Dante 2 Essay, Research Paper
Through out the course of literature, various authors utilize their own past experiences and histories to enhance the plot of their works. Anything from their childhood to a random person that they meet on the street can create a spark that will create a character or a thought in a piece of literature. Dante’s environment was full of people and events that could have influenced his writings. In the Inferno Dante’s perception of hell is heavily influenced by the people in his life both directly and indirectly. The Provencal love-cult, Beatrice, and Boniface VIII most heavily influenced Dante in his writing.
The Provencal love-cult, a school of poets started by William of Poitou, heavily influenced Dante in his early poetry(Smith 18). Provencal literature was very unique and technically complex(Smith 18), “it was concerned with the worship of the idealized woman (usually married, and therefore theoretically unattainable), involving much sorrow and torment to the lover, not unmixed, with pride”(Smith 18). This was the basis for the linked rhyme scheme of the Inferno. Dante was fascinated by Arnaut Daniel’s “cult of the word and his veritable obsession with technique”(Smith 19). The Sicilian School, a refinement of the Provencal, had “significant linguistic effect upon his contemporaries” (Smith 20). Giacomo Lentini, inventor of the sonnet, was a prominent poet in this school along with Cecco Angiolieri and Cino da Pistoia who heavily influenced Dante. These two contemporaries, like Dante, wrote about female idolatry. They gave special attention “to gracefulness of expression”(Smith 20), as displayed in Vita Nuova where “Dolce stil nuovo”(Smith 20). Smith defines Dolce stil nuovo as being the will that directs the lover’s intellect towards the true adoration of beauty that resides the lover’s happiness(Smith 20). Smith also adds that Love is said to rise from its sensual origins to a realm of purity, where it blends with the divine. Even though the Provencal school vanished by the time Dante started writing its messages and influences, they affected him immensely.
Historians know little about Dante’s beloved Beatrice: she seemed to be the perfect women in the eyes of Dante, but not the only woman in his life. He seemed to have a very promiscuous life in his youth; he married Gemma Donati, allegedly a hard-hearted woman. While he had other relations with other women, he often pronounced his love for Beatrice. “She was his first and his last real love”(Smith 24). “It was she who opened that perennial fountain of love which welled up forever within his heart, and gave inspiration to his pen”(Smith 24). He had put her on a pedestal and made her the ideal of womanhood. “He believed that only by living as he thought she would want him to live could he hope to be fit one day to enter Paradise”(Smith 24). Beatrice can be looked at as almost being an abstract concept; some scholars believe that Beatrice might not have even existed, just a figment of Dante’s imagination(Smith 25). Some believe she stood for theology, Divine Revelation or even philosophy(Smith 25). The reality of her existence almost has to be fact since an intense physical emotion has to be there for Dante to feel this way about Beatrice. The death of Beatrice, the worst feeling ever experienced by Dante, effected him immensely. When a loved one passes never to walk on this earth again “love can become transformed, can become transcendental, purified, even more idealized than when the beloved was on earth”(Smith 26). His faith told him that she would be in heaven waiting for him, so they could share the rest of their lives together in paradise. Beatrice plays a big role in Dante’s Comedy, as he meets her when he visits Heaven. Dante explains Beatrice’s beauty in Paradiso, XIV, 71-76 when he says “O genuine glitter of eternal beam! With what a sudden whiteness did it flow, o’erpowering vision in me. But so fair, so passing lovely, Beatrice show’d, mind cannot follow it, nor words express her infinite sweetness”(Smith 26). Smith also adds that all this doesn’t mean that Beatrice has no symbolic significance, but that she cannot have one, which would give the lie to historical facts concerning her related to the Vita Nuova. Beatrice had rescued him from the “Dark Wood” of the Divine Comedy. She is also the mediator between things human and of the divine. Dante’s love for Beatrice is the standard that is set in the Comedy. Only after her death does he realize and see the grace of God and all its greatness. Beatrice is the one, in the Divine Comedy, who saw that Dante was not going in the correct direction as a good Christian and that he needed to change his ways in order to get into heaven and to find his way out of the “Dark Wood”; therefor she leads him to a good Christian lifestyle.
