“All hope abandon, ye who enter here.”
The Divine Comedy
Written by Dante Alighieri from 1302 to 1320, Dante’s Divina Commedia has been heralded as one of the greatest works of literature. Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso make up the three-part narrative poem that would become the source of inspiration for countless other forms of art, expression, and thought.
The translation of Dante’s exile into a microcosm of the problems of a country, an era, and the innate workings of society itself, serve as a paradigm that reflects and extends beyond the period and place it was written in.
How The Divine Comedy has Influenced Historical Europe
Dante’s Divina Commedia had an ineradicable influence in the breaking away from the Latin-only tradition that previously ruled the literary world of Europe. The Middle Ages held Latin as the sole language appropriate for works of philosophical and literary nature. In La Divina Commedia, Dante rebelled against the elitist norm, with his belief that the speech of the common people was more than valid a vehicle for his literary expression. By utilizing the vernacular language of Tuscan, in pursuit of linguistic populism, Dante exhorted other influential writers such as Francesco Petrarca, Giovanni Boccaccio, Leone Battista Alberti, and Vespasiano da Bisticci to write in the vernacular as well.
Furthermore, in Paul Oskar Kristellar’s ‘The Origin and Development of the Language of Italian Prose’, he found that Dante’s Divina Commedia resulted in Tuscan eventually becoming the lingua franca of Italy, giving Italy a common literary language that made further progress through the fourteenth century, namely through the works of aforementioned Petrarch and Boccaccio. Albeit this progress was halted and nearly doomed to extinction by the coerced revival of classical Latin by the humanists around 1400, the vernacular managed to pick up and cement its victory over Latin in the sixteenth century.
Publication of Dante’s Divina Commedia is also frequently seen as the marking point of the transition from Middle Ages to Modernity — the closing of the Late Medieval Period and the start of the Renaissance. La Divina Commedia, despite drawing obvious inspirations from Dante’s personal Christian faith, strayed from the conventional Christian morality of its time, vehemently condemning popes to hell, and making explicit Dante’s political beliefs that there should be a separation of church and state.
Dante’s genesis of the dual nature of man in La Divina Commedia and his voiced conception that the constraints of theological precepts should no longer hold reign over politics have shown great influence over Renaissance political thought. Ernest Fortin, in his publication of ‘Dissent and Philosophy in the Middle Ages: Dante and his precursors’, explored how Dante’s ideas did not stop at influencing Renaissance thinkers, but continued on to influence the thoughts of those who led the Reformation. The humanists who superseded him experienced a liberation that empowered them to focus on the secular world, seeing it as something that was not incompatible to the Christian aspirations of eventual salvation.
Traces of The Divine Comedy Today
Dante’s masterpiece has since inspired and birthed films, novels, music, visual arts, mobile apps and video games. Dan Brown’s Inferno, Dante’s Inferno: An Animated Epic, Sylvian Reynard’s Gabriel’s Inferno, video game Devil May Cry, Pietro Cottone’s progressive/psychedelic rock album Inferno, The Daily Show’s studio sign reading “Abandon all news, ye who enter here”, and even Ted Mosby’s recital of part of La Divina Commedia itself in popular television show How I Met Your Mother, make up just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the long list of by-products that Dante’s Divina Commedia has inaugurated.
Upon approaching acquaintances from Milan, London, and Germany, I found that all of them have heard of Dante’s Divina Commedia, with one having read Dante’s Inferno, and all of them having been exposed to other creative works inspired by La Divina Commedia (namely art exhibitions and video games).
The continued publishing of La Divina Commedia, along with its seemingly endless list of inspired works, ensure that Dante’s masterpiece continues to survive in the contemporary world, readily received by societies, knowingly or otherwise. In fact, its survival and reception in the contemporary world can be said to be so successful that it has been woven into societies, with connections and implications to the economic, political, and socio-cultural scenes of the contemporary world.
Connections and Implications to and in Today’s Contemporary World
For the economy and politics of the Contemporary World, Dante’s Divina Commedia holds no barefaced implication except for the henceforth movement of focus from religion to secularity that continues to be evident in the political climate of the contemporary world, albeit not in totality. Perhaps the root of the issue is the exceptionally long time period between then and now, such that any implication that Dante’s Divina Commedia has had on our economic and political environment has since been improved upon or worsened, as mentioned previously, there is no doubt that Dante’s masterpiece has brought about changes that were, unlike many of the other significant figures of historical Europe, not forestalled. However, there remains connections and parallels that can continue to be drawn from La Divina Commedia.
Lawrence M. Ludlow links the origins of the Free Market in today’s economy to Dante’s Divina Commedia in his revisionistic exploration ‘Dante’s Divine Comedy and the Divine Origins of the Free Market’. Though it seems to be a bit of a stretch to credit the origins of the free market as such, it is not so if applied to crediting a partial contribution or, at the very least, a connection of La Divina Commedia to the free market economy that is triumphant today. In Dante’s Divina Commedia, Dante and his spirit guide, Virgil, have an exchange in which Dante originally persists in a zero-sum analysis of the economy, with Virgil eventually persuading Dante that wealth created from the workings of a free and spontaneous market is abundant in nature, and that one’s pleasure of it would not take away the enjoyment of another.
La Divina Commedia also writes of how political bias could potentially become the greatest danger to building a strong society due to its nature of factionalism, something that is increasingly evident in the politics of today where liberals and conservatives, along with republicans and democrats, face an ever-growing gap between them, one that the Pew Research Centre has documented for several years.
With regards to socio-cultural connections of Dante’s Divina Commedia, the literary work, though composed 700 years ago, continues to resonate with issues that continue to be rampant today. One such issue would be the refugee crisis, with Dante’s Divina Commedia reflecting the congruent trials and tribulations of a refugee, much like those undergone by Dante after his exile from his hometown of Florence.
Other socio-cultural implications of La Divina Commedia would include Dante’s influence on thought, which although manifested during the Renaissance, continues to exist today where his Divina Commedia continues to be repeatedly quoted and referenced with regards to the reflection of people, from any age or place, with existential conflicts such as the definition of good and evil, or the inquisition into our true human nature. Another socio-cultural implication that is evident, and also confirmed by each of my aforementioned acquaintances (despite their difference in religious background) is the depiction of hell, with its many levels, beasts, and tortures that still reign as the general idea of what hell is like amongst the society of today.
Personal Interaction with La Divina Commedia
Due to my limited interactions with poetry and an immature distrust of an underlying Christian theme, it was only after my finishing of the first book of Paradise Lost by John Milton that I was brave enough to embark on the then daunting task of reading Dante’s Inferno.
Like many others, Dante’s overarching theme of exile allowed me the comfort of connection with the character as well as the author, morphing feelings of alienation and past tribulations to a common pain I could share with another.
However, above all else, there lay a sense of calm stemming from the underlying concept — that though time in Dante’s Inferno has its nature being fixed in both the past and the present, there exists with it a salvation in the shape of opportunities to revisit and greet those who have passed, learn from them, and recognize their affections and emotions, drawing wisdom and peace as a reward.
The read was admittedly a tough one, but a fulfilling one that warms the soul.
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