Divine Comedy Final Exam

In Purg. 33, 103 Beatrice invites Dante to observe the events on the Earthly Paradise in order to write upon his return to Earth “for the good of the world that lives ill”. Browse through Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso and comment on three specific instances in which Dante addresses the evils of the world and their causes.

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Dante first addresses the evils of the world in the Inferno with nine circles of hell in which specific sins are punished. One such sin is Avarice, punished in the fourth circle. Avarice–greed, lust for material gain–is one of the sins that most bothers Dante in the Comedy. “Consistent with the biblical saying that avarice is ‘the root of all evils’ (1 Timothy 6:10), medieval Christian thought viewed the sin as most offensive to the spirit of love; Dante goes even further in blaming avarice for ethical and political corruption in his society” (Danteworlds). Dante makes no subtleties in presenting this sin as a common vice of monks and church leaders, something that is indicative of Dante’s stance against corrupt and greedy church officials throughout the Comedy. This is a sing Dante hold in contempt particularly because those who commit it are trying to change what Fortuna has dealt them and therefore messing with the balance of the world and the way things are supposed to be as ordained by God.  As Virgil tells Dante: “He whose wisdom transcends all things fashioned the heavens, and he gave them governors who see that every part shines to every other part, distributing the light equally” (Inferno, 7:73). Another instance in which Dante makes an address to the evils of the world, is Dante’s representation of Pride as the ultimate source of all evil, as it is the foundation for all sins. The sin of Pride is seen in Inferno and is further explored in the Mountain of Purgatorio on the terrace of pride. Dante views pride as nearly inseparable from the human condition. “The biblical history of pride more than warrants its identification in Ecclesiasticus as “the beginning of all sin” (10:15)” (Danteworlds). This shows how Dante views Pride as both the first sin and the most dominant sin often amount to one and the same thing. This is also apparent in Dante’s encounter with Adam in Paradiso. Dante asks of Adam why God was so angry with Adam’s transgression of eating the forbidden fruit. Adam replies that the gravity of his sin didn’t rest on the fact that he ate the forbidden fruit, but rather that he- like Ulysses in the Inferno­- crossed the line that God set for him, he went past the limitations of God’s will for him. “Now, my son, not the tasting of the tree in itself was the cause of so long an exile, but only the going beyond the mark” (Inferno, 26: 115).  This, in Dante’s view, is the reason for many of mankind’s problems and the gateway to most sins in the world. Humans don’t have their will aligned with God’s and they are constantly attempting to transgress past the limitations set for them by God, causing them to commit sins.

Referring to Purg. 6 and 16, and Par. 6, 13, 18, and 19, explain what is the political arrangement that Dante hopes for? Whom does he choose as the most exemplary figures of rulers and why? What is the specific wisdom required from a ruler? What are his virtues? What are his tasks? What is his relationship with God?

There is a parallel between several of the cantos in all three canticles of the Divine Comedy. One of these parallels occurs in the sixth canto of each canticle. In the Inferno, he discusses and expands on Florentine politics with Ciacco’s explanation of Florence’s political division. Following this trend, in Purgatorio, the sixth canto (which not coincidently happens to be the Valley of the Rulers) explores Italian Regional politics where Dante encounters Sordello and has a discussion with him about the violence, corruption, and lack of effective leadership up and down the Italian peninsular in Dante’s time (Purgatorio, 6:76-151) . Now in the Paradiso, he goes even further expanding his political compass to spread to the discussion of politics of the Roman Empire.  Marco Lombardo explains the function of the civil government and of the papacy. Two Suns Theory: Empire and Papacy should be separate, autonomous institutions- equal but separate- unlike the previously held view of the view of the papacy as the sun and the empire as the moon, claiming the church should rule over the empire. He believes common law is the grounds for a society to prosper. Dante is laying down the basics of the political arrangement he hopes for: independent, equal institutions of power and the reestablishment of a strong empire. He ultimately hopes for justice and civic renewal. In the following cantos, Dante carefully chooses rulers that he believes have shown exemplary leadership and the makings of a just ruler. He uses the eye of the eagle shaped by six stars to be the six rulers. These rulers are: David, who was an ancestor of Jesus and is a prominent figure in the Bible as a ruler, he is also an important influence for Dante’s ideas of justice.  Another ruler is the King Trajan, followed by the biblical king Hezekiah, the emperor Constantine (despite the Donation of Constantine), William II of Sicily (“William the Good”) and finally by Ripheus (despite being a Pagan). Dante’s choice for these just rulers is, of course, not coincidental.  By choosing two Jews, two Christians and two Pagans, he is deliberately giving evidence that God’s ways are not easy to understand and therefore should not be tried to be understood at all, God’s justice is incomprehensible to man.

