualities: Dante's skillful delineation of the characters he encounters in Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise; his bitter denunciations of Florentine and Italian politics; and his powerful poetic imagination. Dante's use of real characters, according to Dorothy Sayers in her introduction to her translation of the Inferno, allows Dante the freedom of not having to involve the reader in description, and allows him to "[make] room in his poem for the discussion of a great many subjects of the utmost importance, thus widening its range and increasing its variety."

Dante called the poem "Comedy" (the adjective "Divine" was added later in the 14th century) because poems in the ancient world were classified as High ("Tragedy") or Low ("Comedy"). Low poems had happy endings and were of everyday or vulgar subjects, while High poems were for more serious matters. Dante was one of the first in the Middle Ages to write of a serious subject, the Redemption of Man, in the low and vulgar Italian language and not the Latin language as one might expect for such a serious topic. Boccaccio's account that an early version of the poem was begun by Dante in Latin is still controversial.[19][20]

Dante's personal involvement

In his allegorical description of sin (in the Inferno) and virtue (in the Purgatorio and Paradiso), Dante draws on real characters from ancient Greek and Roman myths and history, and from his own times. However, his own actions often also illustrate the concepts he is discussing. For example, Dante shares the fleshly sins of the damned at several points in the upper circles of Hell. At the first circle where the virtuous pagans who pursued honor above all else are punished by eternally knowing they have fallen short for their lack of faith, Dante shares with them their love of honor, as evidenced by the word “honor” being used repeatedly in the Canto.[21] Similarly, at the third circle where Ciacco and other gluttons are punished for their appetites, Dante’s appetite for political information about his fellow Florentines appears equally gluttonous:

"And I to him: I wish thee still to teach me,
And make a gift to me of further speech.

Farinata and Tegghiaio, once so worthy,
Jacopo Rusticucci, Arrigo, and Mosca,
And others who on good deeds set their thoughts,

Say where they are, and cause that I may know them;
For great desire constraineth me to learn
If Heaven doth sweeten them, or Hell envenom."[22]

Conversely, in the Purgatorio, after leaving the terrace of the proud, Dante has learned from the example set by Omberto[23] and suppresses his own pride, declining to speak of his achievements:

"And I: Through midst of Tuscany there wanders
A streamlet that is born in Falterona,
And not a hundred miles of course suffice it;

From thereupon do I this body bring.
To tell you who I am were speech in vain,
Because my name as yet makes no great noise."[24]

Scientific themes

Albert Ritter sketched the Comedy's geography from Dante's Cantos: Hell's entrance is near Florence with the circles descending to Earth's centre; sketch 5 reflects Canto 34's inversion as Dante passes down, and thereby up to Mount Purgatory's shores in the southern hemisphere, where he passes to the first sphere of Heaven at the top.

Although the Divine Comedy is primarily a religious poem, discussing sin, virtue, and theology, Dante also discusses several elements of the science of his day (this mixture of science with poetry has received both praise and blame over the centuries[25]). The Purgatorio repeatedly refers to the implications of a spherical Earth, such as the different stars visible in the southern hemisphere, the altered position of the sun, and the various timezones of the Earth. For example, at sunset in Purgatory it is midnight at the Ebro (a river in Spain), dawn in Jerusalem, and noon on the River Ganges:[26]

Just as, there where its Maker shed His blood,
the sun shed its first rays, and Ebro lay
beneath high Libra, and the ninth hour's rays

were scorching Ganges' waves; so here, the sun
stood at the point of day's departure when
God's angel happy showed himself to us.[27]

Dante travels through the centre of the Earth in the Inferno, and comments on the resulting change in the direction of gravity in Canto XXXIV (lines 76–120). A little earlier (XXXIII, 102–105), he queries the existence of wind in the frozen inner circle of hell, since it has no temperature differentials.[28]

Inevitably, given its setting, the Paradiso discusses astronomy extensively, but of course in the Ptolemaic sense. The Paradiso also discusses the importance of the experimental method in science, with a detailed example in lines 94–105 of Canto II:

"Yet an experiment, were you to try it,
could free you from your cavil and the source
of your arts' course springs from experiment.

Taking three mirrors, place a pair of them
at equal distance from you; set the third
midway between those two, but farther back.

Then, turning toward them, at your back have placed
a light that kindles those three mirrors and
returns to you, reflected by them all.

