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Free Study Guide-The Divine Comedy-The Inferno by Dante Alighieri-Notes
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THEMES - THEME ANALYSIS

Major Themes

"The Divine Comedy" is a chronicle not only of medieval Italy but a record of Dante's spiritual journey in quest of that beloved figure (Beatrice) lost so long ago who awaits him in paradise, human yet celestial. He began the poem as an allegory but it became under his genius, a work of philosophy as much as of history, art as much as a legend, always touched by the poignancy of human existence and the striving for eternity. It has been called an idealized biography of humanity.

It is an eternal story of human suffering. The Greeks understood and accepted suffering, as part of the human condition from which there was no escape. Sophocles and Aeschylus presented suffering as an inexorable force. Between them and Dante lay fifteen centuries, in which Christianity had softened the starkness of human destiny by offering mankind the hope of salvation. So Dante set out to chart out this journey of the soul from the depths of degradation to the radiance of redemption as he accompanied Virgil, the great Latin poet of classical times, from "Inferno", to "Purgatory" and finally to "Paradiso".

Perhaps the journey is an allegory of Dante's own life as he passes from the hell of defeat and exile to the purgatory of acceptance and atonement and finally to the paradise of artistic creation and fulfillment.


The poet tells how God drew him to salvation through the agency of Beatrice; and the moral Dante wishes his reader to keep in mind is that what God has done for one man. He can do for Everyman, if Everyman is willing to make this journey. True, it is the journey of one man, Dante, but the opening verse of "Inferno" shows that it is everybody's journey: "Midway along the journey of our life." Immediately his journey becomes "our" journey. Dante the pilgrim becomes ‘Everyman’, who is his reader.

The "Inferno" ends with the word "stars" it reinforces the concept of movement upward toward God, the central theme and motive force of "The Divine Comedy."

Minor Themes

The decay and destruction of Florence through political strife forms an important theme of the poem. It is evident that Dante's long years of impoverished exile caused him to become embittered about his native town and its inhabitants.

The poet condemns the current state of Florence (and Italy). The city was divided into two factions, the Gruelf party and the Ghibelline. These two parties came into Italy from Germany, and their names represent Italianized forms of the names attached to the two rival German clans of Welf and Waibling. In Italy, the parties were at first identified with broad allegiances: to papal authority for the Gruelfs, and to imperial authority in the case of the Ghibellines. Eventually, however this distinction between Church and Empire disappeared, and the two parties became less clearly defined in outlook and purpose. Local connotations became much more important, as party issues and activities were tied to neighborhood rivalries, family feuds, and private interests.

The theme of decadence and materialism in Florence (Canto XVII), allied with its political strife seems to point to the poet towards the sight of decay of Florence itself. Thus this message is like a warning to its citizens to prevent that from happening.

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