Dante and The Renaissance
The poem “Divine Comedy” is one of the best examples of medieval literature. Dante Aligieri has written the poem “Divine Comedy” in XIV century, thus creating a kind of bridge to the Renaissance era.
In Dante Alighieri’s works there are equally available typical forms of both new movement, and medieval poetry. In the monograph dedicated to the poet, A. Jivelegove, speaking about the newly created Italian culture of XIII-XIV centuries (new movement), points out what kind of new and important requirements were incurred in that period. “Asceticism denial, tendency to get rid of medieval spiritual slavery, struggle against church power, fervor of earthly pleasures, first samples of secular poetry, earthly ideals and morality, though religion is not denied yet”.
Jivelegove considers this season as a preparation for the period of Renaissance. In the second phase the culture is completely exempt from the custody of the church and starts its own path. The urban culture is liberated from medieval features, and becomes even more versatile. A. Dante’s creation “becomes a borderline” in the literature, it depicts the transition from one area to another:
Dante The Theologist and The Philosopher entirely belongs to the past, but Dante The Artist becomes the initiator of the New Culture and Movement.
“He stands on the borderline of two eras, giving one’s combination and enlightening the other’s way round” notices Jivelegove.
Alighieri is a poet of transmission times. His greatness is in portraying his era with a great artistic vigor and in breaking through the barrier of the drakness era of medieval period.
In late 13th century Dante writes the “New Life” collection. The emblematic use of symbols and numbers is present in almost all works of the poet. And in this sense, the “New Life” and “The Divine Comedy” are internally connected to each other.
Brief summary of the “New Life” is as follows. Dante first met Beatrice when he was nine years old. The first meeting brings a storm into a nine-year old teenage, and he falls in love. For the second time the author meets the marvelous woman nine years later. The stinging feeling of love does not let the hero-author sleep.
This work is the first composition that is dedicated to Beatrice, “The Divine Comedy” becomes the continuation of this, which, however, both in style and in content and the problems, differs from the first one.
Mysticism and symbolism of numbers in Dante’s Inferno
“The Divine Comedy” is the poet’s masterpiece.
The author first named the composition “Comedy”, and then added the adjective divine so that the outcome is an epithet. They wanted to emphasize the artistic grandeur of the work, its being a divine work. The name “Comedy” D. Alighieri links with the good ending of the work.
Dante has constructed the poem in a clearly thought-out system. He has encoded the work using a unique system of numbers and symbols.
The poem consists of three parts: “Hell”, “Purgatory”, “Paradise”. These are in turn divided into separate parts. “Hell” consists of nine contains, “Purgatory” consists of seven rotunds,”Paradise” consists of nine heavenly spheres. The poem is written with terza rimas, i.e. the sentences are three-rhymed. In prosodical system of the composition the other three ones are also applied as a rhyming principle: each terza rima’s first sentence is rhymed with the third sentence, the second sentence is rhymed with the first and second sentences of the next terza rima.
Figure 9 has an important position in “New Life”. In “Divine Comedy” 3, 9, 10 are the essential figures. Dante scholars have spoken much about this, have thought about it, have found mystic symbol and have given various explanations. In the “New Life” Dante speaks about the Arabic, Syrian, and Christian digitalized accounts of Ptolemy. He brings “either an astronomical explanation, or links the figure nine with the Holy Trinity,” says S. Soghomonyan.
In Both works the poet is accompanied and sponsored by Beatrice, and in “Divine Comedy” Beatrice sends Virgilios to help Dante and to guide him in hell and purgatory.
In “Divine Comedy” actions are carried out in the underworld, the main actors are the souls of people who are historical personages and real personalities. The poet tells about their spirits and earthly deeds, the sins of the living. The poem is a form of narrative. The plot’s basis is the poe’s imaginary journey in the underworld: hell, purgatory and paradise.
At the beginning of the poem D. Alighieri points out that there are hidden meanings in his works which are not accessible to everyone, and they will be understood by only one who is able to penetrate into the depth of the essence. Trying to interpret the codes used by Alighieri, we come across to a number of problems, one of which is the question why the writer has used the symbolic system.
