When the Renaissance was being born, and the Dark Ages were giving way to a new era, society was becoming more cultured with music, and the arts and scholars were founding schools and universities to further the study of science and philosophy. It was during this time in the year 1265, Dante Alighieri was born in Florence Italy. He began writing the Divine Comedy in 1308 and completed it a year before his death in 1321. While the Divine Comedy is perhaps one of the greatest works of poetry in history, for me, it’s written with astonishing imagination and passion and poetic genius with his deep perceptions of human existence. No matter how many times you read it, it will speak to you wherever you are in life’s journey, and changes as you change.
“The path to paradise begins in hell.” ― Dante Alighieri
In the Divine Comedy, Dante travels through the depths of Hell and describes every corridor and level of fear, despair, anger, and every emotion that humans experience. It is indeed a journey that leaves a lasting impression on the imagination for all who reads it and continues to do so more than 700 years later.
In hell, Dante meets the Ancient Roman poet Virgil, his guide. According to Dante, Virgil is unable to ascend to heaven because he had worshiped pagan gods even though he led a virtuous life and thus, he avoids eternal damnation into the bowels of hell. Virgil teaches Dante that there is no way to avoid the hell that Dante perilously wants to avoid. And so, with all the courage he can muster, Dante crosses the threshold to Hell, a place that confines the world’s most offending souls that are devoured by Lucifer for all eternity.
As Dante reaches the precipice of Purgatory, he must say goodbye to Virgil and continue his journey with Beatrice, a woman Dante had known as a youngster who represented the feminine ideal in his mind. Here, Beatrice is the Muse and guides him through the celestial levels of heaven, which are based upon astrological alignments of the planets and stars that were studied earnestly during the Renaissance period. Each of the seven celestial bodies that comprised heaven represent a virtue or moral, with paradise awaiting Beatrice and Dante at the top of the celestial echelon.
“I found myself within a forest dark.” ― Dante Alighieri
Traveling through the realms of Hell was difficult for Dante, but this is how he intended it — it was an obstacle — one that requires struggle, self-reflection, and brutal personal honesty. It only begins to make sense in hindsight, in the light of experiences that unfold in purgatory and paradise. It also tells us that it is precisely through the terrifying experience of the dark forest that we navigate our return to innocence. The path that Dante leads us on is not easy, but it is necessary. We may try to avoid it, but this kind of soul-searching odyssey is the only way through to a rebirth when our world has fallen out from under us.
“The poets leave hell, and again behold the stars.” ― Dante Alighieri
So is Hell a destination or a state of mind? I happen to believe the latter. I think we manufacture our own Heaven and Hell and we have the choice which one we occupy. We become our thoughts, and if we dwell on something long enough, it will inevitably manifest itself. Everything mirrors itself into everything else. We are exposed to the reflections of our environment every day, and with all, we come in contact with. Ultimately, it is up to us how we respond to all of it.
We are thinking creatures, and in Dante’s time, free-thought was not encouraged and oftentimes, punishable by death. I am a spiritual person that does not subscribe to religious dogma and the rites and rituals of such. I do not believe in carrying the concepts of original sin, guilt, and shame because to me, to dwell on such things, only prevents me from experiencing the love and acceptance and freedom that the Divine offers each of us. I think Dante’s pilgrimage will help us deepen the understanding of ourselves and the reflections we choose to absorb. In the end, Dante ends up in Heaven after his journey through Hell, making this the ultimate story of hope.
“If the present world go astray, the cause is in you, in you it is to be sought.”
― Dante Alighieri
© Literary Remains