Although the image in the farthest glass
will be of lesser size, there you will see
that it must match the brightness of the rest."[29]

A briefer example occurs in Canto XV of the Purgatorio (lines 16-21), where Dante points out that both theory and experiment confirm that the angle of incidence is equal to the angle of reflection. Other references to science in the Paradiso include descriptions of clockwork in Canto XXIV (lines 13–18), and Thales' theorem about triangles in Canto XIII (lines 101–102).

Galileo Galilei is known to have lectured on the Inferno, and it has been suggested that the poem may have influenced some of Galileo's own ideas regarding mechanics.[30]

Islamic philosophy

In 1919, Professor Miguel Asín Palacios, a Spanish scholar and a Catholic priest, published La Escatología musulmana en la Divina Comedia ("Islamic Eschatology in the Divine Comedy"), an account of parallels between early Islamic philosophy and the Divine Comedy. Palacios argued that Dante derived many features of and episodes about the hereafter indirectly from the spiritual writings of Ibn Arabi and from the Isra and Mi'raj or night journey of Muhammad to heaven. The latter is described in the Hadith and the Kitab al Miraj (translated into Latin in 1264 or shortly before[31] as Liber Scalae Machometi, "The Book of Muhammad's Ladder"), and has some slight similarities to the Paradiso, such as a sevenfold division of Paradise,[32] although this is not unique to the Kitab al Miraj.

Some "superficial similarities"[33] of the Divine Comedy to the Resalat Al-Ghufran or Epistle of Forgiveness of Al-Ma'arri have also been mentioned in this debate. The Resalat Al-Ghufran includes dialogue with people in Heaven and Hell, although, unlike the Kitab al Miraj, there is little description of these locations,[34] and it is unlikely that Dante borrowed from this work.[35][36]

Dante did, however, live in a Europe of substantial literary and philosophical contact with the Muslim world, encouraged by such factors as Averroism and the patronage of Alfonso X of Castile. Of the twelve wise men Dante meets in Canto X of the Paradiso, Thomas Aquinas and, even more so, Siger of Brabant were strongly influenced by Arabic commentators on Aristotle.[37] Medieval Christian mysticism also shared the Neoplatonic influence of Sufis such as Ibn Arabi. Philosopher Frederick Copleston argued in 1950 that Dante's respectful treatment of Averroes, Avicenna, and Siger of Brabant indicates his acknowledgement of a "considerable debt" to Islamic philosophy.[37]

Although this philosophical influence is generally acknowledged, many scholars have not been satisfied that Dante was influenced by the Kitab al Miraj. The twentieth century Orientalist Francesco Gabrieli expressed skepticism regarding the claimed similarities, and the lack of evidence of a vehicle through which it could have been transmitted to Dante. Even so, while dismissing the probability of some influences posited in Palacios' work,[38] Gabrieli recognized that it was "at least possible, if not probable, that Dante may have known the Liber scalae and have taken from it certain images and concepts of Muslim eschatology". Shortly before her death, the Italian philologist Maria Corti pointed out that, during his stay at the court of Alfonso X, Dante's mentor Brunetto Latini met Bonaventura de Siena, a Tuscan who had translated the Kitab al Miraj from Arabic into Latin. According to Corti,[39] Brunetto may have provided a copy of that work to Dante. However, no evidence exists to support this speculation.

Literary influence in the English-speaking world and beyond

The work was not always so well regarded. After being recognized as a masterpiece in the first centuries following its publication,[40] the work was largely ignored during the Enlightenment, with some notable exceptions such as Vittorio Alfieri, Antoine de Rivarol, who translated the Inferno into French, and Giambattista Vico, who in the Scienza nuova and in the Giudizio su Dante inaugurated what would later become the romantic reappraisal of Dante, juxtaposing him to Homer.[41] The Comedy was "rediscovered" by William Blake - who illustrated several passages of the epic - and the romantic writers of the 19th century. Later authors such as T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Samuel Beckett, C.S. Lewis and James Joyce have drawn on it for inspiration. The poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was its first American translator,[42] and modern poets, including Seamus Heaney,[43] Robert Pinsky, John Ciardi, and W. S. Merwin, have also produced translations of all or parts of the book. In Russia, beyond Pushkin's memorable translation of a few triplets,[44] Osip Mandelstam's late poetry has been said to bear of the mark of a "tormented meditation" on the Comedy.[45] In 1934 Mandelstam gave a modern reading of the poem in his labyrinthine "Conversation on Dante".[46]

New English translations of the Divine Comedy continue to be published regularly. Notable English translations of the complete poem include:

Year Translator Notes
1805–1814 Henry Francis Cary An older translation, widely available online.
1882 Henry Wadsworth Longfellow The first American translation, and still widely read, including online.
1933–1943 Laurence Binyon In an English version of terza rima.
1949–1962 Dorothy L. Sayers Translated for Penguin Classics, intended for a wider audience, and completed by Barbara Reynolds.
1954–1970 John Ciardi His Inferno was recorded and released by Folkways Records in 1954.
1981 C. H. Sisson Available in Oxford World's Classics.
1980–1984 Allen Mandelbaum Available online.
1967–2002 Mark Musa An alternative Penguin Classics version.
2000–2007 Robert and Jean Hollander Online as part of the Princeton Dante Project.
2002-2004 Anthony M. Esolen Modern Library Classics edition.
2006–2007 Robin Kirkpatrick A third Penguin Classics version, replacing Musa's.

A number of other translators, such as Robert Pinsky, have translated the Inferno only.

In the arts

Rodin's The Kiss represents Paolo and Francesca.[47]

The Divine Comedy has been a source of inspiration for countless artists for almost seven centuries. There are many references to Dante's work in literature. In music, Franz Liszt was one of many composers to write works based on the Divine Comedy. In sculpture, the work of Auguste Rodin is notable for themes from Dante, and many visual artists have illustrated Dante's work, as shown by the examples above. There have also been many references to the Divine Comedy in cinema and computer games.