The souls of the just rulers in Jupiter form the letters that spell out: “DILIGITE ISTITIAM QUI IUDICATIS TERRAM”: “Love Justice, you who judge the earth” which is from the beginning of King Solomon’s book of wisdom. This not only shows that Dante is now in the sphere of the just rulers, but it is also indicative of the requirement of wisdom for a ruler to be just. The spirits consequently transform themselves into an M – the first letter of Monarchy, and then they change into the form of a lily- the symbol of the French monarchy and the city of Florence, then they proceed to transform into an eagle, which is the symbol of the Roman Empire. The eagle in this part of the canto is also the sign of Divine Justice, as is apparent when the eagle itself speaks out and lays down a list of corrupt rulers and kings. Dante’s use of the eagle (the Roman Empire’s emblem) as the representation of Divine Justice is credited to the Emperor Justinian- the just. Because he was inspired by God to take a “high task” he went on to make a monumental codification of Roman law which ultimately brought peace to the empire.  He is an example of a just ruler but also of something else: his representation is found in one of the lower spheres (in the sphere of Mercury) because the souls in this sphere are characterized as being just but out of their desire for honor and fame. It proves that even the souls in Paradise were driven by unholy desires.  Justinian gives Dante an account of the history that has led to the current state of the Roman Empire, emphasizing the hypocrisy of those who claimed to support the Holy Roman Empire, but really opposed it.

Dante touches on the wisdom required of an ideal ruler, for which he asks of St. Thomas in canto 13 of Paradiso is by wondering why King Solomon’s wisdom was unmatched. St. Thomas explains to Dante that King Solomon asked for the ability to discern right from wrong- also called kingly prudence. This displayed the ultimate ruler’s wisdom, asking for something that was both practical and moral gave the right wisdom to judge well and be a just ruler. For this God made him ultimately knowledgeable. After discussing the makings of a great ruler, Dante beseeches God to let His anger fall on clerics who buy and sell indulgences in the churches, and on pretentious men who only play at being virtuous.

This is all indicative of what Dante believes is the main message that humans need to heed: that human justice (or earthly justice) should take example from Divine Justice through Christ.

Discuss the theme of exile as you see it addressed in Dante’s encounters with his ancestor Cacciaguida; then make connections with at least two instances in the poem in which this theme is addressed in a different but complementary perspective.

The theme of exile is seen very prominently throughout the entire Comedy, indeed the very reason this epic poem was written was the exile of its author, Dante Alighieri, from Florence. There are several instances where the theme of exile is more pronounced where Dante wishes his readers to observe an example of how exile can be beneficial. One such instance is Dante’s (the pilgrim) encounter with his ancestor, Cacciaguida in the sphere of Mars in Paradiso. Dante is troubled by Virgil’s foretelling of the hard times that await him in his future so he asks Cacciaguida to shed some light on what those times would bring. Cacciaguida gives a detailed account of Dante’s impending exile stating that he will have to leave everything he loves and holds dear behind. He will “experience how salty tastes the bread of another, and what hard path it is to descend and mount by another’s stairs  and what will be most hard for you to bear   will be the scheming, senseless company  that is to share your fall into this valley.”” (Cacciaguida in Par. 17:58). He says this in warning to Dante of the trials and tribulations that exile will bring for him. He lets him know how he will be underappreciated by those he helps but makes sure to follow this by telling him  that he will eventually be recognized for his work in exile and he will reach salvation. So even though the bread will taste salty- that is, even though exile will be bitter and Dante will have to suffer- exile can in turn be transformative and give him the wisdom he needs to spread the message he has been appointed to spread. Cacciaguida is compared to Achnises in the Aeneid who reveals future good and bad events to Aeneas. However, his martyrdom is modeled on the cross as a figure of Christ. This is indicative of Dante’s exile reflecting the medieval representation of Christ’s early life as a period of exile.  This is not the only example of exile in the Comedy. In the Inferno, Dante has a special encounter with Brunetto Latini, a close friend who is also an exile. The author of the Trésor, Brunetto Latini was one of the most important figures in Dante’s life and in the Divine Comedy. He was a prominent Guelph who spent many years living in exile in Spain and France until he returned to Florence where he assumed positions of great responsibility- consul, scribe, notary, and prior. He was even praised as the “initiator and master in refining the Florentines and in teaching them how to speak well, and how to guide our republic according to political philosophy.” (Giovanni Villani). Even though he is found in the seventh circle of hell amongst the sodomites, Brunetto is another illustration of how exile can be beneficial to a person, since despite his exile he went on to accomplish great things. Another instance of an exiled sould is Manfred, the son of Emperor Frederick II.  Allied with the ghibelline cause (he helped defeat the guelphs at Montaperti in 1260), Manfred was certainly no friend of the papacy: he was twice excommunicated. Manfred informs Dante that the excommunicates must wait in Ante-Purgatory for thirty times the length of the period of their excommunication. Manfred’s story shows how even though he was excommunicated he now finds himself on the road to purgation, and eventually, salvation. Overall, the theme of exile in the Divine Comedy can be seen as representative of the fall of mankind, and the examples of the benefits of exile throughout signify the possibility and hope for humanity to come out as better people after the tribulations of its exile from the right path.