Dante has used the symbols of Pagan, Christian and other religions’ figures. He saw a special meaning between the figures 3 and 10. According to Catholic Church, there is a Hell, Purgatory and Paradise. Accordingly, the poem is divided into 3 parts. Each part consists of 33 songs (not counting the prelude). All songs of the parts together make up100 together: 10 × 10 = 100.
The trinity was the basis of philosophy and religions in ancient cultures. It was considered that 3 was the symbol of the soul. In the pre-Christian period number 3 was conceived as the first perfect, powerful figure, since the center was preserved while dividing. In the period of Christianity the figure 3 is already considered to be a holy number and embodies the harmony of Father, Son, Holy Spirit. In alchemy there are 3 principles: sulfur, mercury, salt, symbolizing the spirit, soul and body. This number is repeated not only in the quantity of parts, but also in the part of verse.
The initial recipient of Dante’s “Divine Comedy” was Beatrice, who the writer was in love with. The central point of the poem is the song, where Dante first meets the “perfection”. It’s the 30th song of “purgatory”. 30 is comprised of 3 and 10. If we count from the start, this song is the 64th : 6 + 4 = 10. Before this song there are 63 songs available in the composition (6 + 3 = 9) then 36 (3 + 6 = 9). The poem consists of 145 parts (including the prologue) 1 + 4 + 5 = 10.
There are two important points in the work.
- When Beatrice first refers the author by name in the composition, she calls him “Dante”. That part is the 55 in the composition (5 + 5 = 10). Before the following part there are 54 songs 5 + 4 = 9 and then 90` 9 + 0 = 9.
- When Beatrice first talks to the poet and says: “Look at me, that’s me, Beatrice.” This is the 73th part of the composition (7 + 3 = 10). The 73th part is the central song, before and after which there are 72 songs 7+2=9.
In the digital system of the work, figure 7 has an important place. First of all that figure is used in seven rotunds of Purgatory. In many religions figure 7 is associated with divine power. Mainly it symbolizes the seven days, the seven phases of the moon and the seven planets known in ancient times.
In the system of Kabbalah figure 7 is the quantity of Life Tree branches.
In Christianity figure seven is sacred, seven days of creation and the last, seventh day of the week, Sunday, the holy day. Jesus Christ was resurrected on the seventh day, and the day should be devoted to God. It is the figure of virtues and seven deadly sins, seven requests of Lord’s Prayer are also linked to that figure. Seven has the potential to be cleansed and therefore no coincidence that the rotunds of Purgatory are seven.
As we can see, he also stressed the importance of figures 9 and 10.
“Number three is the root of number nine … if three is able to create nine, and the creator of miracles is really Trinity. i.e. Father, Son and Holy Spirit, three in to one, then it should be concluded that this lady was accompanied by the number nine, so that everyone understands that she is the nine, i.e. the miracle, and that the root of this miracle is the only wizard Trinity” wrote D. Alighieri.
The poet’s explanation makes it clear that the woman is Beatrice and he gives a special significance to numbers 3 and 9. It is not a coincidence that the Hell and the Paradise consist of nine regions. God is the beginning and the end of everything, including the ways of salvation and destruction are also known only to him.
Figure 9 is the symbol of imperishableness. Right at the beginning of the poem the hero-author turns to nine Muses to help him to pen his work. In ancient Greece they believed that there are nine Muses that help artists to create. They were believed to be the daughters of Zeus.
According to the Pythagorean doctrine figure 9 is the border of other numbers, in which there are all the other numbers. In Kabbalah system it means ground. The poet believes that through such encoding he may have an impact on the reader and may defeat the chaos օf people’s souls, which has appeared because of their earthly sins.
Figure 10 symbolizes the universe. Pythagoras scholars believed that figure 10 is of perfection. The access of Christianity somehow changes the meaning of the numbers but the basic meanings are retained. In religious hermeneutics figure 10 symbolizes the Ten Commandments, and the parables of the ten virgins and ten graces, as well as God’s gift of tithing. In Kabbalah system 10 is the number of the letter J: Jesus, Jude and also symbolizes the divine protection.
In his poem Dante makes every effort to reach God, he tries to recognize and penetrate into the true divine light. Therefore, the composition of the figures, which the genius poet has used, is not random. He mainly used the 3, 7, 9, 10 figures, as they did not contradict each other but are complementary, and they make the work complete, perfect. Dante Alighieri has put the numbers in harmony which are closely connected with world-creating and superhuman ideas. The writer seeks to human nature and harmony of divine light in cosmic immensity and gives a formula for its implementation.
