The Church Militant: Depictions in Dante

In no other part of The Divine Comedy does Dante present his vision of the Church Militant, or the body of living believers who must struggle against sin and reach for virtue, than in Purgatorio. Striking parallels exist between the experiences of the shades in Purgatory and the experiences of humans on earth. On earth and in Purgatory, Christians walk out the journey of sanctification in an attempt to draw closer to God and gain entrance into Paradise. Though the moral state of the shades’ souls vary, much like in the Church on earth there are varying degrees of moral discipline, they are all unified by their salvation through Christ. Each shade in Purgatory walks the same path toward Paradise, and on the journey, the shades play a significant role in Dante’s own purgation. The shades pray for the Church Militant on earth, worship in unison, and even guide Dante and Virgil through Purgatory. In contrast with the images of the failed Church in Inferno and the admonitions of Church leadership by the saints in Paradiso, the depiction of Purgatory demonstrates the roles of the Church Militant in an individual’s sanctification. Dante the poet crafts Purgatorio to show the Church Militant on earth when its roles are completely fulfilled.

The similarities between Dante’s entrance into Purgatory and a new believer’s entrance into the Church Militant on earth introduce the comparison of the Church Militant and Purgatory. Dante finds himself in Purgatory on Easter morning, at the time of Christ’s resurrection (19). Dante’s time course recalls Paul’s declaration in Romans 6:4: “we were buried with him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life”. Dante was buried in Inferno and saw the wrath of God, and now he is being raised from the dead as he experiences Purgatory. This also parallels an individual’s entrance into the Church Militant. Upon their acceptance of Christ, the new Christians are raised from the depth of their sin and begin their walk through sanctification.

Although salvation and sanctification concern a personal relationship with God, both the Bible and Dante stress the importance of relationship with other believers. In fact, Dante’s vision for the purpose of the Church Militant is the building of relationship, both with God and with other Christians. He uses the early Church in Acts as a starting point for his description of the roles of the Church Militant. Acts 2:42 describes the Church continuing “steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers”. Based on the biblical precedent, Dante argues that the principle roles of the Church Militant include three things: the instruction of theological truths, the mentorship of the Christian community, and the glorification of God through unified worship and prayer. These aspects of the Church serve to increase the faith of the individual while allowing the Church to be a testimony to unbelievers. In this way, Dante’s picture of the Church Militant on earth clarifies the role of the Church at a time when that role was tainted by the poor leadership of corrupt popes.

Theological truths are prevalent in The Divine Comedy, and while the punishment for sin is revealed in Inferno, in Purgatorio, ideas of God’s nature are explicated by the shades that walk with Dante through his sanctification. For example, Dante learns of the generation of the soul from Statius. Statius encourages Dante’s questioning, saying: “let it be my excuse that I cannot refuse thee” (327). Statius cannot help but provide Dante with the adequate theological truths to aid him in his journey through Purgatory. This duty is not begrudgingly performed, but instead springs out of a desire to glorify God and develop Dante’s faith. Later, in the Terrace of the Avaricious, Forese Donati describes the relationship between the condition of the soul and the body, elucidating how human nature is perfected although there is no physical body in Purgatory (301). Both of these examples show the Church Militant deepening Dante’s love of God through understanding.

In the same manner, when he meets Marco Lombardo in the Terrace of the Wrathful, Dante asks him to explain why the world is “barren of every virtue” and is “overspread with wickedness” (211). Lombardo agrees to be a “faithful scout” and answer Dante (213). In his response, Lombardo points out that although most of the “living refer every cause up to the heavens alone”, the true cause of evil in the world is one’s own free will (213). He does, in addition, place blame on the shepherds who “snatch only at that good for which they themselves are greedy”, referring Pope Nicholas, who is in the realm of the Avaricious in Hell, and other popes like him (213). Unlike Pope Nicholas, who shirked his responsibility as a shepherd to the Church, Lombardo recognizes his responsibility as a member of the Church Militant to teach about God and is faithful to his duty (Inferno, 243). Beatrice echoes Lombardo’s sentiments when she criticizes the preaching done in the Church, describing sheep “fed on wind” instead of theological truths (Paradiso, 421). She continues on, stating: “Christ did not say… ‘Go and preach idle tales to the world’, but gave them a true foundation” (423). In this discourse, Dante the poet depicts a Christian who acts in a way consistent with the role of the Church Militant by answering the pilgrim’s theological question while pointing out the Church’s failure to fulfil this role on earth.

Not only do the shades contribute to Dante’s improved comprehension of God through theology, but Virgil, an outsider of the Church Militant, also teaches Dante. He elucidates many theological mysteries in Purgatory, while in Hell, these expositions are noticeably absent. It seems that the environment of Purgatory, with the availability of God’s presence and the transforming power of his grace, enables the pagan Virgil to educate Dante in spiritual community, love, and the motivation for sin (201, 225, 233). Dante the poet uses Virgil’s theological knowledge, which cannot be founded on reason alone, to show how the institution of the Church Militant, not solely the individuals in the Church, fosters the learning of truths about God and the nature of man.

The second of the prominent roles of the Church Militant on earth is the direction of individuals in their walk through the Christian life. During his experience in Purgatory, Dante meets numerous shades who help him navigate the mountain. In the same way, the Church Militant guides Christians through their sanctification. Even on the shores of Purgatory, Sordello, a shade, introduces the idea of the Church’s guidance through his explication of day and night. He tells Dante and Virgil that the shades do not travel at night and will only guide them during the light of day (97). In The Divine Comedy, daylight represents God’s presence, and the shades’ unwillingness to travel without the light of God signifies their submission to God’s will. In a similar way, Dante suggests that upon one’s entrance into the Church Militant, the Church should assert its reliance on God for sanctification.

The shades, the angels, and even Virgil continually prompt Dante to move on or go faster in Purgatory. This is in direct contrast to Dante’s journey through Hell, where Virgil constantly reminds Dante to “wait” and “show courtesy” to the souls instead of rush through the realms (Inferno, 205). When Dante attempts to delay his progression up the mountain so that he can speak more with Pope Adrian V, Adrian says: “Go thy way now. I would not have thee stop longer” (Purgatorio, 251). Pope Adrian V goes on to suggest that Dante’s delay hinders both Adrian’s and Dante’s sanctification (251). The shades treat Dante’s sanctification with a sense of urgency; they understand that the time for righteous decision-making can end at any moment. From these conversations, Dante the poet conveys the Church’s duty to challenge its members with the continual and aggressive pursuit of Christ.

More than simply showing Dante a way up the mountain, the shades direct him toward a path faster than the route they have to go themselves. On the Terrace of Pride, Omberto Aldobrandeschi tells Dante to follow a path to “an opening for a living man to climb” rather than walk up with him (145). Aldobrandeschi’s only concern in this situation is that Dante complete his sanctification; Aldobrandeschi does not compare Dante’s plight with his. With this mindset, the shades take a more active role in guiding Dante than the souls in Hell. The shades approach Dante and engage him, while in Inferno, it seems as if the souls are interrupted when Dante begins to talk to them (Purgatorio, 47). The sense of urgency that drives Dante’s sanctification is the same sense of urgency that compels the shades to help Dante. All in Purgatory are hungering after God’s will and guide each other to that end. For the Church Militant, the success of an individual means success for the body of Christ as a whole, and so the Church should be expected to actively invest in the sanctification of others.

The investment in the members of the Church Militant also comes in the form of a more mutualistic relationship. The shades in Purgatory treat Dante as a welcome member of the community of Purgatory, which is not always the case in the Church Militant on earth. Peter, in Paradiso, laments the division in the Church Militant, saying: “It was not our meaning that on the right… should sit one part of Christ’s people and the other on the left; nor that the keys which were committed to me should become the device on a standard for warfare on the baptized” (389). Because of the corruption of Church leadership, Christians have turned against one another, diverging from the example set by the early Church led by the apostles. Dante implies, in Peter’s discussion of the Church, that this division has contributed to the ineffectiveness of the earthly Church. Through this, Dante asserts that the Church Militant on earth has an obligation to unify believers.

One of the most moving moments in Purgatorio is when the shades pray for the Church on earth in unison. The shades pray for all of the Christians in Purgatory, and the last portion of their prayer is devoted to the Church Militant on earth (143). Dante the poet deliberately adds the earthly Church to the prayer to convey the sense of unity and completeness within the Church Militant and to provide an example of this role of the Church being fulfilled. Dante implores the Church Militant on earth to pray for the shades in Purgatory, implying that unity in prayer specifically is a duty of the Church (145).