Referring to other passages in Purgatorio and Paradiso, explain how Dante’s final image in Paradiso 33 aptly represents the completion a journey propelled by the twofold desire of intellect and will.

“My mind was struck by a flash in which its desire came” (Paradiso, 33:139). With this quote, Dante is showing us that in the moment he witnessed the three circles he saw everything he had wanted to know; finally understood the ultimate truth- this truth being a representation of “the good of the intellect” (Inferno, 3:18).  “Here my high imagining failed of power, but already my desire and the velle turned like a wheel being moved evenly, by the Love that moves the sun and the other stars.” (Paradiso, 33:142).This “desire” is the natural love-the intellect- and his will are finally fulfilled as they move “like a wheel revolving uniformly” by the Love- God.  It shows the completion of a journey to find the perfect balance of the will and the intellect. At witnessing the three circles in the Empyrean, he experiences the ultimate knowledge and is granted the understanding that no mortal has never been able to achieve. “…three circles appeared to me; they had three different colors, but all of them were of the same dimension; one circle seemed reflected by the second, as rainbow is by rainbow, and the third seemed fire breathed equally by those two circles” (Paradiso, 33: 115-120). Three circles can be taken to represent the Trinity- the Father, The son and the holy spirit- which in turn can represent many different things, including Wisdom, Love and Power. The mention of the desire and the will moving harmoniously as a wheel is also representative of this ultimate desire to align our wills to that of God- for our natural love and our intellectual love to turn in harmony like a wheel. As was previously explained by (fill in the blank and find the passage as well as the actual quote) the souls in Paradise are in tune with God’s will as the angelic orders demonstrate by spinning around the central point in the Primum Mobile by their desire and love of God. The ending of the Comedy is the perfect culmination of everything Dante- and in fact humanity- desired from the very beginning of the Comedy. His journey all began with a search to get back on the right path- the path to God. Inferno begins with Dante being lost in the Dark Wood after having lost his path to God. The darkness of the wood represents Dante’s lack of understanding and his encapsulation in confusion at this point in his life. So as he started in confusion, he found Virgil, who led him to the correct path to finding the understanding he lacked. Throughout the comedy, we are shown several instances of this desire of the intellect and the will. Even as they are about to enter Hell in Inferno , Dante encounters the illustrious Pagans of Limbo, whose punishment is to never achieve truth or gain knowledge: “…we are lost, and only so far harmed that without hope we live in desire” (Inferno, 4:40). This shows how the mind desires knowledge and truth and it is a privilege to attain it and not only that, but since they are Pagan, this foreshadows to the necessity of having Faith in order to be granted the ultimate truth. As the dark represents being in a state of confusion and not having understanding, there is the juxtaposition to the light, as is represented throughout the Mountain of Purgatory and then exalted in the Paradiso. The light is very symbolic in that it represents spiritual enlightenment and knowledge. The light also is representative of God’s love. As Dante gets closer to God, the light gets brighter. We are shown the importance of the Natural Love- our innate attraction to God (which is Fated)- and Mental love-which instead operates on free will- and how imperative it is that individuals not love unworthy objects over God, or love anything in improper measure- that is, that the Mental Love not rule over the Natural Love for God. That is how our earthly happiness (free will and justice) can be in tune with our eternal beatitude (fulfillment): the affective theology harmonizing with the intellective. Now that he has reached heaven, Dante has reached the top of the Soul’s pyramid: from vegetative to sensitive and now finally to Intellective. Even though this journey started in confusion, he has now reached the ultimate understanding, he is no longer in the dark but in the light and he has done so through God.

