Winston Churchill once said: "If you are going through hell, keep going." If you were to describe Dante’s Divine Comedy as simply as possible you would use this quote. However, Dante’s Divine Comedy has never been that simple. Sure, it is about religion and hell and heaven. But it is also about political ideas. The way spirituality and politics commingle in Dante’s world has interested literature fiends and political theorists alike. So what exactly is Dante’s Divine Comedy? How did Dante’s everyday life affect this piece of literature? And most importantly, what were the political ideas Dante managed to weave into his story powered by religion?
Dante’s Divine Comedy is a narrative about how Dante goes through hell and finally manages to get to heaven. Dante recognizes his sins and goes from misery to happiness in three stages, "Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso." The poem is designed "to remove those living in this life from a state of misery, and bring them to a state of happiness" by showing the metaphorical turmoil a soul must go through to reach inner content (Gilbert 82).
Dante’s Divine Comedy is famous for a lot of reasons. It is considered the best epic poem in Italian history (Bigongiari 12). People were fascinated by it because it was the first piece of literature in that time period to address political AND spiritual morals. Dante’s Divine Comedy is an allegory. That means that the theme of the story is not readily apparent, the reader must decipher it for its meaning. (Gilbert 31). This has caused controversy among readers, which is one of the reasons it has lasted the test of time.
Although the Divine Comedy is his most famous work, Dante wrote many pieces before it in which he discusses the beginnings of the finished political ideas that are found in the Divine Comedy. Historically, Dante is known chiefly as a poet, but he was a political theorist first. In fact, Dante was directly involved in politics throughout the majority of his life. (Bergin 113).
Dante grew up in Florence, Italy and his family belonged to the politically dominant Guelf party. At the time, the Guelf party had complete control over Florentine politics. However a power struggle began within the Guelf party, and extended feuds and quarrels led them to split into two major groups: The Blacks and the Whites.
It is controversial when Dante first became involved in politics, but most theorists agree that it was when his love, Beatrice died. Dante was so completely devastated by her untimely death that politics became a distraction. He immersed himself in politics, and finally began playing an active role in 1295. His connection with the Guelf party led him to be a political influence in Florentine. Within the two major groups of the Whites and the Blacks, Dante sided with the Whites.
However, six years later in 1301 the Black’s suppressed the White’s in a political battle and all prominent Whites—including Dante were exiled from Florence (Farnell 15-21). At...