Dante's Pilgrimage

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Concerning Dante who has been a major influence in my life

Submitted: May 21, 2012

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Submitted: May 21, 2012





Dante's Pilgrimage


Epic poetry proliferates among many cultures. An epic poem is a long composition encompassing the learning, aspiration of the culture with which it is associated. In England we have 'Beowulf' in the eighth century and 'Paradise Lost' in the seventeenth century as examples. Ancient Babylon afforded us 'The Epic of Gilgamesh' and the literature of medieval Italy is dominated with Dante Allighieri's (1265 - 13-21) major epic 'The Divine Comedy.'

Dante was a scholar, statesman and poet and this wide ranging, complex poem affords differing levels of interpretation. For example it is an allegorical journey through the traditional Catholic afterlife of Hell, Purgatory and Paradise in the quest for spiritual wholeness. It is also a man's longing to know himself and in that knowing to find understanding and peace. These factors are apparent from the first two cantos of the Inferno; I am using the blank verse translation of Charles Sission published by Oxford University Press in 2008.

The drama opens; Dante is “...obscured in a great forest, bewildered...” he has lost his way. Dante's self is 'obscured' which could relate to his having been forced into exile by the political situation of 1301. State and Church bitterly contested for all the power and wealth they could get their hands on and any means necessary for obtaining power was acceptable. Dante first entered Florentine politics in 1295 and was one of the governing priors of Florence by 1301.

Dante married Gemma Donati when he was twenty four years old, they had three children. Beatrice Portinari was, however, the real love of his life. Dante loved her at


a distance from childhood, Beatrice died when she was twenty four. For many years

his deep self lay hidden, obscured no doubt by conflicting emotions that found full expression in “The Divine Comedy.” Dante finds himself lost and frightened

I cannot tell how I got there”

Dante is at the foot of a hill where he is able to pass a fairly restful night. Taking up his journey he encounters a leopard and is forced to retreat. Before long he encounters a wolf then, he encounters a man. “One who, for long silence seemed to be hoarse.” Dante knows a deep and penetrating fear; he is alone amid dark and tangled existence. He had only ever truly loved at a distance. He longs to find pieces of his fragmented and frightened self.

Have pity on me whatever you are, shadow or definite man”

The apparition talks about himself; his parents had both been Mantuans; he had lived in Rome during the reign of Augustus and had been a poet noted for “The Aenid” which related the life of Aeneas who had departed from Troy after its destruction by the Greeks and had journeyed to Rome to found the Roman race.

Dante knows of Virgil, he explains his predicament and Virgil undertakes to be his guide. Virgil will lead him away from the wood which is a dark and menacing area around hell itself. Dante gladly accepts the help of Virgil who explains that he is a pagan who will never see heaven.

During Canto Two Virgil recounts having been approached by Beatrice who, from heaven, had become aware of Dante's plight. Though departed she had awareness of what is going on within mortal life and was able to be mobile leaving the heavenly


realms to find Virgil whose greatness she acknowledges and she feels safe in asking

his help. It is, we learn, only Virgil's lack of baptism which precludes his entrance to heaven and he must pass eternity in the outer region of hell with Socrates, Plato, Aristotle (acknowledged as 'The Prince Of Them That Know') and other wise and scholarly pagans. During Dante's lifetime Aristotle's works were being translated into Latin and his subsequent influence on Thomas Aquinas and through him Roman Catholic Theology is widely acknowledged.

Dante and Virgil begin their perilous journey through the menacing layers of hell. In each layer there is the experience of deeper torment. Many layers of the self find torment and despair. Dante's is the searching human condition pilgrimaging through hell in one form or another, to hope and peace at last. He knows what many at least sense, namely that there is something beyond the institutional forms of religion. God is spirit and Dante is journeying toward rest in spirit and in all divine creation.

George Coombs-745 words

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