Not only do the shades pray in one accord, they worship as a group as well. In each of the terraces, Dante hears the shades worshipping God through song, and he is made aware of the rareness of this, noting: “ah, how different these passages from those of Hell” (161). In Hell, the souls’ wailings are cacophonous; Dante hears many voices coming from all around him (Inferno, 167). In Purgatory, however, the songs of the shades seem to come from one center behind him, as Dante transitions from one terrace to the next (Purgatorio, 199). The shades left behind in the former terrace are worshipping God for Dante’s progress. In the same way, the shades sing “Gloria in excelsis Deo” when Statius completes his purgation (263). Even though one of their own is ascending more quickly than them, the shades are rejoicing free from jealousy because they truly see themselves as a united entity. As Paul called Christians to “with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” and to “receive one another to the glory of God” in Romans 15, Dante also asserts that unity in worship—in addition to the worship itself—honors God. Through these touching images of selflessness in the body of Christ in Purgatory, Dante reveals the duty of the Church Militant on earth to bring believers together for a common goal: the glorification of God.

The Church Militant as it is presented in Purgatorio represents a united body of believers that are centered on empowering its members in their walk with God. These ideal characteristics of the Church Militant are exemplified in the way that the shades in Purgatory act toward Dante. These shades, because they have the revelation that accompanies the transition from earthly to eternal life, are comparable to the Church leadership on earth, and provide a thorough example of how the leaders of the Church Militant should empower the Church to fulfil its duties. When put in the context of Inferno and Paradiso, which show readers an examples of the failed Church, Purgatorio offers insights into what must be done to rectify these problems. Above all, Dante’s The Divine Comedy is a call for the Bride of Christ to return to her spouse: Dante, through his journey, gains the understanding that is intended to provide “vital nourishment” to the Church Militant (Paradiso, 249). Because of Dante’s vision written in these three parts, the Church Militant can begin to turn its ways back toward Christ.

Dante: Love and Goodness as Guidance to Self-improvement

“Love is the seed in you of every virtue and of all acts deserving punishment.” ——Purg. XVII, 104-5 Dante calls his great work a comedy, not for its humor but because it meets the traditional definition of a comedy: a story with a rising plot from sad to happy. In this sense, Dante’s beginning in Hell and ending in Heaven can be read as a comedy in the literary sense. Because comedy has long been regarded as a style lower than tragedy, Dante’s decision to call his work a comedy may have been one of modesty – he didn’t want to suggest he was in the company of Virgil, Ovid, and other great tragedians. After all, pride is the first sin in the purgatory Dante describes. This work embodies the concept of comedy on a deeper level, though, as it depicts self-improvement and ascension to God’s ideal realm under the guidance of love and goodness. In the beginning of Inferno, Dante has already suggested the purpose of the journey: “When I had journeyed half of our life’s way, I found myself within a shadowed forest, for I had lost the path that does not stray.” His reference to “our life” shows everyone undertakes such a journey in order to understand one’s sins and improve oneself. Starting from “a shadowed forest,” or a lack of faith in God, Dante will face not just the three beasts, but rather a spiritual challenge of self-purgation which permeates the whole work. After Dante goes through all nine circles of Inferno and reaches the island Mountain of Purgatory, he is asked by Cato to “wash away all of Hell’s stains” (Purg. I, 96), indicating he has overcome these sins and ascended to a higher level—purgatory “in which the human soul is cleansed of sin, becoming worthy of ascent to Heaven” (I, 5-6). When Dante rebukes the prideful in the First Terrace in purgatory, he implies our life resembles the metamorphism of a butterfly that mortal humans are “worms and born to form the angelic butterfly that soars”, experiencing a process from “the imperfect grub” to “its final form” (X, 125-9). That the angel erases the first of the seven P’s (Peccatum) in Dante’s forehead when he comes into the Second Terrace also exemplifies that he has transcended Pride and ready to further improve himself. Dante’s ascendant journey is guided by Virgil in the Inferno and Purgatorio, and Beatrice in the Paradiso. Why Dante chooses Virgil and Beatrice as his guide is because they are people who he admires and loves. Virgil is often described as “knowledgeable” and Beatrice, as “benevolent,” implying they are respectively the symbol of intelligence and love, both leading Dante to the ideal realm of Love and Goodness. The Divine Comedy can be interpreted as Dante’s attempt to transcend his earthly love with Beatrice into a spiritual or Divine Love. Dante thinks “there’s no Creator and no creature who ever was without love—natural or mental” (Purg. XVII, 91-2). The difference between righteous and sinful deeds is the direction and the degree of love as the quote in the beginning shows. The idea of love as an innate property coincided with the Platonic love which is the desire of the soul to reach its final stage. This aspect of love is not only involved in Virgil’s verbal interpretation, but also in Dante’s journey. When Virgil cleans Dante’s tear-stained cheeks, Virgil “totally revealed the color that Inferno had concealed” (Purg. I, 128-9). The great sins in Inferno can only conceal the original color, or love, which always accompanies one’s soul. As E. M. Forster wrote, “You can transmute love, muddle it, ignore it… but you can never pull it out of you…” – though Forster here refers to another meaning of love. But this sense of ascending toward perfection guided by Love is somewhat not applicable in the Inferno. Rather than ascending, Dante is literally descending in the Inferno. To look at the universe of Dante, we will find, geographically, Lucifer is actually closer to the Heaven than the world in the northern hemisphere and any other circle in the Inferno. Does everyone have to go through Judecca in order to reach the Heaven? Does Dante want to separate the Hell filled with immense sins from the overall process of progression? Or does Dante bitterly satirize the human fault and the filthy nature of those who lack of faith in God?I would argue that the answer is none of the above. The Divine Comedy is a consistent work unified by not only Love but also Goodness. During Dante’s journey in the Inferno, he witnesses a hierarchical world of crime and punishment. Dante’s hatred of evil results in his devotion to righteousness, or the Goodness. Therefore, the Inferno calls for the Goodness of one’s spiritual world through the impersonal objectivity of divine justice. Minos’ curling of his tail to decide which level the damned soul should go to (Canto V), and Dante’s putting his own teacher, Brunetto, among the Sodomites (Canto XV) both prove the impartial judgment, stressing the immitigable, emotionless objectivity of morality and divine justice. This impartiality implies that no matter the degree of sin, as long as one commits crimes, one is assigned proper punishment immediately. The more fear and awe the Inferno generates on one’s mind, the more likely one goes on pursuing the Goodness, overcoming sins in one’s life and finding salvation in God. Therefore, it is indeed another way for self-improvement. For instance, Dante replied his teacher Ser Brunetto that “so long as I am not rebuked by conscience, I stand prepared for Fortune, come what may” (Inf. XV, 92-3). He regards one’s conscience as one of the most important rules to follow, regardless of which party one belongs. In addition, there is also a sense of development in the Inferno. Dante suggests the Second Circle for the lustful is “where Dido suffers” (Inf. V, 85), instead of the Seventh Circle for Suicides. However, near the end of Inferno, Dante promises Fra Alberigo to take off the hard veils from his face by swearing “if I don’t free you, may I go to the bottom of the ice” (XXXIII, 116-7). After he learns the crime Alberigo has committed, however, he changes his mind, asserting “it was courtesy to show him rudeness” (XXXIII, 150). It indicates Dante’s overall development in the poem, represented by the extent to which he learns not to pity suffering sinners and to despise sin wholeheartedly. Dante also concludes his Inferno optimistically with an image of stars, showing that Dante has begun his slow climb out of sin and confusion and has taken a closer step toward Beatrice and God. The Inferno calls for the Goodness of one’s spiritual world. Accordingly, the Purgatorio calls for the Love, and the Paradiso is an ideal world of a combination of Love and Goodness. In Purgatorio, the criterion set to classify different sins is love—perverted love, insufficient love and excessive love of earthly goods. In Paradiso, Beatrice is not only the guide of Love, but also reflects the Eternal Light. It is interesting to look at what the last thing Beatrice did before she left Dante, and the last thing Dante saw before setting his eye upon the Eternal Light. It is a smile! Before Beatrice turns back to the eternal fountain, “she, however far away she seemed, smiled, and she looked at me” (Para. XXXI, 91-2). Also, when Dante is near the God, “Bernard was signaling—he smiled—to me to turn my eyes on high” (Para. XXXIII, 49-50). It is Beatrice’s smile that in Dante’s youth has made him touch the new heights of passion. It is the same smile that concludes Dante’s journey when he completes his self-purgation and finally abandons the earthly love and reaches the Divine Love. Smile here becomes an approval signal of Dante’s achievement toward the Love and Goodness, and implies why the poem is called a comedy.If Dante wrote the whole poem just as “a bitterly sarcastic and serious condemnation of the human condition,” then he is risking being sent to the Eighth Circle for the Fraud that he himself depicts. He clearly knows that he doesn’t travel through the Inferno, Purgatory and Paradise, nor does he know whether they actually exist or not. I would rather believe the Divine Comedy embodies the spiritual framework of the poet and his imagination of a way leading to resurrection. Dante incorporates the infinite time into the finite space with the perpetual pursuit of Love and Goodness. In the context of Medieval Italy, his unique form of the Divine Comedy created a well-ordered world of spiritual beings and a new way to search for resurrection of the soul.

