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The Divine Comedy - A Summary

Updated on December 18, 2016
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Victor writes about diverse topics dealing with history, literature, and technology.

Divine Comedy
Divine Comedy

The Divine Comedy in a Nutshell

The Divine Comedy, one of the greatest works of literature is the product of Dante Alighieri, a renowned Italian poet. The poem is a masterpiece and is broken down into three books which are further broken down into chapters. It can be said the Dante favored the number three as the poem was in three books each of which had 33 chapters. Then he divides the chapters into 3 line units. This is cross referenced to the theological concept of the Trinity. The poem is a timeless piece of literary work.

Upon the first reading the poem you can get a bit befuddled as there are many references to politics, classical literature and medieval theology. You also have to be careful of which translated version you choose to read as some are better than others.

Divine Comedy - Hell (the Inferno)
Divine Comedy - Hell (the Inferno)

The Premise

The plot of the poem is set around Dante’s pilgrimage through the afterlife. He starts out being lost and is advised by Virgil the poet (whom he admired), advising him that he had to go through Hell to get out. With Virgil’s aid he goes through Hell in which he intertwines real characters with fictional ones. This continues as he goes through Purgatory. He is then guided by a woman named Beatrice, based on an idealized version of his muse and childhood crush, who had died young.

After journeying through Purgatory, Dante enters Heaven where he traverses the celestial spheres inhabited by choirs of angels, and the souls of the blessed. In direct opposition to the levels of hell, the souls in heaven inhabit levels closer and closer to God, depending on their merit and sanctity. In the final and uppermost sphere, Dante comes face to with God.

Interestingly, God is described as a shining light at the end of a circular pipe or tunnel full of angels and souls adoring the Deity. The image of a white light at the end of a tunnel has often been reported by people who have undergone a near death experience.

This is a trailer from a modern adaptation of the Divine Comedy, which has almost nothing to do with the original work by Dante.

Dante stands in the presence of God, depicted as a shining white light at the end of a tunnel lined with adoring angels.
Dante stands in the presence of God, depicted as a shining white light at the end of a tunnel lined with adoring angels.

The Journey


In the first section, when he goes through Hell, he allots nine circles. Each circle is a corresponding punishment for particular types of sin. It gets even more complex as the sixth circle through the ninth circle has other levels within them. In the second stages of the journey, Dante journeys through Purgatory, a place where the souls of the dead are punished in order to atone for their sins, but unlike hell, the punishment here is less severe and is not eternal. These souls have the hope of being eventually freed and allowed to enter Heaven.

The word purgatory is related to "purge", in other words to get rid of, and in this context describes the place and process where sins are gotten rid of. Here the punishment is therapeutic, though like in Hell it is geared to the severity and degree of sin committed by the soul during their lifetime.

Dante's journey through Purgatory highlights the seven levels of sin for which you have to atoned to get safe passage. At the seventh level there is a passage through a wall of fire-the final stage of cleansing after which he is guided by Beatrice to Heaven which again had levels in the form of seven Spheres. Each sphere represented a different virtue. It is at the final Sphere that he gets to meet God whom he is significantly left alone with.

The poem is rampant with symbolism and some of its content parallels what is occurring in our society today. It is a timeless classical literary work to which no other can be compared. The Divine Comedy is also a rather satirical piece as Dante unabashedly makes reference to real people of his era, particularly his personal and political enemies (which he had a lot of) and placed them in either Hell or Purgatory, depending on what he thought about them. His worst political enemies found themselves consigned to Hell, experiencing various eternal torments.

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      Pinky 

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