But already my desire and my will
Were being turned like a wheel, all at one speed,
By the love which moves the sun and the other stars.
[1265 Florence-1321 Ravenna]
The Divine Comedy written 700 years ago stands all times and is considered as the “chefs-d’oeuvre of literature”. It takes the reader on a fascinating voyage to the afterlife, across the realms of Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso vivified in strong visual imageries and leaving an indelible imprint as one partakes in Dante’s journey. Renown as Sommo Poeta –the Great Poet, Dante wrote his timeless masterpiece at the age of 35, at the time when he had to leave his hometown Florence to spend the rest of his life in exile.
Though he sets out on an individual journey in Divine Comedy, it is a communal journey on becoming human, the immortality of the soul and what awaits us in the other world in reflection of our acts and choices made during our life on earth. The vivid imageries sway the traveler from a terrifying scene of hell to a sublime corner of contemplation and further on to an exhilarating realm in paradise.
Dante’s guides in this voyage are Virgil who leads him through Inferno and Purgatorio and Beatrice, Dante’s platonic and mystical love who died at an early age greets him and guides him across the stages of Paradiso.
The souls who are destined to go to Inferno are taken by Charon, the boatman whose duty is to get them across the river Acheron to the gates of hell where they have to remain in one of the circles of pain and suffering depending on their eternal punishments.
At the gates of hell sits the leopard, the lion and the wolf; representing lust, pride and avarice respectively and all three confront Virgil and Dante.
After passing the gates of hell, Dante and Virgil enter Inferno which is shaped like an inverted funnel comprised of 9 circles; each circle represents a different vice or weakness of human nature and its retribution.
1st circle : good pagans and leaders
2nd circle: sexually promiscuous
3rd circle: the gluttons
4th circle: thieves and spendthrift wasters
5th circle: the angry ones
The gates of lower hell, the city of Dis
6th circle: heretics
7th circle: violence; the violent ones against nature, property, body, murderers, tyrants, the blasphemous, sexual perverts, suiciders
8th circle: fraud and corruption; false prophets, hypocrites, fraudulent advisors, politicians, seducers, flatterers, swindlers, sorcerers
9th circle: treachery; traitors to family and friends, to guests, to law, to country and to God.
Center point of the earth: the evil –Lucifer (Satan) who was originally created with the highest intelligence but was rejected from heaven because of his rebellion and pride (Purgatorio XII.25).
The residents of Inferno are like shadows of the mistakes committed in life for they must repeatedly endure the same acts that they have done on to others on earth, all the while fully aware of their situation and yet captivated in their own wrongdoings. The punishments have strong physical representations which intensify the reality of the experiences in settings such as dark forests, deep swamps, and rugged mountains.
As for evil, it resides in the gravitational center of the earth and has a strong pulling force on human beings in the material world and it is not apart from man (Inferno XXXIV. 110-111). Though all is created good, humans can go either way as God has granted them free will and that makes the fallible nature of man when he surrenders to evil. Such was the story of Adam who was naturally disposed to the good before he fell by eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Paradiso VII.26).
Purgatorio is the realm of purification from the worldly mistakes and sins committed with a hint of greed, envy, pleasure seeking or anger. The sensations of remorse and love prevail the spheres of Purgatorio with the hope of gaining back the dignity of the soul. Virgil explains to Dante as he shows the way, that too much thought can be dangerous for it may paralyze action:
Why is your mind so caught up in a tangle,”Purgatorio V. 10-16.
My master said, “that you slacken your pace?
And what does all this whispering matter to you?
Come on behind me, let those people talk;
Stand like a solid tower which does not shake
Its top whatever winds are blowing on it;
Because the man in whom thoughts bubble up
One after the other, goes wide of the mark,
Because one thought weakens the force of the another.
The residents of Purgatorio remain there to endure their trials in the shadows of those tainted thoughts of the past insofar to purify their souls.
All created things have implanted in them an instinct or “natural love” (Purgatorio XVII.91-94) which carries them to the pre-ordained place: for example, that in fire draws it towards the sphere of fire, and that in matter draws it down towards the central point of the earth. But man’s instinct as a rational soul is natural love or “primal will” (Purgatorio XVIII.49-60) that draws him back to the “intellectual light, full of love” of the Creator in the Empyrean.Paradiso XXX. 40.
On the summit of the Purgatorio, the river Lethe is situated. It is the river of forgetfulness, the waters of which remove the painful memories of the past mistakes and sins, and vivify the soul. The redeemed souls who finish their terms in Purgatorio and who become eligible to leave, wash in this river and pass on to a stage in Paradiso.
Paradiso, ruled by justice and reason, is filled with love and the grace of divine benevolence.
Now you are wondering and wondering, say nothing;Paradiso XXXII. 49-64.
But I will loosen for the hard bonds
In which your subtle thoughts are tying you up.
Within the length and the breadth of this kingdom
There is no such thing as a place left for chance,
Any more than there is sadness, thirst or hunger;
For whatever you see has been established
By eternal law, so that everything fits
As closely as the ring does to the finger.
The king by whose power this kingdom stays
In so much love and in such delight
That no one dares to will anything beyond it,
Creating all minds in the happiness
Of his own sight, endows them with grace
Differently, as He pleases; and that is enough.
The leading cardinal virtues which bring people to paradise are pure faith, altruism, prudence and courage. Souls have different constitutions by creation. Their potential capacities are different but God treats them with equity, in the sense that his grace fulfills the individual souls in proportion to their innate capacities for love and for reason (Paradiso III.89-90). Beatrice is entrusted with the mission to guide Dante across the stages of Paradiso which is in the higher realm located outside the earth. It is shaped like an amphitheater made of 9 circles. Each circle is represented by a planet and the highest of them arches to the realm of infinity.
Moon –represents inconsistency; place of those who are good in heart but could not complete their vows.
Mercury- represents love of fame, those who did good works but for glory and fame remain here.
Venus –planet of carnal love, for ones who are in the grip of strong material attractions.
Sun –symbol of God’s illuminating grace, ultimate wisdom.
Jupiter – justice.
Saturn – moderation and restraint
8th heaven –of faith, hope and love. Ladder of contemplation from Saturn reaches up here.
9th heaven –Crystalline, the fastest sphere and the furthest of the material heavens; time, space and nature begin here.
10th heaven –Empyrean, the Essence which is beyond space, time and matter.
The level of happiness increases in proportion to the height of each heavenly sphere. Bliss, the eternal happiness of the soul is possible to attain by practicing virtues, and by purifying the soul. Spiritual maturity can only be gained with practice, knowledge, reason and love. Obstacles in the pursuit of happiness are human faults and weakness.
One of the famous lines of the book, short and lucid:
E’n la sua voluntade è nostra pace.
(And in his will we find our peace.)
Paradiso III. 85
The souls who could reach the level of comprehending the Truth acquire the merit to be in the presence of God and to remain there eternally in absolute felicity of being in His union. Empyrean …It is the sea to which everything flows. It is the 10th and the final stage –the stage of Perfection where all is encompassed in pure light. It is the seat of God and the archangels who are close to him. It happens here in Empyrean when, under divine illumination, Dante sees the face of God in Beatrice.
I saw rain down upon her so much happinessParadiso XXXII. 88-94.
Borne by those holy intelligences
Which were created to fly at such high altitudes,
That all I had seen before that
Did not keep me so suspended in wonder
Nor showed me so much of what God was like.
And that love which came down to her
Singing “Ave Maria, gratia plena”
Spread his wings out before her now.
January 18, 2019