God and Satan in the Divine Comedy

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Dante’s Divine Comedy is the tale of one man’s spiritual journey in the quest for salvation. He enters the Gates of Hell, descends to the bowls of the earth where he encounters Satan, and eventually is able to ascend through Purgatory. His journey culminates with his contemplation of the Mystic Rose.

Dante’s description of his journey to Hell is as gruesome as his depiction of its master. As ugly as he once was beautiful, Satan is depicted as a huge, hideous dragon-like beast, with a shaggy coat of matted hair. The beast has 3 heads, each with a set of wings. The 3 colored faces, black, white, and yellow, are each gnawing on the body of a traitor that Dante considered the worst: Judas, Brutus, and Cassius. Described as the “Great Worm of Evil” who bores through life, he dwells in the center of all gravity, in complete and absolute darkness. Dante’s Satan is not the powerful lord of the underground; he is helplessly trapped in the ice of the frozen lake Cocytus.

God is depicted as the powerful King of Heaven, the exact opposite of the Emperor of Hell. God is a beautiful, joyous being; the source of all light. Where Satan has the 3 evil heads, God is the Trinity: God, the father, God the son and God the Holy Spirit. He is all-powerful, all knowing, and symbolized by the sun. The sun is divine illumination, meaning “He who lights the way”. As Dante emerges from Purgatory, he sees the stars, which I believe is also a symbol of God’s hope for the future.

Dante’s description of hell was a surprise. Hell, for me, is full of fire and brimstone, and the flames of damnation. Satan is the fallen angel Lucifer. Because God made man in his own image, I imagine angels the same way. So I was expecting to be met by a traditional version of the Devil, who in my mind would be the dark side of man, possibly with a tail and cloven feet, wielding a pitchfork. To be presented by a huge beast encased by ice was surprising. Instead of the evil genius of a...
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