Distraction and the Afterlife in Dante’s Divine Comedy

“Blessed are those in whom grace shines so copiously that love of food does not arouse excessive appetite, but lets them hunger after righteousness” (2.23.150-154). On the sixth terrace of Purgatory, a tree speaks these words, communicating a broader theme of The Divine Comedy, that our attention should be consumed by a desire for God instead of worldly pleasures and distractions. Through each canticle, there is evidence that salvation is more about effort to obey God and less about success in doing so. In the Inferno are souls who busied themselves in life with the distractions of earthly existence, spending no effort on trying to live for God. They are left to their distractions for all of eternity, or at least for as long as they choose to continue pursuing them. In Purgatory, souls who made some effort to live by God’s will are given haven from distractions, so that they may focus solely on God and reaching Paradise. The differentiating quality between the souls in Inferno and those in Purgatory is a willingness to struggle and make the effort to live for God, regardless of failure. In Paradise, souls who successfully struggled to live virtuously are positioned so they are eternally focused on God, enjoying the beatific vision. For their dedication in life to the goal of doing God’s will, they may spend eternity with their wills as one with God’s. Though under normal circumstances, Purgatory and Paradise are free from distractions so souls can focus fully on God, the process can apparently still be interrupted. In Purgatory, souls often stopped or even forgot what they were doing upon seeing Dante and Virgil:”So all the happy souls of these Redeemed/stared at my face, forgetting, as it were,/the way to go to make their beauty whole” (2.2.73-75). In Paradise, Beatrice is a distraction to Dante on his journey from the Garden of Eden (2.30.31) to the Mystic Rose, where he sees God and has his revelatory vision (3.30.148). She is leading Dante toward God, however, so the distraction she creates for Dante is less damaging than Dante’s presence is to those souls in Purgatory who forget that they should be working eagerly to get to Paradise. This conception of God’s mercy as rewarding effort and focus is demonstrated in each canticle of the Divine Comedy. The story of St. Francis, told by St. Thomas in Canto 11 of Paradise, suggests a pious way of life that makes one’s struggle to stay focused on God easier: “In plain words/take Francis, now, and Poverty to be/the lovers in the story I have told./ Their sweet accord, their faces spread with bliss,/the love, the mystery, their tender looks/gave rise in others’ hearts to holy thoughts” (3.11.73-78). Francis, by marrying Poverty, gave up the pleasures and distractions of worldly goods. This lifestyle of self-imposed privation made focusing his life on God simpler. For choosing a distraction-free lifestyle, St. Francis is found among the wise on the Sun. In Purgatory, tempting, fruit-laden trees shout exempla of temperance and gluttony at the starving sinners who run endlessly around the terrace. The shouts from the two trees and the tantalizing fruit they display are not a pain to the souls, as Forese Donati corrects himself (2.23.71-72), but they are a solace (2.23.72). The contrapasso of these sinners is to “make [themselves] pure thirsting and hungering” (2.23.63), since in life they distracted themselves from God’s will with excess. As St. Thomas says, such privation “[gives] rise… to holy thoughts” (3.11.78). In the third circle of Inferno, where gluttons are punished, “Thick hail and dirty water, mixed with snow come down in torrents through the murky air” (1.6.10-11) and Cerberus “rips the spirits, flays and mangles them” (1.6.12-18). Ciacco, whose name fittingly means ‘pig’ or ‘filthy’ (1.6.52), is one of the souls who, as long as he is in the Inferno, will be allowed to wallow, literally, in the sin with which he occupied his life. In Limbo, the souls don’t actively suffer, but they exist, “[living] on in desire” (1.4.42). In life, they didn’t know Christ, and so they could not live a life for God. As the Infernal sinners are left to their life’s distractions, the virtuous pagans in Limbo, too, are left to their life’s work, in the “splendid castle” (1.4.106) which celebrates human reason and accomplishment unaided by God. There is an inferred possibility of upward mobility if a soul forsakes whatever distractions kept him from Purgatory or Paradise. This exception might even apply to souls of virtuous pagans in Limbo like Virgil. As Dante and the paradisial party prepare to enter Paradise, Virgil seems to be extended an invitation as well. The angels were “all shouting: Benedictus qui venis! then,/tossing a rain of flowers in the air,/Manibus, o, date lilia plenis!” (2.30.19-21). The first shout, “Blessed is he who cometh,” is a bible verse, followed by a line from Virgil meaning “Give us lilies with full hands.” The angels appear to be equating Virgil’s work with the Bible, but despite this high praise, he is sadly not able to forsake his Roman mindset and fatalistic confidence that he is forever relegated to Limbo. Virgil disappears to spend eternity with his fellow pagan poets (2.30.22-89). The souls in Limbo and the Inferno, including Virgil, do not see beyond their own circumstances, but Dante, from the time he enters the Inferno, is different. Where Virgil simply observes the entire journey to Paradise, Dante experiences it. Virgil dutifully leads Dante on the journey, but along the way, Dante is constantly looking above and ahead. As Virgil and Dante emerge from the Inferno, they “came out to see once more the stars” (1.34.139). At the end of Purgatory, when Dante emerges “from those holiest waters” (2.33.142), he is “eager to rise, now ready for the stars” (2.33.145). Paradise ends with a reference to God as “the Love that moves the sun and the other stars” (3.33.145). This theme of watching the stars and of focusing on what is beyond our immediate lives is captured by Oscar Wilde in Lady Windermere’s Fan: “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” Throughout his journey, Dante is looking up at the stars. This focus and devotion to his pilgrimage are perhaps the reasons he is allowed to see Paradise. Regardless of why Dante is shown Heaven, though, his experiences seem to illustrate that God uses a more merciful principal to locate souls’ appropriate places in the afterlife than a surface reading of Inferno and Purgatory might suggest. Effort, attention, and love, it seems, are all God requires to be given a place in Purgatory, from which to purge oneself of sin. With the knowledge that even from the gutter, looking at the stars is enough, the message of The Divine Comedy is one of warning, but also of hope.

