Dante's Inferno and the Renaissance

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It is one of the most known and referenced books of its time and is still a commonly read work of literature, but is Dante Alighieri’s The Inferno more that just one man’s interpretation of what hell is like? We know it now as a remarkable piece of literature, but some contend that it was a turning point in writing and how many viewed the world. Claims have also been made that it is an example of how man paved the road out of the Dark Ages and into the Renaissance, the period that shaped a lot of modern thinking. The book was received as a masterpiece and helped change the literary world of it’s time, but was it the book as a whole that helped lead the West out of the dark ages or was it the situations within? While the Divine Comedy was on the cutting edge and kick started the literary world into the Renaissance, the themes of the story have a strong lean toward old world thinking.

As with all great works of literature, the author imprints a part of himself in his story, but there is no better example of this than The Inferno. Dante made himself the main character and we follow him on his journey through hell, but that isn’t the only part where his personal life appears in the story. In most of the levels of hell, he talks to someone who he knew in his own life who he either hated enough to put them in hell, or just thought it was fitting that they reside in the underworld. His love in life, Beatrice, also shows up later in the second book of the Divine Comedy, as his guide for purgatory and heaven. But it was the Guelph-Ghibenlline conflict and later the Black Guelphs and White Guelphs in Florence that would lend the most characters for his story. Dante was a member of the White Guelphs that wanted more freedom from Rome and the Pope of the time, Pope Boniface VIII. While visiting the Pope as part of a White Guelph delegation, his city of Florence was entered by Charles de Valois, who sided with the Black Guelphs and they took control of the city, killing many White Guelphs. He was exiled from Florence and if he ever returned he would be “burned at the stake.” Around this time be began writing the Divine Comedy and now that his party and home were gone and he was disgusted with the politics. Dante was never allowed to return to Florence and even had a death sentence put out on him and his sons. It can be said that Dante was a bitter man who had a harsh sense of justice, judging by some of the people described by him as being in hell.

If anyone ever asks you what symbolism is, just tell them to read Dante’s The Inferno. The story is packed with situations or people that can be seen in a variety of different ways, and maybe that is one of the reasons it has been such a successful and long lasting work of literature, because it can be interpreted so many ways. Seeing as Dante started the Divine Comedy soon after he exiled and was at a cross roads in his life, it is only fitting that his classic story begins with a 35 year old Dante lost in a forest on Good Friday. Dante, along with himself when he wrote it, had lost his way because, “the straightforward pathway had been lost.” (Dante, 1) Dante is making reference to the world of his time not being the God intended and that people had lost sight of the goal, or “the pathway.” A lion, a leopard and a she-wolf come after him and the temptation to sin that they represent is almost too much for Dante, but he is rescued eventually by Virgil, a classic and famous Roman poet. Virgil is in Dante’s story to represent the reason that Dante sees as lacking from the society of his time, so he picked one of his favorite poets from the age of reason to be his guide through the Underworld.

After passing through the Gates of Hell but before coming to the first circle of hell, they come upon those who did no good or evil in life, and therefore are not allowed into Heaven but don’t need to be punished for eternity in Hell proper. The residents of this part of Hell are all chasing a...
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