Theme Analysis: Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy
The Inferno or The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri is a descriptive poetry which explores and creates imaginative consequences on the sins created on earth in accordance to God’s justice. Dante by fate travelled in Hell to explore the nature of sin. In Hell, he saw how evil receives punishment according to God’s justice and classification. The human evil was being classified, explored and judged according to its gravity. These thematic elements contribute to the notion of God-believers that we are punished on the basis of our wrongdoings and evil deeds here on earth. Sin is greatly associated with punishment—a theme that is purely emphasized in the poem as the writer expands the details to the readers.
The principle of Dante’s narration strictly follows the doctrine of the Christian values; however, it somewhat antagonizes the idea of God being all merciful and forgiving. The dark themes of the story show how punishment and hell are the consequences of sin. Sin and punishment are the most common themes that can be interpreted in the context of the Divine Comedy. Upon his entrance to Hell, together with Virgil, they see an inscription at the gate that reads:
Through me you enter into the city of woes
Through me you enter into eternal pain,
Through me you enter the population of loss
Justice moved my high maker, in power divine
Wisdom supreme, love primal. No things were
Before me not eternal; eternal I remain.
Abandon all hope, you enter here (Canto 3. lines 1-7).
In the inscription, Dante illustrates his view of Hell and how it appears on the outside. It further solidifies or if not proves that hell is indeed existent. In this regard, Dante highlights the existence of hell as a primary thematic element in the poem. Heaven and purgatory have been illustrated as well in his Paradiso and Purgatorio in a detailed way that it creates a personal and intellectual fulfilment to the readers. It is like elaborating the battle of good and evil where the author locates the place where each person in that battle of morality would most likely go.
The moral standard in the poem prioritizes not human happiness and balance but rather obedience to God’s will. If a particular action on Earth, no matter how small or simple it is, that contradicts God’s will have corresponding punishment in Hell. God in Christianity is being perceived as loving and merciful but Dante’s narration depicts that God after death is an objective and impersonal God who gives harsh and terrifying punishments. Minor and major sins which are classified according to the gravity of disobedience have a corresponding degree of punishment. The way God punishes human beings is like following a formula. However, this reflects God’s standard and perfection about goodness on Earth which says a single contradiction to His will needs further justification. Since God is forgiving, someone may ask “Did God considered forgiving them?” It is true that forgiveness after death for Christianity is impossible. If the sinners ask for reconciliation in Hell, it’s too late. This justify that to pity their suffering demonstrates lack of understanding towards Him and Christianity. But how about those who were punished earlier simply because they don’t know God, who were not given the opportunity to know Him? Are they being considered by His wrath? Nonetheless, punishment is believed to the consequence given to people who have forgotten about God when they were still on earth. Since the act of committing a grave sin means forgetting God, they also tend to become forgotten in the heavenly Kingdom (Weinrich and Rendall 36).
Apparently in the poem, Dante gives the readers three different places or destination that human beings are fated to go after life on earth. The destination depends on the how the human being live his life according to goodness. It has certain hierarchy depending on the grounds or heaviness of the sins. In the poetry, heaven is the Paradiso thus a perfect place for every human soul. It is the ultimate destination of the soul and must be the highest desire of every human heart. But both purgatory and hell are presented by Dante as both unpleasant places.
There are a lot to learn in the literary masterpiece of Dante if we analyze further the message brought about by the themes. Sin is always associated with a corresponding punishment which reveals an actual scenario in the real world that each decision that we make has a corresponding consequence. Heaven and Hell are two opposite places in the afterlife where a person could either go. Despite the presence of the Purgatorio, Dante still do not illustrate the place as a pleasant one. His journey represents every human being that says going to the right road or being obedient to Him is the only way to reach the standard of Heaven. Looking for God in a sinful world is hard that needs continuity of focus and obedience. In this story, it will be realized that in living on Earth there is no middle ground of where you are appropriate to go after death. There are just two places, Hell and Heaven. Living in moderation is not safe so you need to make a choice. The conclusion of the poem also emphasizes the great relief that Dante and his companion is able to see the heavens again. His conclusion further elaborates the wickedness of the place where he has just been and how much preferable it is to be looking at the stars than stay in the underworld.
To get back up to the shining world from there
My guide and I went into that hidden tunnel; . . .
Through a round aperture I saw appear
Some of the beautiful things that heaven bears,
Where we came forth, and once more saw the stars (Canto 34, lines 134-140).
Since Life is a journey of discovery, old age can be a gift or a wrath. Time can be useful to make reconciliation towards Him. Time can be used to know the self’s weaknesses and overcome it. Old age is beneficial because it gives you ample time to seek salvation of God and finally reach the standard of Heaven; therefore, there is virtue in old age (Mandelbaum 357). However old age can give you more chance to disobey His will. Old age then calls to be stronger in Him.
Dante Alighieri used the theme of the afterlife to present the possible moral consequences of each human being’s actions here on earth. By means of using these thematic elements, he is able to convey the message to the readers that there is much more to life than just material things on earth. Moreover, he reveals that there is much more than the simplicity of death being the end of a life. Death is simply not the end. The book also reaffirms God’s infinite wisdom towards His justice and nature. It will surely make the readers think about the real essence of being a Christian and the importance of following His Will. God is just and according to the narration, every action has further justification. Evil is the exact opposite of God. Conformity to evil means contradicting His very essence and nature. The story depicts how important obedience is, as if it is the very essence of your existence.
Mandelbaum, Allen, Anthony Oldcorn and Charles Ross. Lectura Dantis: Inferno. California: University of California Press, 1998.
Weinrich, Harald and Steven Rendall. Lethe: the art and critique of forgetting. Trans. Steven Rendall. New York: Cornell University Press, 2004.
Alighieri, Dante. The Inferno of Dante: A New Verse Translation. Trans. Robert Pinsky, Nicole Pinsky, Michael Mazur. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1997.