Dante’s Influences on T.S. Eliot

T.S. Eliot is considered one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century and his poetry was greatly influenced by Dante Alighieri. Eliot’s introduction to Dante was in his college years at Harvard, where he studied philosophy. Eliot read Dante’s works extensively in college and may have meant to “apprentice” himself to learn everything he could from the master (Sloane). Dante’s influences on Eliot include appearances by way of direct quotations, similar images, and thematic elements. The direct quotations are simple to find because they are written in Italian, but there are also lines from Dante’s works that have been translated and slightly adapted to fit into Eliot’s poetry. Dante’s images are also prevalent among Eliot’s works. Eliot’s view of the world as a cold and desolate place was greatly influenced by Dante and his visions of Hell. Similar themes are also apparent; Eliot often uses themes such as isolation from Dante’s works to express his own inner feelings. At least one of these three elements can be seen in most of Eliot’s works, so it is obvious that Dante influenced Eliot. The influences from Dante in “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” include direct quotations and thematic elements. In “Prufrock” the narrator, Prufrock, seems to be addressing a potential lover. However, Prufrock “knows” too much to simply approach the woman; in his mind he can hear other people’s voices mocking and taunting him. Prufrock is very shy about expressing his feelings, and he is only telling us, the reader, under the assumption that no one else will hear him admit to his fear of others judging him. The entire poem is about Prufrock explaining why he cannot express his feelings of love to the woman he admires. Dante’s influence first appears in “Prufrock” as a direct quotation from The Divine Comedy as the first epigraph:S’io credesse che mia risposta fosseA persona che mai tornasse al mondo,Questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.Ma perciocche giammai di questo fondoNon torno vivo alcun, s’i’odo il vero,Senza tema d’infamia ti rispondo. (1-6)The epigraph literally means, “If I thought my reply were to one who could ever return to the world, this flame would shake no more; but since, if what I hear is true, none ever did return alive from this depth, I answer you without fear of infamy (“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T.S. Eliot).” This sets the tone for the rest of the poem; Prufrock can speak his shame only because he thinks no one who hears his confession will condemn him for his cowardice (Drew 827).Prufrock’s fear of humiliation seems to be his own personal Hell; the idea of individuals having their own personal Hell is a thematic influence from Dante. Dante’s work, The Divine Comedy, is a compilation of different versions of Hell. In “Prufrock” it is obvious that Prufrock is feeling anguish over his inability to express his love for the woman he admires (Bloom 17). Eliot’s frustration appears when he can’t decide whether or not to speak to the woman: And indeed there will be time To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?” Time to turn back and descend the stair, With a bald spot in the middle of my hair[They will say: “How his hair is growing thin!”]. (37-41)Prufrock is obviously frustrated and is even self-conscious of his bald spot when he is contemplating whether or not to tell the woman he adores how he feels. Prufrock is so concerned about his appearance that even when he is trying to speak to the woman, he can’t stop thinking about what others think of him. Prufrock finds his inability to go on with life without worrying what other people think is making him miserable, providing his own personal Hell.Dante’s influence appears again in the form of images and themes in Eliot’s “The Wasteland”. At the beginning of “The Wasteland” there is a description of a prophetic, apocalyptic journey into a desert waste. Near the end there is a very obscure section where the narrator walks through the streets of London populated by the ghosts of the dead. The narrator meets a ghost and asks him what happens to the corpses in the ground. Part one ends with a famous line from the preface of Baudelaire’s Fleurs du Mal, “You! hypocrite lecteur!-mon semblable,-mon frère!” (76) This quote is accusing the reader of sharing the poet’s sins (Martin). In the following passage from part one, Eliot describes similarities between the crowd and the flow of souls into Hell in Dante’s Inferno.Under the brown fog of a winter dawn, A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,I had not thought death had undone so many.Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled,And each man fixed his eyes before his feet. (61-65)These city dwellers are lost and lacking values and damned to Hell for all eternity. The description of London as an “Unreal City” suggests that the corruption within the city cannot be imagined and seems like Hell to Eliot (Bloom 42). Near the end of part one, when Eliot quotes Baudelaire’s Fleurs du Mal, the quote implies that the poet and the reader have sinned, thus damning them to Hell. This exemplifies the theme from Dante that each person has sinned and they will go to their own personal Hell. Dante’s influence becomes apparent in part five of “The Wasteland” when Eliot takes an image directly from Dante’s Inferno. The first half of the section builds to an apocalyptic climax, as suffering people become “hooded hordes swarming” and the “unreal” cities of Jerusalem, Athens, Alexandria, Vienna, and London are destroyed, rebuilt, and destroyed again. The poem ends with seemingly random fragments of children’s songs, works from Dante, and works from Elizabethan drama. Dante’s influence in part five expresses the effects of isolation on the mind. In the following excerpt, the image portrayed is taken directly from Dante’s Inferno where Ugolino, who is damned in the lowest circle of Hell for treachery, hears the memory of the key turning to lock him and his children in the Hungry Tower to starve to death (Drew 838). I have heard the keyTurn in the door once and turn once onlyWe think of the key, each in his prisonThinking of the key, each confirms a prisonOnly at nightfall, aethereal rumours (411-416)Eliot connects this passage with the reality of human isolation and the idea that memories can be painful even if only you can see them and no one else can. Once again, Dante influences Eliot in the form of descriptive imagery in “The Hollow Men”. “The Hollow Men” is an explanation of how the hollow men could not choose their fate, unlike Guy Fawkes, to whom Eliot makes an allusion earlier. Fawkes plotted to blow up England’s House of Commons in 1605, but was arrested before he could set off the gunpowder. Fawkes was executed, but he chose his fate, unlike the hollow men who appear to have no control over their final destination. Eliot often mentions different kingdoms where souls are being kept; these kingdoms bear a striking resemblance to Dante’s visions of the afterlife in The Divine Comedy. The similarities between the Kingdoms mentioned in “The Hollow Men” and Dante’s visions of the afterlife are extremely similar. Death’s other Kingdom in “The Hollow Men” relates directly to Dante’s Inferno, where the violent souls go. Eliot’s Death’s Dream Kingdom, where those who are suffering towards redemption go, is amazingly similar to Dante’s Purgatorio. When the hollow men are waiting to cross the “tumid river”, the river is analogous to Dante’s River Acheron, the river that separates Purgatorio and Inferno. The Kingdom of God is comparable to Dante’s Paradiso (Southam 99). The hollow men are also similar to the souls in Dante’s Ante-Hell of Neutrals. The hollow men died without shame, but they were not praised either. The idea of the Ante-Hell of Neutrals is similar to the Catholics’ belief that babies who were not baptized don’t go to Hell because they haven’t committed any sins, but they can’t go to Heaven because they have not been resolved of the original sin. Instead these souls go to purgatory. These souls, like the Hollow Men, do not deserve to be recognized as “violent souls” because they have not done anything wrong. The hollow men have “Gathered on this beach of the tumid river” (60) where they will stay because they do not have adequate reasons to be in Inferno or Paradiso. Both of these beings have been forgotten because they were neither good nor evil (Bloom 61). Dante Alighieri’s influences on T.S. Eliot’s poetry are excellent examples of Eliot’s expressions of emotions through his poetry. Eliot has been accused of stealing many of Dante’s ideas, although they appear to be well integrated in Eliot’s poetry. It is apparent that Dante has influenced Eliot in the form of direct quotations, similar imagery, and comparable thematic elements.Works CitedBloom, Harold, ed. T.S. Eliot. Chelsea House Publishers, 1999.Drew, Elizabeth, ed. Major British Writers. Harcourt, Brace & World Inc., 1959.Martin, Melissa. SparkNote on Eliot’s Poetry. 19 Mar. 2006 .Sloane, Patricia. Notes and Observations on T.S. Eliot’s Early Poems. 19 Mar. 2006 .Southam, B.C. A Student’s Guide to the Selected Poems of T.S. Eliot. 5th ed. Faber & Faber, 1990.”The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T.S. Eliot. 20 Mar. 2006 Willard, Jeff. Literary Allusion in “The Hollow Men”. 15 Mar. 2006 .

