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About Dante!
The Divine Comedy Text Online
 More of this Feature
• Introduction
• Inferno
• Purgatorio
• Paradiso
• Six Sonnets
 
 Related Resources
• Dante
• Dante: Hell on the Web
• History of Italian
 
 

Incipit Comoedia Dantis Alagherii, Florentini natione, non moribus.

Introduction
A towering figure of world literature, Dante Alighieri is best known for his allegorical work La Divina Commedia (The Divine Comedy), which traces his imaginary journey through hell, purgatory, and heaven during which he encounters historical and mythological creatures, each symbolic of a particular fault or virtue. Beatrice, Dante’s great love, whom he regarded as a manifestation of the divine, is his guide through paradise. Dante’s Divine Comedy is one of the great works of world literature, and it was also proof that in Italian literature the vulgar tongue could rival Latin.

Organization of the Poem
The Divine Comedy is divided into three canticles of thirty-three cantos each, plus one extra in the first, the Inferno, making a total of one hundred cantos. Each canto is composed of three-line tercets, the first and third lines rhyme, the second line rhymes with the beginning of the next tercet, establishing a kind of overlap. Dante's realms are further subdivided: the Inferno is composed of nine levels, the vestibule makes a tenth. Purgatory has seven terraces, plus two ledges in an ante-purgatory; adding these to the Earthly Paradise yields ten zones. Paradise is composed of nine heavens; Empyrean makes the tenth.

In the Inferno, sinners are organized by three vices -- Incontinence, Violence, and Fraud -- and further subdivided by the seven deadly sins. In Purgatory, penance is ordered on the basis of three types of natural love. Paradise is organized on the basis of three types of Divine Love, and further subdivided according to the three theological and four cardinal virtues.

Translation Notes
The seminal translation of The Divine Comedy - and the one presented here - was by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882), the famous American poet who wrote such classics as The Song of Hiawatha and The Courtship of Miles Standish. In 1861, after the tragic death of his wife, Longfellow found solace in the task of translating Dante into English.

Longfellow also wrote Six Sonnets on Dante's Divine Comedy during the work of translating the La Divina Commedia. These were published as poetical fly-leaves to the three parts. The first and second prefaced the Inferno. The third and fourth introduced the Purgatorio, and the fifth and sixth the Paradiso.

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