See also


  1. ^ For example, Encyclopedia Americana, 2006, Vol. 30‎. p. 605: "the greatest single work of Italian literature;" John Julius Norwich, The Italians: History, Art, and the Genius of a People, Abrams, 1983, p. 27: "his tremendous poem, still after six and a half centuries the supreme work of Italian literature, remains - after the legacy of ancient Rome - the grandest single element in the Italian heritage;" and Robert Reinhold Ergang, The Renaissance, Van Nostrand, 1967, p. 103: "Many literary historians regard the Divine Comedy as the greatest work of Italian literature. In world literature it is ranked as an epic poem of the highest order."
  2. ^ Bloom, Harold (1994). The Western Canon.  See also Western canon for other "canons" that include the Divine Comedy.
  3. ^ See Lepschy, Laura; Lepschy, Giulio (1977). The Italian Language Today.  or any other history of Italian language.
  4. ^ Dorothy L. Sayers, Hell, notes on page 19.
  5. ^ Charles Allen Dinsmore, The Teachings of Dante, Ayer Publishing, 1970, p. 38, ISBN 0836955218.
  6. ^ Peter E. Bondanella, The Inferno, Introduction, p. xliii, Barnes & Noble Classics, 2003, ISBN 1593080514.
  7. ^ Ronnie H. Terpening, Lodovico Dolce, Renaissance Man of Letters (Toronto, Buffalo, London: University of Toronto Press, 1997), p. 166.
  8. ^ "Inferno, la Divina Commedia annotata e commentata da Tommaso Di Salvo, Zanichelli, Bologna, 1985". Retrieved 2010-01-16. 
  9. ^ Lectura Dantis, Società dantesca italiana
  10. ^ online sources: [1][2][3][4][5][6][7]
  11. ^ Inferno, Canto XX, lines 13–15 and 38–39, Mandelbaum translation.
  12. ^ Dorothy L. Sayers, Purgatory, notes on page 75.
  13. ^ Inferno, Canto 34, lines 121-126.
  14. ^ Richard Lansing and Teodolinda Barolini, The Dante Encyclopedia, p. 475, Garland Publishing, 2000, ISBN 0-8153-1659-3.
  15. ^ "The Letter to Can Grande," in Literary Criticism of Dante Alighieri, translated and edited by Robert S. Haller (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1973), 99
  16. ^ "Elenco Codici". Retrieved 2009-08-05. 
  17. ^ Christopher Kleinhenz, Medieval Italy: An Encyclopedia, Volume 1, Routledge, 2004, ISBN 0415939305, p. 360.
  18. ^ "Epistle to Can Grande". Retrieved 2009-08-05. 
  19. ^ Boccaccio also quotes the initial triplet:"Ultima regna canam fluvido contermina mundo, / spiritibus quae lata patent, quae premia solvunt /pro meritis cuicumque suis". For translation and more, see Guyda Armstrong, , Review of Giovanni Boccaccio. Life of Dante. J. G. Nichols, trans. London: Hesperus Press, 2002.
  20. ^ Hiram Peri, The Original Plan of the Divine Comedy, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, Vol. 18, No. 3/4 (1955), pp. 189-210.
  21. ^ Inferno, Canto 4, lines 72, 73, 76, 80, 100, and 133, Mandelbaum translation
  22. ^ Inferno, Canto VI, lines 77–84, Longfellow translation.
  23. ^ Purgatorio, Canto XI, lines 58–67
  24. ^ Purgatorio, Canto XIV, lines 16–21, Longfellow translation.
  25. ^ Michael Caesar, Dante: The Critical Heritage, Routledge, 1995, pp 288, 383, 412, 631.
  26. ^ Dorothy L. Sayers, Purgatory, notes on p. 286
  27. ^ Paradiso, Canto XXVII, lines 1–6, Mandelbaum translation.
  28. ^ Dorothy L. Sayers, Inferno, notes on page 284.
  29. ^ Paradiso, Canto II, lines 94–105, Mandelbaum translation.
  30. ^ "Mark Peterson Sheds New Light on Discovery by Galileo," College Street Journal, March 8, 2002. Retrieved 2 April 2009.
  31. ^ I. Heullant-Donat and M.-A. Polo de Beaulieu, "Histoire d'une traduction," in Le Livre de l'échelle de Mahomet, Latin edition and French translation by Gisèle Besson and Michèle Brossard-Dandré, Collection Lettres Gothiques, Le Livre de Poche, 1991, p. 22 with note 37.
  32. ^ See the English translation of the Kitab al Miraj.
  33. ^ William Montgomery Watt and Pierre Cachia, A History of Islamic Spain, 2nd edition, Edinburgh University Press, 1996, pp. 125–126, ISBN 0-7486-0847-8.
  34. ^ Dionisius A. Agius and Richard Hitchcock, The Arab Influence in Medieval Europe, Ithaca Press, 1996, p. 70, ISBN 0-86372-213-X.
  35. ^ Kāmil Kīlānī and G. Brackenbury, Introduction to Risalat ul Ghufran: A Divine Comedy, 3rd ed, Al-Maaref Printing and Publishing House, 1943, p. 8.
  36. ^ The theory "receives little credence", according to Watt and Cachia, p. 183.
  37. ^ a b Frederick Copleston (1950). A History of Philosophy, Volume 2. London: Continuum. p. 200. 
  38. ^ Francesco Gabrieli, "New light on Dante and Islam", Diogenes, 2:61-73, 1954>
  39. ^ Maria Corti: Dante e l'Islam (interview)
  40. ^ Chaucer wrote in the Monk's Tale, "Redeth the grete poete of Ytaille / That highte Dant, for he kan al devyse / Fro point to point; nat o word wol he faille".
  41. ^ Erich Auerbach,Dante: Poet of the Secular World. ISBN 0-226-03205-1.
  42. ^ Irmscher, Christoph. Longfellow Redux. University of Illinois, 2008: 11. ISBN 978-0-252-03063-5.
  43. ^ Seamus Heaney, “Envies and Identifications: Dante and the Modern Poet.” The Poet’s Dante: Twentieth-Century Responses. Ed. Peter S. Hawkins and Rachel Jacoff. New York: Farrar, 2001. 239-258.
  44. ^ 'Dante in Russia' in "The Dante encyclopedia" by Richard H. Lansing and Teodolinda Barolini, [8]
  45. ^ Marina Glazova, Mandelstam and Dante: The Divine Comedy in Mandelstam's poetry of the 1930s Studies in East European Thought, Volume 28, Number 4, November, 1984.
  46. ^ James Fenton, Hell set to music, The Guardian, 16 July 2005
  47. ^ Le Normand-Romain, Antoinette (1999). Rodin:The Gates of Hell. Paris: Musée Rodin. ISBN 2-9014-2869-X. 

External links

Portrait de Dante.jpg Dante Alighieri (1265–1321)
Works in Latin: De vulgari eloquentia • De Monarchia • Eclogues • Letters
Works in Italian: La Vita Nuova • Le Rime • Convivio
Divina Commedia: Inferno • Purgatorio • Paradiso


Up to date as of January 14, 2010
(Redirected to Dante Alighieri article)

From Wikiquote

Here must all distrust be left behind; all cowardice must be ended.

Durante degli Alighieri, better known as Dante, (c. 1 June 126513/14 September 1321) was an Italian Florentine poet. His greatest work, La divina commedia (The Divine Comedy), is considered the greatest literary statement produced in Europe in the medieval period, and the basis of the modern Italian language.



