Scott Postma

A blog about the Great Books, the Craft of Writing, and Human Flourishing.

Love, Exile, and ‘The Divine Comedy’

Dante wrote the Commedia in 1307 while in exile, as one who had learned “how salt is the bread of exile.”

In the introduction to the part of the Commedia called “Paradiso,” he asserts the end of his project as a whole as well as in this part “is to remove those living in this life from the state of misery and to lead them to the state of happiness.”  This is good literature.

Divina Commedia

photo credit: 850 Italian literature via photopin (license)

To understand Dante’s project, one must understand the nature of comedy. David Richter describes comedy as a poetry that is written in the vernacular where a situation of adversity ends ultimately in prosperity.

This is not unlike Louise Cowan’s description, saving she adds that comedy can be better recognized by vision than analysis; the comedic vision is that of the natural trajectory of the story created by the communal unconscious of a people whose yearning is for a more liberated life.

Given the nature of the comedic vision, looking at the structure of Dante’s project, it’s obvious he believed it to be the most promising of the genres to achieve “practical results” in the leading of people to a state of happiness.

As is all of life from a Christian perspective, the Commedia is a grand metaphor for exile—a longing for something better, a new city, and coming to terms with the ultimate exile as well as his particular exile and learning to love in spite of it.



Cowan, Louise. The Terrain of Comedy. Dallas: Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture, 1984.

Richter, David H. The Critical Tradition: Classic Texts and Contemporary Trends. 3rd ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2007.

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About Scott Postma

Scott is a writer and teacher living in North Idaho. He loves teaching the Great Books, writing and blogging, and collecting more books than he'll ever read in a lifetime. You can subscribe to the tribe and follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and Google Plus.

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2 Replies

  1. I am writing my masters thesis on “rest” in the book of Hebrews, and whether the rest that Jesus gives us is present or future. I’m angling for it being both. So the “longing for something better,” becomes partly removed by the experience of living in God’s presence. This links up with the Coram Deo community.
    The city to come, the heavenly Jerusalem etc is also described in the present tense when the writer says “You have come to Mt Zion and to the city of the living God..” Heb 12:22.
    So those salty tears, while necessary, aren’t the whole story.

    1. Elizabeth, what a great subject for your thesis. It very much connects with the Coram Deo Communitas. Angling for both makes me think of George Eldon Ladd’s work on eschatology where he calls the kingdom (to include the rest available in Christ) as the “already; not yet.” In the context of the rest we have in Christ, because of the resurrection, it is already available to us, but in it’s fullness, not yet. Thanks for the great insight. Blessings, SP