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Divine Comedy (Italian: La Divina Commedia) is an epic poem
written by Dante Alighieri between 1308 and his death in 1321.
It is widely considered the preeminent work of Italian
literature, and is seen as one of the greatest works of world
literature. The poem's imaginative and allegorical vision of the
Christian afterlife is a culmination of the medieval world-view
as it had developed in the Western Church. It helped establish
the Tuscan dialect in which it is written as the Italian
standard. It is divided into three parts, the Inferno,
Purgatorio, and Paradiso.
On the surface the poem describes Dante's travels through Hell,
Purgatory, and Heaven; but at a deeper level it represents
allegorically the soul's journey towards God. At this deeper
level, Dante draws on medieval Christian theology and
philosophy, especially the teachings of Thomas Aquinas. At the
surface level, the poem is understood to be fictional.
Originally the work was simply titled Commedia and was later
christened Divina by Giovanni Boccaccio. The first printed
edition to add the word divine to the title was that of the
Venetian humanist Lodovico Dolce,published in 1555 by Gabriele
Giolito de' Ferrari.
The Divine Comedy is composed of over 14,000 lines that are
divided into three canticas (Ital. pl. cantiche) — Inferno
(Hell), Purgatorio (Purgatory), and Paradiso (Paradise) — each
consisting of 33 cantos (Ital. pl. canti). An initial canto
serves as an introduction to the poem and is generally
considered to be part of the first cantica, bringing the total
number of cantos to 100. The number 3 is prominent in the work,
represented here by the length of each cantica. The verse scheme
used, terza rima, is hendecasyllabic (lines of eleven
syllables), with the lines composing tercets according to the
rhyme scheme aba, bcb, cdc, ded, ....
The poem is written in the first person, and tells of Dante's
journey through the three realms of the dead, lasting from the
night before Good Friday to the Wednesday after Easter in the
spring of 1300. The Roman poet Virgil guides him through Hell
and Purgatory; Beatrice, Dante's ideal woman, guides him through
Heaven. Beatrice was a Florentine woman whom he had met in
childhood and admired from afar in the mode of the
then-fashionable courtly love tradition which is highlighted in
Dante's earlier work La Vita Nuova.
In central Italy's political struggle between Guelphs and
Ghibellines, Dante was part of the Guelphs, who in general
favored the Papacy over the Holy Roman Emperor. Florence's
Guelphs split into factions around 1300, the White Guelphs, and
the Black Guelphs. Dante was among the White Guelphs who were
exiled in 1302 by the Lord-Mayor Cante de' Gabrielli di Gubbio,
after troops under Charles of Valois entered the city, at the
request of Pope Boniface VIII, who supported the Black Guelphs.
This exile, which lasted the rest of Dante's life, shows its
influence in many parts of the Comedy, from prophecies of
Dante's exile to Dante's views of politics to the eternal
damnation of some of his opponents.
In Hell and Purgatory, Dante shares in the sin and the penitence
respectively. The last word in each of the three parts of the
Divine Comedy is stelle, "stars."
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