In the hopes that this will spur both myself and some of my companions to continue our voyage through the afterlife with Dante, I have decided to post my notes on the work that I have thus far. Anyone wishing to contribute, simply leave your contribution as a comment, and I will add it as part of the main post.
Notes on Dante’s Divine comedy
The Dark Wood (Canticles 1 and 2):
It is my belief that the dark wood is representative of what is commonly referred to as the dark night of the soul; A place that is chaotic, disorienting, and often dark which mere smatterings of light. It is into this world we are born in a sense. It is a portal into the heart and mind of the author, and it sets up the thematic basis necessary in order to understand the rest of this epic work. In the dark would Dante encounter three beasts: a leopard, a lion, and a shewolf. It is my belief that three creatures are representative of the human lust for power, wealth, and prestige respectively. I have been through the Inferno several times in various forms; whether through my own reading, documentaries, or film reimaginings. Through my explorations of Dante’s hell, I have come to the conclusion that all of human sin is motivated by lust in some form or another. And this is what Dante is setting up in this dark abyss imagines of the forest labyrinth, wrought with dangers of many kinds. Most of all what can be seen here however, is a pervasive feeling of despair and loneliness.
The significance of Virgil:
It is also my thinking that Dante chose to explore hell as a means of exploring his own dark and depressive feelings, as well as the dark side of the human psyche. It is also during the dark wood portion of this exploration that Dante runs into Virgil, a poet for whom Dante had great affection, and quite possibly with whom he felt a spiritual kinship of sorts.
Demand Virgil comes to Dante’s aid, and is most famous for his epic work Aenid, of which Dante was most interested in books 4 and 6 according to Internet sources. But Dante seems to have chosen Virgil as his guide through the afterlife, because he is one whom Dante holds in high esteem. He also acts as sort of a Jedi master, always explaining the nature of things to Dante. If I had to venture a guess, a slight application of Jungian dream analysis can be applied here: virtual represents Dante’s inner voice, and Dante has chosen this form because he inherently recognizes that he himself should listen to that voice; therefore, he chooses a form that he would most likely listen to. Dr. Lewis remarked that she would rather have someone like the Jesus or Buddha guide her through the underworld, but I think Dante refrain from doing such things because, whilst he recognize greatness in Virgil, he could easily relate to him.
What little I do know the Virgil, is that he was around in the Roman Empire, in terms of a political transition. He was alive during the reign of Julius Caesar and into the reign of Cesar Augustus. Virgil would likely be a man who understood the political people that can take place during such a transition, and it is comparable to what Dante was experiencing as the people of Italy fought amongst themselves, to determine who should have power. This power struggle was between the state of Italy, and the Roman Catholic Church.
Three Blessed Women:
It is also worth noting that Virgil was exhorted to Dante’s aid by Beatrice, Dante’s own angelic being. She was an intern urged onward by St. Lucy of of Syracuse, who was in turn urged on by none other than the Blessed Mother. I sense an allusion to the holy Trinity in Dante’s choice of persons. The Blessed mother being the head of this Trinity, St. Lucy being the heart, and Beatrice, being the spirit through which the other two manifest. It is worth noting also that the particular saint of Dante’s choosing happens to be the patron saint of the blind, and is best known for her courage.
Canticle III (Gates of Hell)
As Dante and Virgil enter through the gates of Hell, they are greeted by those who were neither praise nor blamed. I look at this as Dante’s criticism of those who remain neutral in life (inaction) These sinners are being constantly stung by wasps and walking amongst worms. The main criticism is of people who lack conviction, whether good or evil. That is why Dante also depicts Angels who neither sided with God nor Satan among these. Charon, ferryman of the dead across the river Styx of Greek lore.
Canticle IV (Circle 1: Limbo)
Here, the heroes of old, and great minds of the pre-Christian world reside; the only sin committed is a lack of baptism. I believe Dante held these people in high esteem, however in Dante’s mind, though it may be the least, they are still deserving of punishment. Though this is the only circle lacking a punishment, separation from God is punishment enough.
Canto V (Circle of Lust)
Those who left their passions unchecked, are condemned to this circle. The punishment is a hurricane of humans flying into stones and crying despair. Many historical figures reside here, including Cleopatra, Achilles and Tristan and Isolde, whom Dante talks to. The story the couple recounts is a tragic one of forbidden love and murder, which strikes a chord in Dante. In fact, I think the reason, Dante put the sin of lust in the second circle is because of Dante’s own history with lusting after Beatrice, the anima figure of Dante’s psyche. The definition of lust though is broad, but it seems Dante had sexual lust in mind here, instead of lust for power or dominance.
Canto VI ( The Third Circle, Gluttony)
A Circle where those who commited the sin of Gluttony. Cerberus, the three-headed hellhound of the Greek Underworld, lives here, tormenting the unfortunate ones. Terrible rain, filth and hail attack the sinners; this is like a metaphor of the gluttonous never stopping their excess, it is unending and the food they consume are in large quantities. Cerberus itself, is a machine of excessive consumption, in fact, lets believe that the entire third circle is just one dysfunctional digestive track, with the storm being the massive foods of the gluttons and Cerberus and the sinners the undigested foods, filthy nd disgusting. I think it was kind of funny when Virgil says to Dante about the fate of the sinners on Judgement Day:
“Remember now your science, which says that when a thing has more perfection, so much greater is its pain or pleasure. Though these accursed sinners never shall attain the true perfection, yet they can expect to be more perfect then than now” (Inferno, p. 85).
Even though the sufferers of Hell are imperfect by Divine standards, he should be comforted by the thought of being a perfect sinner.
Canto VII (The Fourth Circle of Avarice, Fifth Circle of Wrath and Sullen)
The Circle of Avarice is occupied by those sinners who roll giant wheels in a circle; when the wheels collide, the sinners yell insults to each other, and then they resume in the opposite direction. Avarice, or Greed, is like a circle, a cycle, of rolling a massive amount of money to sate a fragile ego’s appetite. I can think of Gordon Gekko, the villain of Oliver Stone’s morality film of 1980s hedonism, Wall Street, being condemned here. Gordon Gekko, in the film says that “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good.” A misguided philosophy of egoism is the downfall of this seductive character. Amassing wealth is a fool’s delusion since the greedy individual is never satisfied and must keep consuming. Past this Circle is the Fifth Circle where the Wrathful and Sullen are condemned. The Wrathful are in the muddy river of Styx, where they tear at each other with teeth and battle with head chest and feet; ferocious animals of vanity, I think Virgil would say. Underneath the shitty, mud-filled river are sinners who always felt shitty on a good day, the Sullen. By succumbing to a cycle of depression, the Sullen are living in the psychological reality of unnecessary bleakness.
Canto VIII (5th Circle, part 2. City of Dis)
Dante and Virgil get on a boat and cross the muddy Styx only to encounter a hideous creature covered in mud. Virgil commands it to leave and they encounter the gates to Dis, the capital of Hell. There, the two poets encounter fallen angels who block their path into the hellish city.
Canto IX (Dis and the Sixth Circle)
The poets encounter the three Furies and the dreaded Medusa at their head, whose gaze petrifies those who stare at her. Once Dante shields his eyes from the snake woman, a messenger from Heaven arrives and commands the pathetic demons to open the door to Dis. In the Sixth Circle, the pair of poets are encounter the Heretics, who are burned in sepulchers for their sins. I assume that Dante still had a strong faith in Catholicism in general, but just disagreed with the government aspect of it than the Spiritual part, therefore, we see Dante placing those intentionally denouncing the faith suffering for it.