Dante and the Cult of Mary

Next to Beatrice, Mary is probably the most important female character in Dante’s Comedy. Mary’s symbolism in relation to the souls of purgatory appears relatively simple at first: her examples of virtue both reprove the penitent sinners for their sins and encourage them in their purgation. However, Mary’s exact nature is more complex because she is presented as both divine and human, and the juxtaposition of her two natures provides her with a multifaceted relationship to the souls and to Dante. She is at once the exemplum of human perfection and of female perfection, the divine mother of Christ and the bride of the Holy Spirit, and finally a corporeal mother not only to Christ but to us all. As Marianne Shapiro points out in Woman Earthly and Divine in the Comedy of Dante, Mary is, above all, presented as the epitome of a good mother who satisfies the needs of her child, including his spiritual appetites. As a good mother, Mary leads a pilgrim, who is her “spiritual child,â€? to goodness, to the child’s father, to God (Shapiro 119).Referenced throughout Purgatory, the Virgin Mary is a much more palpable presence in the second realm of the afterlife than in the first. In Inferno, Mary is referred to only once when Virgil tells Dante that Mary was the one who originally took pity on Dante and willed his journey through the three realms: “In Heaven there’s a gentle lady – one/who weeps for the distress toward which I send youâ€? (Inf. II, 94-5). Thus, Mary’s importance to Dante’s journey is underscored by the very fact that she was the one who initiated it. However, her name is never explicitly stated in the Inferno, just as Christ’s name is also never stated, because the mention of their holy names would be inappropriate in hell.However, Mary’s name is directly stated throughout purgatory, often by the souls undergoing their purgation when they either offer prayers to her or when they voice her examples of virtue. Therefore, the mention of Mary’s name by the souls is appropriate because she aids them in the absolution of their sins, which is the goal of all the souls in purgatory. While Mary’s seven virtues are catalogued on each step of purgatory, only two of her virtues – her humility that is portrayed in a statue in canto 10 and her meekness that is visualized by Dante in a vision in canto 15 – are not vocalized in any manner. Furthermore, the fact that Mary is often directly quoted from scripture in Purgatory presents her as a more physical being than she was presented in Inferno, and the references to her throughout purgatory prefigure her actual appearance in Paradiso.Mary is perhaps given a special, even a divine, status in Dante’s Purgatory because Marian worship became increasingly important to Catholic theology and piety in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Hilda Graef points out that popular devotion to Mary around the twelfth century evoked new hymns, like the “Salve Regina,â€? as well as new prayers, like “Hail Mary,â€? at approximately the same time (Graef 229-230). “Salve Reginaâ€? expresses man’s confidence in Mary’s power as their advocate with God as she serves as a mediator between man and Christ. Furthermore, “Hail Maryâ€? presents Mary as the epitome of the virtuous woman because she is the mother of Christ: “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with they, blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, because thou didst conceive the Redeemer of our soulsâ€? (Graef 230). Dante’s presentation of Mary in purgatory can, therefore, be seen in relation to these two liturgies. In canto 7, the souls in Ante-Purgatory sing “Salve, Regina,â€? a hymn addressed to the Virgin Mary, asking for her pity. In canto 3, the Envy also cry out, “Mary, pray for usâ€? (50). In canto 5, Buonconte da Montefeltro dies just after he “had finished uttering the name of Maryâ€? and is saved (101). Therefore, Steven Botterill states, “Throughout Purgatorio, Mary is seen as intimately and actively concerned with the work of salvation in the individual human soulâ€? (Botterill 156).However, Mary is most clearly defined in purgatory by her virtuous nature and her human perfection, which are underscored by seven scenes of her life that exemplify her seven virtues. Mary’s virtues are used to reproach the penitent sinners and encourage them through their purgation as well as to provide corrective examples of how others on earth should live. Mary’s seven virtues – humility, charity, meekness, zeal, poverty, temperance, and chastity – counter the seven deadly sins of Pride, Envy, Wrath, Sloth, Avarice, Gluttony, and Lust, and her divinity provides a contrast to human frailty. Several scholars, including Steven Botterill, suggest that Dante may have borrowed from earlier examples, such as Conrad of Saxony’s Speculum Beatae Maria Virginis, in order to present the Virgin Mary as an exemplar of the seven virtues (Botterill 157).As the first presentation of her seven virtues, the Annunciation illustrates Mary’s humility through her humble acceptance of becoming the mother of Christ (Purg. 10, 43-5). Next, the wedding at Cana illustrates her generosity through her attentiveness and consideration of others when she remarks to Christ that the hosts have no wine (Purg. 13, 28-30). Then, Mary’s reaction to finding Christ in a temple exemplifies her gentle meekness because she does not choose to scold her son as a reproachful mother would have (Purg. 15, 85-93). Mary’s haste to visit her cousin Elisabeth after Gabriel spoke to her further exemplifies her zeal (Purg.15, 100). Then, Mary’s birth of Christ in a stable demonstrates her acceptance of poverty (Purg. 20, 19-24). Then, the wedding at Cana is again referenced to illustrate her temperance because she was interested only in the proper ceremony of the wedding feast, rather than in her own appetite (Purg. 22, 142-4). Finally, the Annunciation is also again referenced to depict Mary’s chastity because she conceived Christ when she was still a virgin.Marianne Shapiro points out that the divine Mary offers a contrast not only to human imperfection but also more specifically to female imperfection by noting that Mary’s virtues are often followed by contrasting vices of other women (Shapiro 39). For example, Mary’s example of humility at the Annunciation is immediately followed by the image of King David’s humility before God’s ark and his wife Michal’s arrogance: “Michal watched as would a woman full of scorn and sufferingâ€? (Purg. 10, 68-9). Therefore, Shapiro states that “the image of the haughty daughter of Saul contrasts vividly with that of Mary’s humility in accepting God’s willâ€? (Shapiro 39). Furthermore, Shapiro also notes that Mary’s meekness when she finds Christ in the temple among the doctors is again immediately followed by another portrait of a wife’s arrogance when the wife of Pisistratrus says, â€?Revenge yourself on the presumptuous/ arms that embraced our daughter, O Pisistratrusâ€? (Purg. 15, 100-101).However, Shapiro could have provided further examples of how the virtues of Mary contrast with the sins of other women in the same circle of Purgatory, even if they do not immediately follow one another. In canto 13, the generosity of Mary at the Wedding of Cana contrasts with the envy of Sapia, the first soul exemplifying Envy that Dante meets. The image of Mary’s temperance at the Wedding of Cana in canto 22 is also greatly distinguished from the vivid image of Mary of Jerusalem’s gruesome cannibalism, which follows shortly behind in the next canto (Purg. 23, 28). Finally, Mary’s chastity at the Annunciation in canto 25 is immediately reinforced by Diana’s chastity but contrasted by Venus’s lasciviousness, or “Venus’s poisonâ€? (Purg. 25, 132).In fact, Mary’s virtues are often the only examples of female virtues that are presented in the series of goads on each terrace of purgatory, reinforcing the idea that Mary exists not only as an exemplum of general human perfection but also as an exemplum of female perfection. In Cantos 10, 13, 15, 18, and 20, the virtues of Mary are reinforced only by the virtues of males, which come from saints, biblical figures such as David, classical figures such as Orestes, and powerful leaders of antiquity such as Caesar. Only the last two examples of Mary’s virtues, her temperance and her chastity, are reinforced by examples of the virtues of other women, perhaps because Dante thought that women exemplified those virtues better than men. However, Mary’s temperance is reinforced by the general female population of ancient Rome while her chastity is reinforced by the mythological Diana, so Mary provides the only particular, mortal female example of virtue in purgatory’s system of goads.While Dante may have taken particular scenes of Mary’s life to represent her virtues because he knew and associated with certain scenes of the life of Mary better than others, he may have also perhaps taken certain scenes of Mary’s life in order to further imply certain theological issues or themes related to Mary or Christ. As Hilda Graef references in Mary: a History of Doctrine and Devotion, the idea of Mary’s Immaculate Conception became a deep theological debate in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, and Thomas Aquinas’s rejection of the Immaculate Conception was well known (Graef 250, 279). Thus, Dante may have presented Mary’s Annunciation twice in order to underscore his own belief and acceptance of the idea of the Immaculate Conception.The wedding feast in Cana is also referenced twice in the catalogue of Mary’s virtues, so the scene also seems to suggest an important symbolic episode. When Mary tells Jesus that the wedding hosts have no wine, Christ performs his first miracle when he turns water from a well into wine. Christopher Kleinhenz remarks that Christ’s miracle of changing water into wine is appropriately suited to Purgatory because the miracle has deeper theological implications:In the exegetical tradition the miracle of changing water into wine is interpreted as a sign of Jesus’s conversion of people from the ways of vice to those of virtue. This essential idea of transformation and renewal has its precise and immediate correlative here in the Purgatorio: it is an apt and effective description of the purgation process which occurs on each terrace of the Mountain. Thus, in addition to its primary function – to signal the virtue of charity – the citation “Vinum non habentâ€? serves to introduce the larger context of the biblical passage and its interpretative tradition, which further enriches our understanding of the episode in Dante’s poem (78).However, Christ’s miracle at Cana further references the Last Supper where Christ transforms wine into his blood, which is reinforced by the fact that the journey up the Mountain also occurs over the Easter weekend. Thus, Mary’s virtues seem to also recall greater episodes of the bible.While Mary’s virtues always provide the first example of the virtue contrary to the sin being punished at the beginning of each terrace of purgatory, the scenes from the life of Mary are not presented entirely in any unified or chronological manner. In fact, while she is always referenced, Mary’s name is not always provided by Dante. While her name is explicitly stated in cantos 10, 18, 20, and 22, Mary’s name is not provided in cantos 13, 15, and 25. However, Mary is instead alluded to in cantos 13, 15, and 25 by the fact that she is quoted through passages that are taken directly from the bible. The presentations of the virtues of Mary also vary in length. For example, canto 13 sums up Mary’s virtue of generosity in one line: “Vinum non habent (29). On the other hand, canto 15 provides a longer presentation of Mary’s meekness:There I seemed, suddenly, to be caught up in an ecstatic vision and to see some people in a temple; and a woman just at the threshold, in the gentle manner that mothers use, was saying: “O my son, why have you done this to us? You can see how we have sought you – sorrowing, your father and I.â€? And at this point, as she fell still, what had appeared at first now disappeared. {Purg. 15, 85-93).Canto 15 also departs from the other presentations of Mary perhaps because it contextually heightens her meekness by the fact that her name is not mentioned as well as by the fact that she speaks in Italian, rather than in Latin like she does in other cantos: canto 10 (“Ecce ancilla Deiâ€?), canto 13 (“Vinum non habentâ€?), and canto 25 (“Virum non cognoscoâ€?).However, all of the scenes of Mary’s life distill not only the essence of her human perfection but also present her, above all else, as a mother. After all, the references to Mary’s Annunciation in cantos 10 and 25, her haste to tell Elisabeth that she is pregnant in canto 18, her birth of Christ in canto 20, and her spoken words to Christ in the temple in canto 15 and, later, at the wedding of Cana in cantos 13 and 22, all reference Mary in relation to Christ. Mary is, therefore, defined by her status as a mother while few women in Inferno or Purgatory, on the other hand, seem to be defined by their motherhood. As a mother, therefore, Mary is presented not just as a divine being but as a physical, mortal being that possesses a maternal body.In Dante and the Mystical Tradition, Steven Botterill notes, “The Mary of Purgatorio is a living being, seen constantly in action, literally an incarnation of the virtues, not merely an ethereal or impossibly idealized perfectionâ€? (Botterill 157). Botterill points out that Dante’s language frequently uses physical action verbs and concrete imagery to present Mary “in terms of physical action or human situation,â€? emphasizing the fact that “Mary is always humanâ€? (Botterill 158). Through Dante’s physical language, Mary runs (‘corse’), possesses a ‘grembo’ and a ‘bocca,’ and even (at least in Paradiso) ‘fatta . . . pregna’ (Botterill, 157). Furthermore, Mary is presented as a physical being because she often speaks in purgatory, or at least is quoted directly from the biblical text. However, perhaps the most physical presentation of Mary evokes the image of her giving birth when a shade cries out in Purgatory 20:…“Sweet Mary,â€? asa woman would outcry in labor pains.And he continued : In that hostel whereyou had set down your holy burden, thereone can discover just how poor you were (20-24).Furthermore, Botterill notes that Mary is often presented in human actions. In canto 10, she “turns the key that had unlocked / the highest loveâ€? by becoming the mother of Christ (42-43). In canto 18, she zealously runs up a mountain to meet Elisabeth. However, the presentation of Mary as a physical being not only emphasizes her own human nature but also the human nature of her son, who is mortal through her.Finally, as Botterill also points out, the references to Mary’s own earthly life provide her with a deeper understanding of and a deeper connection to man’s human condition. However, the worship of Mary that arose in the centuries preceding Dante’s lifetime elevated her because she was seen as more divine than ordinary man. The evocation of Mary in purgatory, therefore, underscores her virtue and her perfection, and the fact that Dante always takes the first virtue in a series from the life of Mary underscores her perfection above all other men – and women.Works Cited and Works ConsultedBotterill, Steven. Dante and the Mystical Tradition: Bernard of Clairvaux in the Commedia. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994.Graef, Hilda C. Mary: a history of doctrine and devotion. Westminster, MD: Christian Classics, 1985.Kleinhenz, Christopher. “Dante and the Bible: Biblical Citation in the Divine Comedy,â€? Dante: Contemporary Perspectives. Ed. Amilcare A. Iannucci. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1997. 74-93.Shapiro, Marianne. Woman Earthly and Divine in The Comedy of Dante. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1975.