Love hath so long possessed me for his own
And made his lordship so familiar.
  • Love hath so long possessed me for his own
    And made his lordship so familiar.
    • La Vita Nuova (1293)
  • Behold a God more powerful than I who comes to rule over me.
    • La Vita Nuova (1293)
  • Love with delight discourses in my mind
    Upon my lady's admirable gifts...
    Beyond the range of human intellect.
    • Il Convivio, Trattato Terzo, line 1

The Divine Comedy

Various translations have been used in this section.

The Inferno

Abandon every hope, ye who enter here.
  • Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita,
    Mi ritrovai per una selva oscura,
    Che la diritta via era smarrita.
    • When I had journeyed half of our life's way,
      I found myself within a shadowed forest,
      for I had lost the path that does not stray.
    • Canto I, lines 1-3
  • E come quei che con lena affannata,
    uscito fuor del pelago a la riva,
    si volge a l'acqua perigliosa e guata.
    • And just as he who, with exhausted breath,
      having escaped from the sea to shore,
      turns to the perilous waters and gazes.
    • Canto I, lines 22-24
  • Lasciate ogni speranza, voi ch'entrate.
    • All hope abandon, ye who enter in.
    • Canto III, line 9
    • Frequently translated as "Abandon hope, all ye who enter here",[1] but "all" modifies hope, not those who enter: “ogni speranza” means “all hope”.
  • Qui si convien lasciare ogne sospetto;
    ogne viltà convien che qui sia morta.
    • Here one must leave behind all hesistation;
      here every cowardice must meet its death.
    • Canto III, lines 14-15
  • Quivi sospiri, pianti e alti guai
    risonavan per l'aere sanza stelle,
    per ch'io al cominciar ne lagrimai.
    Diverse lingue, orribili favelle,
    parole di dolore, accenti d'ira,
    voci alte e fioche, e suon di man con elle
    facevano un tumolto, il qual s'aggira
    sempre in quell'aura sanza tempo tinta,
    come la rena quando turbo spira.
    • Their sighs, lamentations and loud wailings
      resounded through the starless air,
      so that at first it made me weep;
      Strange utterances, horrible pronouncements,
      words of pain, tones of anger,
      voices shrill and faint, and beating hands,
      all went to make a tumult that will whirl
      forever through that turbid, timeless air,
      like sand that eddies when a whirlwind swirls.
    • Canto III, lines 22-30
  • Questo misero modo
    tegnon l'anime triste di coloro
    che visser sanza 'nfamia e sanza lodo.
    • This miserable state
      is borne by the wretched souls of those
      who lived without disgrace and without praise.
    • Canto III, lines 34-36
  • Caccianli i ciel per non esser men belli,
    né lo profondo inferno li riceve,
    ch'alcuna gloria i rei avrebber d'elli.
    • Heaven, to keep its beauty,
      cast them out, but even Hell itself would not receive them
      for fear the wicked there might glory over them.
    • Canto III, lines 40-42
  • Vidi e conobbi l'ombra di colui
    che per viltade fece il gran rifiuto.
    • I saw and I knew the soul of him,
      who cowardly made the great refusal.
    • Canto III, lines 59-60
    • The decision of Pope Celestine V to abdicate the Papacy and allow Dante's enemy, Pope Boniface VIII, to gain power.
  • Incontanente intesti e certo fui
    che questa era la setta d'i cattivi
    a Dio spiacenti e a' nemici sui.
    • At once I understood,
      and I was sure this was that sect of evil souls who were
      hateful to God and to His enemies.
    • Canto III, lines 61-63
  • Sanza speme vivemo in disio.
    • Without hope we live in desire.
    • Canto IV, line 42
  • Io venni in loco d'ogne luce muto,
    che mugghia come fa mar per tempesta,
    se da contrari venti è combattuto.
    • I came into a place void of all light,
      which bellows like the sea in tempest,
      when it is combated by warring winds.
    • Canto V, lines 28-30
Love, which is quickly kindled in the gentle heart, seized this man for the fair form that was taken from me, and the manner still hurts me...
  • Amor, ch'al cor gentil ratto s'apprende,
    prese costui de la bella persona
    che mi fu tolta; e 'l modo ancor m'offende.
    • Love, which is quickly kindled in the gentle heart,
      seized this man for the fair form that was
      taken from me, and the manner still hurts me.
    • Canto V, lines 100-102
  • Amor, ch'a nullo amato amar perdona,
    mi prese del costui piacer sì forte,
    che, come vedi, ancor non m'abbandona.
    • Love, which absolves no beloved one from loving,
      seized me so strongly with his charm
      that, as thou seest, it does not leave me yet.
    • Canto V, lines 103-105
  • Nessun maggior dolore
    Che ricordarsi del tempo felice
    Nella miseria.
    • There is no greater sorrow
      Than to be mindful of the happy time
      In misery.
    • Canto V, lines 121-123
  • Superbia, invidia e avarizia sono
    le tre faville c'hanno i cuori accesi.
    • Pride, Envy, and Avarice are
      the three sparks that have set these hearts on fire.
    • Canto VI, lines 74-75
  • Necessità 'l ci 'nduce, e non diletto.
    • Necessity brings him here, not pleasure.
    • Canto XII, line 87
  • Bene ascolta chi la nota.
    • He listens well who takes notes.
    • Canto XV, line 99
  • ...Seggendo in piuma
    in fama non si vien, né sotto coltre,
    sanza la qual chi sua vita consuma
    cotal vestigo in terra di sé lascia
    qual fummo in aere ed in acqua la schiuma.
    • Lying in a featherbed
      will bring you no fame, nor staying beneath the quilt,
      and he who uses up his life without achieving fame
      leaves no more vestige of himself on Earth
      than smoke in the air or foam upon the water.
    • Canto XXIV, lines 47-51
  • La dimanda onesta
    si de' seguir con l'opera tacendo.
    • A fair request should be followed by the deed in silence.
    • Canto XXIV, lines 77-78
  • Considerate la vostra semenza:
    fatti non foste a viver come bruti,
    ma per seguir virtute e canoscenza.
    • Consider your origin;
      you were not born to live like brutes,
      but to follow virtue and knowledge.
    • Canto XXVI, lines 118-120
  • S'i' credesse che mia risposta fosse
    a persona che mai tornasse al mondo,
    questa fiamma staria sanza più scosse;
    ma però che già mai di questo fondo
    non tornò vivo alcun, s'i' odo il vero,
    sanza tema d'infamia ti ris pondo.
    • If I thought my answer were to one
      who would ever return to the world,
      this flame should stay without another movement; but since none
      ever returned alive from thisdepth, if what I hear is true,
      I answer thee without fear of infamy.
    • Canto XXVII, lines 61-66
  • Tra le gambe pendevan le minugia;
    la corata pareva e 'l tristo sacco
    che merda fa di quel che si trangugia.
    • Between his legs were hanging down his entrails;
      His heart was visible, and the dismal sack
      that maketh excrement of what is eaten.
    • Canto XXVIII, lines 25-27; translation by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
  • "Vexilla regis prodeunt inferni
    verso di noi; però dinanzi mira,"
    disse 'l maestro mio, "se tu 'l discerni."
  • "Vexilla regis prodeunt inferni
    towards us now; so look ahead and see,"
    my master said, "whether you can discern him."
    • Canto XXXIV, lines 1-3