Compare Dante’s poetic presentation of Saint Francis of Assisi with Professor Cadorette’s historical and social interpretation of his life and message. Explain in what way they are similar and/or different.

Dante has St. Thomas of Aquinas tell the story of Saint Francis of Assisi in Paradiso to show his endorsement of Francis’s spiritual values. In Professor Cadorette’s chapter “Different LightsL Thomas and Francis as Medieval Icons” we are shown a deeper insight of the life of St. Francis – who is referred to as “The Second Christ”.

Although both the canto of St. Francis of Assisi in Dante’s Paradiso and Professor Cadorette’s historical and social interpretation of his life and message are focused on exploring the reasons for Francis’s work, it is Professor Cadorette’s account that delved into the beginnings of a path that wasn’t always holy. In Cadorette’s chapter, we see Francis in a different light as we are shown the parts of his youth that led up to his choice to renounce all his worldly goods and his ultimate message: that all he wanted was for people to live the Gospel as well as possible.

Dante begins his account of St. Francis’s life with the story of how he renounced any claim to his inheritance and choosing instead to enter into a symbolic marriage with poverty. Although this is a detailed version of Francis’s story, Professor Cadorette goes even beyond that and delved further back in Francis’s past, telling us how he lived his life before he made that decision and what drove him to that point.

“In his youth Francis was the proverbial”party animal” famous for his extravagance and moral laxity” but after spending a year rotting in a prison in Perugia after falling off a horse, he wasn’t the same Francis his friends knew. “When the failed knight-to-be returned to Assisi, his friends noticed that he had changed.  He was no longer quite as much fun to be around.  He was less enthusiastic about parties, he drank and sang less; and he showed little interest in ‘after­Party’ excursions. Francis’s happy-go-lucky life as a brat was coming to an end” (Cadorette, pg. 103). I believe it is important that Cadorette included segments of Francis’s rambunctious past leading up to his decision to live a life of poverty, to show a parallel to Dante, who has had to live through a dramatic experience (his exile) to get him to find his true purpose: In Francis’s case, spreading God’s message by living a life of Poverty, and in Dante’s the message of his journey through Inferno, Purgatory and Paradise and the quest for the ultimate knowledge.

One day, the Jesus on the cross of the church of San Damiano told him his house had collapsed and he needed to fix it. He began to gather bricks and rebuild this tattered church He eventually realized that rebuilding a “collapsed” church meant the institutional Catholic Church. After having stripped himself naked, renouncing his father he then began his life as a beggar. . Francis hit the street preaching to people so Christianity could be lived more fully. He was in love with Lady Poverty and Christ who had spoken to him. His story shows a parallel to Jesus’ life that also went on a mission to affirm his identity.

Francis and his companions walked to Rome to ask permission from the Pope to continue to live as they had chosen to, not outside the church but within it, as loyal sons rather than rebels. Pope Innocent III- after having a dream of St. Francis holding the church up- granted Francis to be ordained a deacon so that he could preach officially. At La Verna, closer to death, he experienced the Stigmata as the ultimate sign of his desire “to be one with Christ and experience the agony of his crucifixion” (Cadorette, pg. 113).

Dante makes sure to follow all the good deeds of Francis with a reminder that things aren’t as he would have ordained them with a criticism of St. Thomas’s order, the Dominicans: “But his flock has become greedy for new foods, so that it must spread itself over divers mountain pastures, and the farther his roaming sheep wander from him, the more they return empty of milk to the sheepfold” (Paradiso, 11: 124-129). This is comparable to the Franciscan Order which is evident in the grandeur of the Franciscan institution and even his tomb juxtaposed with St. Francis’ message of simplicity and hard work.

Professor Cadorette’s chapter goes one step further to explore beyond just the story of Francis, and delves into the juxtaposition and similarity of St. Francis of Assisi and St. Thomas of Aquinas, stating that they both “forever changed the nature of Catholicism and its role in the world”(Cadorette, pg. 115).

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