Commedia and Dualism

A number of overlying themes have persisted throughout the three canticles of Dante’s Commedia. The politically charged and spiritually passionate Florentine elegantly laced into his masterpiece general topics – affairs of state, religion, and human nature – and expressed them thematically from the deepest trenches of the Inferno to the loftiest celestial bodies of Paradiso. One such theme that has resonated throughout Dante’s work is the idea of dualism. Dante focuses on the dual nature of man throughout the Commedia, stressing the idea that he put forth in Monarchy that “man alone among created beings is the link between corruptible and incorruptible thing; and thus he is rightly compared by philosophers to the horizon, which is the link between the two hemispheres” (91). Dante, as an active member of the Florentine assembly before his exile and as a devout man dedicated to God, also emphasized the synthesis of and struggle between Church and Empire. Dante acknowledged Church and Empire as two equal and distinct faculties of God manifested in two different forms on earth. This duality of roles is deeply explored and intensely critiqued by Dante throughout the Commedia. Dante’s means of expressing the duality of man, Church and state are not always clear; however, his point is quite lucid – all mankind is split between the divine and the terrestrial; thus, any creation of man, i.e. the hierarchy of worship and the offices of government, must also represent this duality. Anything that is controlled by man must reflect his internal struggle between corporal and divine.The duality of Church officials is apparent in canto XIX of Inferno. Dante visits the bolgia of the Simonists, people who paid for pardons and positions in the Church. Here, Dante finds the sinners hung from their feet into holes in the ground with flames coming from their soles. Dante approaches the soul “that writhes in his torment more than any of his fellows and is licked by a redder flame” (239), who he finds out is the soul of Pope Nicholas III. Nicholas, when Dante approaches him, cries “‘Standest thou there already, standest thou there already, Boniface?” (239). The voice coming up through this fiery hole in the trenches of hell is only surprised by the fact that Boniface has arrived three years before he was expected to do so (Boniface died in 1303). Dante makes it explicit that “the fate of the great Pope [is] a thing not so much asserted as determined and beyond question” (Sinclair, 244). Nicholas was Boniface’s predecessor in the Church and began the “crescendo of iniquity” (Sinclair, 244) that characterized the terms of Nicholas, Boniface, and Pope Clement V. Nicholas began the downward spiral of Church moral practice; however, Boniface took the foul practices further. Boniface was “a worldly, unscrupulous and powerful ecclesiastic, and incidentally the corrupter of the public life of Florence and the cause of Dante’s exile” (Sinclair, 244). Thus, when Nicholas thought Dante to be Boniface, Dante “became like those that stand as if mocked, not comprehending the reply made to them, and know not what to answer” (239). It is an interesting contradiction for someone as devout as Dante to be offended when being mistaken for a Pope; however, this is exactly the type of satiric duality that Dante is intending to present. Dante is so much more pious than Pope Boniface, despite the latter’s prominent position in the Church, that likening the two is an insult to Dante.Dante clearly articulates his feelings on the duality of human nature in Purgatorio, when he puts forth his concept of the “Little Simple Soul” and how it is compromised in humans. Dante contends, “The heavens initiate your impulses… To a greater power and to a better nature you, free, are subject, and that creates the mind in you which the heavens have not in their charge” (213). Here, Dante is quite explicit about the duality of man in soul and mind. He attests that God gives man the materials – the impulses – of the human consciousness, i.e. the soul, but it is up to man’s own free will to allow that soul to guide him in earthly matters. In the following passage, Dante goes further to say “From His hand who regards it fondly before it is, comes forth, like a child that sports, tearful and smiling, the little simple soul, that knows nothing, but, moved by a joyful Maker, turns eagerly to what delights it” (213). Dante’s metaphor is based on desire, a human emotion that is at the base of consciousness, yet he is applying the metaphor to an intangible of the heavens – the soul. This subtle duality is clearly intentional because Dante is then poised to enter into a fiery discussion on the natural duality of a specific human – Pope Boniface VII.Just as the “little simple soul” can be compared to a child, the Pope and Emperor can be mirrored as shepherds who direct their “children” in “social and spiritual order” (Sinclair, 218). With two equally powerful shepherds, one from the Church and one from the State, the little simple soul should be led down the right path. However, “when the power becomes unbalanced, thou cants see plainly that ill-guiding is the cause that has made the world wicked” (213). Dante has given himself the perfect opportunity to attack the duality of Pope Boniface VII and the direction in which he was taking the Papacy in the late 13th century. Dante had a personal vendetta with Pope Boniface, a man Dante partially blames for his exile, and makes it clear in the Inferno that he blamed the Pope for the corruption that was rampant in the Church. Dante, as a member of the more moderate White Guelph party in Florence, was sent on a mission to Pope Boniface in 1301 to plead that he cease interfering in affairs of the State, especially the Pope’s latest expansion policy, which Dante explicitly condemned. Back in Florence, however, the papal supremacist Black Guelphs defeated the White Guelphs and, thus, Dante was severely persecuted and sentenced to exile for his disloyalty to the Pope.The overlying personal duality of Pope Boniface is unique because it is a struggle between the divine and the temporal manifested as a struggle between duty and greed. Pope Boniface, though the Church was his given realm, made himself into a dominant political force that was bent on having all of Italy under his jurisdiction. Pope Boniface’s duality showcased the weakness of human nature and how any human, even one who is expected to be at the pinnacle of his field, cannot be a true representative of divine faculty. Pope Boniface was characteristic of the tragic flaw that is omnipresent in any office held by man.Beyond the personal dualism of one Pope, there was a great deal of institutionary dualism in the Church itself. Strikingly, Pope Adrien V in canto XIX in Purgatorio says, “‘when I was made Roman Shepherd I discovered how lying is life'” (XIX: 106-107, p251). The Pope, the veritable “spouse” of the Church, is the last person who should utter such a phrase; however, it was the nature of the corrupt Church to necessitate habitual lying and deceit. In a short soliloquy by Adrien, Dante includes Christ’s words from the Scriptures, “‘Neque unbent,'” which is a reference to the Gospel of Matthew, when Christ said: “‘[In the Resurrection] they neither marry nor are given in marriage'” (251). By using the Latin translation, Dante is placing a special emphasis on the phrase; by using the formal language of the Church and not translating the phrase into the “vulgari” in which he writes, Dante is stressing the unadulterated sincerity of Christ’s words and the hierarchy of their importance. Dante’s words in the Commedia are speculation and largely fictional, and, therefore, are appropriately written in the crude language of the common man. Christ’s words, on the other hand, are the divine truth and should be treated with greater linguistic reverence. However, they can be used in the context of Dante’s vernacular because Christ was divine and human, typifying the juxtaposition of these two natures, which is reflected in Dante’s choice of quotation and language. More important than the words, however, are their meanings. In the previous passage, Dante kneels to Pope Adrien to pay him reverence. “‘What cause’ he said ‘has bent thee down thus?’ And I said to him: ‘Because of your dignity my conscience stung me, standing erect'” (251). Adrien, by referencing Christ in his response, is devaluing his earthly status as “spouse” of the Church, because, in the resurrection, marriage, like any other such earthly ties, does not transcend into the afterworld. Dante is proving that the status and prestige of earthly Church officials holds no weight beyond the temporal office. Despite the fact that the Church on earth is supposed to be a terrestrial representation of the heavenly, it was at the hands of some very dishonest figures. Pope Adrien even admits that “‘avarice quenched all our love of good so that our labors were vain,'” but, despite his Church rank on earth, in Purgatory “‘now, as thou seest, I am here punished for [avariciousness]… so justice here holds us fast, seized and bound in feet and hands, and as long as it shall please the righteous Lord so long shall we stay motionless and outstretched'” (251). Dante makes the important moral point that the justice of the Lord is inescapable and is based on personal conduct, not on artificial titles. The Church was an imperfect establishment because its mission to serve God and spread the Word of the Lord on earth was tainted by power-hungry and selfish clergy members. This dualism of the Church was recognized and satirized by Dante, who, through his use of Pope Adrien V, made a strong argument for divine justice.Dante continues with the theme of duality in reference to Rome, the center of the Empire. In Paradiso, Dante encounters Justinian, the first Christian Emperor, who identifies himself as “I was Caesar and am Justinian” (87). This simple but striking duality is indicative of the broader attitude of Dante concerning Rome as a link between paradise and the world. When Dante enters the sphere of Mercury in Canto V, directly before he is introduced to Justinian, Beatrice tells Dante “‘Speak, speak with confidence, and trust them even as gods.'” (81). Implicitly, Dante is stressing “the divine authority of the Empire that Justinian is to speak, of God’s making, through its victorious history, of an earthly order in which men may find their public justice and peace” (Sinclair, 95). Dante is putting forth his idea that the glory of the Empire is a direct reflection of God’s divine plan for mankind. In the opening of canto VI in Purgatorio, Dante references Emperor Constantine and his moving of the seat of the Empire from Rome to Constantinople in the following manner: “After Constantine turned back the Eagle against the course of heaven which it had followed behind him of old that took Lavinia to wife…” (87). The Eagle is a common metaphor for God that Dante uses often throughout the Commedia; thus, turning the Eagle “against heaven” is an explicit commentary on Dante’s disapproval for Constantine’s attempted movement of the center of the Empire. The remainder of the passage, “him of old that took Lavinia to wife,” is a reference to Aeneas, the divinely directed founder of Rome. Dante clearly objects to the attempted move because he believes that Rome was chosen by God to be the center of the great Empire. Overall, the dualism of the Holy Roman Empire is accentuated throughout these early cantos in Purgatorio; Dante uses a Christian Emperor as his mouthpiece for this canto as a means of propagating his belief that the Empire, though it has a secular purpose, is of divine origin.Like the earthly Church and like the “little simple soul” at the base of humanity, the Empire is a necessary element of ordered life. Dante related Roman Law to the chosen people of Palestine in that both groups were divinely temporal. Accordingly, this idea complements Virgil’s Aeneid, in that it stresses the Godly origins of Rome. Thus, “the Emperor was an almost sacerdotal figure, who had been anointed by the grace of God to rule over the Christian people and to guide and protect the world…” (Sinclair, 98). Dante even goes so far as to liken the Roman emperor to Christ when Beatrice, in Purgatorio, says, “‘Here thou shalt be a little while a forester, and shalt be with me forever a citizen of that Rome of which Christ is Roman'” (423). This passage follows the conclusion of the pageant, when the participants gathered around “the great tree” – a symbol for the natural law under which Adam and Eve were to live, “the ordinance to which they were freely to consent, in a word, their righteousness” (Sinclair, 430). Sinclair argues that this righteousness is manifested on earth as unity under one Empire; thus, all people are connected under the Empire through their innate sense of righteousness that was imprinted upon them by God. In this manner, Dante indirectly addresses the dual nature of Christ – to be man and divine. Dante, in Paradiso, puts forth the idea that the Empire and the heavens are eternally linked because Christ, by becoming man, “acknowledged the authority of the Empire” (Sinclair, 114) and represented “the perfected human order of Church and Empire” (Sinclair, 430). However, just as Dante proved with his commentary on Pope Boniface and the Church, any office of man is imperfect. The Empire, though subject to great praise by Dante, was the source of great antagonizing. The crucifixion of Christ, done at the hand of the Empire, is proof that the Empire of man is a flawed system; however, had the Empire not crucified Him, would there have been the Resurrection to save us from our sins? Fittingly, Beatrice, in canto VII of Paradiso, discusses redemption with Dante, stressing “the nature that was separated from its Maker He united with Himself in His own person by sole act of His Eternal Love. Now direct thy sight on what follows from that. This nature, thus united to its Maker, was pure and good, even as it was created; yet in itself, by its own act, it was banned from Paradise because it turned aside from the way of truth and from its life” (105). Dante presents an empirical conundrum that he cannot solve; instead, he looks to Beatrice and her divine wisdom. Beatrice relates the flaws of the Empire back to the flaws of man, proving once again that the duality of the Empire’s conflicting origin and actions are a result of it being an agency of man.Dante, in his Commedia, was not shy about passing his judgment on contemporary people and their roles in earthly offices. However, Dante also recognized that duality among men is universal due to the fact that it is of the exact nature of man to try to synthesize their lives and spirits, which can seem quite incompatible at times. Dante saw this dual nature as so essential to man and to everything which man creates because it is a distinguishing factor of earthly office that is representative of the fall of humanity and why man cannot achieve the perfection of the Christ.