To run over better waters the little vessel of my genius now hoists her sails, as she leaves behind her a sea so cruel.
  • Per correr miglior acque alza le vele
    ornai la navicella del mio ingegno,
    che lascia dietro a sé mar sì crudele.
    • To run over better waters the little vessel of my genius now hoists her sails, as she leaves behind her a sea so cruel.
    • Canto I, lines 1-3
  • Libertà va cercando, ch'è sì cara,
    come sa chi per lei vita rifiuta.
    • He goes seeking liberty, which is so dear, as he knows who for it renounces life.
    • Canto I, lines 71-72
  • O dignitosa coscïenza, e netta,
    come t'è piccioli fallo amaro morso!
    • O conscience, upright and stainless, how bitter sting to thee is a little fault!
    • Canto III, lines 8-9
  • Se orazïone in prima non m'aita
    che surga sù di cuor che in grazia viva;
    l'altra che val, che 'n ciel non è udita?
    • Unless, before then, the prayer assist me which rises from a heart that lives in grace: what avails the other, which is not heard in heaven?
    • Canto IV, lines 133-135
  • Che sempre l'omo in cui pensier rampolla
    sovra pensier, da sé dilunga il sengo,
    perché la foga l'un de l'altro insolla.
    • For always the man in whom thought springs up over thought sets his mark farther off, for the one thought saps the force of the other.
    • Canto V, lines 16-18
Do not rest in so profound a doubt except she tell it thee, who shall be a light between truth and intellect. I know not if thou understand: I speak of Beatrice.
  • Veramente a così alto sospetto
    non ti fermar, se quella nol ti dice
    che lume fia tra 'l vero e lo 'ntelletto.
    Non so se 'ntendi; io dico di Beatrice.
    • Do not rest in so profound a doubt except she tell it thee, who shall be a light between truth and intellect. I know not if thou understand: I speak of Beatrice.
    • Canto VI, lines 43-46
  • Era già l'ora che volge il disio
    ai navicanti e 'ntenerisce il core
    lo di ch'an detto ai dolci amici addio;
    e che lo novo peregrin d'amore
    punge, se ode squilla di lontano
    che paia il giorno pianger che si more.
    • It was now the hour that turns back the longing of seafarers and melts their hearts, the day they have bidden dear friends farewell, and pierces the new traveler with love if he hears in the distance the bell that seems to mourn the dying day.
    • Canto VIII, lines 1-6
Worldly renown is naught but a breath of wind, which now comes this way and now comes that, and changes name because it changes quarter.
  • Dà oggi a noi la cotidiana manna,
    sanza la qual per questo aspro diserto
    a retro va chi più di gir s'affanna.
    • Give us this day the daily manna, without which, in this rough desert, he backward goes, who toils most to go on.
    • Canto XI, lines 13-15
  • Non è il mondan romore altro ch'un fiato
    di vento, ch'or vien quinci e or vien quindi,
    e muta nome perché muta lato.
    • Worldly renown is naught but a breath of wind, which now comes this way and now comes that, and changes name because it changes quarter.
    • Canto XI, lines 100-102
  • O gene umana, per volar sù nata,
    perché a poco vento così cadi?
    • O human race, born to fly upward, wherefore at a little wind dost thou so fall?
    • Canto XII, lines 95-96
  • A maggior forza e a miglior natura
    liberi soggiacete; e quella cria
    la mente in voi, che 'l ciel no ha in sua cura.
    Però, se 'l mondo presente disvia,
    in voi è la cagione, in voi si cheggia.
    • To a greater force, and to a better nature, you, free, are subject, and that creates the mind in you, which the heavens have not in their charge. Therefore if the present world go astray, the cause is in you, in you it is to be sought.
    • Canto XVI, lines 79-83
  • Ciascun confusamente un bene apprende
    nel qual si questi l'animo, e disira;
    per che di giugner lui ciascun contende.
    • Everyone confusedly conceives of a good in which the mind may be at rest, and desires it; wherefore everyone strives to attain it.
    • Canto XVII, lines 127-129
  • Amore,
    acceso di virtù, sempre altro accese,
    pur che la fiamma sua paresse fore.
    • Love kindled by virtue always kindles another, provided that its flame appear outwardly.
    • Canto XXII, lines 10-12
  • Men che dramma
    di sangue m'è rimaso, che no tremi;
    conosco i segni dell' antica fiamma.
    • Less than a drop of blood remains in me that does not tremble; I recognize the signals of the ancient flame.
    • Canto XXX, lines 46-48
  • Ma tanto più maligno e più silvestro
    si fa 'l terren col mal seme e non cólto,
    quant' elli ha più di buon vigor terrestro.
    • But so much the more malign and wild does the ground become with bad seed and untilled, as it has the more of good earthly vigor.
    • Canto XXX, lines 118-120
  • Puro e disposto a salire a le stelle.
    • Pure and disposed to mount unto the stars.
    • Canto XXXIII, line 145


