he Divine Comedy. The Vita Nuova of Dante closes with these
words: "After ths connet there appeared to me a wonderful vision,
in which I beheld things that made me propose to say no more of
this blessed one, until I shall be able to say no more of this
blessed one, until I shall be able to treat of her more worthily.
And to attain thereunto, truly I strive with all my power, as she
knoweth. So that if ti shall be the pleasure of Him, through
whom all things live, that my life continue somewhat longer, I
hope to say of her what never yet was said of any woman. And
then may it please Him, w3ho is the Sire of courtesy, that my
soul may depart to look upon the glory of its Lady, that is to
say, of the blessed Beatrice, who in glories gazes into the fave
of him, qui est per oimnia saecula benedictus."
In these line we have the earliest glimpse of the Divine Comedy,
as it rose in the author's mind.
Whoever has read the Vita Nuova will remember the stress which
Dante lays upon the mystic numbers Nine and Three; his first
meeting with Beatrice at the beginning of her ninth year, and the
end of his; his nine days' illness, and the thought of her death
which came to him on the ninth day; her death on the ninth day of
the ninth month,"computing by the Syrian method," and in that
year of our Lord "when the perfect number ten was nine times
completed in that century" which was the thirteenth. Moreover, he
says the number nine was friendly to her, because the nine
heavens were in conjunction at her birth; and that she was
herself the number nine, "that is, a miracle whose root is the
Followin out this idea, we find the Divine Comedy written in
terza rima, or threefold rhyme, divided into three parts, and
each part again subdivided in its structure into three. The
whole number of cantos is one hundred, the perfect number ten
multiplied into itself; but if we count the first canto of the
Inferno as a Prelude, which it really is, each part will consist
of thirty-three cantos, making ninety-nine in all; and so the
favorite mystic numbers reappear.
The three divisions of the Inferno are minutely described and
explained by Dante in Canto. They are separated from each other
by great spaces in the infernal abyss. The sin punished in them
are,--I. Incontinence. II. Malice. III. Bestiality.
I. Incontinence: 1. The Wanton. 2. The Gluttonous. 3. The
Avaricious and Prodigal. 4. The Irascible and the Sullen.
II. Malice: 1. The Vilent against their neighbor, in person or
property. 2. The Vi0lent against themselves, in person or
property. 3. The Violent against God, or against Nature, the
daughter of God, or against Art, the daughter of Nature.
III. Bestiality: first subdivision: 1. Seducers. 2. Flatterers.
3. Simoniacs. 4. Soothsayers. 5. Barrators. 6. Hypocrites. 7.
Thieves. 8 Evil counsellors. 9. Schismatics. 10. Falsifiers.
Second subdivison: 1. Traitors to their kindred. 2. Traitors to
their country. 3 Traitors to their friends. 4. Traitors to their
lords and benefactors.
The Divine Comedy is not strictly an allegorical poem in the
sense in which the Faerie Queene is; and yet it is full of
allegorical symbols and figurative meanings. In a letter to Can
Grande Della Scala, Dante writes: "It is to be remarked, that the
sense of this work is not simple, but on the contrary one may say
manifold. For one sense is that which is derived fromm the
letter, and another is that which is derived from the things
signified by the letter. The first is called literal, the second
allegorical or moral. . . . The subject, then, of the whole work,
taken literally, is the conditions of souls after death, simply
considered. For on this and around this the whole action of the
work turns. But if the work be taken allegorically, the subject
is man, how by actions of merit or demerit, though freedom of the
will, be justly deserves reward or punishment."
It may not be amiss here to refer to what are sometimes called
the sources of the Divine Comedy. Formost among them must be
placed the Eleventh Book of Odyssey, and the Sixth of the Aeneid;
and to the latter Dante seems to point significantly in choosing
Virgil for his Guide, his Master, his Author, from whom he took
"the beautiful style that did him honor."
Next to these may be memtioned Cicero's Vision of Scipio, of
which Chaucer says.--
"Chapiters seven it had, of Heaven, and Hell,
And Earthe, and soules that therein do dwell."
Then follow the popular legends which were current in Dante's
age; and age when the end of all things was thought to be near at
hand, and wonders of the invisible world had laid fast hold on
the imaginations of men. Prominent among these is the "Vision of
Frate Alberico," who calls himself "the humblest servant of the
servants of the Lord"; and who
"Saw in dreame at point-devyse
Heaven, Earthe, hel and Paradyse."
This vision was written in Latin in the latter half of the
twelfth century, and contains a description of hell, Purgatory,
and Paradise, with its Seven heavens. It is for the most part a
tedious talke, and bears evident marks of having been written by
a friar of some monastery, when the afternoon sum was shining
into his sleepy eyes. He seems, however, to have looked upon his
own work with a not unfavorable opinion; for he concludes the
Epistle Introductory with the words of St. John: "If amy man
shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues
that are written in this book; and if amy man shall take away
from these things, God shall take away his part from the good
things written in this book."
It is not impossible that Dante may have taken a few hints also
from the Tesoretto of his teacher, Ser Brunetto Latini. See
Canto XV. Note 30.
See upon this subject, Cancellieri, Osservasioni Sopra
l'Originalita di Dante;--Wright, St. Patrick's Purgatory, and
Essay on the Legens of Purgatory, Hell, and Paradise, current
during the Middle Ages;--Ozanam, Dante et la Philosophie
Catholique au Treizieme Siecle;--Labitte, La Divine Comedie avant
Dante, published as an Introduction to the translation of
Brizeux;-- and Delepierre, Le Livre des Visions, ou l'Enfer et le
Cie decrits par ceux qui les ont vus. Se also the Illustrations
at the end of volume ten.