A Disunited Society: The Disturbing Depiction of Muhammad in the Divine Comedy

In 1312, Dante Alighieri wrote a treatise called De Monarchia, in which he expressed his belief that society would operate best under a single authority – that is, a secular monarch. Dante, in his characteristic rabble-rousing way, argued that peace should be mankind’s primary goal, and the only way to attain such a lofty goal is through unity. Two cantos of the poet’s Divine Comedy illustrate well his feelings regarding the need for unity and the danger of those who pose a threat to it. The first, canto 28 of Inferno, depicts historical characters like Prophet Muhammad who caused disunity, either religiously, politically or at a more personal level, such as among family members. Through both this canto and another in Paradiso – one that describes the way disunity wrecked Florence – Dante expresses his disdain for those who sow discord among populations.

Both cantos raise several important questions about Dante and the Divine Comedy. Is Dante’s real issue the discord itself, or the people who sow it? Is the way he depicts those who threaten unity indicative of his own racist, xenophobic and prejudiced values, or do they represent larger beliefs of medieval European society? Is Dante’s understanding of Muhammad really as harsh as it first appears? Drawing from the works of Dante historians and my own interpretation of the text, I will argue that Dante’s criticism of Muhammad is not tied to the prophet’s race or religion, but rather to the consequences of his actions. By doing so, I hope to also share insight into Dante’s perspective on a diverse and rapidly changing medieval Europe.

Canto 28 of Inferno describes the ninth bolgia of the eighth circle of hell, where the sowers of discord receive their eternal punishment. As punishment for creating divisions among people, the souls are struck and dismembered by the sword of a devil. They must then march in a circle, and once they reach the devil again their wounds are healed, ready to be reopened once more. Muhammad, one of the bolgia’s residents, explains to Dante and Virgil that the souls in the circle “were sowers of scandal and schism: / as they tore others apart, so are they torn” (Ciardi Inferno 28.35-36). As retribution for lives spent disuniting peoples, their contrapasso (or specifically designed and ironic punishment) is to spend eternity sliced in half and chopped to bits.

The most prominent character in the ninth bolgia is Muhammad, who has one of the most gruesome injuries of all the sinners. He has been split from mouth to ass, revealing a mess of organs inside: “Between his legs all of his red guts hung / with the heart, the lungs, the liver, the gall bladder, / and the shriveled sac that passes shit to the bung” (Ciardi Inferno 28.25-27). The description certainly is hard to read, but perhaps not particularly surprising if we consider the largely anti-Islamist climate in which Dante lived. The poet’s depiction of Muhammad is aligned with most medieval European understandings of who the religious figure was and what misfortune he brought to the world.

Throughout the Middle Ages, European Christians considered Muslims a natural enemy and a threat to Christian land, culture and population size. Centuries of Crusades only solidified this mentality, and by the time of Dante’s life, anti-Islamic sentiments had become inescapable. One popular medieval European legend portrays Muhammad as an apostate who, after being denied cardinalship by the Catholic Church, created his own competing religion in revenge. In fact, the first writers to add commentaries to the Divine Comedy, including Dante’s son Jacopo Alighieri, suggested themselves that this popular legend inspired Dante’s depiction of Muhammad (Frank 193).

In reality, Muhammad ibn ‘Abdullāh had not intended to create his own religion, instead considering himself a prophet of al-Lāh, the same God Christians and Jews worship. Instead of being a competitor to other prophets from religious traditions – i.e. Jesus of Nazareth, Abraham, Moses – Muhammad and his followers saw him as a brother among the other men who had received word from God (Jones 6221). The Quran even states, in regard to Christians and Jews, “say to them: We believe what you believe; your God and our God is one” (Ganeri 29:46). Especially in its earliest stages of Islam, Muslims considered themselves to be united, at least to some extent, with the world’s other People of the Book. The medieval European narratives that contradicted this reality, instead depicting Muslims as savage threats to Christianity, were simply ignorant of history.

Yet ‘ignorant’ is not a word commonly used to describe Dante Alighieri. Researchers have found evidence to suggest Dante did in fact have a full understanding of Muhammad and Islam’s roots. By the end of the thirteenth century, Arabic works were being translating into Latin (Corti and Hall 57), and fourteenth-century Muslim and Christian societies were closely intertwined, particularly in Sicily and the Iberian Peninsula (Frank 200). For these reasons, it is likely Dante was well versed in Islamic scripture and literature. Because of this, he was less susceptible to the false narratives surrounding Islam. Historian Karla Mallette offers compelling evidence that Dante was familiar with the Quran, suggesting aspects of the Divine Comedy mirror traditional Islamic stories. She compares Dante’s journey to Muhammad’s mi’rāj, or his journey to heaven and hell. During this journey, Muhammad encounters God, who rips open Muhammad’s chest so as to cleanse the prophet from the inside (Mallette 211). This is a striking parallel. As he marches in hell, Dante’s Muhammad tears at the slice through his chest, ripping himself in two: “see how I rip myself!” he yells to Dante and Virgil (Ciardi Inferno 28.30). By having Muhammad tear at himself, Dante flips the Islamic story on its head, dehumanizing Muhammad in a gruesome manner. Both parallels prove Dante had knowledge of Islam and Muhammad, although this knowledge does little to spare Muhammad of punishment.

