By: Crystal Hood
HUM 2216 – Chipola College
July 24, 2014
Word Count: 1769
“The path to paradise begins in hell.” – Dante Alighieri Dante Alighieri wrote his Devine Comedy almost seven hundred years ago and it is perhaps the greatest religious allegory of all times. Dante completed his epic poem during the last fifteen years of his life, while in exile from Florence. The piece is driven by Dante’s religious beliefs and support of the separation of church and state. The Devine Comedy is divided into three sections: The Inferno, Purgutorio, and Paradiso. The narratives follow the pilgrimage of Dante the character through hell, purgatory, and heaven. Using reoccurring numerical patterns, Dante creates a work of art that has deep religious meaning and allegorically represents a soul’s journey to God. Dante’s use of the number three is prominent throughout the work, within the structure, characters, and physical setting, and has a special significance from the beginning to the end of the poem.
The structure of the Devine Comedy is conscientiously planned around the number three. The work is separated into three poems with unequal cantos: Purgutorio and Paradiso consist of thirty three cantos and The Inferno has thirty four. The Bible, Mark 10:18 reads, “And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? There is none good but one, that is, God” (Scofield). Dante intentionally includes thirty four cantos in The Inferno to achieve imperfection because he believes none to be perfect, but God. The three poems combined equal one hundred cantos. Each poem is written in three-line stanzas and Terza Rima rhyme scheme. Another occurrence of the number three in The Inferno worth mentioning is the year of 1300, the night before Good Friday, which is the setting of the poem. In The History of Hell Alice Turner said that the year of 1300 was significant to Dante, “…he was thirty-five at the time, ‘midway along life’s journey’; it was centennial year, and numbers are essential to the scheme of the poem. It was also the year his political troubles began.” (Turner). While in exile and nearing the end of his life, Dante was certainly in deep thought about his beliefs and afterlife. The poem begins, “Midway in our life’s journey, I went astray from the straight road and woke to find myself alone in a dark wood.” (Ciardi). Dante the character finds himself in the middle of the forest, representing a halfway point in life, which illustrates the trio of the past, present, and future. This introductory passage indicates that Dante the character is acknowledging the “dark points” in his life and his desire to have a relationship with God. The way back was in sight, but Dante the character is confronted by three animals that obstruct his path. Dante the character says, “I faced a spotted Leopard, all tremor and flow and gaudy pelt” (Ciardi). The leopard represents sins of malice and fraud. He continues, “…I shook with dread at sight of a great Lion that broke upon me raging with hunger…” (Ciardi). The lion represents sins of violence and ambition. The third animal he encountered he describes as, “…a She-Wolf…a starved horror ravening and wasted beyond all belief” (Ciardi). These three beasts of worldliness represent the three categories of sin and it appears that Dante the poet is once again using a biblical allusion based on the number three in his poem. The Bible, King James Version, Jeremiah 5:6 reads, “Wherefore a lion out of the forest shall slay them, and a wolf of the evenings shall spoil them, a leopard shall watch over their cities: every one that goeth out thence shall be torn in pieces: because their transgressions are many, and their backslidings are increased” (Scofield). Dante the poet found great spiritual significance in the number three which is most recognized in theology for representing the Trinity: The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Dante the poet brilliantly planned…