I saw within Its depth how It conceives all things in a single volume bound by Love, of which the universe is the scattered leaves.
  • La gloria di colui che tutto move
    per l'universo penetra, e risplende
    in una parte piú e meno altrove.
    • The glory of Him who moves everything penetrates through the universe, and is resplendent in one part more and in another less.
    • Canto I, lines 1-3
  • Poca favilla gran fiamma seconda.
    • A great flame follows a little spark.
    • Canto I, line 34
  • E 'n la sua volontade è nostra pace.
    • And in His will is our peace.
    • Canto III, line 85
  • Lo maggior don che Dio per sua larghezza
    fesse creando, e a la sua bontate
    più conformato, e quel ch'e' più apprezza,
    fu de la volontà la libertate;
    di che le creature intelligenti,
    e tutte e sole, fuore e son dotate.
    • The greatest gift that God in His bounty made in creation, and the most conformable to His goodness, and that which He prizes the most, was the freedom of will, with which the creatures with intelligence, they all and they alone, were and are endowed.
    • Canto V, lines 19-24
  • Tu proverai sì come sa di sale
    lo pane altrui, e come è duro calle
    lo scendere e 'l salir per l'altrui scale.
    • Thou shalt prove how salt is the taste of another's bread and how hard is the way up and down another man's stairs.
    • Canto XVII, lines 58-60
  • Però ne la giustizia sempiterna
    la vista che riceve il vostro mondo,
    com' occhio per lo mare, entro s'interna;
    che, ben che da la proda veggia il fondo,
    in pelago nol vede; e nondimeno
    èli, ma cela lui l'esser profondo.
    • Therefore the sight that is granted to your world penetrates within the Eternal Justice as the eye into the sea; for though from the shore it sees the bottom, in the open sea it does not, and yet the bottom is there but the depth conceals it.
    • Canto XIX, lines 58-63
  • L'esperîenza
    di questa dolce vita.
    • The experience of this sweet life.
    • Canto XX, lines 47-48
  • Quale allodetta che 'n aere si spazia
    prima cantando, e poi tace contenta
    de l'ultima dolcezza che la sazia,
    tal mi sembiò l'imago de la 'mprenta
    de l'etterno piacere.
    • Like the lark that soars in the air, first singing, then silent, content with the last sweetness that satiates it, such seemed to me that image, the imprint of the Eternal Pleasure.
    • Canto XX, lines 73-77
  • La notte che le cose ci nasconde.
    • The night that hides things from us.
    • Canto XXIII, line 3
  • Di quel color che per lo sole avverso
    nube dipigne da sera e da mane,
    vid' îo allora tutto 'l ciel cosperso.
    • With the color that paints the morning and evening clouds that face the sun I saw then the whole heaven suffused.
    • Canto XXVII, lines 28-30
  • Nel suo profondo vidi che s'interna,
    legato con amore in un volume,
    ciò che per l'universo si squaderna.
    • I saw within Its depth how It conceives all things in a single volume bound by Love, of which the universe is the scattered leaves.
    • Canto XXXIII, lines 85-87
    • The Portable Dante : Revised Edition (Viking Portable Library) (Paperback) Mark Musa, Translator.
  • L'amor che muove il sole e l'altre stelle.
    • The Love which moves the sun and the other stars.
    • Canto XXXIII, line 145 (last line)


