Dante Alighieri (1265-1325) wrote the Divine Comedy seven hundred years ago in fourteenth century Italy. I enjoyed immediate fame that has endured to this day. It was a poem so loved and respected that two hundred years after its authors death, it was pronouced "divine". In our time, the Divine Comedy has experienced a surge of attention. New translations and new visual interpretations by artists are appearing frequently.
Dante wrote the Comedy midway in his life after exile from Florence, where he had been the victim of a political purge. He wrote from the anguish of a man who saw his life blighted by the injustice and corruption of his times. He felt estranged from himself, his world and his god. The poem is a protest against the evil he saw and personally suffered, and suggests remedies and solutions. It is also a vast compendium of all human knowledge, human history, philosophy, religious beliefs and the entire known universe.
The dramatic device he uses is the epic of the soul's journey through the three realms of the after-world, or inner world, Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso. The erring soul is guided by Virgil, a poet who represent Human Reason, through the depths of Hell. The demonic, grotesque visions and monstrous happenings of this region are describe by Dante with unbearable candor and intensity. Lured on by this reality of sounds, smells, sights and the beautiful, vivid sensuality of the poetry, we continue the journey with Dante and Virgil. We stumble and scramble up the steep winding paths of the Purgatorial mountain, hearing the murmur of prayer and songs of praise from the sould of those who live out their penalties here. At last our struggle becomes effortless as we meet Beatrice, the nurturing goddess, who represents Divine Love, and a woman whom Dante had once loved. She is our guide now and with her we experience the ardent fire of divine love and hear the music of the spheres in the highest reaches of Heaven.