Another interesting note: in Sandow Birk and Marcus Sanders’ modern translation of Inferno, Muhammad’s warning about Fra Dolcino’s future is called a “prophecy” (Birk and Sanders 28.62). This purposeful use of words acknowledges Muhammad as a legitimate prophet (although, Birk and Sanders often take it upon themselves to add their own critique of the Divine Comedy. This word choice may just be a criticism of Dante’s intentional negligence to call Muhammad a prophet). Regardless, both this wording and the allusion to the Quran can be interpreted as evidence that Dante was aware of the depth of Islamic tradition, and therefore had not fallen victim to the widespread fallacies about Muhammad’s life.

If Dante were aware of the intricacies of Muhammad’s life and legacy, this raises the question: why did he still choose to give the prophet’s character such an appalling punishment? Why, if Muhammad worshipped the same God as the Christians, would Dante not award him some amount of leeway? Why did he see it fit to put the prophet’s soul in such a low level of hell?

The answer may be found in a different canto of the Divine Comedy, this one in Paradiso. Canto 16, set in the fifth sphere of Mars, describes a conversation between Dante and his Florentine great-grandfather, Cacciaguida. Cacciaguida laments about the turn Florence has taken; much like Dante, the soul grieves over the discord and corruption that have come to dominate the city. First, Cacciaguida explains how once, Florence was divided into large, powerful and noble families. Over time, however, as more interfamilial marriages took place, these families faded: “It has always been a fact that confusion of blood / has been a source of evil to city-states” (Ciardi Paradiso 16.67-8). This type of disunity connects canto 16 of Paradiso to canto 28 of Inferno: in hell, Bertran de Born appears alongside Muhammad, carrying his head in his hand like a lantern. De Born is said to have sown discord between the young Prince Henry and his father by “instigating a quarrel” between the two (Ciardi Inferno 234). He was also a troubadour known for his writings celebrating violence like that he encouraged young Prince Henry to pursue (“Dante’s Inferno – Circle 8”). Dante opposes all sorts of disunity, whether political or familial.

More importantly than the splitting and combining of Florentine families, Dante also alludes to the political discord that tore apart Florence. Cacciaguida says during his life he “saw Florence live and prosper in such peace / that she had, then, no reason to shed tears” (Ciardi Paradiso 16.149-50). But now, he says, “the red dye of division” has crippled the city (Ciardi Paradiso 16.155). This line can be interpreted in different ways – perhaps the “red dye” to which Cacciaguida refers is family bloodlines, or blood spilled through violence, both of which indeed can cause disunity. While both theories are fitting, these lines refer more specifically to the political conflict between the Guelph and Ghibelline parties of Florence. “The ancient standard of Florence bore a white lily on a red field,” writes Ciardi (Ciardi Inferno 155). In 1251, the Guelfs inverted the colors on their own standard, or flag, to a red lily on a white field, and this red lily came to symbolize the division between the two parties.

Dante experienced firsthand the destruction that comes with a disunited community. As a member of the white faction of the Guelph party, a group that wished to limit the power of the papacy, Dante, among 600 other members of opposition factions, was sentenced to exile when the Black Guelphs took control of Florence (Browning). Dante never returned home. He also witnessed the economic and political corruption that infected Florence during his lifetime, after the families Cacciaguida describes petered out and conflict among Florentine political parties intensified. The treachery Dante condemns in both Inferno canto 28 and Paradiso canto 16 is the same: the destruction of community. Dante views community at the center of peace and unity. Consider, again, his 1312 treatise De Monarchia, in which he writes, “Every kingdom divided against itself shall be laid waste” (Alighieri). He watched his own homeland, through all manners of division, be laid to waste. Clearly this is the main impact on his belief that unity is the ultimate goal mankind must reach.

How might we connect these ideas to Dante’s depiction of Muhammad in hell? Perhaps Dante’s experience with divided community made the disunity Muhammad sowed a more personal issue to the poet. Any person or body who sows discord must be punished, since the consequences of doing so can be disastrous. Despite this, I believe Dante’s understanding of Muhammad’s legacy is less harsh than the Inferno might indicate. For one, upon first seeing the ninth bolgia, Dante begins an extended metaphor, comparing the carnage before him to the combined bloodshed of the Trojan and Punic wars. The sympathy he displays for these sinners is reminiscent of that he felt for the lustful in the second circle of hell, in which he swoons from the intensity of his sympathy (Ciardi Inferno 5.139). As he enters the realm of the sowers of discord, Dante writes, “At grief so deep the tongue must wag in vain; / the language of our sense and memory / lacks the vocabulary of such pain” (Ciardi Inferno 28.4-6). Muhammad and his fellow sinners’ punishments are appalling enough to warrant Dante’s sympathy.

Another intentional choice of Dante’s is Muhammad’s mention of Fra Dolcino. While speaking to the character Dante, Muhammad requests that he warn Docino – a Catholic reformist – of his imminent future should he continue to sow discord among his fellow Christians (Ciardi Inferno 28.56-60). If Muhammad were the enemy of Christianity that medieval society portrayed him to be, why would his character show this care for a member of his enemy religion? What’s more, Muhammad raises one foot while speaking to Dante and Virgil about Fra Dolcino: “Mohamet, one foot raised, had paused to say / these words to me. When he had finished speaking / he stretched it out and down, and moved away” (Ciardi Inferno 28.61-3). Lifting his foot like this alludes to an aspect of Catholic Ignatian spirituality. “[L]iving with ‘one foot raised,’ this approach embodies a freedom from attachment to… programs and even people in order to… adapt, improve, shift and/or modify as needed” (Zelenka). This moment shows Muhammad attempting to atone for the sins he committed, thereby humanizing him, even eliciting sympathy from readers.

Simplistic religious and racial prejudice is rooted in ignorance and blind hatred – if these were the motives of Dante’s interpretation of Muhammad, he would afford the prophet no sympathy, humanization or ties to Christianity. Dante’s wealth of knowledge about Islamic values and history allows him to see beyond the racial and religious barriers that divide Muhammad and him. As a result, it is reasonable to assume Dante criticizes Muhammad not for his religious beliefs or race, but rather for his actions.

In De Monarchia, Dante writes, “Hence it is clear that universal peace is the most excellent means of securing our happiness” (Alighieri). Peace, however, is impossible to attain without unity. If peace is the ultimate goal of mankind, discord must be abolished – hence, Dante’s perfectly crafted hell places sowers of discord at nearly the lowest level of the realm. Dante’s disdain for those who disunite groups of people shows no discrimination. Just as the sword of the devil mangles the Muslims Muhammad and ‘Ali, so too does it slice at Christian figures. Just as Dante critiques Muhammad, so too does he lament about the Florentine citizens who brought factions, corruption and disunity to the poet’s beloved home. If universal peace and happiness are to be attained, first must come unity, and no person, regardless of race or religion, is exempt from working toward this goal.

Works Cited

Alighieri, Dante. On World-Government or De Monarchia (ca. 1313). Translated by Herbert W.Schneider with an Introduction by Dino Bigongiari. A Liberal Arts Press Book. NY: The Bobbs-Merrill Co, Inc., 1957.

Birk, Sandow, and Marcus Sanders, translators. Dante’s Inferno. Chronicle Book, 2004.

Browning, Oscar. Guelphs and Ghibellines: A Short History. 2nd ed., archive.org/stream/cu31924082449806/cu31924082449806_djvu.txt.

Ciardi, John, translator. The Inferno. New American Library, 2009.

Ciardi, John, translator. The Paradiso. New American Library, 2009.

Corti, Maria, and Kyle M. Hall. “Dante and Islamic Culture.” Dante Studies, with the Annual Report of the Dante Society, no. 125, 2007, pp. 57–75. Johns Hopkins University Press,www.jstor.org/stable/40350658?seq=10#page_scan_tab_contents.

“Dante’s Inferno – Circle 8.” Dante Worlds, University of Texas at Austin, danteworlds.laits.utexas.edu/circle8b.html.

Frank, Maria Esposito. “Dante’s Muhammad: Parallels between Islam and Arianism.” Dante Studies, with the Annual Report of the Dante Society, no. 127, 2007, pp.185-206., https://www.jstor.org/stable/40350664?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents.

Ganeri, Anita. The Quran. Evans, 2002.

Jones, Lindsay. Encyclopedia of Religion. 2nd ed., vol. 9, Macmillan Reference USA, 2005.

Mallette, Karla. “Muhammad in Hell.” Dante Studies, with the Annual Report of the Dante Society, no. 125, 2007, www.jstor.org/stable/40350665?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents.

Zelenka, Michael. “Catholic Education.” With One Foot Raised, 8 July 2014, icscatholicedu.blogspot.com/2014/07/with-one-foot-raised.html.