  • The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in times of great moral crisis maintain their neutrality.
    • John F. Kennedy misquoting Dante (24 June 1963) . Dante placed those who "non furon ribelli né fur fedeli" — were neither for nor against God, in a special region near the mouth of Hell; the lowest part of Hell, a lake of ice, was for traitors.

Quotes about Dante

Alphabetized by author
  • And you, beloved children, whose lot it is to promote learning under the magisterium of the Church, continue as you are doing to love and tend the noble poet whom We do not hesitate to call the most eloquent singer of the Christian idea.
  • Dante does not come before us as a large catholic mind; rather as a narrow, and even sectarian mind: it is partly the fruit of his age and position, but partly too of his own nature. His greatness has, in all senses, concentred itself into fiery emphasis and depth. He is world-great not because he is world-wide, but because he is world-deep. Through all objects he pierces as it were down into the heart of Being. I know nothing so intense as Dante.
    • Thomas Carlyle, in "The Hero as Poet" from Heroes and Hero-Worship (1841)
  • I want my illustrations for the Dante to be like the faint markings of moisture in a divine cheese... Mysticism is cheese; Christ is cheese, better still, mountains of cheese!
  • Dante will always be admired, because no one ever read him.

See also

External links

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Source material

Up to date as of January 22, 2010

From Wikisource

The Divine Comedy
by Dante Alighieri, translated by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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This translation is hosted with different licensing information than from the original text. The translation status applies to this edition.
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PD-icon.svg This work published before January 1, 1923 is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.


Up to date as of January 23, 2010

From Wikibooks, the open-content textbooks collection


Dante, 1265-1321, was born in Florence. His mother died when he was five or six, and his father, Alighiero di Bellincione, remarried to Lapa di Chiarissimo Cialuffi. Dante married Gemma, and had at least three children. When he was about twenty years old, Dante met Beatrice Portinari, but not much is known of this relationship. Upon her death in 1290, Dante sought refuge in Latin literature.

In 1301, Dante was sentenced to exile and never returned to Florence again during his life. His remains lay in the Church of Santa Apollinare at Ravenna.

The Three Books

Simple English

The Divine Comedy is an epic poem (a poem that is very long, like a story) written by Dante Alighieri. It is about a trip through the afterlife. The poem is three parts long - the three parts are Inferno (Hell), Purgatorio (Purgatory), and Paradiso (Paradise, or Heaven). Inferno is the most famous section of the poem. The poem is about the travels of a man through Christian hell (place for people who have rejected Christ), purgatory (place which does not exist in scripture), and heaven (place for people who believe in Jesus Christ). Note that comedy does not mean funny, yet more like not ending with a bad thing.

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