Dante’s most hated adversary was Boniface VIII, known as Benedict Caetani before his election into Papacy(Mandelbaum 356). Boniface, a fiery old man, lawyer and veteran in the papal service, is said to have given much needed hours of prayer every day according to Dante(Mandelbaum 356). Dante along with many other of his colleagues thought that the Pope should have no business in politics, but Boniface saw differently as he made many political decisions in his Papal reign(Mandelbaum 356). When Edward I of England and Philip IV of France were preparing for war, both agreed that the church should provide the sinews(Mandelbaum 356). Complaints started
arriving from bishops who felt that the church was being squeezed unfairly, and Boniface came to their rescue(Mandelbaum 356). In Clericis Laicos, he forbade churchmen to grant money to kings without papal permission(Mandelbaum 356). Quickly the monarchs responded, King Edward outlawed the clergy and Philip IV forbade the export of gold, since much of the papal revenue came from France(Mandelbaum 356). After these two moves Boniface receded and told the churchmen they need not wait for permission from the Pope(Mandelbaum 356). Now that the kings could decide when a state of necessity existed, this was quite satisfactory to the crown and to Bianci Guelph’s like Dante. Dante, living in high honor and security in the year 1300, soon faced destruction(Mandelbaum 356). In 1301 Boniface VIII began his series of maneuvers against Dante, which drove him to ruin. Boniface became a person that Dante despised since he misused his sacred position and started war between Christians(Peterson). Even though Boniface was not the only Pope to deface his position, Dante had a certain hatred for the man that was responsible for his exile, from his home of Florence(Peterson). It is difficult in modern days to realize the immense sensation created, in every country to which it penetrated, by Dante’s writings. It effectively pricked the bubble of universal Papal dominion which swept away the foolish arguments on which the Roman Catholic Church had built the imposing structure of Papal rights, opening new and inspiring imperial philosophy(Mandelbaum 356). It is easy to see why Boniface would want Dante to be banished, since he was destroying all the rules for the Pope. Dante believed once he had established the truth others would be able to see what was really happening with Boniface VIII. In Canto XIX Dante is walking with Virgil and after passing bolgia two, the Flatters who are sunk in excrement, they come to bolgia three. The Simoniacs, ones who sold positions into the church, are found in the bolgia,
Harmon Page 5
placed upside down in tube like holes, debased equivalents of baptismal fonts, with the soles of their feet on fire. Their confinement is only temporary: as new sinners arrive, the souls drop through the bottom of their holes and disappear eternally into the crevices of the rock. As they made a mockery of holy office, so are they turned upside down(Peterson). Dante encounters Pope Nicholas III in his travels and is mistaken to be Boniface VIII. Nicholas then condemns himself, Boniface and their successor Clement V for having deceived and dishonored the church. Nowhere in the poem is Dante more involved then at this point in the Inferno. He expresses his disgust for the Popes and how “this state of misery was the prevalence of cupidity, of which he believed simony was by far the most perverted and virulent result, since it produced a clergy that poisoned not only the clerical church but also the whole world”(Mandelbaum 263).
Dante, influenced by philosophies, a woman that he loved, and a man he loathed, possessed the ability to incorporate the people and ideas he both adored and despised in his literature. Politics, love, and the Church encompassed Dante’s life as the young man learned to have devotion for romantic poetry that idealized women. He later took this sanctification and used it to love a woman that he would never marry and after his loved one passed he used the knowledge of the church that she had taught him to love the grace of God and all of his virtues. Dante believed anyone who deceived or dishonored God should be punished and with a silent pen, thus he sends Boniface VIII to the eighth circle of hell where Dante receives eternal revenge. In conclusion, Dante’s love of Provencal poetry, Beatrice, and the Church inspired him in his many works, especially the Inferno.
Bierhost, John, et al. “The Divine Comedy: Inferno. The Norton Anthology of World
Masterpieces. New York: W.W. Norton And Company, Inc, 1995. 1703-1829.
Mandelbaum, Allen, Anthony Oldcorn, and Charles Ross, eds. Inferno: A Canto-by- Canto Commentary. Los Angles: University of California Press, 1998.
Peterson, David. Dante’s Inferno. English 220 Lecture. Auburn, AL Nov. 1999.
Smith, Herbert. The Greatness of Dante Alighieri. Bath: Bath University Press, 1974.