In this episode of
Literary Tales, we provide a full summary lecture of Dante’s Divine Comedy: Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso. Covering the nature of poetry, love, and theology, we cover Dante’s relationship with Virgil, Statius, and Beatrice and how these relationships guide Dante to Heaven.
“Midway along the journey of our life / I woke to find myself in a dark wood / for I had wandered off from the straight path.”
The relationship of Virgil and Dante, their growth in love and trust for each other and with each other, is the central image of transformation as Dante journeys through hell to purgatory.
Virgil comes to act as a guardian and father figure for Dante, cementing a father-son relationship that evokes God and His people. The only moment of loving forgiveness in the epic occurs in the Inferno, allowing the two pilgrim poets to enter the final level of hell and leave to the light of purgatory.
“I saw the lovely things the heavens hold, / and we came out to see once more the stars.”
“Here let death’s poetry arise to life, / O Muses sacrosanct whose liege I am! / And let Calliope rise up and play / her sweet accompaniment in the same strain / that pierced the wretched magpies with the truth / of unforgivable presumptuousness.”
Dante, Virgil, and Statius become a trio of poets pilgrimaging up Mount Purgatory, discussing love, virtue, and the human condition. Along the way they meet other famous poets and figures from previous poetry (like Arachne). Symbolically, they are the manifestation of the Trinity in purgatory moving together in a relationship of love to Paradise itself. Dante also nudges, through Purgatorio, the power of poetry to direct the human heart and mind to Heaven.
“From those holiest waters I returned to her reborn , a tree renewed , in bloom with newborn foliage , immaculate , eager to rise , now ready for the stars.”
Dante and Beatrice are the main characters in Paradiso, and Beatrice acts in persona Christi, always reminding Dante of the true nature and character of (Divine) Love. Like the typological prophets of the Old Testament, Beatrice speaks the truth, wisdom, and love of Christ Himself.
As Dante and Beatrice progress toward the central sphere of Heaven, part of Beatrice’s role is to constantly remind Dante to keep his heart and mind set on Christ. Following the theology of love from St. Augustine, it is not improper to love other creatures (like Beatrice) on the qualification that one sees Christ in the other. Beatrice constantly reminds Dante of this theological caveat. We often learn love through others, and in the love of others we are meant to see the Trinity, who was manifested to the world in the person of Christ.
At the poem’s close, Dante takes his place in the heavenly choir to sing of “the Love that moves the sun and the other stars.” Over the course of the Divine Comedy, Dante learned love (forgiveness) in hell; he learned how to order his love to good things in purgatory; and he learned the true nature of Love itself in heaven.