“Divine comedy” symbolism
In addition to digital encoding Dante has also used specific symbols, each of which has its secret meaning. The whole poem has a parabolic form. The prelude images are all symbols.
“In the midway of this our mortal life,
I found me in a gloomy wood, astray”.
Dante’s “Divine Comedy” begins with these lines. According to the writer’s imagination the midway of life is 35 years. At that age he wrote the work.
At the beginning of the work of Dante’s hero, waking up from a deep sleep, notices that he has lost the way and is in a “bold, bleak and wild” forest. Three animals come before him: a lion, a panther and a female wolf. In essence, dark forest is the symbol of earthly life, and erring there means sinful life and delusion. Dante shows that the sins have terrible sizes, and that is why he is lost. Three animals symbolize the three sins: the Panther – sensuality and power-starving, the Lion – haughtiness and ambition, the female Wolf – cupidity and greediness. Far away a light suddenly appears, from which a stranger comes to help the author, which, then turns out, to be the soul of Virgil. According to Virgil there is no salvation from those animals and only hound can “kill” them. And, unlike these three predators, hound is fed by “no soil and no metal”, but “honor, wisdom and love. “The Greek writer explains that “shimmery light” is the true path, and the hound is the faith, divine nature, which is able to fight against greediness, cupidity and power-starving. In the poem Virgil is the symbol of secular life and science, and also rationality.
The first part of the poem is entirely allegory. From religious-sententious point of view the dark forest is interpreted as a nature of secular man, full of guilty delusions. Virgil, who rids Dante from those “delusions”, symbolizes the earthly wisdom, and Beatrice, who had sent Vergilios, was the celestial. In the poem Christian Dante is accompanied by Pagan Virgil but not by an angel (as it was common in medieval literature) , because in his lifetime Vergilios was considered to be one of the propagator of Christianity. He leads the author to the Hell and Purgatory, in order to show the path to the salvation of the soul.
The journey begins in the underworld areas. Approaching the Hell, Dante reads on the entrance facade: “Whoever enters, leave all your hope”. From the very beginning the writer creates a mood by means of symbols. That is there is neither salvation nor outlet from the Hell. At the very beginning of the road the writer meets a bewilderment crowd which was neither innocent nor guilty, neither made good nor bad, and neither was faithful to their friends nor to the enemies. Those are scheming, servile people which are wobbling in the air incomprehensibly, because of the wind. Virgil explains that those are unprincipled people who turn even by a light wind and take all the forms of wind movements. These people must cross Acheron river, by which the first area of the Hell begins and the other areas are formed.
Crossing river Acheron, Dante and Virgil put a step in first container of the Hell. The author gives an ample explanation about Acheron and the other rivers described in the Hell in the fourteenth song. Inside the mountain of island Crete a giant old man is standing. His head is of gold, shoulders, chest and arms of silver, waist to the thighs of copper, one of the legs of iron, the other of clay. Every part of the body, except the gold pieces, there are signs of deep wounds, from which tears are dripping. By the droplets of tears rivers of the Hell are formed: Acheron, Styx, Phlegethon and Cocytus. The symbols can be interpreted in two respects. First, of common philosophical sense, that old man is the allegory of time. Second, of political sense, the symbol of the monarchy or Ancient Roman Empire.
The underground world is depicted according to scholastic understanding. In each container the appropriate sinner is punished, the more containers increase and the areas deepen, the heavier sins and their punishments become. Here the souls of sinners are tormented, they almost do not bear physical punishment, their sinful souls suffer, instead. Dante creates a symbolic image: the writer descends down through the containers and as much he descends as horrible and cold it becomes. This means mortality of hope, life and nonirrevocability.
In the fifth container Semiramis, Cleopatra and Helen are located: here the writer has put the allegorical image of the passions. Then the images become more and more hellish, all of which have their allegorical meaning. The tyrants, up to their withers, are sunk in the boiling blood, purses are hanging from the necks of money-lenders, the weight of which does not let them stand or walk straight. Dante dressed flatterers a lead-made clothing gilded from the surface, and the faces of fortune-tellers are turned back.
