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.
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.
About Scott Postma
Scott lives in North Idaho collecting more books than he'll ever read in a lifetime. He helps people cultivate their capacity to perceive and appreciate the good, the true, and the beautiful by sharing rich insights into the arts and humanities, meaningful perspective on faith and culture, and valuable tips on writing and teaching. You can subscribe to the tribe and follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and Google Plus.