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Dante Aligheri and his Divine Creation:  The Divine Comedy (La Commedia)



M. Aurelius




























The full text, the most famous illustrations, an audio version, and a show to watch on DVD that provides a wonderful introduction to Dante's famous work, all from






Dante Aligheri (b.1265 - d.1321), Florence, Italy's most famous son, lived during turbulent times.

Europe was in the process, sometimes the violent process, of deciding how much influence the church should have in running matters of state. 

Today's Europe is secular, meaning that church and state are separate, and rarely interfere with each other, and refrain from dictating to each other.  Secular states allow for greater religious diversity and greater personal liberty than religious states.  But that was anything but the case during Dante's time.

Dante believed in God, and in secularism.  He was persecuted for his secular beliefs by banishment from his beloved nation-state of Florence.  So Dante, in exile, sought solace in his religious beliefs:  he wrote The Divine Comedy.

Imagine you had been slighted by many of your friends, defeated by your enemies, and was made victim to the machinations of corrupt leaders and civil servants.  Now imagine, what your revenge might be.

Dante was not a violent man, so his revenge was not bloody.  Dante was a writer, so his revenge took the form of a book, The Divine Comedy, in verse that would both entertain and educate readers, and malign those responsible for his situation.

If Dante's book were solely rants against his enemies, it would never have stood the test of time.  In fact, the parts of The Divine Comedy in which he mentions by name the leaders and rich of his day, wallowing in Hell or Purgatory, are least accessible to us today.  We don't know who these people are, so we miss the joke.  (However, what a wonderful revenge, to make these people, for eternity, examples of Hell's and Purgatory's torments!)

But by making The Divine Comedy a detailed description of Hell, Purgatory and Paradise, and detailing the sins and qualities that land us in each of these zones of the netherworld, Dante ensured that his tale would appeal to readers forever.

It's immensely fun, and delightfully satisfying, to read an imaginative account of where your own enemies might end up, and how they'll suffer eternal damnation for what they've done to you during your lifetime.  In fact, the most entertaining section of The Divine Comedy is Hell!

Dante encourages us to behave better in life, just in case his imaginings are anywhere near the truth of what becomes of us after death.  Just like religions themselves, Dante, by illustrating the Christian view of afterlife, gives us hope of rewards after death for self-restraint during life.  Justice comes to all, even if a bit late, and it lasts for eternity.

To top all that off, Dante accomplished another goal of his, one that he had cherished for a long time.  He strongly believed that beautiful literature could be written in the daily language of Florentines.  So he wrote The Divine Comedy in ordinary Italian, rather than in the preferred Latin.  The book's success did wonders for raising the respect level of the Italian language.

Amazingly, Dante's Italian is very readable to student's of today's Italian.  It is not like the middle-English literature written in the 1300s, or even like Shakespearean English from the 1600s.  Dante's Italian is accessible, especially when accompanied, side-by-side, by an English translation.  So I report the text below in both English and Italian, side-by-side.

But remember, there are scholars who study The Divine Comedy all their scholarly lives.  There are books published yearly interpreting everything from Dante's use of numbers, names, places, stars, words, smells, sounds, light, dark, literary figures--oh, you get the picture.

But that doesn't mean the average reader cannot enjoy The Divine Comedy.  Take my advice:  kick anyone who tries to tell you The Divine Comedy is too complex, or that you need an accompanying explanatory book ten times the length of the poem.  If you enjoy your first read of Dante's entertaining story, you can always consult those books later.

My advice would be to start with the parts that interest you the most.  For most people, that would be Hell.  Those wonderful levels of Hell Dante describes with various sinners and their punishments that fit their crimes, are full of juicy, gory details.

The artist Gustave Dore created dark illustrations of those gory details for an 1885 edition of The Divine Comedy.  I've put many of those designs on this page for your enjoyment.  For other illustrations, from other editions of the book, check:



If you want an overview of the story, characters, themes, Dante's life, etc., visit the free and invaluable Novel Guide Summary

If you want to see two translations to English, side-by-side, visit this Columbia University site.

For a sampling of the scholar's Dante, visit this site and select 'Dante Studies' from the menu.

To learn more about the early publications of the book, visit Renaissance Dante in Print. They have a fascinating collection of title pages from editions from 1507 to 1716, showing the progression of 'The Comedy by the Divine Poet Dante Aligheri' to 'The Dante' or just 'Dante' to what we use today 'The Divine Comedy by Dante'.


Here is a link to a list of Project Gutenberg's works by Dante, including various editions of The Divine Comedy, all available as free e-books, in various formats, for immediate download

Dante at PG