D. Alighieri often combines the symbols with digital mysticism. For example, the third container, where the author meets three sparks which inflame people’s hearts, the symbolic importance of which is arrogance, greed and jealousy.
The following three sentences are also interesting which are said at the beginning of each container by Virgil to the guardian standing near the doors.
“Hinder thou not his fate-ordained advance;
thus is it yonder willed, where there is power
to do whate’er is willed; so ask no more!”
By means of this symbolic expression it becomes clear that Dante’s “journey” is desirable and encouraged by the Most High, and it has a special importance: passing through the Hell, the Purgatory and the Paradise, getting refined from sins, to tell the humanity of the existence of afterlife and to urge to move on to the right direction and without sins.
In the last, ninth container traitors are suffering. If before that the sinners are burning in fire, then in the ninth container they are in the ice, in the river of tears. At the very bottom of the Hell the traitors are closed: Cassius, Judas, Brutus and Lucifer. Here Lucifer has three faces, red like blood, yellow like envy, black like poison. In each of the blades Judas Cassius and Brutus are placed, who Lucifer mashes with teeth and torments everlastingly. By means of this symbolic image Dante shows that traitors are ignored even by the devil.
“Purgatory” is located in the high top of a mountain, and its seven rotunds are stairs which lead to the Paradise. Here the sinners are getting refined from their sins by means of sufferings to reach the Paradise. The punishments described in”Purgatory” also have religious and moral allegorical meaning. Haughty people, for example, “curved, bent over – burdened under the stones” always look down and get used of humility. Jealous people’s eyelids are tied with metal wires.
Dante has created seven rotunds of the “Purgatory” in accordance with the seven Evangelical sins. Here the doors of the Paradise may be opened for fervent repentants.
Both in the Hell and in the Purgatory accusations and judgments are consistent with the evangelical commandments.
In the “Paradise” there is the light and the ethereal sphere. Virgil is replaced by Beatrice who accompanies Dante in the Paradise. Dante’s love is purified from earthly sins and becomes a sign of charity and faith. The poet’s goal is to reach God, who is the very Love.
The poet follows him but cannot reach because the whole essence of the divine light is not available for an ordinary man. Dante sees the seven planets famous in ancient times and in the middle of them the eighth star: God: the cosmic bodies are revolving around him. At the top, from the heavenly air, he sees everything. Even what was incredible in the Earth, becomes available for his soul there.
D. Alighieri overcomes this challenging “journey” and shows that it is possible to purify ourselves and to get rid of sins. He has built a unique system, where, by means of symbols and allegories, all human sins and the ways of getting rid of them are summed up.
In terms of allegory, nature is interesting. In all three parts the nature is described in various forms and colors. In the “Hell” nature is described gloomy and is mostly described in its incredible frightfulness. Here natural rudiment and disaster overrule: the storm, the hurricane, the lightning, the rain, the hail, the frost. All of these create symbolic images, which correspond to the environment and people, unique combinations are created between sins and punishments.
But the “Purgatory” differs. Here the nature is mild, lyrical, pleasing, “healing”. It seems that even the nature, with its beauties, is involved in the process of atoning people’s sins.
In the “Paradise” the nature is presented with an inconceivable brilliance. Here everything is bright, dreamlike and most importantly, sunny.
During the entire poem religious, allegorical and mystical meanings and symbols are accompanied by various phenomena and people.
The overall structure of the poem can be defined as follows: the time has reached such a condition in which the social, political, moral diseases threaten to destroy people (to get lost in a thicket forest, danger of three beasts). The diseases are concentrated in the first part (“The Hell”). This is the real situation. The exit is also shown: to overcome diseases, to expiate sins ( “The Purgatory”,
by means of intellect (Virgil) to eliminate mistakes and to lead the humanity to a true kingdom of bliss (“The Paradise”), to the ideal perfection of an individual (Beatrice). This is the leading ideological line hidden in the allegorical form.
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- Հովհաննես Մամիկոնյան, Արտասահմանյան գրականության պատմություն, Երևան, Հայպետուսմանկհրատ, 1961թ., 806 էջ:
- Սողոմոն Սողոմոնյան «Արտասահմանյան գրականության պատմություն», Երևան, Երևանի համալսարանի հրատ., 1981թ., 334 էջ:
Author: Arlina Sargsyan: © All rights are reserved.
Translator: Arusyak Sargsyan